Grayson put the phone down, still smiling. When he looked up at Bruce, he noted the intense stare. It was more than that though. There was great regret and hurt in Bruce‘s face.
Dick waited. “Bruce?”
"You seem so... it doesn't matter,” Bruce finished quickly, turning away and heading for the door.
"So relaxed with others?” Dick asked. He could read Bruce. He'd always been able to. Wayne stopped just in the doorway. Dick ran his hand through his hair. “Ohhh, Bruce." He blinked in an effort to clear his head. This was something he'd tried to discuss with his former guardian so many times, but he'd never been able to make Bruce understand. “Come and sit down.“
Bruce started toward the door again. “Bruce. Come and sit down,“ Dick repeated firmly.
Wayne turned, but remained where he was.
"I... Look ..." Dick stumbled. Where did he start?
"I don't know what I'm doing wrong," Bruce whispered with more emotion than Dick felt comfortable with.
Dick licked his lips. “You aren’t ever yourself.”
Bruce continued to stare at Dick.
Grayson drew in a deep breath and racked his brain for the right words... some way to explain. "Do you remember that Maharaja who came to Gotham and you had to spend a week entertaining his daughter?”
Bruce eyed Dick curiously. “Yes.”
“She was the ugliest woman I‘d ever seen.”
Bruce shrugged. “She had a face like a horse.”
“And she kept spouting off her opinions and great ideas and you agreed with them because that’s what everyone expected of Bruce Wayne. It was important for Gotham to gain the Maharaja’s business. It meant millions of dollars to the city and so you stood there and agreed with what that woman was saying. You even said to Lucius Fox when the three of us were alone, that you felt she was one of the most forward thinking people you‘d ever met.”
“The stupid cow didn’t have a brain in her head,” Bruce muttered.
"That's it,” Dick whispered. “That's what you need to do."
"Huh," Bruce asked, puzzled. “Do what?”
"React without first running it through a series of filters. Bruce it's me. You spend so much of your life pretending to be something you're not and then restraining yourself so you can be what Gotham needs, that you forget that in front of me, you don't need to be anything. Just be you. The real you. The you that can admit to me that you thought she was an idiot, even though you told everyone else you thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I knew what you were really thinking. You don't need to filter your reactions in front of me.”
Bruce frowned. “I don’t...”
“I can't relate to the socialite -- I never did. That's nothing more than an act and is so far from who you really are. I can accept and work with Batman. I respect what you've done. Hell, in my own way, I've carved my own path based on that. But that's work. That’s when we pull on the suits. That’s not... this is just us. Me spending time with you. Me having a conversation with you -- not the brainless socialite who protects Batman’s identity and not Batman who needs to keep his emotions in check so he can do the job. I’m talking about you. The you that lives in the shadows behind the personas you've created. Sometimes, I really think you've forgotten who that person is -- I haven't.” Dick’s voice had become emotional. “I know that it’s hard for you to separate everything out because Batman, and I guess the 'socialite' too, are still a part of who you are and who you have to be, but there's another part to you, Bruce. A part that gradually disappeared a long time ago.”
Bruce's eyes narrowed and he nodded thoughtfully. He was beginning to understand what Dick was saying. "I'll try."
"Don't try, Bruce. Just be who you are around me and Alfred... and Tim... and Babs... okay, too many.” Dick grinned. “Start with me."
They stared at each other and Bruce's head bobbed once. "I think I can handle that. I promise, I'll try."
“Good,” Dick mumbled and then he winked at Bruce. “Because I only make one speech each decade and that was it.”
Dick had been right. Bruce had come to realize that he ‘played’ the socialite and ‘became’ Batman. They were roles he had invented, but the time he spent playing each had increased to the point that he was actually playing one or the other all of the time. However, in the past six weeks he’d consciously pushed them aside and in doing so, he’d re-established his relationship with the person who was both his best friend and son.
It wasn't easy and was taking time because Bruce had learned the parts so well that he tended to act them out without thought. Everything Dick had said was right on the mark. It was a startling revelation. Bruce had never realized that every response he made or refrained from making so he didn't give anything away, was gauged so that it fit the 'character' he was playing at the time. At what point had he had submerged his own personality behind the two he had created to the extent that who he was had almost disappeared?
He knew the answer to that. It had been the night the Joker had shot Dick. That night, everything in his life had changed... for the worse.
