I solemnly swear
to be up to no good
to post fic with each update. 8D
Probably the first Batfic I've written that I really
like: give it a chance? :D? This insubstantial pageant fadedFandom:
Dick, Bruce (gen)Rating:
Life, if Bruce had not been rich, goes like this for Dick: a small apartment, joy, dreams.Warnings:
Bruce-is-a-pauper-AU-that-isn't, mix-and-match canon, Stealing Titles From Shakespeare (TM) and other shenanigans.4447 words and Dick proving (once more) that to love Bruce in any capacity is to love the sound of your own suffering.
Dick wakes up in the morning at the hour Bruce trained him, long ago, to always rise at. He raises a hand to touch his cheek with the back of his fingers. He draws them away, wet.
This is what he dreamt:
The City of Gotham in the summer is a seething mass of wet heat, bodies everywhere both in the day and at night. The circus is here for its twelfth show, Dick is here for his first. He's never seen a city quite like Gotham before. His parents, old Gothamites, give him fifteen dollars and send him off with George, the animal keeper's son, and together they wander the streets. They come back just three hours before the performances, a crick in both their necks from looking at office towers packed too close together growing too high up. Dick rushes into the dressing area he shares with his parents, grinning from ear to ear.
'How was your day, dear?' his mother asks him, smiling as she hands him his costume.
'They have gargoyles,
' Dick gesticulates, 'way up there, up on the top of all the buildings. I could swing from them!' He spreads his hands and imagines it: the rush of running, running, running across a rooftop before launching off from a concrete edge, making the gap and just barely snatching at the paws of the granite beasts, flying back up to end with a double-roll across some skyscraper's helipad.
'Not until you're older,' his dad laughs, coming over with a comb which he yanks through Dick's hair. 'It's just the trapeze today. Boring, isn't it?'
'Totally boring,' Dick snickers, looking into the mirror and seeing all three of them together. 'Way too boring.'
All he hears afterwards is the sound of police sirens wailing. The world is a pantomime of colours: red, blue, white, the unbearable orange of the Big Top and the safety cordon. Someone is touching his shoulder, someone else is pulling him away. If anyone is speaking, Dick doesn't hear them. His parents' bodies lie like broken, mismatched puzzle pieces on the ground. The limbs don't match. At least, at least, at least they are together. His mother's hand is still in his father's.
There, Dick has to turn away. He is sick behind one of the stands. His eyes hurt to the very sockets, but he can't cry. The breath is all stuck in his throat. His limbs feel light and liquid. If he sits down, he doesn't know if he'll be able to stand again. His knees are locked and rigid. The metal banister he's holding onto is the only solid thing in the world. Dick stands there for five minutes, or maybe two hours. When George's mum comes to take him with her, Dick goes, boneless. He doesn't know where he falls asleep, but his sleep is deep, dreamless and horrible with the knowledge that, when he wakes, the world will be different.
The world is different. The circus used to be all about laughter, music and chatter, but no one knows what to say to Dick the next day. Some of the men come to shake his hand. The women weep. The other kids stand shoulder to shoulder with him, wordless and pale, until the policemen come again. The uniformed guys are here with two others: someone with a clipboard ("social services", George hisses from beside Dick, his fingers quick and warm on Dick's shoulder as he squeezes down before pushing Dick forward), and another someone who doesn't have anything to identify him with. There's some talking with the boss, and then the man with the clipboard ("Mr White", according to his nametag) comes over.
'This is Mr Wayne,' he says to Dick, gesturing at the other man. 'Mr Bruce Wayne. He's agreed to take you in as his ward for now, since...' Mr White clears his throat awkwardly, and starts over. 'Mr Wayne does a lot of work with his local grassroot community centre, Richard. He'll take good care of you.'
The boss manages to make it over before Dick can say anything. 'It's not that the circus ain't always going to be your family,' the boss tells him, cuffing him gently on the back of the head. 'But I think...' He casts a look over Dick's shoulder to where the Big Top is. 'I think you should get away from here for a while.'
'I think so too,' Dick says, very quietly.
'Well,' Mr White shuffles. 'The two of us'll go settle the paperwork, don't you worry about that, and we'll leave the two of you to get to know each other, all right?' He and the boss head off. Dick isn't too sorry to see them go; every person here seems like some audience member right now, and Dick doesn't want to think about all the faces watching, watching like last night.
