And finally, we thought it might have happened like this:
Post Modern Romance: Variation IV
by elynross

Follows Variation I by Lucy Gillam, Variation II by elynross, and Variation III, by Lucy Gillam
. If you want to read the original comic first, it's available here.
Feedback? Please, to elynross.

When she slid out of the ventilation shaft, he was waiting. The batarang whipped around her ankles as she leapt for roof level, and she tucked and rolled, ending up on her back. She relaxed when she saw who it was, leaning up on her elbows and smiling. "Well, hello there, tall, dark and broody. Long time, no see."

"You never learn." He let her unwind the line, then tugged it loose and reeled it in.

"Maybe I need a better teacher. You wanna educate me? I'm sure I can find a way to work out the tuition." She rolled to her feet and stalked toward him until she was a hands-breadth away.

Batman looked down at her, seeing her lovely face, remembering the feel of her body, the stolen moments during a time of weakness. He didn't reach for her, but he didn't back away, either.

She laughed. "They say silence means consent, but I don't think 'they' ever met you. So, what's the plan? Rough me up a little, let me go?" She held her hands up, wrists together. "Or are you finally going to do as you keep threatening and take me in?"

"Don't push me."

"Oh, Batman, honey, I live to push you, you should know that by now." She put one hand on his chest, flexing her claws to snag in his uniform. A calculating look crossed her face, and he mentally braced himself. "So, have you talked to your wingboy lately?"

Her words caused the merest flicker of...something. Irritation. Nothing like apprehension. He folded his arms, forcing her to pull her hand back, and watched her silently. The calculation faded, replaced by a look that was almost blank, but he could see the subtle hints of impatience and annoyance.

She reached out again and ran her fingers lightly along his folded arms. "It wasn't anything, really. Just. I was a bit surprised. Who knew he'd turn into such a forward young man?" she purred.

He dropped his arms back to his sides, away from her touch. The leather of his gloves creaked as he tightened, then flexed his hands. "What do you mean?"

"Oh. He... didn't tell you?" She shook her head, smile widening wickedly. "What a naughty boy. I wonder what he was thinking. Never mind, I'm sure it was nothing. I wouldn't want to get him in trouble."

"Selina," he said, with an extra note of warning.

She pursed her lips and shrugged eloquently, as if to say it was on his head. "I ran into him last night, and he... indicated...that he might be interested in getting to know me better." She winked.

Batman's only external response was silence; inside, he went absolutely still save for a slight buzzing in his ears.

She smiled like the proverbial cat and stepped in closer, sliding her palms up to rest on his shoulders, forearms flat against his chest. "Now, don't be jealous. It was just a kiss, after all. A really lovely kiss, was probably just adrenaline, given that we were, uh. Being shot at, at the time." She stepped in even closer, until her body was brushing his.

"What," he said carefully, "makes you think I would be jealous?"

"Oh, I don't know," she drawled. "Your young, handsome, obviously virile, no longer a boy wonder makes a play for me, behind your back? Why on earth might I think such a thing?"

"What Nightwing chooses to do is his own business. It doesn't affect me," he said, voice steady and even. "You're both adults."

She pouted. "So, you wouldn't care? Not at all? After all we've been to each other?" She smiled up at him slyly, sliding her arms up around his neck. "Well, then. If it doesn't bother you, maybe I'll give him a spin, see what else he's learned from you--"

She was staggering back before he realized he'd grabbed her wrists and pushed. His face felt strangely warm in the cool night air.

"That hurt!" She rubbed her wrists, looking stunned. "What's wrong with you?"

The buzzing in his ears was louder, and he had a strong desire to throw a line and leave, but he stood his ground, fists clenched. "Stay away from him."

"It's not like I did anything, he's the one you should be--" She stopped to stare at him. "Oh. my. God."
She shook her head, looking shocked. "I don't believe this -- no wonder he laughed at me! You bastard!" She threw herself at him, claws out. "How long has it been going on? Was I just a bit of fun on the side?"

Batman held her off, staring at her angry face, her words just empty, meaningless sounds. It took him a minute to realize that he was shaking his head.

She wrenched herself away, twisting and kicking out, landing a solid blow to his stomach that he utterly failed to block. By the time he caught his breath she was off the building and swinging across the street, calling back something in gutter French. He stood watching her, a hard knot in the pit of his stomach.

He only realized that she'd gotten away with her stolen goods after she was out of sight.

It was a quiet night, so quiet that Nightwing was thinking about turning in early, catching up on that rare commodity, sleep, when the sky fell on him like a ton of bricks. With claws.

A flicker of motion out of the corner of his eye let him catch the brunt of the attack on his back, which meant that the talons aimed at his face caught only his shoulders. Briefly thwarted, his attacker went for him again, and only the fact that he wrapped his arms around his head kept his eyes intact.

"What the hell--" He dived for the roof and rolled, landing heavily on the woman calling him obscene names in languages he wasn't sure were even human. From the purple he glimpsed in the flurry of hits he was pretty sure of the who, he just wasn't sure about the why. Sure, he'd laughed at her the last time he saw her, but this was taking "delayed reaction" to extremes.

He scrambled to his feet, backing away from her, touching his ear to see if she'd drawn blood. He could tell from the cool breeze on his back that his suit was shot, and the pain across his shoulders told him that the flesh underneath had taken damage, too. He just hoped he could get home before the fabric started to stick.

He kept a wary eye on her as she lay there, muttering and catching her breath. When she relaxed and lay back flat on the ground, he took a chance and started to reach around to check his back, wincing.

Fortunately for him, she moved too soon. He grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her back down on the ground, holding her still with his body in an echo of their previous encounter.

"What the hell is your problem, lady? If you wanted a second go round, all you had to do was ask." He flinched back when she spat in his face. "Okay, that's it." He wiped his face on his shoulder, but didn't give an inch. "Talk."

She was breathing so fast she was panting, her lips pulled back from her teeth. "Laughing at me like I'm some kind of joke, making me think-- You knew he wouldn't care!"

She looked like she was going to spit again, and he reared back. "I will knock heads with you if you do that again."

