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Dick’s eyes followed the flash of yellow in the alley.

You should talk to him, words whispered to him in his mind, echoing a conversation from earlier in the night. I think he could use your advice.

“Robin,” Dick called out, and it felt weird. Felt weird to call out the name he used to identify with. He leapt from his spot on the fire escape, landing gracefully on the concrete below. The new Robin looked back at him with a glare.

“Are you following me?” he accused. “Did he set you up to it?”

“Honestly? Yeah,” Dick said. He stood up straight, taking a full look at the younger crimefighter. Jason stood there, his dark hair always moving in different directions, a permanent scowl on his face. At Dick’s words, the teenager bristled in place. Dick continued, “But I came here because I wanted to. Figured you could use someone to talk to.”

“The last thing I want to do is talk, especially to you,” Jason said, sounding annoyed. “I hardly even know you.”

“I get that. So let's get to know each other. At the very least, I get what it's like to work with Batman and I know how much of an ass he can be.”

Dick offered a smile but Jason didn't return the look. Instead, uncertainty crossed the boy’s face--he looked suspicious.

“Where are you running off to?” Dick tried instead.

“I’m not running,” he spat back, sounding defensive. When Dick raised an eyebrow in response, Jason realized his mistake, and lowered his voice. “I’m just getting away from him. That's all. I wouldn't actually leave.” He looked away and muttered, “It's not like I would have anywhere to go anyways.”

“Alright,” Dick said. Why did Bruce send him anyways? He and the boy had nothing in common besides having shared an identity. If anyone was supposed to calm this kid down, it should have been him, but Dick supposed that was impossible. Bruce couldn't comfort anyone, especially if that person was upset because of him. “What's your favorite place in Gotham?”

“It's Gotham,” Jason said, almost with a scoff. “None of it is my favorite place.”

“That's fair,” Dick said. “But the skyline along the pier is pretty nice around this time of night.”

The boy eventually loosened up. He started off stubbornly quiet, following Dick around the rooftops simply because he had nowhere else to go except back to Bruce, but Dick managed to ease him into conversations. Soon, the biting comments seemed to fade away.

“You know what pisses me off the most? That stupid noise he makes,” Jason said, trailing after Nightwing as they scaled a high building.

Dick instantly knew what he was referring to. “What, you mean that hh noise?” Dick did his best impression but couldn't get his voice low and gruff enough.

“Yeah, that's exactly  it,” Jason said, smiling for the first time that night. “Sometimes I'll tell him something and he'll just respond with that… that noise. What does it even mean?”

“Honestly? I have no idea. I can't tell if it's positive or negative.”

They reached the top of an old warehouse that overlooked the pier. As they walked towards the edge, Jason's eyebrows rose, lifting the domino mask with it.

“I've never been up here before,” he said, as he looked at the city skyline against the dark waters of Gotham Bay.

“It's my favorite site at this time of night. It's quiet with a killer view.”

“Batman took me to the top of Wayne Tower once. That was a lot cooler.”

Dick smirked a little. “I thought you didn't like Gotham.”

“You asked me if I had a favorite spot. That's different. Gotham is all the same to me, it's all so bleak. None of it is my favorite...”

“But there are some exceptions,” Dick finished.

“Yeah,” Jason said, staring at the bay. “There are some exceptions.”

Dick took a few steps away, quietly called for Bruce over his comm and gave their location. When he returned to Jason's side, the boy suddenly turned to him.

"What's it like working with the Titans?" he immediately asked. It was the first time he voiced any interest about Dick’s personal life.

Dick shrugged. "It's fun, when we get along. But it's still work. We have to carefully coordinate our plans. I like it, but truthfully, I've been thinking of flying solo."

"Really?" Jason said, face brightening. "Maybe I should do that."

Jason stopped to brush some dirt off his vest. Dick watched quietly, noticing some of the subtle changes that were made to the Robin uniform since the new Robin took over.

"You sure you're ready for that?" Dick asked. This kid was constantly picking a fight. With that type of reckless arrogance...

"Tch. What's that supposed to mean? I could do it."

"Not what I meant," Dick said, raising a brow. Jason shrugged.

"At least if I was working on my own, I wouldn't have to listen to Batman all day."

"That's true." Dick smiled a little.

"So what do the Titans do in their spare time? What noise does Cyborg's cannon make? What's Starfire like?"

Dick fluttered a little at the last question, wondering briefly if Kori would still be at home when he returned. "Why? Do you want her phone number or something?"

"I didn't say that!"

"Awh, so cute. Your face is red."

"No it's not!"

"I'll be sure to tell her about her number one fan. Though you might still be a little young for her."

"Shut up!"

Dick laughed. Jason steamed in place, but unlike earlier when he was upset, he didn't go running off. They kept talking, and eventually, Bruce arrived on the scene. At first he was unnoticeable, but Dick just barely sensed him.

“Is he okay?” Bruce asked when Dick walked up to him. Jason waited behind, pointedly turning his backs on them. He was still upset.

“He's a little rough around the edges,” Dick said, making sure his voice was low enough to be out of earshot.

“He's learning,” Bruce said stiffly.

“Yeah,” Dick said, thinking about Jason’s quick and snide remarks. “He's got kind of a mouth, doesn't he?”

“Why? What did he say to you?” Batman said, turning. His face was set into a deep frown and Dick realized his mistake. Jason probably talked to Dick, who was more like a peer, differently than he talked to Bruce.

“I just meant he talks a lot, is all,” Dick said. He wasn't going to tattle.

Hh.”

Dick noticed Jason sitting on the edge of the building. Dick followed Jason’s gaze out towards the city. The view from their point stretched out to Gotham Bay, where the waters reflected the city. But Dick was more mesmerized by the look in Jason’s eyes. It was the most peaceful he had looked all night--this boy, who ran around with a chip on his shoulder and constantly acted like he had something to prove.

Dick knew the feeling too well, a sense of old nostalgia returning to him, as he remembered long nights on patrol, some of which were unforgiving, and those small little moments. The moments where he remembered why he still loved this city.

“Don't be too hard on him,” Dick said quietly to Bruce.

As dawn began to roll around the horizon, it was time to finish up the night. They moved to part ways and said their stiff goodbyes. As Dick moved to the edge of a building to run the rooftops back to the train station, he paused and decided to look back one more time.

"Robin!" Dick called out. Jason looked back, Bruce also paused with him.  Dick smiled and said, "Don't worry about the Starfire thing. Our secret."

Jason's face is red again. "There's nothing to tell!"

Dick laughed in response, his smile following him even as he made that first leap out of Gotham.

 

The furniture hadn't moved since his last visit. Everything was impeccable--not a trace of dust lined the mahogany tables and surfaces, nor a spot of dirt on the illustrious rugs. Dick Grayson padded quietly along the polished wooden floors, stopping only at the giant, looming portrait of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

Their picture perfect faces greeted him no differently than they had back when he came home to them regularly-- jeez, it seemed so long since then--but something about the soulless nature of the printed eyes unnerved him that day. Suddenly he was all too aware of the aging of the material, the yellowing on the edges and the sunkissed fading of the print.

"Master Dick."

The title wasn't uttered with any sense of surprise. Dick turned around, Pennyworth standing a few paces away, an unreadable expression on his face. Dick offered a smile, breaking the silence.

"The place looks great. You need a vacation."

"Don't we all?" Alfred couldn't help but smile, and Dick felt a pain of nostalgia. It all felt like coming home. "Welcome back, Master Dick. May I take your coat?"

 

While the manor hadn't changed a bit, the cave was almost like an entirely different world. The computers had been updated since he had last seen them--along with the rest of Bruce's toys and gadgets.

"Where is he?" Dick asked, sliding into the computer chair. He spun around idly before typing at the computer. He still remembered the old password and tried logging in, just for giggles.

It was blocked. Figures.

"Business," Alfred said shortly, eyeing the computer closely. Dick would be lying if he said that the suspicious look didn't make him feel betrayed--but to be fair, it had been mostly his choice to step away from Batman, and Alfred was just being mindful of their positions.

"At this hour? The sun is still out."

"Wayne business."

"Ah."

Dick got out of the chair, wandering idly around the cave, noticing the rearranged displays and shelving. He came across his old uniforms that had been hung up, along with a few, less familiar ones. They still bore the red breast, but they weren't fitted the same as the others--taller, bulkier--and the cut was different, more modern. Dick looked at it long and hard. The uniform was custom made, and its place on the display almost gave the illusion of the young man who wore it.

Almost.

"What other business has he been doing?"

"The usual business." The butler almost sounded tired.

"So soon?"

"The city never rests, Master Dick. And neither does Bruce."

No, not Bruce, Dick wanted to correct. Batman.

 

Dick heard the giggling before he heard the door shut. He glanced over at the clock on the wall--nighttime, sure, but not quite yet patrol hours. However, the time was approaching, and Dick knew that Bruce would be eager to get into the Batman uniform. He couldn't help but be curious to see how Bruce was going to wiggle his way out of this one.

"I haven't seen you in so long, I almost thought that you had forgotten about me.”

"Oh, I could never forget you..."

The voice came out like fine bourbon--smooth and smoky, and it probably smelled of it too. Half of him wanted to laugh like he always had at the ridiculous caricature--but the other half felt the hairs on his arms raise. Bruce only played at being a flirt--but he did it all too well.

"When am I going to see you again?"

Dick could see her illuminated face from his spot in the shadows. She was young and her face was curved softly--totally not the type he thought that Bruce went for. But she was undeniably pretty, with big blue eyes and thick brown hair, and her voice was sweet and loving.

"Soon. I promise. Do you like Paris?"

"I've never been," she said. Her eyes seemed to grow larger.

"I'm going there in two weeks for a gala event. Join me?"

