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Alfred had picked up police radio signals indicating a report of a disturbance.

Normally this is a job best left for the GCPD, but since the site is only a four-minute drive away in the batmobile, Bruce decides it's best to check it out.

They are on the outskirts of Gotham, in a rare little neighborhood that is strangely quiet in comparison to the rest of the city. The only indications of urban life are cramped, yardless houses--yet the houses have an old rustic quality, brick covered in overgrown vines, almost like a small neighborhood that had been safely tucked away and hidden from the rest of Gotham, preserved from its influence.

Dick is still learning all the nooks and crannies of Gotham, but he knows that since this area is unfamiliar, that it must be a generally safe neighborhood. He hopes the ‘disturbance’ isn't an omen for what is to come. It'd be nice if the block of houses stay pure forever.

He trails closely behind Batman as they wrap around the back of the house. The police haven't arrived yet--it seems that Batman made the right call in checking it out for themselves.

"Stay behind me," Batman warns as they approach the door. Dick knows better than to argue. Whatever the source of the problem is, there’s a possibility of danger--perhaps someone armed that could still be in there. Dick nods in acknowledgment of the order, his heart rate picking up even as he maintains his poker face.

Bruce picks the lock of the door, careful not to cause anything that can be misinterpreted during a GCPD crime scene investigation. He slides the door open, his bulletproof cape in hand.

Bruce steps into the kitchen, slowly checking all the corners of the room. He motions for Dick to stand in a corner while he checks behind another closed door. Just a pantry.

Bruce motions for Dick to follow him again. They walk deeper into the house, down a corridor. There’s another room coming up.

Dick doesn't even make it around the corner of the hallway when Bruce, dark and brooding, blocks his path. Even with the dark cloak fanning across the ground, the shag carpet saturated with blood does not go unnoticed.

"I'm fine--"Dick starts, but Bruce looks down disapprovingly.

"Stay here."

"How am I supposed to help you if I can't even see what's going on?" Dick frowns stubbornly, ready to butt heads with Batman if that's what it takes, but Bruce is a professional when it comes to standing his ground. He bends low enough so Dick can see his eyes through the masked cowl.

"I said, stay here."

Dick scowls, even knowing that he probably looks like twice the child doing so. Batman turns the corner into the living room, alone. Dick can hear the quiet murmur of Bruce as he speaks to Pennyworth over a private connection on the communicator, likely describing the crime scene.

Dick huffs, his dark bangs lifting up as he does so. He leans against the wall in the hallway, crossing his arms to himself. He looks around, bored, when his eyes settle on a mirror.

The first image he sees is his own but it's the harder-to-notice details that make him stop and stare. The mirror shows a second reflection--a mirror in the mirror. Dick's first reaction is to look away. Despite his differing feelings, Dick wants to respect Batman's orders, but his curiosity gets the better of him. He wants to look at the scene that Bruce is trying so desperately to shield him from, and he justifies breaking orders by thinking of how it’s his duty as a crimefighter to look.

When he looks back up, he sees that the reflection is picking up the living room mirror. Dick stills as he takes in the details of the scene. The edge of the mirror cuts off the top of the picture but Dick is easily able to put the pieces together to know what he is seeing. He doesn't need to see the noose around the neck--the body swaying above the ground indicates a hanging dead man well enough. The mirror shows everything on the ground though, including the woman who is laying there dead.

Her flesh is stark white with deep gashes and dark bruises decorating random parts of her body, blood is saturated in her brown hair, the back of her head is lying in a puddle of blood. And Dick finds himself frozen, because there is something about that picture that is too familiar, something about the way the woman's head is lying like her neck is twisted, something that creeps an echo into his mind that sounds like the impact of skull hitting the ground and suddenly, Dick tears his eyes away, overwhelming emotion striking him to the point of feeling nauseous.

Dick pushes his thoughts away but his mind just keeps returning to ropes and bodies and blood. He forces himself to still when Batman appears in his peripherals. He looks up at Batman, tall and silent as always, and he finds himself smiling without even meaning to.

"Took you long enough," Dick says, and even though all he can think about is puking, the words come out effortlessly. Batman stands stiffly, ignoring the jest.

"We arrived too late. We'll have to leave the rest to the GCPD. Let's go."

The two turn to leave but Batman suddenly pauses midstep.

Dick's eyes follow Batman's gaze and his heart skips a beat when it lands on the mirror. Dick turns away, wondering if Batman knows.

"Robin--"Bruce starts, but Dick doesn't want to hear it, so he cuts him off.

"Last one to the batmobile is a rotten egg," he says and he heads for the exit, but he doesn't even feel secure enough to run like he usually does.

When they get in the vehicle, Dick straps himself in and doesn't say anything else. He waits for Bruce to say something first. Batman puts the car in drive. The vehicle is built to be silent, and there isn't even as much of a purr from the car to break the silence.

"You saw," Bruce says. It’s not even a question. Dick sinks in his seat.

"It’s not my fault, the mirror was right there." Dick isn't used to lying or making excuses. His mouth feels like sand.

"But you saw," Bruce reiterates, and Dick has to bite his lip to keep himself from arguing. There was no use in arguing with Bruce, not when it came to following directions. He knows that, but... "I didn't want you to see for a reason."

"You don't have to keep treating me like a little kid." Dick snorts to himself. "It’s not as if I've never seen a dead body before."

Ropes and bodies and blood. Dick clenches his jaw as he tries to put the thoughts away.

Dick sees the way the leather gloves fold as Bruce's hands tighten around the steering wheel. "Robin--"

Dick can't help himself now. The words start pouring out. "I mean, I've seen at least, what, three? Mom, Dad, and the fat guy who killed them." Dick knew his name, he just didn't want to say it. He would never forget Tony Zucco, nor the way his body heaved during his heart attack when they chased him down--back in the days before there was a Robin, and Dick was just a boy who wanted revenge, and learned the price of it that night. "At least those people looked graceful, in a way. The fat guy looked like a gaping fish."

"Enough." Bruce suddenly growls and Dick flinches at the volume in his voice. "Is this all a game to you? Is this a joke?"

"Well, we're dressed the part, aren't we?" Dick says. His filter is gone. He's being inappropriate, he knows, but he keeps going anyways. Even if Bruce doesn't laugh, maybe one of his own jokes will make Dick happier. "I mean, Batman and Robin. It sounds like it could be a game, doesn't it? Maybe it'll be like Cops and Robbers, except it's Robins running away from buzzkill Batmans. But I guess the cops and robbers are part of the game too."

Dick knows he won this round because Bruce can't argue with him if all Dick is doing is messing around. But the war is far from over, Dick can tell by the route they're taking in the car, even though patrol hours aren't yet over. He keeps his mouth shut, pretends not to notice.

Sure enough, they take the secret route leading to the batcave. By the time they pull in, Dick feels so defeated he doesn't even want to move. He sits stubbornly in his seat, even as Batman exits the car.

He can see Pennyworth approaching Batman, the butler’s expression weary. He knows Bruce is talking to Alfred about him, even if he can't hear what they're saying. It motivates him to get out of the vehicle.

"Dick," Bruce says. In the Cave with no one around, the codenames can be dropped. Dick ignores him, goes to the table where he sets his uniform at the end of the night. He unhooks his belt.

"Dick."

He knows the sound his utility belt makes when it hits the table is too loud. He knows that he's peeling off his bracers too quickly, snapping off his cape too roughly. Bruce finally intercedes, stepping between Dick and the table, blocking him off.

"Dick, I'm talking to you."

It hurts because Bruce almost sounds like John there. Dick used to hear the exact same words whenever he stormed off after a trapeze practice gone wrong. But it just doesn't sound right, because Bruce isn't his dad, even if the words are the same.

"Dick, listen to me."

Dick stills but doesn't dare to look Bruce in the eye. He stares at the ground, watches Bruce's shadow move as he pulls back the cowl. He stays because he knows if he runs up the stairs to the manor, he'll be in deeper trouble, and despite being hurt and upset he doesn't actually want Bruce to be mad at him.

Bruce kneels so Dick is forced to look down at him instead of the ground.

"Dick, what are the rules when you're Robin?"

Dick doesn't want to answer. They've performed this act before. He says it anyways, begrudgingly:

"Never use lethal force and to follow your orders."

"What is your role as Robin?"

"To provide surveillance and assistance and to help you in combat only when necessary." The words are practiced, as memorized as the choreography in a finale, with half the effort and yet twice as difficult.

"Why do you think I have it set up this way?" When Dick's mouth is sealed shut, Bruce answers for him. "I do it to protect you. I know you're mature for your age and have been through rough times. But there are some things that I just feel you're not ready to do or see."

"I've already seen those things."

"I know, Dick, and you've had to grow up fast as a result of it. I just don't want you to become..." Bruce trails off. When Dick dares to look at him questioningly, Bruce pauses before finally saying, "I don't want it to break you."

"If I'm going to be your partner, then you need to tell me things," Dick says, fury renewing. Bruce's eyes narrow, his gaze just as menacing even without the cowl.

"If you're going to be my partner, you need to do what I say, and not ask questions."

"That's not fair!"

"It’s not about being fair. It's my way or nothing. If you can't handle it, then fine. I was doing this long before there was ever a Robin."

The fight in Dick disappears all at once--because if Bruce is telling the truth, then that means he doesn't need a Robin at all. He doesn't need him. And it hurts so much that Dick can't even muster up his anger.

"Fine," Dick says, ripping off the domino mask. He's so frustrated he can feel his eyes begin to sting with tears, but he refuses to cry even a little bit, at least not in front of Bruce. Not here. Not now. "It didn't come with pay anyways."

 

"Alfred," Dick says. Pennyworth immediately places down his tea. This is the first time Dick has spoken to anyone since the big argument and Alfred looks especially attentive as a result. Dick approaches and hands him a neatly rolled up piece of paper. "I want your help with something."

"It would be my pleasure, Master Dick," Alfred says with a genuine smile. He unscrolls the paper, but when his eyes settle on the content, the enthusiasm in his eyes visibly fade. Dick's gaze lowers at Alfred's obvious disapproval but even so, he tries to stay enthusiastic.

"I want to become my own superhero. But... I can't sew. So I need your help. I drew out my uniform, I just need help making it."

Alfred smiles softly. "You already designed a uniform that I made for you."

Dick bristles. "Robin doesn't exist anymore. Batman made that clear. So I decided to become something new. I'm calling it Birdman."

Alfred raises an eyebrow. "Birdman."

"Yes. Birdman." Dick leans over the piece of paper in Alfred's hands and starts pointing to different parts on the diagram. "But I don't want a cape. Instead, the arms will make these feather thingies that look like wings--"

"I'm afraid that's a little out of my skill level, Master Dick," Alfred said, smiling. "Perhaps you should ask Master Bruce, he's in charge of all the technology that goes into Batman and Ro--er, Batman. He makes most of the gadgets, I just patch up uniforms and wounds."

Dick's face falls and he takes away the paper. For a split second, Alfred looks regretful. "Nevermind," Dick says and he leaves. He knows he sounds sulky and immature but he's too annoyed to change his attitude.

He goes to the sun patio to sit and look over his diagram but all he can do is feel guilty. It isn't Pennyworth's fault that he and Bruce were fighting. Along with uniforms and wounds, Alfred always patches up Bruce's relationships. Anytime Dick and Bruce get into an argument, Alfred always plays mediator.

Dick scowls slightly at the thought. Bruce always has so much support. Feeling even angrier at Bruce, he rips up his sketches and bunches up all the little pieces in his hands. He crosses his arms over his knees and brews in his mixed feelings, staring in the distance. The sun is beginning to set. Bruce is at a Wayne Enterprises meeting. Soon he'd be home and start preparing for the night.

Dick realizes he isn't looking forward to it.

 

Dick hears the front door open, followed closely by the sounds of Alfred and Bruce’s voices. Dick thinks of all the times he used to go running to the door to greet Bruce and enthusiastically ask when they were going to start patrol. His thoughts make him feel embarrassed. He stubbornly stays in his room with the door shut.

Pennyworth eventually asks him to join for dinner. Dick doesn’t want to answer the knock, decides he would rather stay in his room forever, but his stomach growls. Sometimes Bruce skips dinner, sometimes even skips all of his meals, but there is still a chance that he will be there. But as much as Dick doesn’t want to run into him, he also needs to eat.

Dick drags his feet, ignores Pennyworth’s sympathetic look as he quietly passes him, and goes down to the dining room. A tall figure sits at the head of the long table, and Dick purposely takes the farthest seat from him.

“Evening,” Bruce greets. Dick ignores him.

Pennyworth lays out their meals, giving Dick a pointed look as he lays his plate down. Dick resists grimacing. How come Bruce never gets the same disapproving looks?

Aside from the forks and knives lightly clinking against their plates, the table is eerily silent. Dick suddenly feels a queasiness in his stomach. He doesn’t want to eat. Alfred made Dick’s favorite beef roast--Dick wonders if it was on purpose--but every bite feels too heavy, and all Dick can do is poke around the potatoes. The low voice speaks again.

“How was school?”

Dick forces a yawn.

Bruce sets down his fork, his brows furrowing.

Sensing the growing tension in the room, Alfred immediately intercedes.

"I believe Master Dick had a Mathematics test today and that he believes it went well."

Dick looks up at Alfred with a flat expression, his eyes whispering you traitor. Alfred pointedly avoids looking in his direction. Bruce, however, seems to grow impossibly sterner.

"Just because we're not a team anymore, that doesn't mean you have to avoid me," he cuts in. "The cold shoulder isn't going to make me change my mind."

"Aren't you the one who avoids people?" Dick says, looking up from his plate with a bored expression. "I mean, it's kind of what you do, right?" Bruce is pissed. His expression is as hard as ever, but Dick sees it in the subtle ways he moves and looks. Dick always knows. "And who said anything about changing your mind? I know you’re not going to change your mind.”

“Then drop it,” Bruce says, his words sharp. “You’re above this. There’s no reason to be immature.”

“Of course you wouldn’t change your mind, you’re as stubborn as they come,” Dick continues, ignoring him. “Stubborn as a donkey. You could become Donkeyman.” Dick smirks a little, letting out a small breath like he’s trying to stop himself from laughing. “Assman.”

Pennyworth suddenly snorts on his tea. He freezes when Bruce shoots him a look and Dick has to hide his face behind his fist to resist bursting out in laughter himself.

“I’m sorry, I don’t find your behavior funny.” Bruce gives Alfred a pointed look and added, “I don’t find any of this funny.” The table falls silent as Bruce turns back to Dick. “How hard is it to understand that there is a line that cannot be crossed? There are certain things that I don’t think you’re ready to see. I’m not trying to undermine you, I’m trying to protect you.”

Dick begins to feel uncomfortable, because he can sense the argument in Bruce’s voice beginning to rise. “It was a joke.”

“How is any of this funny? How is me not wanting you to witness the scene of a murder-suicide funny?” Bruce asks. Dick doesn't answer. Bruce throws his hands up. “I mean, you saw it. I didn’t want you to see it, but you saw it. So answer me, was what you saw funny?”

Dick thinks about it. He remembers it too well. Ropes and bodies and blood.

“It was an accident,” Dick says. Then Dick realizes the lie, remembers that he looked through the mirror on purpose. He shrinks in his spot a little bit. “The mirror was right there. I wasn’t trying to look, but it was right there, and I--”

“The only thing that is laughable about this situation is how much of a fool I was for letting you become Robin in the first place. You had no business being there and I was the one who dragged you there. Do you understand? I can’t let you be Robin because I can’t always protect you.”

“I’m not asking you to protect me!” Dick fought back. “I don’t want to be Robin so you can shield me. I want to be Robin so I can fight crime too.”

“And I’m telling you that I can’t morally and responsibly allow you to do that!”

Stop being an ass!” Dick blows up. “You’re right! It’s not funny, none of it is funny, nothing in my life has ever been funny! But maybe I’m sick of being serious all of the time! And quit acting like I’m just extra baggage to you!”