She subsided, muttering something under her breath that he thought might make him blush if he could hear it clearly. Then she looked up at him, her mouth tight. "Bastards, the both of you -- birds of a feather! I'd say like father, like son, but that's obviously not true!"

He shook his head, completely confused. "I don't know what you're talking about, but--"

"Like hell you don't! Bad enough you let me think he didn't care enough to-- But this-- How long has it been going on?"

Her voice had lost some of its rage, enough for him to hear what seemed like genuine pain, and this close, within the circle of light shining from the entrance to the stairs, he could see tear tracks on her face. "Look, I don't know what you think you know, but if you're talking about me and Batman--"

"Of course I am, do you think I'm an idiot?" She laughed, and there was a shade of bitter hysteria in it. She rested her head back on the ground. "Don't answer that, of course you do. Bet you thought you were pretty funny, huh, flyboy? Here I am, thinking maybe I can get a little game going, and the player I want has switched to the other team."

Nightwing gave up trying to make sense of what she was saying. "I'm going to get up, and we can sort this out. Do you think you can refrain from spitting at me again, or trying to take my face off?"

She nodded, once, but still looked mutinous.

He got up warily, prepared for another attack, but she just climbed to her feet, stretching out her back.

"Did you have to slam me down so hard?" she said petulantly.

He laughed in disbelief. "Look, I'm the one with scratches all over my back, and not in the fun way."

She sneered. "I bet he'd scratch your back if you asked nicely."

"What is it with these crazy-ass insinuations of yours?"

She crossed her arms and glared at him. "Don't bother to deny it. I've already talked to the man himself."

Nightwing felt like he'd been sucker-punched. He just stared at her, gaping.

Catwoman tilted her head, her mouth pursing. "Aren't you taking this a bit far?"

"Excuse me?"

"I don't know whether you boys think you have to protect your macho image -- such as it is -- or if the Bat is just so repressed he doesn't want anybody to know, but it's a little late for that now."

Nightwing laughed again. "Look, I don't know what you think you know, but if you're saying what I think you're saying? You're dead wrong. You couldn't be more wrong. The only reason I laughed the other night was at the very idea that Batman would be jealous of me. I mean, don't you find that the least bit funny? I mean, me." He shook his head, rolling his shoulders carefully.

"Yeah, that's a riot, all right, I don't know what I was thinking."

He looked at her, shaking his head. "You really don't know him very well, if you think he'd let himself be jealous."

"Honey, I've never met a man who didn't get jealous, and whatever else he is, the Bat is all man."

"Yeah, well, you'd know that better than I would," he muttered under his breath.

"Excuse me?"

"Think what you want, but even if he were the type, he's still not likely to be jealous of me, so you'll have to figure out some other way to get to him. And next time, I'd appreciate it if you'd leave me out of it, okay? The last thing I want is to get tangled up in something like that."

Catwoman just shook her head at him, smiling in a very irritating fashion.

"What?" he asked, confused and annoyed. He stood his ground as she strolled in closer, but braced for any sudden movement.

"Oh, sugar, either you're a much better actor than I gave you credit for, or you really don't know." Her voice was laced with equal parts chagrin and amusement.

"Don't know what?" he asked warily, wise enough not to trust her mercurial mood changes.

"Well, first, you clearly don't know that you're a total heartbreaker, much more to a lot of women's taste than old dark and dour, with that hair, and those lips, and that body..." He flushed as she drew her claws lightly down his chest. He held his ground until they reached his midriff, then stepped back out of reach. She grinned and flexed them lightly at him. "Not to mention a certain appealing...boyishness. And two, that your mentor and former partner is dead gone on you. And judging by your behavior... Although," she said thoughtfully, "that might explain the strangeness of his reaction -- even for him. I just assumed--"

"You've talked to Batman about this?"

She rolled her eyes. "Where do you think I got the idea?"

"He told you we were involved." His voice was so flat, it didn't sound like a question. "He actually said that." He shivered as the wind blew across his wet shoulders.

"Oh, he made it pretty damn clear he was more upset about me kissing you than the other way 'round. If he hasn't made it clear to you, maybe you're just not paying attention." Some of her anger was back, but this time it sounded a lot more like resignation, and the look on her face--

His laugh this time was short and bitter. "Trust me, I have reason to know he's not interested, whatever he said to the contrary."

She shook her head, looking almost compassionate. "So that's how it is, huh? You break your heart over him, and he uses it to keep me at bay." She patted his cheek. "What a bastard," she said wistfully. "I do love him so."

For a minute they just looked at each other in complete sympathy.

Batman stood on the roof watching Nightwing as he soared between the buildings, as at home in the air as on land. He hadn't expected company, but something eased at the sight of his graceful figure, something that had been clenched since he talked to Catwoman -- and that made him wary.

Nightwing swung up above the roofline and flipped twice before landing cleanly on the low wall at Batman's side. He reeled in his line, but kept the hook in hand, flipping it up and catching it as he crouched down, balancing lightly and easily on his toes.

They looked down over the city together for several minutes, neither speaking. A sultry jazz riff rose from the club below, over the sounds of laughter and traffic. Batman assumed that Nightwing would say what was on his mind when he was ready.

He was sharply aware of Nightwing's every movement, as well as his bland, pleasant expression, seen only in profile. In spite of his seeming serenity, Nightwing's body held an awkward tension, and Batman caught himself more often eyeing his companion than the city below.

The silence drew on longer than anticipated, and Batman noted with some surprise and disquiet that he was starting to feel uncomfortable.

"Nice evening," Nightwing finally said. "Been this quiet all night?" His voice lacked undertones of either good humor or anger, which usually varied depending on his mood of the moment and the state of their relationship, and Batman's discomfort increased.

He nodded. "A smash and grab soon after dark, a carjacking. Nothing unusual."

"Mmmm." Nightwing stood up and stretched, wincing slightly, then settled back down. He had his back slightly turned, now, and Batman could see that his suit was uneven where it lay against his upper back, stretched across what looked like bandages.

"Are you here for a reason? Or just to comment on the weather?"