"Oh," she said, her mouth parting in surprise. Her expression left no need for a vocal response--not that it mattered, a moment later and her lips were smothered in a kiss. A lie was all it took to keep her satiated, and sealed with that practiced kiss, the false pact was made.

Dick looked away. He had been trained to spy but only now it felt impolite.

The promise of a luxurious weekend in Paris was enough to send the young woman away without much protest--though she still offered to spend the night--and once again, Bruce Wayne proved himself as the master of excuses. The door was shut and Bruce moved to hang his coat.

When the lights of the woman's car moved past the curtains and ultimately disappeared, it was then that Bruce decided to speak aloud.

"Why are you here?"

Blunt. Straight to the point. That was the real Bruce Wayne. Not that Dick was expecting whispered sweet-nothings anyways.

Dick moved from his hiding place in the shadows.

"Who gave it away?" The corner of Dick's lips lifted into a smile that felt more like a smirk. His voice is so teasing that he almost feels like a kid again. "Alfred?"

"No," said Bruce. He pulled a familiar coat off the rack and held it up--one that would be much too small for him. "I only found out just now. You're better at hiding yourself when you're spying on me, that much I'll admit."

"But you still knew," Dick said. Bruce hung Dick’s coat back up on the rack and nodded. In the faint light, Dick could have sworn he saw a small sense of a smile.

"But I still knew," he agreed, whatever semblance of a smile disappearing as he turned around to face him fully.

If Bruce was surprised, he didn't let it show. But there was a brief moment where Bruce's eyes studied Dick's figure from top to bottom--right before he tore away. Dick never knew what Bruce was thinking, he only had good guesses (better guesses than most, he was proud to admit). He noticed, Dick thought to himself. It felt good to know that.

He wasn't a boy anymore. It had only been a few years, and they still saw each other from time to time when their paths crossed, but Dick had changed a lot since the big fight that ended the Boy Wonder. He was a man of his own now. He was more experienced, wiser--his body had even bulked up a bit more from his crime fighting since switching solo.

Dick approached him, pulling some papers out of his pocket. He placed them in Bruce's hands.

"What's this?" Not bothering to wait for a response, Bruce began to shuffle through them.

"There's a serial killer on the loose. He hasn't been identified but Blüdhaven police named him The Blüdhaven Strangler. He disappeared years ago but a string of Gotham murders have started springing up that seem to match the case."

Bruce flipped through the pages, eyes scanning them as he went. Once he got the gist of it, he nodded.

"It seems a bit of a stretch but I suppose it's possible. All sorts of lunatics running around, but I haven't noticed any related murders. I'll look more into it."

"No, I got my eyes on him," Dick interrupted. "I just need a place to crash until I catch him."

Bruce gave him a long, hard look. But after a moment, he nodded and handed back the papers.

"As you wish. Stay as long as you like."

He walked away. Dick watched him disappear into the other room and heard the sound of furniture sliding smoothly across the ground. A few footsteps, another quiet noise, and then silence.

Dick waited in that quiet room, expecting to see the lights of a different vehicle in a few moments' time.

 

He must have liked movies a lot.

When he woke up in the morning, Dick took the time to take a closer look at his old room--though it had changed a lot in the past few years, mostly due to its second occupant. A new shelf was installed with tons of movies--mostly action flicks and monster films.

The walls had band posters and magazine cut-outs of muscle cars--it was definitely a teenager's room, a stark contrast to the rigidness of the rest of the Wayne household. It made Dick smile.

He found a small, old photo sitting in the drawer. It was filled with big smiles, a moment in time before everything must have gone downhill. Dick wondered when it all changed--when the smiles began to fade as easily as a polaroid, when getting into trouble and taking wheels off of cars became more tempting. This one Dick didn't touch--he shut the drawer and left it, almost as if it were sacred.

He even found a dirty magazine hiding underneath the bed. Any other time, he might have blushed or laughed. Instead, he just smiled sadly and put it back.

Too young, he thought, and he started his day.

Dick went downstairs. He smelled Alfred's cooking and felt his mouth beginning to water--it had been too long. He rushed his way into the kitchen and pleasantly found a plate already set up for him.

"You shouldn't have," Dick said. Pennyworth smiled to himself.

"I could always take it back."

Dick noticed the empty spot at the table with a plate in front of it.

"Where's Bruce?"

"Probably still in bed, I imagine. It was a late night."

"Ah." Dick took a few bites out of his breakfast and nearly sobbed at how good it was. One of his biggest struggles of moving out was trying to replicate Pennyworth's cooking, and failing. Alfred joined him at the table with a newspaper and a cup of tea. Dick stopped shoveling food into his mouth for a moment to ask, "I need to know--how is he?"

Alfred lowered the paper enough to meet Grayson at eye level. Their gazes were equally grave. Finally, Alfred said, "He's focusing on his work. That's all you need to know."

At that, Dick frowned. He could handle the watchful eyes and rigid formalities, but goddamnit, it wasn't like he was a total stranger. He had lived almost half of his life in that manor--didn't that count for anything? Dick set his fork down.

"I'm serious, Alfred. This can't be easy for him--"

"Master Dick, your concern is not unnoted. Master Bruce is simply... complicated. It is not my position to analyze his intentions, it is only my duty to serve and protect him." Alfred looked at him long and hard and, with a sigh, he added, "I'm not leaving you out of anything. I just want you to not be so concerned. For your own sanity. Master Bruce will figure things out on his own terms--he always does."

Dick wondered if that was true.

 

The city lights never shined so bright in Blüdhaven as they did in Gotham. The downtown city life made the city sparkle. Dick edged closer to the precipice of the building, leaning down into the dark alley below. The time was nearing bar close and drunkards were stumbling around.

Dick skirted along the rooftop, keeping a trained eye on what was going down below. Chasing after smallfry wasn't something he did anymore these days--and while he didn't enjoy it, he had to admit that helping the common people was a lot more satisfying.

This was the most dangerous time of night in Gotham. Everyone had hungry eyes--whether it was after money, a short skirt or a good fight. Sure enough, a businessman who had too many drinks was walking down the sidewalk.

An easy target. A fine suit indicated his wages, and his drunken state made him easy picking. A man who had been hiding in the alley slipped out of the shadows long enough to pull his victim in--and that was when Nightwing interfered.

Swift and silent. One with the night and shadows. These were the teachings of the Bat and the foundation of Nightwing as well. He scaled down to the ground below--soundless, invisible.

Quick, but never hasty. Another teaching. Nightwing waited until the switchblade was drawn, so he could be sure of the grabber's intentions, before interfering.

The attacker never saw him coming. Nightwing grabbed him from behind, twisting the man's wrist until the blade fell from his hands, and in a few, swift movements, the man was knocked to the floor.

The drunken businessman fled, terrified by the dark shape flitting in and out of the shadows. He never said thank you--but Nightwing had learned to get used to not being thanked, as well as not doing acts for the sake of praise.

The next part was the difficult part, and also where he and Batman differed. He had to balance discipline with mercy--threaten the man to never do it again, but offer him a second chance at life. The hard part wasn't catching criminals--it was so easy, so practiced, he could do it blindfolded. The hard part was convincing them to never do it again.

The man was scared enough at least. He pissed himself when Nightwing revealed himself--instantly mistaking him for Batman, which nearly made Nightwing laugh. The man would have been immediately arrested if it was up to Batman. The mugger’s promises were made from fear, not genuine good, but it would do for now. Fear could work well enough.

The man's eyes were bloodshot. He kept touching and clawing at his skin. Nightwing handed him a card for a rehabilitation center funded by Wayne Enterprises. The man took it and ran, and though Nightwing hoped, he was sure he wouldn't visit.

The whole night was filled with petty creeps. But overall, it was a decent night. Aside from a purse-snatching where he arrived too late, most of the citizens he saved had avoided harm. The night was long and before the sun could rise, a whisper reached his ears--so light and unexpected that he almost thought it was a breeze.

He could even feel the words brush against his ears.

"I found something."

Nightwing turned around, maintaining his composure even though he was absolutely flustered. The shadow that snuck up behind him was in the silhouette of a bat, a sight that he hadn't seen in so long that it was almost alarming.

"Now I know how perps feel."

"Why? Are you doing something wrong?"

"Is this how you normally say hello?"

"I read your reports," Batman said, ignoring the jest. "I might have a clue."

"I thought I told you that I'd handle it," he replied, shifting his weight to his other leg. "He's my guy. I can hunt him down."

"You came into my cave," Batman pointed out, his voice cool--just barely edging the smoothness of his natural voice. "Unless you only came for the company."

He suspects me, Nightwing thought, incredulously.

"What did you find out?"

"There's one guy I know who has a history of strangling his victims. It’s a bit of a stretch since he's for-hire, and I believe he's a Gotham native, but it might match your case."

"If his crimes are known, why not bust the guy?"

"I've been trying. He has lots of friends. As it so happens, I'm after him myself."

"So you're asking for help?" Nightwing said. Even beneath the cowl, the grimace was notable. Nightwing quickly changed his tone. "I mean, why not? Two birds, one stone, right?"

"No birds," Batman corrected. "Just clowns."

Nightwing didn't blink.

 

Nightwing had a bad feeling in his stomach.

Everything felt too soon. A moment ago he was knocking down common muggers. Now he was infiltrating a mobhouse. They weren't chasing after any gang of thugs either--they were chasing down the  thugs.

It was just too soon.

Nightwing kept looking at Batman, expecting a sign--but the Dark Knight's composure was as strong as ever. It wasn't all bad--running alongside him, he almost felt like Robin again. As Robin, his confidence soared--he was eager, almost cocky, he felt invincible .

That was the only difference, really. The loss of invincibility.

You're not immortal , he reminded himself, and he suddenly found himself thinking of the other red uniform in the batcave.

Batman gestured toward a window. A figure--their target--was visible, laughing and clapping a comrade on the shoulder. Through the window, Nightwing caught glimpses of different objects--everything from beer to weapons to clown masks.

