Bruce wasn’t really thinking when he offered Dick the mantle of crime fighter alongside him. He doesn’t blame himself for that most of the time, there was nothing else he could have done in the face of his own haunting past staring back at him from the eyes of this young orphan. Bruce could see the crack forming right in front of him and he couldn’t allow for one more broken boy.
If Bruce noticed how beautiful Dick was in those early days, if he was aware of what a handsome man this boy will someday grow up to be, well, it couldn’t have possibly mattered that much as he was hardly more than a child himself at the time.
They trained together. People will say that Batman trained Robin, but Bruce knew better. Sure, he taught Dick how to fight, the different battling methods he had mastered, he taught the boy how to adapt all of their studies to the field, he instructed him in the art of detecting. But at the end of the day, when it came to fighting as a duo, they trained together and they learned from each other, constantly.
Bruce wasn’t really thinking when he made Dick into Robin, but there was more than one occasion when he thanked his lucky stars for not having stopped long enough to think back then. Without Dick, his life would not only have been emptier, but he’s pretty certain Batman would have met a much earlier demise.
He doesn’t really blame himself for his decision except for two types of cases. One is those instances when Dick is in grave danger. When his well being or life is on the line, there’s no stopping Bruce’s thought from going down a self-blaming route. The first one to guess that is always the boy wonder himself. When he’s lying down bandaged in his bed in Wayne Manor or, when a fight has gone particularly wrong, when he’s in the Batcave sick bay, Dick looks at his mentor and tenderly, but determinedly, thanks Batman for having made him his Robin. It doesn’t quite resolve everything, but afterwards Bruce can’t help but feel his breathing become less effortful.
The other case materializes as Dick’s puberty starts hitting them. Oh, it definitely hits Bruce as well. Dick is not just beautiful. He starts oozing something else too, some undefined thing that unsettles Bruce and keeps him awake and unnerved when he should be asleep and resting. It’s in Dick’s body, in the way that he moves, an invitation that wasn’t there before; it’s in his eyes, ever so subtle, but Bruce feels it, tangible and frightening. He feels his own desire and he doesn’t know what to do with it.
That it’s wrong is beyond doubt. That he can’t help himself is also becoming clearer and clearer. Bruce finds himself privately orgasming to the thought of Dick, of his lips alone, the ghost idea of what they would feel like on his manhood, and the self-hatred that washes over him afterwards is justified but still not enough to keep his thoughts at bay.
It becomes increasingly straining over time. There’s one Wayne ball when Dick looks especially alluring. He’s all grown up and playing host. Bruce watches Dick, follows him as he moves around the party, takes in how he smoothly glides from one guest to another, charming them all. My ward, the words flash in his mind, and Bruce has to watch others flirting away openly and freely with him. There’s a fire in the pit of his stomach and this is new, because wanting Dick is one thing and maybe he can get over that, but this possessiveness that he feels, the way his animalistic drive kicks in and has no intention of trying to fight his desire but rather pushes him to give in to it, to claim the dazzling young man in front of everyone, that’s something else and at that moment, it’s too much. He’s not sure he can win this battle and keep this side of himself under control. Bruce has to distance himself from this, so he steps out to the small pavilion garden, a humble inner court built in a circle around a couple of white rose bushes planted by Martha Wayne herself following the occasion of her son’s birth. No guests are allowed there, so he’ll be able to just breathe deeply, calm down and once his head is clearer, he’ll try figuring things out. He stands in the moonlight, taking in how it plays off the rose petals and lets it all drape him in a sense of deep-seated loneliness he hasn’t fully felt ever since Dick came into his life. The music that filters in after him into the garden isn’t helping either. It’s romantic and moving, perfectly capturing his longing. He carefully touches one of the rose petals, admires how frail they are and how flawless.
There’s a hand on his shoulder and he doesn’t need to turn around to know it’s Dick. He should resist this, but as the young man steps in front of him without ever removing his hand, Bruce’s breath catches. The moonlight must have been created for no other reason but to illuminate these features, to highlight their refined majesty, the delicacy of the lines composing Dick’s face, the mystique of his big, soulful eyes, the temptation present in his assured smile…
“Won’t you dance with me, Bruce?” And it can easily be an innocent enough request, after all it was Bruce who taught Dick how to dance when he was younger, aware of how important it would be when throwing those infamous Wayne social affairs. But it’s not. They both know it, there’s tension between them, another question that’s not quite hiding in Dick’s eyes. This is when Bruce should be turning to the Batman persona for his resolute strength, for his ability to stare down any danger, to overcome all challenges. He doesn’t, though. His hand slips into the one offered up by Dick, their bodies move closer, align and Bruce can now feel the heat rising from his partner, surrounding him. His own arm comes to encircle Dick’s waist and when they dance together, it feels deceptively right. Bruce is going to blame himself for not truly thinking this time, but later. Later. Dick lays his head in the crook of Bruce’s neck and there’s no other course of action for the untameable playboy millionaire but to let go, close his eyes, lean his cheek against the soft, moonlit black hair and inhale Dick’s scent.