The quirk in the corner of Nightwing's mouth lacked humor, as well. "Last night I'm patrolling 'haven, and it's pretty quiet, so I'm thinking about calling it a night," Nightwing said, "and Catwoman shows up, out of nowhere. Again. I gather you've heard about the first time."

There was an edge to his voice that Batman couldn't quite identify, but it wasn't good. This wasn't good.

"You know, I knew those claws weren't just for show, but when she's seriously pissed off? She can do some real damage."

So, definitely bandages. "You should have those looked at. I'm sure Alfred--"

"They're fine," Nightwing said sharply. "A couple spots went a little deep, but it's mostly superficial." He shrugged, then winced again, rolling his shoulders slightly and tugging at the fabric as if to settle it more easily against his back.

"Anyway, this time she's looking specifically for me, and she was one angry lady." Nightwing smiled oddly. "Hence the scratches. She came out of nowhere, leapt on my back, and tore the crap out of it before I could get her off. I think she was aiming for my face. Fortunately, I saw a flash of motion just before she hit, and I managed to duck and roll, and knock her off." His voice maintained the same peculiar, disinterested flatness.

"What did you do with her?" Batman's own tone was mildly curious, a far cry from the tension that pulled tight across his shoulders.

Nightwing's laughter sounded like it was surprised out of him. "Oh, she's fine. Just dandy. We commiserated about the not so charming bastards in our lives."

Batman blinked, and Nightwing's smile sharpened.

"Her pride and dignity are a little wounded, but that's not anything I did to her, although it's something you might have worried about when you ran into her last night." Nightwing turned his head and looked at him full-on, still smiling, and Batman could see exactly how angry he was.

Nightwing waited a minute, as if expecting a response, before he spoke again. "It's weird, but she seemed to be under the impression that I'm sleeping with you." He paused again, but Batman kept his silence. "Don't you think that's weird? Kind of funny, even. I thought it was funny." He didn't sound like he thought it was all that funny.

"We are talking about Catwoman." Batman looked back towards his city. He could see Nightwing's hand tighten around the grappling hook out of the corner of his eye.

"Hey, you're the one that dated her. Which is why it kind of surprised me that she might think that you and I--" Nightwing took a deep breath. Batman thought he could almost see him vibrating with tension. "However weird she is, I don't think she'd make something like that up out of whole cloth. You must have said something to make her think it."

Even with the mask, Dick's expressions were easy to read, as they had always been, and Batman watched his anger struggle with some inner pain. "It wasn't exactly a conversation."

"Kind of like this one, you mean." This time, his voice did hold a measure of frustrated humor.

It almost made Batman smile, but he didn't think it would be very well-received. He inclined his head slightly.

Nightwing joined him in looking back at the city. They were silent together for long enough this time that Batman thought maybe he could relax, that it wasn't going to get any more dangerous than this. He knew he was wrong when Nightwing turned his whole body toward him and took another deep breath.

"I want to know what you said to make her think that. I mean, I really want to know. And I want to know why."

Batman tightened his jaw, scanning the surrounding buildings. "Is there a point to this?" He could almost see Nightwing counting to ten before he spoke again.

"Just-- Humor me," he bit out.

"What I did or didn't say is irrelevant. I didn't ask her why she believed it."

"So, what, she just...came to that conclusion on her own? Without any help from you."

Batman watched a figure stagger out of the alley across the street, doing up his pants. Neither prostitution nor public indecency were enough to require his attention.

"And you couldn't be bothered to deny it," Nightwing said, an edge to his voice.

Batman had never wished quite so desperately for the sound of a crime being committed. He could see Nightwing nodding out of the corner of his eye, clearly taking his silence as consent.

"I'm sure you had a reason. You always have a reason, don't you?"

This made Batman even more uncomfortable, because he liked to think he never acted without reason, but this time his reasons were... murky. Figuring out why had kept him up most of the little time he'd allowed himself for sleep last night.

"So, then, the enquiring mind wonders what reason you had for letting her think we're lovers." Nightwing's voice wobbled on the last word.

"Why should you care what Catwoman thinks?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe I don't like being used as an excuse to keep your ex-girlfriend at arm's length. I mean, surely you can come up with a more believable lie than that you're sleeping with me," Nightwing spat out.

Batman almost choked on the underlying bitterness. "Catwoman apparently believed it."

"Yeah, well, jealousy can make you think really stupid things, which is pretty fucking funny, given the circumstances. Guess her plan kind of backfired."

Batman closed his eyes, his throat tight, and thought of Harvey's spinning coin, wondering if there were a good choice, wishing that life were that clear, that easily answered. He opened his mouth, not sure what he was going to say. "There's no reason to be jealous."

Nightwing made a sound that might have been a broken laugh, and stood up. "I'll be sure and tell her that, if I see her again. And please, another time, if you need to avoid a romantic entanglement, I'd rather you not let the criminals think that you're fucking me," he said viciously. "Particularly when it's not true, and you've made it abundantly clear that it's not something you want."

He shook out his grappling hook, preparing to take off.

"Dick," Batman said softly. As Nightwing looked around, obviously reluctant, Batman reached a hand up to him, not entirely sure why. "I didn't say that she had no reason to be jealous."

Nightwing tended towards motion if at all possible, so when he went still, it was very noticeable. "Excuse me?" His face was now painfully uncertain, and far too vulnerable.

Batman gestured with his hand again, urging him to take it. The last thing Nightwing needed was his help, but it was a gesture he needed to make. "I meant. There's. There's no reason for you to be jealous. Not anymore."

Nightwing slowly took his hand and just held it for a moment before jumping down to roof level, his movements uncharacteristically heavy and awkward. Batman didn't let go. Nightwing looked at their clasped hands, then up at Batman, as if he could see through the mask. "I don't understand," he said flatly.

"Neither do I," Batman said, and he pulled Nightwing close, hands moving to his waist, and bent his head. He'd always spoken better through action, always acted once he'd made up his mind. He ignored the small voice questioning whether his mind had been involved at all.