The hideout was in an older building, halfway in construction. Only one floor was occupied, and it was by Joker's men. A lot of buildings were abandoned--it was just another area of Gotham that was never rebuilt, stretching out for blocks of unoccupied buildings. Graffiti and missing windows were the popular decor. Aside from a single story filled with clowns, it was an empty neighborhood.

But that was fine. It just made the job easier.

Nightwing circled the building using a firescape on an abandoned apartment complex. It overlooked the hideout and gave him several views of the building. Nightwing watched the windows carefully, counting henchmen in his head.

Once he finished his observations, he looked up. Batman remained in place in the distance, his figure covered in shadow with the exception of his cowl illuminated by the moonlight. Nightwing raised his hand in the dark, knowing that Batman's installed nightvision would be able to pick up on it.

Five fingers. Five henchmen. Nightwing gave another signal and in a flash, Batman swooped to the ground, disappearing into the darkness.

Nightwing caught a glimpse of him sneaking up on a guard and decided to start making his own moves. Nightwing climbed down, finding a good spot to leap from the fire escape to tree branch, and a tree branch to a hanging balcony.

He pried open the window, slipping into a bathroom. It was broken down and unusable and a rat cut off his path. Nightwing wrinkled his nose but aside from that, stuck to his path. He listened through the door, in case there was a stray henchman in the hallway. No footsteps, it seemed. He slipped through the door and started heading for the hangout.

He waited around the corner, waiting for his comrade to make his appearance. Batman didn't leave him waiting long, coming through the hallway. He reached into his utility belt, pulling out a small sphere. He showed the symbol on top of it to Nightwing. Nightwing nodded in understanding and adjusted the lenses on his mask.

Batman rolled the smokebomb through the doorway. When it went off, the rest was easy as can be. The henchmen didn't have time to pull out their weapons so Batman and Nightwing made quick work of removing them.

They swiftly and efficiently took out four of the men by the time the smoke cleared. They finally closed in on their target, Batman getting him first. He slammed him up against the wall.

“The Blüdhaven murders. Tell me what you know about them,” Batman ordered. The man pinned up tried to pull away Batman’s hands.

“Nothing, I haven't had an assignment in months--haven't even seen the clown in, what, months? I heard he was overseas--”

“And it's driving you insane, isn't it? You just need  someone's throat to wrap your hands around, don't you?” Batman said with a growl. “So you decided to take it to the streets. The money didn't matter anymore so long as you could get your fun and excitement.”

“Yeah, I might have done some shit in the past. But none of that other stuff has got to do with me. Haven't been to Blüdhaven in years--place is a total shithole.” The man glared up defiantly. “Besides, what are you  going to do about it?”

Batman pulled him forward just to throw him against the wall again, forcing a grunt. The sheer force caused some dust and old plaster to sprinkle from the ceiling. Batman followed it with a punch to the gut that sent the man crumbling to his knees.

“Where have you been the past two weeks?”

The man rubbed his side. “I dunno. My granny’s. What do you want to hear?”

Nightwing jumped in surprise when Batman suddenly kicked him in the jaw, the sound of impact echoing in the room. The man fell over, spitting out blood.

“Look, I got nothing to do with it,” he started, his words garbled with the blood inside his mouth. “I got nothing--”

“That doesn't excuse anything you've done,” Batman said.

He picked up the man by his collar, dragging him to his feet. One hand forced him to stand and the other punched him.

A loosened tooth fell to the ground. Blood was pouring. Another punch. An uneasiness overcame Nightwing, the feeling growing with every hit, every cry--

And Batman. He looked so angry.

At first, Dick was too stunned to even react. But the man was cut above the brow and blood began to seep down his face, dripping in thick blots onto the ground, and although he had been fighting images like this since he was a kid the sight still sickened him to his core. When Batman raised his fist yet again, that's when Nightwing knew he had to interfere. He wasn't even asking questions anymore.

"He's not our guy!" he said, running in and putting his body in-between the two.

“What are you doing?” Batman said incredulously, as Nightwing tried to push him a few steps back. It wasn't often that Batman was taken by surprise, or betrayed for that matter, but Nightwing didn't have the opportunity to observe the moment. All he could think about was distancing Batman out of the situation. He saw the deep scowl in Batman’s face--the gritted teeth even beginning to show as he snarled, “You're interfering.”

As Robin, such behavior would have been worthy of punishment. He'd have his ears chewed off and be grounded from crimefighting. But he was Nightwing, not Robin. He was his own man, not a blindfully loyal little boy anymore.

“You're not doing this properly,” Nightwing said. He knew in his heart that he was right but when Batman shot him a look, he wavered. He knew he was digging the hole deeper for himself. “You're seriously hurting  him.”

“I'm doing my job. Now do yours,” Batman said back, a growl to his voice. Nightwing was dumbfounded for a moment.

“Who are you?” he said without meaning to, and it was Batman’s term to be dumbfounded. But the stunned expression quickly slipped away when Batman looked past Nightwing.

“Nightwing, move--”he started, grabbing him by the shoulder.

It was a moment too late. Nightwing cried out as an unbearable pain bit into his side. He looked down, watching the knife pierce through uniform and flesh alike, yanking out as quickly as it entered. Blood followed its exit, splattering the ground in a spurt of red.

Batman, still in the process of trying to move Nightwing out of the way before he was stabbed, ended up pushing him unceremoniously out of the way. Nightwing didn't turn to look, too focused on placing a hand on the bleeding wound, but heard the sound of impact as his attacker was tossed into the wall.

Nightwing grunted as he knelt to the floor, now putting both hands on the wound. He dared to look down and it turned out to be the biggest mistake. In his time, Nightwing had seen a lot of injuries--many that were far worse than this. Torn muscles, twisted limbs, outpouring wounds. But the smell of blood bubbled up and the motion of him moving to the ground ended up fountaining out some blood. The room started to spin. Something about all of his senses being attacked at once made him suddenly faint.

Shit, he thought, as he realized he might pass out. He immediately clenched his eyes shut, trying to block out the pain and nausea that was striking him all at once. Tried to keep it together. Had to keep it together.

The sounds of fighting returned to him. He opened his eyes, purposefully avoided looking back down. Instead he looked over his shoulder, and despite his dazed state, he knew that man was getting the beating of a lifetime just for fighting back.

Had to do something. Had to stop this.

Nightwing grabbed his nearby escrima stick that he had dropped in surprise when he was stabbed. It was a clumsy throw, but he threw it at his attacker, knocking him off balance hard enough to send him falling--out of the reach of the Bat.

It wasn't meant to be a good shot. It was just supposed to be enough to remind Batman that he was still there--bleeding and on his knees, sure, but he was there and he wasn't done separating them. It had the desired effect, Batman’s assault was interrupted, and he stopped to turn back to Nightwing.

Their eyes met, Nightwing’s gaze unforgiving. Batman's head turned towards the wound.

The anger seemed to dissipate--though Nightwing knew that he would be paying for this later. The Dark Knight turned his attention back to his comrade, striding towards him.

“Let's get you out of here. Back to the Cave.”

“This lead--”

“It's a dead end. I get that now. Let's go.”

Nightwing wasn't used to hearing his former mentor admit his mistakes.

It didn't feel like a victory.

 

"Stupid," Alfred hissed under his breath. "Stupid and completely irresponsible."

Dick winced as Alfred turned him over so he could have better access to the cut. The new position left him looking in Bruce's direction, who was sitting nearby. He was still in uniform, his expression unreadable.

"You're lucky," Alfred said, as he grabbed his stitching materials.

"Come on, Alfred," Dick said, his voice light. "You know it's going to leave a wicked-looking scar."

Dick grunted when Alfred pushed his arm out of the way, the movement not even a bit gentle. Dick kept looking up at Bruce, who wouldn't even return the gaze. He stood over them, watching, but his gaze looked past him.

Say something, he wanted to plead. But it wasn't the time or the place.

He felt Alfred tap his side. “A few inches.” Dick didn't have to ask what Alfred meant--he could feel the spot in relation to his body, knew it just barely reached where his intestine would have been.

“I guess my luck isn't as shitty as I thought.”

“Smartass.”

Dick couldn't help but grin. A foul-mouthed Pennyworth was a rare treat. “Is that a British colloquial? I'm not familiar.”

“Pardon me. I meant to say: dumbass.”

“There we go.”

The entire time, Bruce stared down with a tense, tightened expression. Dick could see the subtle disapproval in Bruce’s eyes, the terse way he held his jaw as if he was biting back his words.

Dick's patience ran out. He looked up with a glare. "If you've got something to say, just say it already. I'm all ears, ripe for chewing."

Dick winced when Alfred applied the cleansing alcohol directly onto his wound, stinging him. He knew that the strong pressure was intentionally added.

Bruce was quiet for a moment. Dick wouldn't have been surprised if Bruce left it at that--his cold shoulder was infamous in the manor. But something was bothering him, Dick knew that much. He could feel the anger coming off him. Bruce discreetly rolled his jaw, as if contemplating staying quiet but the words too itching to get out.

"That sort of mistake could have got you killed. Next time, you listen to me. No excuses."

Dick knew it was coming, but it didn't stop him from feeling insulted. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"What else could I be talking about?" Bruce said, suddenly turning. He was furious, the pent-up rage rearing its face, his eyes a livid blue and lips turned up into a snarl. Dick didn't flinch, instead he clenched his jaw, getting ready to defend himself. "I gave you an order and you didn't listen!" He stood up, the movement taking him a few steps back, and Dick could see him wavering between his fury and usual composure. Bruce shook his head to himself, made a noise halfway between a laugh and one of disappointment. "You haven't changed at all. You're still a kid."

