I'm not sure if I'm allowed to call this a "drabble" arc anymore...And lead is light as a featherFandom:
Bruce, Dick, TerryWarnings:
Assumes RotJ has happened. Assumes comics!history. Bruce, because this man deserves a warning all on his own. Typical Batman Relationships (TM).Summary:
Following his 50 year displacement
, Dick learns about all the things that have - and have not - changed in the era of Terry McGinnis.
Second in the Better Dead than Lead
arc.4746 words and I'm not even halfway through the list of tiny things I'm supposed to write and oh god, Bruce, why do you have mental sex with everyone?
They're heading towards Bristol, at least, and the Batmobile is as foreign and instinctively familiar as it should be. Constants. Constants are important.
He has no idea how Bruce goes - went? - goes through this (time travel/displacement/alternate universes) on a regular basis. There are stranger things on heaven and earth, Horatio - but Dick stays away from the Justice League for a reason. Maybe meta-misanthropy is communicable by adoption. He doesn't know.
What he wants
is to be back where he should be. Dick doesn't appreciate being a fair-weather family member. There's trouble in Gotham - just not this one. That's where he should be. (He doesn't do well without context.)
For now, Dick lets the car do the driving - if Bruce built it, then he's probably in better hands with the autopilot than in his own - and settles for zip stripping the kid's wrists together. It won't hold him, considering how much of a punch the suit is capable of packing, but if "Terry" wakes up before they hit the Manor Dick will at least have warning and a fighting chance.
It disturbs Dick to know how little of a chance he actually needs
. The kid probably has every kind of ranged advantage that Dick doesn't - the damn thing can fly
, for one - but it took all of half a minute up close for Dick to come to the conclusion that the kid isn't trained
Maybe that's being unfair. But the kid hasn't been trained
, not the way he's meant to be, and at the end of the day it's the same damn thing as letting an amateur out on the streets. Dick wants to believe that he's wrong - that the kid's recuperating from a broken arm or leg or ribs or trauma - but lying to himself is one of the things he can't do.
Bruce beat that out of him.
Dick wonders if Bruce has beaten anything into this kid at all, besides a false sense of superiority and the world's most expensive safety blanket. It's not something he thinks would (could) ever happen.
But too much introspection is dangerous, especially when you're thinking about Bruce
. Dick comes back into himself: the city's blurring beyond him, and the GPS shows a tangle of unfamiliar streets. No point trying to scope any of that out. The muted newsfeeds on one of the Batmobile's panels tells him the date, and for a second the world seems to hang in a moment of breakneck vertigo.
Bruce has to be, what, in his late seventies? Eighties?
Dick looks back over his shoulder at the seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year old kid and wonders if he looked anything like that sixty/ten years ago.
'Bruce,' Dick sighs, for lack of anything else to swear by.
The car swings downwards, into the Cave, and at least something
is the same. At least something is sane. The Cave is lovely, dark and deep. And maybe the fact that it looks exactly
the same should be tipping Dick off when he gets out of the car, but it all fades to the usual background when he sees the old man.
The old man
'Dick,' Bruce says, standing and leaning on a cane and sounding exactly as impatient with him as he always does when Dick gets taken by surprise. (Is anything surprising to Bruce?) He's got a half-head full of white hair and a back that's finally bowed. Dick ends up paralysed by the razor edge of Bruce's glance, which is blue and cold and unimpressed. 'Where's Terry?' Bruce asks, when Dick can't find any words.
'What -' Dick starts. 'Terry. The kid?'
No hellos for you, Dick Grayson. Were you expecting anything else?
Dick hauls "Terry" out of the back. The kid's still out of it. Bruce glances down at the zip strip, but spares Dick the interrogation. Grateful, Dick cuts the plastic and slings one of the kid's arms over his shoulders, walking him over to the (universal) examination table next to the ---
It's not just Jason any more.
'Oh, god,' Dick says, looking at Robin. And Robin
. And Batgirl and Batman
and then himself, an eerie-as-fuck reflection in a glass case, so perfectly still and unmoving that he feels the need to run and run and run until he can prove to himself that he's still alive. The only thing glass cases are used for is to act as markers on unmarked graves.
