Title: My Father's Words
Author: DC Luder
Rating: T for mild language and violence
Summary: Dick thinks back on his collection of paternal advice he has been given by both of his fathers after Bruce is injured.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: There's no school like old school! Figured I'd start posting with some of the re-vamped fics I first put out almost a decade ago.
"I learned from the example of my father that the manner in which one endures what must be endured
is more important than the thing that must be endured."
It was one of the most effective methods of relaying information from one generation to the other. It came about before the computer, the telephone, the printing press and even the written word. Speech.
Words, inflictions, arguments, grumbles, laughter.
As a part of the Flying Graysons, I had relied on physical as well as verbal expressions to perform and survive the trapeze acts my father designed. In practice, he would call out when to bend or flip or straighten out, and I followed his every word without question. After every successful session, I would hear the same thing from him as he picked me up and threw me up onto his broad shoulders.
"Way to go, Dick. Soon I'll be getting orders from you."
The relationship between my dad and I had been indescribable. We were both kids at heart and kept the entire circus on its toes, especially my mother. No matter where we were or how things were going, we made sure everyone managed to have a good laugh.
We were the Grayson men.
I had been barely five when I first took the spotlight forty feet above the ground, swinging with ease as spectators below cheered in awe.
Shortly after, I was a part of the regular show… Come see the Flying Graysons!
I was only ten when I saw the rope snap before watching my parents fall to their death.
That was when I became a man for it was impossible to remain a child after that.
Pop Haly and the others were still my family, but they couldn't have helped me. They didn't understand what I was going through… I hadn't even been able to truly understand.
No one could.
No one except that great big man who knelt before me in the sawdust floored ring and let me pound my fury into his chest with my little fists. The man who held me as I collapsed in exhaustion at the realization of it all. The man with the black hair and icy eyes. Had I known going down the drive that lead to Wayne Manor for the first time that my life would have been like this…
Perhaps I would have made them drive faster.
Agreed, many bad things have happened since the day I took up residence at that mansion. Many things that I never would forget and could only pray to have prevented. Joker shooting me. Jason dying. Barbara. Tim facing the Clench. Bruce's loss to Bane.
That perhaps seemed to be one of the most troubling memories I had. Knowing that Bruce was at his end, but never stepping in to help him. I never did know why I refused to go to his city, to his side to aid him. Was I afraid? Angry? Regsentful? Perhaps all of them. The simple thought of him being in the Cave, alone with Bane, being thrashed about like a rag doll...
I still had nightmares of what I envisioned him going through in that dark piece of Hell.
But he survived.
Just like he taught me to.
Having Bruce step in as my father figure was quite a jump. I went from a dad that held my hand when I was nervous and tickled me until I cried with laughter to Bruce's awkward pats on the back, unsure smiles and uncomfortable silences. Bruce tried to do as much as possible, but he had no clue. Thank God for Alfred.
He had raised Bruce nearly on his own after he had been orphaned. So when I came home to Wayne Manor, he was well versed in the care of sad young boys. Alfred knew when I wanted to talk or if I wanted to be left alone just by looking at me. He always knew what shirt I wanted to wear without me telling him. And the best part, if he knew I was down in the dumps, he would bring me a plate of steaming chocolate chip cookies and milk and ask me about silly things.
My favorite had been, "Master Dick, I've always wondered... How much do elephants actually eat in a day?"
And whenever Bruce and I were at odds, he would make sure I was set for the night and then set out to lecture my mentor. Reminding him that I wasn't a soldier to domineer, but a young boy who needed guidance. I never would hear Bruce's responses. I doubt he ever had a good one to argue.
But where Bruce lacked in physical support, he made up with verbal. I could write a dictionary of "Bruce's Words of Wisdom." They ranged from how to court women to how to throw the perfect roundhouse/jab combination. But for every time he told me that I needed to keep both eyes open to throw a ninja star correctly or that if I tucked my elbow when rolling out of a moving vehicle to prevent road rash…
He never said what I was so used to hearing after working so hard.
Way to go, Dick. Soon I'll be getting orders from you.