Dick felt his anger flare up at the insult. The Robin inside of him reminded him that it was pointless, that all fights with Bruce ended the same, but Dick had buried the boy sidekick a long time ago. He buried it when he decided he was tired of clenching his jaw and keeping his mouth shut every time Bruce blew a fuse. He stood up despite Alfred’s protest and strode over, finding himself raising his voice.

"Oh, so this is all on me? Are we going to ignore that you almost beat  a guy to death?"

"I had it under control."

"He wasn't our guy! You said yourself that it was a stretch before we went on this task. And yet, when we got in there, you just went insane--"

"I was interrogating him!" Bruce said, his volume rising again. Dick saw Alfred in his peripherals, the butler rising from his spot to come and interfere and play mediator. Dick’s patience with Alfred was short too--the man cut Bruce too much slack, ever the obedient and blindfully loyal butler. Any sane person would have ditched Bruce years ago.

“Don’t you dare defend him!” Dick snapped at Alfred. Alfred looked at him dryly.

"Actually--"Alfred started, but Bruce raised his voice over his, his words jabbing in Dick's direction.

"You come into my city, you follow my rules. In Blüdhaven you can do whatever the hell you want, but when you work with me, you leave that pompous attitude behind--"

"Pompous!" Dick echoed, the indignation clear as he scoffed. "Right. Okay. Pompous. This coming from the guy who's calling Gotham his  city."

"Master Dick--"

"Yes, pompous. You run off on your own for a bit and suddenly, you think you can do this better than me," the edge is in Bruce's voice, the slight snarl at the end of his words, but he keeps himself stone-faced--his attempt to remain composed.

But while Bruce grows quiet when he's angry, Dick only gets louder. That's how it's always been--Dick: loud, vivid, distracting, a contrast to Bruce's quiet and calculating demeanor. So Dick kept yelling, unafraid.

"Maybe I can! It's not like you ever gave me a chance. The minute I suggest anything, you shut me down! Why do you think I left?"

"I knew the target better than you. You made the mistake. You got hurt from it."

Dick's rage bubbled up. He blurted out what he's been wanting to say from the start, "For fuck's sake, I'm not ten anymore!"

"This isn't about that!" Bruce suddenly roared back. "It’s the fact that you got hurt and I didn’t stop it!"

Dick's eyes widened at that. "Jesus, Bruce..." he breathed, but he isn't sure what else to say. Neither of them said anything else--both stayed standing with their eyes lowered, mixed feelings stirring inside. The cave grew oddly silent without the sound of their arguing.

"Master Dick," Alfred interjected calmly. Dick turned to him and was greeted with a flat expression. "As I was trying to say, you're bleeding again."

Dick stopped to look down at his side.

"Goddamnit," he muttered under his breath, and he moved to sit back down. Pennyworth resumed his seat and began to rework Dick's wound. Dick dared to look back up, but the edges of Bruce's cape were already flitting behind him as he moved toward the computer, ready to log the night's activities.

"I think the last time I heard him yell like that, you were still wearing red and green," Alfred remarked as he cleaned the wound.  Dick didn't have the energy to talk. He felt almost embarrassed--his ears even began to feel warm. The argument had spiralled out of control--Dick was usually calmer than that.

"Did he ever talk that way to him?"

Alfred is quiet for a moment. "There were many times where he could have, plenty of situations that might have warranted a good scolding, but Master Bruce restrained himself. Master Jas--”Alfred stopped himself mid-word, a look of pain in his expression, before he changed his phrasing. “The second Robin was a lot more difficult to work with, especially considering his upbringing. But I think Master Bruce’s time with you taught him patience.”

"Right,” Dick said sarcastically, snorting. Bruce was anything but patient when they got in a fight. But Alfred looked at him with a serious expression and slight hesitation.

"It was hard for him to say goodbye."

"I know that," Dick said, shrinking in place. "I didn't know him well, but--"

"I meant you," Alfred said shortly, and he left it at that.

Once Alfred stitched and patched up the wound, Dick took a deep breath and braved himself to join Bruce where he was standing. He knew Bruce could hear him approaching--Dick swore he could hear everything--but the man didn't acknowledge him.

"Look, I get it. I got hurt. But it wasn't your fault--"

"You wouldn't have had that lead if it wasn't for me," Bruce said, the edge returning to his voice. Dick tensed up at Bruce's aggressive tone. He resisted a sigh.

"Then let's solve this together," Dick insisted. Bruce typed away for a moment, seemingly in deep thought. When he spoke again, his voice returned to its normal tone.

"I can handle this. What happened with the perp was just a slip-up. I misjudged my own strength. It won't happen again--I won't allow it. I can control myself."

"But that's what I'm afraid of--you have too much control. After this night, my suspicions were made clear. You're bottling it all in!" Bruce didn't answer. Dick looked at him hopelessly. "Look, what happened to Jason--"

Dick stopped when Bruce shot him a glare, a look worthy of his worst nemesis triggered by a simple name. Dick instantly swallowed his words, the look much more intimidating than anything Bruce could have screamed at him. Suddenly, there was a flicker in Bruce’s eyes. One of realization. The man’s face fell, his gaze turning away.

"The case doesn't exist," Bruce said quietly. Dick didn't breathe, but he stood firmly on the ground and didn't tear his gaze away from his former mentor. The Batman always appeared composed, and this often reflected in Bruce as well. His emotions were always restrained, but Dick caught the small resonance of betrayal in Bruce's voice. Dick stood his ground, determined to not look away, even as terrible guilt began to sink inside of him. "I checked the Blüdhaven records. There's no deaths that match your papers or Gotham's murders. Did you think I wouldn’t look into it?"

Bruce almost sounded insulted--his words and tone were accusing. Dick said nothing, his gaze clouded.

"You lied."

"Only because I know you," Dick said. He felt his chest twist as he said it. He wasn’t sure how accurate that statement was. "If I told you the truth, you would have sent me away."

"And what is the truth?" Bruce said, looking into him. This time, Dick wavered--the man's gaze was cold and sharp. Dick didn't look away, not because he was brave enough to look into the face of his betrayal, but because he was too afraid of what would happen if he didn't. "I asked you before--this time, no lies. What are you doing here?"

"Because I was worried," Dick finally admitted.

When Bruce didn't respond, Dick knew it wasn't intentional. This time, Bruce was the one silenced.

"If you're not here for a case, then go back," Bruce said, turning away. He began to remove his cape, ready to settle down. "Your city needs you."

Your city, he had said. Dick frowned. Not Gotham.

Bruce made his message clear: Dick didn't belong there.

Somehow, that idea only made Dick feel more defiant.

“Is that why you’re pushing me away?” Dick called after him. “Or is it because you can’t handle another Jason?”

Dick had gotten in trouble plenty of times. There were times where Bruce grounded him, punished him with chores, fired him as Robin. But he had never hit him. No matter how bad the arguments got, no matter how many personal insults were thrown or old grudges brought up, he had never hit him out of anger.

Dick didn’t even fully process what had happened until the stars had gone from his eyes. There was a moment, a flash of red and black in his vision, followed by tears that had sprung up. Dick clenched his eyes shut and shook his head to fight back the stinging feeling on his cheek and the blurriness in his vision. Dick was surprised by how quick and hard it had been, and when he dared to look back at Bruce, he wasn’t sure what made him angrier:

The fact that Bruce had hit him, or the fact that he hadn’t at least taken off the stupid gauntlets.

As he stopped and glared at Bruce, Dick tried to reason with himself. Tried to settle his heart rate. Tried to calm the anger. He did cross a line. He might have even deserved it. He might have done the same thing.

The surprise is evident in Bruce’s expression, as the man’s face begins to fall. “Dick, I don’t know where that came from. I--”

The second Bruce started to apologize, Dick realized he didn’t care.

Dick punched him across the face. Punched him without holding back. Punched him with the same force that he punched even his worst enemies. Punched him enough that even Bruce Wayne, the Batman, staggered back a little bit. And what might have been an exciting moment--because back in their days of training together, Dick couldn’t barely even land a hit period --or even a moment to sit back and accept that they were even, quickly swelled into rage. Dick moved in to punch him again but Bruce caught the arm.

Enough,” Bruce said, locking his arm in place. Dick responded by elbowing his way out of the hold.

They were struggling against each other. Punched and elbowed. Pushed and slammed into fixtures and furniture. Finally, Pennyworth arrived on the scene.

“For God’s sake--I just fixed you!” Alfred said, pulling Dick away. If it had been anyone else, Dick probably would have pushed them away. But it was Alfred, so he contained himself.

“Do you understand now why I couldn't say anything?” Dick yelled. Bruce didn't flinch at his voice. “Its because you try to build all these fucking walls around yourself. Its because I have a better chance talking to you by pretending it's about a fucking case!”

Dick heard the crack in his voice, and Dick was suddenly aware of the overwhelming amount of emotion beginning to surface. He tried to bury it. Tried to bury the boy. But that was one skill he never learned from his mentor.

“I know this because I know you. You can try shutting me out all you want but I already know you.”

Dick pulled himself away from Pennyworth. Didn't bother to talk it out, didn't bother to wait and see if they were calling his name. Eyes stinging the whole way up, he climbed up the steps to the manor so he could grab his things. And when he got on his motorcycle, the black iron gates let him loose.

 

Dick prepared to leave for Blüdhaven the next night. He spent his money on a shitty hotel for the night, not even wanting to spend a moment longer in the manor. He didn't want to stay and he didn't want to look back.

But even that couldn't help him from stopping.

“Shit!” Dick cursed under his breath, applying on the brakes. He nearly crashed into the car in front of him. He shook his head to himself--Bruce was getting to him. The argument from the previous night had been echoing in his mind ever since and was distracting him from the road. He slowly inched his bike over to see what the sudden traffic hold-up was.

Red and blue lights greeted him. The street was blocked off by GCPD. The backpack Dick was wearing suddenly felt heavier.