Bruce Wayne looks like an all right kind of guy, Dick thinks. Nothing spectacular. Black hair and black eyes and a pretty strong chin. He dresses in dusty browns and faded blacks. His shoes look all lived in. He looks all right, like he works out, probably at a gym. His hand shake isn't too bad, either. Firm. Reassuring.
'Hi, Richard,' Bruce Wayne says to him.
'My name's Dick,' Dick tells Bruce Wayne.
'Well, then, Dick' the man says. 'I'm Bruce.' He takes his hand and puts it on Dick's shoulder.
This is all right. This is all right.
'C'mon,' Bruce says, his voice breaking like a wave in Dick's mind. He hasn't removed his hand, and now he uses it to steer Dick gently towards the road. 'The cops will give us a ride back to my place.'My place
turns out to be a second-storey apartment of a three-level brown house somewhere in what Bruce describes as the "okay part of town".
'Just don't go out too late and you'll be fine,' Bruce tells him as he turns the key in the lock, pushing open the door to reveal a simple living room within. The wallpaper is old but none of it is coming off; the carpeting is soft and nicely worn under Dick's toes. 'That's the t.v. area,' Bruce introduces him, pointing at the chunky box set sitting atop a bureau filled with neatly arranged books. There's a two-seater couch and an easy chair. 'And that's the kitchen.' Some pots and pans, none of which look like they've seen much use. 'I'm a take-out kind of guy,' Bruce admits. 'I cook, but it all comes out tasting the same no matter what went in originally.'
Dick manages a small laugh, which earns him a small smile. Bruce doesn't seem to do that a lot – smile, that is. Not like Mr White, who was beaming and bobbing and waving them off, and not like the boss, who grinned hard even though he looked like he'd been fighting to get it out, and not like George, who beamed and hit Dick on the shoulder and wept a little bit as he helped Dick with his things. Bruce smiles when he means it, and that means
something, somehow. So Dick smiles back, and gets a pat on the shoulder for it. Bruce doesn't comment, just tugs him down the sole corridor.
'Here we go,' says Bruce, stopping at the first room down. 'It's not a lot, but it's what I can give you.'
'It's mine?' Dick asks, taking the first step in. There's a single bed and a window that looks out onto the street and a desk and a chair and – 'Um, wow.' He's never really had a space of his own before. He'd always – Dick stiffens. 'I,' he starts, his voice suddenly tight.
'I shared a bedroom with my parents for the longest while,' Bruce is saying. Dick sways a little. 'They got mugged in front of me. For my mother's pearls, which weren't even real.' Dick turns to look at Bruce, but Bruce is looking somewhere else, somewhere far away. 'My father couldn't afford them, but he passed by this great set in a costume shop and my mum loved them and what my father was trying to say with them. So they dressed up fancy to celebrate and took me to the movies. Afterwards, it didn't matter how noisy it was in my Uncle Alfred's house.'
Bruce looks down at Dick. 'There was always this kind of silence, where their voices should've been. It gets better, with time. But it doesn't quite go away.'
Dick swallows. He gropes around for the right words, but they aren't coming. Bruce shakes his head. 'It's okay. I'll go grab your suitcase.' Which he goes to do, leaving Dick alone for a little while. Bruce is definitely giving him some time, because when Dick starts crying two minutes in Bruce still isn't back, and it shouldn't take that
long to move his stuff in from the landing.
Bruce only comes in five minutes after Dick's stopped his nose from running, for which Dick is almost as grateful as he is for the handkerchief that gets pressed into his hand. 'Hey Bruce,' he says, snuffling and blowing. 'Would it be okay if I put up a Haley's poster on the wall?'
'More than okay,' Bruce tells him, snapping the buckles on the suitcase for Dick. 'You get unpacked. I'll run to the store and get you some tacks.'
Bruce isn't around very often, because he has work. Dick discovers that Bruce works for some engineering company – he's a whizz with numbers, does things like the grocery bill up mentally and without even using his fingers. The hours are long and the pay isn't great, but Bruce is going places: Dick can tell. Bruce is smart and a weird kind of funny, and has the neatest ideas.