He never said he was proud of me. I was lucky to get a "good work" out of him let alone that he was awed with me. I had to hear those sorts of things from Alfred. He was always making excuses for Bruce, saying how he wasn't skilled in the arts of affection. That Bruce was truly impressed with my skills and thought of me as a star pupil.
But he never said it.
I suppose it all came down to the fact that Bruce had no intentions of replacing my father. That he didn't want to get too emotional in case I thought he was indeed becoming more than a teacher to me. But that wasn't what I wanted. At first, I almost hated Bruce for taking me away from the circus. Then I learned that his parents had died when he was a boy, so I thought maybe he would show me how to cope.
Just as he had taught me, I never told him how much he meant to me, even after all we had gone through. together and apart.
Like Father, like son.
I sighed as I sat in my car, both hands glued to the steering wheel. A quick glance beyond the nose of the vehicle showed the wrought-iron gates emblazoned with stlized W's. And two miles up the winding drive, past perfectly landscaped lawns and well-maintained water fountains it sat like a grumpy old man.
Although I had taken the drive a gazillion times, I was still intimidated by the mansion. It still held all of its glory in the five-story walls and masonry. I counted only three of the massive windows to be lit. One was the den that over looked the driveway, which was always lit, even in the dead of night. Another appeared to be the master kitchen, where no doubt a hot meal sat on the counter.
The last was the third floor bedroom that I had only been in a handful of times in the last sixteen years.
I had gotten the call earlier that afternoon that he had been injured. Alfred said he was stable and there was no immediate danger as long as Bruce obeyed doctor's orders.
Like that was even a possibility.
Batman had surprised the serial killer Victor Zsasz during a hostage situation at some private party at the Ritz hotel. Although thought by many to simply have an insatiable lust for blood, the fact was he was a very intelligent man... aside from the fact that he thought humans were zombies and he had to kill them. Each life taken, he had marked his own skin in order to keep track. At thirty-nine years of age, the mad man's body was covered in dark hash marks from the neck down.
Batman had been successful in bringing down Zsasz but at the cost of a vicious knife fight. With a broken jaw, the killer dropped to the floor unconscious while Batman exited through a fire escape, leaving the hostages to be cared for by the professionals. After such an ordeal, he often waited out back of a crime scene to talk it over with Commissioner Gordon.
Not that night.
An eleven-inch gash on his chest hadn't been terribley bad, but the deep stab wound in his back had nicked the renal artery. If he hadn't made it to Leslie at the Free Clinic when he had, she assured everyone he would have bled to death.
And where had I been during the entire mess?
On a date.
While Bruce had been lying near-death on Leslie's operating table, I had been sharing a bottle of sparkling cider with Barbara in her apartment in the Clocktower. Afterwards, I had returned to Bludhaven to patrol and she had gone to boot up the computers. Even though I rarely visited Gotham, it was almost always to see her and never Bruce.
After hearing from Alfred earlier that day, I couldn't help but feel guilty. I may have grown distant to Bruce, but he was still my father.
And there I sat in the car, next to the twenty-something car garage. I looked down at myself only to see that I had never changed out of my officer's uniform. I winced as my fingers brushed the butt of my gun. Although he was slowly beginning to approve of the fact that I had taken a regular life as a police officer, Bruce was still torn over my having to wield a firearm.
I couldn't blame him, not after dreaming about his parents being shot down in front of him every night for thirty odd years.
After exiting the car, I crossed over and headed for the side entrance. The entire house was silent, and yet as I listened closely I could hear drips in pipes, creaks of old wooden floors and of course the hum of electrical wire.I had spent nearly eight years of my life I Wayne Manor and had memorized it's voice just as I would a close friend's.
I checked the kitchen first, smelling the chicken primavera yards before I pushed the door open. A beige ceramic plate held two servings of the dish as well as two large slices of garlic bread. After blessing Alfred once more for being alife saver, I grabbed a bottle of milk from the fridge and dug in.