Everytime he thought he was leaving this city, there was always something stopping him.

“Fucking motorcyclists,” Dick heard someone grumble through an open window as he began to weave his bike through the traffic. He needed to get to somewhere where he could change into his uniform and investigate.

“Come on,” Dick grumbled to himself as a car purposefully pulled forward to cut off his path. He had been to Blüdhaven, Star City, New York, Metropolis and more… and Gotham, hands down, had the worst  drivers.

From where Dick was positioned, he was able to get a new look at the blocked off buildings. He saw all the emergency vehicles stretched for blocks. When he looked up, a symbol was in the sky.

“Goddamnit,” Dick muttered, parking the bike in the middle of a line of cars. He grabbed his bags. “I swear if this gets wrecked or towed, he's paying for it.”

“Hey!” someone shouted. “You can't park that there!”

You're not going anywhere anyways!” Dick yelled as he ran for the nearest alley.

 

“...armed men… carrying firearms…”

“...fifteen confirmed hostages…”

Dick picked up what GCPD radio signals he could as he threw on his Nightwing uniform. He grabbed his escrima sticks and immediately snuck his way past the barricade. Upon entering the targeted building, he immediately set himself to thinking of where Batman could be.

Sending a communication signal could be distracting if Batman was in the middle of something. Nightwing couldn't take that risk so he held off on using his communicator.

Besides, he was still pissed off.

If I run into him and he's fighting some criminals, I can just jump in. We won't even have to speak to each other, he thought bitterly. Just the way he prefers it.

He headed his way towards the upper levels, where the police suspected their hostages were. He could hear the voices getting louder the closer he approached. He stayed cautious, peeking around every corner.

From his distance, he was able to get a good view of the scene. The hostages were rounded up in a circle, armed men surrounding them. Nightwing counted four gunmen. In the shadows, Nightwing swore he saw something move, so he withdrew his escrima sticks--waiting for the Bat to make his move.

It all happened in an instant. Four batarangs and the weapons were knocked out of their hands. And quickly, the Bat swooped in, taking out one of the gunmen in just a short series of hits.

Nightwing rushed forward toward the hostages, quickly urging them off.

“Get back!” he said, and they didn’t have to be told twice. They ran off. Nightwing made sure they were all off running toward the exit signs before he turned his attention back to the gunmen.

If Batman was surprised by his ex-comrade’s appearance, he was too busy to show it. He knocked down another enemy before another gunman finally picked up his weapon. Nightwing pulled Batman out of the way, just as the shots fired, and the two ducked behind a nearby pillar.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Batman said with a growl.

“I thought this was a costume party.”

"You can't be here," Batman said, ignoring the jape. Nightwing blinked in surprise when Batman suddenly grabbed him by the shoulders. There was something unfamiliar in his voice--urgency. "I can't have you here."

"Batman, I'm fine," Nightwing said, though he yearned to say his true name. He gently reached for the hand on his shoulder but Batman withdrew, checking around the pillar to get a view of their opponents. "I'm here to help you."

"Their reinforcements are here. This is dangerous. Get back."

"You know I've done worse," Nightwing said. A deep, saddened feeling washed over him. This wasn't the man he was used to fighting alongside--this man before him was too quick to panic and worry. Something was off. "Batman, you--"

Nightwing was interrupted when Batman pulled him to the ground. The loud sound of a gunshot sounded, followed by several more rounds bursting through the pillar. Nightwing did the rest on instinct, rolling to his feet and running towards their next cover. He heard Batman following suit.

They ducked behind a room divider. Nightwing noticed Batman clutching his shoulder. His eyes widened.

"Did they get you?"

"Bulletproof armor," he said, still holding his shoulder. He shook his head to himself. "It'll be fine. It hurts like hell though." Batman clenched his jaw. "This isn’t good."

At this point, Nightwing was more annoyed than concerned.

"We can get through this."

Batman’s face hardened, his jaw clenching. He wasn't convinced. Suddenly, Nightwing laughed. A small laugh, a quiet laugh, that fell out of him before he could bite it back. When Batman looked at him, surprised, Nightwing dared to look him in the eye. And for a moment, Nightwing could catch the foggy view of his eyes through the mask. They were faded underneath the whited lenses, but it was enough--because Nightwing could see him. He knew the eyes behind the mask well enough to where he could see him even if he just imagined.

He could see Bruce.

“When are you going to accept that I'm never going to leave you alone?” Dick said. Bruce's face was indifferent, but he was quiet for a moment. The words settling in. The weight to them heavier than Dick expected.

“Let's get back out there,” Bruce said, pulling out a flash bomb from his belt pouch. “On the count of three.”

“Right,” Dick said, adjusting the lenses on his mask.

“Three. Two. One.”

Dick’s mask blocked out the blinding light of the mask. They both leapt in, the room now crowded with enemies. They chose different targets, knocking their weapons to the ground.

As the light faded, and the men returned to, Dick and Bruce were already ahead.

Bruce moved fast, a blur of shape and color with his cape rippling around him, moving around the room like the shadow. But Dick slipped into place easily, their movements synchronizing as easily as they ever had.

It wasn't like before. It felt different. There was no miscommunication, no unchecked shoulders, like it had been at the clowns’ hideout. When one of the men came flying at Dick, all he had to do was call Bruce by his other name, and a batarang stopped the rampage. When Bruce was being charged from two directions, Dick was able to join him side by side.

It was all a blur. The sounds of bodies hitting fists and the floor. The impact of Dick’s escrima sticks against an opponent. At a point in time, the realization sunk in.

We're winning.

And it was like nothing had changed. The time that passed. The colors on their uniforms. The arguments, the pain, the loss… none of it mattered, because they were just two old comrades who were working together, watching each other's backs, protecting each other. None of it was practiced, and yet it felt like a choreography that Dick had been training for his whole life.

Like an orchestra that had never stopped playing. A dance that had never ended. A trapeze act where the only limit was a partner’s willingness to extend his hands.

And when the action settled, Bruce and Dick were the ones left standing.

 

The GCPD handled the rest. Dick and Bruce moved into the alleys, itching to return home. The roads had been cleared, to Dick’s dismay.

“They towed my bike,” Dick said sadly.

“You can get it back.”

“Gotham's fees are ridiculous. You owe me one for helping you get out of that mess.” Dick smiled a little smugly. “Or maybe you could get me a new one? Maybe one in blue?”

Hh. Who bought you the first one?”

Dick reddened a little at that. “Fair point.”

He turned to Bruce and grinned. “Guess you'll just have to give me a ride in the Batmobile. It'll be fun, just like old--”

Dick stopped short, his heart skipping a beat when he saw Bruce kneeling on the ground, his cape a puddle of fabric around him, the cowl bowed towards the ground.

“What's wrong?” Dick asked, panic edging at the back of his mind as he hurried to Bruce’s side.

“Too much blood,” Bruce breathed, clenching his shoulder. Dick reached to pull Bruce’s hands away from the wound so he could see the wound for himself, but when his fingers touched Bruce's, Bruce immediately withdrew away. “Let's head back to the cave.”

Dick thought of earlier, when Bruce had gotten shot at.

“You lied,” Dick said, sinking. “You said it was fine but it wasn't. The bullet did cut through your armor.”

“It did,” Bruce admitted.

“And you still told me to leave,” Dick said, frowning. Dick wasn't sure whether to be angry or in disbelief. “Why? You knew you were hurt.” Dick grew more and more upset. “Why wouldn't you just accept my help? Did you think I would just get in the way?”

"Don't you get it?" Bruce said, his voice so low it was nearly a whisper. "I can't lose you too."

Dick blinked, almost at a loss for words. His throat felt dry--finally he reached to touch Bruce, his fingertips brushing against Bruce's neck--the man's expression unreadable underneath his mask, but his pain ever so apparent.

"You haven't lost me. I'm right here," he said finally.

Bruce closed his eyes and said nothing. He let Dick pull his arm over his shoulders and they walked back together.

 

Thomas and Martha Wayne’s printed eyes stared into Dick’s. As Dick moved along the mantle in Wayne manor, other faces greeted him. Many unrecognizable, but the ones he knew made him smile most. Alfred before he started balding. Bruce as a child, who looked more shy and awkward rather than quiet and stoic at that stage. His past self even greeted him, and Dick couldn't help but linger on his own portrait.

Was he really so lanky and gawkish back then?

A small frame sat on the edge of the mantle. It would be unnoticeable from far away, as it laid face down on the polished wood. Dick didn't want to peek. He knew whose face it was. But it didn't feel right to just leave it there.

It didn't feel right to hide it.

He set the frame back upright, Jason staring back at him. His eyes with that wild sort of look in them. His hair untamed.

And his smile, so subtle it was hardly there at all. But it was there nonetheless, so Dick wiped the frame clean of dust to bring out that smile. When he was finished, he let the portrait stand tall, and found himself smiling back.

When Alfred came back up the steps, he was alone.

“How is he?” Dick asked.

“Fine. He's been cleaned and stitched. He's suffered worse.”

“What about the blood loss?”

“No transfusion is necessary. His dizziness is more likely to do with stress. But he will have to take it easy the next few days, no exception,” Alfred said, a stern look on his face. Dick smiled.

“I'm positive you'll be able to put the foot down.”

“Sarcasm does not suit you, Master Dick.” After a moment of thought, Alfred added, “I'll be retiring for the night. Go speak to him. I think he could use your companionship.”

Dick was surprised. “What makes you say that?”

“Bruce never says what he thinks or how he feels. But having been around him for so long, sometimes…” Alfred trailed off. Dick stared back.

“You just know,” Dick finished for him. Alfred nodded, his eyes conveying some sort of emotion that almost felt like concern, and he patted Dick on the shoulder before heading deeper into the manor.

Dick took the staircase behind the clock, heading into the cave.