'Put him down,' Bruce says, tearing through Dick's panic with his usual sense of mercy. Dick wrenches his gaze away, puts Terry down and then
the world goes black for him
And he, Dick knows perfectly well, should have seen that coming from a mile off.
Bruce Wayne, allowing a stranger into his Cave? Doesn't matter if the stranger's wearing the face of the soldier who's helped him on his mission the longest. Still a stranger, in a strange land.
The nervestrike is probably a degree or two worse than the one he used on Terry, but Dick's pretty sure he deserves it for being so stupid
He hopes that Bruce won't let him smash his own face open on the floor. He's not, however, sure if Bruce can move fast enough to catch him anymore.
When he comes to, Dick finds that he can't move. Can't see, either. Nothing's in his mouth, though, which means he can probably talk. He's good at talking. 'Hello?' he calls out. There's a slight shuffling sound, like feet moving and a door opening, and then Bruce is in the room.
It's just the way the air shifts. The kid would've made more noise. Whatever noise Dick is hearing, Bruce wants him to hear. 'Bruce?' he ventures, nonetheless.
'Your DNA matches out,' Batman says. Bruce, wherever he is, is not here right now.
'I'm me,' Dick says, but without much candour. He knows it's a weak argument: how many possibilities are there explaining his current existence? Cloning, genetic manipulation... 'Though I'm pretty sure I'm not meant to be here. It's fifty years from what my watch is telling me, for one.'
Bruce doesn't say anything for a little while. Dick resists the urge to squirm against the restraints. If he wants Batman to trust him, he's going to have to give everything he's got. And then probably more, just like old times.
'When did I adopt you?' Batman starts.
'2001, but I could have learnt that off any public record. Ask again, Bruce.' Dick imagines a smile.
'What did you swear?'
'To fight against crime and corruption,' Dick grits out. 'And to never swerve from the path of justice.' The words of the oath rip themselves from his body like a plea to be heard.
Batman doesn't even pause. 'When did Barbara Gordon regain her ability to walk?'
And then the lights come back on. Bruce holds the blindfold in his hand, and Dick stares at him, in all his manic, pleased, eighty-year-old-man glory. 'Babs is walking?
' he demands. Bruce has him practically staple-gunned to an upright panel, but the awkwardness of the position doesn't stop him from wanting to move forward. 'When?'
'Gene therapy,' Bruce answers, making no obvious move to let Dick down. 'And a year of additional physiotherapy before she took her first steps.'
'Also married,' Bruce continues, watching him, watching every single one of Dick's emotions as they have to be flying, blatant and indiscreet, over his face. Babs. Married. And probably not to him. Good for her. Just. Everything seems to hurt right now, like friction when you live life too quickly in fast-forward.
'To Sam Young, the current district attorney. She's taken up her father's position as police commissioner.'
'Tim Drake is an electronic engineer.' Bruce isn't even letting him breathe
between punches. 'The Joker -'beat him in with a crowbar - shot him in the spine -
'- captured, tortured and, for a period of time, took possession of his body. He retired years ago.'
'Little brother,' Dick chokes, unsure of what or who he means. 'My little -'
'Alfred Pennyworth died in the year 2034,' Bruce says. 'Peacefully.'
Dick sags. 'Stop it,' he says, quietly, eyes hooded and head bowed. 'It's different. Our worlds. Or timelines.'
'Is it?' Bruce asks, brutal, coming around and pressing a release catch and letting Dick down. Dick gets his limbs working just in time to stop himself from breaking a few bones. Bruce doesn't offer him a hand; he just says, 'It's a good thing I don't believe in fate.'
Dick rubs his wrists. 'Why?'
'Because Nightwing broke his back in the near-Apocalypse of '09,' Bruce tells him, putting both hands on his cane and looking straight at Dick. It's impossible to tell if he's disappointed, or relieved, or both, or neither. 'And Richard Grayson left for Bludhaven, and never came back.'
Dick swallows. 'Bludhaven's gone now,' he says. 'I'm in New York. Tim's all right. Tim's fantastic. Cass kicks all our butts. And Babs is beautiful and broken. And Jason's --'
Bruce's eyes narrow and say don't
. So Dick doesn't. It seems to please Bruce, that Dick understands, so he gets given a pair of pants and a loose white t-shirt that fits him perfectly. 'Get changed,' Bruce says. 'Then we'll talk about getting you back.'