When the neighbourhood gets a bit too difficult to get to know on foot, one Saturday Bruce gets him a second-hand skateboard from Mrs Reily on the third floor – her son, Dick learns, used to wreak havoc all over the place with it. Before Dick quite knows what has gone on, he's got to know Mrs. Reily and agreed to babysit her grandchildren for her every once in a while, and taken the skateboard out for a spin – his little adventure runs him into a bunch of the kids from around the block, one of them named Jason, who has some really wicked wheels. By the time he gets back just in time for Bruce's horrible home-cooked dinner, Dick's too exhausted to think about being sad and too excited about learning new tricks with his 'board. It's only the smug little turn of Bruce's lips that gives away how pleased Bruce is. Dick gives him some points for cunning.
has to hand it to Bruce a few months later, when he finally gets up the courage to ask Bruce why he comes back so late on Friday nights and gets told that Bruce detours to the local community centre after work to teach –
'Boxing? Seriously?' Dick asks, incredulous.
'Yeah,' Bruce flashes him a private grin. 'I go in to give free lessons every Friday. The centre got a brand new sports wing added onto it courtesy of Drake Industries a year back – ever since then there have been a lot more people and their kids coming in to pick up a thing or two. Why don't you come over this week?'
Dick says, 'I'll think about it,' then pauses before asking again, 'Boxing?
'I throw a pretty mean right hook,' defends Bruce.
'I'll believe it when I see it,' Dick grins.
Dick gets to see Bruce's right hook (pretty mean, yeah, yeah), but what he also gets to see is the gym – a real, honest-to-god gym – just past the open training area. There're a couple of seven-year-old type kids there bouncing around and paying zero attention to their flustered instructor, who looks like a high school student just a few years Dick's senior. The guy's clueless and his form's far from perfect, but Dick will do anything to get his hands back on the bars, to get his hands back on something
which will make the nightmares a little less frightening. He wanders in and offers to do a demonstration.
'You took gym lessons before?' the instructor asks him, panting from the exertion of yelling and running around in circles. 'Because god knows I'm happy to see someone who knows what he's doing.'
'Something like that,' Dick shrugs, and he goes for the bars and it really is flying
. Flying without falling.
Bruce ends up having to wait for him, since the kids' lessons are actually from eight till nine ("Exhausts them so that their parents get a solid night's rest, y'see," the instructor told Dick) while the adult boxing class ran from seven till eight thirty. He's there at the far end of the gym when Dick finally finishes answering all the questions the younger kids have about life at the circus and how many spins can you do and wow, one more time, please, just once? Their questions are honest and earnest and it's not painful
to reply like Dick thought it might've been.
'Had fun?' Bruce asks Dick, sliding an arm over his shoulders.
'Yeah,' Dick says, grabbing Bruce's wrist and squeezing. 'Lots.'
The first year passes with not much ado at all. During Christmas, Bruce buys Dick a sweater and a stack of comic books and dinner at Dick's favourite hot-dog diner. Dick saves just enough allowance to get Bruce a set of detective novels, and hands them over poorly wrapped and with a grudgingly embarrassed comment about how 'I know you already have, like, piles
of mystery novels, but I dug through as many of them as I could find and you didn't seem to have these, so...' It makes Bruce laugh out loud, one of the first times that Dick has ever heard him. Dick's only regret comes three months later, when it turns out Bruce probably has picked up one too many sleuthing skills from the damned things since he seems to always
know when Dick's lying about his homework or detention or sneaking out to learn trick moves with Jason at the abandoned church on 34th.
Bruce works a lot more the year after, because he's been promoted to section manager or something like that and now has to have this cell phone on him at all times since his people like to call him at twelve in the afternoon (and twelve at night) screaming their heads off about problems that somehow only
Bruce can solve.
'You look like hell,' Dick observes at the dining table one breakfast, staring at the bruises under Bruce's eyes.
'Don't swear,' Bruce reprimands, but the effect is kind of lost when it's delivered from behind a bunch of readouts.
'Maybe you should go on vacation?' Dick suggests, adding, 'I've never been to Metropolis before.'
'I'll think about it,' Bruce says in the kind of tone that Dick has come to associate with the words "forget about it".
'Workaholic,' Dick mutters into his cereal bowl, taking it over to the kitchen sink.
'You know,' Bruce says, 'it'd be the easiest thing in the world for me to ground you right now. Since I'm over-worked and grumpy and obviously not in my right mind.'
'I didn't say anything! I just said, wow, we have garlic?' Dick amends, pretending to go through their (very badly stocked) larder.
