So I've been feeling a little dark lately, seems everything I write is about death. Please know, this story is rated T for some dark thoughts. Nobody dies, but please feel free to message me for more details, if you have triggers and are concerned.
Bruce Wayne wanted to be a good parent. He really did, despite what certain others might have to say about it. Dick Grayson was his greatest champion on that subject, always affirming that Bruce wanted to do right by the children he took into his home and called family, he wanted to love and care for them. Yes, Bruce had never aspired to be a parent, and often didn't foster or adopt his charges with the intention to raise children (another fact Dick was, unfortunately, acutely aware of) but once the commitment had been made, he wanted to fill that role properly.
The problem was, Bruce wasn't very good at being a parent. For all he wanted it to be otherwise, he often failed in the role of Father. "The road to Hell," Dick had sighed after Bruce had a particularly nasty argument with his biological son, Damian, and Bruce had spent the next several hours mentally pouring over that statement. He was later informed by Dick that those hours could have been used to attempt to talk to Damian, that even if the venture was unsuccessful, the effort would have meant something to the child, and "maybe if you spent less time thinking and more time acting on those best intentions, I wouldn't be insulting you with old proverbs."
Bruce had to admit, he never really understood that child.
The trip through time that had most of the hero community assuming Bruce dead had been traumatic, in several capacities. One that still held sway over his heart was the loneliness. Even without fully knowing who he was, or what was happening, he searched for partners. Long before he could put a name to who was missing, there was an ache in Bruce's chest. An absence that pierced through him, and he avoided that feeling at all costs, refusing to discuss his ordeals and adventures more than necessary. And there was little cause to go through that pain, for life had gone on well enough without him. Bruce was content to slip back into the Gotham that had been held together in his absence, the costume that was warm and waiting, the family that continued to hold together, minor grievances aside.
He was content; no one else was. "Master Bruce, might I remind you that your sons and daughter have thought you dead for some time? Along with your other allies."
"You might," Bruce dismissed with a pointed glare that only barely held up to Alfred's own. "And I might remind you that they know I'm not dead, and they've already been through the grieving process. What else is there to say?"
"I'm sure I don't know, sir, having never died myself," Alfred sniffed, "But given the disruption to daily life, I'd imagine it requires a little more than a curt, "Get back to work"."
Bruce didn't think he'd been that cold, but covered any appearance of doubt with a mutter. "They're not the only ones hurting. I had to go through it."
"A fair point, sir. But you are the eldest of them all, and the one they look to as a parent. Part of your job description is to cast aside personal pains to ensure your children are first looked after."
"Ever been on a plane, Alfred?" Turning it into a match of words deflected Bruce's true feelings, ones he didn't want to share or acknowledge. "Parents are instructed to get their own oxygen mask attached before turning to help their kids."
The butler's returning gaze was blank. "Is that what's truly happening, sir? Or is our hypothetical passenger merely ignoring his predicament while he and all his progeny asphyxiate?" Later, Bruce found a way to discretely broach the topic with Dick, minus the subtext. Dick mused that if the man in question was willing to put his own mask on, the children might be able to follow the example of their father.
Bruce Wayne wanted to be a good parent. He just tended to leave his children strangled by the atmosphere because his oxygen mask terrified him.
Which led to Bruce's current situation, tinkering away at a project in Dick's bat-bunker and avoiding the loved one barely a stone's throw away. Damian was with Tim on a Titan's mission that might avoid catastrophe if Damian could refrain from throwing pointy objects at his adopted brother, and Alfred had long since retired to bed. Dick and Bruce were the only ones left awake, it would be so easy for Bruce to go to him now, pull out the feelings he kept shoving into storage, and let the clear air flow.
But Bruce didn't. It hurt too much, and the fear of potential hurt was even more powerful. Bruce wasn't good at dealing with his own feelings, let alone those of a separate soul, even one as open as Dick. It was easier to pretend the last year had never happened, that all was business as usual, and by the next morning, Bruce would be on a plane out of Gotham, protected by his latest expansion of Batman Inc. No need to burden himself with feelings over an issue he'd long since survived and put to bed. Everyone and everything was functioning just fine.
Currently, Bruce's distraction was a surveillance program designed to detect bombs. It was a practical invention, one that would keep his allies safe, and therefore, worth shoving all other matters to the side in order to focus. The program would detect bombs and display them on a tablet, marking whether they were active and about to blow or duds. No longer would they be caught off guard when rushing into the abandoned buildings that criminals loved to rig with explosives.
