Title: Stoking the Embers
Author: J.T. of fyeahbatmanandrobin
Characters: Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne, Tim Drake
Summary: Bruce makes an off-handed comment about his recent absence, but Dick takes it very personally.
Set shortly before the relaunch, before Dick resumes the role of Nightwing but after Bruce has returned. (Some liberties taken, but hey, DC takes them as well.)
Written for for-now-my-life-is-batman who requested angry, intimidating Dick Grayson. And then I added some angst because I have a sickness and can’t seem to help myself.
“Did you just laugh?”
Bruce looked up from the computer, searching Dick’s face. The question itself wasn’t unusual— if Bruce ever made a noise that held any potential of mirth, Dick was eager to point it out. But the young man’s tone was low, appalled, and his eyes were humorless as he stared Bruce down. “Do you think it’s funny?” Dick continued in that same voice: unnervingly quiet, the softness masking a cadence of outrage.
Bruce hadn’t thought much of it when Tim pulled the file on the Clock King, when the two of them began discussing the recent thefts of Malaysian artifacts from the Gotham Museum that bore signs of time manipulation. Tim theorized that Temple Fugate had traveled back in time to obtain the relics before they ever were displayed in the museum in the first place, and he worried that any linear disruption would cause Fugate to become stuck in time forever.
“Let’s be careful in pursuing him, then,” Bruce suggested with a short chuckle. “I’ve had my share of time travel lately.”
Tim had grunted in acknowledgement and began updating the current location in the criminal’s file. But Dick was sparring with Damian on the training mats nearby, and the older of the two stopped moving as he brought his forearm up to block an incoming chop from Damian’s hand. He stared at his mentor standing near the computer and that’s when Dick began questioning him in a low voice that made Bruce’s sense of danger perk at the edges.
“Bruce,” Dick prompted once more now, stepping closer to him. He was wearing a sleeveless tunic, and rivulets of sweat shook from his bare arms as he moved. He held Bruce‘s gaze, unblinking. “I asked if you think it’s funny that you were stuck in some prehistoric age while we all thought you were dead for over a year.”
Tim still sat at the computer, staring between Bruce and Dick in confusion. Damian stood where he’d been abandoned on the training mat, his shoulders heaving with exertion as he cooled down from the rigorous match he’d been having with Dick. He watched the budding confrontation with keen interest. The presence of the younger boys made Bruce uncomfortable, made him eager to reassure Dick and return the situation to normal. “No, Dick,” he promised, trying to convey sincerity through his eyes. “It’s not funny at all. I’m sorry.” He extended a hand to touch his shoulder.
“You’re damn right you’re sorry!” Dick returned as he batted the hand away, and he was no longer soft-spoken. His shout echoed in the cave, made the bats overhead shriek in return. Bruce was aware of Tim flinching back in his peripheral vision, but Dick continued. “You never laugh at anything, and this is what you choose to joke about? Do you have any idea what we went through while you were gone?”
“Yes, and I’m sor—”
“No!” Dick interrupted him, and he moved even closer to Bruce, standing right in front of them so that their toes almost touched. His white teeth flashed as he bared them, gritted together in his fury. Tears shone unshed in his eyes. “No, you don’t know. God, you’re an ass sometimes, Bruce! You don‘t understand at all, do you?”
Damian looked on with narrow eyes, and Tim sat frozen in place with his lips slightly parted. Their silence was tense, and Dick was being so loud. “I did all I could to come back to you,” Bruce said, willing his voice to be even and calm. “Back to all of you.”
“It isn’t about that!” Dick tore both hands through his damp hair with a furious shake of his head. “You don’t get to look back on that time as another successful mission. You don’t get to make jokes about your jaunt through space and time when I was here trying to cope with your death— when I was trying to deal with losing a father for the second time in my life!”
“Dick,” Bruce said helplessly, reaching for him. He had an impulse that being able to touch Dick somehow would assuage him, and though Bruce recognized it as irrational, it compelled his hands forward all the same. “Please, I didn’t mean to—”
“Of course you didn’t,” Dick said, pulling away from Bruce again. “You can’t mean anything by it when it means so little to you in the first place.”
The sudden coldness, the abrupt ebb of hot fury into icy bitterness left Bruce feeling ashamed for something he didn’t recognize. He and Dick had quarreled countless times before, but the guilt he felt now was more potent for the fact that he still didn’t understand exactly what he’d done wrong— yet he knew he had committed some irredeemable sin against the young man, had been wronging him for a long time now. He didn’t know how to make amends. He tried one last time to take Dick by the shoulder and succeeded, gripping him harder than he intended to and hoping the touch conveyed what his words could not.
One of Dick’s arms snatched Bruce’s wrist away, and the opposite fist smashed into his jaw. Pain exploded across Bruce’s face and he stumbled backward under the sheer force of it, not expecting the blow. Damian and Tim shouted, their words unintelligible as they rushed toward the confrontation.
“Stand down,” Bruce ordered them, and they both came to a halt nearby. Dick stood with his feet planted apart in a wide stance, his shoulders heaving as he regarded Bruce with anger burning anew. Bruce rubbed his chin and stood upright, calmly meeting Dick’s eyes that burned like those of a cornered animal.
“I have nothing else to say,” Bruce finally told him. He attempted no retaliation, but Dick still stared at him with that murderous fury. “I don’t want to fight you, Dick.”
Dick trembled as his anger began dissolving into grief. “You deserved it, and more of it,” he bit out. “I’d kill you if it didn’t hurt me so bad thinking you were dead. I understand your motives for waiting all those months before letting us know you were still alive. You were making the logical choice. But you know what, Bruce? I‘d find a way to tell you if it were me. No matter what, I’d never let you suffer that way.”
“You’re a better man than I am,” Bruce conceded quietly.
One of the tears shivering on the brim of Dick‘s eye fell down his cheek, and he hurried to swipe it away. “I tried to do right by you, Bruce. I accepted the mantle of Batman. I fought your fight. I raised your son,” he growled, jerking a finger at the boy as his voice rose. Damian bit his lip. “But you’re back, and it’s all the same to you. The never-ending mission, right? You can have it. I’m going back to Bludhaven in the morning.”
“Dick,” Bruce said, and the compulsion to reach for the young man moved his hand forward once more despite the throbbing in his jaw.
“You really don’t want to touch me again,” Dick warned lowly, and Bruce’s arm dropped to his side.
They stared at each other a second longer, and Dick jerked his eyes away, marched up the staircase that took him out of the cave and into the manor above. Bruce watched his back as he left, his muscles taut with barely-contained anger under his thin shirt, his fingers clenching tighter with each step he took.
Bruce hoped he’d turn around and storm back down to him, even if he continued yelling at him, even if he attacked him again. Bruce would accept it, would take it all without flinching or striking back. He knew he deserved it somehow, though the particulars still confused him. Anything would be better than watching Dick leave again, than hearing Damian and Tim finally shuffle back to their tasks when they realized Bruce wasn’t going after him and Dick wasn’t coming back.
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