Dick is so angry that he doesn't even bother giving Bruce the chance to respond. He scoots back, the chair making an ugly noise across the wooden floor, and storms off. He isn’t sure if anyone is following him and he doesn’t care. He runs off to his room and doesn’t look back.

Once in his room, he's able to brew in his anger. He tries to decide which would be easier: locking himself in his room forever or running away. He could, in theory, actually run away and join a circus.

But leaving meant giving up everything. Even though he's basically fired, he isn’t ready to give up being Robin--not yet. And can he really just say goodbye to Alfred? Or even Bruce, for that matter?

Because even if Bruce doesn’t need him around, even if all they're doing is fighting, Dick just isn’t ready to leave Bruce behind.

Dick hears a familiar creak outside of his door--one of the many old floorboards. Dick bristles at the noise, crossing his arms over his knees, narrowing his eyes. He's certain it's Alfred coming to check on him, but he hears hushed whispers outside the door, which pique his curiosity. He slides off the bed and moves towards the door.

“For heaven’s sake, you have to say something.”

“He wants to be left alone.”

“Are you daft? He thinks you want to be left alone. Be the bloody adult and talk to him.”

There's a loud knock on his door. Dick jumps, not expecting it.

“Alfred!” comes a hushed whisper, almost like a hiss.

“There you are. I’ll leave you to it.”

“Alfred--”

Dick swings open the door to see Bruce, who is turned in Pennyworth’s direction. The butler is already disappearing down the staircase. When Bruce turns back around, he looks flustered--as flustered as Bruce could look, anyways.

“What do you want?” Dick says, glowering.

Bruce sighs quietly in resignation. “To talk. Can I come in?”

In truth, Dick is still upset, and the last thing he wants to do is talk to Bruce. But part of him is hoping for forgiveness, so they can move past the arguments and be partners and friends again. So he reluctantly backs away from the door.

“Your behavior was inappropriate,” Bruce says, when he takes a step inside the room. Dick immediately scowls--he should have known better.

“So was yours,” Dick accuses in an equal tone. Bruce frowns for a moment, looks ready to argue, but there’s a shift in thought behind his eyes. Breathing in a little, Bruce changes his line of thought.

“You’re right,” he says, and Dick lowers his gaze. Even with Bruce saying that, it hardly feels like a victory. Bruce continues, “I might have overreacted. I’m trying to be more patient but it’s not easy. I’m still used to doing things alone.”

“But you’re not alone,” Dick says quietly. He feels sad as he says it. Bruce has all of these walls around him, walls that even Dick and Alfred can’t seem to chip into. Bruce’s head seems to hang a little in response, conveying something that almost seems like guilt.

“I know,” he says finally. “I apologize.”

Dick shrinks at that. He wants to feel victorious at Bruce’s apology, knows that he has every right to feel victorious, but as usual, Bruce wins. Because when Bruce apologizes, he's the one taking the high ground. He's the one being mature and noble.

Dick, however, isn't bitter. He doesn't want to worry about who's right and who's wrong. He's sick of fighting.

“I guess I can be kind of annoying,” Dick says, darting his eyes to the side. “I know I shouldn't joke around so much. I know that--”

“Don't apologize for that,” Bruce cut in. “I was… impatient when I scolded you. Your sense of humor is important. It helps you cope. It works for the team. It's part of you. Don't feel ashamed for it. It was just the timing that was bad.”

“The team…” Dick repeats quietly, fixating on those words. Bruce is speaking in present tense. There's a flicker in Bruce’s eyes, like he himself didn't realize what he had said.

“Yes,” he finally says. And even though Dick had been so determined to work on his own and was so angry at Bruce, his heart immediately leaps forward.

“So I’m not fired anymore?”

Bruce quirks an eyebrow and says dryly, “I thought you quit.”

“Well, yeah, but only because you would have fired me otherwise.”

“Ah.”

“But everything’s fine now, right?”

“Not quite,” Bruce says. Dick had been standing on his toes until that moment. His heels plant back onto the ground and he looks up at Bruce with a fallen expression. Whenever it seems like things are going his way with Bruce, there's always a catch. “I still meant everything I said earlier. We can work together but if we’re going to get along, I need you to listen more.”

“Okay, okay.”

“I’m serious,” Bruce says, frowning.

“You’re always serious,” Dick says, and his smile comes off a little smug. Bruce’s eyebrows furrow but Dick is quick to recover from his mistake. “I get it, I really do. I’ll listen. Best behavior. You’ll see. So are we going on patrol tonight?”

Bruce almost sighs. “Do you ever relax?”

“Do you?” Dick says, turning the tables. He laughs when he realizes he’s caught Bruce offguard. But the laughter fades and a question that’s been resting on Dick’s mind comes to surface. He lowers his gaze. “So what made you change your mind? I mean, you don’t have to have me on your team, right?”

Dick’s nerves begin to shake, worrying what Bruce will say.

“I mean, I’ll probably get in the way,” he says, unable to quit talking. He never knows when to stop. “It probably would be easier to do it on your own. You wouldn’t have to worry about me or pick up after me. So why--”

“Maybe,” Bruce says. Dick sinks at that but Bruce continues, “But it’s good having you around.”

The phrasing of that is odd. If Bruce wanted to tell Dick that he was a valuable asset, he would have just said that. Dick gives Bruce a suspicious look.

"Is that your Batman way of saying you care?" Dick says, smiling a little. He's teasing, but it's light-hearted this time. Even so, Bruce is as stoic as ever. He simply nods stiffly in response. Still, Dick knows it's genuine, and that's enough to keep him afloat. “So are we going tonight?”

I'll be going on patrol tonight. You can go tomorrow, that way you'll be prepared.”

“Okay,” Dick says. He's willing to settle for that. When Bruce turns to leave, Dick hurriedly adds, “Good night.”

“Good night,” Bruce says after a moment, shutting the door.

 

Dick wakes up one morning, his body naturally rising even though it's a Saturday and he doesn't have class. He groggily gets up and wants to see if there's breakfast ready but when he goes out in the hall he notices that Bruce’s door is open.

Curiously, he moves in closer, catching Bruce standing in front of a mirror and buttoning up his dress shirt.

“I know you're out there,” Bruce says without even turning around. Dick pushes the door open and invites himself in.

“What are you doing up? It's Saturday,” Dick asks, taking a seat on the edge of Bruce's bed without permission.

“Brunch with the board,” Bruce says simply.

Wayne Enterprises was always doing something. Dick glances around the room, noticing a jacket hanging on top of the closet door. Dick grabs it and looks at it, notices the size of the shoulders and tries to compare it to his own. He slips the jacket off of the hanger.

"What are you doing?" Bruce says, frowning.

"I'll give it back," Dick says as he puts it on. He has to step in front of Bruce to get a look in a mirror. "Yeesh," he says out loud. The jacket is as big looking as it felt--he's drowning in fabric. He suddenly turns on his heel, stands up straight and clears his throat. Lowering his voice several octaves and keeping his face expressionless in his best Bruce imitation, he says, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the board. I'd like to introduce a new idea to Wayne Enterprises: a line of Wayne special vehicles. As you can see on this powerpoint, all of the models will come in the color black and nothing else--"

"Dick," Bruce says, holding out his hand with the palm up. Dick is ready to give up the jacket but finds his gaze following the hand to the rest of Bruce's arm.

"How do you do it?" Dick asks,walking up to Bruce. Before Bruce can ask for an elaboration, Dick pokes Bruce's bicep. Even the stiff dress shirt doesn't do much to hide Bruce's size.

"I've been training a lot longer than you. And I'm older. Jacket."

Dick shrugs off the jacket and hands it over.

"Dick."

Dick realizes he's been staring. He looks up a bit startled, his face a little red. "What?"

Bruce is quiet for a moment but he finally looks away. "Pick my tie."

It's the first time Bruce has made such a request. While Dick couldn't care less about a stupid tie, he jumps at the opportunity--just as eagerly as he would with any other task. Dick can't remember the exact drawer and ends up going through a few. He finally comes across a narrow drawer, filled with neatly rolled-up ties in perfect rows, color coded.

"I think Alfred does this stuff for fun," Dick says. Dick doesn't look to see Bruce's face but he hears a single, quiet noise that almost sounds like a laugh. Dick's eyes scan over the colors, trying to choose carefully. "Uhhh..."

Bruce is choosing his cuff links when Dick walks over. Bruce looks at the one Dick has chosen.

"Red?" Bruce said.

"Robin colors."

"Ah."

"So what do you do at these outings anyways?" Dick asks.

"We still have meetings. Discuss business. Numbers." Bruce looks down at Dick. "Boring stuff," he adds dismissively.

"I see," Dick says, but even so, his head is already trying to imagine what it would be like. Bruce has a tendency to act differently when he isn't in the manor or in uniform. Before they had met, Dick had only seen Bruce on TV, and always thought he was goofy. He always had big smiles on camera and was always drawing media attention for his clumsy accidents during his luxurious trips. Mary Grayson used to always roll her eyes whenever Bruce appeared on gossip channels for some scandal with a woman.

Of course, he knows now that Bruce is nothing like that. How he acts in person is different than when he’s on TV or at galas. Work is one of those images of Bruce that Dick never gets to see. Dick wonders if people at work make Bruce laugh or if they're all serious.

Alfred comes in to check on Bruce, a newspaper in hand.

Alfred raises an eyebrow when he sees Bruce. "I can't recall the last time I've seen you wear that tie."

Dick shrinks a little, wondering if he picked a bad one. But Bruce says, "I think it'll do fine."

"Yes, it does look good. I'm just used to your usual, neutral colors," Alfred says with a chuckle. Dick relaxes. "I'm sure it'll attract some attention at the brunch. Are you ready to go?"

"Yes."

"And I apologize ahead of time," Alfred says as he hands Bruce the paper. Bruce unrolls it as they start heading toward the door. He looks at it and makes a heavy, annoyed sigh. Dick follows closely behind and tries to peek at the article. He catches familiar faces in the picture.

"What is it?"

"Don't worry about it," Bruce says, rolling it back up. Dick frowns at that.

Dick follows them all the way to the doorway.

"Have fun," Dick says, since it's what he's used to hearing from Alfred before he leaves for school. But then Dick realizes his mistake--Bruce isn't a kid running off to school. He corrects himself, turning a little red. "Er, I mean. Have a good day."

"I will," Bruce promises, ignoring the stutter. A moment of thought seems to cross his features. He suddenly reaches out and places a hand on Dick's head, ruffling his hair. Then he heads out the door.

Dick blinks in surprise.

“I’ll be back soon, Master Dick. When I get back, the chandelier better be connected firmly to the ceiling and you will not be on top of it,” Alfred says, his tone lighthearted but the warning still hidden there. Dick shrugs.

“That happened once.”

Alfred closes the door behind him. Dick turns to go to his room but something catches his eye. The newspaper sits on the table near the door. Dick can only assume that it was abandoned when Bruce had to set it down and readjust his cufflinks. Dick picks it up curiously, glancing at the headline in bold, black letters.

Invasion in Los Angeles: Public asks, ‘Where is the Justice League?’

Dick is curious but doesn’t bother to read the article. Headlines like that are not uncommon anymore. Newspapers are constantly praising or criticizing the Justice League’s involvement in every possible matter. Dick squints his eyes at the half-toned print, finding only part of Batman’s blurry form in the distance of the image, whereas the rest of the Justice League was far more present, many of them in the foreground in the picture as they battled some weird alien army.

The Justice League is a relatively new concept, one that Bruce seems to be testing the waters of. Dick has never met the Justice League, though his classmates were all obsessed with Superman.

It's no wonder. Superman can lift buildings, shoot lazers out of his eyes, breathe ice and fly.

Dick can't do any of that.

 

“Don't forget your mask, Master Dick,” Pennyworth reminds gently. Dick finishes attaching his cape and grabs the mask off the table. He glances over at Bruce, who finishes pulling on his cowl.

Dick looks at the finished look and decides it's no wonder that Bruce could disguise himself so well--the cape and cowl was a far cry from his suit and jacket earlier that day. Dick attaches his mask and goes to follow Bruce, trailing behind him as they head toward the Batmobile.

“What do you think we’ll run into today?” Dick asks.

“There’s a couple cases I need to follow up on,” Bruce says simply. “But Pennyworth will keep track of radio signals. We’ll answer them as we go. As important as these cases are, I don’t want Gotham to think it's been abandoned.”

“Like in Los Angeles?”

Bruce stops and looks at him. “Where did you hear that?”

“I read it in the paper.”

“The paper I told you not to worry about?”

Dick realizes his mistake. “Maybe?”

Bruce shakes his head but doesn’t comment on it any further. As they get in the car and drive off, Dick watches the lights from the Cave disappear until they’re enveloped in darkness, their only source of light coming from the batmobile itself.

“Do you think I could join the Justice League?” Dick dares to ask.

Bruce entertains his question. “Why do you want to join?”

“It seems cool. I could meet people like us.”

“Those people are not like us, Robin.”

Dick finds that phrasing odd. Bruce sounds almost like he dislikes them. “Aren’t they your friends?”

“They’re not my friends,” Bruce says dismissively, the undertone of his voice sounding almost indignant. “It’s an alliance. I’m not even sure if I can trust them.”

Dick knows that Bruce doesn’t trust a lot of people. He's always a harsh judge of character and highly suspicious of everyone. Still, Dick can’t understand why Bruce feels that way. When Dick thinks of the Justice League, he thinks of Superman’s friendly smile or Wonder Woman’s almost heavenly glow. They're people who save lives on a daily basis. What reason is there to distrust them?

Then he realizes those are only the images he sees in papers and on television.

“Have they done something wrong?”

Bruce considers the question for a moment before finally saying, “I only trust you, our friend at the Cave, and Commissioner Gordon. That’s all that matters.”

Dick feels like Bruce’s words should be akin to a compliment but he can't help but worry that Bruce is distancing himself too much from his allies.

They spend the night following up on case work and patrolling the streets. Occasionally, they’d get a police call forwarded to them by Pennyworth. If it seems serious, Batman would order Robin to stay behind and investigate it himself, but most of their radio signals are taken care of by GCPD before they can respond to them.

“You didn’t answer my question from earlier,” Dick says. They’ve taken a rooftop as their perch, scanning across the city for any signs of a disturbance. “Do you think I could join the Justice League?”

“I’m afraid you’re too young, Robin. The Justice League deals with some deeply horrible stuff. I don’t think you could safely handle it.”

At that, Dick frowns. “But I've been Robin for awhile now. You don't think I’d be good at it?”

“You may have been Robin for awhile, but you're still inexperienced.” Dick’s disappointment shows. Bruce stiffly adds, “But you’re learning. You've made exceptional progress since you've started.”

It isn't what Dick wants to hear but Bruce isn't the type to give praise, so Dick happily settles for it.

“Batman, I've tapped into a distress call,” Alfred suddenly says, his voice coming through the commlink.

Batman and Robin hurry toward the hostage situation downtown, Pennyworth explaining the situation to them on their journey down. GCPD is already rolling around, the sirens coming down the streets.

“You'll lead the hostages out. I'll take care of the gunmen,” Bruce says as they break into the back entrance of the office building. Dick frowns at that. He isn't sure if Bruce can hold off that many armed men while the hostages escape. Dick wants to act as proper back-up but he knows better than to argue.

They make it to the room where the hostages are being held. Dick holds his breath as Batman patiently watches the captors standing guard, scanning for the opportune moment. He doesn't have to say anything--he swoops in and Dick knows that's his cue.

Dick ducks under the fighting, quickly entering the room as the guards are disarmed. He cuts through the ropes that keep the hostages bound. Dick counts them up as he goes, realizes they're all accounted for.

The hostages are terrified but no one is passed out or appears injured--all of them seem able enough to escape. Dick glances outside, where he sees Batman slam a guy into a wall. The sounds of fighting stills. Bruce steps inside.

“Lead them out the emergency staircase. I'll block it.”