Having been on my own for years, I had grown to appreciate just how good I had it when I was a kid growing up in Alfred's kitchen. He was always quick with a snack or sandwich no matter what the hour or occasion. Although I tried to pick up some of his culinary charm, I still wasn't far beyond making spaghetti or macaroni and cheese.
Time to get to work, Grayson.
The stairs were a massive structure at the rear of the main hall. At the second floor landing, it separated into a "T". One set lead to the East wing and the other lead to the West wing. I lived in the house for most of my life, but I had never gone beyond the top of the East wing stairs. No one ever told me not to, but I just never felt brave enough to go up there.
There were thirteen rooms in that wing. A master bedroom, three large bedrooms as well as four guest rooms. Beyond that, four of those rooms had their own bathrooms as well. And of course, the last room was that of a playroom, full of late seventies styled toys. That wing had been where the Waynes lived. The only person I`d seen that went up there was Alfred, and it was just to clean.
Bruce's bedroom was the furthest on the West wing.
As I made my way up the stairs to his room, I undid my tie and let loose a few buttons on my shirt. Might as well get comfortable.
The double oak doors that lead to Bruce's quarters were partially open. Light poured into the dark hall, revealing a discarded medical gurney. As I approached it, I noticed dark blotches at the center of its white sheets. After a deep breath, I knocked.
Leslie's voice came weakly, "Come on in, Dick."
I adverted my eyes from the bed and looked at a dozing Alfred on the couch near the bay windows. He was dressed in a sweater and slacks and dark green socks. A light blanket had been draped over his form. I then looked at Leslie as she sat in an easy chair adjacent to the bed. She was still in dark blue medical scrubs and slippers, her face pale and tired.
When was the last time you had a night off, Leslie?
Just like Bruce.
"He's stable. We had to do another blood transfusion to get his pressure up, but everything is looking good. No serious damage to the artery itself, it only required six internal stitches…. On the other hand, forty-six stitches in his chest. Even if he wanted to hit the streets anytime soon, he wouldn't be able to bend or twist without ripping them open."
When she fell silent, I finally looked at him. His face was sweaty, but lost in the serenity of drug-induced sleep. The covers sheltered his lower abdomen, but left his upper torso revealed. With a blue silk pajama top unbuttoned, I could see his chest was wrapped from his armpits down. A faint tinge of red could be seen in a near straight line across his torso.
I sat on the edge of the bed and continued to look him over as Leslie said something about getting some coffee. Three IV lines were connected to his left arm. The stand they were connected to sat behind a small oxygen tank of which had small clear tubes of air that snaked their way up onto the bed and ended in a cannula under his nose. A nasty bruise had formed at his right temple. I searched the amongst the premixed IV bags, syringes, gauze rolls that dominated his nightstand and found a still cool ice pack.
Carefully, I applied it to his injured brow. I jumped when he winced.
"I'm sorry... I didn't know you were awake." I watched as his lips quirked into a brief smile and faded to a grimace. A rare expression of pain.
Leslie returned a moment later and smiled warmly at Bruce, "Well, how are we feeling?"
"Fantastic," thr word came slowly and labored.
"Are you sure?" she asked as she took his wrist to check his pulse. When she was done, she let it drop limply. "Slow, but better."
"Slow. Better than. Fast."
"Sometimes, yes," she replied as she pulled the blanket down to his hips. The bandages continued all the way to his navel. As I stared, Leslie asked, "Dick, push him up on his right side would you, I want to check the drainage tube."
I offered a weak smile at Bruce and then positioned him. He growled in pain and I thought I detected a curse under his breath. As I watched Leslie score his body, I noticed Alfred standing behind her. When did he get up?
After a curt nod from Leslie, I gently set Bruce back down as he grumbled to himself. That had been another thing Bruce had ingrained into my then young and impressionable mind. Resist assistance. It never did stick completely, but I was quite the whiner about people flustering over me when I was hurt.
I watched as Leslie and Alfred stepped away and began their "doctor talk". I was about to relocate to the chair, when Bruce grabbed my arm. I winced, not because he was being forceful, but because there was no strength behind his grasp. "What, Bruce?"
He shook his head, "No. Stay."