Now, he was determined to find a balance... to only play the role when the role was required. Dick had been helping by saying things like, ‘that's the cowl talking‘, or, ‘is that what you think or what the socialite thinks?’ Every time Dick picked him up on something, he was correct. When Bruce stopped to actually think about it, often the response he'd given was according to one of the 'characters' and not true what he was actually thinking or feeling.
When he was 'just being himself', he and Dick were comfortable with each other. They actually enjoyed spending time together... “Until I put my foot in it,” Bruce grumbled. It was time for Dick to face his uncertain future, but Bruce had unwittingly dumped it on him like a tonne of bricks.
“Mr. Wayne? I‘m sorry. Put your foot in it?” Bruce looked at MacIntosh who had him by the elbow, guiding him into the conference room. He’d been so distracted that he’d... simply followed the other man when he’d reappeared?
“I’m sorry,” Bruce apologised, struggling to push all other thoughts aside. “I’m afraid I’ve been preoccupied all morning.“ His voice sounded slow and slurred in his own ears. For the first time, Bruce actually looked at MacIntosh. He was young. The man Bruce had spoken to on the phone had sounded older.
The man claiming to be MacIntosh, closed the door behind him and laid a document on the table in front of Bruce. “I see you have your pen ready, Mr. Wayne.”
All of the sudden, Bruce felt it. He’d been drugged. His mind had been wandering since he and MacIntosh had exchanged a handshake on the street. Wayne raised the palm of his hand and noted the faint discolouration. Why hadn’t he realized? He’d been so preoccupied with thoughts of Dick and helping the boy get through this tough time, that the warning signs had slipped passed him unnoticed... the headache... the inability to focus his thoughts... the blurred vision! The drug had amplified his anxiety and enhanced the swirling memories -- creating drug induced hallucinations -- completely clouding his mind and judgement.
Wayne’s face shadowed. He’d been sitting out there in the tavern like a fool, giving the drug time to take effect!
MacIntosh smiled with satisfaction. “Relax, Mr. Wayne.” Three well-built men appeared from behind a screen. “In a few moments, you won’t be feeling anything.”
Bruce’s fogged mind immediately began to process the situation. He wasn’t Batman and so his response needed to fit within the 'confines' of his Bruce's Wayne persona -- nothing was important than protecting his secret.
But, if they took him, Dick may be their next target and Dick wasn’t in any condition to protect himself.
He sent one man flying and spun toward another, but his punch was uncoordinated and slid off harmlessly. A needle was stabbed into his arm. Bruce roared and grabbed at the fingers plunging the drug into him. The room began to move. The floor became spongy under his feet. He righted himself and swung again, even as his legs were collapsing beneath him.
Dick stepped out of the shop into a blast of cold air. Snow was falling lightly, but was being tossed around by the wind. Dick zipped up his new coat and set off for the Deer Head Tavern.
Pine Village was alive with activity but few took any notice of the young man in the brightly coloured parka. Once again, Dick was heading away from the tourist strip and into the area that was clearly for locals alone. He would need to apologize for jumping down Bruce’s throat, but that was only for the money part of it. He and Bruce needed to discuss the notion of him working in the business. On one hand, he could understand Bruce‘s desire for him to do so. As a matter of fact, it had always been what Bruce had wanted -- to pass on his legacy. Dick was grateful... no, not grateful. Grateful was the wrong word. He loved Bruce for it. It was the only way Bruce could show him how much he cared. And Bruce did care. More than he’d probably ever meant to or even wanted to. The big dumb lug just didn’t know any other way to show it than to make Dick his heir.
Grayson’s brow furrowed. And then, completely out of the blue, Bruce had asked if he could adopt him. It had been a huge step for Bruce... and for Dick too, he realized. It was an idea that used to roll around in his mind when he was young. He had long since dismissed it. After all, he and Bruce had been family in everything but name for years, but to actually make it official had forced both to examine their feelings... and Dick’s were something of a mess.
It wasn’t just the adoption, though. There were so many other factors. He’d thought that almost dying hadn’t affected him... he’d almost died so many times! However, this time, it had been different. This time, he had died. Dr. Anderson insisted that Dick’s ’brain failure’ had to have been a machine malfunction and thus Dick’s brain hadn’t actually stopped. Grayson believed differently. He couldn‘t remember exactly what had happened in those moments he was ‘gone‘, but he did know that he’d decided to live, and that his connection with Bruce had enabled him to come back from where ever he'd been headed. It went against everything he knew and believed to be medically possible... once a person‘s brain activity stopped that was it... but some things a person just had to take on faith. This was one of them. All of which meant, Dick needed to sort through the whats and whys of his existence.