Dick nods in understanding and leads the group out the same staircase they came in through. When they make it out, GCPD is waiting for them. Before the hostages disperse, one of the men stops and looks at Dick.

“Thank you, Batlad.”

Dick raises an eyebrow, the mask lifting with it. “It's Robin.”

“Why would you call yourself Robin if you work for Batman?” the guy asks. Dick bristles in place.

“I don't work for Batman--”Dick is ready to argue but Bruce cuts in on his communicator.

“Robin, GCPD is taking care of the rest. It's time to go.”

Dick left, fuming a little, to meet Bruce back at their established rendezvous point. Once back, Bruce's breath seems a bit staggered, though he tries to stand tall and appear fine. Dick glances at him with worry. He should have stayed and helped. Bruce had been in there for a long time, undoubtedly fighting a lot of men if the reports of the gunmen count were correct.

“Are you okay?” Dick finally asks.

“Yes,” Bruce says, his voice a little weary. Dick sees no blood or other apparent injury so he has to trust that Bruce is speaking the truth. “You helped a lot of people today.”

The praise is nice but Dick still feels he should have done more. He isn't even breaking a sweat.

“One of the guys called me ‘Batlad’,” Dick says, deciding to change the subject. Despite everything, Bruce manages a look of mild amusement.

“I see. New moniker?” He's teasing. Still, Dick makes a face.

“No way. I'm Robin. I don't even look like a bat. It's as though they just see you and don't even bother to see me.” Dick shakes his head to himself, continuing to rant, “They think I work for you--that I'm just trying to be like you.”

At that, Bruce frowns. “I thought that was what you wanted.”

Dick cocks his head to the side, confused by this statement. “I don't want to be like you. I mean, being Batman would be cool, but… Robin is my thing.”

Bruce doesn't show it but Dick can tell he's surprised. He's pondering over Dick’s words, confused over why his assumption was incorrect. “You wore my coat earlier.”

The business jacket from that morning. “I was just messing around,” Dick says with a shrug.

“You dressed me in your colors.”

The tie? “Well… I can't go with you to work,” Dick says quietly. And at that, Bruce's face settles. Like he's figured it out. Exactly what he figured out, Dick isn't sure, but Bruce stops presenting his evidence.

“It can't be helped. The public isn't always going to perceive you the way you want to be perceived.”

Dick isn't satisfied by that answer.

“People would take me seriously if you actually took me on the dangerous parts of the mission,” he says, pouting a little.

“You're not ready for that. This job isn't about being taken seriously. This job isn't even about being respected--it's about saving lives. You did your job. Be satisfied with that.”

“Come on,” Dick says, his voice betraying his exasperation. “It's not just about their respect. It's about yours--you don't trust me to help you, even though you said yourself that I did well!”

“I said you helped and that you're learning.”

“And I can learn so much more! How am I supposed to get better if I keep doing the same thing?” Dick can tell that this turn in the conversation is heading towards a direction that it shouldn't. Bruce has always been in charge of Dick’s training. Still, sudden determination is egging Dick forward. “Take me on the bigger missions with you.”

“Why are you so insistent on arguing with me?” Bruce says, a bit of annoyance in his voice. Still, Dick recognizes the look of deep thought in his expression. He's considering it. “The missions I take on by myself are dangerous. It could get us both killed.”

“I'm not afraid--”

“I'm not finished talking,” Bruce cut in, sternly. Dick was sure to keep his mouth shut. “It's dangerous and it would be irresponsible to take you with me… but, on the other hand, you make some valid points.” Dick is fighting back a smile. “You have improved a lot. You've shown that you can take direction now. I suppose we can give it a trial run. I'll take you on my missions--but just so you can observe. I'll teach you what I know, and over time you'll have some added responsibilities, but you have to listen and watch. The minute you step out of line, consider yourself fired.”

“Got it,” Dick says, positively beaming. Bruce sighs a little. They move onto the next assignment for the night.

 

Dick likes to perch himself in high places. Sometimes the urge becomes irresistible, especially on nights where Batman and Robin don’t go out on patrol.

It's his circus blood. In the trailers, he always slept on the top bunks. During shows, he was ascending ladders and swinging from trapezes. Even when he first came into the manor, he couldn’t stop climbing on things--railings, high shelves, fragile chandeliers that he ended up busting… being up high just reminded him of his origins.

It is way past bedtime when Dick creaks open his bedroom window. His blood is rushing with adrenaline, so much so that he can’t even stand in place straight. He’s practically bouncing on his way to the window, his fingers itching to lift up the glass and screen. When the cool breeze hits his skin and the fresh smell of a nearby tree wafts in, he breathes it in and sighs, the hint of a smile on his face. His body is singing.

Wayne Manor is practically ancient. Dick tries to be especially careful on the siding as he climbs his way out of the window and onto the roof. He’s done it a million times before. Sometimes he likes to just sit on the edge and stare out at the landscape. Wayne Estates is situated at the edge of Gotham where the highways leading out of the city are visible from where he sits, and aside from the lights of the streets and cars, the roads twisting in and out of the hills and forests are covered in complete darkness. He could stare forever at the sparkling lights of the city contrasted against the black shadows of the Estates.

A sound of a car driving alerts him. Scooting to the edge of the roof, but hiding behind a chimney flashing so he would not be seen, he peeks at the ground below. Bruce had been at an important gala that night, thus the cancellation.

Bruce steps out of an unfamiliar car. Dick watches as a second person comes out--a woman he had never seen, but with the appearance of a supermodel. The assumption is probably not far off, considering the rich and elite that Bruce Wayne associates himself with. Dick thinks her auburn hair looks pretty.

Still, she seems to try to lure Bruce back into the car, tugging on his wrist. He smiles with the same smile that Dick often saw on TV, seeming handsome but foolish.

When they kiss, Dick feels that he is intruding and that he should look away, but he's now curious.

He wonders, briefly, what it must feel like. But when he realizes whose lips he's wondering about, he quickly buries the thought, his face flushing slightly.

Dick knows it's all an act. Dick knows that Bruce has to do things like this to maintain his image, that this woman probably knows nothing of Batman or even the man outside of the formal evening wear. And yet, there is still a layer of honesty to it, because Bruce would never share this level of intimacy using his other faces. It's something reserved for the Billionaire Playboy side alone.

Sometimes Dick is convinced that he's the only one who knows Bruce. Other times, he feels like he doesn't know him at all.

 

There had been a series of notes on crime scenes, demanding to challenge Batman. Apparently this had been going on for awhile but Dick was never told of it until now.

After several nights of following Bruce on his missions, Dick is admittedly exhausted. He is beginning to understand why Bruce rarely sleeps. Every night, Dick comes home with bruises, scrapes and heavy eyelids. Even Pennyworth is beginning to comment on it, insisting that Dick should take it easy. Bruce didn't argue against Pennyworth’s advice--even suggested it as well when Dick nearly fell asleep at the dinner table. But Dick didn't want to stop--not out of fear that it would cripple his training, but out of desire.

He genuinely enjoys the nights. The race to the Cave when the minute turned. The transformation from average boy to crimefighter. The way the batmobile speeds through the tunnel until the cave opens up and Gotham stands there, its lights shining like stars. It's a sort of magic he never gets sick of. Even though the tasks are becoming grueling, Dick isn't ready to give it up.

When Bruce finally puts the notes together, he's able to determine the desired time and place of his challenger. Batman would usually never agree to such whims, but the man is committing crimes just to leave down his notes and grab the Bat’s attention, and that can't be ignored.

When they make it to the shipping yard, a lone man stands under the dim lighting. Dick and Bruce watch him from their spot on the roof.

“I don't think you should go down there,” Dick says, sinking in place. “It's a trap.”

“Why do you think that?” Bruce asks. It's not a real question--Bruce is just challenging Dick to think. Dick considers their surroundings for a moment.

“Someone had to have let him in. The yard is locked up. It's easy for us to get past the gates but this guy has nothing on him. There's no way he could have jumped it--someone had to have let him in. He's not working alone.”

“What do you see?” Bruce says, pushing him to think more. Dick scans the area.

“Over there,” he finally says, pointing to a nearby building. “You can see shadows moving in the windows--even though all the workers should be gone by now. This guy has backup. The door is even facing the yard--they'll probably jump you the minute you get down there.”

“What else?”

Dick chews on his lip. He's stumped. He didn't see anything else worth noting, but Bruce clearly sees something that he wants Dick to see too.

His eyes fall on a van with no license plate numbers. Unlike the rest of the vehicles in the yard, it lacked the company name and logo.

“The van?” he guessed. It doesn't appear to have a driver. Dick shakes his head to himself. “Maybe there are some guys in there?”

“Perhaps,” Bruce says. It's not the answer he's looking for. Dick tries to think more. Bruce gives him a hint, “Look at him. What is he carrying?”

Dick had to zoom in on his lens. He doesn't see anything. Dick doesn't find that odd at first, but then he ponders why this man wouldn't bring anything for his fight with Batman.

“The van is for you. They're going to try to capture you but they don't want to kill you, so there are no guns or any other noticeable weapons.”

Bruce seems satisfied with Dick’s answers. He stands up.

“I'm going down there. I need you to stay here and not move. Observe my actions but never leave this spot. They may not kill me but there's nothing stopping them from killing you,” Bruce says. Dick opens his mouth to argue but then immediately shuts it. He thinks of ropes and bodies and blood. “I'll call you when it's time. Don't come out a moment sooner. No matter what, stay here until I say so. Only leave if someone finds you. If you're found, get to the Batmobile and contact the Cave. Don't wait for me.”

“Be careful,” Dick says.

Bruce lets the words settle in. His expression is unreadable but he places a hand on Dick’s shoulder. It's there for only the briefest of moments, but it conveys his message well enough, and he begins to climb down below.

Dick settles in his spot behind the ledge, peeking out. He catches the briefest glimpse of Bruce’s cape, but his mentor moves so quickly and effortlessly to the ground below that it's hard to keep up. He watches with a held breath as Bruce makes it to the floor.

The black of his uniform keeps him hidden in the shadows. He sticks to the dark places, weaving his way between crates and fixtures, his back to the walls so he won't be attacked from behind. He finally stops behind a crate, his hand slipping into his belt.

He quickly tosses a batarang around the corner, striking the man down. Everything happens almost instantaneously--tossed from the building, a smoke bomb goes off in the yard. But Bruce maintains his position, adjusting the lens on his mask and quickly grabbing his respirator from his belt in case it's poisonous.

The smoke clouds waft around the yard, slowly fading away. Men leave the building, trying to survey the yard. One of them checks on the bait, but the guy is still bleeding from the batarang cut and has to be moved into the passenger seat of the van. They're equipped with melee weapons but no firearms, thankfully. There's more men than Dick expected. His heart is beginning to race.

Bruce seems calm, in control. He maintains his position between the crates and Dick watches with unease as a man gets closer and closer. The lights above them are flickering, and while Batman is carefully concealed in the shadows cast by the tall crates, the man’s shadow is growing across the ground with every step.

Dick doesn't blink as Bruce suddenly grabs the man and pulls him in, bends him and elbows him in the pulmonary plexus in a few, swift movements. The man is knocked out but Bruce catches him, strategically placing him out of sight and out of the way.

Bruce watches the ground, looking for shadows. When he sees none, he climbs over one of the crates, keeping low to remain hidden. Another man seems to sense movement, looking around to survey the area. He gets close but Bruce maintains his position, patient.

From Dick’s position, he sees a total of five men still walking around. Bruce seems to notice. His head faces the direction of the two other closest men, waiting until they turn their backs. Once they're distracted, he reaches down and pulls up the man who was closest to him. He holds him there, his feet off the ground, the weapon falling from his hands but landing on the soft dirt without a sound, his body struggling for air. When he passes out, Bruce pulls him over and lays him on the crate. Four left.

The men are talking to each other now. Dick can't get a good grip of what they're saying but he knows they're cautious. They're looking around now, flashlights erasing the shadows. Dick’s breath swells in his chest when one of the men gets close to Batman’s position. He points the flashlight, the top of the crate is washed with light.

He sees Bruce but Bruce leaps down, landing on top of him. The noise alerts the others but it's too late--Bruce takes him down, breaking his arm. The man cries out and collapses to the floor, too hurt to fight back. Three left. The other men are running towards them but Bruce doesn't hide. He charges for the nearest one, ducking under the swing of a knife before twisting it out of the man's hand.

Another smuggler comes at him, holding what looks like a police club, but Bruce kicks him in the gut. The third man comes at him, but Bruce never relinquished his hold on the first, and he pulls him in front of him to use him as a shield when the man swings down his crowbar.

Bruce lets go of the man, pushing him into the crowbar wielder. They both go tumbling, crawling away to get some distance. Bruce turns towards the man with the club, but is momentarily distracted by the sound of the van starting up.

Bruce doesn't let it distract him for longer than a moment. He turns back to the man, just barely dodging a swing from the club. Dick watches the entire time, in amazement, but senses danger far too late.

Instead of making the getaway, as Dick is expecting, the van suddenly surges forward. Dick stands up from behind the ledge in shock, his instincts telling him to shout, but it all happens so fast.

The van moves forward. Bruce hears it, tries to duck out of the way, but the corner end of the bumper just barely strikes him in the back.

What?

Dick’s stomach drops as Bruce stumbles forward, his hand catching himself from falling to the ground. But he's clearly in pain, struggling to stand. The van backs up, the lights come on--the strong headlights almost blinding in the darkness. Bruce shields his eyes and grabs something from his belt, throws it at the tire of the car. There's a few blinks and the low-grade explosion goes off, bursting the tire. Bruce tries to stand fully but the two men that had fallen were back up. The man with the crowbar strikes Bruce in the stomach, staggering him. The two men take advantage of the momentary stun, grabbing each of his arms.

They aren't even trying to drag him away, which they should be doing. Instead the third man gets back to his feet and returns, striking Bruce in the gut.

As the beating continues, every blow making Dick flinch, Dick realizes he has to do something.

Dick immediately reaches for his utility belt, his fingertips resting on a slingshot, but a memory whispers to him, stopping him.

I need you to stay here and not move.

The words echo in his mind like a scolding. He stares down below as the blows continue, one blow hitting Bruce in the face. Dick feels sweat on his forehead. Anxiety swelling up in his chest as he watches Bruce bleed from his nose. Brilliant red dribbling down, getting into the contours and creases of his mouth and chin, staining his teeth pink. Bruce sputters out the blood once, painting the shirt of one of his attackers.

Dick didn't realize how badly he was shaking until he grabs the slingshot. He reaches into his other pockets for his ammo. He feels several different bombs--flash grenades, smoke bombs, tear gas pellets… panic settles in as all of his training on which and when to use each ammo suddenly slips from his mind. He has been in situations like this many times before but all of his experience means nothing in that moment. Everything is slipping from him.

He suddenly feels like a small piece in a big world. A pawn on a chessboard. A fly in a web. He looks back up at Bruce, just in time for a blow to hit the man in the stomach and leave him falling to his knees. His perpetrators forcefully pull him back up.

He's going to die, Dick realizes, as Bruce’s body slumps over, deadweight in the hands of his assaulters. He begins to crawl out of his hiding spot. He's going to die.

But before Dick can take his aim, suddenly there's an outcry. Dick looks up in time to see Bruce wrestle his arm out from one of his capturers, eventually tossing both of them aside. His beater comes at him with raised fists but Bruce is now able to fight back, flipping him over.

Dick’s heart races impossibly faster and faster as Bruce starts to make his comeback. He is still bleeding from his injuries, splatters of blood painting his path, but each attacker goes down one by one.

It's hard not to be overjoyed when the man in the van crawls out and tries to run away, earning a second batarang that strikes him down, bleeding and in pain. All of the criminals pool around Bruce’s feet, unconscious or tied up. As they should be. Bruce is freely able to venture through the yard, prying open the back of a van to reveal the truth he was seeking. Bruce turns away to radio the GCPD.