"I'm just going to sit on the chair." I moved slowly and looked down at him. His eyes squinted as if to focus on me. How much had Leslie given him?
"Talk. With you."
"Bruce, what do you need?"
"Not what. Who."
I paused, "All right. Who?"
His face suddenly soured in a grimace of pain. I felt the urge to grab his hand but I suppressed it.
Never express physical emotion when unnecessary, isn't that what you taught me, Bruce?
After a few deep breaths, he whispered, "Gordon."
"Jim or Barbara?"
"Jim. Meet him. Talk."
I nodded. "All right. I'll talk to him for you."
He acted hurt by my words, "No."
He was telling me about something and then didn't want me to do anything about it. Usually if he even mentioned an item it had been my sole purpose in life to tend to it. I blamed it on the delirium. He had a fever, he'd had two blood transfusions and who knew hoe many analgeics floating through his veins. It was acceptable if a person was acted out of character after that. Even for Bruce.
"Can't," he shook his head slowly as if he were resisting sleep. "Not you."
"You want Tim...?"
I sighed and covered him up again. Anyone else as hurt as he was would be sleeping and dreaming about bunnies and rainbows. Not Bruce. No, he had learned how to fight the effects of sedatives. "Bruce, I think you are a little out of it to go rooftop-hopping right now."
His eyes were now closed, "Me. Him."
"Him who, Bruce?"
My words fell on deaf ears, for his head had lulled to one side and sleep had taken over. Yet another nightmare to add to my collection. Not wanting to fret on it, I removed the ice pack and waited for Leslie and Alfred to return from Medical Jargon Land, of which had been a ten-minute wait.
Alfred walked over to my side, looked at my shirt and then tended to washing Bruce's face. I stood to keep out of his way, "What's the matter Alfred?"
"You sent your shirt to the cleaner's I see."
My eyebrow arched, "How'd you know?"
"They over starched your collar and you left the bill pinned to the inside of your pocket."
"It was an emergency."
"Well, I do hope that the emergency was promptly deflated... That shirt is ruined."
I almost said something to the fact that he was over reacting but then I remembered he was Alfred, and it was his job to over react.
Just like it was Bruce's job to torture himself. It angered me how he would always torment himself with his memories and constantly regret what he had done and he could have possibly changed things. But just how Alfred demanded to starch my shirts, Bruce needed something to remind himself why he did what he did.
Why he would take the brunt of an attack from a killer in order to save a few lives.
Words of wisdom had followed me from one life to another. But it was my father's words that stuck with me. No matter how much he had drilled me or yelled at me or threatened me, it had been all for a purpose. He wanted me to succeed. Over a year earlier, during one of our rare friendly meetings, Bruce had asked me to help patrol the city with him, for old time's sake. On a windy rooftop he had said something that was the closest thing I would ever get to an expression of pride or love.
"You're better than me, Dick."
To be anything of equality to the Batman was enough to force you into uncontrollable glee, but to excel beyond him? That was unheard of. I had never been a better martial artist or detective or anything else for that matter.
But I was a better person than him.
And the only way I would have become that person was through him. If Zucco hadn't doctored the ropes, if my parents hadn't fallen to their deaths and if I had never ridden up the drive to Wayne Manor, I wouldn't be Officer Dick Grayson or Nightwing. As Bruce had pointed out, they were indeed different, but neither had dominated my life as it had for Bruce.
With my breath caught in my throat, I left the room and headed downstairs.
Another lesson from you, Bruce. When in doubt and/or emotionally stressed, either beat the life out of a punch bag and/or the life out of some serious scum.
In no mood to sit in the `Cave all night, I opted for scum.
I returned two hours before dawn, tired, sweaty, but happy. Alfred was naturally there to greet me with a glass of orange juice and a towel. After thanking him, I changed and sat at the computer consol, preparing to log in my activities so Bruce would be able to read them once he had recuperated enough to come downstairs.
As I began to type, there had been a strong urge to go up to check on Bruce. I had been gone for nearly seven hours, perhaps he was feeling better if not more lucid. Nevertheless, I carried on, doing my best to keep my entries from getting too long or boring. Just as I approached the end of logging the night's activities, a rough voice asked from the stairs, "It's not good for your eyes to work in the dark."
