Author's notes

This story is set during Gotham Knights 17, and some of the dialogue in the first section, and a small bit in the last, is taken from that issue. In the issues leading up to GK17, psychiatrist Hugo Strange gets too close to Batman's secrets, so Batman allows Dick (and Tim) to believe that Batman has died in an explosion, and self-induces a hypnotic state wherein Bruce Wayne knows nothing of Batman. He later tells Dick that he kept the plan a secret even from Dick so that Strange would not learn the truth. During this time, Tim discovers that Bruce Wayne has been keeping secret files on all of them, and Dick listens to at least part of the one on him. In GK 17, Dick comes to Gotham and tells Bruce that Dick and Babs have been seeing each other more often, and "I think it's fair to say that we're...involved. Dating. A couple. ...Okay?" In my world, it goes a little differently...

For more background, read [info]maelithil's excellent Bruce/Dick Manifesto on [info]ship_manifesto, particularly this part:

Dick and Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl, start a relationship that had been long brewing and, strangely, it is this incident that prompts Bruce to finally pop the question. After 14 odd years, Bruce legally adopts Dick, nevermind the meddling of an evil archenemy trying to mess with their heads with phantom relatives and their cunning plans.

The scans linked in this paragraph are the most pertinent scans from GK 17.

Words fail me to express my love and gratitude for [info]cereta, who dragged me into this fandom kicking and screaming, coaxed me into writing, and sat there every step of the way, encouraging me and telling me that I was doing fine, no, really. Thanks to her for beta, [info]geekturnedvamp for comments and fascinating discussion, and the fabulous [info]killabeez for reading and reassuring me, even though it's not her fandom, and really, she had no time. Y'all rock.

Feedback? Please, to elynross.



Prologue

Dear Batman--

Okay, I admit that always looked
weird on the Christmas cards--

--but I have to tell you, sometimes it felt even
weirder to write "Dear Bruce"--

Sometimes I wonder what you call me in your head. When you think about me, I mean
.

If you think about me.

Reading those files of yours... I guess it was the first time I was ever sure that you sometimes wondered the same kind of things. And I don't want you to wonder about me. I want you to be sure.

Thing is, I don't know how to reassure you in
words. I mean, there are no words. What am I, Bruce? Your son? Your trainee? Your soldier? Your "sidekick"? Your ward?

"Ward." I
hate that word. It stopped having any meaning the minute I turned eighteen, and I was afraid I would, too. Stop having meaning, I mean, for you.

So in the absence of binding words, I try to show you who I am in action.

And I find I can't stop
moving.

Sometimes it's because I feel like I have to keep up with you, and sometimes it's because I feel I have to keep
ahead of the others.

You don't know what it's about
either, do you? All the people around you?

Sometimes I think they just gather of their own accord...pulled by the magnetism and mission that keeps me in orbit, and I'm so grateful for them -- so glad not to be
alone out here -- that I don't give it a second thought.

But other times, Batman-- Bruce-- no,
Batman -- other times, Batman, I think you deliberately called them to your side...

...and I can't
believe you'd have the gall.

You eventually heard me out on the issue, but I don't think you ever really
got how much it hurt me when you chose Azrael to stand in for you instead of me. The only thing I hate more than wearing that cape and cowl and imagining a world without you in it--

--is watching someone
else do it.

I know you have your reasons for everything you do, and I know you don't always think I
believe that. I do believe that. I'm not ever worried that you haven't thought things through.

I'm just sometimes worried that I don't factor into your thinking. Or that if I do, you're worrying that I can't take care of myself.

It occurred to me for the first time today, that maybe it's not about that. Maybe you're worrying that you can't take care of me.

You're not an easy man to be close to, Bruce. As much as you may care about any of us, any of
this, I know you'd trade it all in a heartbeat if you could have your parents back. And I've never really admitted this to anyone, but I don't think I would. Trade, I mean. And I don't think I'm ready to see your face if I told you that. Which is why I'm never gonna send this letter.

I miss my parents with my whole heart, Batman, I do.

But I wouldn't trade this for the world.

Love, Dick

An unsent letter from Gotham Knights #14

I. We have this way of talking

The trip to Gotham is a blur, somehow both endless and far too quick, because you can't wait to get there and it's the last place you want to be. Your mind hums, anticipation and dread fight it out in your stomach, and you're not sure if it's about Babs...or about Batman. About Bruce.

Except that you are, you know what you want, and it hurts that you've let things get this bad.

You suspect it's only going to get worse.

This thing with Babs is getting serious. At least-- Yeah, it's serious, and you should be far happier about that, given how much you care about her, how long you've been dancing around each other, and considering that she's (supposedly) the reason you're on your way to Gotham right now, when you should be protecting your own city. But things have been slow for a few days, and it's time--

You've run out of time.

You haven't talked to Bruce since you pulled him out of his self-induced "death," since Hugo Strange was put away, and.... Just thinking about your fear, that he was dead, that a loser like Strange had succeeded in taking him out, that you'd never see him again--

You couldn't believe it -- not wouldn't, couldn't -- and you just kept moving to stay ahead of the doubt. And you were right, Bruce had set up his own death -- Batman's death -- and let you believe it as part of his plan. It hurt that he would do that, that he would let you believe that.

And yet, at the same time, he knew you would doubt it, knew you well enough to set the reciting of the oath as his release mechanism. That gave you a weird kind of hope. Such injury and injustice and manipulation, tangled up with knowledge and faith and confidence, and your relationship with him has never been anything but complicated, to say the least.

And here you are, wanting to complicate it further.

In his files he called you a fearless child, effusive, full of grace -- you remember every word, those and so many more, and hearing that from Bruce's lips, about you, even as a child, hearing the-- the gentleness in his voice, something that might almost be longing, hit you like a kick to the gut. It still does. He's probably more likely to call you reckless and mouthy these days (though still graceful, and you wonder if he still watches), but once upon a time you'd been able to make him laugh, and he'd seemed to enjoy your company... The idea that Batman had been lonely and seen a solution to that in Dick Grayson...

You're still not entirely sure when that changed, or why (though you have some ideas that you hope aren't just wishful thinking), but it had. He'd kicked you out, said he was better off alone and then replaced you, so quickly, so easily, given someone else your name, the name your mother gave you, as if he had the right, and no matter how much you grew to care about Jason, it left you stranded, trying to carve out a new place for yourself, a new home, a new family, because he'd taken yours from you. Taken everything, except for the very first thing he gave you: a purpose. The one thing he couldn't take away.

His purpose. The only part of himself he couldn't take back, planted so deep inside you, you'd made it your own.

He raised you to be Robin, then kicked you out of the nest, and something in you broke in the fall. The first time you'd called someone else by your name, called Jason Robin... Your first thought was that you'd never hear him call you that again, and then you realized that at that moment, he had no idea who you were, no idea that Nightwing even existed (although Batgirl had probably told him, as much in his thrall as Robin ever was).

It had been both exhilarating, and terrifying, and it broke your heart.

It took you a long time to admit that maybe he'd done you a favor, that he pushed you out of the holding pattern you'd fallen into, splitting yourself between him and the Titans, trying to climb out from under his shadow, continually unable to escape -- but you've never been sure that this was intentional, and you've never really talked about it.

At least not in any way that makes it hurt any less.

So you're going to talk to him, have to talk to him, but you're not sure what you're going to say, whether you want to yell at him, or-- and you're trying not to think about how it involves Babs. Every thought is like that, veering off or disappearing when it starts nearing dangerous ground: why you need to talk to Bruce, what it has to do with Babs, why you feel like you've run out of time and have to do something right now--

Before it's too late.

You're out of time, and you're almost to Gotham, and you're going to talk to him. You're not going to take no for an answer -- unless no is the only answer he has for you. Unless he closes the door on you again.

And this time there might be no going back.

All these years later you realize what Bruce had already known: when he spun you out into the world, you were already more than halfway out the door. Had he decided to slam it shut before you changed your mind? Which one of you had he been trying to protect?

Had he realized that leaving was the only way you could come back to him again, be something more than his shadow?

Do you know what you want to be? What you want?

Batman isn't home, of course, not at this time of night. Oracle lets Nightwing know that before he even gets to the mansion, so he heads straight to Batman's last known location, glad that he'd change into costume before leaving Bludhaven, even if it had been the cowardice of not wanting to deal with Batman's reaction to his uniform.

She also says she hasn't heard from him since he arrived at the bar. Nightwing sees the flashing lights of the ambulance and cop cars, and it only takes a couple of questions to find out the right direction.

He can see the figures dancing along the bridge as he pulls to a halt, and it's a matter of moments before he's dancing himself.

The villain is a stranger, covered in tattoos, making promises of eternal protection for Gotham if Batman will just succumb to death, something about consuming the souls of those he kills and taking on their qualities, and Batman looks like he's almost listening, though of course he's just gathering information, letting the verbose tendencies of a certain flamboyant criminal element do his work for him.

At least Nightwing's pretty sure that's what Batman is doing.

But when the guy goes for his guns, he decides it's time to drop in -- literally. He doesn't know why, but the guy goes down without a fight. A less-than-formal introduction later and Matatoa is bound and stuffed into the back of the batmobile, and it's Dick Grayson, rookie of the Bludhaven police force, who follows Batman to Arkham Asylum and stays to take care of the paperwork. Batman might not approve of Dick's new job, but he's always been willing to use the tools at hand.

When he gets back to the cave, it's still Batman at the computer, cowl in place, researching Matatoa. It's not surprising, but Dick had been hoping. It's easier to talk to Bruce without the mask for him to hide behind.

Dick might not have much of a relationship with Bruce Wayne, but where he was going... this was already all new territory. "Batman?"

"Nightwing," he says, not even turning around. "Report."

"I took Matatoa to Arkham, where he's under evaluation. They'll contact me in the next forty-eight hours with their findings." Dick pulls off his glasses. "How's it going here?"

Batman has found mug shots, and Dick sees articles in English and Russian and other, unfamiliar languages on the screen, but he doesn't bother to read. Batman will tell him anything he wants him to know, and Dick's still trying to figure out how to broach his indelicate subject. It won't be easy if Batman is still so wrapped up in the case.

"I've traced him to at least four murders so far, and even an incomplete profile suggests he's responsible for several more. There's also evidence supporting his claim that he can absorb the qualities of those he's slain."

"I'll make sure Arkham gets those files." Dick climbs up out of the info pit and takes off his gun belt. He isn't use to the weight of it yet. He wonders if he ever will be.

"I don't want that here."

Dick looks over at him, blinking. The bastard still has eyes in the back of his head. "What? My gun? You want me to drive all the way back to Bludhaven tonight just to stash it?"

He takes a deep breath, knowing his reactions are only minimally about his gun, and that for Bruce, the gun is just a symbol of a deeper problem. Dick just isn't sure if the problem is with his job, or with him.

"Look, I know you have mixed feelings about the cop thing, but you're the one who sent me to the 'haven in the first place." He stashes his gun belt in a locker, rather more forcefully than is probably wise. "You wanted me to make a difference there, and that's what I'm trying to do," he says, leaning on the locker top to stare at the back of Batman's head. "If I decide joining the force is the best way to make that happen, then I'd hope you'd have enough faith in me by now to let it be."

In best Bat-fashion, Batman responds by changing the subject. "Why are you in Gotham?"

Dick stares at him. This is it, then. Out of time.

He rests his forehead on his arm, closing his eyes until his stomach settles a bit. Then he walks down to Batman's level. "Actually, that's what I came to talk to you about. You may have noticed I've been around more than usual lately. There's, uh-- There's kind of a reason for that."

Bruce is silent, but he at least turns to look at Dick.

"Surprise, surprise. You're gonna make me do this the hard way," Dick mutters to himself. "Okay, okay, I'll just say it."

He turns his head, but doesn't look directly at Batman. "Me and Babs-- I mean, uh, Barbara-- Oracle-- and I, well... You might have noticed that we've been spending more time together, and, uh, I..."

Bruce doesn't even change his expression, much less make any encouraging noises, and Dick just stands there, no idea what to say, not sure why he brought Babs up at all, because it wasn't about him and Babs, it was about--

He has to do this, has to know, because he can't go to Babs, ask her to be with him, unless he knows for sure. And the only way to know for sure is to ask, and see if Bruce will answer.

If he can just figure out what the damn question is, and how to ask it. Do you ever think about me? Do you ever wonder if I think about you?

Do you ever want me like I want you?


He walks over and stands by Batman's chair, looking down at the damn mask, wishing he could see Bruce's eyes, Bruce's face. Batman's face is a complete blank, waiting patiently, like he can wait forever.

He sometimes thinks Batman could, but Dick has waited long enough.

"Bruce, I need-- I need to know something. About you. And... me."

Nothing obvious changes, but there's a different tension in Bruce's shoulders. And still he waits.