Dick is eager to go down there to check on Bruce but tries to be patient. I need you to stay here and not move. Finally, Bruce gathers up all of the tied smugglers, checking behind the crates and nooks to make sure there is no one else. He looks up in Dick's direction and signals for him.

Dick immediately springs to his feet and starts heading down. When he makes it to the ground, he hurries towards Bruce.

“Are you okay?” Dick asks immediately.

“I'm fine. Let's wait for Gordon and give him our evidence. Then we can return to the cave.”

Dick is in disbelief. “You were hit by a car.”

“We have to wait.”

So they wait. Bruce has some small first aid supplies. His nose had bled but appears to be unbroken, so he cleans his face and keeps it at that. When Bruce moves to sit, he winces the whole way, but he won't take the painkillers in his utility belt. Bruce rarely takes medication, even if Alfred insists.

When the sounds of GCPD approach, Bruce stands to his feet.

“You should sit,” Dick says, but he's ignored. Bruce strides to the outside of the gate to speak with the commissioner, working to make his limp less noticeable. Trying to hide his weakness. Dick stands by in the background as the two men talk.

His silence must be noticeable, because Gordon keeps glancing over at him.

“Are you alright, kid?” he asks suddenly. At that, Bruce tenses in place. Dick is surprised when the attention turns to him, even jerks his head up at kid.

“Yeah, I'm fine,” he says quickly. He says it because it's what he is used to saying anytime someone asks him how he is. He never wants to draw negative attention to himself, never wants to kill the vibe in a room. The truth is that he isn't fine. He's worried. Anxious. He wants to get back to the cave to make sure Bruce is okay. Make sure that Alfred can look at him and say everything is fine.

When Bruce is done relaying the events of the night and connecting the men to the other crime scenes, Gordon’s men survey the area and arrest the smugglers. Dick is relieved when Bruce and Gordon say their goodbyes. But just as they turn to leave, Gordon stops them.

“Batman. A private word.”

Dick looks up at Bruce. Bruce gives him a short nod, encouraging him to go on. Dick is curious but he moves on to the batmobile anyways.

He shouldn't eavesdrop. He knows that. He learned that his curiosity needs to be controlled. He thinks of the mirrors. He thinks of ropes and bodies and blood. But Dick is worried, so he uses the sonar controls on the batmobile to listen in on their conversation. They are too far away and there are too many noises to pick up on. But he catches parts of it.

“--no older than my little girl,” he hears Gordon saying, before static.

He sees Bruce, standing tall in his cape and cowl, slowly nodding. He says something too low to be caught.

“Be careful,” says Gordon. And that is it before Bruce started to head back. Dick shuts everything off, worrying that Bruce will catch him. But Bruce says nothing about it when he gets in.

Dick wants to say something but all that races in his mind are questions about his conversation with the commissioner, so he bites his bottom lip. Bruce is quiet, stiffly so, when he puts the car in drive.

“You did good.”

Dick glances at Bruce questioningly. Bruce doesn't tear away his gaze from the road.

“You followed my orders. You stayed put,” Bruce says.

This time, the praise has no effect. Dick doesn't feel like he has done good. “I didn't do anything.”

“I need to know that when we go on these missions, you're not going to throw yourself into needless danger. You did the right thing tonight. Now I know that I can trust you on these bigger missions.”

Dick says nothing. Bruce can trust him to listen but can he trust Dick to save his life? Dick thinks about the blood and wonders if he should have done something.

“Something’s bothering you.”

It isn’t a question. Dick glances over to the side.

He doesn’t feel like talking.

The car slows to a stop in the tunnel. Dick can feel Bruce’s eyes resting on him but he doesn’t turn to face him. He gazes blankly out the window, trying to think of nothing at all, but the same scene plays over and over in his head again.

“Robin.”

“They could have killed you,” Dick finally says.

The air is silent, without so much as a hum from the car to even break it. Bruce finally speaks, his voice low.

“I took a misstep. I underestimated the opponents. I was sloppy. I promise it won't happen again.”

“You're lying,” Dick says at once. He dares to look back.

Bruce doesn't say anything to that. Beneath the cowl, Dick catches a glimpse of his eyes, sees that they are numb. “I'm sorry,” he says stiffly.

“You can't promise that. You're always going to get hurt,” Dick says, frowning. He's upset, anger and sadness brewing inside of him all at once, making his stomach turn and chest twist inside. But he knows it isn't right to feel this way--because he knew exactly what he was getting himself into at the start, knew the things he'd be seeing and doing. Upon further thought, Dick knows it isn't the danger that is making him upset. His brows furrow, his gaze lowering. “Why did you make me stay behind? Why wouldn't you let me help you?”

Bruce opens his mouth to respond, but all Dick can think about are all of the times. All of the times Bruce struggled to return home, whether it was work from Wayne Enterprises or his glamorous lifestyle as Bruce Wayne or his unending quest as Batman. He thinks of all the times he and Alfred had been pushed aside. The more he thinks about it, the angrier he gets. The angrier he gets, the sadder he feels.

“Why won't you let anyone help you?”

The question hangs in the air for a long time. When Dick dares to finally look Bruce in the eye, he finds himself frozen. There's a subtle emotion in Bruce’s face, something akin to sympathy. Something almost hurt.

“This isn't your fault,” Bruce says finally, his voice low. Doubt fills Dick’s mind, insecurities coming to the surface almost as if to rebel against Bruce’s words. How can it not be his fault? Bruce got hurt and he couldn't do anything to help him. “It's not a reflection on you or your abilities. This is deeper than that. This is me.”

“Are we not good enough?” Am I not good enough?

Bruce bristles in place. “That's not it.”

“Then what is?”

There is conflict in Bruce, it's  apparent in the way he moves--a subtle turn of the head, almost like he wants to turn away completely. The walls are coming up again. But the more Bruce withdraws, the more Dick is compelled to rip away at the walls. To pull it apart piece by piece, tooth and nail.

“Tell me,” Dick insists. And he hates the way his emotions are getting the better of him. Hates the way his voice seems to shake as he speaks, the way his heart thunders inside his chest. Tell me that I'm good enough. Tell me that you still want me around. Tell me that you care.

“I forget sometimes,” Bruce says, the words sounding like a deep confession. For a moment, his gaze turns a bit darker. A bit more vulnerable. “I used to be so alone. I forget what it's like to have people to turn to. I forget how to talk to people, to consider their feelings.” Bruce glances at him. “I am sorry. That wasn't a lie.”

Dick doesn't have a response for that. So he sits back a little, his gaze dropping to his lap. “Okay,” he says, nodding. And even though his heart is still hammering, he feels… relief.

“You've been patient,” Bruce continues. “I do appreciate it.”

Dick’s face warms slightly. These types of words from Bruce are few and far between, and Dick often doesn't feel worthy of being commended by anyone. Instead of insisting otherwise, Dick silently accepts Bruce’s words. It feels good.

Bruce puts the car back in drive, driving through the rest of the tunnel. When it parks, Alfred is waiting. They immediately start talking when Bruce gets out of the car, Alfred inquiring about Bruce’s injuries. Dick gets out, removing his equipment at the table while Alfred checks Bruce.

Alfred finishes examining Bruce by the time Dick is finished peeling away his uniform.

“You should get some sleep,” Bruce says when Dick approaches him. Bruce turns in a different direction.

“What about you?” Dick says, following. Bruce has insomniac tendencies. Normally Dick and Alfred just let it go, letting Bruce run his course until his body got the better of him. But after everything that happened that night, Dick is worried that Bruce is pushing himself too hard.

“I still have some work to do,” he says, making his way to the computer. Every night, Bruce logs all his files and does his research. Dick's concern must show in his expression, because when they lock eyes, Bruce says, “I'll be back in the manor soon.”

 

Batman and Robin are always side by side.

The only exceptions were Justice League related. Aside from that, Robin is included in all of Batman’s missions, no matter how big or dangerous. Dick’s role is often small--he is still learning the ropes, after all. But now Bruce can trust that he will listen. Dick is even getting involved in the detective work and the fights, which make him feel good despite the danger. He feels included. He feels wanted.

They're on a mission, chasing down a group of criminals responsible for some gang-related shootings in the area. The plan was to take them by surprise in their hideout--but they had been spotted. Instead of standing their ground, the gang immediately ran for it, scattering around the abandoned factory.

Dick is having a hard time keeping up with Bruce’s speed, the distance between them growing. Bruce knocks down the nearest criminal--immediately finding the gun on the man and taking it away. When Bruce takes him down, Dick hurries in to help, tying up the man.

“They're all scattered,” Dick says, talking about the gang.

“We can get more. Let's hurry,” Bruce says.

They're running down a barely lit hallway, the corridor looking almost like something from a horror film with its flickering lights and rusted walls. They spot a shadow turning a corner. They chase after it, Bruce throwing a batarang at the man, who goes down. As they're working on tying him, Bruce talks to Pennyworth over the commlink.

“Cave, watch the cameras and keep an eye on anyone who leaves the building.”

Dick looks around. Everyone is gone. He feels disheartened but he knows it's not over. They can get to the batmobile. They can still chase them down before they get too far.

Suddenly, he hears a noise.

He stops and looks around, his breath hitching. He tries to figure out where it came from but no one is there except the unconscious man on the floor. A dreadful feeling fills his stomach. He tries to reason with himself--the building is old. Old buildings always creaked. Or it could have been a rat, maybe even just his imagination.

“Robin, let's go,” Bruce says, interrupting his thoughts.

“Right,” Dick says, taking one last glance around the room before moving to follow Batman.

Dick makes his way forward. But then he feels something grab at his ankle.

He's tripping. Falling before he could react. He always kept his balance. He was an acrobat. Above anything else, he could always keep his balance, so why--

He grunts as he hits the concrete, the rough surface scratching at his cheek, the impact disorienting. But he reacts quickly, turning on his back, just as he slides towards an opening in a grate near the floor.

No. He's not sliding. He's being pulled.

The ground moves underneath him quicker than expected. Doesn't even have a chance to cry out. He's dragged across the surface, the ground cutting at his cape, as he is yanked into the grate.

“Robin!” but the voice is distant, drowning into the background. The light from the surface fades as he is brought tumbling into this new territory. Dick finally lets out a noise as he falls and lands on his shoulder.

The first thing he notices in the unfamiliar room is the pitch darkness. The second thing he notices is the frantic breathing.

Dick quickly rolls away when the hand of his attacker touches him. Dick reaches for his mask, adjusting the settings to his night vision. By the time it turns on and everything goes from black to green, he is being dragged back by his cape. In the night vision, the eyes of his attacker are great, glowing orbs. Dick catches the gleam of a switchblade in his hand. Dick flips onto his back and kicks the attacker in the shin, staggering him. Dick gives another kick to the gut, his opponent staggering backwards.

There are loud pounding noises above his head, impacts against metal. Bruce, Dick realizes, but he doesn’t let the noise distract him. Doesn’t wait to depend on Bruce’s help.

Dick rolls over just as his opponent bends down to grab him. He quickly rises to his feet but doesn't make it far, an arm wrapping around his neck. The opposite arm holds a knife, trying to bring it down, but Dick grabs the man by the arm, pushing the knife away from him. But the arm around his neck keeps pulling in tighter as they struggle, choking him. Pressing against his throat, harder and harder, his mind begins to panic as he struggles for air.

He has practiced a million break-holds in his training, but as death weighs over him, all of his logic is lost. Instead, instinct takes over. He digs his nails into the opposing arm and bites. The man cries out in pain, quickly withdrawing his limb. The loss of the arm supporting him leaves Dick stumbling forward, touching a hand to his neck as he tries to catch his breath.

He hears footsteps approaching him and his mind regains itself. Dick reaches into his utility belt, pulling out a disc. He quickly spun around, throwing it at the hand of his attacker. The man howls, the disc striking, bruising and possibly even breaking the bones in his hand. Dick doesn’t relent, the knowledge of his training returning to him, and leaps forward, kicking him into a wall.

A loud crashing noise follows, the grate finally falls to the floor. Light pours in, blinding Dick’s night vision. He quickly turns it off, wincing at the eye strain. But Batman’s shadow quickly looms over him. Dick doesn’t have a chance to say a word, to even react, when suddenly he's pulled into an embrace.

Dick blinks in surprise as he's pressed against Bruce’s warm body. Bruce’s cape falls over them both, enveloping Dick in shadow, and it's all so strange. It isn’t the reaction he was expecting.

As quick as it happens, it ends. Bruce pulls away, looking down at him, his hands on Dick’s shoulders.

“Are you alright?” Bruce asks, speaking quickly. It's the most urgent Dick has heard him speak in weeks, maybe months.

Dick is admittedly a little shaky. He takes a deep breath and nods. Bruce removes his hands at the assurance. “Yeah, I'm okay. I was just--”scared?”--taken by surprise. I wasn’t expecting him to--”

“Let's get back to the cave.”

“What about him?” Dick says, looking past Bruce. When Dick kicked him, the man must have hit his head on the wall. He's knocked out. “What about the ones that ran away?”

“We need to get you back so Alfred can look at you.”

“I'm fine,” Dick insists. “Let’s go catch them.”

“Robin, they’re gone.”

Gone? Dick’s mouth feels dry. “It’s because you didn’t chase them.”

“I had to make a choice. It’s fine, you caught one of them. We’ll catch the rest in time.”

They got away. Not because of Bruce, but because of him.

Dick feels Bruce’s eyes watching him carefully. Bruce’s hand moves towards him but it stops, hanging in the space between them. He senses that Dick is upset but he’s hesitating to comfort him.

Dick turns his gaze away. He doesn’t want to be a burden anymore. He doesn’t want Bruce to slow down because of him.

He isn’t ready to accept that.

“Let’s chase after them.” Dick looks at Bruce with a sense of determination. As expected, Bruce doesn’t budge.

“No. Forget about it. We’ll just have to do it another day.”

“There might not be another day! It’s now or never. Look at me: I’m fine.”

“I said no. You’re not going to argue with me on this one.” Bruce grits his teeth.

Dick isn’t going to give up. He runs past Bruce, ducking under his arm when Bruce tries to grab him, and climbs out of the space. He hears Bruce chasing after him until, finally, he’s yanked back by his cape.

“Robin!”

Dick is forced to halt, where he looks at Bruce defiantly. Bruce is furious.

“What are you doing? This isn’t like you!”

The smile tugs at the corner of Dick’s mouth, unbidden. He realizes he probably looks crazy, he can see it in the way that Bruce stares at him in wonder, but he grins anyways.

“Are you kidding? This is exactly like me.”

The anger and confusion in Bruce’s face slowly dissipates, fading into a slow realization.

“I’m always going to be the running Robin and you’re always going to be the buzzkill Batman. And we’re always going to argue. And some days I do listen, I know I at least try to, but you’re wrong on this. You’re always going to try to protect me, and I’m always going to be your backup--that shouldn’t hold us back, it should make us braver. So what are we waiting for?”

Bruce isn't swayed by Dick’s motivational speech--to be fair, Dick is sure that he could have come up with a better one. But he's faltering, a look of thought on his expression, and that is exactly the reaction Dick is hoping for. Bruce is thinking. “Robin, that’s easy for you to say--”

“I’m never going to stop chasing after criminals. Neither are you.” Bruce is still hesitant so Dick keeps pushing. “I’m fine. Really. So come on.”

Bruce lets go of the cape. He takes a step back, presses on the button on the side of his cowl to speak into the commlink.

“Cave,” he says.

“Yes, Sir?” Pennyworth’s voice comes in through the other line.

“Check the citywide cameras and see if you can find our other two shooters.”

“I’ve already been keeping watch, Sir. I have them traced. You’ll find that I’ve uploaded their coordinates on the map in the Batmobile. I've also alerted GCPD to the man in your custody.”

Bruce goes back to tie up the man, who is still knocked out. Afterwards he immediately heads for the parked vehicle with Dick following closely behind.

“I wasn’t actually going to run off on my own,” Dick says, breaking the silence.

“I know.”