There was also the complex nature of his relationship with the other members of his unusual family. Alfred was easy. Alfred was his rock. He and the old man had no difficulty expressing their feelings toward one another. Alfred still had a way of making him feel like he was a kid. A look. A phrase. A subtle shake of the head. Dick sighed. If it hadn’t been for Alfred... Dick didn’t like to think.
Then there was Tim...
“I’ve got tickets to that ballgame we were talking about, but it’s only three weeks away,” Tim stated as he rolled the dice. He was seated on the chair next to Dick’s bed, the pair playing Monopoly. Dick had been starting to get restless and so Alfred had asked the teenager to ‘help fill in Dick’s day’.
“No problem. Three weeks from now I’ll be out of this bed and back in tights.” Grayson bounced his eyebrows.
Tim eyed his friend carefully. “Are you sure? I mean... hell, Dick. You...” Tim paused as Grayson’s relaxed expression disappeared. “Alfred said he thought it could be another couple of months,” the boy stated, quickly. Blame Alfred. That was always a safe option.
“Oh,” and the fine disgruntled creases around Dick’s eyes disappeared. “You know Al. He just likes to worry.”
“Yeah, but you need to take things slowly. Don’t go back before you’re ready,” Tim cautioned.
Dick winked at the teenager. He wasn’t sure when he had started to feel so close to the boy. It may sound cliché, but Tim was the brother Dick had always longed to have. Wally, Roy and Garth had filled that gap for him for years and in many ways, still did, but Tim was... different. They shared so much in common. Dick’s mind flicked to Jason. He’d liked the other boy, but they’d never been close. Perhaps there simply hadn’t been the time.
“Oh, man! Is that the time? I’m dead. Dick, I’ve got to go,” Tim shrieked, tossing his cards down. “You look tired, anyway.“ Then he grinned. “Besides, you’ve cleaned me out.”
Dick dropped his cards down on the small tray he and Tim had been using for a table. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. Dad has some clients coming over this evening and I promised to help him get things ready... clean up the mess. The apartment looks like a bomb hit it.” The youth lifted the tray off Dick and placed it on the chair he’d just vacated. “Can I get you anything before I go?”
“No. And Tim, thanks for coming over.” Dick’s eyes fluttered a little as he fought against the sleep calling his name.
“Sure, any time.” Tim stared at Dick for several moments and once again, chills ran up and down his spine. Grayson was still so weak. Tim had never seen him like that. He’d had experienced death many times in his young life, but Dick was so capable. Despite the dangers they faced every time they pulled on the masks, it hadn’t actually occurred to the teenager that one of them could die.
Tim had found out a great deal about himself during the past few weeks. He’d wanted to pummel the bomber and wasn’t sure he would have stopped if others hadn’t intervened. Bruce had since reprimanded him. His actions had put not only his own identity at risk, but Batman’s and Nightwing’s as well. He’d revealed his skills in public and had knowledge of the bomber that had needed to be explained. Thankfully, Bruce had been able to cover the second by saying he’d seen the man lurking around and that when he’d spotted him again, he’d pointed him out to the teenager. It was mostly true.
The greatest thing to come out of the entire horrible business was a conscious awareness of how close he and Dick had become.
Dick eyed Tim’s young face and he reached up and laid his hand on the boy’s arm. Tim was transparent… at least, to Dick. “Hey, I’m gonna be okay. You and I’ll be back to kicking ass together before you know it.”
“Dick… I don’t know what I would have done if…” he swallowed, his young face awash with emotion.
“You’d have had to put up with Batman’s temper tantrums on your own,“ Dick chuckled, withdrawing his hand. “And do your own chemistry homework.”
Dick always knew what to say to help alleviate the tension. Tim smiled and his love of his ’brother’ settled comfortably in his heart. “I’ve got an exam coming up. If you’re not busy…?”
Dick raised his left eyebrow and with a sweeping arm, indicated he was bed bound.
“Thanks. I’ll be back tomorrow to avenge my losses.”
“Dream on, kid.”
Tim offered his hand. Dick slid his arm along Tim’s in a full forearm grip that symbolized their brotherhood.