"God." Dick rubs his hands on his pants. "Can you please take the damn mask off?"

Bruce stiffens, and at first Dick thinks he's going to refuse by simply not doing it. Then he raises his hands to peel the cowl back. His face is no less blank than the mask, but his brilliant blue eyes are wary.

"Thank you," Dick says, thinking that it should be easier, and finding to no surprise that it isn't. He knows there's no subtle way to find out what he needs to know, no time to take his time, but faced with that stony expression, he can't be blunt, either. "Bruce, I need to know if you have... any feelings for me. I mean, I know you care about me, but I need to know--" He clenches his fists. "If there's any chance that I could be more to you than-- more." He steps closer. "I want us to be more. I want there to be more between us than distance and disapproval. I want--"

Bruce turns away towards his computers again. "This is not s-- not something we should be talking about."

Dick knows exactly what Bruce bit off. This is not safe. He grabs him by the shoulder to pull him around, and Bruce comes, reluctantly. "Why not?! Why can't we talk about what I want, for a change? If you don't-- If you don't feel anything for me, just tell me so. But I need to know."

Bruce surges to his feet, looking down at Dick, a muscle twitching in his jaw. "I-- I have nothing to tell you. For God's sake, Dick, you're my--"

Dick feels a flare of triumph, because Bruce looks rattled, and Bruce never looks rattled. "I'm not your son, Bruce, and I know you feel something for me, something more than--" Dick lifts a hand to Bruce's cheek, but Bruce grabs his wrist in that grip of steel and steps back.

"This conversation is over," and it's Batman's voice, not Bruce's.

"What conversation? A conversation usually involves two people actually, you know. Talking." Dick tugs on his hand, and Bruce lets go rather too eagerly. "Talk to me, Bruce. Please. At least give me a reason, tell me that you don't feel the same way, something." Dick can hear the longing in his own voice.

"This conversation is over," Bruce repeats, and pulls the cowl up until Batman is back in place. He stares down at Dick a moment longer, then moves toward the batmobile in a flurry of cloak and disdain. "Suit up and meet me at Arkham."

If Dick were standing nearer a wall, he'd probably break his fist. Instead, he does what he always does when Batman says 'jump.' "What're we doing?" he says resignedly.

"Getting a sample of Matatoa's blood..."

The batmobile is gone in a squeal of tires before Nightwing even finishes changing. He pushes his anger and frustration into movement, and is on a batcycle and gone as fast as he can. He hasn't gone far before Babs tags him, and the sound of her voice sends a flood of guilt through him.

"Hey, hunk wonder," and her voice is Oracle's, but softer and more affectionate than he's ever heard her use with anyone else. "Matatoa broke out of Arkham, and your beloved mentor wants you to search the south route."

He knows there's nothing pointed, no knowledge, in her words, but he still winces. "On it," is all he can say, glad that for the most part, she likes to stick to business on an open channel.

He floors the bike, in spite of the rain, and wonders if Batman is thinking about him, or if he's done that thing where if he doesn't want to deal with it, it doesn't exist. Bruce is the one Dick has to connect with, the one he's lost, more and more as the years pass.

"Dick, you're close, forty-five degrees west, back in the city, the LexCorp parking construction site."

"In sight!"

Then Batman's voice comes over the line, cool and yet somehow disapproving, and suddenly Dick has more anger than he knows what to do with. "Nightwing. Corral but do not engage. Repeat, do not engage."

"Aw, come on," he says, gritting his teeth. "Just one little kick? I've got some aggression to work out." Babs will wonder. She can always tell when they've been fighting, even if it's a fight with neither words nor blows. She's always been the mediator between them, but this time Dick's lost his balance, and there's not a fucking thing Babs can do -- except kill him, if she finds out. When she finds out. With that thought, he wonders whether, even if he fails, he can ever go back to Babs. He may love her too much for that, whatever his own needs.

He really needs to kick some ass, and Matatoa seems to be the closest target.

He knows it's a really bad idea to ignore Batman. At the best of times, it's a bad idea, but why should he stop listening to the bad ideas now? Tonight's been nothing but bad ideas, and nothing's going to make it any better. Beating this guy to a pulp will just make it more fun -- and if it means that Batman isn't tempted by his line of bull, so much the better.

The batmobile pulls up as Nightwing opens with his initial taunt, and Matatoa takes the bait. Nightwing gets close enough to steal his sword, and Matatoa responds with guns blazing. Nightwing is still making evasive maneuvers when Batman appears, with his knack of being in the right place at the wrong time, in this case just in time to see Nightwing put a steel girder between himself and Matatoa's flurry of bullets.

"Don't--" comes the dark and deadly voice, "--try that again," as Batman seizes Matatoa's guns, and if Nightwing didn't know better, he'd think the Bat was angry -- but Batman doesn't get angry, he just gets cold and silent, and Dick's never really figured out a way through the ice. The harder he pushes, the colder and more distant Batman gets, the less of Bruce Dick sees, until lately the only time he's seen Bruce is when Batman set up his own "death," and that's still upsetting--

--and his reckless, providential distraction puts him in the way of Batman's flung body, Matatoa moving faster than apparently either of them realized. Nightwing blocks Batman's fall enough that he can grab a girder, while Nightwing drops to the one below. Except Batman only manages to grab it with one hand, and Matatoa is right there to take advantage.

Nightwing knows that Batman isn't really in any danger. If he falls, he can throw a line; there are plenty of things here to use as an anchor. The boy who used to be part of team, and the man who he has become, know that Batman expects him to exploit Matatoa's distraction. Dick Grayson resents this absolute, unflinching, coldly blind trust that allows him no choice; Nightwing simply obeys the orders that are never given in words, but in faith that hurts as much as it heals.

All in all, Nightwing has more than enough anger to go around, and hearing Matatoa wheedling Batman into death again, he makes him the focus of it, his feet solidly connecting with the man's back, kicking him off the structure to go plummeting. He doesn't even spare a glance for Batman hanging there as he follows Matatoa down, noting the familiar thwiiip of a line just seconds before grabbing Matatoa's bandolier and firing his own.

Flipping them both safely onto the crane, he gets in a few entirely unsatisfying kicks and blows before his arm is stopped by a grip of steel, and Batman takes over with the compassion he reserves for the criminally insane, promising Matatoa any help he needs, patron saint of the lost cause.

Matatoa doesn't know how rare that compassion is and throws it away, diving over the side, and Batman barely grabs hold of his hand in time. "Give me your other hand."

Batman surely sees the knife coming up in Matatoa's other hand, but Nightwing can't stop himself from calling a warning. He's grateful Batman doesn't try to hold on anyway. His cry of "NO!" as Matatoa falls into the river carries more emotion than Nightwing has heard from him all night.

"Is he--?"

"What do you think?" Batman says, and Dick feels like somehow it's his fault.

Batman has Oracle call in an anonymous tip, and then they walk the riverbank for a while, looking for any signs that Matatoa pulled himself out, making sure to keep out of sight of the arriving emergency vehicles.

When they finally get back to the cave, Dick pulls off his mask and calls Oracle to see whether the tip had born fruit, while Batman immediately turns to the computer. Dick supposes it was lucky they dragged the river at all, but he'd feel better if he could see the body. Batman seems oddly obsessed, even for him, staring at the virtual 3D reconstruction of the LexCorp building, with crane.

"Okay. Well, thanks for your help, Babs. Boss here says it was impossible to survive that fall, anyway."

"I said it was impossible for a normal human," Batman says thoughtfully.

Dick keeps one eye on Batman, which has the advantage of keeping him from looking directly at Babs. "I'll, uh -- talk to you later."

"Is that what they're calling it these days," she teases, but softly, and Dick feels guilty again, but he can't deal with that right now.

"He'll be over later," Batman adds, and Dick flushes.

"Later," he says, knowing he lies, hoping she'll understand, knowing she won't, and again, it's his fault.

Dick closes the connection and tries to figure out how to bring the unspeakable up again, but there's something else he wants to know, too. Bruce has always loved Gotham, put its needs above his own, and sometimes Dick wonders just how far he'd go.

"Hey, uh, I'm just wondering -- what Matatoa offered you, in its own sick way, it-- I mean, that is what you want, isn't it? To know that Gotham will be protected forever?" Turning back to Bruce, he pulls on the ends of the towel around his neck for something to do with his hands. "Because for a minute back there it looked like-- Well... you weren't really considering--?"

"Do you think the Maori are grateful that the skills of one of their medicine men are embodied forever in a homicidal stranger?"

At first, Dick thinks that Bruce has simply changed the subject again.

Bruce half-turns toward him. "In Matatoa, those gifts of skill and knowledge are perverted. The Maori shaman he killed should have had the chance to pass his wisdom down to his son, who, in turn, would have passed--"

And Dick realizes that Bruce thinks this is an answer, both to Dick's current question, and to the one he asked before, and his anger flares out of control. "I am not your son," he says, the last word harsh and bitter, cutting Bruce off as he pulls a folded sheet of paper from somewhere, probably his belt.

"I'm not your son," Dick says intently, stepping in close, ignoring the paper, "and I don't want to be your son. Can't you see that? Can't you see that I want-- That we could be so much more?" He presses his palm to Bruce's chest, over his heart. "I know that you feel it. I know it."

Dick hears the sound of crumpling paper as Bruce clenches his fists. "I can't-- I don't--" He can't seem to get the words out.

Dick starts stroking his chest, and Bruce just stands there, like he's frozen. "I know you've thought of this, of us -- you must have, Bruce. I can't be alone in how I feel, I can't possibly be the only one who wants--" He slides his arms up, intending to pull Bruce's head down, persuade him with his mouth, with his body, only his action seems to goad Bruce into finally moving. Suddenly Dick is sprawled on the floor, looking up at a Batman in fighting position, knees bent and braced, fists ready, teeth bared, and Dick is almost afraid of him -- and more than a little turned on, which he finds almost disturbing. Almost.

"I do not want this, and I will not have this conversation," Batman grinds out, before turning and walking away, deeper into the cave.

Dick watches him go, then lies there for a minute staring up at the darkness, stunned, but no less determined. Alfred would say it was his tendency towards mutiny, but Dick just sees himself as the irresistible force that refuses to let the immovable object have its own way all the time.

And he is going to get Bruce to move, one way, or another.

As he heads out of the cave, up to the mansion, he hears a rhythmic pounding he quickly identifies as the steady, brutal thump of the punching bag. He can only trust that it indicates some doubt on Batman's part -- on Bruce's. Something to give him a hope of success.

II. We have another

Forty-five minutes later, you're standing in front of Bruce's bedroom window, staring out into the darkness, waiting for silence to signal the end of his shower. You can't remember ever being this nervous, not the first time you performed in public, not the first time you had to let go and trust to someone else to catch you -- not during the early days of your training as Robin, so desperate to prove yourself, to make a place for yourself, here, with him. And yet it reminds you of all of these, the same feeling of dire importance, the foreboding sense that if you don't get this right, don't figure it out, nothing is ever going to be the same. That you'll lose -- everything worth having. Again.

It's like diving off the highest building in the world and not knowing whether your line has caught, or not.

The carpet is thick under your bare feet as you shift nervously. You can feel the cold on the other side of the glass, but it feels like there's a fire behind you. You're impatient, waiting for him, but it's impatience tempered by nervousness and something like fear, of what, you're not certain.

Surely finding you like this, half-naked in his bedroom, he can't ignore it -- can't continue to deny, to elide, to slide away from any hint or suggestion that what you feel for him is so different than what a true son feels for a father -- something more primal, hotter...hungrier.

You can only hope he feels the same way.

You think he does.

But this is Batman, and for someone so brilliant, so precise, he can ignore so very much. He is as much a master of denial as anything else. And if he continues to deny you, to pretend that you are simply the child he never had, never made you -- then you will accept it, gladly accept whatever role he allows you, without regret.

It's a lie, but it's a lie you need, or you'll never try to change it.

But he has to be the one to choose it. You have to make him choose it -- and don't think about how you've never been able to make him do anything he doesn't want to. You have to make him want it.

And...if, in the end, he chooses only to keep you as close as a son, no closer, always at arm's length, never touching -- then you will pick up that mask and wear it until it's part of your skin, just one more mask among many. The idea that he would do that, use that as an excuse, angers you even now, but better that than nothing.

You'd do anything for him. Anything. He's never really understood how very much you mean that.

And if he chooses to keep you closer... You shiver, unable to think that far ahead.

But it's what's ahead that has you pushing this, pushing it now. It has to be now, because it's not just about you and Bruce, anymore. Someone else's heart is at stake, and you won't let her risk hers until you know you can go to her with your own heart free -- or as close as you come in this life. Babs deserves better than that. You won't treat her the way you have others, as if she were a substitute for what you've really wanted and were too afraid to ask for. But you can never go to her with a clear heart, not knowing.

