I can’t breathe with you here beside me.
Yet my heart breaks the second you disappear.
So tell me how can I live
With or with out this ghost of you?
Dick sat on Bruce’s bed watching the sun rise. He really needed to get moving. There was so much left to do. Damian needed to be taken to a check up that morning, and Lucius had asked him to review some more reports. But Dick couldn’t bring himself to move. If he moved it would ruin the illusion that Dick was immersed in.
It still smelled like him. If he closed his eyes he could pretend that Bruce was lying next to him, that he was just asleep. A painful lump that always seemed present lurched in his throat.
He could almost hear him too. If Dick tried hard enough he could imagine the light sound of air rustling a pillow, the slight huff he would make every twelfth breath or the way he would groan as he stretched.
Dick eyes snapped open.
Pretending wouldn’t help. It would do the opposite of help. It was bad enough having Tim tell him every five minutes that Bruce wasn’t dead. But letting himself imagine it as true was enough to kill him.
It was exactly why he needed to leave. Tearing himself away from the bed—from the smell of Bruce— Dick found himself staring at the top of Bruce’s dresser. A box he had made in seventh grade sat proudly in the center of the tall chest of drawers. Tentatively Dick pulled back the lid. Inside was a small treasure trove. He pulled out an old and slightly battered watch, a half empty perfume bottle, a shoe brush— Dick’s heart skipped— a crumpled Haly’s Circus ticket stub, an old bookmark, a stack of photos, a slightly frayed ribbon and a post it note with a small sketch on it. For the fourth time that morning hot tears ran down his face. Hurriedly Dick placed the objects back and slammed the lid shut.
He turned back at the door though. A last look, he reasoned. He would just take one last minute to memorize this place. Then he would move on. He would close the door and go. That was how he always moved on. Dick Grayson always left. Bruce had always said it was his specialty. After his parents died he was pulled away for sure. But after that? It became a choice. Jason died, he left Gotham. Wally died, he left the team. Why would it be any different here?
Closing the door behind him felt worse than leaving ever had been before. Dick would never waltz in and flop down on his father still asleep. He wouldn’t sit on the bathroom counter venting as Bruce brushed his teeth. He wouldn’t pop in to steal a pair of socks because he forgot to pack enough.
Closing the door would be saying goodbye to childhood memories of sneaking into Bruce’s bed late at night after a nightmare. It would be closing the door on a comfort Dick had taken for granted. The door groaned as it swung shut, as if protesting. The click of the latch echoed in the hallway.
Dick turned down the hall. He paused for a moment at his childhood bedroom’s door. It hadn’t been his for a long time. Tim had taken up residence in it, and even if Dick looked in it now it would have no remnants of his past still within. Dick made it to the stairs before he halted again.
The portrait that hung on the landing, longer than he’d been alive, was covered in a white sheet. Dick wasn’t sure why this stuck him, as Alfred had covered everything they were leaving in the manor. But somehow seeing the portrait-- the last picture of Bruce with his parents-- covered unnerved him in a way that no vase or covered sofa could.
Dick could remember spending hours staring at the three faces, searching for Bruce in the faces of his parents. Bruce had his mother’s nose, his father’s eyes and hair. Damian had the same nose. Dick swallowed.
Damian . Maybe it would be easier to look at him without the rest of the house haunting him. Dick hoped so anyway. He wondered if Tim looked at the boy and sometimes saw Bruce too. But then Tim was completely unbelieving that he was gone. So maybe Tim was haunted in a different way then he was. Maybe clinging to the possibility of Bruce somehow being out there was worse. Dick could purge himself of almost every reminder. Tim would have to rid himself of hope.
Dick sighed and began his descent down the carpeted steps. He made it two whole steps before he hesitated. Without thinking, Dick swung a practiced leg over the banister and slid. The wood was still as well oiled as the day he arrived at the manor. Dick closed his eyes and let his muscle memory take over. He leaned into the turns without thinking,and just when he reached the last few feet he pushed himself up and back.
The dismount wasn’t fancy. It was nothing more than a back flip. He stuck the landing and kept his hands held toward the ceiling. The ghost of applause rattled in Dick’s ears.
When he turned around though there was no Bruce fighting to keep a smile off his face.
Dick’s hand fell to his sides.