 

Pennyworth kept a hawk’s eye on both of their shooters. Eventually Bruce and Dick were able to bring both of them down. It had been a struggle--they had to be chased to the opposite end of Gotham, but they were caught nonetheless. It was, admittedly, an exciting chase. Dick felt so accomplished when they brought them down.

They return to the Batmobile to head home for the night. Dick waits for Bruce to put it in drive but Bruce sits silently, as if waiting. Dick watches him with concern and waits as well.

“I can’t let you do this anymore,” Bruce says. He doesn’t say it with his usual hard, scolding tone. His voice sounds heavy. Weary.

Dick’s gaze lowers. This isn't like the time they argued in the Cave back when Dick quit. Bruce sounds serious--moreso than usual--and Dick is taken aback by how somber he sounds. Still, he forces a smile, because one of them had to keep smiling. “Why? We caught them.”

“We did but it wasn’t worth putting you at risk. The moment when you were dragged into that grate, you were out of my control. I couldn’t help you.”

Dick can’t believe they’re back to this, after everything. After their clear success. He doesn’t understand what it has to take, what he has to do to prove himself. He feels disheartened. “I don’t understand. I made it out just fine.”

“That’s not all.”

“We stopped them,” Dick says, hurriedly. Defensively. “I didn’t get hurt. I didn’t get in the way.”

“That’s not it, Dick,” Bruce says, the name slipping out. His true identity. Dick doesn't understand. What other reason could there be?

“But--”

“I don’t want you to become like me.” Bruce shakes his head to himself.

“I’m not trying to be like you--”

“No. I don’t want you to be like this,” Bruce reiterates. Dick falls quiet, lets Bruce explain himself. “I don’t want this life for you. I can’t keep telling myself that you would do it anyways--that you’d fall into this lifestyle with or without me. I can’t keep pretending that I’m not cultivating this need for justice inside of you. Everyone warned me--Gordon, Alfred, I even knew it myself. That I was turning you into something that you're not meant to be. Turning you into some warped reflection of myself. I was selfish. I realize that now. I just didn’t want to do this alone. I didn't want to do it without you.”

The words shock Dick into silence. He remembers all of the arguments. All of his insecurities. He wonders how what Bruce was saying could be true--that all along, Dick had been worrying over nothing. He remembers how Bruce discouraged him, how he didn’t flinch when Dick quit, and he wonders how it could be true.

“I thought you wanted to be alone.”

“You grew on me.”

Dick feels his heart race a little faster. Simple words, but it belied a level of emotion and affection that he had never heard Bruce express. A dull heat rose to his face, the words unexpected but also something that he had hoped to hear for a long time, in what he thought would only be a dream.

It scares him, in a way, because he knows that he's not hoping for these words in the way that he should. He loves Bruce--in a way that would never work out, in a way that would always have an unhappy ending. The little bit of confirmation that Bruce cares--that reaffirms that Dick is needed, wanted--warms Dick’s heart, but not in a way that could ever be fulfilled.

“I get it now. Okay?” Voice lowering, Dick says, “I get it.”

The paranoia. The overprotectiveness. The unwillingness to give up control. It all made sense. Dick couldn't be sure when the inkling started, but after each night, each patrol, each mission, it started to make more and more sense.

The fear of losing someone.

“I'm not going to quit again,” Dick says, voice softening.

Bruce says nothing more. He puts the car in drive. As they head back home, Dick glances over at Bruce and wonders.

 

The winds blow through Dick’s hair, sweeping his bangs past his eyes, the air cooling his skin. He continues to tell himself to bury his feelings, the same way he always did. The same way Bruce taught him to. But he can’t. He sits on the roof of the manor, gazing at the adjacent window leading into Bruce’s room.

Just like the mirror from so long ago, Dick knows he shouldn’t look. Curiosity, of this sort, could only lead to pain. Just like then, however, he could not resist. He watches the curtains blowing in the window. He wonders if Bruce is sleeping or if he’s just as restless as him.

 

“You don’t talk much these days.”

Dick glances up at Bruce. Their capes are billowing in the winds, occasionally catching one another, but tearing apart just as quickly. Dick considers lying. He bites his lip, trying to think of what to do, what to say. He usually always has something to say.

“Is it school?”

Dick shakes his head, almost solemnly.

“Is it me?”

Dick hesitates to respond. Bruce acknowledges his silence, bowing his head slightly.

“I know I’ve been difficult lately,” Bruce admits. But that isn’t true. Ever since their last mission, Bruce isn’t constantly pulling him back. He treats Dick more like an equal now, as if his respect for him has grown. He isn’t afraid to allow Dick to help him, isn’t constantly afraid of him getting hurt. It makes Dick feel useful--but not wanted in the way that he hopes to be.

“That’s not it,” Dick says quietly. Bruce waits for him to explain. Dick sighs a little. “Do you like having me around? Like, more than just a sidekick?”

Dick isn’t sure if Bruce is confused by the question or unwilling to answer. Bruce is silent, expressionless. When he opens his mouth to say something, a voice comes through on their commlinks.

“Batman, I’ve picked up a radio signal indicating a robbery in progress--two blocks away from your location.”

There’s no time to discuss it. Dick knows that the robbery is more important but he still feels a twist in his chest. He’s not sure if he’ll ever muster up the courage again. Bruce seems to notice this, his gaze even lingering on Dick for a moment longer, but he finally turns and swings off to the next building. Dick follows after him.

 

Dick can still hear the gunshot.

The gun was hardly the awful part. It wasn't aimed properly and the shot had only grazed Bruce’s leg, and while he bled heavily, it wasn’t fatal. The issue was that he had staggered back afterwards, tripping over the staircase railing, and went plummeting down. The bad landing fractured his ribs. This would not have been so bad, but Bruce had gotten up despite everything, and still fought the robbers. They were successful in catching their men but Bruce had taken the brunt of the damage.

Dick sits patiently in the corner of Bruce’s room as Alfred changes the dressings on Bruce’s leg. An ugly scar is carved into the skin, racing across Bruce’s calf. Dick diverts his gaze, wishing he had done more. Even wishes it had been him instead so he could at least be free of this guilt.

At the very least, he didn't freeze up this time. He had managed to fight off a few of the men one-on-one while Bruce recovered. A few weeks ago, he would have never been able to do that.

Alfred insists that Bruce must stay in bed for a few days to allow himself to heal up. Dick knows he's overstaying his welcome--Alfred is constantly trying to shoo Dick out of the room, sometimes dropping hints and other times blatantly telling him to leave. It's understandable--he wants Bruce to catch up on rest. But Dick simply, selfishly, doesn't want to leave him alone.

When he comes from school, Dick usually goes straight into Bruce’s room. If Bruce isn't in the mood for company, he'll remind Dick to do his homework or assign him on some other task. Most times, however, he allows the company, even seems to pretend to be interested in Dick’s stories for the day.

“When do you think you'll be back on patrol?” Dick asks.

“If it was up to me, tonight. If it was up to Alfred, never. I'm just going to have to wait and see what my body decides.”

Dick had a feeling that was going to be the answer. He doesn't worry too much, since Bruce always heals quicker than he should, but he still misses going out on patrol.

“I've been focusing on casework,” Bruce says. A stack of folders sits next to him on the bedside table. “We'll have plenty to do when I get back. You should take this time to rest too.”

We. Bruce uses that word more often these days.

Dick takes a file off the top of the stack without permission. He goes to look through it but Bruce clamps his hand on it.

“You shouldn't look at that.”

Dick stops. “What is it?”

“Double homicide. The images are graphic. And you shouldn't take things without asking.”

Bruce takes the folder back. Dick doesn't resist. Dick is allowed to go on bigger cases but Bruce still examines all of the casework and crime scenes on his own. Dick thinks of the crime scene they examined together in what seemed so long ago, the one that they had argued over, and it brings back memories of ropes and bodies and blood.

“Do you ever think about them?” Dick asks quietly. He's being vague, but only because he's afraid to say it. He knows he's breaching on territory that he should not touch--but that case has not escaped him since that day. He finally spits it out, “When we're on cases. Do you ever think about your parents?”

Bruce seems taken aback by the question. His expression does not change, but the hand he has resting on his chest seems to clench at the fabric of his shirt. The subject of his parents was an unspoken taboo in the household. His eyebrows furrow slightly in what seems like concern. “Do you?”

Dick feels an ache in his chest. It's a lose-lose situation. If he thinks of his parents, he feels sad, but if he doesn't think of his parents, he feels guilty for not mourning them properly. “That one case… the one we got in a fight over… when I saw those bodies in the mirror--”

“It's okay,” Bruce says, when Dick starts to get upset. Dick uses the interruption to compose himself, focusing on breathing gently. The air cycles through him, calming him. Bruce continues, “I think of them everyday but I don't focus on it. It's just a thought that I carry with me, in the back of my mind. I tell myself it's too late to do anything about it, I have to accept that they're gone. What I can't accept is the injustice and the possibility of it happening to anyone else. I have to make sure that others don't have to go through what I had to.” After a moment of consideration, Bruce corrects himself, “What we had to.”

That's right. Dick calms down. He remembers that Bruce has been through the same thing. Had been through worse, if Dick had to be honest. It's the one thing they connect on, despite all of their differences. It brings them together. It's the one thing that's honest.

Dick feels something brush against his arm. He looks down, where Bruce has rested his hand over his arm, inching towards his wrist. The thumb moves back and forth across his skin. It feels nice.

Bruce is staring down at where their skin meets, but his gaze is absent, almost as if he doesn't know what he's doing or what he's looking at. Dick feels a flare of warmth rise to his face. He wants to lean into the touch, his breath is even beginning to quiver, and so he gently pulls out of Bruce's reach. It's exciting him too much.

Bruce almost seems like he doesn't realize what he was doing until Dick pulls away. His hand retreats to the side and he looks away, his face almost looking as if he wish it never happened.

Dick feels a slight pang of guilt for withdrawing. It was a simple, affectionate gesture. Dick feels like he's corrupting Bruce’s kindness with his own thoughts by taking the innocent action and turning it to match his own desires and intentions.

Alfred manages to interrupt the tension at the right time. He carries in a tray of food.

“Master Dick, dinner is ready downstairs.”

Dinner time already. So much time had passed by in that room. Dick would normally try to find an excuse to stay, but honestly he's ready to get out of there. He is still too afraid to talk to Bruce, too afraid of his own reaction to Bruce touching his skin.

The moment haunts Dick for the rest of the night. He wonders if it would have been a good opportunity to confess his feelings. When it comes to matters like this, Dick is horribly inexperienced. What Dick does know, however, is that his feelings weren't normal. Boys his age weren't supposed to fall for grown men, especially when those men acted as guardians.

Dick isn't sure what to do. But his mind keeps drifting back to the hand on his arm, the thumb dragging across his skin almost gently.

The memory makes him feel more than just wanted. It makes him feel loved.

 

“Alfred,” Dick says. The butler stops in the middle of his dusting to give Dick his full attention. Dick feels nervous when Alfred looks at him, almost too nervous to ask his question even though the butler is being as kind and attentive as always. “Do you think it's always important to be honest? I mean, I know some lies are important--like, you know, Robin-related stuff. But what about other things?”

Pennyworth is puzzled. “I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific, Master Dick.”

“Like, you know. With feelings. And stuff.” Dick’s eyes dart around the room. His heart is racing.

Pennyworth, at first, stares in bewilderment. But then he looks amused. “What sort of feelings?” he asks lightheartedly.

Dick can already tell what Alfred is guessing. He's wondering if Dick met someone at school. In truth, Dick is speaking about attraction, but it's far too complex to be compared to a school crush. Dick tries to correct himself, “Just. Any feelings. I suppose.”

“In my experiences, I feel that people expect a certain level of feeling from others. If, for example, you, wanted to share your feelings with someone… and that you're certain that the person shares the same feelings as you, you should be completely honest.”

“And if you're not certain if that person wants to hear it?”

“Then you must tread carefully,” Pennyworth says, nodding. “Sometimes it's best to wait. However, I will say that if it's something that you feel you must confess, you should. But be aware that they may not appreciate it, and you must never, in any circumstance, push that person too far.”

“And what if you're not supposed to feel that way?” Dick asks quietly.

At that, Pennyworth pauses. His eyebrows knit together, as if failing to figure out a puzzle, but definitely beginning to sense that there is a bigger picture. Dick’s nerves are beginning to swallow him, followed by a sense of shame. He realizes now that he doesn't want Pennyworth to figure it out, and he's terrified of what will happen if he does.

“Master Dick, is there anything going on that you wish to tell me?” Pennyworth asks. Dick's heart is thumping.

No, he realizes. His feelings for Bruce are wrong and he can't have Pennyworth know the truth.

“There was this girl at school who asked how I thought she looked, and I think she's ugly, but I didn't want to tell her that,” Dick says, blurting out the quickest thing he could think of.

“Oh,” Alfred says. He seems amused, almost with himself. He thought he had assumed too much, and Dick wasn't going to let him know that he had assumed right. “Well, while honesty is important, I believe that's an example of a feeling that should not be shared.”

The conversation is over. Alfred returns to dusting while Dick wanders around the manor.

There's a lot of secrets in the house. Hidden passageways. Long forgotten histories. When Dick first came to the old manor, it felt cold and distant. After awhile it became home, but there were still so many walls, so many areas untouched. Now Dick has his secrets too.

It doesn't feel right.

He needs to say something.

 

The next day, Dick catches Bruce out of bed. Bruce doesn't appear startled when Dick barges into the room without knocking.

“Close the door,” he says, and Dick shuts it behind him.

“Should you be doing that?” Dick asks wearily, watching Bruce as he does sit-ups on the floor. Bruce slows to a stop, his chest rising and falling, and Dick wonders how long he's been doing this for him to be so out of breath.

“No,” Bruce says honestly. “But I can't keep laying in that bed.”

“But doesn't it hurt?” Dick asks. As if on cue, Bruce sits up and winces, to the point where he looks like he won't be able to move in any direction. Dick, worrying, moves in to see if he can help in any way, but Bruce lays himself back down.

Bruce breathes for a moment. Dick watches the massive ribcage expand and contract with every breath, the muscles visible even underneath the shirt. There's an intense look in Bruce's eyes. Dick recognizes it--he's pissed off. Likely, he's not happy with the slow progress his body is making.

Dick slowly approaches, taking a seat on the carpet next to Bruce. Bruce doesn't tell him to leave.

“I want you to get better,” Dick says. Bruce glances in his direction. “But if we go on patrol now, you'll just get hurt, and then we'll have to wait even longer.”

“I know,” Bruce says, conceding. With great effort, he gets up and lays back on the bed. The action seems to have exhausted him. Dick pulls up the chair that's been there for the past few days, scooting in close. “How was school?”

“Fine,” Dick says, drawing up his knees. But the truth is that school is the last thing on his mind.

It must show. “Is everything alright?”

Dick looks at him.

“You're quiet,” Bruce says. He continues, “If it's about the injury--”

“Have you thought about what I asked you?” Dick blurts out. Bruce looks at him. Dick immediately feels like an idiot--he should have planned what he was going to say, now he's just winging it. Dick elaborates, his breath feeling short, “That night you got hurt, before we went on that mission, we were on the roofs and I asked you how you felt about me.”

“You should know how I feel,” Bruce says simply. He won't say it. Won't bely any type of affection. He'll just leave clues for Dick to figure it out. But he doesn't understand the extent of Dick’s question, the extent of his feelings.

“It's not just the sidekick thing,” Dick says, face scrunching up a little. Sidekick. He still hates the word. “I want to know if you want me around as more than a partner.” He plays with his hands, his chest tightening. “I want to know if you want me.”

Bruce doesn't say anything at first, and Dick immediately realizes that Bruce knew what he was talking about from the get-go. He can see it in the way his gaze lowers, the concerned look in Bruce’s eyes, that treads on being too serious, and Dick realizes he needs to start talking fast--to get this all off his chest, to finally confess. To finally be honest and hope that in the process, he can break down the walls between them long enough for Bruce to understand.