And if the answer is no, if you leave here a well-loved son, simply a son, you will go to her, not as someone seeking comfort, but seeking... salvation. It doesn't matter which way the path turns, you lose, some possibility is gone -- but that's always true, isn't it? Until now, you've never known that you could love two people so much, in such similar ways. If you didn't have to choose...

But everyone has to make choices.

In some odd way, knowing that she's there gives you strength of purpose. She's no lesser prize, no safety net. She's someone who knows you, under all the masks, who needs you as much and in the same way as you need. Who knows you need the masks, to stay alive. To stay sane. Not a net, but another pair of hands, a pair of arms to catch you and guide you to safety. And there are fewer masks with her.

And yet...you know that even then, there will be a part of you that she'll never have, that's not even yours to give. But that has always been true, and she knows it. Batman has always come first. He always will, as father, or... other. Whichever he chooses.

Dick presses the palm of his right hand flat against the cool glass, as if that could steady the wild careening of his mind. As agile as he is, and he can't catch his balance tonight.

He shifts from side to side, feeling restless, ill-at-ease. There's an itch right between his shoulder blades, but he ignores it. He knows scratching it won't do any good; it's just waiting for the eyes that will bore into his back as soon as Bruce comes out of the bathroom.

He's not sure this is a good idea.

Strike that. He knows this is yet another really bad idea, but it's the only idea he has, and he's not Bruce, who seems to think, when it comes to personal matters, that if you don't look, it can't hurt.

Dick's tired of hurting.

The shower stops, and it's all he can do to not turn around, to start this out face-to-face, but he's not sure he can stand to see the first emotion that crosses Bruce's face -- or the first emotion that doesn't, more likely. There's nothing quite as cold as the mask of a man who can hide so completely in plain sight.

"Nightwing?"

From anyone else, it wouldn't have been a question, the lilt of it faint enough to be indefinite. But Dick has been interpreting the ambiguity of that voice most of his life. He knows why Bruce chose Nightwing, rather than Dick, evoking the masks, keeping it less personal. He did the same thing when this...tension grew between them, stopped being good old Bruce almost entirely, and lost himself in Batman where Dick was concerned.

Two seconds in, and he's already practicing spin control.

Dick's tired of spinning, too.

"Bruce," he says, both answer and challenge. The window is sweating around his palm. He pulls his hand back and wipes it down the front of his sleep pants, digging his toes into the rug as the silence draws out.

His eyes are unfocused, and he's listening more than looking, so he almost misses Bruce coming up behind him. The movement is reflected in the mirror of the window. Now the itch prickles across his whole back, and he has a brief fantasy of Bruce reaching for him, pulling him back to rest against that broad chest.

Bruce has never been the nurturing kind. For a giddy moment, Dick wonders if Bruce will use that as an argument. I should have held you more as a child. In his current state of mind, it just sounds dirty. Anyway, Dick's not sure he ever was a child, to Bruce. He'd certainly never treated him like one, leaving it up to Alfred to do the pampering and praising. In an odd way, Dick valued that.

The silence continues, and Dick knows it's up to him. He's always lost these games; Bruce could outwait a stone, and silence between them has always made Dick restless. From fights to conversations, Bruce controlled things by forcing the other person to move first. And if you control the conversation... Dick just hopes he knows Bruce's moves well enough to counter them.

He licks his dry lips, suddenly aware that he has no idea how to start this. One of the most important moments of his adult life, and his ready tongue deserts him. Humor will allow Bruce to be the serious one, the adult; accusation or demand will put Dick on the defensive.

"I can't do this anymore," is what comes out of his mouth. It sounds calm, not overly emotional, but determined. Go, me, he thinks.

That elicits a deep sigh from Bruce, but to give him credit, he doesn't pretend to misunderstand. "Dick, I know you think--"

"Don't. Just. Don't patronize me." Dick clenches his own hands into fists. "You don't get to be older and wiser in this -- neither of us has that great a track record. And you don't get to believe that I'm still too young to know better -- that this is just some kind of fucking hero worship." He breathes deeply, and deliberately relaxes his shoulders and hands.

"You don't get to tell yourself that anymore." He holds one hand up in front of his face, palm inward, and looks at it almost clinically, before slowly making it into a fist to stop the trembling. "This -- how I feel -- is real. It exists. And I don't think that you're...indifferent...to me. Much as you wish you were."

"I don't know what you want me to say." For Bruce, it sounds almost defensive.

Dick's laugh is sharp and bitter. "Nice move, Bruce. Stall, deflect having to answer, and put the burden on me. A bullshit trifecta." He turns around now to see Bruce behind him in his robe, open over black boxer briefs. It's only when Bruce ties his robe closed that Dick realizes he's been staring, letting his eyes wander. He raises his eyes to Bruce's, not without some difficulty. There's a certain triumph in having made him react even that much.

Dick feels a compulsion to cross his own arms in response, both because he feels vulnerable, and because he wants to reach out and touch, so badly, but he resists, unwilling to put more barriers between them, or to move too fast.

"I want to know -- am I wrong? I think you feel something for me; I think you feel a lot, actually, but you've spent so long pretending you don't that you might as well not." He has to swallow hard before he can continue. "I want to know if there's anything left for me here."

It's subtle, not something anyone else would see, anyone who hasn't been as close to this man as you could get without being him, but Dick can tell that Bruce is nervous, ill at ease. It's something in the tension in his body, the way his weight is balanced. "I thought that you and Barbara--"

"This isn't about Babs and me." Dick spares a guilty thought for her. Another conversation he's not looking forward to.

"You shouldn't--"

"Stop doing that! Just...stop." Dick raises a hand between them, as if to ward Bruce off, then falters and reaches out instead, stepping in close until he can touch the skin revealed at the V in Bruce's robe. He pulls his hand back sharply as Bruce nearly flinches, then deliberately rests his palm over the opening, only two fingers actually touching naked skin. Just another inch or two, and his entire forearm would be against Bruce's chest. He raises his eyes from where his hand rests to Bruce's face, and what he sees there gives him hope. When he speaks, his voice is low and intense. "I swear, whatever you say, I'll accept. If you say that there's nothing here, that I'm imagining things, I'll accept that. I won't be happy, but I'll accept it. But you have to be honest with me. Don't reject this because you think you should -- because you're wrong."

Dick shakes his head, his eyes still on Bruce's, who stands as if mesmerized, eyes wide and dark. "I know what you think. You think that I'm confused, that I'm still living in some adolescent crush. You think that giving in would be a weakness, that it would demonstrate some vile flaw in you -- that you'd be taking advantage of me.

"You think that if we give in, it would interfere with our mission, make us less effective, maybe even put us at risk for each other -- but when hasn't that been true? And what if it helps?"

Dick moves just a bit closer, until there's only the barest space between them, and it's vibrating, humming with tension, and it's just like getting ready to leap off into space without a net.

"When you started to feel-- You couldn't handle it. You pushed me away, and you're still pushing me away. You've never been able to admit how you feel about me, about anything." Dick's voice drops to a whisper. "You couldn't even admit you missed me without immediately pushing me away again. You've always kept me at arm's length." Dick spreads his hand against Bruce's chest, slipping his fingers inside the edges of his robe. As he continues talking, he brings his hand down, fingers splayed wide, watching his hand instead of Bruce's face. "I'm not at arm's length anymore, Bruce. I'm here. I belong here, with you, if not necessarily in Gotham. Why can't you see that?"

Bruce's robe slips open as Dick's hand strokes down, and then there's a flash of movement and Bruce grabs Dick's wrist, hard, stopping the downward motion. His hand is battered and slightly swollen, the skin broken, and Dick knows it wasn't that way when he left him, down in the cave with the punching bag. He brings his other hand up and traces his fingers lightly over the bruised skin. Dick hears the small, quick intake of breath, an immense lapse in control for Bruce, and Bruce's hand tightens on Dick's wrist, almost to the point of pain. Dick rubs his fingertips down the back of Bruce's hand, rubbing lightly at the hair on his wrist. When he tries to move his other hand further down Bruce's stomach, Bruce doesn't stop him. He stops himself with his hand splayed across Bruce's navel, thumb and smallest fingertip touching the band of his briefs.

Bruce is breathing heavily now, for him, at least, and his silence is of a different quality, of a man who can't speak, rather than a man who won't.

"I told you I'd die for you -- and I meant it. You said you didn't know how to ask me to..." Dick curls his fingertips until they're hooked in the waistband, sliding just inside, tugging it down slightly, and then he looks up at Bruce. Bruce is staring at him, as if afraid of what he'll say -- or do -- next. "Do you know how to ask me to live for you? Can you finally let yourself have something good?" Bruce's hold on his wrist is more gentle now, almost a caress. "I think we'd be so good," Dick says, almost wistfully, sliding his fingers back and forth along Bruce's belly.

Bruce releases Dick's wrist, and then he slides his left hand along Dick's arm, palm against the sensitive underside, until he's cupping Dick's elbow. He brings his other hand up and brushes his fingertips almost tentatively against Dick's cheek -- and Dick realizes that his hand is trembling.

"I must be insane," Bruce says, his voice rough. "You make me insane," and then he slips his hand behind Dick's neck and pulls him up into a kiss. Dick meets him more than halfway.

Their first kiss, and it's everything Dick could have ever imagined, and more. Wet, and rough, and bruising, and incandescently hot, and Bruce's hand is large enough to span the back of Dick's head and hold him just where he wants him while his mouth takes control. Dick feels triumphant, and giddy, and suddenly it's all moving so fast.

Bruce kisses as if he's been thinking about this every day, every moment, for years, and Dick can't stop whimpering, fisting his hand in the fabric of Bruce's briefs. He's happy to stand here, kissing and being kissed, for as long as Bruce wants to. He thinks he could stand here until the Joker stops smiling. He's so hard, and that just makes it all feel even better.

Then Bruce's arms are around him, holding him close, and Dick is climbing Bruce's body. He can't get close enough, touch enough of Bruce's skin, and he pushes at Bruce's robe until Bruce shrugs it off, one arm at a time, keeping Dick held close, and the kiss never entirely stops, punctuated by deep shuddering breaths and half-articulated sounds that make no sense. Dick runs his hands over Bruce's back and shoulders, tracing the scars that are almost as familiar to him as his own.

Bruce slides his hands down to cup Dick's ass and pull him in tight, and Dick can feel Bruce's cock, hard against his own, and he thinks he just might die. He throws his head back, gasping, squeezing his legs around Bruce's hips, shuddering and thrusting slightly, and Bruce grinds back against him and it's all so much more intense than he could have ever believed. There's a roaring in his ears, and he wants so much and doesn't know where to begin.

Then Bruce moves, and his hands shift to Dick's waist and pull him away from Bruce's hard, perfect body. Dick resists, mindlessly, but he has no leverage in this position, and Bruce succeeds in pushing Dick from him -- only to toss him down on the bed to bounce lightly, startling laughter from him, laughter broken up as Bruce's quick hands snag Dick's sleep pants, pulling them not-quite-smoothly off his legs.

His laughter is choked off entirely as Bruce just stands there, looking at him, and Dick forgets how to breathe. He should feel awkward, flustered, his legs splayed, no sign of his usual grace as far as he can tell, but all he feels is the heat in Bruce's eyes as he draws them along Dick's body, like a drowning man sighting land.

"Bruce?" he breathes, when he can't take it anymore, when he thinks that he has to say something, do something, or he'll burn away to nothing but ash. Bruce's eyes snap to his, and there's a desperation there that threatens to break something in Dick, and he has to move, to take that look away in any way he can. He's on his knees and moving without thinking about it, begging, hands out until he's touching Bruce, hands on his shoulders, and Bruce's eyes snap into focus, really seeing Dick in a way they weren't just seconds before. His skin is warm and damp, and Dick wants to press against it, wants to be past all the reasons why not, the excuses, the barriers that have kept them apart for too long -- too long to ruin it with impatience. And if Bruce has taught him anything, it's patience.

"Dick, I..."

"It's okay, Bruce. It's okay," and Dick's voice is a soothing murmur, as if he could gentle Bruce with his voice, keep him from bolting like a deer startled by the crack of a gun, a picture that doesn't fit anything Dick knows of this man. He's famous for knowing no fear, and yet Dick can almost smell it rising from his beautiful, beautiful body.

"No, it's--"

"Yes."

Bruce shakes his head soundlessly, as if words fail him. They've never been his favorite tool, although usually Bruce handles them better than Batman does. It gives Dick hope, because he knows that he's already behind the mask, underneath, at the core of this man, inside him in a way no one else can ever be. He just has to get Bruce to see it, too, to see that this is where Dick belongs.