When he found Bruce, he was up and moving. His shoulder was bandaged and he still walked stiffly, still sore from the night. Dick frowned to himself and quickly approached Bruce.

“Why are you up? Shouldn't you be resting? Alfred just bandaged you.”

“Relax,” Bruce said. “I'm just going to record my logs.”

Dick rolled his eyes. “Can't you just skip it tonight? You were shot.”

Bruce just gave Dick a flat look before moving towards his computer. Dick sighed to himself and sat in a nearby chair, waiting for Bruce to finish uploading information into the computer and recording his logs.

While he was typing, Dick spoke up. “I think we're both all sorts of beat up,” Dick said, touching the cut on his side. He smiled a little. “But as usual, you outdid me.”

Hh.”

Dick’s expression slowly fell, worry beginning to rise in his chest. He scooted closer. Bruce visibly tensed, aware of his movements, but he did not look away from his work. “Are we okay?”

The cave felt eerily silent when Bruce stopped typing, the clacking being the only thing to fill the void. Dick’s anxiety rose as he wondered if he had said the wrong thing. Finally, Bruce spoke.

“I'm proud of you.”

Dick was perplexed. “What?”

“I'm proud of you,” Bruce said, firm as ever. He went back to his typing, but the words slowed as he lost his train of thought. He sighed and shut off the monitor, turning to face Dick. “I don't think I've ever told you that.”

He hadn't. Bruce's compliments were few and far between that Dick had learned to aim for satisfaction, not praise. Dick was so taken aback his face even began to feel warm. “Uh, thanks? But I don't… I don't understand why you're saying this.”

“It's because I never say it. You do good work, and because you do good work, I may never get the chance to tell you that.” Bruce wouldn't look him in the eye. Dick was beginning to understand, Bruce's words an echo in his mind:

I can't lose you too.

Suddenly the arguments felt so silly. The fighting. The harsh words. Everything moved into place, the puzzles coming together.

Bruce did care. He cared deeply. Dick always knew that, because he felt the same way. They never said it, never conveyed it, but the affection was there. In his days of being Robin, being side by side with Batman was all he wanted. All he needed. Dick wasn't sure when that changed. Wasn't sure when his insecurities began to swallow him. Wasn’t sure when they reached a point where they just couldn’t get along.

Dick didn't regret any of his decisions. Didn't regret branching out to prove himself, even if it meant leaving. The distance was needed, because now he could face Bruce as an adult. He learned more about himself in a way. And maybe he was afraid this whole time because part of him feared that Bruce would hate him for leaving.

But he didn't.

And that was all Dick needed. To know that he still had a place here.

“I'm sure he knew,” Dick said, lowering his gaze. “I'm sure he knew you were proud of him too.”

“Dick,” Bruce said, and part of his voice sounded strained. Like it was difficult to speak, difficult to say his name. “You and Alfred are the most important people to me. He...” Bruce hesitated, but he corrected himself, the name sounding heavy, “Jason was important too.”

“You're not responsible for what happens to us. You know that, right? The decisions we've made our ours, and no sane person would get into this profession unless they were committed.”

“I know,” Bruce said, his voice a tad low. “But I have regrets. Words I failed to say. I don't want to repeat those mistakes.” Bruce looked at Dick. “You've been with me a long time. You've been more patient than most. It's not unnoticed. You are…”

“‘You are’…” Dick repeated, urging him on. Bruce looked a bit flustered, and at that, Dick felt a little smug. He leaned in closer, a mischievous grin on his face. “Come on. Say it.”

“You're a brat,” Bruce said finally, his voice flat.

“Come on,” Dick said, even going as far as to nudge him, his eyes practically sparkling. “Admit that you actually care. That you like me. Come on.”

“I love you.”

Dick didn't breathe.

Bruce stared back, as if to challenge him. “That's what you wanted to hear, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Dick said, but he's flustered. More flustered than he should be. But Bruce doesn't dwell on it. He goes right back into his work, even as Dick’s heart is racing and he's still trying to process what Bruce said.

Because Bruce does love him, even though this was the first he ever said it. He loves all of them. But Dick can't help but feel that there's something deeper to his words. A deeper layer beneath them, and a reason why he felt compelled to call out Dick specifically.

But the heat is rising to his ears and maybe, just maybe, that's what Dick wants to believe.

“Stay,” Bruce said, interrupting Dick’s thoughts. When Dick looks at him, Bruce looks back. Their eyes locked. “Stay here for awhile.”

Dick has other responsibilities. He should return to Blüdhaven, finish up his cases, but it's such a simple request that he can't deny him. Won't deny him.

“Okay,” he said.

 

They took the time to heal. Took the time to build themselves back up. To get back into the groove of things, to readjust. When they finally ventured out on patrol, it was still a learning process. Learning what had changed. What had stayed the same. Getting used to one another's newly acquired abilities instead of separating themselves immediately.

Learning to work together.

And it was rough in the beginning, just like it had been when Dick was becoming Robin. Getting used to having a partner around. Remembering that when the criminals were fought and the work was done that there was someone by his side.

He wasn't alone. And Bruce wasn't alone either.

It wasn't perfect though.

It didn’t matter how practiced they were, sometimes, slip-ups happened. They were chasing down a gang when Dick slipped from a fire escape and nearly sprained his ankle. His perfect balance failed for once and to prevent himself from landing badly, he turned himself and ended up cutting himself on the edge of a ladder. The cut landed a little too closely to his old wound, nearly reopening it.

Any other time, it would just be another mistake. But Bruce cut off the chase short, letting them get away.

“It’s fine,” Dick said. But he saw Bruce’s face and realized it wasn’t.

And even though Bruce carried the same stern, strict expression he always did, Dick could see right through him.

There was something still bothering him.

They returned to the cave after that. Per Dick’s request, they kept the fire escape slip a secret from Alfred. But when the butler retired for the night, Bruce immediately shoved the first aid kit in Dick’s arms.

"Thank you," Dick said, even though he didn’t need it. The bleeding had stopped long ago. The cut had been scary at the moment, but it was nothing--especially in comparison to all the injuries Dick had in the past. But he could tell something was bothering Bruce and wanted to humor him. He sat on the desk and peeled down his uniform to his waist, checking the cut.

This was where Bruce was supposed to tell him that it was his fault. That he shouldn’t have been so reckless, shouldn’t have been so careless. At the very least, Dick was expecting get off the desk, it's not a chair. He waited for the scolding but Bruce was quiet, typing his nightly logs into the computer. Dick wiped away the dried blood, knowing that even though Bruce never once glanced at him, that he stayed close for a reason. Dick knew it was Bruce’s way of supervising and he waited for him to say that he was doing it wrong. But again, the words never came.

The silence unnerved him.

Dick slid the kit down the far edge of the desk and hopped down. Bruce didn’t turn his way, even as Dick walked up to him and faced him. Dick moved in a little closer, wanting a response, any  response. Bruce sensed him moving closer and turned to look at him, but any emotion was lost under the veil of the bat.

His fingers longed to reach under the cowl--to pry the mask from Bruce's face so he could see the man, not the bat. But Grayson knew better. The mask was fitted with technology that would shock anyone who managed to pull it off. Dick found himself bitter with the thought--Bruce treaded caution with everything.

He used to know how to take it off, in case anything were to happen to Bruce on a mission. But it never came down to it, and Dick wasn't sure how Batman's technology had changed since he was Robin. So instead he dared to reach toward him, his fingers on the edge of the half-cowl.

Bruce stared at him, no different than an animal being approached by a curious human, but he did not jerk away when the fingers touched his skin. Instead, he caught the hint, and he stood up to remove his cape and pull back the cowl.

His dark hair was tousled from wearing the cowl and his blue eyes were clear. There was something about that movement, the act of unmasking him by only asking, that made Dick feel almost shy.

He reached to cup Bruce's face, even as those blue eyes regarded him with a little suspicion. But there was something deeper than just suspicion--there was almost a sense of hesitation in there.

"Please don't try to protect me anymore."

Bruce's gaze lowered, his mouth parting ever so slightly, as if he wanted to voice an objection but he stopped himself midway.

Dick kissed him.

Truthfully, he didn't mean to. But it happened unexpectedly. Bruce is standing, his height towering over him, and suddenly emotion surges up in Dick's chest, because he's afraid. Not afraid that Bruce won't kiss him back, but afraid that he'll distance himself. That he'll push him away like he always does.

"Dick--"he turned away slightly, but Dick just drew in closer, grasping his face in his hands. Dick's hands are gentle against his skin, Bruce’s light stubble scratching against his palms.

"Don't," Dick said when Bruce averted his eyes. "Please don't shut me out."

Bruce raised a hand as if to reach for Dick but it stopped. It hung in the air in the space between them, and there was a flicker of uncertainty in Bruce's eyes. Dick grasped it in his hands, turned the wrist over to reveal where the bracer connected. Dick slowly undid the straps and ties that kept it in place. He can feel Bruce's eyes watching him but the man is still and silent as a statue.

Dick removed the bracer and then the glove, peeling it away to reveal inch by inch of skin. His bare hand, rough and callused, touched against his own. Dick does the same to the other wrist, this time taking his time to really feel Bruce's hand--the size of it in comparison to his own, the light scrape on one of his knuckles, the old faded scar on his palm.

When Dick looked up, Bruce is unsmiling, but there is something different in his eyes--the only semblance of any change in expression. Blue eyes that shine with a sense of tenderness, sad and beautiful all at once.

Dick leaned forward once again, pressing Bruce back into the desk, but this time Bruce spoke before their lips could brush against one another's.

"Stop."

For a moment, he did. Dick lowered his gaze, his chest twisting. Stomach turning. He told himself that it was pointless. Bruce was just a dream--a beautiful, disastrous, chaotic dream. But underneath that all, Dick wanted to believe that there was something  there.