There was still room for improvements, but so far Bruce was pleased with his work. Most of the weaponry in the Bat-bunker registered, unsurprisingly, as many of the gadgets and Batarangs could be used as explosives, but all were displayed on the screen as benign. Nothing was set to a timer or rigged to blow, not that Bruce expected there to be on the property.
He didn't expect it, but then a flashing red light appeared on the screen. An active threat, a bomb was about to go off in the penthouse, and Bruce leaped up without rational thought. It wasn't his most intelligent move but his feet carried him, not from Wayne Tower, but straight up the stairs to where his family was in danger. There was no time, and probably no way to save either Alfred or Dick, but Bruce couldn't help but run to their sides.
Dick's room, the bomb is in Dick's room, he realized with just a tiny glance at the screen. He pushed himself faster, focused on doing rather than the cold panic that settled in his gut. I have to get him out of here, have to get to him. Don't feel, don't think, just go...
Almost as quickly as it appeared, the bomb threat vanished off the tablet, but Bruce skidded to a halt in front of Dick's door and all but ripped it off it's hinges in his rush to get to his son.
Dick hurriedly shut the drawer on his nightstand. "Bruce?"
"There's a bomb! We need to evacuate the tower!"
"What?" There was no time for questions, and Bruce crossed the room in seconds to grab Dick's arm and drag him out. The bomb no longer registered as an active threat, but it was still in his home, waiting to detonate.
"Wake Alfred and get out of here. I need to find and neutralize the device," Bruce ordered, shoving a confused Dick into the hallway.
"My scanner will help me locate the..." He trailed off as he looked down at said scanner, analyzing the presented data. "It's a small incendiary device. A low level blast radius." Dick was surprised for a second and looked over Bruce's shoulder, but then his face melted into something passive and impossible to read.
"So, even if it detonates, the explosion will barely char the walls of the bedroom." Bruce's face would flush, if he were capable of being embarrassed. "I think we can let Alfred sleep through this one."
"You're not taking this seriously, Dick! That bomb was active for a few seconds, someone got into the place where you sleep!" And at close range, even a small explosion would kill. "I can't let you go back in until I-" Dick shoved past Bruce and opened the drawer of his nightstand, pulling out an explosive Batarang.
"I think I can clear this up. No one's been in here, Bruce." The device and location matched the information given by the scanner, and Bruce was able to confirm that it caused the original alert. "Think you over-reacted just a tad?"
If anything, Bruce only had more questions and concerns. "Why on earth are you activating bombs in your bedroom at two in the morning?"
Dick shrugged. "The important thing is that there isn't an intruder or a hidden bomb, and your new tech seems to be working. Congratulations." A yawn split the young man's face, and he waved Bruce away. "Now, go to bed. I've got a date with dreamland."
Bruce ignored the obvious joke about Dick's dating life and pursued his line of questioning. "This equipment doesn't activate itself, Dick. Someone has to turn it on and off. Why did you?" An intruder? An informant? Were their secret identities compromised? Or just something as simple as a nightmare, in which case, Dick activating bombs in his sleep was a problem worthy of medical attention.
The current Batman of Gotham looked exhausted. Alfred had mentioned that the boy wasn't getting good rest recently, between cases laced with fear toxin and vultures hanging outside his bedroom window. "It's not important, Bruce. Let it go."
"Would you just answer me?"
"I would if you asked the right question," Dick teased, and Bruce felt all his patience go up in smoke. Why did his son have to make everything so difficult?
"And what's the right question?" He didn't have time for games.
He didn't have time for that look on Dick's face, the one Bruce had never been able to see through, the one that made him feel like he was missing something important. "That would be the question you're not letting yourself ask." After a few seconds of awkward silence, Dick excused himself and shut the door. "You can take yourself off high alert. Everything's fine. Goodnight, Bruce."
And that ended it.
Bruce stood in the hallway, clutching the scanner display and staring at Dick's closed door. The question he wasn't letting himself ask, the one he couldn't even think of... He eventually turned and made his way to the living room, settling onto the couch.
