Dick perches on one of the chimneys of the manor and watches Superman settle to the roof a few cornices away. If he were here to see Bruce, he would've come another way, and in costume. Dick hugs his knees to his chest and waits.
"Hi, Dick," he offers from his careful distance. "Mind if I join you?"
Dick scoots over a bit. Superman hops over and starts to sit down next to him, then thinks better of it and remains standing. He's wearing khakis and a polo shirt with the top button unbuttoned. His expression is determinedly friendly. He's rubbing his knuckles beneath his fingers.
"Good. Got an A in trig."
"Did you? That's great."
Dick tugs at the collar of his hoodie. A half-sincere smile from Superman shouldn't light him up like that, especially since every instinct tells him something bad is coming. But he's unsettled right now, as if he's crossed over to new territory inside, seeing and feeling things he never did before. "Thanks. Bruce is in the library, you know."
"I know." He shifts his weight. "I actually came to talk to you. If you want to talk."
Superman takes a deep breath. "Is anything going on—I mean, with Robin—that makes you uncomfortable?"
Dick blinks. Bruce was right. Clark is so easy to read. "No."
"I just want—we just want you to understand, Dick." Clark rests a hand awkwardly on his shoulder. "The League can make other arrangements. For a good home. You don't have to stay here if you're...not happy."
Happy isn't even the word. Happy is getting a motorcycle for Christmas, watching your football team win the championship, that A in trig. This feels the way cracking a really tough case does, or saving someone who's hurt and scared and in danger. He's fulfilling the mission, doing good that no one else can do. The joy goes deeper than anything else ever has.
"Oh. I see."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"You're fifteen, Dick—"
"Sixteen," he says, startling himself, but only a little, by daring to interrupt Superman. "I turned sixteen two months ago."
"Sorry, sixteen." Clark is almost pitifully eager to find a point of agreement. Terrible interrogation tactics. "Things change. You may not always want to—"
"I'll always want to," Dick says flatly.
Clark flushes, all over. "Just...you can always call me, okay? Any time."
"Okay." That doesn't cost him anything.
"Hello, Clark," Bruce's voice cuts across the roof. He's standing on a landing a little ways off. It's not that cold, but he has a coat on, and his hands are in his pockets.
Clark's flush is gone in a second, and he's scowling like thunder. "Bruce."
"Are you finished?"
"Yes." Clark looks at him. Dick stares back, letting his expression get harder. He won't make any concessions in front of Bruce, no matter who asks. "Yes."
Bruce waits. Clark finally says, "We'll be accepting your resignation, Bruce."
Bruce's face is impassive. "Of course."
"Goodbye. Remember what I said, Dick."
Superman arches away in a clean streak of red and blue. Bruce stands there for a minute longer, looking at Dick, and then he turns away wordlessly and begins to clamber down.
Dick waits for the sick feeling to subside, then follows him. It takes less time than he expects.
DSS comes anyway. "Barry," Bruce mutters in a further room, and his hand clenches and unclenches.
The social worker who interviews him seems nice, actually—he's big and bald, no-nonsense and funny, like Dr. Leslie with a sense of humor. Dick doesn't have to pretend that he likes him. He smiles and shows him a handstand.
Dick's been lying to the police since he was twelve years old. This really isn't anything new.
They don't have any solid evidence, of course. Dick wishes Bruce could have found a way not to think about it on the Watchtower. Not because of the trouble, but because he doesn't want to be a distraction.
Near the end of the interview, the social worker asks him why he ran away when he was thirteen. Dick says he didn't think Bruce wanted him there, was afraid that he was just in the way.
"What about now?"
"I haven't worried about that in a while."
"Ever wish you could live somewhere else?"
Everyone's been wrong about Bruce before.
Afterwards, Dick wraps his fingers around Bruce's fist and squeezes. Bruce looks at him desperately for a minute before pulling him closer.
A year and a half later, during a standoff with Deathstroke, Slade drawls, "How's the home life, kid?"
"Fine," Dick says tersely.
"That's not what I hear. I mean," he grins, looking Dick up and down, "not that I wouldn't do the same thing in his place, but, then, I never claimed to be a nice guy. What's Batman's excuse?"
Dick moves too fast, nearly gets his hand sliced off for his troubles.