'What about the new kid?' Dick asks.
'Terence McGinnis,' Bruce shrugs, offering Dick the sum total of absolutely nothing to work on.
'He's green and limp all over,' Dick objects, pulling the Nightwing suit off and tugging the shirt on.
It makes Bruce smile, for some reason. Dick doesn't think about it as he gets out of his leggings. 'And, what, seventeen
'Eighteen,' Bruce corrects, tapping the floor with his cane.
Dick shoots him a look. 'Aren't you a little old to be picking up new side-kicks?'
Bruce heads into the cave proper. 'I didn't pick him. He chose this.'
'I'll stop you when I think I've heard this before,' Dick proffers, catching up. 'I've heard this before.
It's probably true. But how are you running gauntlets for this kid? How are you teaching
him anything?' Bruce, Dick doesn't say, because he doesn't want to: you're old. So old.
Bruce turns on his heel, still quick enough that Dick has to cut his gait to stop himself from crashing into him. 'His father was murdered by the man I let run Wayne Industries. Collateral damage. The man proceeded to hire one of a multitude of teenaged Joker
groups to ransack Warren McGinnis' house. They left after spray painting obscenities on the walls.'
It's automatic for Dick to say, 'It wasn't your fault.' I'm sorry.
It's equally automatic for Bruce to raise an eyebrow, and to say nothing more. His shoulders are stooped with the weight of a thousand of these personal accusations. Bruce still doesn't look keen on buckling down.
Dick follows that silhouette through the familiar passageways. When it opens up into the main section of the Cave, he spots the kid sitting on the console, kicking his legs back and forth. 'Hey, old man,' Terry says, hopping down. 'And Nightwing, right?'
'Terry,' Bruce acknowledges. Terry holds out a hand to Dick. Dick looks at Bruce. The expression on Bruce's face probably, once translated, means play nice
Dick settles for shaking Terry's hand very
, very hard. 'Dick Grayson,' he says, trying hard not to enumerate the ways in which Terry could get beaten up by his little brother and failing. Be a good person, Grayson. Judge not the book by its cover. Love thy neighbour. Why does Bruce always give the suit to the least deserving-- 'Nice to meet you.'
Terry's eyes are blue like his own, and five times more suspicious. 'You knocked me out when you first met me.'
'You let me,' Dick says, smiling. It pisses Terry off exactly as much as he thought it would.
'Not many people come back from the dead,' Terry says, palm still connected to Dick's own. Dick makes a little mental wager about which one of them is going to let go first.
'I don't think I'm your version of me,' Dick says. 'But even then, sometimes history comes back to bite you.' Hard, hopefully.
'Ha ha,' Terry laughs, with two precise syllables.
'Ha,' Dick rounds it off.
'Boys,' Bruce says, voice deep with amusement. Dick's the one to let go of Terry's hand, measuring every iota of satisfaction on the kid's face. Bruce continues, 'There was an energy spike around old Robinson Avenue earlier today at the same time Dick appeared. Man-made, more likely than magical, but also more likely to have come from your dimension than ours.'
'We're currently involved in a crisis in Gotham,' Dick admits. 'Talia,' he says.
'Oh man,' Terry groans.
'You've heard of her?' Dick asks, surprised.
Terry makes a vague motion with his hand, his lips twisting. 'About this tall, leggy, beautiful, insane
Dick has to grin. 'Pushy, too.'
'That's her. She tried - he tried - R'as.' Terry pauses, shaking his head. 'It's a long, messed up story, and the boss looks like he wants us to concentrate.'
'Thank you,' Bruce says sardonically.
It's been a while since Dick's heard that from him; it's the kind of sarcasm that was more typical during his days as Robin. It sounds good. Feels good. Constant and familiar.
'If none of Talia or her company followed you through,' Bruce speculates, 'it's highly probable that whatever is going to bring you back will not be triggered on our part.'
Dick narrows his eyes. 'So I leave my return in the hands of luck?'
'No,' Bruce growls. 'You go back to Robinson tomorrow, search for any residue traces, and do what you can with the information you find. And if you can do nothing, then you leave it to me
being you being the Bruce I know, Dick thinks. 'Right,' he says, a bit too quickly.