Bruce is still standing there, hands at his side, but they're flexing, and clenching, and he can almost feel how hard Bruce has to work to not put his hands on Dick. It's agonizing, because there's nothing Dick wants more at this moment. He just has to figure out how hard he can push. He rubs one hand in small circles against Bruce's shoulder.

"What do you want, Bruce?"

Clenching, and flexing, and his eyes are on Dick's body, not his face, and Dick wants to laugh with the pleasure of it. "I can't--"

"You can. You have. God, I want you to, so badly," Dick says, and he can hear his own longing, sharp and aching.

Bruce's hands are in fists now, as if that could stop him, has ever stopped him, from going after what he wants, and Dick can see that he still wants this, and he's not backing away, he's not even looking like he can. His tongue slips out to wet his lips, and Dick wants to taste him, needs to, vibrates with that need, but he keeps still, not even digging his fingers into Bruce's skin, which he finds almost irresistible.

When Bruce does speak, his voice is a mere shadow of itself, as if it's sneaking out when his attention is elsewhere, still on Dick's feverish skin. "I kept wanting to touch you, and--"

"Touch me now, Bruce," and he's openly pleading and can't care, as long as Bruce does it.

And Bruce does, as if he can't help himself, his hands moving to brush Dick's sides, haltingly at first, then more smoothly, lingeringly. Dick doesn't think Bruce even realizes when his touch changes and becomes a sensual, purely sexual movement, but oh, Dick does.

"This is wrong--" Bruce begins, then stops, as if he knows it's futile, even misguided, but has to try.

"Why? Why is it wrong? I'm not a child anymore, Bruce. We're both adults, and I know what I want. I think-- you want it too." Dick presses his palms flat against Bruce's shoulders, fingers splayed, touching as much of him as he can without moving too fast. He wants to drag his palms slowly down Bruce's chest, thumb his nipples to see if they're as sensitive as Dick's own, take them in his mouth-- He bites his lip, hard, and looks back up into Bruce's eyes as his hands tighten on Dick's waist. There's still torment there, but they're dark and wide, and his nostrils flare as if he can smell Dick, and Dick is so hard he aches. The delay, and he knows it's only a delay now, just a puzzle he has to solve to convince Bruce to really touch him, to take him, oh God, the delay both drives him crazy and feels so good. He leans in closer, breathing in, smelling the clean, soapy scent rising off Bruce's heated skin.

Bruce closes his eyes briefly, then opens them again. There's a tic in the corner of his jaw, and his thumbs press so tightly into Dick's pelvis that there will be bruises for him to agonize over later, Dick hopes. "It was me, I did something--" Bruce stops again, as if he can't continue.

For one appalled moment, Dick misunderstands, thinks that he's misunderstood all along, misunderstood Bruce's resistance, his torment -- but only for a moment, because that kind of mindless ignorance is no part of the man he knows.

"No," he says, as forcefully as he can, absolute conviction in his voice. "You didn't make me want this -- make me want who I want, make me want you. You never did anything to make me think--" He cups Bruce's face in his hands, makes him raise lowered eyes, lowered in guilt, in shame, so that he can force Bruce to accept the truth. "You've never done anything that made me think you wanted me before." Dick laughs and hears the intoxicated timbre of it. "God, if only I'd had a clue, I wouldn't have been so terrified tonight." He grins, and his heart lightens to see one corner of Bruce's mouth curl, ever so slightly, though there's still a pinched look to his face, as if he doesn't dare believe.

One short moment, then Dick kisses him, has to kiss him, willing him to understand, to believe, tilting Bruce's head and closing his own eyes as Bruce kisses him back, so tentatively, a kiss more of promise than passion, and all the sweeter for that. Then Bruce sighs, his mouth opening, and Dick takes full advantage, tongue curling in, heat rising up through his body again as Bruce's tongue licks his, and his arms pull Dick in closer. So much promise.

Dick pulls back, gasping a little, wrapping his own arms around Bruce as Bruce rests his forehead on Dick's shoulder. "I'm not your son," he says gently. "Yes, you helped raise me, you and Alfred, and I'd be proud to claim you as my father if-- if I didn't want more. So much more," he adds, his body aching with that want.

Bruce's arms tighten around him convulsively, and Dick laughs again, joyfully.

"There's nothing wrong with this, with my wanting you," Dick says, then pulls back to whisper in Bruce's ear, as if afraid of revealing a secret, his lips brushing Bruce's skin. "Nothing wrong with my seeing all of you, and still wanting." He trails his lips down Bruce's throat, punctuating his next words with soft kisses, his tongue slipping out to taste because he can't help himself. "There's nothing-- about-- you-- that I don't love." He laughs darkly when Bruce shivers.

"Dick," Bruce tries again, but the pinched lines of his face have eased, and Dick shivers a little himself to see the heat building in his eyes again, to feel Bruce's hands stroking restlessly over his back, brushing down over his hips.

He leans back in Bruce's arms and presses his fingers across Bruce's lips, lightly rubbing the back of Bruce's neck with his other hand. "Do you want me?" he says softly.

Bruce breathes heavily through his nose, as if opening his mouth would be giving too much ground, but he doesn't say a word. He doesn't have to, his now heavy-lidded gaze speaking louder than almost anything he could say, no matter how much Dick wants to hear it.

"If you don't want this, if it's going to make you hide from me...then I'll leave. Right now, and I'll never bring it up again."

"Dick, we shouldn't--" and Bruce has never been a man to give in easily, or gracefully, but Dick knows he's won by the way Bruce touches him, by the trace of hunger in his voice.

"I'd ask you to give me a good reason, but you'd actually still think you had some. Do you want this?" He knows the answer, can see it in Bruce's body, but he also knows that Bruce has to admit it, hear himself saying it, for it to be real. "Do you want me?"

Bruce shudders, he actually shudders, then hisses, "God, yes. I want this," as if it's both a blessing, and a curse. Then, "I want this -- you -- too much," he almost whispers.

"How can you want it too much when it's resisting it that's hurting us? When you can have me?" Dick leans in and brushes his lips over Bruce's. "Hush," he says, soft against Bruce's mouth, letting one finger slide between their lips. "Let me show you it's okay. You're allowed to want. You're allowed to have something for yourself."

This time his kiss is relentless, and he pulls Bruce down towards the bed as he kisses him, falling back and hooking one ankle behind Bruce's knee. Bruce moves with him, easily, then catches hold of Dick's wrists in his hands, pulling them away from Bruce's body, letting Dick down on the bed, alone.

"Bruce--" Dick stops as Bruce stands up and slides his hands down his hips to strip off his briefs, no hesitation in his movements. Dick gulps, suddenly finding it hard to breathe, and this time it's his turn to stare, tracing his eyes over Bruce's scarred, splendid body. He licks his lips, wanting to trace them over every single knife wound and bullet hole, to memorize the map of Bruce's life with his mouth. Bruce's hands clench at his sides again, and then he shakes himself, as if shrugging something off, and he's moving again, climbing up on the bed, and Dick scrambles backwards to give them both room, then leans back on his hands. Bruce kneels between his legs, and for a minute Dick thinks he's going to have Dick take him in his mouth, and it sends a hot jolt straight through him, a fantasy on the verge of coming true.

Then Bruce sits back on his heels and takes Dick's wrists in his hands again, loosely. Dick shivers, and Bruce raises an eyebrow as he smiles wickedly and slowly raises them up over Dick's head before pressing Dick backwards onto the mattress with his body. Dick can't stop the groan that escapes as Bruce's hips press against him, and he responds helplessly as Bruce's mouth intercepts the sound. Whatever resistance Bruce had has melted away, and he leans on his elbows, pinning Dick's wrists to the bed while he takes, and takes, and takes from Dick's willing mouth, hips pressing and sliding hotly.

Bruce catches both wrists in one hand, never lifting his mouth, and strokes the other along and under Dick's shoulder, down his side to palm his buttock, kneading it firmly. Then he presses Dick's hips up into his own, before sliding his hand around and pushing Dick's knee up, opening him up. Bruce's cock slides hotly against him, first along Dick's cock, then slipping further back. Dick struggles against Bruce's grip and arches his hips up, overwhelmed with need. Bruce is hot and hard against him, but not. Yet. Close. Enough.

Bruce presses Dick's leg up until it curves around his waist, and then he slides his hand down between Dick's legs, resting his palm along the juncture of his thigh, stroking his thumb back to rub softly over the opening to Dick's body. Dick arches, pressing his hips up again, wanting to feel something, anything, inside him. Bruce carefully presses the tip of his thumb in-- and pulls his head back to look down at Dick, eyes a little wild as his thumb slides in slickly and smoothly.

"Christ, Bruce, you have to--" Dick can't think even to beg, just presses his hips up, over and over, and Bruce lets him, lets Dick fuck himself on Bruce's thumb while he searches Dick's face.

"Dick, you-- Dear God, you've already--" His voice is hoarse, sharp-edged and dangerous.

Dick groans, hooking his leg over Bruce's hip, trying to pull him in closer. "I may have-- anticipated things a bit," he grinds out between clenched teeth. "If I managed-- I didn't want to waste time-- God, Bruce, please! If you don't fuck me I'm gonna--"

He stills as Bruce pulls his hand back, only to buck against Bruce's confining grip as Bruce takes himself in hand and guides his cock against Dick's opening. His hand stretches Dick wide as he pushes inside, slow and steady, staring down into Dick's face with a look that's as exciting as it is terrifying. Dick feels helpless, and more aroused than he's ever been in his life.

Bruce hooks his arm under Dick's knee, bracing himself on the bed as he moves almost lazily, rocking his hips back and forth, breathing out in a steady stream as he presses in, oh, so slowly driving Dick utterly mad. All Dick can do for long moments is lie there, spread out and pinned, and feel the relentless glide of Bruce's cock, his mind blown by the pleasure of it, of the strength and weight and sheer control of Bruce's body around and against and inside his own. But as the deep, gliding stroke continues, he wants more, more force and power, but also more control of his own -- and less of Bruce's. He wants to do to Bruce what Bruce is doing to him, see that wild look take over his face again, take his control away -- and he wants to move. He can't not move against his confinement, not because he wants Bruce to let go, but simply to feel how tightly he's held.

With three limbs pinned, his options are limited, but his own body is strong and agile, and he's been in tighter spots than this, with less incentive. He strokes his free leg along Bruce's sweat-slick back and buttocks, anywhere he can reach, and presses his mouth to the sensitive inner skin of Bruce's arm, where it passes close to his face. Nipping and sucking and licking, he then starts working his hips against the smooth, steady rhythm that Bruce has set, thrusting his hips up harder, so that the angle is deeper, trying to disrupt Bruce's controlled timing with his own passionate instincts.

Three arching thrusts of his hips, and Bruce grits his teeth, almost grinning down at Dick, like it's a competition. Three more, and he can hear a hitch in Bruce's breathing, feel a shift in his body as he tries to maintain his pace. Dick opens his mouth to use his last weapon, to say all the things he wants, what he wants to do to Bruce, but when he speaks, all that comes out is, "Bruce, please--" in an aching, breathless voice as he flexes his hands and strains at Bruce's grip again.

Bruce groans, releasing Dick's wrists, twining the fingers of his left hand with Dick's right, holding it tight but leaving the other free. Dick takes the advantage, slinging his now-free arm around Bruce's neck, pulling him down even as he raises his head to meet his mouth, and though he can't continue his counter-rhythm against Bruce's thrusts, he doesn't have to, as Bruce's movements become less ordered, less rhythmic, more powerful, and he's fucking Dick like he can't contain himself.

Dick's cock is untouched, with only the occasional friction from the press of their bodies, but it doesn't matter. He holds on to Bruce's shoulders, overwhelmed, his body stretched and filled, and then he comes, pulling his head back to gasp as he pulses between them. Bruce pulls back to look at his face, then breathes out, "God, Dick," and presses his mouth to Dick's throat in a sucking bite under his ear. Dick has no time to relax as Bruce keeps moving, driven by his own pleasure now, and when he pulls back to look down at Dick again, Dick can't stop looking into Bruce's eyes, as wild as he could have dreamed. Bruce doesn't last long, and he thrusts awkwardly, three times more, four, five until he stills and comes, shuddering, holding Dick's hand so tight he almost can't bear it. Dick thinks that he'll never forget how Bruce looks, and he wants to see that look over and over again.

He's never seen Bruce look so... unguarded.

After a few moments, Bruce loosens his grip and unhooks his arm from Dick's leg, pausing to press his mouth to Dick's calf. Then he lets his weight down gently, slowly withdrawing as he does, until his head rests on Dick's shoulder, silent except for his breathing, which hasn't quite returned to normal. Dick feels justifiably smug about that. He relaxes his legs, and they lie there in silence, Bruce's weight a solid enjoyment, not yet a burden. He cups his palm around the nape of Bruce's neck and rubs it softly. He wonders if Bruce can feel the slight tremble of his hand.