Nightwing came easily, and his mouth tasted clean, and sweet, his body warm and hard, and Batman lingered over every sensation without even thinking about it, filing it away for later. He was so busy not thinking that it took him a moment to notice that while Dick wasn't resisting, he wasn't actively participating, either.

As soon as he realized it, Batman pulled back sharply, and only the fact that at some point Nightwing had tangled his hands in the folds of Batman's cape kept him from pushing Nightwing away. When he tried, Nightwing clenched his fists and held tight, swaying ever so slightly. His face was flushed, his eyes closed, his mouth pink and already faintly swollen.

Batman felt a fluttering in his stomach that he barely recognized as incipient panic. It had been two years, maybe Dick really had changed his mind, but he'd seemed genuinely upset-- He could almost feel the barriers trying to reassert themselves, trying to dampen his feelings before it was too late--

He tried to back away again, but Nightwing shook his head almost imperceptibly and held on, tongue darting out to wet his lips. "So, um." He shook his head again, opening his eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm usually a little quicker on the uptake. Can we try that again?"

He slid strong arms around Batman's neck, pulling his head down. There was no hesitation this time, no delayed reaction, only a breath-stealing urgency and hungry determination that threatened what little mental capacity Batman had left. Dick needed no more encouragement, and he seemed set on making up for lost time.

With Dick warm and willing in his arms, the doubts and fears that had haunted Batman the night before were stilled, if not permanently silenced. Somewhere in that night he had made an unconscious choice, and this was the result, this supple body under his hands, reacting to his every touch, this breathless voice murmuring in his ear. All the love that he had in the world, in this moment, made tangible in his arms.

He slid his hands up along Nightwing's sides, feeling the smooth shift of muscle under his palms as he brushed his lips along Nightwing's jaw line and over to his ear. Then he slid one gloved hand into Nightwing's hair to bring his mouth around again as he stroked his back with the other.

"Ow!" Nightwing jerked in his arms as Batman's hand slid across his bandaged shoulders. "Ow. Sorry," he said, stepping back slightly to roll his shoulders, grimacing.

Batman's brief laughter was rough and deep. He moved his hands back to Nightwing's waist, resting his forehead against Nightwing's, breathing deeply. "You should let me take a look at those cuts."

Nightwing's hands were already roaming again under Batman's cape. He grinned. "Trust me, you can take a look at anything you want." He turned his head to let his lips brush Batman's chin. "All you ever had to do was ask," he whispered.

A flicker of doubt surfaced, a feeling that he was taking advantage, but these were banished by the sense of rightness, the way Dick fit against him, with him, the way he filled an emptiness that had left Bruce cold and lonely for too long. If it proved to be a mistake, it wouldn't be because this wasn't what they both wanted -- what they needed.

Batman kissed him again, slowly, stroking the curves of his ass, palming and squeezing them as he pulled him in tight, broadening his stance to hold him close. He deepened the kiss, using his mouth in ways he hoped more effective than mere words, trying to communicate both his apology, for anything, possibly for everything, and his own near-desperate need. Having taken such a dangerous step, the depths of his desire left him reeling. Each further step was an act of will, but Dick's passionate response lured him further and further, until he couldn't imagine turning back.

When he lifted his head, Dick's arms were tight around his neck, and he allowed Batman to lift his head only reluctantly. Batman shifted his own arms to slide them tightly around Nightwing's waist, hugging him hard.

"I am not doing this with you on the roof of the Gotham Arms," he breathed into Nightwing's ear, smiling when he shivered.

"But where's your sense of adventure?" Nightwing asked huskily, pulling back to look at his face.

"Safely locked away with my sense of humor, where it can't get me in trouble."

Nightwing opened his mouth, then closed it again, clearly sorting through possible responses. "You might want to check those security measures."

"You might have a point. In any case, while the night's been quiet so far, and the stairway to the roof is blocked with trash and discarded furniture, I'm not a gambling man."

"You could have fooled me," Nightwing said softly.

"This was...impulsive," Batman admitted. The strength of his need to strip off his gloves, so he could touch, feel the warmth of bare skin, shocked him. Impulsive, dangerous, foolhardy, poorly thought out, all these flashed through his mind, traits that were entirely uncharacteristic. It was deeply, deeply disturbing, and frighteningly exhilarating.

"What's the world coming to?" Nightwing asked. "If Batman can be impulsive..." He brought his hand around to brush lightly across Batman's face, smoothing over the mask and down to his lips. "And why now?" His voice still carried traces of pain from earlier rejection.

I don't know. Batman wanted to say. Impulse has no reason, it just is. I have no reason, I just... want. But that was more than he could admit, even now. "Catwoman was in the wrong place at the right time," he finally said.

Nightwing nodded as if this made sense to him. "So... what did you say to her?" he asked.

"Nothing. She just... knew," Batman said, some of his surprise coming through in his voice.

Nightwing laughed. "You're saying you were obvious?"

"She was guessing."

"Yeah, but she was right," Nightwing said, pressing closer.

"Apparently so," Batman said ruefully, relaxed enough to smile slightly. "I didn't think so at the time."

"I'm glad you figured it out."

This kiss was less intense, and brief, interrupted by the sounds of sirens below. Batman raised his head and hit his internal unit, sensing Nightwing rolling his eyes, even though he couldn't see them under the mask. He kept his arm around Nightwing's waist, rubbing small circles on his back, looking down at him, wishing away the very disruption he'd looked for, earlier.

"Oracle. Sirens, Lowry Avenue."

There was a brief pause -- very brief -- then, "A runner, they've got him pinned in an alley between Lowry and 52nd already. No need for intervention."

Nightwing stood quietly during this, looking thoughtful, but he shifted his balance from side to side, never quite still. Batman pulled him in closer and felt Nightwing's hands tighten on his own hips. "Anything else needing our attention?"

"Nothing on my radar--"

He cut the connection. "Bike?"

Nightwing nodded. "It's tagged, but I don't want to leave it all night," he said slowly.

"I'll meet you back at the cave, then."

Nightwing made no move to let him go.

"What is it?" Batman asked.