Terry smothers a laugh. 'Are you always this hard on your Robins?' he asks Bruce.
'I'm not a Robin,' Dick says at the exact same moment that Bruce says, yes
'I'm not wearing the Robin suit,' Terry states, flatly. 'Even if Nightwing can
kick my ass.'
'I didn't suppose you would,' Bruce says, humouring Terry. Dick watches them talk.
'So is this it for tonight?' Terry stretches, casual and with little finesse. Dick wonders when he got so critical. 'Gotta go meet Dana. I've ditched her twice in a row already, and things are getting, ah, a bit hairy.'
'Hm,' Bruce hums, in that way of his that has to do with part-sympathy, part-mockery. Terry gives him a wave, slings on a jacket, and legs it up out of the staircase with a call of "night!" thrown behind him.
Dick spends a very long time just trying to gather his thoughts. 'Dana?' is what he manages.
'His high school girlfriend,' Bruce says.
girlfriend?' Dick asks. 'Long-term, normal
'Insofar as I have managed to observe, yes.' Bruce, sitting at the console's chair, turns to look at him. 'Coming from you, Dick, the question seems largely hypocritical.'
'None of mine were serious,' says Dick. 'And you never approved of any of them.'
'What's to say I approve of Dana?' Bruce raises his eyebrows.
'What's to say?' Dick echoes, slightly incredulous. He's more than well aware of how his voice is rising; it's inevitable, with Bruce. Things happen: Dick disagrees: they fight. 'You let the kid walk around with a thousand holes in his invincible armour, and then give him the night off to play kiss and make up. If I ever tried that when I was Robin, what would you have done to me?'
Bruce looks at him for a long, long time. Then he says, 'Are you jealous of Terence?' in a way that makes it anything but a question. Dick stops short.
'Things have changed, Dick,' says Bruce, not giving Dick a chance to finish - or start - his sentence. Hard and harsh and absolutely as impersonal as he has always been. And he wants to talk about change
. 'Are you angry because they did not change for you?'
Dick snaps his jaw shut with a click, and stares down at Bruce. Bruce's only response is his silence, that perfect defence with the fifty feet of psychological armour.
'I should go get a shower,' Dick gives in, looking away.
Bruce turns back to the console and says to the monitor, 'You can have your old room. I'll work on creating a temporary alias for you.'
When Dick gets into his room, he finds it aired and almost exactly the way he thinks his room looks like back home. There's a bottle of solvent on the table in front of the mirror. He picks it up, and when Dick looks into his own reflection, realises that it's for the spirit gum. He's still wearing his domino; a dark shadow spreading its wings across his face, and his eyes. Dick takes the hottest shower his skin can bear, and goes to sleep with his blood thrumming in his veins.
When he wakes up, he finds a three-piece suit hanging on his door knob, black and classic white. Dick runs one finger over the shoulders. Bruce's tastes haven't got any less rich, that's for sure: the stuff feels both slippery and solid, the way the best fabrics do. There's no note. Dick leaves the thing lying on the top of his sheets, and heads downstairs to the kitchen. The halls as he passes through them are all draped and undusted: Alfred would've thrown fits, but Alfred -died in 2034, peacefully.
- isn't here right now.
In true Wayne tradition, Bruce hasn't been taking care of anything past the bare necessities. Things are clean enough that no one could have reason to complain, but static enough that it feels like a tomb. Dick imagines contracted helpers withering under Bruce's watchful eye, and laughs a little to himself. Clinging to the past is just one of the many habits which Bruce long ago developed into art forms. He tries his best to stay on the worn carpet. It's not like anyone's actually lived in the manor proper for the last sixty years, never mind the last fifty.
There's cereal, milk and orange juice on the kitchen counter when Dick gets there. Bruce is reading something off a slim computer. He looks frail in the sunlight, frail and very strong. Brittle. 'Morning,' Dick yawns, dragging a hand through his hair. Bruce grunts. Neither of them are morning people, and the coffee is still brewing in the state-of-the-art machine.