Bruce softly rubs Dick's palm with his thumb. Just before the point Dick thinks he'll have to ask him to move, he does, rolling off to lie on his back, his eyes closed.

He's still holding Dick's hand. It's the injured one, the one he damaged after Dick left him alone in the cave. He pulls it to his mouth and presses his lips softly to the back. He mouths the abraded skin, lips open to brush over the bruised knuckles.

"This... isn't what I'd imagined." Bruce's voice is still a little rough.

Dick feels a thrill at the admission that he'd imagined anything at all, and wonders if he'll ever get Bruce to tell him the details. "Maybe I just have a better imagination."

The corner of Bruce's mouth quirks. He doesn't open his eyes. "We need to talk. But... not yet."

He stifles the instinctive smart-ass remark about what a shock this is. "Okay."

He presses his mouth against Bruce's hand once more, then lets go of it to climb off the bed. Bruce opens his eyes to watch, but doesn't say anything.

In the bathroom, he cleans up and then wets two cloths with warm water, bringing them back into the bedroom, along with a towel. Bruce watches him through half-closed eyes as Dick kneels beside him on the bed, dropping the towel on the bed, and one of the cloths on his own naked thigh.

"Mmmm," is Bruce's only reply as Dick starts washing him, leaving a faint slick of soap on his skin. He takes his time, and Bruce lets his thighs fall open, stroking one hand up and down Dick's back. His face is shuttered when Dick glances at him, as if his mind is engaged again, on some level. That won't do, not yet.

He tosses the soapy cloth towards the bathroom door, but it falls short, on the carpet.

"Alfred won't approve."

Dick blinks at him, the mention of the very proper, very reserved Alfred clashing with the setting, with his hand on Bruce's naked thigh.

"I'll pick it up before he sees it. He'll never know." Dick uses the other wet cloth to wipe away the soap, slowly stroking between Bruce's thighs, cupping his balls, sliding over his still-flaccid cock. Dick realizes he hadn't thought about all of this far enough to consider Alfred, or anyone else, really. Thank God Tim hadn't been around much lately. Dick wasn't ready to deal with that. He couldn't begin to predict how Tim would react, but they'd deal with that later, as well. It could all wait until later.

The rinsing cloth and towel follow the first, but Bruce's skin is still damp and warm as Dick kneels between Bruce's spread legs. He runs his hands along Bruce's thighs, remembering the force and power of them, as aroused by the strength and control of Bruce's body as its nudity.

Bending, he strokes the flat of his tongue along the join of leg and torso, mouthing slowly across Bruce's belly, tugging lightly at the dark hair with his lips. He can still taste traces of soap, and under that, sweat. He can't count the number of times he's fantasized about doing this. It still doesn't seem quite real, and he proceeds slowly, savoring it.

"You know, I'm not as young as I used to be," Bruce says lazily, his hand threading through Dick's hair.

Dick lifts his head enough to grin up at him. "It's just a matter of good circulation, I hear. Given your level of fitness..." He drops his head to lip Bruce's balls, and is rewarded with a deepening groan, and Bruce tightens his hand in Dick's hair.

One hand gently holding Bruce's cock, Dick lightly rolls his balls in his mouth, one at a time, curling his tongue around them. His cock remains soft, but Bruce arches his hips slightly, spreading his thighs wider. Dick moves to take mouth his cock, playing with the shaft with his lips and tongue while he presses one thumb beneath Bruce's balls, stroking firmly along the soft skin there.

"You... seem to know what you're doing," Bruce breathes.

Dick smiles up at him, and it feels somehow both pleased and predatory. "I've... had some practice. Maybe I'll tell you about it someday," he says softly, grinning wider as Bruce's eyes narrow.

Then he takes Bruce's cock into his mouth, and suddenly he's hungry for it, wants to feel him hard and thrusting. He lets one hand drift up Bruce's stomach, and Bruce catches it in his own hand, pulling it up to his face. He slides three fingers into his mouth, sucking on them hard, sliding his tongue between them, and Dick feels the jolt straight to his own cock. He groans loudly, sucking harder himself, and Bruce's hips thrust slightly. Dick can feel him hardening in his mouth, and it drives him a little crazy.

Bruce pulls Dick's fingers from his mouth, then presses them against his breast, his own hand curving over Dick's, fingers tangling, rubbing against his hard nipple. He raises his knees, feet flat on the bed, and Dick looks around wildly as best he can, imagining Bruce splayed and open on the bed. He pinches Bruce's nipple sharply, rewarded with another heated groan, and then he's raising his hand towards Bruce's mouth again, sliding his fingers in to rub against Bruce's tongue and teeth. Bruce is fully erect now, and Dick brings his other hand up to wrap around the base, squeezing and stroking as he moves his head, letting the tip slide wetly in and out of his mouth, sucking on it. Pulling his wet fingers from Bruce's mouth, he brings them down and presses the tips of two between Bruce's thighs, waiting for a response before he presses harder. The noise Bruce makes is nothing like language, but Dick understands it, and slowly presses two fingers into Bruce's body, overwhelmed by his own daring.

Bruce's hand in his hair is almost painful, and Dick loves it, loves it when Bruce's other hand cups his face, a finger tracing the edge of his mouth before sliding in alongside Bruce's cock. He licks at it, nips lightly with his teeth, and Bruce jerks, pressing down on Dick's hand, and Dick is almost fucking him with his fingers and he wants so badly to--

--then Bruce has him by the shoulders and pulls him up, devouring his mouth, and Dick lets him, sliding his fingers out to tangle them in Bruce's hair. He can feel Bruce's cock sliding against him, his hips still thrusting. Dick pulls his head back and grins fiercely, determined that this time, he's going to be the one in control.

He reaches back, and still slick from before, easily impales himself on Bruce's cock, gloating as Bruce's breath catches.

"God, Dick--"

"Yeah," he murmurs, catching Bruce's wrists in his hands and pressing them to either side of his head. Bruce could easily break free, but doesn't, only lightly testing Dick's grip, as if to know it's there. Dick wonders if they're alike in this, turned-on by being held down, regardless of the ease of escape.

Bracing his arms, he starts fucking himself, fucking Bruce, setting the rhythm and pace, as hard and as fast as he can move. Bruce brings his hips up into Dick's downward glide so that he hits solidly, and it jolts through him with each movement, and soon he's gasping, bitten-off curses escaping his lips, and Bruce grins tightly, competing again, each of them fighting for control of the pace, and it's exquisite.

Dick keeps moving until he sees that open, unguarded look creeping over Bruce's face again, keeps going until Bruce almost whimpers, "Enough!" His own cock is hard and aching, and he can't care, his whole body tingling. It catches him off-guard when Bruce breaks his hold, cupping Dick's ass in his palms to slide him forward.

Dick comes almost as soon as he feels Bruce's mouth on his cock.

He falls forward, putting his hands up to catch himself on the headboard, thrusting weakly a few times as Bruce sucks him hard, hands squeezing his buttocks. When it's over, he can't move, can barely see, his head heavy. Bruce nips his thigh sharply, and keeps molding his ass in his palms.

Dick's not sure how long it is before Bruce helps him down to lie beside him, his back tucked against Bruce's chest, Bruce's big body wrapped around him. He barely hears Bruce whisper, "Sleep well," before he's out.

Dick half-wakes in the dim-lit hour before dawn to Bruce walking around the room. He doesn't move at first, and when he does, he smiles at the small aches and twinges, and the tremendous sense of well-being that suffuses him. He doesn't think he'll be able to stay awake, and there's no reason for Bruce to be up so early, before it's even light. As if summoned, Bruce is right there. "Come back to bed," Dick says.

"Hush," Bruce says, "Go back to sleep, I'm just-- Go back to sleep." He bends to press his lips against Dick's temple.

"I'll sleep better if you join me," Dick says, yawning. He slides one hand around Bruce's neck and raises his head to meet Bruce's, opening his mouth to kiss him sleepily. Bruce hesitates a moment before kissing him back thoroughly. Dick shivers, and shakes his head as Bruce stands up, pulling Dick's arm from around
his neck. "You're already dressed? What--"

Bruce bends and kisses him again, fiercely this time, then rests his forehead against Dick's. Dick raises his hand to run his fingers through Bruce's hair, still muzzy, but more awake than he had been.

"I just have to take care of a few things, that's all. I'll be back. You just get some more sleep, okay?"

"Can't it wait?" Dick says, trailing his fingers around the inside of Bruce's collar. "Unless it's some kind of emergency..."

Bruce laughs, softly, and there's an odd note to it, but Dick's still not fully awake, and he shrugs it off.

"There's some urgency to it, yes. I promise, though, I will be back." This time his kiss is soft and slow, and Dick grins at the small, reluctant noise he makes when he finally pulls back. "This is going to kill me," Bruce breathes, and then he's gone.

It doesn't take more than a couple of minutes for Dick to fall back to sleep.

When he wakes again, the sun is high in the sky, and he feels heavier-headed than he had earlier, as if he's slept too long. Bruce is nowhere in sight, and Dick tries to remember their conversation, but it's not clear -- unlike his kisses, which Dick almost thinks he can still feel. He stretches lazily, wishing Bruce weren't quite the workhorse he is, has always been. He's never cut Bruce Wayne any more slack than he has Batman.

Dick lies on his stomach, his head buried in the pillows, and when he breathes in, he smells Bruce, and sex. His cock, already half-hard, tightens. He grinds his hips lazily against the bed, then rolls over and takes his cock in a firm grip, stroking with his whole hand. He closes his eyes, wishing Bruce were there, imagining the look on his face watching Dick get himself off. He thinks it probably would look a lot like Bruce had looked when he realized that Dick was already slick and waiting for him.

Images cascade behind his closed lids, Bruce's face, his mouth, his clenched fists, the way he tasted, the muttered obscenities lacing his words as Dick worked him with his mouth.

It doesn't take long for Dick to finish. He lies there a few moments longer, then throws the covers back and sits up. Bruce's robe and boxers are gone, and Dick's own clothes are draped over a chair. Even the washcloths and towel from the bathroom are gone from the floor where Dick had casually tossed them. Dick wonders if it's Bruce's own tidiness or play, or a desire to conceal things from Alfred -- or shelter him. Dick grins as he looks at the bed. That's not going to do much good, unless Dick strips the bed and washes the bedding himself -- like Alfred wouldn't notice that.

Dick uses Bruce's bathroom to clean up, since his shower is bigger. Big enough for two. As he's toweling his hair dry, he notices, frowning, that Bruce's shaving kit is gone. He considers checking to see if any of Bruce's luggage is missing, but he's not ready to know. Fifteen minutes later, he's dressed and headed to the kitchen.

Alfred catches him drinking straight from the bottle of orange juice, and suddenly Dick feels like a guilty child. "It's such a shame that we don't own any glasses, Master Dick, so that you are forced to drink from the bottle like a common street urchin. You would think you'd never been taught any manners at all."

Dick looks at him guiltily, wiping his mouth, and goes to get a glass. "I don't think a common street urchin would have a bottle of orange juice, Alfred. And my mother taught me excellent manners, and then Bruce got his hands on me." He blinks as the words leave his mouth. "I bet he still drinks straight from the bottle when you aren't around."

"The two of you always did test my patience," Alfred says in a long-suffering tone.

"Speaking of Bruce," Dick says, trying to sound casual, feeling more than a little awkward. "Have you seen him this morning?"

Alfred is silent so long that Dick finally turns around to face him. The look on his face is pained -- at least for Alfred. On anyone else it would look mildly put out, at most.

"Alfred?" Still Alfred hesitates, and Dick realizes with a sense of shock that he's trying to figure out what to say, a clear indication that he knows more about what had happened last night than Dick is sure he's entirely comfortable with.

"He... Yes. I saw him quite early this morning." Alfred turns away and opens the refrigerator. "May I cook you some eggs, sir?"

Alfred is never excessively wordy, when silence would better serve, but his manner is very odd, and something tightens in Dick's chest. "He's gone, isn't he."

Dick finds he doesn't really care anymore what Alfred knows, and what he doesn't. He just needs to know whether Bruce has run away. Again.

Alfred doesn't pretend to misunderstand. ""Yes. He had a business trip to South America." He pulls out the eggs and cream, and puts them on the counter before opening a cupboard to get a bowl.

"Was this a sudden decision on his part?" Dick knows it had to be, or Bruce would have mentioned it, maybe asked him to keep an eye on things while he was gone. "Did he say when he'd be back?"

Alfred sighs, and even from behind he looks dispirited. "I know the trip has been planned for some time, but Master Bruce had not planned to go. He said he might be gone for a while."