Afterwards, in debriefing, Roy chides him. "You can't go off half-cocked in battle like that! You're going to get yourself killed next time! Maybe the rest of us, too!"
"You're telling me to be more careful?"
"I'm the team leader, right?"
Dick can barely feel the familiar prickle of resentment about that below the flood of indignation: "You heard what he said about Batman!"
Roy looks away. "Yeah."
"But it's true, isn't it?" Wally says abruptly, and a hush falls over the room. "Well, isn't it?"
Confronted with Dick's glare, he falters, but only a little. "That Batman—that you and Batman"—he takes a deep breath, then glances around at all the shocked faces and goes on, more boldly—"Flash told me I should never be alone with him, because he—"
The entire team has to sit on Dick to keep him from breaking Wally's jaw.
Afterwards, the rest of them hustle Wally out, and Roy rubs his face and sighs. "Dick."
"I'm not going to apologize, Roy." He's not sorry. He only regrets that Barry Allen hadn't been there, too.
Roy looks cautiously hopeful. "Are you saying it's not true?"
"Why does that even matter?"
His face falls. "You know why it matters."
"Because putting a kid in a costume and sending him into battle is business as usual, but anything else is unthinkable?"
He's never gotten to have this argument, and suddenly he really wants to. Because Roy—Roy is—Roy knows his name. They were thirteen together. The first.
"Look, Dick"—his voice gets harder—"you're my friend. I've never said anything. But you've got to be realistic. It's with your mentor. With another guy. You can't expect the whole world to pretend that they don't know."
"Not the whole world." Dick's stomach sinks, and he gets up. "Just my team. If they can't handle it."
It'll mean more time to concentrate on Gotham, he thinks.
There aren't any flowers in the hospital room, but there are a whole lot of books. Barbara is dozing over one, and she starts up from it as he enters. Her eyes stay wide when she sees it's him.
"Hi, Babs," he says, casually closing the door behind him. It's surprising how much seeing her there hurts. He's interviewed so many people in these kinds of surroundings, and you never stop feeling sorry for them, but you can—detach a little. Usually.
"Dick. I never expected to see you again."
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
She glances reflexively down the blanket, then hastily brings her gaze back up to his. "As people recovering from gunshots go, I'm fine."
"This is our fault," he bursts out. "We should have taken care of him a long time ago."
"The only person to blame here," she says acidly, "besides the woman who opened the door without even looking through the peephole, is the man who pulled the trigger. I won't have you doing this, or him, or my dad, for that matter."
She looks a lot older, and a lot fiercer, than she ever did as Batgirl. They stare at each other, and the silence is so awkward. Dick remembers riding behind on her on the motorcycle, arms wrapped around her waist, face buried in streaming red hair, and the memory is glowingly clear. Those few months when Batgirl had been part of the team had been the last days of his childhood. When he'd been in love with everything and everyone.
"I don't blame you for quitting any more," he says. "It had to be so weird for you. I just wish you had said goodbye."
"I shouldn't have left you there. I should've—"
"Don't," he interrupts. "Please." He can't go back to being angry at her now. Not after what's happened.
"Fine." She looks down at the book. "Thanks for coming. You can tell him I'm okay and that he's not allowed to make this about him."
She's clearly dismissing him, but he doesn't move. "But can I come back?"
She frowns. "For what?"
"Well, for one thing, I play a mean game of poker."
Her face softens for the first time. "I don't."
"Chess, then. But you're going to have to spot me a rook."
"A pawn," she says, and he wants to reach out to squeeze her hand, but someone knocks on the door and Jim Gordon's voice comes: "Barbara? Can I come in?"
She glances at the window. He doesn't need the hint.
"You should apply to college this time," Bruce says, all at once. He's standing at the console, apparently looking intently at a screen, his back to Dick.
"Why?" Dick asks, smiling as he carefully lowers himself to the ground from the rings. He's only a week out of the surgery to reconstruct the knee the Joker shot, and stuck landings are still a way off. "Do I need to find myself?"
There's no answering smile in Bruce's voice. "You're nineteen. You're at the age when you should...explore your options."
"I think I've already figured out what I want to be when I grow up, Bruce."