Dick's through his first cup (three sugars, one milk) and Bruce through his second (half a sugar, no milk) when they finally get around to having a proper conversation. Bruce shuts his computer, and reaches into the pockets of his sharp, lapel-free jacket. He pulls out a smart leather folio, passing it over for Dick's inspection. It opens to reveal a passport, a few social security cards, driving licenses, credit cards. 'Robbie Drake?' Dick reads off the name printed on each of the items.
'Tim consented to the idea of you taking up position as one of his distant cousins. The name isn't memorable, and Jack Drake's own heritage was never pursued with much interest after his bankruptcy. The family gives you an excuse to be in Gotham,' Bruce says. 'And gives me a reason to have you around. I'll introduce you at the Wayne Enterprises event tonight. It'll serve as cover until you ultimately... disappear with a few million dollars in your pocket.'
'Is that what the suit is for?' Dick asks, looking across the counter at Bruce.
'Better to provide people with answers before they invent their own,' Bruce shrugs. 'It'll keep the sharks waiting for me to die off my back, for however long you are around.'
That makes Dick grin into his coffee. 'Bruce Wayne, aging industrialist?'
That makes Bruce smile, in a way that used to promise violence but now just seems to promise corporate takeovers and exasperated board members. 'It passes the time.' Bruce looks happy, alert.
'Looks like you finally got around to liking Bruce Wayne,' Dick says, picking up speed. 'You used to hate him.'
'I used to have to sleep with people very often,' says Bruce. 'It irritates me to have others in my personal space.'
'That, and you used to act like a fop,' Dick sniggers. 'Brucie.'
'And his charming young ward, Dickie
Grayson,' Bruce shoots back in that old (recent) stupid drawl, vowels extending themselves and his eyes going sleepy. It shuts Dick up, but Dick does a very bad job of hiding his smile behind his mug as he finishes up his breakfast. 'You should go out into town,' says Bruce in his normal voice. 'I've stopped keeping your extras in the manor.'
Dick washes both their dishes in the sink, the soap and Bruce's inability to even act domestic making the ground feel more solid beneath his feet. 'I'm not sure I'm equipped to handle the Batmobile in its current form,' he admits.
'Did you really think I only have one car?' Bruce replies, bemused, and Dick's day gets that
'Oh, yes please
,' Dick says, petting the Bentley's steering wheel. It purrs. It sits. It absorbs light like the best of black cars do. It's custom and it floats
and it eats up the ground around the manor as though it's been starved for the last year. The controls are as slick as anything with four wheels could ever hope to have. There was a Royce, but the Royce had wheels. The Lambho would've eaten Dick alive, that, or Dick might've never come out of the driver's seat. Technology always moves, but there's nothing like jumping half a century forward to tell you how good things can really get.
' is Bruce's smug question in his ear. The transceivers are a lot smaller, too, but crystal clear and a lot less fraught with static. Dick can hear the gravelly rumble of Bruce's voice even over the rush of the air coming in through the downed windows.
'Can I keep it?' Dick asks. He decides he's had enough of a trial run and hits the filter lane out back to Gotham itself. 'Or, better yet, do they make bikes?'
,' Bruce replies. 'Get back before seven. The dinner's at seven thirty.
Dick spares a moment to stroke the dashboard. 'Can I drive to there?'
'That's what gophers are for
,' Bruce says, and then he cuts the connection.
Dick comes back with a small fortune worth of clothes and gadgetry, but mostly what takes up room in the back seat of the car is groceries. The fridge that morning frightened Dick into remembering the odd occasions during his past when Bruce would attempt to transfer his natural aptitude for crime-fighting towards a complete incapability to cook. He's stocking Ovaltine and the first set of perishables the kitchen has seen in half a century into the pantry when a sound makes him turn.
'You're hard to sneak up on,' Terry says, leaning against the doorjamb.
'Comes with the territory,' Dick chuckles, turning back and putting the last of the things away. Wiping his hands on the front of his pants, he goes around and puts a hand on Terry's shoulder. 'Look, about last night.'
'Nah,' Terry shakes his head. 'Forget about it. You must have been pretty slagged, coming in off a blip like that.'
'Slagged?' Dick echoes.
'Wasted,' Terry says, in the same kind of tone teenagers use when trying to explain to adults why things are/are not "cool". 'Freaked out.'