Dick feels like punching a wall, but he knows from experience that it wouldn't make him feel any better. Especially when Bruce is the one he really wants to punch. But really, what had he expected? It's typical. He takes a deep breath, and wipes his eyes quickly as Alfred turns around, his eyes full of sympathy, and something else.

"I guess you know..." He trails away, not sure what to say. He can't bring himself to actually say, I guess you know Bruce and I slept together.

"You should know by now that very little happens in this house of which I am unaware."

Dick carefully doesn't slam the refrigerator door as he puts the orange juice away. "Did he... Did he say anything?" He's not sure what he wants to hear.

Alfred calmly starts whisking the eggs, and says, "No. I...may have indicated my disapproval."

Dick's stomach clenches at Alfred's words, at the thought of Bruce's guilt running into Alfred's alarm, and he wonders if this day, which he'd started so happy, could get any worse.

He should never have expected anything else. For a minute or two, he just stands there, not quite thinking. Did Bruce expect him to just leave? Pretend that nothing had happened? Couldn't he have at least left a fucking note? But no, that would be too... incriminating.

"I don't think I'm very hungry, Alfred." Alfred had continued whisking the eggs until Dick is pretty sure they aren't going to work so well scrambled, anyway.

"As you wish, sir." The whisking stops, and the gentleness in Alfred's voice nearly undoes him.

"Was he-- Did he seem...ashamed?" Dick can't look at Alfred, but he has to ask. Ashamed of what, he's not sure. Of himself, of Dick, of what they'd done, any of it and all of it.

Alfred hesitates again, then says "No..." as if he disapproves of that, as well. "We both care a great deal for you, Master Dick--"

Dick jerks around to see Alfred looking at him, and his compassion is like slamming into a building. "You don't get to talk for him like that, Alfred. Not-- Not anymore. Not about this. Things are... It's all different now."

Alfred bows his head slightly. "You're right, of course. But if I may be so bold..." He looks back up, and the pain on his face is more obvious, now, and Dick aches for having hurt this man, who had always been so kind, so good to him. "These...feelings. That you have. They aren't new, you know. On either side."

Dick blinks at that, but he can't think of anything to say. Alfred still holds the whisk, which tells Dick exactly how flustered he is, as he drips beaten egg on the floor.

"I had hoped... I had hoped that your feelings were simple hero worship, something that you would outgrow. And Master Bruce... He's a lonely man, Dick. You have always countered that. I don't know what we would have done without you. And while I felt it was past time for you to be gone, when you left, it was very hard on him. On both of us, but on him particularly." Alfred seems to notice the whisk, for the first time, and turns to put it in the sink.

Dick just shoves his hands in his pockets, pleased in some ways with what Alfred is saying, but angry, as well, that Alfred believes him incapable of telling the difference between hero worship and...whatever this is. "It's not--"

Alfred stops him with a raised hand. "Let me finish, please."

Dick nods, feeling surly.

"It's not my business who either of you is involved with, of course. And I don't want you to think--" Alfred looks as uncomfortable as Dick has ever seen him, including their first talks about sex and the time he found Dick alone in his bedroom with Susie Perris. "I don't want you to think that I disapprove of you, or-- or your choices." He pauses, clearly searching for the right words. "It is not because you are both men. I simply-- You could hurt each other so badly."

Dick's smile feels a little grim. "We manage to do a lot of that without sex in the equation, Alfred."

Alfred almost smiles. He nods slightly, looking terribly tired. "He wasn't ashamed, Master Dick. I think he almost felt guilty because he wasn't. He-- Perhaps he just needs time."

Dick knows that this is as close to approval as Alfred can probably get. "Maybe. I don't know how long I can wait. I really do care, Alfred, more than you know, but--" He doesn't have anything to add to that. He's spent most of his life asking for more from Bruce than he seems capable of giving. Why should one more time make any difference?

"We'll be okay, Alfred. We always are." Dick doesn't feel that optimistic, but Alfred doesn't have to know that. Not that he's ever been able to fool Alfred.

"As you say, sir." Alfred turns away again and starts tidying up the very small mess he'd made with the eggs. "And what about Miss Barbara?"

Dick winces, and wonders if Alfred isn't a bit more malicious than Dick has given him credit for. "I'm...not entirely sure. That's not a conversation I'm looking forward to." He kicks the center island. "We didn't have anything set in stone, really." It sounds lame, even to him.

"I see," Alfred says in tones that indicate that he actually does.

"I'll just...tell her that...I'm not really ready."

"You could do that. Of course, if Master Bruce does come back, and you both--"

"Yeah," Dick says quickly. "If he does. Maybe I'll just tell her that things have gotten complicated, that I just can't see her anymore?"

"Oh, dear, I wouldn't say that, sir. That's not likely to go over well at all." Alfred tilts his head slightly and looks at Dick. "If it were me, Master Dick? I'd just be honest. Anything else is simply asking for trouble, and...she deserves that from you."

Dick nods miserably. Alfred is absolutely right, as usual, and Dick can't think of anything he dreads more.

He hangs around the mansion most of the day, putting himself through a punishing workout, wasting time in the cave pretending to fix a broken radio, eating with a sympathetic Alfred in the kitchen, trying not to snap at his feeble but well-intentioned conversational gambits. Alfred seems to understand that Dick isn't in the mood to "talk about it," and doesn't even try, sticking to topics that steer clear of anything to do with Bruce, Babs, Batman, Wayne Technologies, or why Dick is in Gotham at all. He's finally reduced to talking about new recipes he's tried, but he breaks off when he gets to the part where Bruce did or did not seem to care for them -- not that Bruce has ever expressed disapproval of anything Alfred has ever served him -- and switches to talking about the new laundry detergent he's trying, and Dick just lets the words wash over him, doing his best not to think at all.

He's on patrol as soon as it's dark, leaving Alfred monitoring communications, letting him notify Oracle that Nightwing is out on his own, or not, as he sees fit.

She calls him a couple of hours later, and he can tell from her voice that she's wondering why he hasn't been in contact all day. After all, she doesn't know that part of his reason for coming to Gotham was to see if he could talk his former guardian into bed -- he figures it probably wouldn't have gone over very well.

It still won't, and God, he doesn't know how to do this. He tells her he'll be by shortly; he just hopes he has something to say by the time he gets there.

He wonders when things will stop feeling distant and unreal.

He still hasn't decided whether Alfred is right, and he should tell her the truth, or whether it would be better to make up something simple and plausible, and tell her he's just not ready, since it's not like there's ever going to be a repeat of the night before. He wonders why he can't just pretend it didn't happen, or look at it as one last fling before settling down with Babs, like any other garden-variety jerk would do, but he can't. He doesn't think too hard about why, because he's afraid that it doesn't have much to do with being honest and treating Barbara the way she deserves to be treated. He hates to think he might stupidly believe on some level that his recent choices are anything less than an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions, or that anything good might still come from them.

He knows he's exactly that much of an idiot.

She smiles when he walks in, and though welcoming, it's uncertain, nothing like the last smile he saw on her face, and he knows that his own isn't much better. He bends to kiss her hello, as usual, and her arms come up around his neck. He aims for her mouth, trying to behave normally, but at the last second he kisses her on the cheek, instead.

She stiffens, then pulls her arms back and pushes lightly on his shoulder to look into his face. He's not sure what she sees there -- and he's not sure he wants to know, but whatever it is, she lets go of him, rolling her chair back before folding her hands in her lap, and says, "Okay, tell me." It's a calm, cool little voice, nothing like the tone she usually uses with him, and he's reminded of how well she knows him, and how well she can read him. She's often teased him that he's nothing like his mentor, that on him, a stony face is just asking to crack.

He looks down at her silently, helplessly, noticing that she's holding one hand tightly in the other, and he flashes on hands that are larger, hands clenched in fists, hands holding him tightly, and he feels his cheeks flush. He can't look her in the face.

"So, what, did you meet someone else? Or is it that we're moving too fast, you need some time, you want to see other people? Did you realize you don't care as much as you thought, you just want to be friends, it's not me, it's you, and I deserve better?" She rattles off reason after clichéd reason, and the only thing warming her voice is the sarcasm, preparing her for the pain she obviously expects.

"Babs..."

This time her voice is sharp. "Dick." She waits until he looks up, reluctantly. "Just tell me."

He opens his mouth, still not sure what to say, how to say it, and what he does say is, "It's... It's Bruce."

Barbara blinks several times. "You're not saying he disapproves?" she says, not as if she finds it impossible so much as she can't understand why she should care.

He winces inside at that, because he thinks it's likely that Bruce might have approved, in his own way. "No, it's not that, it's--"

"What's that?"

Dick realizes that he's raised his hand while they talked, and he's touching his neck, and oh, shit-- "It's nothing."

"Show me," she says, and if her voice was cool before, now it's edged with rime.

He reluctantly drops his hand, and he looks anywhere but at her face as she looks at the hickey.

"Oh," she says. "Oh." The first time it sounds like surprise and recognition; the second time, it sounds like a broken heart. When he looks at her, it's as if something vital has gone out of her, and her face is carefully blank.

"So, he finally did it," she says, and now her voice is just flat and dead. "Just reached out his hand and--" She grabs her wheels in both hands and turns away, as if she can't stand to look at him. "I guess I figured that if he hadn't done it by now, he never would. That you were free."

Dick can't even find it in himself to argue the point; he just wonders what Alfred and Babs think they saw that slipped right past him for so long. "It wasn't him."

Babs turns her head back slightly, as if to indicate she's listening.

"It was me. I pushed him to admit to something he didn't want to. I--" He stops, because he can't figure out what else he wants to say, and it's okay, because she wouldn't have been able to hear him over her own bitter laugh.

"Doesn't want? He's watched you for years, Dick. Years. Watched you as if you belong to him, as if he can't believe you're real -- watched anyone else you've let close, as if they have to prove that they're good enough for you. I don't think anybody is. He wouldn't take you himself, for whatever fucked-up reason he made up, but he wasn't happy when anyone else tried to, either." Her voice gets thicker as she talks, and when she raises a hand to her face, he realizes that she's crying.

"All he ever had to do was just hold out his hand, Dick. You've been waiting for him for years." He can hear the deep, shuddering breath she takes. "I hope it's worth it. I hope you're happy," she says, hoarsely.

"He-- He's gone," Dick says. "He left this morning, before I was awake."

The sound Barbara makes is bitter. "And were you planning to do the same thing to me? Just drop out of sight, run back to Bludhaven, ignore my calls?"

"I wouldn't-- I'm not like that," he says lamely, suspecting that he's lying.

"You're more like him than you want to admit," she says. "He just hides his feelings behind a silent, grim facade, while you hide yours behind a charming grin and a teasing style. But neither of you knows how to be close to anyone. Both of you are so wrapped up in each other, there's almost nothing left for anyone else."

Dick doesn't know what to say, so he says nothing. He thinks about leaving, before he hurts her further, but he's afraid that he's just a coward and can't bear to hear what else she has to say.

She finally wheels back around to face him, and her eyes are red, her face is a little splotchy, but she seems to have control of herself. "So, what about us? What have the last few months been about, some kind of...back-up plan? Did it get more serious than you expected?" She's calm again, and she sounds almost pleasant, and it's ugly and painful.

"I never meant to hurt you, Babs, I--"

"Save it, buster. It seems to me people only say that when they haven't been thinking of the other person at all."

His fists are clenched, and he can feel a headache beginning, rising from the tight muscles in his shoulders and back. "I didn't plan anything, I never meant for any of it to happen, it just--"

"What, you tripped and fell on him? Things like this don't just happen, Dick. I don't know if you're lying to me, or yourself, but it's all on you. You've made your choice, and I hope it makes you happy."

He stands there silently, looking at her, and the longer he looks, the more self-composed she seems, as if his loss for words is feeding her control. And it hits him that she's right, that whatever he had planned, whatever he'd thought he was doing, she'd always been there in the background, as if he could just pick up with her where he'd left off, if things didn't work out with Bruce. It was an ugly thought, and he feels the shame of it as a lump in his throat. "Babs, I'm so sorry, I wish that I'd handled things better, maybe talked to you first--" He shakes his head, his vision blurring slightly. "I don't suppose it matters now. I've been an idiot, and I don't think he's--"

Barbara flinches and holds up a hand. "Don't. Just-- Just don't, okay? I'm still your friend, and I always will be, but I just can't-- I can't talk to you about this right now. I can't be your consolation prize, and I can't make you feel better about anything." She turns away again, rolling towards her desk. "Just-- You have to leave now. You can't be here anymore. And--" She wipes her face again. "Don't call me, okay? Not for a while. Someday, but... not for a while."

She starts tapping on the keyboard. He lets himself out.