I jumped involuntarily as lights flooded the cave.
With a smirk growing on my face, I turned and faced him, "Well, my old man always said, `Use them and then lose them.'"
He slowly descended the stairs, one at a time. He still looked horrible, but I supposed it was better to get moving to get the blood pumping. He grimaced something that might have been a smile and continued, "Busy night?"
"Not entirely so. Missed a fun deal down at Aces High."
"The underground casino," he mumbled as he shifted his weight slowly.
"Not anymore. They moved on up to the big deluxe apartment in the sky. Looks like a donated lease at the Plaza Tower."
"I was waiting for them to make the move." He paused and studied the screen's contents. The determination in his eyes was unnerving. Barely in any condition to sit, let alone to walk around and I'm sure he was already formulating plans for his next night out.
After listening to bats shriek for a minute, I cleared my throat, "So, feeling any better?"
He walked passed me and then sat in his chair, his fingers flying over the keys. He still wore his blue pajamas, but had buttoned them to cover the bandages. His black cotton robe made me think of his cape.
I began to head for the stairs, thinking he was ignoring me when he said, "Thanks, Dick. For stopping in."
Surprised, I paused and took a step back towards him, "Anytime. Bludhaven's not that far away."
I heard him sigh, "How's the job going?"
He hadn't questioned my work in months. After taking a few steps in his direction I replied, "Not bad. Keeping busy though."
Apparently that was the end of the conversation.
Any time we spent alone together always got to that point. Either of us would try to be civil to make conversation but it would never carry on far. Recalling our delusional conversation from earlier in the evening, I said, "Never met Gordon tonight. He wasn't in his office."
His turned slowly and his face was in utter confusion. His eyes asked me to explain myself.
"The meeting. You said to talk to Gordon, but then you said you wanted to do it."
After his gaze returned to the screen, "Oh."
"Oh? Well, where is he?"
"Thanks for coming, Dick."
I felt a twinge of anger in my muscles, "You're impossible," I muttered and headed for the stairs.
As I reached the thirteenth one, I barely heard his whisper, "Dick…"
I paused briefly and looked down at him, hunched over the keyboard, his face obviously waned in pain. I noticed one hand to be typing while the other was wrapped at his abdomen. Without a second thought, I marched down the stairs and moved over to behind the computer.
Bruce knew what I was about to do and stood enraged, "Dick, don't you even dare!"
"Oops," I muttered as I yanked the massive plug from the wall. The hum of the computer slowly ceased, as if it was dying slowly. When I faced him, his pain was still evident but masked with frustration. "Well, good night, Bruce. Hope you feel better." As I walked by him, I almost missed his foot coming out to trip me.
I jumped just in time and laughed as I jogged away. "Nice try."
His glacial eyes bore holes into my forehead.
"Oh, go to bed, jeesh. If I want to be stared at I have Alfred to glare at me about my damn shirt."
He didn't move.
I doubted he was even breathing. His eyes focused on mine. I thought it had been anger.
But it had been pain.
When I went to turn and leave, I saw it. A dark liquid was pooling at his left foot as it ran down his pant's leg. I stared at it long enough so that Bruce gazed as well. A hand slowly went back to his side and returned in front of him dark with blood.
"Bruce," I whispered.
I went to help him, but he moved away and returned to his chair after he removed his robe. The shirt covering his entire lower back on his left side clung to his body and shimmered with wetness. Unsure as whether to help him or run to get Leslie or Alfred, I simply asked, "You all right?"
"Fine..." he managed.
If the sutures had torn or he had thrown a blood clot, both of which would not be surprising, he could have been bleeding to death in front of my eyes. Think fast, Boy Wonder.
Without hesitating, I raced over, picked him up out of his chair and then ran towards the elevator. He cursed at me and jabbed at a pressure point above my collarbone, causing his weight in my one arm to be unbearable. But you taught me better than that, Bruce.
No matter how much it hurts, if others are in trouble, remember that you don't matter.