When Dick was young, keychain pets were all the rage. Bruce never saw the appeal. But Dick enjoyed the games, and he dutifully played with his digital charge, fed and cleaned up after it whenever it was required, and was overjoyed that his efforts resulted in growth or change to the creature. Not having patience for childish pursuits, Bruce had commented that it was a waste of time to put so much effort into a mass of plastic, wires and coding that contained no love. Dick's scornful reply was that all the effort was making him love his chosen responsibility, not that Bruce would know what that felt like. Bruce may have missed some parent-teacher meetings and a birthday that week.
Sometimes, Bruce felt like raising Dick was akin to caring for a keychain pet. When it beeped, Bruce cleaned up after it, he fed it when he was alerted to, he played with it when the gauges slipped into the red. He expected it to do certain things, then he slipped it into his pocket until he was in the mood to play again, unless some beeping forced him to pull himself away from other pursuits to care for it. Bruce wanted to be a good parent, and he answered every beep, never let gauges slip into the dangerous zone, he gave out the required attention...
But there were questions he couldn't let himself ask, and emotions he wouldn't let himself feel. And one of those questions demanded that he look beyond the electronic alerts...
Bruce roamed over the scanner and idly wondered over what may have happened. Perhaps he was overreacting, Dick was still young enough to do things without logical reason, but then again, he was old enough to know better than to play with such dangerous equipment. Why did he activate an explosive device in his bedroom, only to stop it a few seconds from detonation? The alert had appeared on the scanner, and Bruce had reacted. He made the effort, but he was still missing something important...
..because he didn't dare ask that one question.
The penthouse had surveillance, so Bruce could just as easily look up the information he needed, but that was just as daunting as asking. It was easier to say he trusted Dick, that this was nothing important, just a young man being foolish and it wouldn't happen again, there was no threat in the shadows or secrets going on behind closed doors to cause Bruce pain. The alert had passed, nothing was beeping at him, he'd done his job.
But he wanted to be a good parent. So he walked back to Dick's room and knocked on the door. It opened with grudging exhaustion. "What is it now, Bruce?"
"Dick, are you okay?" Anyone else would have asked months ago. A good parent wouldn't have shrunk in fear contemplating the response, silently willing everything to be fine because if they asked and something was amiss, they would have to deal with it. Only a coward forced the world to hide its true face until they all believed themselves to be fine, because their mentor didn't want anything less.
His son seemed a little confused. "Like, right now? Or in general?"
"Whichever is pertinent." The young man in the doorway looked torn. "I need to know. Are you okay?" There was a pause, far too long, and Bruce didn't like where this evidence was leading.
"...Probably not," Dick swallowed with the admission. "But it's fine..." He was waiting. Not beeping and calling for the attention he needed, but silent until Bruce chose to look deeper. Batman taught Dick to do that, bury all concerns that weren't immediate in favor of the mission. So Batman could fight, and Bruce could avoid all the painful emotions he tried to bury with his parents.
"It's not. Why do you keep an explosive right next to your bed?"
"Oh, like your room isn't a hidden armory."
"That's not what I asked." He wanted that to be the answer, so badly. "Why do you keep it there? And more importantly, why did you set it off tonight?" The two remained in the doorway for some time, waiting for the other to back out of the conversation.
Bruce didn't, even with all his instincts screaming against it. And finally, Dick opened the door and invited Bruce inside.
The younger man sat on the bed, and Bruce followed his lead. "It helps me sleep," Dick said quietly, his manner befitting a Catholic at confession. "Knowing that it's there helps me relax."
"Why?" Not because Dick had a defense against danger, and Bruce resisted voicing the thought to let the boy explain himself.
That was something that took an internal struggle, for both of them. It was all Bruce could do to keep from putting excuses in Dick's mouth and walking away. "It just does," Dick finally whispered.
Sometimes keychain pets just died, with no warning. Even if their owner answered every alert and kept all the gauges full, and Bruce couldn't comprehend a toy that didn't follow it's own rules. Dick didn't mind, even if the loss of his binary companions disappointed him, and said that life was like that, and you couldn't always see what was going on under the surface, or have a handy alert for everything that threatened happiness. It may have been the anniversary of his parents' deaths that week, or maybe an acquaintance had crossed the line into criminal activity. Dick's ways of coping with such things made no sense to Bruce.
And as an adult, that hadn't changed. Dick remained a strange and enigmatic child. And now, to see him engaging in such dangerous behavior... "Have you ever thought about taking you own life?" Say no. Say no, this is all abstract, you haven't made it that far... He prayed that Dick would be embarrassed or outraged at the suggestion, frustrated that, yet again, Bruce failed to understand him and had jumped to conclusions.