"I'm... If you're alone, you'll rethink this." Nightwing wet his lips. "I'll get to the cave, and you'll have come up with several good solid reasons why this shouldn't happen -- why we shouldn't happen. And it'll be just like two years ago, only worse." He shifted forward, running his hands up Batman's back, and his voice sank to a husky whisper. "Because now I know what your body feels like under my hands, I know what your mouth tastes like, and I'll never not be able to know that. I'm not sure how well I'll handle that," he said, as if he were warning Batman, as if he already knew that was how it would happen.

Batman hugged him again, careful of his wounded shoulders, unable to deny the possibility. Then he curled one hand under Dick's chin and tipped his face up. "How often have you seen me back away, once I've committed to something?"

"Are you?" His tone was naked and vulnerable, laced with his uncertainty and not a little demand.

Batman brushed the hair back from his forehead, seeing all the changes the years had wrought, then cupped his cheek in one gloved hand and kissed each corner of his mouth softly. "It might have been an impulse, but I could have stopped myself," he said, wondering if it were true. "So, yes. To this. To you. To... seeing what happens. For now." He hoped it was enough; it was more than he'd ever allowed himself before.

Nightwing nodded, once. "I guess I'll have to trust you, then."

"You always have, more than I deserve."

Nightwing's smile was a thing of beauty. "I'm just not made any other way, I guess."

Though he'd never said it out loud, in his better moments Batman knew that this was a priceless thing that life had given him, this gift of faith and love, and he knew he'd never done anything to justify it. "You're so much stronger than you realize, Dick. Stronger than I am, I think." He kissed him lightly again, and stepped away. "I'll meet you at the cave. And I won't change my mind."

Nightwing stood there for a moment, looking at him, looking solemn. Then he was off without another word.

Batman watched him swing away, feeling cold without his heat. He stared up at the sky, only a handful of stars barely visible in the glow that was Gotham. Breathing deeply, he listened to the sounds of his city. He felt overheated, a little shaky, and frighteningly alive. He clenched his fists, hearing the leather creak, then flexed his fingers before taking out his line, looking forward to the rush of wind as he dropped down to city level. Thumbing his remote, he ordered the car to meet him below.

He didn't believe in luck, and he didn't trust serendipity. He had no explanation for the grace of Dick's presence in his life, and no real understanding of why this, why now. He was a creature of darkness, rather than light, of grim science over faith, and yet he felt himself blessed. He wondered why that terrified him.

For Dick, much of the trip back to the cave was a blur, a fit companion for his thoughts. His encounter with Selina had left him numb, at first, but slowly he'd realized that more than anything else, he was angry, furious that Bruce had used something so personal, so incredibly painful for Dick, at least, and in a way that left Dick feeling vulnerable and exposed in front of someone like Catwoman. He'd felt betrayed, and he'd really just wanted to punch Bruce in the face. He'd come close when he first saw him on the roof. But no matter how he added it up, he couldn't figure out why Bruce would say something like that to Selina, and in the end his curiosity overcame his anger.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it had entirely unexpected and appealing results for Dick, and the closer he got to the cave, the more uncertain he felt. In spite of Bruce's promise, Dick couldn't really believe that anything was going to happen, that Bruce wouldn't back out. Bruce's rejection two years ago had been blunt to the point of insult, and the idea that he could have just... changed his mind...

Dick had said he trusted Bruce, and he did -- he did -- but sometimes trusting Batman meant operating blindly and choosing to believe that he had good reasons for everything he did, and...sometimes that meant getting hurt. Everything Batman did ultimately made sense, but sometimes only from his own rather... skewed... perspective, and Dick was almost afraid to ask himself exactly how much he was willing to risk this time.

He was paying enough attention to slow down going into a tight curve, and at that point the Batmobile pulled up beside him, and then passed him on the inside, speeding up, and suddenly they were racing, and it was playful, in a way Bruce hadn't been for a very long time, a way Dick missed, he missed, along with so many other things that had changed almost out of recognition, and Dick couldn't stop grinning.

It was a close thing, but the bike's maneuverability brought it in just a shade ahead of the car. Nightwing set the kickstand as Bruce shut the engine down, then he pulled off his helmet and hooked it on the bike. He stood beside it, his eyes on the car, his exhilaration fading away in the unbroken silence. After a moment he sat on the bike, his arms crossed, waiting, his face carefully blank.

It was a critical moment; everything turned on what Bruce did when he climbed out of the car. If he climbed out and walked away, Dick wouldn't follow him. Something between them would fracture -- even more than it already was -- but they'd survive, limping on more or less together. For now.

It wasn't like the desire was something new; he'd been living with it for years, even before the incident two years ago. Bruce had shut him down immediately, harshly, and Dick had believed him when he said that he didn't share the feeling. For a time Dick had even thought it disgusted him, that Dick could feel that way about a man who was the closest thing he had to a father. That sense had faded, but until tonight, he'd had no idea that not only was Bruce not disgusted, he shared Dick's desire, which begged the question, why tonight? Why not two years ago?

Whatever the reason, Dick knew now, and Bruce couldn't take that back... but he could still refuse to go any further, whatever he'd said on the rooftop. He could tuck it away with everything else he'd given up, all the weaknesses he'd denied himself in pursuit of his mission, and if he did, it might just kill something inside Dick.

He'd known the feel of Bruce's body under his hands, battered, hurt, so many times, but he'd had no idea what Bruce's desire would feel like, what it would taste like. He knew that even if Bruce walked away this time, he'd still be haunted by his kisses, hear the echo of the sounds he made, God, the smell of him...

And still Bruce sat in the car, hidden behind the darkened windshield, and surely he wasn't going to just refuse to come out, but it looked like he would, in fact, just one more out-of-character action on an uncharacteristic night. Anger overcame pain again, and Dick was turning to get on his bike when he finally heard the car door opening. He stopped, almost afraid to breathe, but he didn't turn around until Bruce was within a few steps of him. Then he turned to face him, reaching up to peel off his mask so he could face him calmly -- nakedly, even -- as Bruce told him that nothing was going to happen.