Bruce frowns. Dick can tell by the way his head dips slightly. "You could study anything you wanted. You could meet different kinds of people. You could—"
He's starting to feel sick. He and Bruce don't have to talk to know what the other is feeling. There's nothing in their hearts—or so he'd thought—that they couldn't share in the wordless play of their partnership. That Bruce is suddenly quoting admissions catalogues at him makes him wonder if he's hiding some terrible secret, and how it could be possible that he even has one. "Where could I learn what I need to know to do my job better than here?"
"Nowhere, if this is always going to be your job." Bruce finally turns around. He's actually a little pale. "But what we decide at—at eleven—doesn't have to bind us forever."
"Unless you're someone like us," Dick says.
Bruce just looks at him.
"All this time, Bruce, I've never wanted anything else. Never. Just like you. I don't understand why we're even having this conversation."
Bruce smiles, a strange, painful smile. "What would you do if I fired you?"
"I have absolutely no idea."
"That's why you should go."
Dick steps closer. "Are you firing me, Bruce?"
A second's dizzying hesitation. Then he shakes his head. "No."
Dick rises on the balls of his feet to brush a quick kiss on his cheek. "Then I don't need to worry about it."
Bruce is quieter than usual for the rest of the evening.
There are a lot of people at the funeral, many more than Dick can remember ever actually visiting. There are also people who should be there who aren't—Alfred never even returned his calls. Dick sits there and catalogues faces; he's never felt so helpless in his life, and he can't stop doing it even though it's so futile it makes him choke back laughter. He lingers over the features of one of the strangers, a tall, gruff-looking man with blond hair. He seems familiar, but it takes a long time for Dick to place him. When he finally does resolve the man's identity, he's so angry it's hard to wait.
He catches the man afterwards in a quiet side room at the manor. He's looking up at one of the portraits of the Waynes, inscrutable.
"I'm surprised you had the nerve to show up here," Dick says, not bothering with the preliminaries.
"My condolences," the Martian says, turning to him courteously. "It was thought that someone from the League should attend. He was one of our earliest members."
"You're the one who told everyone—how can you even show your—your fake face around here?"
J'onn folded his hands. "I only discovered the matter because he felt so strongly about it he could think of nothing else. And I only spoke of it to others because his own consciousness of his guilt was so overwhelming. I was new to your culture, I did not know how to interpret what he had done, but I could not let that stand. I had to consult someone."
"And they sure told you what to think, didn't they?"
"It is what he himself believed til the day he died, Dick."
"You were watching him?"
"After he resigned, we realized that we needed to be better-organized. More careful. More disciplined. Perhaps we could have found out about his tendencies sooner and discouraged—"
Listening to him talk about Bruce as if he knew him, in that calm, detached way—Dick could've punched him, if he wasn't under the watchful eyes of the Waynes. "You don't know a damned thing about it, alien!"
"He died taking a bullet for an innocent. Even Batman can't expect to go up against thugs with heavy weaponry every night"—his throat closes up for a second, but he's determined to show nothing, and he forces his voice through—"and survive forever."
"No. But a man in his particular line of work can afford no self-doubt, no recriminations. They cost him precious concentration, determination, force. Eventually, one of those hundredths of a second lost will matter."
"Are you saying..." For a minute, Dick actually can't speak. His hands clench and reopen spasmodically. "Are you saying he died because we were together?"
"I am saying that he could not sustain—"
"Dick." Barbara appears in the doorway with surprising suddenness, given the wheelchair. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," he says, barely looking at her. "We're just—"
"Your voice is carrying," she says gently.
Oh. He takes a deep breath. "That's okay, because this conversation is over. The door's to your left, Jones."
J'onn doesn't stir. "Before I go, the League wishes me to inform you that, should you continue to follow in Bruce's footsteps—professionally—there will be an opening for you."
"I'd sooner team up with the Joker," Dick snarls.
"I'm sorry. But the offer remains open." J'onn nods to Barbara. "Goodbye."
He does look sorry, or something like it, as he goes. Dick doesn't care.
Bruce had been happy with him, in his own way. Bruce had been happy. If he hadn't been...then Dick himself—none of it—would have been worth it. He drops to his knees and buries his head in Barbara's lap. He knows they're not really on the right terms for this yet, but she says nothing, just strokes his hair in silence for a long time. He expects tears to come. They don't.