Caution be damned. Dick was never an idle person. He's sick of being anxious and afraid.

Dick takes Bruce’s hand in his. Bruce tenses in place but he doesn't move away. Dick is moving too quickly anyways, isn't giving Bruce enough time to react. He leans down and kisses Bruce’s knuckles, almost chastely.

Bruce stiffens like a statue underneath him. Dick’s face is burning. Not from embarrassment or shame, like it should be, but out of desire.

“This is how I feel,” Dick says, murmuring against his skin, his lips brushing the back of Bruce’s hand. Dick isn't sure of what more to say--but he gets silenced anyways, when Bruce pulls his hand back.

"Dick."

Dick shrank a little in his spot, not liking the tone in Bruce’s voice. He recognized it--the one that said you did something wrong. He knows what's coming, what Bruce is going to say, and he wants nothing more than the ability to freeze time to stop it from happening.

“We can’t.”

There’s a tight, squeezing feeling in his chest. Dick’s gaze lowers and he plays with a loose thread on his jacket to keep himself from shutting down. But he’s not ready to quit--because he likes Bruce. He likes him a lot. And he knows it's wrong but he’s not going to apologize for it.

“You mean you can’t.”

He can sense the frown, even if he can’t see it. Its because he knows Bruce so well. He's certain now that he knows him better than anybody, except maybe Alfred. He knows him better than the people who see him on TV. He knows him better than the people who work with him. He knows him better than the people who’ve dated him. Because they have a connection between them that no one else shares, because Dick has seen all sides of him,because Dick just knows.

“You understand why, right?”

Dick doesn't want to hear it. “I don’t care--”

“It would be hugely irresponsible, on my part. Dangerous, even. And for good reason.”

“I’ll be fine--”

“You don’t know that, Dick. You want to grow up too fast. You want to see things you shouldn’t. Do things you--”

“Shouldn’t?” Dick finishes for him. His heart is racing now. It feels fast, nervous--like climbing a ladder before a show. But it also aches, because he has so many painful, longing feelings, and all he wants to do is aid that feeling. He leans in closer, the bed shifting as his elbow presses down on the edge of the mattress. Hovering so close. “What shouldn’t we be doing?”

“Dick.” His tone is sharp. Like a warning. But Dick refuses to stay away.

“If you could, would you want to?” Dick asks. He wants Bruce to answer, wants him to admit that there’s some sort of feeling between them there that lies deeper than just friends or family or partners. He wants Bruce to want him the same way.

Bruce stares at him long and hard. "No," he finally says.

"You're lying," Dick says. He wants to believe it, wants to believe that Bruce trusts him so much out of the same love and desire. He wants to believe in what they have together--the long nights spent, the trust despite all of the secrecy, even the paranoia of losing one another. But Bruce's rejection hits hard nonetheless, and Dick's insecurities begin to bubble up. The idea that he isn't good enough. "You're only pushing me away to get me to stop. You feel the same way, I know it."

Dick tries to take Bruce's hand once again, and the swiftness in which Bruce withdrew it makes Dick start to think twice. Maybe Bruce's words aren't lies. Maybe Dick’s assuming too much. Worse, maybe Bruce really doesn't care about him at all. Irrational thoughts began to flood into his head, sinking him deeper and deeper. Bruce’s guard is making him doubt himself.

“This is--”Bruce starts, but he stops and shakes his head to himself, looking almost angry. Dick's pushing him too far. He tries to remember what Pennyworth told him about boundaries--but Bruce has so many boundaries. Dick knows it's hopeless but he presses on anyways.

“You said you wanted me around.”

“I do. But that's--”Bruce stops himself. He always stops himself. He never says enough.

“But it's different,” Dick finishes for him. Bruce is silent. Dick resigns. He gets up and leaves, deciding he wants to be alone for awhile.

 

Dick doesn't see Bruce much until the recovery begins to pick up. Bruce is moving around the manor now, at first in sparse moments, then with regularity. Bruce greets him in the hallway in passing, and Dick blurts out a greeting in response. It's a habit. But it breaks the silence between them, which helps when Bruce finally puts on the cowl.

“Hand this over to Master Bruce,” Pennyworth says, handing Dick a small box. Dick curiously opens it and looks inside, finding some medical supplies. Alfred sighs. “I didn't ask you to look.”

Dick just shrugs. He goes over to hand it to Bruce. When he takes it, their fingers brush against one another. Heat rushes to Dick’s face and he quickly pulls away. And just like that, everything comes rushing back to him at once. Bruce says nothing on it, just turns away and stuffs the box in one of his pouches. He immediately pulls on his gloves and bracers afterwards.

“Be strong,” Alfred tells them as they get into the Batmobile. He had stopped telling them to be ‘safe’ long ago.

The atmosphere feels tense in the drive through the tunnel. Dick exhales a little more deeply than he means to. His chest is twisting, his heart thumping. He's anxious.

“Did I make things weird?” he has to ask.

“I didn't say anything,” Bruce says. Dick almost rolls his eyes.

“You don't have to. I can just tell. This is--”super awkward”--weird, isn't it?”

“Let's not focus on that,” Bruce says.

Of course he would say that.

Dick feels frustrated. He's not surprised that Bruce is choosing to bury it. They're barely out of the tunnel when Alfred’s voice comes in through the Batmobile, sounding urgent.

“Sir, there's an urgent situation downtown. An alert of a bomb threat, along with several gunmen. It's pertinent that you get down there immediately.”

Dick tenses at the news, his personal problems disappearing. Even Bruce seems concerned.

“Understood,” he says seriously. “Give me the coordinates.”

The batmobile speeds up.

 

They're in city hall. There's a wireless detonator attached to a fixture at the top of a dome, settled on fragile beams that cannot be grappled onto. Meanwhile, Batman is fighting androids of all things, the sounds of scraping metal and firing lasers and flying bullets filling the room.

Dick manages to lead a group of hostages through the frenzy. When he sees them head for the exit, he immediately leaps into the fray with Batman. The lifeless robots give Bruce permission to not hold back, and if Dick didn't know any better, he'd say Bruce might be enjoying himself.

“This is fun and all...” Dick starts, leaping behind an android to use it as a shield against another one's laser beams. “But what exactly are we going to do about these bombs?”

“That detonator has a timer on the side of it,” Bruce says. He pauses momentarily, pushing on the button on the side of his cowl to zoom in on the domed ceiling. He frowns. “We're not going to be able to get it down from there. Those beams are too fragile to grapple onto and knocking it down risks breaking it, which will set it off.”

Dick briefly wondered how much rebuilding a city hall would cost. He jumps on the shoulders of the android, ripping out the wiring at the base of its neck that had been sticking out from an earlier cut.  The mechanical guard shuts down. For a moment, Batman and Robin have time to catch their breaths. The rest of the armed androids are marching in their direction from all sides.

“So what do we do?” Dick asks quietly. Almost defeatedly.

“Robin, make sure the people who are evacuating get out alright. Lead them to the emergency vehicles,” Bruce says.

“What are you going to do?”

“There might still be people here. I need to make sure they get out safely. There's still time on the bomb.”

Dick doesn't like that answer. Bruce seems to sense it.

“I'll be out in time. I promise,” Bruce says.

An android gets close, charging in their direction. It sets off an alarm and the rest follow suit.

“Hurry,” Bruce says, pushing Dick a step forward in the direction of the door. But even so, Dick turns back, in time for Bruce to leap on the nearest machine.

Dick looks at the machines dejectedly. Bruce always pulls off the impossible, but this time around, Dick isn't so certain. He's worried about Bruce. He's worried about the people that might still be inside. He's worried about what destroying this old landmark would mean for Gotham.

He looks up, eyeing the detonator with a renewed fury. He isn't going to do it. He isn't going to listen to Bruce’s orders.

No more.

His eyes scan around the room. Back and forth, higher and higher, mapping a path in his head. When he puts it together, he goes for it. He starts up a pillar, getting as high as he can, and begins the long climb up. He uses the grooves to pull himself up--like he's done a million times before.

The sounds of fighting continue below him but he's not paying attention to it, climbing higher and higher. He has his grappling hook but he only gets one shot. If he falls, he'll need it, and hopefully he'll be able to attach himself to the building without any of the weak beams getting in the way. If the grappling hook attached itself to any of those beams, the momentum of his fall would undoubtedly snap it, and he would go falling.

Ropes and bodies and blood.

Dick narrows his eyes, concentrating on the climb.

The interior of the dome is almost skeletal. The criss-crossing beams is almost a cosmetic choice. Dick thinks it looks like a spiderweb. He's at least twenty feet off the ground now before he detaches himself from the side of the building onto one of those beams. Dread sinks his stomach but he tries not to focus on it, not even when the thin line of steel seems to creak underneath him. It's at this point he hears a voice in his ear, through the commlink.

“Robin, what are you doing?” comes the gruff voice.

Dick tries his best to tune it out, at least for this part. He's going to need all of his concentration. He’s already in pain, fatigued from the difficult climb up. His fingers aching from grabbing onto tiny grooves, his thighs from supporting all of his weight, his upper back from pulling himself up… he runs a hand through his sweaty bangs, parting his hair away from his eyes. He looks up. Tries to remember his path. He does.

Get down from there.”

He slowly rises himself on the beam. His boots are soft-soled for a reason. He can feel the beam, easily crosses it. The beam just barely accommodates the width of his feet, but it's easier in comparison to the tightropes he used to practice on when he was half his age.

Pennyworth intercedes, having overheard the conversation on the commlink. “You must get down immediately. The scanners show that the detonator is set at thirty feet above the ground. You will not survive that if you fall.”

If I fall,” is all Dick says. And he shuts off his commlink.

He gets to where he wants to be. The beam above him is a little off. He's going to have to jump for it. One shot, he reminds himself, the grappling hook feeling heavy on his belt. He doesn't rush himself, even knowing that the detonator is ticking away. He waits until he feels confident. Then he goes for it.

His hands catch it. He swings up his legs, eventually hoisting himself over it. He sits on the beam for a moment, taking a deep breath. His heart is rattling now, especially as he sees the ground. It's okay, he tries to remind himself.

He's done this all his life.

He continues the climb, each beam crossing getting a little easier as his confidence rises. There's a few times where he sways, feels unbalanced and certain to fall, but he always catches himself. His uncertainties slip away. It's just him and the air, as it always has been. As it always will be. And each step, each risky jump that takes him higher, he feels more assured. He feels more invincible.

And finally he sees it, his target, waiting for him. He makes the final hoist on the top beam, wrapping his legs around the steel so he won't fall. He scoots closer to the detonator, ignoring the flashing timer on the sides and opening the lid to view the control panel--but finds all of these technological parts that he doesn't recognize. He reconnects to his commlink, allowing Pennyworth to scream his final expletives before talking.

“How do I disarm it?” he asks in the commlink.

“Master Dick, I'm begging you, please get down,” Alfred’s voice comes through, secret identity ignored.

“I'm just going to start pushing buttons if you don't tell me.”

“You shouldn't be up there. If you fall--”

“Cave,” a low voice cuts in, causing Dick to freeze. “Just tell him.”

Dick feels his pulse. He hadn't even realized that he had calmed down.

So Pennyworth walks him through it. With his voice there, he feels assured, even though the back of his mind, he knows that the timer is getting close and the steel beam keeps creaking and Batman is tiring out from his battle with the nearly endless supply of androids. If he fails, they all go down in smoke and flames. But he ignores that fear, too focused on Alfred’s instructions.

Suddenly, the blinking red timer disappears. All the lights drain out of it.

“Cave?” Dick says quietly.

“You did it,” Alfred says, his voice almost hushed. His voice adds, an almost light tone to it, “Now get down from there already.”

Dick nods. He's going to have climb back down. But it was worth it. It was all worth it.

He looks down, trying to figure out the best way to go. He thinks he found a way, readying himself for the leap, when a loud groan reaches his ears.

The beam finally breaks.

As he falls, he tries to catch onto the nearest beam, but his fingers slip. Bad idea. A brief memory returns to his head. He thinks of his head. He thinks of the finale. Not just the end of the show, as he and his parents did every night city after city, but the true finale, that left his world spinning wildly out of control.

Not unlike now.

But then he remembers Bruce’s training. He reaches for the grappling gun on his belt, feels the symbol relief on the side. His symbol.

He's falling but he reacts quickly, pulling the gun off his waist. He aims at the first target he sees, shoots. It hooks into the wall perfectly. He grits his teeth as the momentum of the swing pulls at his arm, and he nearly lets go from the pain that shoots through his shoulder. But he hangs on.

He's dragged in an arc across the room, the momentum too quick. Too fast. He braces himself for the impact, but he smacks against the wall anyways.

He hits it hard, a shock of pain coursing through his body. His hands let go and he falls, but only a few feet. But he doesn't react in time, his head hitting the polished tiles, where everything flashes black.

He's seeing stars.

He forces himself up, vaguely aware of a dull pain in his body. When he stands, he stumbles forward, losing his balance. Ends up collapsing on his knees. Everything is doubled. His vision keeps crossing and blurring. He feels sick.

His head is forced to tilt back. He's vaguely aware of someone cradling his head. He's face to face with a bat.

“Robin, stay with me.”

Dick feels his eyebrows furrow. He wonders who Robin is. His head hurts trying to figure it out.

The scene doesn't last long. The bat suddenly turns its head. Flies off in some direction. Dick hears noises but doesn't understand. Moments pass by quickly and fleeting, everything a blur. One moment, Dick lays uselessly on the ground. The next, he's picked up and carried.

“Don't close your eyes.”

Dick's head is trying to grasp that voice but it doesn't make sense. He feels a hand run through his hair, it's almost familiar but the texture is wrong. Next he's being placed down, cushions beneath him. Everything is dark but he keeps his eyes open, as told.

“You are important to me.”

“I don't know what that means,” Dick says, confused. And with a noise, the dark envelopes him. But his eyes are still open.

 

Dick can hear their voices past his bedroom door. He can't tell what they're talking about but he knows it has to do with his injury.

Dick ended up with a concussion. Nothing as serious as what it could have been. He also strained his shoulder a little bit. All and all, he was fine aside from a bit of short term memory loss, but Pennyworth confined him to his room.

The door swings open. Dick watches as both Bruce and Alfred enter the room.

“How are you feeling?” Bruce asks, taking a seat next to the bed. Alfred comes to collect the tray he had placed Dick’s dinner on. He waits in the room a moment longer to hear Dick’s response.

“Fine,” Dick says, shrugging. “My shoulder doesn't hurt as much anymore.”

“Good,” Alfred says. “Should that change, please inform us.”

“You still haven't told me about the case,” Dick says. His brow furrows as he tries to concentrate. Tries to remember. But there were only a few tidbits that are still with him. “Did everyone get out in time?”

“Yes,” Bruce says. “You dismantled the bomb and I took out the rest of the weapons. Everyone was safe, thanks to you.” Dicks nods slowly, relieved. Bruce sits back in the chair, a small look of amusement on his face. “The media picked up on the story, by the way. You won't have to worry about being called Batlad anymore.”

When Dick looks at him, puzzled, Alfred intervenes. He smiles and elaborates, “I believe the news is calling you Robin, the Boy Wonder.”

“Seriously? That's so cheesy,” Dick says, grinning at once. “But it does beat Batlad.”

“And Bat Menace,” Bruce says, smiling softly.

Alfred takes off with the tray, gently closing the door behind him. When the door shuts, Dick is vaguely aware that he and Bruce are alone now, and he feels a little nervous.

“I've never had a concussion before. But I did get checked once,” Dick says, breaking the tension. Bruce looks at him and Dick continues, “It was during a trapeze practice. My parents were busy arguing. So I went up without them and I slipped. There was no net so I hit the ground but I wasn't too far up, so I was okay. But I still had to go to the hospital.”

“What were they arguing about?” Bruce asks.

“Whether or not to practice with the net,” Dick says, and he grins without meaning to. To his surprise, the corner of Bruce’s mouth quirks up into a smile too. Dick adds, “I'll be okay, right?”