Batman was already peeling his cowl back. They looked at each other for a moment, and then Bruce reached for him, pulling him in with a hand cupped to the back of his neck, his other hand seeking Dick's waist as his mouth came down where it belonged. Dick met him halfway, arms closing tight around him, anger fading, and Bruce took advantage of a shuddering breath to deepen the kiss.

He was careful of Dick's injured back, stroking along his sides, his waist, fingertips brushing over his thighs, and Dick responded in kind, legs sliding to either side of one broad thigh, rubbing urgently, already hard and needy. He licked and mouthed along Bruce's chin, across bare cheekbones, in the hollow of his throat, pulling the neck of his suit aside with impatient fingers. After a while their kisses lost some of their urgency, but none of their potency, the heat building as their pace slowed.

Dick kept his arms around Bruce's waist, tugging his gloves off to drop them to the ground, and then he was working at Bruce's suit, taking advantage of his knowledge of fastenings and openings, sliding gloveless fingertips underneath to finally stroke bare skin. He smoothed one palm up along Bruce's back, feeling the warmth of his skin, and stroked one finger down under his belt, brushing over the small of his back, eliciting a sharp intake of breath, and when Dick started moving his hand around to the front of his suit, Bruce shuddered.

Dick stopped with his fingertips stroking down towards Bruce's hipbone as Bruce pulled his head back, breathing deeply. They stood there silently for a moment, and Dick's fingers stilled, just touching lightly, and he almost thought he imagined the slight press forward of Bruce's hips.

"You were going to change your mind," Dick said quietly.

"I thought about it." Bruce shifted his stance; Dick pressed his fingertips lightly inward, rubbing them back and forth in tiny increments.

"Why didn't you?"

"I... didn't want to."

Dick reached up with his other hand and slid his fingers through Bruce's hair, brushing it out a little, his eyes follow the movement of his hand. "That thing really does a number on your hair."

Bruce narrowed his eyes, tilting his head back slightly as Dick's fingertips lightly rubbed his scalp. "You don't love me for my good looks."

Dick froze, then he slowly brought his hand down from Bruce's hair to cup his jaw as he searched Bruce's eyes. Bruce held his gaze, but neither of them spoke out loud. The windows of the soul, they said, but Bruce had taught him to trust more to the minute changes in facial expression, in the tells that even the most practiced individual had, if you studied them long enough. He'd spent most of his life studying Bruce, but he'd never been able to tell what he was thinking, if Bruce didn't want him to. What he saw now was that Bruce was nervous -- and Dick wasn't sure he'd ever seen him nervous before. It was a heady feeling, seeing that, knowing that Bruce was either letting him see, or couldn't quite hide it.

And before tonight, he would have said that Bruce never said anything casually, or without thinking, but his instincts told him that there was nothing calculated in Bruce's comment. It was as close to offhand as Dick had heard from him in a long time, and maybe that explained some of the nervousness. "Did you still want to take a look at my back?"

His hands slipping from Bruce's skin were caresses as he turned and headed towards the med area.

Bruce followed, removing the cape as he went, draping it over the end of the table as Dick somewhat gingerly lifted himself on to it, his back to Bruce. Dick's shirt and Bruce's gloves ended up on top of the cape, and Dick took a deep breath as Bruce looked at the makeshift bandaging Dick had managed.

He knew it wasn't badly done, given the awkward reach; Dick had been well-trained to take care of injuries. But they weren't as secure as they could be; the wounds had bled through, and probably needed cleaning, and possibly stitches.

After pulling out supplies, Bruce peeled the bandages from Dick's shoulders as carefully as he could, moistening them when they adhered to his skin. Dick knew he tried to be gentle, but he couldn't prevent every small flinch or wince.

No matter how many times you were badly hurt, the small injuries still stung.

They both remained silent as Bruce cleaned the wounds and treated them with antibiotic ointment. It was both familiar and strange. Bruce had been patching him up most of his life, but this was the first time his gloveless hands had touched Dick's skin tonight. Dick closed his eyes at the feeling, and it was a nice distraction from the minor pains of the process, as Bruce's fingertips lingered and touched him more than was strictly necessary.

But try as he might, he couldn't move beyond those light touches to envision more, and he wasn't sure if it was a failure of imagination, or courage.

"You should have a few stitches."

Dick sighed. "You have the strangest taste in foreplay," he said dryly.

"It's a gift," Bruce said, then pressed his mouth to the base of Dick's neck, making him shiver, trailing his lips across one shoulder. "Is it working?"

"I'll let you know," Dick said breathlessly, letting out a brief, inarticulate sound when Bruce bit him. That brought a deep, rumbling groan from Bruce, and then his hands were tight on Dick's upper arms, holding him still as he licked and bit along the top of Dick's shoulders, mouth hot and wet. He slid his hands down Dick's arms, and Dick caught them in his, squeezing them tight. It was all he could do not to press them between his legs. Bruce seemed to read his mind, sliding his palms hard over Dick's legs, curving over his inner thighs, pressing his legs apart, while he sucked hard on the curve of Dick's throat. And all the time, he carefully held himself back from contact with Dick's wounded shoulders.

Finally he stopped, brushing his lips lightly over Dick's ear, his temple. "Stitches," he murmured.

"You're a cruel, cruel man, Bruce Wayne." Dick pressed his own hand to his cock, biting his lip; this time Bruce was the one reduced to inarticulate noises, his hands tightening on Dick's thighs.

"That seems to be a lesson you've learned yourself."

"I had an excellent teacher."

For a moment, Bruce was silent, then he kissed Dick's temple once more, and stepped back. "You did, didn't you," he said.

Dick let his head fall back, chagrined. "I didn't mean it that way."

"I know," Bruce said quietly. "It doesn't make it any less true."

Each shoulder took several small, neat stitches. A topical numbed the immediate area; Dick grunted occasionally, but kept his shoulders steady, his head bowed.

Bruce worked in silence for the first few minutes, his touch now more brusque and impersonal. When he spoke, his voice was equally impersonal, as if what he said was of no importance. "Why do you trust me?"