But the laugh that came from Dick's throat was so bitter. "I've done a lot more than just think about it."
"I see." Bruce sat so stiffly on the bed. "You've made plans, then?" Dick traced the stitching in the comforter and didn't look up.
"And this Batarang is a part of it?"
Dick hesitated for a second, his finger halting on the trail of thread. "It keeps me alive. I'm doing this so I don't cross into suicidal territory. I don't have to."
Bruce had a million lectures he could give about remembering the value of life, about depression and mental illness and how keeping explosives in one's bedroom and lying about it looked plenty suicidal, but he kept them to himself for the moment. "Explain. Please," he added, when his rough, commanding tone caused Dick to flinch.
His head hung a little further, but Dick complied. "I just like knowing there's a way out, if I needed it." No. "No matter how bad things get, I can come back here and just..." Bruce turned his head away, focused on a bookshelf in the corner so that his mouth didn't open and tell Dick to shut up. "...end it, if it gets too much. It helps me push through one more day, one more patrol, one more case. I can endure a little more, when I know I can stop it all tomorrow if I need to." Heaven help them, the argument almost sounded logical.
"Stop it all, by blowing yourself up?"
"It's quick," Dick said, and Bruce could feel the bed shifting with his shrug. "If I hold it by my head, there's no chance for failure, but the blast is small enough that no one else gets hurt."
"Except for the person who finds your body in the morning," Bruce spat before he could help himself, and when he turned his head back to his son, the boy looked ashamed.
But not enough. "I used to live alone. I though of finding a place... but it's harder to sneak off when you live with a ten year-old assassin and Alfred the all-seeing butler." There was the barest hint of a smirk, but Bruce didn't find it amusing. "I have a note, so nobody blames Batman." He had a note. A note, a plan, and tonight he held a bomb to his head and let it count down. "I wouldn't really do it Bruce. It's just a ritual, so that I don't."
Until the day it wasn't enough anymore. Until Dick finally waited that one extra second and let the end come. Don't feel. Don't feel, just address. "How long has this been going on?"
"Since before I moved out, I guess. It was different though, a knife, and I never took it out of the kitchen drawer. I just thought about it when I couldn't get to sleep." Seventeen, then? Since he was seventeen years old? "It stopped a little when I was with the Titans. I had Kori then, and she..." Dick blushed a little. "She knew how to keep me distracted. But I've had the lucky Batarang since..." he trailed off, and Bruce hated himself for wanting to hear more.
"Since I found out about Jason." Since he found out about the funeral he couldn't attend. Since Bruce punched him in the face and told him he was a mistake. Since he was forced to leave his key with Alfred and never return in either of his identities. "I moved to Bludhaven soon after that, and that place isn't exactly a land of sunshine."
"I see." But Bruce didn't, not really. "You should have said something."
"I'd never actually do it, Bruce. It's enough to know I could, but I know how disgusted you'd be with me if I went through with it." Dick shook his head, and let out some more bitter laughs. "I know I screw up a lot, but I'm always trying to live up to your expectations. And my parents', you know? The show must go on. I wouldn't just give up like that. And this is the way I keep myself from giving up."
Bruce's patience was wearing extremely thin. "By holding an explosive inches away from your brain?"
"Come on, you have a dozen Batmen now, what do you even care if-" It was rage. Blind rage, Bruce didn't even register that his arm was flying until Dick had already rolled onto his back with both hands clasped against his face.
And yet, Dick was the first to apologize. "I'm sorry." Bruce wasn't able to accomplish the same, even after Dick returned to a sitting position.
"Never say that again," was what he managed to grind out. "Of course I care." Dick nodded, but it didn't change anything. It never would. Bruce could feel love for his son and let that love eat his heart out with an eternity of painful bites and it wouldn't make an ounce of difference. Not unless he could employ love as a verb without screwing it up, and that Bruce had never managed. "How often does this ritual happen?"
"It depends. Once a week, maybe less. Unless something big hits, like unsolved cases and Joker breaking out of Arkham, or... you know, burying my dad in an unmarked grave..."
Damn you, Bruce thought, then promptly hated himself. But these were exactly the things he didn't want to talk about, didn't want to relive. Don't feel. Don't let it in, don't let it hurt you. "And how do your actions resolve the problem?"
