Naturally the first thing out of my year-long fandom haitus is helplessly strange Dick and Bruce. *DESPAIR AND FOND AFFECTION*
Written for au_bingo
prompt Others: MutantsSaid the Spider to the FlyFandom:
Dick, Bruce, cameo by AlfredSummary:
Being able to walk through walls could change everything for Dick, or nothing.2135 words with many apologies to Mssr. Caroll and Mms. Howitt!
At some point airports become unbearable for Dick; everything is an airport, and everything is unbearable. He can't look at the sky without feeling sick of the expansiveness; something deep inside his thorax burns with nauseous acid at the thought of flight, movement, transit. The sky is for jetliners, aeroplanes and spaceships that Dick has ridden on too many of, too many times.
Maybe it's age that gets to him, but when he counts down the years on his fingers -- one by one instead of using the maths that Bruce gave them -- it doesn't add up. He's too young to be tired, and even if he's worked all his life he thinks that he couldn't be this unhappy if he were too old to feel any more. It's not his age.
And it's not exhaustion alone that gets to him. Like a well-trained dog, Dick doesn't know what else to do with exhaustion but to embrace it: to count his heartbeat against the drumming in his ears during midnight hours when the rest of the world is sleeping, when he is ever-awake. The ache of his muscles and the thickness of sleep-swollen eyes aren't enemies, just old friends. Exhaustion can be processed, treated with sleep and food and multiple-hundreds thread-count sheets that Dick can indulge in if he wants. It's not exhaustion.
It's not even repetition. Not the shuttle back and forth between this city and that city: for the Titans he goes west to San Francisco, for Bruce he goes east to Gotham, for the League he goes upwards, for the rest he goes down and everywhere here and there until cardinal directions are part of his daily regimen of newspapers, vitamins, reports and results. Sometimes he goes by bike, sometimes he goes by car, sometimes he goes by plane or jet or beam or sometimes he even walks on his own two feet, counting the measures as he goes, methodical and sane. It's not the repetition.
More than his duty or his daily life, it's the solitude that gets to Dick at last, one mid-afternoon in the middle of New York City, eating pizza on a street corner while he realises that he wants to go home. To somewhere or to someone, it doesn't matter which: Dick has any number of ways to get there, all the privileges of money and time, and no bravery left.
A police siren wails through the strong 2pm light, clarion and real and enough to make the cheese in Dick's mouth taste like congealed rubber. He puts down a tip and goes back to his apartment, not really sure why he wants (so suddenly) something more than a house that all his friends built for him - he has so many there and elsewhere and everywhere but none of them here
He goes to the gym, punishing himself through too many sets even though he has a patrol tonight that won't end on this side of the coast. He sweats through his tank top and the girls stare when he goes to shower. Dick ends up back at his apartment with a phone cradled between his hands and numbers he has memorised latent in the pads of his thumbs. But he doesn't want to dial Wally-who-has-his-own-family, or to call Kory-who-he-left-or-who-left-him, he doesn't want to ring up Babs, whom he can't even quantify any longer, and if he thinks of Babs he has to think of Tim, and if he thinks of Tim he has to think of Bruce, of Alfred, of the Manor, of Gotham's dark nights where none of New York's sunshine will reach, the coolness of the cave and his old room where he lived and loved when he'd been brave.
He's felt like this before. It's a surprise to almost everyone who knows him that he doesn't feel like this all the time
, but Dick isn't Bruce and Bruce isn't Dick and it isn't all Dick's fault any more than it is all Bruce's any more. Dick laughs to himself, just a little bit of irony to help it go by, and feels genuinely better as he recalls the Cave's gymnastic floor, the shadow of Bruce's back always turned to, but maybe not always against, him.
And then he's there
, a hundred miles from where he's meant to be, and Bruce's hands are around his throat. 'Who are you
,' Batman growls against him as Dick's windpipe constricts with panic and fear, oh god when had he last felt panic and fear in Bruce's presence?
'It's me,' Dick chokes out, but it comes out garbled -- ssnmhh
. Bruce lets him breathe, just barely. Dick wants to think it's because Bruce can see him, see his face and recognise who it is he's throttling, but he doesn't have much time; everyone's a stranger in Bruce's world, especially people who don't wear masks and who teleport into the Cave uninvited. 'It's me,' Dick gasps, his fingers around Bruce's wrists. 'It's me, and I don't know how I got here
The next thing that comes is blackness, and as Dick falls into it he thinks, I am going to wake up in a cell. But let it be anything, he thinks. I'll wake up anything; just don't let me wake up a mutant in Bruce's house.
Dick wakes up a mutant in Bruce's home, able to phase through walls and teleport. Bruce develops a sudden and crippling case of simultaneous claustro-agoraphobia, which means that Dick's days blend into a cocktail of physical chemistry. Bruce is the best builder of prisons that Dick knows, but so far he's walked through cement and steel and concrete; alloys and alien ores and plexiglass; walked through blades and bullets and all the barbarity that Bruce can throw at him, and every new test reminds Dick of the exhaustion he felt that morning under the New York sun.