Such a dangerous question, but Dick didn't hesitate. "Because I believe in you. Because you've never--"

"Never what?" Bruce huffed out a laugh, but it wasn't particularly amused. "Asked too much? Made you regret it? Hurt you?" The last was said with such intensity that it made Dick blink.

"You've never asked more of me than I was willing to give," he said quietly.

Bruce tied off the stitches, and he was finishing with the bandages when he spoke again. "Sometimes I question your wisdom," he said lightly.

Dick grinned. "Well, you don't love me for my good sense."

Bruce's hands stilled on his shoulders. "No," he said, his voice rough. "Not for that."

For a moment Dick's heart stuttered, as Bruce busied himself cleaning up. The silence between them lengthened and grew heavy, even after Bruce stopped pretending he had anything left to put away, and just stood there with his back to the table. Dick wasn't sure how to break the silence to move past this point. In most cases, he'd follow Bruce's lead -- Batman's lead -- but he somehow knew that this was up to him, that even though Bruce had initiated this, he was waiting for Dick's response.

"Second thoughts?" he asked

Bruce's laugh sounded rusty with disuse. "I'm well past second thoughts at this point."

Dick slipped off the table and walked up behind him, sliding his arms around until he was leaning against Bruce's broad, solid back. He rested his cheek against Bruce's shoulder and closed his eyes. "There's still time to change your mind."

Bruce laid his arms over Dick's. "And what happens if I do?"

Dick wanted to hold him closer, but held still, instead. His throat was tight, but he forced his voice to sound normal. "Nothing happens. I leave, you do whatever it is you do, and life goes on, more or less as it has the last couple of years."

"More or less?"

Dick shrugged. "Yeah. It won't stop how I feel about you, but... I won't let it come between us." He tucked his head in a little. "I... I don't think I know what it's like to not want you, but that hasn't stopped me from wanting and loving other people. We'll be okay."

Bruce took one of Dick's hands in one of his own, his thumb rubbing over the backs of his fingers, fingertips brushing over his palm. "You're wrong, you know."

"About what?"

"There's no time at all." He lifted Dick's hand to his mouth and pressed his lips against the palm. Dick held his breath as Bruce licked the skin between thumb and fingers, then slowly sucked each finger into his mouth, until Dick couldn't stand it anymore. He turned his hand to take hold of Bruce's, stepping back and pulling Bruce along behind him.

The bedrooms upstairs seemed too far away, so Dick led him to the rudimentary sleeping area Bruce used from time to time.

"Here?" Bruce asked, his voice tinged with amusement.

Dick turned around, catching Bruce's other hand to pull him close. "Down here is where you really live," he said. "Kiss me."

As if he'd been waiting for permission, Bruce framed Dick's face in his hands and did exactly that, fierce, hungry kisses that left Dick forgetting to breathe. His fingers fumbled as he worked the hidden clasp on Bruce's belt, letting it drop to the floor, his hands already busy with Bruce's suit, pulling it off. He broke the kiss and stepped back, leaning against the wall to remove his own boots. "Get the rest of it off," he said hoarsely.

Bruce's laughter this time was richer, more genuine, but he did as Dick commanded, and then stood there, naked, as Dick dropped his boots to the floor.

Dick stopped with his hands ready to push off the rest of his suit, just looking at Bruce, who seemed as at ease naked as he did any other time. His body was scarred and battered, sheathed in lean, hard muscle, and he was beautiful. "I;ve changed my mind," Dick said. "Maybe it is your good looks."

"Are you saying I'm just another pretty face?"

"It's not your face I'm looking at."

"...Are you planning to finish taking off your suit? Because I could help with that."

Dick barely had time to pull his tights off before Bruce had him backed up against the wall, carefully placing his arms just so to keep Dick's shoulders from hitting the wall. Then he brought his mouth down on Dick's again, leaning into him, hips pressing forward. Dick wrapped his arms loosely around Bruce's waist, sliding his palms up and down his back, feeling the varying smoothness of scars and skin stretched tight over muscle.

Bruce's kisses lacked none of his previous need, but there was a deep tenderness to them, as well, that left Dick aching. Slow, deliberate touches of lips and tongue that went on endlessly, until Dick could feel Bruce hot and hard against his thigh, and he wanted more.

He pulled back and brought his hands up to Bruce's shoulders, and pushed, and Bruce let him, stepping
back, and Dick kept pushing until Bruce ran up against the bed, and then he was sitting down, then lying down and Dick was lying down against him, kissing him again, but only once or twice, maybe three times against his mouth before he was moving across his shoulders and chest, tonguing his scars, remembering older ones, learning newer ones, moving most gently over a few that seemed fairly recent, still tender and puckered red in places.

Every time he looked up, Bruce was watching him intently, breathing deeply, hands cupping Dick's shoulders, fingertips tracing gentle patterns on Dick's skin.

As he moved across Bruce's stomach, feeling muscles tightening under his mouth, Bruce spread his legs, wide, more open and vulnerable than Dick could remember seeing him, and yet strangely relaxed, as if a some hidden strain had been removed. Dick sat back on his knees, hands stroking over strong thighs. "You look good like this."

"Get my belt."

Dick could just reach it without getting up. He could feel Bruce's foot brushing along his leg.

"Fourth from the left," Bruce said. A small tube of clear gel, probably of Bruce's own concoction with a dozen different uses, and he calmly returned Dick's sharp look.

Dick knelt back between Bruce's legs, thickly coating his hands, watching Bruce's face as he wrapped one hand around Bruce's cock. The flutter of his eyelids was so brief Dick might have missed it if he hadn't been watching so closely. Slow, steady strokes, squeezing as he moved his hand up and down, brushing his thumb over the tip, up, and down, up, and down. Dick kept up the lazy pace until Bruce's hands were clenched in the sheets, and he was arching his hips, trying to speed up Dick's stroke, and the whole time their eyes were locked, and Dick was so turned on that little tingles of heat raced over his body.