Dick gives up on waiting up for Bruce, because now Bruce tends to get back really late, so once eleven thirty hits Dick goes to bed with a torchlight and the latest issue of Red Arrow
to take with him under the covers. He images Bruce as a super-hero, and sometimes it makes sense. Why else would Bruce be out so late at night? Dick figures, Bruce is an engineer
, right, it's not like machines are that
hard to figure out for a guy like the Mighty Wayne, so maybe it's something else that keeps Bruce out. Maybe Bruce is using his mean
right hook to punish all evil do-ers out there.
'Nah,' Dick whispers to himself. 'Not all evil do-ers. Bruce isn't that
dumb. Maybe just the muggers. The muggers and the mafia syndicate men.'
The summer of Dick's junior year, Bruce-the-company-project-director drops his cell phone into the toilet (in truth, he turns it off and places it, very neatly, in his desk drawer next to his other arranged-at-right-angles peripherals) and takes Dick with him to Metropolis for a week. Dick fails to be anything other than unbearably excited about the prospect while Bruce manages to appear bored all the time.
Dick tries his best to remedy this. 'It's Metropolis
, Bruce! Land of the rich, I mean, check it out – LexCorp builds things like public ballparks
, how cool is that?'
'I think you're just easily overawed by open spaces,' Bruce replies.
'You're just bitter that you're not Lex Luthor,' Dick mumbles, dragging Bruce towards what has to be the world's most giant, most amazing, most brilliant comic book store (he'd searched it up on Bruce's laptop the week before they left, and printed out a map and highlighted it a thousand times just so Bruce wouldn't miss it).
'What does Lex Luthor have that I don't?' Bruce asks, deigning to be hauled bodily through the front door and up to the C.D Comics section.
'Uh,' Dick pretends to ponder, 'a billion dollars?
I mean, there's only two of us, you're a pretty big guy in your company and
I work at the gym during all my breaks and we're still living in the same apartment, paying the same kind of bills, eating the same kind of take out and generally being not very cool at all, except that now you have an iPhone and you finally decided because of that that getting an iPod for me would not be the end of the world. '
'It's just money,' Bruce says serenely, picking out a comic book and flipping through it.
'Sure, sure,' Dick grouses, turning towards the shelf.
'I could have bought you a Shuffle.'
'I'm not even going to comment on what you just said.'
'Dick,' Bruce says, putting down the comic. 'Lex Luthor had a father whom he detested with all his heart, more ex-wives than I can count and nothing in his life but credit cards and financial reports. I have an apartment I've made into a home, a job I like doing, and you.'
Dick freezes for a moment, but then he burns
like he imagines Superman would on the sun, engulfed but not overwhelmed. 'Bruce,' he manages.
'Pick whatever you want,' Bruce tells him, calm as ice like he always is. 'Though if you read any more of Red Arrow
, I'll throw the issues out myself.'
When they get back to find the apartment's stairwell covered in red paint and scar marks on Mrs Reily's door, they discover that their neighbour has more than just old skateboards hidden away in her closet. Dick makes her tea in her kitchen while Bruce helps her repack her semi-destroyed living room. They both listen to her story:
'It – I didn't think,' Mrs Reily sobs,' that it would end up like this. I just don't have the credit rating, you know? The banks wouldn't give me that kind of money, and Scott said he needed it for tuition at the university he was attending out of state, but it turns out he never, he – What son does this?' she cries. 'What kind of son?'
Dick shoots Bruce a look, and Bruce nods. He leaves the tea in front of Mrs Reily and goes to get her some tissue paper; he stays hidden in her corridor just long enough to hear Bruce wheedle the rest out of her.
'I still owe them ten thousand,' she tells Bruce, her voice too hoarse for her to whisper effectively. 'I was meant to pay them in instalments of a thousand a month, but the last quarter's been bad, I mean, I'm out of work and there are still bills to pay... They sent someone to warn me and I thought that would be the worst of it, but I came home last night after my temp job down at City Hall and my house was like this – '
Bruce insists that they have her over for the night, so Dick gives Mrs Reily his room and takes the couch. It's not long before she goes to bed, exhausted but relieved to have someone around who's helping, so they conference in Bruce's bedroom with the door locked behind them.
'Shouldn't we call the police right now?' Dick suggests, which earns him a sardonic look from Bruce.
'You weren't here the last time things got bad in this neighbourhood,' Bruce says. 'This kind of work is organised crime, and more likely than not the district police are in on the job. If Mrs Reily borrowed that kind of money, it wasn't from some small-time hack group.'
Dick's face goes tight. Bruce holds up his hand. 'I'm not saying it's the same people who worked against Haley's.'