"They don't, it's just..." Dick was getting frustrated. Good, so was Bruce. "It just keeps me from giving in. I keep telling myself I can handle a little more and push a little longer because there's an escape waiting at home. And then I tell myself I can sleep through one more night, because if it's still too much to handle by morning, I can stop it if I want. And in the morning I tell myself I can last through one last patrol, and the cycle keeps going. I break it down into small chunks and then it's easier to choose to live. Because I know I don't have to, I can stop at any time."
Didn't Dick realize what a problem he had? But he must have, Bruce remembered, Dick offered up this information voluntarily. Told Bruce to ask, said he would share his secrets if Bruce was willing to listen. The oxygen mask had dropped, the alert had sounded, the little keychain pet was beeping with everything it had.
And Bruce had no idea what to do. Don't show weakness. Don't let the feelings through. "Have you considered hanging up the mask?" He never wanted Dick to become Batman. Or Nightwing. He hadn't even really wanted Dick to be Robin. Bruce should have put his foot down, should have stopped this before it even began.
"To be honest," Dick breathed out, "My vigilante problems aren't usually what triggers it." Bruce should have been able to stop this.
Don't feel, just address the problem. You're not efficient when you feel, don't screw this up. Bruce closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Thank you for telling me." He ordered himself not to yell or get upset, even if that was what he wanted to do. "Tomorrow, we will look into getting you the medical assistance you need." Surely there was some therapist or psychologist who could work with Dick, even if they couldn't manage to find one discreet enough to handle his night life. And if worse came to worst, Dick's health was more important than preserving his secret identity.
"Are you crazy! Who are we going to trust with this?"
"Whoever we have to."
"Bruce, I swear I wouldn't do it. If you're worried I'm going to turn up dead one morning-"
"I'm not," the older man snapped, and Dick recoiled. Bruce tried for a softer, less blunt approach. "Your word is good enough right now. What bothers me is that you think you need to live like this."
"It's not a big deal," Dick protested again. "Just when I have a bad day."
"Then our goal should be to reduce your bad days to a more acceptable number." Acceptable being zero, but Bruce would take what he could get. "Give me the Batarang." Dick did so, with an air of one facing the gallows. "Do you have any others?"
"Your scanner should tell you that."
"I'd prefer it if you told me." With a solemn face, the boy revealed he had no other objects for self-destruction in the room. Bruce took the lucky Batarang and began to leave.
As he reached the door, a defeated voice called him back. "Are you going to make me stop being Batman?"
Bruce hesitated. "Not immediately. But I will monitor your situation and take whatever action I believe is appropriate." That would mean more time spent in Gotham. He'd have to cancel meetings, delegate away some of his work with Batman Inc.
As if that was a high price compared to his son. "I'd never do anything to put Damian in danger, or anyone else. Not while I was in the field."
"I know." But still, Bruce would need to keep an eye on Dick, just on principal. And he was more concerned that the stress associated with being Batman was harmful to Dick's psyche than he was of the boy allowing criminals to injure him on the job. Don't let your emotions rule you. You can handle this, deal with the problem logically...
"I'm sorry I let you down." His son sounded so broken, so tortured. "I didn't mean to..." Dick trailed off, but Bruce waited, unable to come up with anything comforting, and wanting to see where the thought ended. "... I'm a liability, I'm sorry..."
With that, Bruce turned around. Blatant falsehoods could be fixed with truth. "You're not a liability, and you didn't let me down. I'm actually impressed with you."
Dick clearly hadn't expected to hear that. "Impressed with what?"
"I taught you to conceal weaknesses and infirmaries. But you were forthcoming and honest about the situation." If he had to, Bruce would guess Dick had wanted to talk to him about this for some time, perhaps subconsciously prepared for it. "You have endured far too much tragedy and hardship for one lifetime, and often have to suffer through those trials alone. As concerned as I am to find out about this," he held up the explosive Batarang, "I can't forget the genuine love and spirit you continue to bring to everything, no matter how dark the situation. This isn't a failure; you are exceeding expectations."
His eldest son still looked doubtful. "You can admit you need help. I'll make sure you get that help. This is a problem, but one we can deal with. You're not the only person in this city with these kinds of feelings, but you're one of the few to reach out instead of taking that escape."
"Or becoming a supervillain," Dick half-heartedly joked. Bruce allowed himself a small smile. "Please don't tell Damian?"