Dick made his way to the front door. The tiles were polished and smooth. All but one. Next to the bench one of the black squares had a crack. Dick knelt down and ran his fingers across the broken stone. Bruce had done that when they were arguing. Not on purpose. Dick had left a set of tools in his backpack that Bruce knew nothing about. When he yanked the bag away from Dick-- he couldn’t remember why now, something about sneaking alcohol-- it had been much heavier than he expected. The look on Bruce’s face when he saw the backpack fly across the foyer and crash to the floor had been priceless.
Whatever fight they'd been in had ended in a truce. One that was formed in an attempt to hide the damage from Alfred.
Dick wondered if Alfred knew all along and only pretended to not notice. Dick wondered if he simply let them have the secret. He probably did.
Dick stood brushing himself off and made his way over to the old oak door. He pulled the bolts over and locked them into place. Bruce used to do that when he was small-- bolt the manor doors at night-- but he stopped when they began fighting. The first time Dick left for the Cave after an argument, he had expected to come home and find the door bolted shut.
To his surprise he hadn’t even needed his key, let alone to ring the doorbell for someone to come unbolt it. While Bruce did tend to lock the door at night, he stopped bolting it. Dick wondered if they had even been used since he was fifteen.
It felt odd to retreat into the house without taking his shoes off. He missed the familiar feeling of tile and wood as he made his way to the kitchen.
Dick felt all the air in his lungs leave him as if he had been hit in the back. For a moment-- a very fleeting moment-- he thought, he could have sworn that Bruce was sitting on the bar stool. He felt faint. He was sure if Alfred saw him he'd make him sit down. Dick knew he must look a picture, pale and terrified. But the idea of sitting on the stool he had just hallucinated-- no imagined -- Bruce to be on would be impossible. He quickly crossed to the sink, opened the cabinet beneath and turned the water off for the manor. Dick fled the room quicker than if it contained joker gas.
Once in the corridor Dick sank back against the wall. Pressing his shaking hands to his face, he sunk down. His shoes left scuff marks as they moved across the uncarpeted section of the floor. He couldn’t bring himself to care though, it wasn’t as if Alfred would see it. Instead he focused on controlling his breath.
Dick hoped-- practically prayed-- that the visions of his guardian would end once he was in the penthouse. He couldn’t take it any longer. It was impossible to move on when every time he turned around the corner he would see the man. He had so far been able to hide the episodes from both the kids and Alfred, but if they continued he didn’t think the ploy would last. For a minute Dick thought Tim had figured him out last week.
Dick had strolled into the study-- and if he was honest with himself-- he had cracked. Dick had held a four minute conversation with a man who didn’t exist, who was gone. It was stress and grief, Dick knew it was. But it didn’t lessen the fact he had ranted about Tim and Damian fighting for the hundredth time to a hallucinated spirit. When Tim walked in on him, Dick thought his secret was up. Mercifully, Tim was quite distracted from researching the Phantom Zone to notice Dick talking to Bruce.
It was then that he decided, they would move. Damian protested and fought, Tim scoffed and told him he was being an idiot, Alfred just started packing. Dick wondered sometimes if he could see Bruce too. Maybe it was an actual ghost roaming the halls. Either way, it was time to go.
When his hands finally stopped shaking again he wiped his nose on his shirt sleeve and push himself to his feet. There was nothing left to do in the house. The water shut off had been the last thing Alfred had said. Dick made his way to the ancient grandfather clock down the hall. Each step felt final, the end of an area. Batman would never enter the cave through here again-- well not this Batman or the original anyway. Dick wasn’t fool enough to believe that either Tim or Damian wouldn’t one day pick up the cowl… or perhaps Cass.
Dick spun the hands on the clock’s face with a practiced hand. 16 years Dick had wound the clock to the exact time of Bruce’s parents death. He honestly was glad he didn’t know the exact moment Bruce had stopped breathing. It was bad enough to have a date and place.
The cold air hit him hard in the face as the clock swung forward to admit him. Dick swallowed and stepped down into the darkness. He knew these steps. He spent years memorizing them, running up and down them, jumping and cartwheeling. It was strange how the place that had once been his greatest comfort had transformed into something suffocating. Darkness had once meant Bruce. The cold and slightly damp air that filled the cavern deep below the manor had never been so oppressive.
Even at their worst, Dick had never felt so lonely walking the stone steps. Sure they fought but even then, Dick knew that Bruce would always jump in to help him if he asked. Now it was just Dick and the bats.