'But it could be,' Dick says, fists clenching. 'Tell me the truth, Bruce. Was it Zucco? The last time?'
'We had a neighbourhood watch those years back,' Bruce says, quiet. 'From what I remember, yes. Dick.'
'Don't tell me you wouldn't,' Dick seethes. 'Don't tell me that if you had a chance to get back on that mugger who shot your parents that you wouldn't
want to grab at it, Bruce.'
'I'm not in the interest of ruining lives, Dick,' Bruce says.
' Dick yells, earning himself a sharp look and a glance at the wall that adjoins Bruce's room with his. More quietly, but not less forcefully, he hisses, 'It's not ruining
anyone's life to find out who did this and to get back at them, Bruce! It's – it's what's right
. They took away from us the most important things in our lives
and you're telling me that you're just going to do nothing now that the people who killed my parents
are operating here? In this neighbourhood? Near our home?
'And what would you do if you got back at them?' Bruce growls, standing from where he'd been seated on the bed. Dick takes a step back. 'Say you act like the comic book heroes you admire and somehow bring Zucco or his boys in without getting hurt or killed yourself. What then, Dick?' Bruce asks. 'When you're in a room with the man you've come to hate with every last inch of your being all these years, what are you going to do? And how are you going to live with yourself afterwards?'
Dick, trembling, says nothing.
Bruce comes over to touch him on his shoulder. Dick stares at Bruce's hand like it burns him. 'Dick,' Bruce says, more gently now. 'I am never going to forget what happened to my parents, or to yours. But thinking about revenge would get me nowhere
. That's looking backwards into a past that is never going to change. There's no future in that.' Bruce's fingers tighten. He looks at Dick, a sad, fierce pride in his eyes. 'There's no peace. No moving on. No more joy, from anywhere anymore, or from anyone
Dick looks up at Bruce, who – after god knows how many years – is at some kind of peace, who has reached some kind of joy. He reaches up so that his fingers meet Bruce's. 'Don't you want to help?' he asks.
'There's someone I know from the centre, a guy in the Major Crimes Unit who comes down every once in a while to do ground work,' Bruce says, but Dick shakes his head.
'That's not what I mean,' Dick says. 'Bruce – Bruce, don't you want to help?
you. You do community work even though you don't have to. You work hard at your job – there's no such thing as hours that are too long for you. You – why not this
'Maybe,' Bruce says, with stark honesty, 'it's because I'm afraid to lose what I've gained since then. Have you thought about that? What you've gained since the day you lost?'
'But you're selfless,' says Dick, waking up. 'You're never afraid to lose. You're never afraid enough
to lose that you become selfish. That's why –' he says, fingers fisting in the bed sheets, ' – you are who you are. That's why you took me in, why you took Jason in, why you took Tim in, why you never stop working and why you show more sympathy for each and every single fucking villain
that's ever crossed our paths than you've ever shown any one of us.'
'Dick, what are you talking about?' Bruce asks with too-gentle eyes, wearing the kind of expression that Dick's wanted to see every single day of his life since he walked into a manor full of old riches and older ghosts.
'You know,' Dick says, braver now in his sleep than he's ever been or will be in real life, 'there were days, early on when I was just starting out as Nightwing, when I really wondered, Bruce. Really wondered why you never crossed the line with the Joker, or with Blockbuster, even after what they did to Jason and to me. You couldn't hate them but you could hate us
so easily, cast us aside and exile us until we were --' Dick says, letting go of Bruce's hand, even though it's as wrong as letting go of a trapeze bar. 'Until we were as good
as you were. Which is so fucking difficult, Bruce.'
'Dick,' Bruce says, receding like the dream.
'You're always better than us, Batman,' Dick says in his sleep, just about ready now to open his eyes. 'That's why all of us stayed. That's why I
'Dick,' Bruce says, from the door. Dick slams his hand onto the bed, wipes the moisture off on the sheets. Even with his vision, Bruce can't see his face too clearly in the dark of the room.
'Yeah?' Dick asks, voice only the barest bit shaky.
Bruce is silent.
'I'm all right,' Dick answers the unasked question. 'Old dreams.'
Bruce understands that much, at least. 'I need you in the Cave,' he says, voice just as hard as Dick needs it to be right now.
Dick exhales loudly, his ribcage expanding and tugging at all his old scar-tissue. He's awake. He's all right.
'I'm coming,' he tells Bruce, smiling.