“Yes. But you'll have to be careful,” Bruce says. “Repeated head injuries can have some serious, longterm consequences.”

“Are you angry?” Dick asks, because it's the real question he's concerned about. But Bruce shakes his head.

“You saved a lot of people.” Bruce frowns a little, thinking deeply. Dick watches him, noticing the serious look in his expression. Whatever he's thinking, he's thought about it for awhile, and Dick wonders if it concerns the conversation he and Alfred were having in the hallway. Bruce finally says, “I don't feel the same way I did last time. I'm concerned, of course, but I'm not upset with you. I don't know if I'll ever be fully confident or trust the decisions you make--it's not a reflection of you or your skills, it's just that I don't have it in me to be fully trusting of anyone, and our work is too dangerous for me to get comfortable. But I do respect your skills and you did help me at your own risk, not unlike before. This time, however, I understand why you did it.”

“I understand too,” Dick says, and he feels happy--despite everything. He feels like they can move forward. Even Bruce seems to be relieved, as he nods slowly, but there's still something troubling in his eyes.

“There's something I have to say,” he says quietly. Dick just watches him, lets him continue. Bruce rubs his forehead a bit, and Dick’s concern begins to poke out. The action was a stressed habit of Bruce’s, something that he rarely expressed except when his guard was let down. “In regards to this... other thing... you've been talking about.”

Dick instantly understands. He feels a little embarrassed but he listens.

“I don't want you to think that because I'm allowing you to be Robin that I'll just allow you to do whatever you want.” Bruce speaks calmly, but the words are difficult to say, Dick can see it in the tension in his body. “I don't want to hurt you. But you'll be more hurt if I don't tell you this now: forget about me.”

“I can't do that,” Dick says, shrugging. Bruce grimaces. He's upset, possibly angry, but he's trying to be composed.

“It's never going to work.”

“Strange,” Dick says, and he laughs a little. Bruce’s gaze flickers in his direction. “Before you were telling me it was because you didn't like me. Now you're telling me it's because it wouldn't work.”

Bruce looks at him with wonder. And that's when Dick realizes he has him. Dick gazes back, unflinching. Even smiles a little.

“I heard you say it. When I was teetering in and out. You said I was important to you.”

Bruce is still. He won't deny it.

“So maybe you just meant it like I'm an important partner, or friend, or family,” Dick says, shrugging liking he's guessing. But he's just humoring Bruce. He already knows. He continues, “Or maybe I'm the most important person to you, the same way you're the most important person to me, but you just can't say it. Because no one else will understand. Because it goes against what you believe in. Because you're afraid to let anyone in.” Dick’s smile falters at the last bit, his gaze lowering a little, and he says quietly, “Yeah. Maybe that could be it.”

Now Dick is the one in bed, his arms laying by his sides. And he feels a palm, rough and callused, rest on his wrist. This time it's Bruce, touching him. Dick feels his body stir at the touch. It's such a simple gesture, but this time without the innocence of before. It's belying an interest, a desire. Dick looks up at Bruce with a sense of shock. Bruce’s hand moves down, the skin caressing Dick’s own, before fitting into his--the fingers intertwining.

Dick feels his heart racing. They're just holding hands. But when he looks at Bruce, their eyes lock, and he sees it. Blue eyes meeting blue, the same level of affection and dark desire in them. Reflecting.

Dick feels this is it. So he sits up and scoots to the edge of the bed. Their hands are still locked, and he feels Bruce's grip tighten just slightly in anticipation. Dick draws in close, close enough to smell Bruce’s cologne. But Bruce turns his head away. Dick hears the unsteadiness in Bruce's breath. Watches him rub his forehead again.

Dick dares to touch his face, to draw him in again, but that's when Bruce breaks their hold. He releases his hand and stands up at once, with an almost urgency to his movements. His gaze is downcast. He stands there a moment, lingering between Dick’s bed and the door. Torn. Before finally exiting the room swiftly.

Dick watches the shut door for a moment, thinking over what just happened. His body relaxes, sinking into the mattress. He may have blown it. But his heart is racing a million miles an hour, and he's too rattled to be upset.

 

Bruce is notably absent for dinner.

Dick knows why, even as Pennyworth tries to come up with an excuse for the absence. Dick knows the reason more than Alfred does, but he doesn't say a word. Can't say a word, unless he wants to risk Alfred knowing. He gets ready for the night as usual. As the lights are out and he lays down, his thoughts consume him. Thoughts of Bruce--the brief memory of touching his skin, or his smell, or the sound of his breath.

It makes Dick flush a little, his heart beat a little faster. He can't sleep. He lays on his side, trying to get comfortable. He considers making a trip to the rooftop to clear his thoughts but he's wondering if he should risk the noise. Pennyworth was likely sleeping, but Bruce was home for the night and his sleep schedule was inconsistent. If he was awake, he would undoubtedly catch him.

He's wondering this when a noise at his door alerts him. He turns over in time as the door shuts. Dick cocks his head to the side, curiously, as the figure draws closer to him. Bruce turns on the bedside light, dimly illuminating the room.

Dick sat up to move towards him, at first wondering if something is wrong, but Bruce holds out his hand, gesturing for him to pause. Dick stops obediently, watching Bruce with eyes full of curiosity.

"Bruce?" he finally asks, and his voice seems so small in that quiet room. Bruce gently touches his bare shoulder, Dick's skin tingling at the contact, and gently pushes him back against the bed. Dick's heart is beginning to race, his mind burning with questions, but he's too busy focusing on Bruce's actions to waste a moment on worrying what to say. So he lays and waits for Bruce to move.

His mentor pulls the sheets higher, nearly covering half of Dick's face. Dicks finds it odd, wonders if Bruce is tucking him strangely into bed, but then Bruce closes in.

Dick is unable to tear his eyes off of him.

He feels the sheet press against his lips. A kiss, separated only by the width of the fabric, and Dick's heart races unbelievably faster. The kiss was without taste, without the feel of heat or softness. But it was a kiss. Bruce's kiss.

Dick tries to lean up again, wanting to feel the real thing, but Bruce makes his intentions clear. Bruce leans over him, sinking Dick deeper into the mattress. Bruce's arms on each side of him keeps the sheet pressed against Dick, acting almost like a barrier--keeping Dick in, making it difficult to maneuver out. Bruce leans down again, and Dick once again feels that kiss through the fabric. But this time, he recognizes the shape of Bruce's lips against his. The heat and wetness of his mouth as it saturates through the sheer material.

Dick lets his eyes close and is able to imagine. Imagine the feel, the taste, a kiss without borders. Dick's heart begins to race a little, a steady thumping inside his chest. Warmth begins to climb to his face and ears. When Bruce draws away, Dick looks up at him. He lets the words slip.

"I love you."

Bruce doesn't comment on it. Can't comment on it. They're already pushing this too far. But his hand reaches toward his neck, the knuckles of his hand tracing along the contours of the sheet lying over Dick's skin. Dick can't feel the texture of Bruce's leathered hands, can't feel the cuts on his knuckles or the calluses on his palm. But he can feel the weight of it, travelling across the contours of his skin, touching in the places where the sheets hug his body.

“You’re so brave.”

The compliment surprises Dick. It feels so out of nowhere. He looks up at Bruce, the man’s face hidden by the shadows that the weak bedside light can't quite reach, his expression unreadable. But Bruce seems to notice Dick’s questioning look. He continues talking, his voice low and quiet in the spacious room. Like every word is a secret.

“You’re brave and clever. You’re funny and kind.”

Dick feels his heart swell with every word. Each trait is spoken with a tone of affection, even though Dick had managed to convince himself that all of these traits are what annoys Bruce. His breath catches in his throat, especially as Bruce’s hand strokes over the sheets, down his chest and ribs, the touch grazing Dick’s skin. Dick’s mouth parts, wanting to gasp, but he doesn't want to fill the room with his voice. He lets Bruce speak instead.

“Not like me,” Bruce says quietly, in a tone that's almost self-deprecating, and Dick can't understand why. To him, Bruce is perfect.

But then he soon realizes, as Bruce continues, that what Bruce is doing makes him not perfect. In fact, what Bruce is doing puts him below even the most common of decent men.

Dick squirms underneath him, the fabric rubbing against his skin, almost teasing him. Dick groans softly, his eyes shutting. He wants to move more but the sheets are confining him. His breaths sound lonely in the large room.

“Wait,” he says, his voice strangled, his face scrunching up, and Bruce immediately stops and sits back up, sitting on the edge of his mattress. Dick props himself up on his elbow, the sheet just barely brushing past his shoulder. His skin is heated, his heart racing, he's even erect--he wants more but he doesn't trust what Bruce is doing. “Are you doing this for me?”

Bruce doesn't answer. Dick is getting nervous.

“I mean, I don't want you to stop, but…” Dick frowns, a sense of doubt washing over him. “Do you want to do this?”

Dick dares to look at Bruce. He's not answering. Dick nods a little to himself--realizing he already knows the answer. Bruce won't say it, can't say it. But he's here, in Dick’s room. He's kissing him, even though he shouldn't. He's touching him, even though he shouldn't.

Earlier he had reached for Dick’s hand and resisted when Dick leaned in to kiss him. But now he's back.

Dick sighs a little, calming his nerves, and even the tension in the room seems to waiver. He reaches for Bruce's hand. Bruce is tense again, and Dick expects him to go running, but he allows Dick to guide him. Dick places Bruce’s hand between his legs, neither one of them breathing.

Bruce's hand moves, palming over Dick’s arousal. Dick’s eyelids flutter shut. The feeling is too filtered, trapped between the sheets and the fabric of his clothes, but he's never had someone touch down there before. Just the idea is thrilling. He reaches beneath the sheets, lowers the waistband of his pajama bottoms and underwear, freeing his cock.

As he's doing so, Bruce leans in, his mouth catching the still covered half of Dick’s chest. Dick sucks in his breath, heat rushing to his face, as Bruce's mouth lands over his nipple. His hot mouth moves, sucking, and the combined sensation of the fabric and Bruce’s mouth brushing against him causes Dick to cry out softly, the sound unrestrained. The texture brushing against his skin, the heat and wetness of Bruce’s mouth--Dick drowns in the feeling. Dick catches the noise, clenches his jaw to stifle himself.

Bruce’s hand reaches back down, pressing between Dick’s legs, pushing his excitement further. Dick is concentrating, his brow furrowing, trying not to ruin this by making any noise that puts them at risk of being caught. Not to mention his voice is still alone in the room, save for the subtle noises underneath Bruce’s breath that feels almost obscene, and it's a little embarrassing for Dick to hear himself so desperate sounding.

So he tries to restrain it. Even as Bruce is now running his hand up his cock, and his body is shivering as only the thin fabric separates them now. Even as Bruce wraps his hand around him. Even as Dick is spreading his legs a little further apart to give Bruce easier access.

Then his hand strokes him and Dick whimpers a little between his closed lips, clenching his eyes shut. His hands reach, the sheet slipping to his waist from the movement. They catch Bruce's shoulders, and Dick hears him exhale softly. Even through the tight shirt, Dick can feel how warm Bruce is.

Bruce strokes him at a leisurely pace, the sheet adding extra friction and trapping Dick’s cock in encapsulated heat. Dick's breaths are more staggered now. Each exhale coming off shuddery, thighs trembling slightly, his voice escaping at the end of each and every breath. His head falls forward, in the comfort of Bruce's chest, and even though he expects Bruce to jolt at the touch and go running, he stays still with his shoulders tense.

Dick can hear it. It's small and faded. But he can hear Bruce’s heartbeat.

The ministrations feel unlike anything Dick’s felt before. His nights alone never prepared him for the heat and affection of someone else's hand. Bruce's hand moves closer to the tip, rubbing over the head, and Dick bites his bottom lip.

It's amazing.

But it isn't enough.

"I want you to touch me,” he says, like a deep confession. He wants to feel the skin meeting skin. He wants a touch without barriers.

"I know," Bruce whispers. When Dick pulls back, looks up desperately at him, he sees Bruce's strained expression. His face is even a darker color, something that Dick never expected, especially since Bruce is still untouched. This is turning him on. One of Dick’s hands clenches slightly in the fabric of Bruce's shirt. Bruce just whispers again, "I know."

“Please--”

Shh ,” Bruce says gently, burying his face in Dick’s hair.

And Dick doesn't argue, because he can tell. Tell by the way Bruce is acting, by his racing heartbeat and flushed face, that he wants to actually touch him. But this is either the best or the worst his morals will allow him to do. This is the closest thing they can have to being with each other without breaking Bruce. It's still wrong, so wrong, but it's the only way he can justify it.

Dick breathes in, his face still buried in Bruce’s shirt. His smell is almost comforting. His warmth is inviting. Dick feels just as safe as when Bruce ruffles his hair or guards him with his cape during a mission. A slow realization turns in Dick’s head. Bruce has always been there for him.

He feels Bruce’s hand move a little faster. Feels his breath fan against his ear, causing Dick to shiver. Dick feels weak, tremors running down his spine, shuddering. Dick feels unbalanced, gripping onto Bruce a little tighter now. The pleasure rising.

Bruce seems to notice. He repositions himself on the bed, allowing Dick to lean back on him. Dick allows himself to relax, his knees drawing up, his mouth beginning to release soft sighs, as he surrounds himself in Bruce’s arms. It's a risky move, because now Dick is vaguely aware of Bruce’s body pressed against his back. Warm and pressed close to Dick’s spine. But somehow it's more exhilarating, more arousing. Bruce even dares to bury his face in the crook of his neck.

The breaths are hot and heavy on his skin. Dick can feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand. Bruce’s breath is so close to his skin. If he would just turn his head, his lips would touch Dick’s throat. Dick wanted that. He wanted it bad. If Bruce would just--

Bruce's hand is still cupping his cock through the sheets. Dick's erection is strained now, precum beginning to seep through the fabric. Dick is squirming in Bruce’s arms, unsure of whether to keep still or move his hips to reach Bruce’s touch. His body is flushed, the heat racing from his chest to his neck to his face to beneath his eyes. His toes are curled, his hands clenching and unclenching. His breaths a little more frantic now, his moans a little more drawn out, and Bruce has to whisper a warning into his ear reminding him to be quiet, but his voice is so uncharacteristically gentle and his breath so hot against his skin that Dick only shivers again, his hips bucking.

“You can come,” Bruce says, whispering. The encouragement turns Dick on more. He tries to bite back a moan, the sound becoming strangled. Bruce twists his hand around the tip of Dick’s length--he knows exactly what he's doing, the movement spiking Dick’s pleasure, and so he says quietly, his voice heated and dark, “Come for me.”

Dick shuts his eyes, heat rushing to his groin. His back arches, his hips still, crying out as he comes, his body trembling. It's the most intense he's ever climaxed. He feels the tremors race its course through his body, his speed spilling out hot. As his body relaxes, a hand dares to stroke through his hair.

Dick looks back up at Bruce. He's shocked by the man's expression, expecting the same fear and hesitance he saw earlier. But this time, Bruce’s eyes are practically glowing in wonder, watching him intensely. It makes Dick want to kiss Bruce but he can't, so he bites his own lip instead.

Still, Dick sits up to give Bruce some room. As he does so, his hip brushes against Bruce, and he sees Bruce’s eyes suddenly clench shut. It doesn't take long for Dick to figure it out. The heat immediately returns to his face, his cheeks burning hot. He never expected to get that reaction from Bruce. He feels a little shy, but mostly amazed.

“Can I…” he trails off, not sure how to ask.

“No,” Bruce says at once. His hands run through Dick’s hair. “I'm fine.”

Bruce moves in, and Dick wonders for a moment if Bruce is going to kiss his hair--and maybe he was going to, but he pauses and then simply buries his face in his hair, breathing in softly instead. Perhaps that would be going too far. They're still for a moment, Dick closing his eyes as fingers comb through the very tips of his hair.

It feels nice. Dick wishes that time could freeze and they could just be like this, forever. No worries. No fears. No responsibilities. But Dick looks down, can see Bruce's arousal through his shorts.