Slowly Dick made his way through the cave, shutting off the water to the showers and medical bay. He locked the entrances to the helipad, and sealed off the docks that once held the Batboat and Batsub. He turned off the lone light that illuminated Jason’s Robin suit case, shut off the power to the air filters, heaters and defrosters. He disconnected the zeta tube and powered down the remote access to Watchtower. He covered the trophy cases with drop cloths and secured the weaponry that was old or no longer used.
Dick felt the ever present lump in his throat thicken as he keyed the finally command for the Batcomputer to transfer control to the Bunker. His hands were shaking again. Biting his lip he turned away from the monitors, now black and reflecting himself back at him. He didn’t want to look at himself. He knew how he looked, gaunt and hollowed out.
Instead he looked around. The cave felt dead, as dead as it’s maker. For the first time since it’s renovation the only sound was that of the rustling wings of bats. There was no hum from the computer, no beeping from the infirmary, not even the rustle of vents filtering the stale air.
It was now just a bat cave.
With nothing left to do, Dick went to change. Though he would have to change again when he reached the Bunker, it just seemed right. This was Batman’s domain, and it was Batman who should be the last to leave-- even if it wasn’t the right one.
The way was dark with no power left, but Dick didn’t need the light. He would never forget the dips in the floor or the curves of the wall. This place that had once been his and Bruce’s would forever be seared into his mind. He didn’t need to see to know were the cowl hung and how the cape clasped.
Leaving the cowl down, Dick turned to leave. It was then his phone lit up. However it wasn’t the notification that caught his eye. The glow of the screen reflected across something else.
Ignoring the phone, Dick’s feet ghosted across the floor until he was in front of it. Almost involuntarily he reached for it, his fingers trailing across the rough seem over the chest. Not even Alfred’s handiwork could hide this scar.
“I hate you.” Dick whispered, unsure just who he was addressing. Whether it be the suit itself for failing his father, partner and friend when he needed it most, Batman for demanding Bruce’s whole life, or Bruce. Bruce for leaving him, for breaking that promise he made so long ago, to always have his back, to always catch the weight if it ever became to much.
The cowl, still hanging around his neck, had never felt like such a noose. He didn’t want this. He hadn’t for years. What he hated most of all was being left alone to deal with the fallout.
Tim was in denial and while he was still physically there, no case or crime held his attention. Alfred had grown quiet and seemed more tired by the day, something Dick couldn’t bring himself to ever be upset with. Cass had vanished without so much as a word, and Damian-- Dick just didn’t know what to do with the boy.
His fingers traced the stitching one last time before reaching for his own cowl and pulling it down over his head. The suit seemed to stare out of it’s place at him as he swept past.
Dick wasn’t sure how he found his way to the Batmobile. He sat at the wheel for a long time just looking at the cave filled with shadows and jagged silhouettes. Once he left he never wanted to come back. But when he left, that would be it. 16 years of his life he spent tinkering, training and living in this place. His blood stained the stones. His sweet fell on it’s floors. It was here he'd spent hours researching cases and healing from wounds. It was here he first hugged Bruce. It was here they'd first fought.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dick could see a shadow forming a distinctive figure. Dick sighed and turned the key. He couldn’t stay. It would be the only way to silence the ghost that had been plaguing him for weeks. Moving would make it stop.
“Goodbye,” He whispered to the phantom.
He didn’t look in the review mirror as he left the cave.
When he pulled into the parking pad of the Bunker, Dick glanced at the Batmobile's dash. It was just after nine. He looked around at the bright space. It felt so sterile compared to the cave. Dick supposed that was what he had wanted, to sterilize Bruce from his mind. He looked around searching for the phantom. His heart lurched when he didn’t find it.
Dick started as Damian emerged from the elevator. “Yeah?”
“You’re late. You said you would be back to take me half and hour ago.” Damian scowled up at him.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I’ll just change and then we’ll go.”
Damian looked at him through narrowed eyes. Dick steeled himself for the inevitable. He knew he wasn’t good enough to be Batman, but it didn’t help to have Damian constantly remind him of it.
“Ridiculous to have put it on to drive here.” He spun away from Dick as he spoke.
Dick watched him step back into the elevator sadly. He really didn’t know what to do with him. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to make Bruce proud, wanted to take as good a care of Damian and Tim as he had been given. He just didn’t know how.
He pressed his lips together and waited another moment for Bruce to appear again. When he didn’t, Dick pulled back the cowl and spoke softly to the floor.
“I wish you were here.”