Pain does not exist, it is a weakness and weaknesses cannot save people.
By the time I reached his room, he was unconscious and breathing irregularly. Alfred and Leslie were in the process of changing his sheets when I paused at the doorway. I was covered in blood, as was Bruce. They both stared at me in shock as I said, "He… Sprung a leak."
I had been right on the money with my guess.
I sat on the kitchen counter, munching on some horrible type of raisin and oat cereal that was too healthy for me. Tim was at the counter, sitting at a stool, his face cupped by one hand as the other stirred his bowl of the retched breakfast food with the other.
Bruce had thrown a blood clot the size of a pin head, which had torn right through the internal sutures. And since Leslie had inserted a drainage tube to prevent infection, he was instantly turned into a human fountain. But a few more stitches and a week of bed rest would allow Bruce to live on his merry life.
After slurping up the milk in my bowl I jumped off the counter and kicked Tim's stool out from under him. He had been in such a daze that he nearly fell on his backside. He glared at me and then picked up his seat and rested himself on it. I had gone to Brentwood and kidnapped him from his bed at four-thirty in the morning and he was none too happy for it. Especially when I told him about Bruce.
Leslie had left shortly before eight, claiming Bruce was fine, resting comfortably on a morphine drip. She had forced Alfred go to bed so we were not to disturb him unless it was an emergency. I hugged her and said I would drop by tonight and update her on how he was.
As Tim and I made our way to the den, I yawned, "What a night. I am beat."
Tim remained silent and collapsed into the leather sofa. He was usually sensitive to whenever anyone was hurt, but with Bruce, I knew he went over board. He had seen so much more than I had at his age. Even though he still had a part of his family left, he felt alone. But that was where I came in. To be the big brother that he always needed.
He remained silent as he turned the television on. After settling on the tail end of the Today Show, he sighed, "He almost died."
I leaned back, "Yeah, he has a habit of doing that, doesn't he."
"No, Dick. Like he almost really died. What if you had left him in the cave? He would have died all alone…"
That hit me like ice water. I hadn't even had time to ponder the what-if's of last night. I suppose he could have phoned Leslie or Alfred for help. But would they have come in time?
"Well, I was there. He's alive and miserable as ever. The end."
Tim turned and faced me, "You saved him."
I looked down at my hands thinking of another habit I had picked up from Bruce: Avoid eye contact, whenever possible.
"Tim, I can't tell you how many times he saved me…"
He nodded, most likely revisiting all of the times that Bruce had swung in at the last minute to the rescue. Nothing like a little suspense to keep a partnership on edge.
After an hour of my eyes being glued to the screen, I stood and stretched my arms and back. "I'm going to go check on…"
Tim was dead to the world, mouth gaped with soft snores escaping. I pushed him down on the couch and covered him up. As much as I wanted to get some sleep, I knew my brain wouldn't settle down enough for me to get any meaningful rest.
I took the stairs languidly and it took me ten minutes to get to Bruce's room. The gurney was gone and the doors were closed. A sliver of light escaped from under the door. I considered knocking but then decided against it in case I woke him.
Bruce sat on the couch that Alfred had been sleeping on not twelve hours earlier. The bed was in a disarray of twisted blankets and squished pillows. The cannula lay on of the rumpled pillows, but I smiled to see that he had dragged the IV stand with him.
The illumination originated from the windows themselves, where Bruce stared at the distant ocean waters as they sparkled in the mid-morning light. Since his head was tilted to the left, I thought he was asleep and slowly crept over to see him. I wasn't two yards from him when he said softly, "What a night."
"My thoughts exactly." After pausing at the side of the couch, I saw him in fresh pajamas, but no robe or slippers. One sleeve was rolled up to the elbow and the IV insertions had been secured with medical tape. A small quilt covered his abdomen and most of his legs, but his bare feet stuck out at the bottom. Without much thought, I sat beside him and watched the water.
We were silent for nearly an hour, eyes transfixed as the water slapped up against the shore in massive waves. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him smile slightly. And then I felt a hand rest on the back of my neck.
It was the best conversation we ever had.