He doesn't think Batman would entirely approve of the way he spends the rest of his night. In the hours before midnight and dawn, several police stations receive multiple calls of criminal activity, and at each site the cops find one or more of their local petty criminals bound and gagged, with either a shaken witness, or obvious signs of breaking and entering or some other crime. And while Batman did approve of stopping crime, he tended to focus on the more dramatic, generally costumed, examples, and Dick doesn't think he'd be at all happy with the level of force Dick uses -- or tries to. Most of the lawbreakers are non-violent and don't respond well to his entreaties to resist, some of them going so far as to beg him to just call the police and leave them alone.

Unfortunately, Gotham seems entirely unwilling to cough up one of its many, many costumed psychos just so Dick can have a punching bag that will punch back. Maybe if he ends up with a few more bruises made by hands that very deliberately want to hurt him, he can forget those received at the hands of someone who claims to care.

All in all, it's been a really shitty day in the life of Dick Grayson, and he knows from shitty days. It's been the kind of day that makes him feel a complete failure, as the not-quite lover of a stupid, uncaring asshole of a man, and a disappointment to a fabulous woman who deserves so much more than the kick in the teeth he delivered. Even Alfred had seemed disappointed, as if he'd expected better of Dick, or at least hoped for better.

Maybe he's just disappointed in himself. He knows he's disappointed in Bruce, although he can't help thinking that he set himself up. After all, when has Bruce ever managed the messy, emotional parts of life very well? His standard response is to ignore what you can, deny the rest, and pretend none of it ever happened -- why should this time be any different? Dick had gambled, and his hand came up aces and eights. Time to accept it, like he'd told Bruce he would. It's just... at the point he'd thought that, that he could accept whatever happened, he'd had no idea what that meant. He's no longer sure what role is left for him in Bruce's life, after last night. Bruce might be able to pretend it never happened, but Dick knows that's not something he's capable of, even after the bruises fade.

He finally returns to Wayne Manor at sunrise. He's been awake for nearly twenty-four hours, and the thought of going to sleep is both enticing and bleak. But with no guarantee of instant oblivion, he's wary of what his mind will conjure in those dangerous moments leading to sleep, moments that in his most recent memories are filled with the smells of Bruce and sex, and the heat and strength of his body.

In the end, he crawls into Bruce's bed. He wishes Alfred hadn't changed the sheets.

III. We are alive

You drive up to the apartment late after a long shift, and it's another day off tomorrow, but you can't seem to care. It's been a shitty week, no word from Bruce, Babs still isn't talking to you -- although Oracle is, just enough to answer questions and do her job, so you can do yours, and that's worse than not talking to her at all. She's completely professional, and there's no teasing, no affection in her voice, and any time things start to veer away from business, she cuts you off.

You lost the coin toss again, adding paperwork insult to the bruised injury you received from some no account thief who tried to run, and kicked you on the way. You could have easily avoided it, but only by moving in ways that most cops can't, and you try not to draw too much attention to yourself, especially when there are other cops around, people who pay attention to odd things and might ask uncomfortable questions. You've begun to understand why Bruce chose an alter ego that's so different in all ways from Batman, and you try to derail that train as soon as it appears, because you've spent far too much time this week thinking about him in all his incarnations -- but you can't stop.

Some days the restrictions put on a cop wear you out more than several days without sleep as Nightwing, as Robin -- and you think it's teaching you a lot about Batman, about why he exists, why he's made the choices he has. The police failed him once, and he was never the kind of man -- or boy -- to leave things up to chance. You know why he doesn't like the gun, that sometimes it would be far too easy to cross the uncrossable line, to let the gun take over, take a life, and once that line is crossed, once you do what you so often want to do... This week that's been harder than most. Tonight, you actually fired your gun, although thankfully nobody was hurt.

You sit in your car, and you don't want to move. You try not to think about how tired you are, tired beyond the long days and longer nights, not wanting to face the empty apartment. You can't even work up an interest in swinging out into the night to channel your anger into beating some deserving bad guys to a pulp. And it's not really anger, anymore, just part of the bone-deep exhaustion that's with you all the time. He hasn't even tried to contact you, and when you asked Oracle if she'd heard from him-- Well, it was just a good thing that you didn't need her the rest of the night.

You don't let yourself think about what you'll do if he doesn't contact you. That's just not an option. If you think about that, you'll have to consider the possibility that not only aren't you where you want to be, you may have lost what you had, and that--

You're afraid that if he knows how much you need this, need him, he'll push you away again, as much because he doesn't want to hurt you as because he doesn't want the responsibility. You don't want to be his responsibility. You just want him to admit that he needs you just as much as you need him -- and you know that he does. He has to.

It's late enough that Dick doesn't run into anybody on the way up to his apartment, which is good. He's gotten some odd looks in the last week, and he knows he's been rude more than once. It's easier at the station, although Amy's lost her temper with him a couple of times, and he can't very well explain why he's in such a foul mood. She left him at the station filling out forms, and as much as told him not to bother coming back until he could get his head in the game.

He's not sure when that's going to happen, and the thought that it might, that he might get over this-- It's not nearly as comforting as he thinks it ought to be.

As soon as he opens the door, he knows he's not alone, even before he sees the sharp, distinctive outline against the window. The room is dark, so all he can see is the outline of the cowl and the cape.

The anger he's tamped down all week long, poured into his work, day and night, flares up, and he can't quite see straight. He takes a few steps forward, his hands clenching into fists, and it's all he can do not to--

"Batman." His voice isn't welcoming, and he doesn't care. "Fancy meeting you here. Somebody escape Arkham and head for Bludhaven?"

Batman steps forward, a hand extended. "Dick..."

Dick turns his face away. His shoulders are so tight he can already feel the incipient headache. "Don't."

Then Batman is right there, so close Dick can smell him, and a gloved hand turns his face back, and he lets him, he lets him, and Dick can't help it, he meets Batman's descending mouth halfway, and all his anger, all his hurt, goes into it, and what might be almost tender on Batman's side turns brutal on Dick's, and it's hungry, and desperate, and goes on and on and on.

But everywhere Dick's hands fall he touches leather and Kevlar, nothing warm, nothing human, and he finally breaks out of Batman's arms, wiping his mouth and tasting blood. He's not sure whose it is. He's not sure he cares.

Batman just stands there, but his breathing is ragged, and Dick feels a flare of grim pleasure at that. He steps further away, to the door, his body still buzzing from the kiss, and he wants so badly to just give in, skip over the hard part, the ugly part, to see if there's anything beyond that. He flips on the light, instead, and the Bat looks less intimidating, less dangerous, in the harsh overhead light. A little.

"What do you want?" He crosses his arms, needing his own barrier.

Batman tries to take a step towards him, but stops when Dick takes a step back. He holds a hand out again, but lets it drop. "I'm-- I'm sorry, Dick. I should have--"

"Yeah. Well, you didn't. That sent a pretty clear message."

"No, that's not-- I didn't know what to say."

Dick doesn't look squarely at him, but keeps his eyes on the damn sigil, instead, and he tries to keep his voice to a low roar because of the neighbors, even though yelling might make him feel better. He feels too much, hard on the heels of not letting himself feel anything at all, and something is gonna give.

"Oh, I don't know, how about, 'I have to go away for a few days, but it isn't about you, I'll call you when I get back,' or 'I need a little time to think, but don't worry,' or even 'This was a mistake, don't call me, I'll call you?'"

"Dick, I didn't mean--"

He isn't really planning to move, but there he is, standing in front of Batman again, punctuating his words with a stabbing finger to his chest, and he wishes it hurt.

"No, look, you left. We had-- It was-- And you just left, no note, no word, I had to have Alfred tell me you were gone, and you have no idea how embarrassing that was."

Some of his anger deflates when Batman almost smiles, and he remembers that Bruce had to talk to Alfred, too.

"Okay, maybe you do, but then you show up here, no word, dressed in that-- You're not even Bruce, you're him--" His voice gets softer and more broken by the word, and he can't say any more.

Batman's glove cups his chin again, softly, and this time Dick lets it stay gentle, and it hurts even more, soft lips, tender tongue, opening him up and taking him places he won't be able to find his way back from.

This time, Dick pushes back harder, putting some distance between them again, but not as much as would be wise, a hand on Batman's chest to keep him away.

"Dick-- I... I didn't think," Batman said. Something in his voice tells Dick that he's as much at a loss as Dick is, and Dick's a little ashamed of how much that pleases him.

"No, you did think, on some level, and you made yourself more comfortable. You've always been more comfortable behind the mask, but I can't see your face..." and Dick tries to stop there, before he sounds even more pathetic. "I need to see your face," he finally says, his palm flat, covering as much of the bat as he can.

Batman nods once, sharply, and his jaw is tight, but at this point, Dick isn't sure what that means. It's as if one night together has screwed up his ability to read this man that he knows better than he knows anyone, and he wonders if it was worth it.

"I-- You're right. This--" He waves a hand, indicating the suit. "This is...safer for me. More comfortable."

Dick crosses his arms again, smiling bitterly. "Why should you get to be comfortable?"

Batman nods again, his own lips curling in a tight smile. He brings a hand up again, then lets it drop again. "Let me change?" He nods towards the bed, and Dick sees a good-sized bag sitting there.

"You haven't been to Gotham yet," he says, his voice flat. That pleases him, too, that Bruce came straight here, and he wishes it could all be simpler. But when has anything between them been simple?

"No."

He takes the time Batman is in the bathroom -- and how weird is that? -- to unstrap his gun belt and put it away, but he leaves the uniform on. Batman isn't the only one who needs his barriers, although the police uniform will never feel as natural as his Nightwing outfit. Only one of them truly feels like a costume; the other one feels like--

"I wasn't sure when you'd be home."

Dick looks up, and it's Bruce he sees, in a white shirt and black slacks. Not exactly casual, but he's rolled the sleeves up. He probably hadn't taken casual clothes on his trip.

He looks tired, and awkward, and Bruce never looks awkward, and most of Dick's anger just melts away, leaving him empty and nervous. Bruce looks good. Really, really good, and Dick's completely lost whatever it was he just said.

"Um, what?"

Bruce flashes a tired grin at him, and the hint of smugness is unbecoming. Dick glares back at him, still angry enough for that, and searches his brain for what Bruce had said.

"I lost the toss, so I had to fill out the paperwork, and it's always messier when a gun's discharged." As soon as he says it, he knows it's a mistake, and it shows him just how rattled he is. "Don't say it. Don't say a word about it, that's not what we're gonna talk about."

"Dick, you know I don't like--"

"I don't care. Especially right this minute, I don't care. I'm not going to let you distract me like that, and it's my life, Bruce, so just. Let it go, okay?" He softens his tone at the end, but he doesn't plead.

Bruce's jaw hardens, and he shoves his hands in his pants' pockets, but he lets it go, looking at the floor. "I... worry about you. I don't want you to get hurt." He looks up at Dick. "I don't want to hurt you -- anymore than I already have."

"You can't, Bruce. There's no way you can hurt me more-- Okay, wait, that's not coming out right."

"But it's true," Bruce says grimly.

Having him out of the suit, human and vulnerable, puts them on equal ground, and Dick can't hold on to even the scraps of his anger, because it's Bruce, and he's here, he came back, and-- This time, Dick is the one to move forward, and he takes Bruce's hand in both of his. The scrapes and abrasions are nearly healed, only faint traces left. He brings it to his mouth and kisses it softly. "I'm not the only one who gets hurt, though, am I? You hurt yourself as much as you ever hurt me, I think."

When he looks up, Bruce's eyes are dark, and his lips are slightly parted, and Dick's glad he's not alone in being so affected by their closeness, by everything between them. Bruce shakes his head jerkily, then turns his hand over in Dick's loose grip, reaching to cup Dick's chin against his naked palm as he leans forward and kisses him again, but only once, softly.

"You feel things so much more than I do, Dick. Sometimes I-- I think I let you feel things for me." He takes a shaky breath. "I just-- I don't think it's a good idea, getting involved with someone like me."

Dick can't help it. He starts laughing, and then Bruce is smiling, and rolling his eyes, and Dick starts to think maybe it's going to be okay.

"I don't think we can be more involved than we already are. Sex... Sex is just a...benefit," Dick says, and he can't help the dark longing that shows in his voice. "Something that lets me know where I stand."

Bruce's hand tightens on his chin, then slides back to thread into his hair, pulling Dick's head back as Bruce's eyes wander over his face. "I don't think I know how to do this. I don't know how to be the man you need me to be."

Dick licks his lips, trying to figure out what to say that won't be too much, that will reassure Bruce without scaring him away, but once he starts... "I don't need to you be anyone but who you are, Bruce. I need you. That's-- I need you, and... I need to know I have you. That-- That you need me, too. That's all I need. That's all I've ever needed."

Bruce nods unsteadily. "I do. You do. All of it."