The smile faded. "He might figure out on his own."
"Yeah, maybe, but he's ten. He doesn't need to know that Batman might be blowing himself up on the other side of the wall." Neither did Bruce, but he was in this permanently now. Do not feel. "Maybe... can we hold back some of the details?"
"Understood." It would be good for Damian, too, to learn that even his mentors needed help and psychological maintenance. "Will you be all right until the morning?"
"You took my lucky Batarang. What, you think I'm going to off myself with a desk lamp now?
"That's not what I asked." Dick cringed, but refrained from making more tasteless comments.
"You don't need to stay, Bruce." Not that Bruce knew what he'd do if he were to remain. He nodded curtly and wished Dick a good night. "Yeah, because I'm so going to be sleeping after this..."
Out in the hall, with a door closed between them, Bruce thought over their conversation and tried to view it from as many angles as he could. Had he missed or neglected something? This was an issue too important for his shortcomings to interfere. Detaching from his emotions, Bruce considered all the facts.
Dick's behavior was alarming, but he was willing enough to be helped. Whether through counseling, medication or a simple reduction in his workload, they could improve Dick's quality of life and reduce his suffering, if not eliminate it entirely. That his son was in this situation likely had a lot to do with Bruce's inability to express emotion adequately, but he could apologize for that. He couldn't take it back, but he could take responsibility for the consequences.
Wayne Enterprises and all its subsidiaries could function without Bruce for a bit, as they had during his absence, and Batman Inc could be managed without the long trips away from home, if need be. Though Bruce did trust Dick's word that the boy wouldn't take his life in the near future, it was still prudent to maintain a physical presence. Not only would Dick be supervised, he would have someone to confide in as they worked through this ordeal.
He'd done what was required of a parent, hadn't he? This was what a father was expected to do, take care of his child, and Bruce was doing all in his power to accomplish that. He tried to be understanding and sensitive, he provided verbal encouragement, he had a plan in place to bring in professional help, he would put aside other responsibilities to become available to whatever needs his child had.
So why did he feel like he was missing something important? What had he missed in the past, that hadn't been repaired by the apologies and discussions he and Dick regularly had when they reconciled? Because, it seemed to him, a happy son who knew his father loved him shouldn't want to kill himself.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Bruce had never intended anything but good for Dick, and yet, here they were. He stood in the hall as the minutes ticked by, thinking over every word, every gesture, every last thing that could have been a mistake or missed opportunity.
And then, Dick's voice broke into his thoughts, "Maybe if you spent less time thinking and more time acting on those best intentions..." Bruce set down the scanner tablet and the Batarang, then knocked on Dick's bedroom door.
"...come in," he was entreated after a moment, and Bruce steeled himself. This was no time for thought. Just act. Feel. Say the things you stop yourself from saying.
Bruce approached the bed, where Dick was sitting up with a wary and exhausted look on his face. "What can I do for you, boss man?"
Don't think. "Dick... may I..." Don't rely on the alarms and gauges, do more. "May I hold you?"
Dick stared. His arms were draped over his knees, a thin sheet covering his legs, but though his posture was child-like and vulnerable, this was a man. Bruce lost his father when he was eight, and didn't know what the verbal, physical or emotional relationship was supposed to be after that time. He took his cues off of the other parents at Dick's school; when the other fathers stopped hugging their sons, so did he. When their speech patterns changed, so did Bruce's, and he was especially sensitive to the rumors and assumptions that sometimes circulated about his feelings for his young ward. In addition to following the examples of the other parents, Bruce was careful to ensure that whatever accusations might be attached to him, Dick would never have cause to suspect they were true.
Perhaps he did his job a little too well? Though the whole situation was compounded once Dick came of age and Bruce was no longer his guardian. The boy was his legal son now, but an adult. What was Bruce expected to do, or allowed to do?
Stop thinking. What did he want to do? "Is that not appropriate?"
Dick's reply was to scoot over on the bed, offering room for Bruce to sit down. Gingerly, the billionaire sat and reached out his arms, slowly and awkwardly pulling Dick against his side. Not against your chest, not in your lap, he's not a little boy anymore, not even in the movies would a father hug his son like that...
Bruce wanted to be a good parent. He was just terrible at it. "Are you uncomfortable?" Dick was leaning into him at a very odd angle, and fidgeted throughout the whole process.
"Yes." Why was Bruce so inept? He was doing his best... "Look, I appreciate the effort, but you don't have to force yourself. I get it."