When the music stops and the magic of the moment is broken, Bruce at least manages to step away quickly enough, before Dick will look up to him, expectantly. If that were to happen, a kiss would probably occur and with all the risks Batman and Robin have taken on, this may be the biggest peril of them all. He softly whispers something in the way of ‘good night’ and withdraws back to the safety of the noisy party.
It all influences their crime fighting too. Of course it does. They’re having trouble with their synchronization and it only gets worse after the ball. It endangers them, and anything that risks Dick is unacceptable. That leads Batman to try and rely as little on Robin as he can, keeping him away from the most brutal parts of their battles as he can. This doesn’t go over unnoticed, nor is it well received. They find themselves arguing practically every time they go out on patrol and increasingly more in between. It gets especially bad after the night Batman decides to go after Bane on his own upon learning that the criminal has teamed up with Poison Ivy and her plant-goons. In that moment, when he made the decision to go out alone, Bruce actually convinced himself that it may make things better. Dick wouldn’t be there to witness how he’s being kept at arm’s length, away from Batman and the heart of the fight. He should have known better. Back in the batcave, staring at that beautiful face all twisted up in anger, Bruce knows it was the wrong call. “What were you thinking?” Dick seethes, “Bane alone could have broken you. You keep forgetting that you’re not untouchable, but it could have happened and what then? You’d be done for without backup, Bruce!”
The utterance of his name gets to him. It was spat out in fury, demanding, but Bruce could hear a tinge of desperation there too and he wants to calm his partner down, to assure him that nothing bad is ever going to happen to Dick, not even losing Bruce, but he knows that kind of reassurance is untrue, that it very much is a possibility. What’s worse, wrong or not, he can’t even assure either of them that he’s seen the error of his ways. If the events of this evening were to be replayed, there’s a good chance it would have all gone down the same way. Bruce will always choose Dick’s safety over everything else. “I didn’t need any backup tonight. It was fine, I handled it,” he says and it’s Batman’s calm that has taken over and delivered these words, and no, no, that’s not what he meant or should have said, there’s no recognition in there of any of the pain he knows his partner is feeling, but it’s out and Dick’s betrayed, hurt look leaves no room for doubt. Something has been broken tonight.
“You don’t need me, then.” It’s bitter. “Fine, no point in me staying around then, holding you back with my redundant help.”
Dick storms out in the blink of an eye and Bruce is shaken to his core. He could run after the man he’s been yearning for, he’s trained well enough for his instincts to be able to catch up quickly, but he decides against it. Maybe they do need the distance, some space between them to put Bruce back in his proper place. To make him ache less. He stays put as he listens to the noises around the manor and mentally follows Dick as he’s packing his things to leave.
He moves out as the early hours of the morning start chasing away the darkness of night. The world was already changing shape within a matter of just a few hours. Dick doesn’t need to go too far, though. Between the Wayne money and his own accomplishments, he has already managed to secure an early spot at Gotham College and now he cashes in on the option of living at the dorms. Bruce can’t help the pang of pain he feels when he looks at Dick’s emptied bedroom, but then he squares off his shoulders, waging a silent war on his own emotions. It’s the right thing. It’ll protect Dick.
The following night, the first one in years that Bruce can remember where he’s in the manor but Dick is nowhere in sight, he wanders the place that now feels a little less like his home. Alfred has already turned in early, his own wordless way of communicating his disapproval of the current situation between the young masters. Truth is, Bruce doesn’t need Alfred’s unique form of chiding him anyway. The way he feels is enough. It’s as if a small part of his heart has been torn away from him and is out there, on its own in the world, tugging on the string that connects them to the point of physical pain. After the long corridors and empty rooms, Bruce finds himself in the pavilion garden. Of course, he thinks, though he’s only spent one significant evening here in practically a decade. Despite his better judgment, here he can’t help but allow himself to truly feel it all, the pain and emptiness, the hope and longing, the unabashed desire that cost him so much. He trails the outline of one of his mother’s roses. He can’t cry, hasn’t in so many years that something in the mechanism has permanently failed, but this… this is as close to that as he can get.
The tip of his finger tingles weirdly and, suddenly, though he can’t rationally explain why, he’s absolutely certain that Dick is going to try and go out tonight, fighting crime on his own.