"Bruce..." Dick says, wanting too much to even know what to say. He wants Bruce to kiss him again, to let the urgent feelings flooding through him take over again--

"Wait," Bruce says, and he lets go, turning away to go back in the bathroom, while Dick stands there, confused. When he comes out, he has his bag in one hand, and a folded paper in the other. He holds it out to Dick, tossing the bag towards the bed. The paper looks as if it's been badly crumpled

"I... I had this document drafted up. Before-- I was going to give it to you the night we dealt with Matatoa."

Dick takes it, opening it out.

I, Bruce Wayne, being of sound mind and body, do hereby declare Richard John Grayson as my legal and lawful son...

Dick's legs feel a little weak, and he can feel the tears threatening to spill. He registers Bruce talking in the background, but he can't stop staring at the words, the tangible proof of--

"I tried to tell you that night, but-- It was supposed to be just a formality. A gesture. Symbolic. I-- I worried that you'd think it was frivolous, or-- disrespectful to the memory of your parents... "

It explains so much, why Bruce was so badly rattled when Dick confronted him, why he'd taken off like that. He finally decides to make Dick his legal son -- and Dick seduces him. It's really pretty funny, and Dick has a giddy desire to laugh.

A very small part of him wonders what might have happened if he hadn't made it clear that he wanted more, if Bruce hadn't wanted-- hadn't let Dick convince him-- He nips that in the bud, because it no longer matters, he has proof in his hands of how much he means to Bruce, and he has proof standing in front of him that--

"It was just the only way I-- the only way I could think of to convey that-- that-- And then you--"

"I get it." He looks up at Bruce. "And I love you, too. Although-- I think it's a little late, don't you?" He can't stop smiling, and Bruce laughs, and it's a rich, warm, entirely human sound, filled with relief, and he's so beautiful.

Dick tosses the paper on a table and steps close, and again, they meet halfway, and while there's tenderness on both sides, there's greediness, as well, the need they've both voiced spilling out between them, feeding on itself and building until they're both panting and hard.

Their hands have been busy, and Bruce's shirt is open, as is Dick's, his undershirt rucked up to bare his chest. When Bruce bends to take Dick's nipple in his teeth, it's all Dick can do to hold on, and he barely notices Bruce tugging his pants open with one hand until that hand is wrapped around him, cock and balls both held in one large hand, and Dick thinks his knees might give out as Bruce touches him, with his mouth and his hands and--

--and then he can't breathe because Bruce is on his knees in front of him, Bruce, on his knees, and his mouth is on Dick's cock, his sweet hot mouth, while his hands slide Dick's clothes down, palming his ass to pull him against that mouth that is doing dangerously mind-blowing things and where the hell did Bruce learn--

Dick has to clamp his hands on Bruce's shoulders to stay standing, because Bruce is making noises like Dick could never have imagined him making, satisfied, hungry noises, like he loves doing this, and then Dick is thrusting, he can't help himself, one hand tangling tight in Bruce's hair and then he's coming and coming and the only reason he doesn't fall to the floor is that Bruce has an arm wrapped around his thighs, and Dick is curled over and leaning on Bruce's broad shoulders.

He rests there limply for what seems a very long time, catching his breath, listening to Bruce's, trying to catch his mind back from where Bruce blew it, and that brings a snorting giggle out that he can't quite hold back.

"Dick Grayson, are you laughing?" Bruce asks, but his voice is laced with humor... and something else, something that makes Dick shiver.

"No! Well, yes, but. I think it's--" he says, falling to his knees, and Bruce kisses him again, and oh, God, he can taste himself in Bruce's mouth, and this was nothing he'd ever imagined, Bruce on his knees, in his mouth, he can taste himself in Bruce's mouth.

He's willing to just let Bruce take him on the floor, anything he wants, but Bruce finally stands up, long after Dick's stopped tasting traces of himself, and he's still flying so high that he hasn't even thought about touching Bruce, still just holding on to his beautiful broad shoulders, but Bruce doesn't seem to mind.

Bruce reaches down and pulls him up, looking him up and down, and the expression on his face makes Dick feel dirty and debauched in the best possible way. Bruce shrugs out of his shirt, undoing his pants at the same time. "Take off your clothes for me, Dick," and maybe it's the tone of his voice, deeper than usual, almost Batman-deep, maybe it's the look in his eyes, or maybe it's the way he says Dick's name, but Dick shivers again, wondering what Bruce is going to do to him, knowing he'll let him do anything. He. Wants.

When they're both naked, Bruce pulls him to the bed and pushes him onto it, climbing up to join him. When he's finished, he's kneeling behind Dick, pressed tightly up against him, his cock hard and hot against Dick's ass, and one arm slantwise across his belly so his palm presses against Dick's hip, holding him close. The other hand is resting on Dick's shoulder, and Bruce slides it down his arm, slowly, drifting across to his hip, then sliding up and around, tracing the curves of Dick's stomach and chest, slowly, slowly, in total silence.

Dick rests his head back against Bruce, and when Bruce starts mouthing his neck and shoulder, Dick closes his eyes and just feels. Bruce slides his palms down to Dick's thighs, rubbing over them, fingers teasing along the joins to his torso, cupping and stroking his balls, but the touch, while sensual, is only distantly sexual, more... exploratory. As if Bruce is learning his body, an inch at a time, with his hands, with his mouth and tongue as they explore Dick's ear, and Dick groans softly as Bruce's tongue slides deep.

"I trained myself not to want this," Bruce breathes into his damp ear. "I spent so long teaching myself not to touch you." He moved to the other side, stroking his tongue along Dick's nape, sucking the other ear lobe into his mouth. "You grew up, and suddenly there was this beautiful, desirable man in my house, where a laughing, graceful boy had been. I loved the boy, but I didn't know how to deal with the man. I didn't know how to deal," and he brings a hand up to curve around Dick's throat, turning his head up to speak against his mouth, "with wanting you."

This kiss is entirely sexual, entirely demanding, and Dick gives into it, curling his arm up to hold Bruce's head close. When Bruce finally pulls back enough for Dick to speak, he gasps, "Think you can figure it out now?"

Bruce laughs, dark and low. "I'm working on it."

He kisses Dick again, hard and long, then pushes him down on the bed, gently, but firmly, and Dick goes, spreading his legs around Bruce, and then Bruce is licking his way down Dick's spine, slowly, wetly, deliberately, biting his ass, then licking again, down, and Dick squirms, lifting his hips and gasping as Bruce's exploring mouth just keeps going, and Dick knows Bruce is tasting him, memorizing it all so he'll know it again, filing it away in that brilliant mind, and the very idea of it is so hot he almost comes again. Methodically, intently, intensely, every salty, earthy, bitter taste, and Dick wonders if Bruce has imagined this -- if he had a plan, with every contingency marked out, anticipating every response Dick could make.

When Bruce finally slows and pulls back, Dick is on his knees, shoulders in the pillows, and he's warm and loose-limbed. There are noises he can't quite bring himself to care about in his fogged state, and then Bruce slicks two fingers into him and Dick is so ready he can't help pushing back, twisting his hips, groaning.

Bruce has been silent through all of this, and when he speaks, he sounds like he's barely controlling himself, fingers digging into Dick's hips. "Dick, I can't-- I can't go slow--"

"Fuck, yes," Dick says, almost whimpering. "Do it, please."

And then Bruce is fucking him again, and for the last week Dick has wavered between not letting himself think about it and thinking about it all the time, and it was nothing like this, because this time Bruce is wilder and hungrier than Dick would have thought possible, his fingers bruising Dick's hips, his pounding rhythm erratic. Dick braces himself with one arm and starts stripping his cock with the other, hard and fast, and he thinks he might be whimpering, but he knows that Bruce is growling, and the sound crawls inside his brain and flips every single circuit he's got.

He comes while Bruce is still moving inside him, and then Bruce pulls him up against his chest and he's still thrusting, but he's also moving Dick along his cock, until his thrusts grow erratic, and then he's sinking his teeth into Dick's throat, sending a heated jolt through Dick's body as Bruce stops moving completely, and Dick imagines that open, vulnerable look on his face and shudders.

Bruce wraps his arms around Dick, and they're still, silent, for long moments, and then Bruce presses his mouth to Dick's throat again as he pulls out, falling on his back at Dick's side. Dick falls forward into an awkward, comfortable position, head in the pillows, ass in the air, until Bruce pokes his shoulder.

"Mmmrph."

"You could suffocate like that."

Dick turns his head to the side to look at Bruce, still feeling a little dazed. He knows he has a goofy grin on his face. "What a way to go."

Bruce laughs and turns on his side, rubbing his hand over Dick's shoulder and along his back. "Yeah."

Dick rolls to his side, facing him. For a while, they just look at each other, and it's comfortable and strange, being together like this, with the usual tension between them absent for now. Naked together, in more ways than one. Then Bruce's face turns serious, though not grim.

Dick reaches out to tuck a lock of hair behind his ear. "What is it?"

Bruce grimaces, kissing the base of Dick's palm. "I'm... not good at relationships."

"Is that supposed to come as a shock?" Dick says, resting his hand on Bruce's cheek, and Bruce rewards him with another quick flash of teeth.

"I suppose not." There's a wealth of admission in his voice, a trace of apology.

Dick shrugs. "Besides, we have a relationship already. It's a little battered, but it should hold up until we get the kinks worked out of the new one. Um."

Dick blinks when Bruce snickers. "Kinks, huh?"

"Yeah, did I ever tell you about my fetish for older men in superhuman drag? It goes back-- mmph."

Bruce pulls him over and kisses him again, probably to shut him up. Dick doesn't mind. When he's done, he covers Dick's hand with his own, and his eyes drift closed.

Dick watches him lying there, and he can barely contain what he's feeling. So much, so many things, and he wonders if Bruce feels them, too. Dick wants Bruce to open his eyes, and see him, and smile, really smile, something as rare as anything in his experience, at least since his childhood. He wonders how much that has to do with Bruce fighting his desires all these years.

He wants to ask him, Are you happy? even though it's not really a question he can ask -- that he'll probably ever ask. It seems almost trivial in connection with this man. Bruce has never sought happiness. It's not that he's avoided it; it's...just not a factor in his world. It's not a meaningful measure of value in his life.

And it would sound so incredibly pathetic if Dick were to ask it, anyway. It's not as if Bruce doesn't know, on some level, how much Dick needs reassurance -- his reassurance. But he assumes that Dick knows how he feels, that anyone he cares about knows, so it can go unspoken; he's never been one to coddle Dick, and somehow Dick doesn't think he's going to start now, no matter what else has changed. But the way Bruce looks at him... That'll do.

Then Bruce turns his head, and opens his eyes, and while his smile is quiet, it's real. He reaches out and touches Dick's cheek.

"You know what I want to do?" Dick says.

"I'm afraid to ask," Bruce says dryly.

"I want to fly."

Bruce blinks. "Now?"

Dick nods. He's restless and energized, and he needs to move, to give all this feeling some outlet.

Bruce's face gets a shuttered look. "Okay. I'll wait--"

"No. Come with me."

Bruce blinks again, and Dick grins. He could get used to a truly speechless Bat.

"I thought-- The mask?"

Dick leans forward and kisses him. "I love you. I love Batman. I hate it when you use him to keep me at arm's length." He kisses him again. "But I need you -- and Nightwing needs Batman. And I? Need to fly!" And he rolls out of bed, looking for his suit, stopping only long enough to clean himself up.

Bruce is a little slower, but soon he's suited up, save for the cowl. Dick bends over to look in the mirror, running his fingers through his hair, and then he stops.

"Holy hell, Batman," he says, touching his fingers to his neck. It's not just a hickey this time, there are teeth marks on his throat, and there's no way his costume will cover that. "You're going to give me a reputation."

Bruce comes up behind him and touches two gloved fingers to the mark. "Is that a bad thing?"

Dick grins at him in the mirror, then stands up. "As long as they don't find out who gave it to me. Can you imagine what they'd say about big, bad, macho Batman and his costumed boy toy?"

Bruce's grin is rather devilish. "What, you don't think they think that already?"

Dick blinks, realizing the speechlessness will go both ways. Bruce steps in close behind him and turns Dick's head up to kiss him, and Dick is overwhelmed by a flood of feelings again. When Bruce steps back, Dick turns around to face him, and reaching out, tugs the cowl into place, tucking Bruce's hair inside until it's Batman standing in front of him, looking down, still smiling. Dick would swear his heart skips a beat.

"You do realize it's not always going to be this easy," Bruce says, brushing the hair from Dick's forehead, and this time Dick doesn't need to see under the mask.

Dick rolls his eyes. "I know that. I mean, really, when has it ever been easy between us? You are such a pain in the ass."

"I can't believe you just said that."

Dick grins and grabs his mask, already heading for the window. "C'mon. I'll race you to the roof."

The End