A small bit of frustration colored Bruce's words. "I want to." However uncomfortable and no matter how many indignities the two of them suffered, Bruce wanted to hold his child and make him feel loved. That was his job, what he was supposed to be able to do.
It was what he wanted to do. "Okay, big guy," Dick sighed, shifting yet again. "Whatever you want." Dick's arms wrapped around Bruce's waist and his head snuggled up against Bruce's chest. It was so intimate. Uncomfortably so, but also comfortable in a paradoxical way. That closeness brought all of Bruce's feelings to the surface, all the ones he tried to bash down and sequester behind logical walls.
He stopped thinking about all he was supposed to do and all he didn't want to deal with, and just let the feelings come.
Dick soon found himself crushed by Bruce's mighty arms, and pressed so close against his father that the man's tears were drenching his hair. "Dick..." Bruce cried that name, breathed that name, whispered and screamed it over and over. "Dick, son..." How close had he come to losing his precious child? How close was he still, was that abyss yet looming in the distance and calling for Dick to come over? "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"It's okay, Bruce," Dick murmured into that broad chest, but it wasn't yet.
"I missed you while I was gone. So much time, and you weren't in any of it..." He didn't know how it was possible to hold Dick any tighter without shattering bone, but Bruce did. "I made it back. I got you back, I can't let you go."
"...I missed you, too." Bruce could only imagine. He didn't want to imagine.
"I got you back, Dick. You're mine. I'll do anything, give you anything, if it'll get you to stay." Could he kiss his adult son? Bruce didn't care, he went for it anyway, and pressed his lips to the top of Dick's head through his tear-soaked locks. "You're mine. I'll fix everything, you'll see. Just stay."
He thought Dick was crying, but he couldn't be sure. "I'm right here, Bruce."
Yes, he was. And Bruce wouldn't let him leave. "I won't let you go, I can't. I need you." Was that selfish? Bruce didn't care. "You're still mine, damn it! I'm not ready to give you back to your parents!"
Dick squeezed a little tighter around Bruce's middle. "You left me first, idiot. You always leave me first." If there was any room left under Bruce's grip, the boy's shoulders probably would have been shaking.
"Don't be sorry, just..." Dick trailed off into sniffles and keening sighs, and Bruce released his hold a little to look down at his son's face.
"Just what?" Whatever Dick asked, Bruce would do it. Whatever made living in this world less oppressive to him, whatever made existence more bearable, it was his, and all he had to do was ask.
"I dunno," Dick finally mumbled, finally surrendering and allowing himself to go limp in his father's arms. "This is pretty nice."
Bruce smiled. "Maybe this can be your new ritual?" Embracing his child every night instead of praying that boy wasn't going to blow his head off with the very weaponry Bruce had trained him in, that was a step in the right direction. Dick seemed to agree.
"Stay with me until I fall asleep?" He was fully grown, but his youth wasn't far behind him. Bruce had squandered that youth when it was right in front of him.
"If you want, I'll stay with you until you wake up." He didn't need examples and rules for how to interact with his son, and he didn't need to hide his emotions behind walls every second of the day in order to feel safe. There was no need to hide from all his painful experiences, not with Dick here and struggling to stay despite all the darkness bearing down on him.
"I love you, Bruce," Dick whispered as he dozed off, and Bruce felt a balm spreading over his chest, somehow easing the nightmare set in motion by Darkseid. After months of searching, he was home with his family, loved, missed and needed, with his son in his arms. A son who would live, because he wanted to, because Bruce would be right there to make sure he could. A son who would give and accept all the love Bruce could take, and still trusted his father with the monsters under his bed.
Bruce hated himself for ignoring the signs for so long, turning a deaf ear to the alarms and signals that called out to him, but he was here now, committed to doing better, and it seemed Dick was willing to accept that. Even if Bruce was largely unsuccessful, the effort seemed to mean a lot. Bruce wasn't always a very good parent, but he wanted to be. He was trying to be.
He leaned back against the headboard and brushed Dick's hair out of his eyes as the boy began to doze off. His breathing was steady and deep, the cleared air filling his lungs. There would be time in the morning to handle the details, to discuss the darker things, create a plan and steps to resolve the issue.
But for this one moment, it was enough to hold each other close. "Me, too. I love you so much." And father and son enjoyed their most peaceful sleep in years.