Bruce finally made a sound that was somewhere between a rumble and a growl, and braced his feet on the bed, his legs spread wider. Dick leaned forward and slid two slick fingers behind his balls, stroking over, then sliding in, and Bruce's eyes widened, then closed tight before flashing open and locking on Dick's again. Dick started moving his other hand faster, fucking two and then three fingers in and out of Bruce's body, matching the thrusts of his hips, pressing deeper, scissoring and curling his fingers, until Bruce was writhing and groaning incoherently, something that might almost have sounded like "please" leaving his lips repeatedly, his hips lifting randomly, as if without his volition..

As Bruce came, Dick slicked the last of the gel over his own cock, gasping at the touch, and moved in closer, hooking his arm under one of Bruce's legs, lifting it. He broke eye contact to watch his cock slide into Bruce, smoothly and deeply, so tight, and so damn perfect. He was so close himself that he wanted to start thrusting, hard and deep, but he forced himself to move slowly, so he could watch as he moved in and out.

Bruce hooked one leg around him, pulling him in, while he reached down to fondle himself, spreading his come over his stomach. When he reached his hand up towards Dick's mouth, Dick shuddered, opening his lips to suck on Bruce's fingers, and he gave in to the demands of his body, no longer moving smoothly, but in short, sharp thrusts, over and over, sucking Bruce's taste off his fingers, then once more, two-and-three, four. Five. And he was coming, his orgasm moving through him in a wave centered on their joined bodies, leaving him light-headed and dizzy. He felt the brush of fingertips against his cheek as Bruce pulled his hand away.

Dick closed his eyes as the room rolled a little bit, with a deep groan of satisfaction. He could hear Bruce breathing heavily, and when he looked, Bruce was watching him through lazily narrowed eyes. Slowly, Dick settled back, biting his lip as he slipped from Bruce's body. Bruce rolled to his side, and Dick lay down beside him, feeling somehow both a little numb, and on fire, little jolts of pleasure still shivering through him. He lay there with his eyes closed, smiling because he couldn't help it, and when he opened his eyes, Bruce was still looking straight at him, deeply into him, and Dick couldn't breathe. Bruce's eyes were dark, his pupils a little blown, his color high, and Dick had never seen him like this, almost vulnerable, unguarded, maybe a little broken, and he wasn't sure who moved first, but they met in the middle, and this kiss was warm and yielding, and Dick thought it tasted like a promise.

When he pulled back, Bruce reached out a hand to brush the hair from Dick's face, and kept lightly stroking it back, running his fingers through it, lightly rubbing Dick's scalp. "I've missed you," he said.

Dick wrapped his hand around Bruce's wrist, rubbing his thumb over the pulse. "I've never been too far away."

"I have."

Dick didn't deny it, because they both knew it was true. "You don't have to be."

Bruce frowned slightly. "I'm... not like you. I can't just change like that."

Dick pulled away and sat up, feeling a little cold, wrapping his arms around his legs. He rested his head on his knees and looked back down at Bruce. "Why not? You changed before. You didn't used to be so... distant. So hard."

Bruce's eyes dropped, and he started tracing patterns in the sheets with one hand. "That was a different time. Simpler. The times changed, I had to change."

"You didn't have to change so much. You didn't have to--" Dick broke off, unable to finish. You didn't have to change so much towards me.

"I miss it," Bruce said roughly. "I miss those days. For that... it's hard to be around you, sometimes."

"You have Tim." It had taken him a while to be grateful for that, especially after Jason, but he was, for both their sakes.

"And he helps, but..." Bruce sat up beside him, brushing his hand down Dick's back. "I need you. I-- I have always needed you, not right here, not with me all the time, but. To know you're there, somewhere, that you're-- okay. You asked me why tonight-- I don't know. It was just... time." He tangled his hand in Dick's hair again, and Dick lifted his head, his mouth, for Bruce's kiss. "Sometimes I know you're the only thing I've ever gotten right," Bruce whispered against his lips.

When he pulled back, Dick was breathless again, as much or more from Bruce's uncharacteristic expressiveness as the kiss. "You're not getting all chick flick on me in your old age, are you?" he asked carelessly.

He received a sharp grin in return, and a flash of Bruce's eyes. "I wanted you to know. Alfred keeps telling me that I should say things like that more often."

Dick lay back, wincing only slightly, his hands under his head. "He's right, but I don't know that he meant for you to say them all at once like that. You could give a person a heart attack."

Bruce reached a hand out again, and Dick caught it in one of his, pressing it to his mouth, with the fingers curving up along his cheek, and just held it there. The feelings moving through him were too intense for him to speak them, but he knew Bruce understood. Bruce always seemed to be able to understand, although he often chose not to. One of the things Dick never tried to tell anyone was that the problem wasn't that Batman cared too little; it was that he cared too much. And caring that much was dangerous.

Bruce lay back down, but kept his hand on Dick's cheek. "Are you staying?"

"Is that an invitation?"

Bruce rolled his eyes. "Yes, I would like you to stay. Is that better?"

Dick grinned. "Yes, please, I'd like that."

"The bed upstairs is more comfortable." Still, Bruce moved his hand to curve over Dick's shoulder, pulling him closer.

Dick rolled easily, ending with his back tucked against Bruce's chest, Bruce's arm curved around his waist. "I wouldn't want to shock Alfred. Besides, this bed is already warm."

"Alfred doesn't shock," Bruce said. "And we're lying on the blankets."

"So we'll move. I'm not climbing upstairs at this point." Suiting actions to words, he climbed off the bed and pulled at the coverings until Bruce moved, too, then he climbed back in, and held the blankets up. "Get in here, I'm getting cold."

Bruce slid in next to him, tucking Dick into the curve of his body, one leg and arm draped across him. "Warming up?"

"It'll do," Dick said sleepily. He was already half asleep when he spoke again. "Bruce?"


"I've missed you, too."

Bruce pulled him closer, sliding his palm up to rest over Dick's heart, his breath drifting lightly over Dick's ear. "Go to sleep."

The End

Much love and thanks to [info]cereta, as always, for comments and support. It's all her fault!

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents --except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. --Lord Bulwer-Lytton