At least the Cave is dark. At least Tim waits for him outside every one of Bruce's walls with sandwiches that taste of home. Bruce's paranoia is like an old labyrinth, full of markings where he once scratched at the walls. Dick doesn't need to quantify how messed up that is, but Alfred does a good job when he brings down some old books to keep Dick occupied.
'You could just leave, couldn't you, Master Richard?' Alfred deadpans.
'Yeah, I could,' Dick agrees, accepting a hardcover leather-bound edition of poetry. Alfred is the only true reader of poetry in their house; allusions are too much for men of the underground.
'But you won't,' Alfred deadpans.
'Nope,' Dick agrees. 'I think it'd give Bruce an apoplexy.'
Alfred's mouth curves upwards, and just before he leaves he says to Dick 'if I may,' and turns to a page. 'I thought it was fitting,' he says, and disappears up the stairs and into the other real world.
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the spider to the fly;
"'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you may spy.
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."
-- Mary Howitt, The Spider and the Fly
Eventually Dick's exhaustion bleeds away into the examination of Bruce walking around in circles through the maze of his own thought. When Bruce finds Dick in his old room, reading through Alfred's gift, Dick knows enough to wait for their fight to start. Bruce wants him back downstairs. Dick walks through him and his demands, a feeling of transgressing over someone's grave and something sacred so strong that it sends shivers of emancipation down his spine. Bruce goes either hoarse or silent; Dick doesn't stick around to find out. He goes downstairs into the Cave, because he can and because he wants to.
Bruce follows him.
'Do you know what a super power _is_ Bruce?' Dick asks over his shoulder as Bruce stalks after him from the manor to the Cave. 'A super power isn't a mutation you can pin down to something in my genome.' Dick goes through the doors that Bruce set up to test his new abilities, hearing the slamming of the doors that indicates Bruce's pursuit. 'It isn't rational
, Bruce,' Dick says, stopping eventually. 'It can't be explained.' Bruce stops as well.
'Everything has an explanation,' Batman says.
'Everything?' Dick asks.
'You've got a super power too, you know,' Dick tells Bruce, tucking his hands into his jeans pockets. 'You're your own kind of mutant.'
Negotiation is the most tenuous stage in their arguments; they've quarrelled enough times over the years to know that they only have a few more full fights left in them. They can't afford much more permanent damage dealt to their relationships. There's nothing worse to Dick than feeling Bruce slip away from between his fingers, and there's nothing worse for Bruce than another enemy embedded on the inside of his brain.
'What is it with you, Bruce?' Dick asks him, weary like a young boy come in after patrol the first day the game of crime fighting became a cancer instead of a cause. 'You know, every night of my life after I left Gotham I asked myself how you could lock me out the way that you do, how much it could take to have no feelings. Whether it was that or whether it was that you already feel too much, caught up in some moralistic inner battle about saving the public at the extent of saving yourself or whatever -- either way, I eventually got to realising that there's no answering this question. You've got more walls than I've got energy to bash through them. It isn't logical.'
Dick shuts his mouth, his teeth coming together with a quiet click. He can taste the acid of accusation on the tip of his tongue, the blame that Bruce and he have always been eager to pass to each other, favouring the panic of internal discord to the reality that nothing they can do will ever be enough to fix the worlds that fell apart for them when they were young. But then, only the blind and ignorant and superhuman can change the world.
Wasn't that the promise of every new day after every night that took them a step forward and away from the past? There was a journey in there somewhere. There's a journey in there somewhere still.
'What are you doing?' Bruce asks him as Dick pulls off his shirt, revealing the mottling where Bruce's hands had curled around his neck and shook and shook. Dick undoes his belt with an absent self-consciousness and walks through the wall to the unit where Bruce keeps spares of their uniforms. He can feel Bruce tense at that, so he says, 'What damage can a Nightwing suit do, Bruce? All I've got is a mask. I can put that on.' Dick pastes in on, feeling the familiar synthetics layer over his face. He turns to Bruce. 'Scary, isn't it?'
Bruce looks like he's at a loss for words, maybe too angry or maybe too aware of the suggestion that a boy he raised is a full soldier of war even when armed by nothing but kevlar and a smile. He settles for Dick's name. 'Dick,' he says, to Dick.
Dick's already in the suit. 'Funny how we never call it Wayne family politics, right?' he asks Bruce, hysterically full of the desire to move over the valleys of Gotham's skyscrapers; whether east or west or radically until the end of the earth. 'Are you going to throw me out of the Cave?'
'What are you going to do if I do?' Bruce asks with the honesty of the best of liars and the best of dreamers.
Nightwing says, 'Walk back in through your walls.'
Bruce doesn't follow him out on patrol that night, nor does he ask whether he's going to stay. Alfred finds Bruce in the Cave where all boys feel safe and all-powerful. 'Master Richard asked me to give you this,' he says, leaving a book with its bookmarked page on the console and leaving as quietly as he'd come.
"Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail,
"There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle - will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you,
will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you,
won't you join the dance?"
-- Lewis Carroll, The Lobster Quadrille