He leaned in again, his lips brushing against Bruce's as he whispered, "You don't sound very convincing."

He kissed him again.

Bruce didn't push him away, and soon Dick's heart was beating faster and faster as Bruce's lips began to move pliantly underneath his. Dick felt a hand reach for his hair--callused fingers brushing through his long bangs, tenderly.  Almost sweetly. It held him, bringing their lips closer together.

His chest was fluttering, his face flushed, his nerves shaky. Dick slipped his tongue past Bruce's lips. To his shock, the older vigilante's mouth parted openly. Bruce’s taste, the warm velvet feeling of his tongue against his--such sweet, sweet feeling rushing through him.

It was unexpected, like Barbara or Koriand'r all over again. Falling in love for the first time--easy, invincible, flying. Every touch, every taste was thrilling, exciting. But there was a different element in there too, the same feeling he got when he stepped through those doors in the manor after all that time. Something distant but still familiar, that feeling of being reunited with a place he always belonged.

It was like coming home.

"Dick," Bruce breathed, and despite everything, he still sounded so stern. Dick ignored him. He doesn't want Bruce to stop this. He doesn't want Bruce to tell him what they shouldn't do, even though he knows perfectly well that this was exactly  what they shouldn't  be doing.

Dick silenced him with another kiss, pushing him back into the desk and climbing over him, passion soaring, excitement racing. He traced a tongue across Bruce's bottom lip, is unable to resist sucking on it. Their breaths are hot and heavy now, their lips wet.

And while he was tentative, Bruce didn't push him away. Even made this low noise in his throat, one that sent a shiver down Dick's spine.

And Dick found himself wanting to taste Bruce's skin. Found himself sucking on his lip, his ear, rolling down the collar of his suit so he can reach his neck. Found that he can't keep his hands to himself, he's touching and touching and he wants more. His hands trail from Bruce's strong chest to his sculpted abdomen to between his legs.

Bruce's breath hitched. He looked like he wanted to say something but Dick can feel the shape of him, even through his uniform.

Dick slipped off of him, getting on his knees to the floor. He begins to unlace Bruce's boots, the rich smell of leather greeting him. And there’s something almost romantic, in a way, as the laces slip undone underneath his fingers. Bruce agreed to step outside of his boots and Dick is already ahead of him, undoing the utility belt. The hesitation is back and Dick wondered if Bruce’s heart was racing as fast as his.

Dick began to pull at Bruce’s pants, his intentions made clear, and finally Bruce spoke.

"Don't," Bruce said firmly. He lifted his hand to push Dick away but the younger man caught him by the wrist. Dick turned his head, gently kissing Bruce's palm--his lips light and feathery. Bruce seemed a statue underneath the touch. Dick ducked back down, placing his face between Bruce's thighs, and this time the man didn't resist.

Dick grasped Bruce's erection, gently stroking it before placing kisses along the side. Bruce's breath hitched but aside from that, he was static. A nagging thought crawled into the back of Dick's mind, reminding him of all the women Bruce Wayne slept with, and wondered if he was this quiet with them.

The challenge only made his desire stronger. He wanted to pierce through that wall and make Bruce cry out.

He brushed his long bangs out of the way as he swallowed the head of Bruce's cock. Bruce seemed to have stopped breathing for a moment. The taste of him wasn't anything like Dick had expected, and this whole thing was far out of his experience range. But he wanted to try. Wanted to give Bruce pleasure.

The taste and smell wasn't anything like he was expecting. But the heat is the most surprising. Bruce is so hot. Dick goes down on him further. He can see Bruce clenching the edge of the table out of the corner of his eyes. He can see the muscles in Bruce’s abdomen flex and relax. And though he doesn’t speak, his breath tells tales, the way his breath hitches and sighs every Dick rises and sinks.

He took more of Bruce's erection into his mouth, ignoring the way his mouth and jaw strained uncomfortably at the size. He moaned without meaning to, his lips humming around Bruce’s thick and hot cock. Dick is more than aroused at this point, more aroused than he ever expected to be. He’s excited--eager to please this man, eager to touch him and taste him, and he's rolling his hips even though nothing meets him but air. He wants relief.

He wants more.

Dick is fully prepared for Bruce to finish. But Bruce suddenly pushed on his shoulder, gently urging him away. When Dick looked up, he was expecting a lecture. A little speech explaining why they shouldn't, why they couldn't . But when he looked up, he saw Bruce’s face. Flushed, with a dark look in his eyes. A look of desire. Dick had never seen such an expression on Bruce’s face.

It was enough to make him want to finish right then and there.

Not here, the thought seems to whisper as their eyes meet. And Bruce gently guides Dick back to his feet, capturing his lips in his, and Dick knows that just this once, he's being invited in.

 

He shouldn't be thinking about this.

They're in Bruce's room and Bruce is slipping another finger inside of him, his other hand stroking Dick’s erection to keep him hard, and Dick knows he shouldn't be thinking about it. Shouldn't be thinking about why Bruce seems to know exactly  what he's doing, shouldn't be thinking about where Bruce got all of this experience from. Shouldn't be thinking of how many people laid in this bed with him.

Thinking about it makes him jealous. Maybe even a little sad. So he tries to focus on the pleasure instead. It's not a difficult task. Dick hardly notices the stretch now, even though he could only grimace before. He couldn't help it. He had done many things, but he had never done this.

He was nervous. Excited, but nervous. Bruce was a man who demanded perfection, and Dick was afraid of his own inexperience. But if anyone was going to guide him through this, it had to be Bruce, the man who finds the patience to guide him through everything even though he had no patience for anything else. No patience for anyone else.

And it felt almost easy. The kisses Dick received on his temple, his ear, his jawline, his throat--all like little encouragements. A praise of a job well done, no different than when Dick was a boy and was learning a new tool or fighting technique.

He fills full, so full, as Bruce buries his fingers inside of him. Down to the knuckles. He feels almost spoiled as Bruce continued to pull at his cock, keeping him in this limbo, balancing between strangeness and pleasure. Enough to keep him rolling his hips.

But his breath would hitch before settling into a sigh of pleasure, especially as Bruce began to stroke more at the tip. The sighs are becoming more frequent, edging on moans, and when Bruce leaned in to kiss him again, Dick found himself returning it hungrily. The kiss was wet, passionate. Dick felt Bruce's tongue against his, he wanted more.

So Dick grabbed Bruce by the shoulders and turned their positions, Bruce removing his fingers to let Dick do what he wanted. To let him climb on top of him. And Dick never really noticed how hard Bruce was until that moment. His member is stiff, straining. Precum beginning to gather at the tip. Ready to enter something, ready for relief. He might have been hard this entire time, might have been hard as he was preparing Dick--Dick couldn’t be sure, he had been too focused on himself and Bruce had stayed composed, as always. He was eerily quiet, even as Dick was moaning between his hands. But his face is a little more red than usual, his eyes a little more focused.

Dick rolled his hips, their cocks brushing against each others’, and Dick had to bite his lip to pull back a moan. Bruce reached between them, his gaze dark and intense, to stroke both of them. Dick isn't able to hold back a noise this time, the moan escaping past his lips. The heat of Bruce's cock against his, his hands bringing them together, the delicious friction.

Dick’s hands are roaming again. Across Bruce’s body. Across the bullet marks, the bruises, the scars. Dick thought of his own newly acquired cuts and thought of how they were slowly beginning to match.

Dick is ready. He never thought he would be, but he wants to feel Bruce fully. Wants Bruce inside of him. Wants him now. So he lowers himself.

He's pushing into him.

It feels strange and Dick winces, unsure of what to think of it, but Bruce lets out this groan between his teeth, the most noise he’s made all night, and heat rushes through Dick’s body in excitement. He wants this so he continues. And it feels so lewd and dirty and exciting all at once to lower himself onto Bruce’s cock.

Inch by inch he sinks himself onto Bruce’s cock until it’s so full and hot that Dick is shaking. He’s not sure he can go in any further but Bruce suddenly grips him by the hips, pushing himself up the rest of the way. Dick’s nails dig into Bruce’s skin in response, and Bruce hisses lightly between his teeth. The sound is quiet, so subtle it was barely there, but Dick heard it. And as he heard it, heat rushed through his body. He wanted to hear it again.

Bruce thrusts up into him a couple of times and Dick tries to focus, focus on the movement of Bruce’s body. The rhythm. And the more they move, the less Dick focuses on the feeling. Instead he’s focusing on Bruce. Bruce, whose face is clenched in a tight expression, deep with concentration as always--but even in his intensity, he still manages to look handsome, so gorgeous. At times his breath hitched slightly, particularly when he pushed up.

Dick’s turned on. He wasn’t sure if he would be, but he is, and the longer it all went on, the better his body was becoming adjusted to accepting Bruce’s cock, and the more Dick wants to make him lose control.

So he pushes Bruce back onto the mattress. He steadies his knees on the bed, rising and lowering himself on Bruce’s cock in the same rhythm he had memorized. And even though their bodies are no longer in a close embrace, Dick’s body is shivering with excitement, because Bruce’s eyes look so damn desperate as he lays there and lets Dick ride him.

The space between them gives Dick the freedom to reach his own erection. He gently palms it at first, afraid to lose balance. But then he leans back on his other arm, the movement arching his back slightly, the other hand beginning to stroke his erection. And the pose feels exposing and dirty and sinful as he openly strokes his cock in front of Bruce, his body leaned back to continuously rock in Bruce’s lap.

Dick’s voice is looser now. The pleasure is beginning to build. His hand feels good, yes, but he’s starting to realize that Bruce feels really good too. Dick’s body is sliding up and down his cock, easier now, faster now. And he’s jerking himself so good too, so good, and the heat is rushing through his body. Bruce’s hands touch him again, gently running up and down his body--over his chest, down to his hips, pulling their bodies tighter as Dick moved.