Dick folds his arms in chagrin. 'Now I feel old.'
'You're pretty fast for your age,' Terry quips. He's got one hell of a mouth on him.
'Brat,' Dick grumbles.
'Anyway,' Terry changes the subject. 'I wanted to come by and say thanks. My family doesn't exactly go in with the kind of crowd that Wayne follows, so I've kind of been leeching off your stuff for the last little while.' He plucks at the suit jacket he has on. 'It's got D.G initialled on the back of the collar, so I guess it's yours, huh?'
Dick gives him a look. 'Kid,' he says, slowly. 'If I'm counting right, I haven't been here in over forty years. Whatever you're wearing, "I"'ve probably never worn before in my life. You can't put one of those into a wardrobe and not have it get eaten away over the years.'
'Then,' Terry starts, eyes widening, but Dick shakes his head.
'Look,' says Dick, uncomfortable. 'Bruce probably had them remade.' It fits into the pattern of strange, compulsive urges he's nurtured for the last forever you haven't seen. Like the room with posters from Haly's Circus, and the other one with an unopened pack of cigarettes hidden in a bottom drawer.
'That,' Terry says, 'is just so messed up. Why would he remake suits that no one's going to wear?'
'Why would he have a fully-functioning Batcave filled with giant toys?' Dick shoots back. It doesn't make the chill that's been going down his spine for the last half minute go away. 'It's Bruce. He has -- issues.'
'Lots,' Bruce says, walking into the kitchen, 'of issues.'
Terry jumps violently enough to knock into the table. Dick catches him by the shoulder before he hits himself, and turns him around to face the old man. 'Jesus, Bruce!' Terry says as Dick catches Bruce's eye (this kid is --). 'Could you move any more quietly?'
'Not in this condition,' Bruce answers, sounding the farthest thing from annoyed. Dick frowns, marginally. 'Get the car,' Terry gets told. 'Dick, get changed.'
Dick waits for Terry to move out of earshot. 'He should've heard you coming.'
'You should have watched your mouth,' Bruce replies.
'Not the point,' Dick dismisses.
Bruce admits, 'He's used to the suit.'
'And you're used to letting him,' Dick says, a little sharper than he intended to. 'Look, Bruce, I don't care how much things have changed. The kid's not ready. I've barely '
'He's met Talia,' says Bruce.
'What?' Dick sputters, thrown.
'Why,' Bruce asks, 'would he have met her?'
'Because she's persistent,' Dick replies. 'Because she has access to any number of Pits and probably still uses them.' He looks at the way Bruce's knuckles are tight, so tight, about his cane. Bruce, he notices, walks with a pronounced limp these days. 'Because she,' he hesitates, 'asked you to. Bruce
'I said yes,' Bruce growls, biting out words he never learned how to say under a different sky. 'I even believed it was worth the sacrifice, since it meant I'd be able to train Terry the way he needed to be trained. After the first immersion, I stood in front of the mirror and felt nothing but rage. It had nothing to do with the Pit's effects, Dick. It had everything to do with that man being false and coming out of the past. All things die
,' Bruce says, savage. 'And they should stay dead.'
The last person they knew who came out of a Pit was Jason Todd.
Dick shadows his eyes, feeling like a ghost. 'I can help.'
'I know,' Bruce looks truly tired. 'I expect you to.'
Dick pushes himself off the table. He's eye-level with Bruce, now that Bruce is as stooped as he is. It makes it easier, less daunting, to place one tentative touch atop the leathery skin of Bruce's hand. 'I swore an oath to the mission,' Dick says, words in replacement for the action he doesn't dare commit to. 'And also to a person. Whatever you need, Bruce.'
Bruce looks at him, maybe moved, maybe unmoved. Dick licks his dry lips, and squeezes hard against Bruce's fingers. It makes Bruce nod, almost imperceptibly. Dick cracks half a grin. 'Does your gopher drive well?'
Dick wants to memorise, for his own benefit, this specific slide of Bruce's expressions as they go from closed straight in to open. 'You're going to get to know that and everything else about him soon enough.'
[author's note: allow me to pimp pere_chan
, who has put Dick and Terry in suits to glorious, glorious life.
Send her love!]