Dick reaches down, his hand pressing against the heat between Bruce’s legs. Bruce catches him by the wrist, his body recoiling--startled--at the touch.

“Don't do that,” he says, unhappy. Dick shouldn't want to smile at Bruce's angry tone, but then again, that scolding reaction is just so like Bruce that it's hard to not be amused. Dick looks up at him, sees his flustered expression, and he doesn't resist the smile. Bruce sighs a little, but he looks so frustrated. “Why can't you be satisfied with this? Why isn't this enough?”

Dick hesitates for a moment, considering the question. It could be enough. Them, like this, untouching. Simply enjoying one another's company, as they always have. A relationship without desires of the flesh. He could be content with that. He should be content with that. But still, he shakes his head. Because he loves Bruce, and even if what they're doing is wrong and unchaste and sinful, it could be a secret. Their secret. And if they had to hide it from the world, then so be it--so long as nothing was hidden between them ever again.

“Because you're not happy,” Dick says. He reaches for Bruce’s face, the fingertips brushing against Bruce's skin. Bruce doesn't flinch. He looks at Dick, as if waiting to see what he was going to do. As if, for once, he's the curious one. “Because you're still holding back.”

Dick knows he's ignoring Bruce's orders again. He knows he's getting himself into something he shouldn't, as always. But when he looks at Bruce, he senses a familiarity in his expression. Despite all of their differences, there's a desire in his eyes that Dick can relate to. A desire to be comforted, wanted, loved. When Dick inches in closer, and their eyes meet, blue into blue, Dick knows.

He's looking into mirrors again.

But he doesn't stop.

Bruce is a statue, unmoving, when their lips meet. It's a small, simple kiss. Their mouths closed and meeting for the first time. Dick likes the feel of it, Bruce’s lips softer than he ever expected. And he does it again.

But then Bruce’s hand brushes through his hair, holding his head. And he turns his head to kiss him better. Their mouths opening. Breaths intermingling, heated and wet. Dick almost forgets how to breathe, his inexperience peeking out, and he pulls away. When they do, Bruce looks at him once.

His pained expression, for a moment, is gone.

It escalates.

Bruce kisses him again, initiating this time, with almost a sense of urgency. His kiss is heated, intense. A noise escapes from Dick’s lips, crushed by Bruce's kiss. He wraps his hand around Bruce’s bicep, trying to steady himself as Bruce’s mouth moves against his. The kiss is wetter than Dick imagined, especially as Bruce’s tongue slips into his.

The heat rushes to Dick’s face. He had never done this before, never tasted another person's mouth, never felt a tongue press against his own. He felt consumed by a lust and passion that he had never expected, never seen from the studious and reserved Bruce. He shivers once, excitement steadily building up again, and Bruce just pulls him in tighter. Warmer.

Face hot, Dick pulls away. His hands inch down Bruce's body, pulling at the hem of his shirt. Bruce stops him before he can lift it up, grabbing the fabric so he cannot mess with it.

“I want to see,” Dick says softly. Bruce leans his head forward, their foreheads resting against each other.

“No,” Bruce says. His face quirks up a little bit, and it's a rare and odd thing, to see Bruce look amused. But that pained look returns to his eyes. “Trust me, you don’t want to see.”

There is a truth, of sorts, in there. A fear. Perhaps even an insecurity, that goes farther than just not doing this out of ethics. Dick presses his lips against Bruce’s again, and he hears a small groan escape from the back of Bruce’s throat, and it sends electricity down his spine. This time it's  longer, almost sensual in a way, taking their time to taste each other. Explore each other. When in truth, Dick isn't sure how much time they have. Isn't sure if this is going to be the first and last time this happens.

“Please,” Dick asks again. He doesn't want to beg but it happens without him even thinking about it, each word slipping out.

Bruce’s eyes are still closed from their kiss. His brow furrows--he's conflicted again. This whole thing is escalating, spiralling, out of his reins. Out of the control that he usually so perfectly exhibits. “We shouldn’t--”

“I won't touch,” Dick says, but he's not sure if he means it. “Just let me watch.”

Bruce's head turns away, just slightly. Dick just kisses his face, his lips brushing against the short stubble along his jawline, kisses trailing along his skin. Bruce leans in towards the touch for a moment. He finally pulls back, giving himself space, hands finally pulling his shirt over his head.

It's not a pretty sight.

Dick isn't sure what he expected. He caught glimpses of Bruce’s body before but had never examined it closely, intimately, like this. His torso is riddled with long, crude scars, fading bruises and more than a few bulletmarks. Dick’s eyes fade a little as he takes in each one, some of them familiar, but most from before his time. He takes them in, imagining the story and pain inflicted with each lash.

He notices, too late, that Bruce has been watching him. But Bruce doesn't say anything, he just waits for Dick’s reaction.

Dick finds a curved scar on Bruce’s shoulder that he thinks he recognizes. He lightly traces along the mark, and Bruce seems to hold his breath as Dick’s fingertips drag across the heated skin. Dick forces a smile and looks up at him. “Is that from Croc?”

Bruce looks at him, a deep emotion in his eyes, something almost tender that leaves Dick feeling vulnerable. “I can't remember.”

Dick quickly forgets the scars. He begins to see the body underneath, the physique he's admired for so long but never got a chance to really take in. From his flattened stomach, to his defined clavicles, to his hard chest. Dick can see Bruce’s bare shoulders leading to his strong arms. In that moment he doesn't see Bruce’s body as something to aspire to, he sees it for what it is. From the muscles to the color of the flesh to the hair to the markings. He thinks it's beautiful, and even though he just said he wouldn't touch, he does it anyways.

He's too afraid to really touch, so his hands are light, pressing against his abs first. Bruce’s breath sounds short.

“This is a bad idea,” Bruce finally says.

“Why?” Dick says. He knows why. Bruce shakes his head.

“Don't make me explain it.”

“Don’t leave,” Dick says, almost murmuring. He removes his hands.

Bruce concedes with a tight expression. He leans against the fluffed pillows and headboard. His hand lowers past the waistband, but he doesn't remove them. Dick should have known that he wouldn't expose himself. But he can see Bruce’s hand move underneath, stroking himself, and Dick allows himself to lay next to Bruce. Leaning in close.

Bruce’s hitched gasps are subtle, almost inaudible. But Dick is so close he can hear each one, each sound creating a stirring inside of Dick. He leans his head up to look at Bruce’s face. He sees the flush across his skin, the haziness in his dark eyes, the slightly parted lips. He dares to kiss Bruce again, the tips of their tongues meeting, and as they pull away Bruce sucks on Dick’s bottom lip ever so slightly. Dick groans softly at the motion, the noise disrupting the space between them. The whole situation is arousing Dick.

Bruce’s motions speed up ever so slightly. Dick’s gaze flickers down, where the waistband parts ever so slightly to accommodate Bruce’s hand. There's a peek of skin where the hair leads down but it reveals not much else, but Dick feels himself harden anyways. The sight seems almost erotic. He quickly gazes back up at Bruce, not wanting to be caught staring. When they kiss again, Dick tries doing what Bruce did to him, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth.

Bruce is taken aback, a low guttural groan escaping from the back of his throat, and he quickly pulls away. The sound sends a wave of pleasure throughout Dick’s body. He's aroused again. Bruce’s face is contorted with pleasure and frustration, his hand moving faster but confined in the limits of his clothes.

“I'd let you,” Dick whispers, his voice heated, more husky than even he ever thought he could sound. “If you wanted to.”

Bruce shakes his head immediately.

“I can't.”

Dick stares as Bruce runs a hand through his own hair, his face settling in his palm. Through what Dick can see of his face, he finds pain and frustration. More than he had seen all night. Dick’s chest twists with sadness and fear. He's never seen Bruce like this, with such little confidence and assuredness.

“Please don't ask me to,” Bruce whispers, his eyes clenched shut.

Dick slowly takes Bruce’s free hand in his, unburying his face. Bruce's breath stills but he does not pull away. Dick simply looks down at the hand in his own. So rough and callused. So large in comparison to his own. Dick dares to look back up. Bruce is watching him carefully.

“I love you.”

“I can't,” Bruce says, but his gaze hasn't torn away. He's looking right into him. Dick’s hand intertwines with his, their fingers lacing together. Dick leans up, his lips catching the corner of Bruce’s mouth. Bruce tenses and closes his eyes, but when Dick kisses him fully on the mouth, Bruce allows it.

Bruce presses down on Dick’s shoulder, turning him onto his back. Dick settles into the plush mattress, unblinking, as Bruce gets to his knees and crawls between Dick’s legs. Dick watches him with perverse curiosity.

Bruce lowers his clothes. When his erection is exposed, Dick blushes hard. Bruce looks painfully hard, and he's aroused because of him. He sees Bruce’s ribcage contract and expand underneath the skin as he breathes in deeply. Bruce tugs down the soiled sheet past Dick’s knees. Dick shivers as the cold air hits his skin, his face reddening further as sudden shyness overtakes him as he's exposed to Bruce in the nude for the first time. But this is good, he thinks. He doesn't want to hide anymore.

Bruce hovers over him, their mouths meeting. Bruce is taking liberties now, pushed too far. His kisses are feathering across Dick’s skin, up his jaw, to his ear, sucking the sensitive lobe into his mouth. And Dick just moans softly, body arching up slightly. His hands are travelling, down Dick’s torso, to his hips, to his thighs.

“So beautiful,” Bruce’s lips murmur against his skin. The words make Dick feel light, because he's never really thought of himself as beautiful his entire life, because Bruce’s praise is so rare and never this tender, because he says it in a way that makes Dick believe it. The words make his heart race. The hand moves, rubbing the inside of Dick's thighs, and the sensation tickles against Dick’s skin. He trembles once, his cock now aching. “So smooth. My beautiful boy.”

My. Dick’s heart skips a beat. He wants to be Bruce’s. He wants Bruce to be his.

Bruce suddenly tugs on Dick’s hips, their bodies meeting. Bruce rolls forward, and Dick gasps as their erections touch. Bruce's hand reaches between them; grabbing them both, heat wrapping around Dick’s erection, sensitive flesh against sensitive flesh. Dick’s hand clenches in the sheets.

Bruce buries his face in the crook of Dick’s neck, sucking on the skin. Dick is moaning softly now, their bodies pressed against each other nice and hot, Bruce’s cock grinding against his as Bruce’s hand moves. Bruce is sucking lightly on his skin, and Dick never realized how sensitive his neck is.

“Tell me to stop and I'll stop,” Bruce says, the words whispered so fervently that it almost sounds harsh. There's a bit of a growl behind Bruce’s groans as he moves. Dick is gripping the sheets tighter, pulling, as Bruce rolls his hips, pushing them both into his hand. His voice is almost desperate as he says, “Tell me to stop.”

Dick wraps his arms around Bruce’s shoulders, wrapping their bodies together even closer, as if pretending they're lovers. He kisses Bruce’s skin because he knows it'll feel good for him--he kisses the arms on either side of him, kisses the chest and ribs because it's the only place he can reach with his small body pinned underneath Bruce's.

Bruce is more vocal now. Probably the most vocal and raw that Dick has ever heard him. It turns him on, and his voice instinctively matches, his moans escaping with the same frequency. They forget about the noise for a moment. They forget about everything.

They can play pretend for a moment, without trying to. Bruce’s hips move against his, Dick’s legs are spread, and it's almost like they're making love. Dick doesn't even have to imagine, doesn't have to convince his brain that Bruce is pushed inside and bucking against him in the way that he wishes he was. This is enough. This is finally enough.

Dick’s cock is still sensitive from his last orgasm. He's not sure if he's able to come again, but Bruce’s hand is moving to meet his thrusts. Moving faster and faster, their cocks pressed together. Heat grinding against Dick’s member. He bites down on his pillow as he comes,  a small strand of sense coming to him to quiet him down. His hips shake as he comes, his thighs quivering. It's a short climax, but a deep heat rushes through Dick’s body as he does so, and he groans softly as his lower stomach is dirtied by his own essence.

Bruce’s breath hitches. He releases Dick’s cock, strokes his own right there. His body falls forward as he supports himself on one arm, his dark hair now disheveled in a way that Dick thinks is handsome, his eyes screwed tight as he finishes himself in a few quick strokes. They both groan together, the noise escaping from Dick as Bruce finishes on his lower stomach, the hot seed mixing with his own, and Bruce stays like that for a moment, stilling himself while his orgasm subsides.

The only sound, for awhile, is their gentle breathing. Dick wants to look into Bruce’s face but Bruce’s face is downcast, the shadows reaching his face, and it's a face that Dick recognizes too well.

Bruce places his weight on his knees, taking in the sight of what he's done.

"I'm sorry."

Dick raises the sheet back up, sitting up as he cleans himself. Even without being able to clearly see Bruce’s expression, he's able to sense it in his body language. Can even feel it in the tension in the air. The guilt. The shame. Dick is afraid for a moment, afraid that he pushed him too far. He reaches to rub Bruce’s arm, Bruce unresponsive to the touch.

“Stay with me for a little while,” Dick says gently.

“No.”

“Just for a little. You don't have to stay the whole night.”

Bruce turns his head in the other direction. The light hits him a little better. Dick feels something in his chest twist a little. He can see it in Bruce’s eyes, even as he refuses to make eye contact with Dick. The words that are waiting there, even though Dick has already said it more than once.

“You love me too, don't you?” It's not really a question.

“Yes,” Bruce finally says. His shoulders relax a little.

“Then stay with me,” Dick says, gaze lowering. He means for the night but he hopes for forever.

He hopes for as long as they possibly can.

 

The sun shines in through the window, a light breeze blowing the curtains, cooling the room.

Bruce starts by slowly buttoning up his dress shirt, the small buttons fumbling in his large hands. Then he adjusts the cuffs of the shirt, buttoning around the wrist. He goes to grab his tie, a shade of medium blue, and pulls it around his collar. In a few, quick swoops, he adjusts the tie into place. The vest comes next, followed by the jacket.

Dick pokes his head in the corner of the mirror as Bruce is smoothing the lapels, interrupting the image.

“Dick,” Bruce says, frowning. Dick expects him to tell him to move out of the way but the words don't come.

“Do you think they'll have food there?” Dick asks. He frowns at the way his hair looks--the hair lady had added some type of product to his hair. It smells nice but Dick thinks he looks like a nerd.

“I'm certain they'll have food there. It's a wedding,” Bruce says. Finally he sighs and says, “Move.”

Dick ducks out of the way. “What type of cake do you think they'll have?”

“I haven't the slightest idea.”

Pennyworth comes into the room, also dressed and ready to go. “Just a reminder, Master Bruce, that people will be asking about your ‘accident’.”

“Yes. My kayaking incident in the white water rapids. I haven't forgotten,” Bruce says, reexamining himself in the mirror.

“And Master Dick, unlike the last wedding we attended--”

“I won't climb on the gazebo. I know,” Dick says, face flushing at the memory. That was an accident he wasn't going to repeat.

Alfred brushes off one of Bruce's shoulders. He sees the tie and remarks, “Did you wear that vest and tie at the last wedding?”

“Dick picked it.”

“My favorite colors,” Dick explains.

As they headed for the door together, Dick looks up at Bruce and asks, “Do you think my hair looks okay?”

Bruce looks at him long and hard. “You look like a nerd.”

Dick is aghast. “What?”

“It was a joke...”

Pennyworth chuckles but Dick doesn't take the comment lightly. He runs his hands through the hair, ruffling it back up to its natural state.

“Come now, Master Dick, don't ruin it,” Pennyworth says disapprovingly. “This is a celebrity wedding. There will be cameras and you'll have to look sharp.”

“It'll be fine, Alfred,” Bruce says, defending him. He ruffles Dick’s hair as well, as he usually does anyways. But when Dick looks up at him, the hand lingers in his hair a moment longer. Their eyes lock and Bruce says simply, “Now he looks more like himself.”

Dick smiles.