"Drake. His name is Tim Drake," Barbara says, half-in, half-out of his ear, and Dick reaches up to adjust the earpiece. He's still not used to the version she designed, though it's much better than what he and Bruce used to use. The Martian had been right about one thing—in this line of work, he needs every advantage he can get. The skills Barbara had been honing without telling anyone the past few years certainly qualify, and he does try not to waste any bitterness on thinking about how they might have helped Bruce instead.
"I'm sure I saw him at the funeral."
"Well, he didn't sign the guestbook, though that doesn't mean much. His father is Jack Drake. A wealthy man, and—get this—an 'adventurer'. Maybe more than that."
He slides over a couple of inches to get a better view of the street below, careful not to be seen. "Sounds like a superhero's cover to you?"
"Or a supervillain's. Tim could be stalking you as part of some kind of plan of his."
"No. I don't think—" Dick hesitates. "I remember how he looked at the funeral. Quiet. Sad, and like he thought he didn't have a right to be. Something else is going on here."
"If you say so, Batman." She doesn't point out that he hadn't even realized the kid was tailing him until she started her own electronic countersurveillance, but it's in her voice anyway. He likes that. It's comfortable. Familiar.
Nothing else about wearing this suit is. Or ever will be.
He's thinking up a return volley when the shadow flickers across the street towards him. The kid looking for a better angle, worrying that he might have taken to the rooftops.
"Here he comes. I'll keep you posted." Dick flips silently into the nearest tree.
Tim's short, but the baby fat is gone from his face. Dick hadn't asked Barbara for his age, but he has to be at least fifteen. He's wearing a bulging backpack, probably full of what he thinks of as spy gear. He's peering intently up at the building, and getting the drop on him is almost comically easy. He actually drops the camera when Dick swings down from the branch and touches his shoulder. "Boo."
But when he whirls around, he gasps, "Dick!", and then it's not funny at all.
Four hours later, Tim is sitting in one of the drawing rooms downstairs, turning a mug of hot chocolate around and around in his hands. Dick stands across the room, looking out the window. Barbara's checked out the story, as much as it's possible, and, amazing though it is, it all seems to hang together. He's not really sure what to do next. He can't kill Tim, and he can't wipe his mind, but he can hardly let him wander around knowing what he does. Barbara had nearly had a heart attack when Tim started going into the details of what he'd observed. He even knows who she was.
Bruce would've known what to do. Bruce isn't there.
"I didn't get a chance at the funeral," Tim says abruptly into the silence, "to tell you how sorry I am."
It touches him oddly. So few people who had known who Bruce really was had mourned for him. Even Barbara, Barbara who has been carrying him through it, offers the careful sympathy of someone who respects Dick's grief rather than shares it. And this kid..."Thank you."
Somehow, that seems to give Tim permission, and it comes out in a rush. "He loved you so much. Anyone could see it. It was obvious when he—" He stops, and there's a band of color high on his cheeks.
He had figured that out, and it hadn't changed the way he looked at them? Dick swallows a laugh, only to find it turning into a sob halfway down. He drops into a chair.
"I'm sorry," Tim says, almost dropping the chocolate. He jumps up and crosses the room to hover in front of him. "I didn't mean to upset you."
Dick raises a hand. "It's—it's okay, Tim. I just never expected anyone to understand."
"I don't see how anyone could not understand! He had to love you, and so of course you loved him back."
He presses his fingers into his eyelids. "I don't think I can explain it to you. I never really got it myself."
Tim waits a minute, then asks quietly, "Do you really hate being Batman? Because it looks like it."
Startled again, Dick has to bite his lip. "Bruce is Batman. I never wanted to be. I shouldn't—"
He shouldn't cry in front of this kid, this smart and loyal kid. Bruce had never cried in front of him.
"I know." Tim touches his wrist tentatively. "You're Robin."
Dick can't breathe.
Tim's other hand brushes over his hair. It's trembling. "Dick—can I—?"
Dick looks up. Tim is pale and intent; Dick can see the pulse going in his throat. He looks unbelievably old and unbelievably young at the same time. There are six years of adoration in his eyes.
Dick's voice is ragged. "Stay."