And as Dick’s moans begin to increase, Bruce’s voice becomes more audible. Dick can hear every shuddery exhale, even groan between his gritted teeth. Finally Bruce sits back up, and Dick cries out as Bruce pushes in impossibly deep. But Bruce doesn’t savor the moment, he moves so he can flip their positions.

Dick lands into the mattress and Bruce pushes into him. Dick moans as Bruce slides in all of the way. And Bruce leans in, hovering over him, and Dick can see every one of Bruce’s muscles--from his massive shoulders to his toned stomach--as he puts his entire body into his thrusts. He’s being fucked. Fucked deeply, fucked fast. Dick leans up, kissing his collarbone, his neck, his jawline, until his lips land on his.

He never thought they could be so close.

The kiss says everything. Bruce’s mouth, hot and wet, his tongue pressed against his. Intense. Passionate. And when Dick pulls away, he looks at Bruce’s face.

His hair, normally immaculate, is beginning to splay out. A light sheen of sweat lines his forehead. And his eyes, again desperate, but there’s something deeper than that.

Their eyes lock, blue meeting blue. Bruce brushes Dick’s hair out of his face.

His mouth parts slightly, like he wants to speak, but the words never came. His eyes are troubled, even in the midst of their pleasure. Something in Dick’s mind clicks.

“I love you too,” he said.

He wasn't nervous saying it, like he thought he would be. The words come out like a sigh, natural, as he wrapped his arms around Bruce's neck. And Bruce doesn't say it, but he pulls him in a little tighter and his hand moves to stroke his hair.

Bruce didn't have to say it.

Their bodies. So close.

Dick suddenly feels a spark run down his spine. He pulls away from the kiss and gasps. Bruce pushes up into him again and he feels the spark again. He leans back, his nails digging into Bruce’s skin. Bruce senses the reaction and responds. Dick’s body is pushed into the mattress and he cries out as Bruce sinks in impossibly deep. He arches his back in response to Bruce’s growing thrusts. Dick is seeing stars, his body responding to a pleasure he had never experienced before. Bruce is fucking him faster now, making him tremble from the inside-out.

Dick looks up at Bruce, his eyes heavy-lidded with pleasure. Bruce’s hair has been tousled by their activity, sweat creeping near the base of his neck, and his eyes have changed. Dark and intense as always, but there’s something different now. They're filled with pleasure, wild almost. Just looking at them makes Dick shiver.

In a moment, he saw it all slip away--the restraint, the discretions. Dick found himself no longer wondering how many pretty, blue-eyed brunettes witnessed this gaze. Did Bruce always have that look in the heat of the moment, or was it a gaze that was reserved for Dick alone? All he knew was that this was his first time seeing it for himself and that he didn't want it to be the last.

Bruce hoisted Dick's legs over his shoulder, pushing deeper inside of him with a new vigor. His eyes were drunk and hazy with lust, their focus and control beginning to fade away, as he thrusted harder and harder. Dick was all but melting away at this point, his hitched breaths and gasps losing their inhibitions and fading into heady moans.

His hands reached for something--anything--as Bruce began to pound inside of him. His thrusts were deep, quick, unlike anything before. Grayson clenched his hands in the sheets, pulling at them as he was fucked. His head was tossed to the side, sweat beginning to mat in his dark hair as his body was craned into its position.

The noises of their sex was loud. Sometimes Dick would catch himself blushing from embarrassment at the sound of his own wanton noises, but the feeling was always overwhelmed by his pleasure. Pleasure he never knew existed. And through it all, he can hear Bruce too. Bruce, who always contained himself, beginning to moan in pleasure.

And suddenly Bruce is kissing at his neck, licking the sweat off his skin, whispering things into his ears. Words of praise, telling him how beautiful he is, how perfect he feels, how he could fuck him just like this forever .

And it brings Dick to the edge. Heat rushed through his body. His toes curled. His mouth felt dry. His eyes clenched tight as he pulled at the sheets, body shaking as he climaxed. Hot seed spilled onto his lower stomach and the sheets. As Dick reaches his orgasm, Bruce begins to move erratically. With a few more thrusts, he’s at the end too. Bruce sinks his teeth into Dick’s shoulder, muffling his groan as he comes. Dick feels it, hot inside of him, and relaxes into the mattress.

Bruce falls on top of them, both of them trying to catch their breaths. Dick idly runs a hand down Bruce’s back, a sheen of sweat on his skin. Dick sighs when Bruce finally pulls out. Bruce rolls onto his back, Dick laying against his side, and they laid like that for a long time.

“How are you feeling?” Bruce asked. Dick knows Bruce is referring to the wound and Dick rolls his eyes in response. How could Bruce even remember that after the sex they just had? Dick could barely see straight, much less think.

“Fucked,” Dick said, rolling his head to catch Bruce’s reaction. Bruce is taken aback, looking almost flustered by Dick’s blunt reply, and Dick can’t help but laugh. “I’m okay. More than okay.”

Bruce is quiet for a moment. He reaches out, his knuckles lightly brushing over the scar on Dick’s side from where he was stabbed. He looks almost solemn as he does it.

"Do you ever wonder if it's all worth it?" Dick asked softly. He felt Bruce's eyes tear away from the scar, looking up at Dick as he elaborated. "Saving people who never thank you. Comrades, friends, family, dying for people who will never know what they did. Does it ever tire you?"

There was a long silence. Finally:

"I don't wonder what it’s worth. I do it because I don't know any other way."

Dick’s gaze lowered. A brief, distant memory returned to him--a memory of a laugh, a smile on a woman's face as she outstretched her arms as she floated in the air. He pushed the memory away as the sparkling eyes became wide with horror. A familiar pain clenched at his heart, though it had become numb and dull over time.

Grayson didn't say anything else. He didn't have to. Finally, he realized that he understood too well.

“I’ll have to go back soon,” Dick said. “Back to Blüdhaven. I’ve spent too much time here.”

“I know,” Bruce said. He slowly nodded. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Dick crawled in a little closer, his head falling on Bruce’s chest. He feels a hand softly play with the tips of his hair. The motion soothes him.

“You can always come back,” Bruce’s voice says quietly. And it almost feels like a request.

Dick stared out under half-lidded eyes. His head rested on Bruce's warm body, feeling his chest rise and fall with every breath, listening to his heart beat. Dick always wanted to crawl into Bruce's skin--to get into the man's thoughts, understand how he felt and how he functioned, to breathe through his lungs and see through his eyes and think with his mind. But it would never happen, and Dick figured he could settle for this instead.

He stared out the window on the far side of the room, his eyes tired and his body slipping into sleep. Through the crack of the curtains he could see the city landscape--Gotham, bright and shining even in the night, the city lights bringing thoughts of fireflies or bursting fireworks or shattered glass. Reflecting, shining, brilliant.

Home, was the thought that came to mind. And his eyes closed.

 

"Nightwing."

The voice was firm but quiet. Dick looked over his shoulder at the speaker.

The new Robin moved to stand next to his place at the edge of the building. The red vest was still a little too loose. Compared to Dick and Jason, Tim was pretty small. But at least the cape was fitted better now--when Dick first met Tim in the uniform, the boy was constantly picking up his cape.

Batman was off on his own mission, leaving Dick and Tim on patrol together. Although they had patrolled together in the past, it was their first time patrolling alone. Tim definitely had some areas that needed improvement, mostly with keeping up, but he had an undeniable work ethic. From what he heard, Tim had an impressive mind, and Bruce even praised the boy's detective potential. Dick was sure he would do fine in the long run.

"I have a question," Tim continued. Dick wasn't surprised--Tim always had a question when Dick stopped by Gotham.

"You don't have to say that. You can just ask," Dick said. Tim looked a bit flustered and Dick couldn't help but laugh. The kid was still a bit... awkward. Dick wasn't sure if Tim was just always shy or if he was just being extra polite since they hadn't bonded yet. "It's okay, really. Ask me anything."

"Right," Tim said, clearing his throat. He glanced around the rooftop, as if making sure they were alone. He dropped the volume of his voice. "It was actually, about, ah... Batman."

Dick raised an eyebrow. His curiosity was definitely captured. He wondered what Tim was going to say next.

"You and he... you both have known each other a long time, so I figured..." Tim trailed off, as if unsure of how to ask. Tim's anxiety was starting to making Dick anxious--especially since it was about Bruce. Dick's heart began to beat a little faster. "Well, Batman does this thing. Not really a thing, but he makes this noise--”

Dick slowly smiled.

“I guess I don’t understand… what does it mean? Because sometimes I’ll suggest something and that’s all he says,” Tim continued.

“Jason asked me the same thing, once.”

“Really?” Tim said, his tone lifting. And even though he was intrigued, he still managed to look so serious. “So… what is it? Is it bad? Good?”

“The truth is,” Dick started, and added a pause for dramatic effect. “I really have no idea.”

Tim’s expression deadpanned. Dick couldn’t help but start laughing. “Come on, stop joking around,” Tim said when Dick started laughing harder. “I’m serious. I worry that I’m saying the wrong things. I can’t tell if he approves or disapproves, but it sounds like disapproval.”

“I was being serious. I don’t think anyone but Batman knows what that noise really means. Anytime he made that noise and I asked him what he meant by it, he always responded with vague answers,” Dick said. He shrugged. “Honestly, I think it’s an in-between noise. I think he makes that noise when he’s not sure what to think of what I’m telling him.”

“That could be it,” Tim said. He frowned. “Wow, three Robins and still no answer.”

“Then I guess the mystery of Batman continues,” Dick said. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You are insanely observant.”

At the praise, Tim flushed slightly. “I doubt it. You’ve known him the longest. If you can’t figure it out, I don’t think anyone can.”

“You make it sound that simple,” Dick said, and he couldn’t help but smile.