A/N: Here we go, last chapter! Hope you guys enjoy. And I want to thank everyone who commented…I really appreciate your amazing feedback. I'm fairly certain I responded to everyone, but if I didn't, I'm sorry. It wasn't intentional, just been a mad few weeks.
Now, two little announcements to make. The first is that this is likely (depending on the prompt I'm given by the fanfiction contest winner) to be my last Dick-Grayson-gets-kidnapped-for-ransom fic, as I've really flogged that horse to death! Now, that's not to say that Dick won't get kidnapped again ('cause I have some very evil plans…mwwhahaha!), just that it won't involve ransom.
Second announcement is that the all stories entered into the YJ fanfiction contest are now posted on the Livejournal page (link in my profile). I'd really appreciate it if anyone who reads a story and likes it leaves a few words for that author as its obvious all the writers worked hard on their entries. The winner will be announced next Sunday so stay tuned!
Happy reading folks!
Five hours later found Bruce maintaining an anxious vigil in a chair beside Dick's hospital bed.
Everything had moved at a frenzied pace once they'd arrived at the ER. Dick had been whooshed away for treatment, leaving Bruce with a stack of admittance forms to sign. Then Alfred had arrived demanding to know how Dick was, followed almost immediately by Jim Gordon inquiring after Dick and looking for information on the kidnappers.
Bruce had answered their questions and the occasional question posed by medical staff to the best of his ability, but it had been an effort not to snap at everyone to back the hell off. His nerves were frayed from worry and he was being haunted by the memory of Dick, stiff, cold and corpse-like in his arms. The only thing Bruce had wanted at that point was to be with his son.
But it was another two hours before Dick was stable enough for Bruce to see him. On arrival at the ER his core temperature had been dangerously low and ER doctors had ordered a haemodialysis machine for extracorporeal blood rewarming, alarming Bruce – he hadn't expected them to use such invasive measures. But the nurse keeping him updated on Dick's condition had assured him that the haemodialysis would raise his core temperature quicker.
Bruce had also been faced with a dilemma when ER doctors asked him to make a decision regarding the treatment of Dick's frostbitten hands: should they engage in active rewarming and risk increased blood flow from his hands decreasing his core temperature even further? Or should they use more passive methods to thaw the frozen appendages and risk tissue damage?
In the end, Bruce had decided on active rewarming. Dick would be devastated if tissue damage to his hands stopped him from ever using the trapeze again. There were acrobatics he could do without the use of hands, but trapeze had formed the core of the Flying Graysons' act and it was Dick's last real link to his family. Bruce didn't want to be the one who took that from him, and so had reasoned that Dick was in the hospital, where any potential decrease in temperature could be treated quickly, as could any heart arrhythmias caused by the decrease.
Didn't make it any less terrifying though.
Trying to swallow the knot that had been present in his throat ever since the kidnappers had put Dick in the freezer, Bruce leaned forward and ran a hand through the boy's hair. Though not as frozen as he had been, he still felt icy. Bruce rested his own warm hand against Dick's cold forehead, wishing he could transfer his body heat to the child.
"Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Wayne," a soft voice said, and Bruce looked up to see the nurse – Amanda something – who'd been assigned to Dick. "I'm just checking on Richard again."
Bruce rose to his feet and moved out of her way. Dick's core temperature had reached ninety more than an hour ago and he'd been admitted to the ICU where he was switched to less invasive measures of rewarming – warmed IV fluids and warm humidified air. Amanda had been in and out every fifteen minutes because Dick was still at risk of a whole host of dangerous after-effects such as fibrillation, pulmonary embolism, temperature afterdrop and shock.
Bustling over to the bed, the nurse began her usual routine of checking Dick's EKG, his IV line, his oxygen mask, his catheter, the heat packs at his neck, underarms and groin, before finally taking his temperature. "Ninety-one," she told Bruce. "He'll probably start waking up soon, so call me if he does."
The nurse disappeared and Bruce sat back into the chair once more. He hoped the nurse was right about Dick waking up because he was worried about any potential damage caused by oxygen deprivation while in the freezer.
His cell phone rang suddenly, loud in the quiet of the room, and Bruce hurriedly fished it out of his pocket. "Hello?"
"How is Master Dick?" came Alfred's voice from the other end. The butler had returned to Wayne Manor once Dick was admitted so he could oversee the police removing their equipment and pack a bag for Dick – the boy wasn't likely to be released for a few days.
"His temperature is up to ninety-one but he's still unconscious." Bruce clenched a fist. "I'm going to get those bastards, Alfred. I swear they won't get away with this!"
"I hope you do, sir, those men deserve to be punished for what they've done. However, I hope they won't be your sole focus."
"I imagine this whole ordeal was extremely traumatic for Master Dick. I'm well aware he possesses fortitude beyond most boys his age, but that doesn't change the fact that he was a twelve-year-old child in a dangerous and vulnerable position. It's likely that this will be hard for him to deal with."
Bruce tightened his mouth as he understood what Alfred was saying: Dick hadn't had Robin to hide behind or Batman to protect him – he'd been completely at the mercy of those men, powerless to defend himself. Bruce had been so busy worrying about Dick's health he hadn't stopped to consider how frightening this must have been for him. "I'm not going to leave him alone to deal with this, Alfred. I'll be there for him."
"I hoped you would say that, sir. Now, I am almost finished organizing everything here – would you like me to bring you some food?"
"I'm not hungry, Alfred."
"Master Bruce, might I remind you that you haven't eaten since that paltry excuse for a breakfast you had at seven this morning?"
"Alfred, I'm really not–" He broke off as he caught sight of Dick's blue eyes blinking sleepily at him. "I've got to go, Dick's awake!" Ending the call and jerking to his feet, Bruce bent over the boy. "Hey, buddy."
"Bruce?" Dick's voice was a whisper behind the mask.
"Sure is. How you feeling, kiddo?"
A small frisson of alarm rippled through Bruce. "What hurts, Dick?"
"Everrry…thing." His eyes scanned the room. "Where'm I?"
"The hospital," Bruce answered, pressing the call button. "What do you mean everything hurts?"
"'M all achey," Dick slurred. "Like…the flu."
"Ah," said Bruce in relieved understanding. "That's the hypothermia. The doctors said you might feel a little stiff and sore for a while."
Dick didn't respond.
"Do you remember what happened?"
Dick nodded slowly. "The kidnappers…put me in a freezer." He swallowed and looked at Bruce. "Did you get them?"
The man sighed regretfully. "I'm sorry, Dick. I let them leave with the money – it was the only way to find you."
"You paid the ransom?"
Bruce was taken aback by the question. "Of course I paid the ransom! Dick, why wouldn't I?"
The boy avoided his eyes. "It…it was a lot of money, Bruce."
"I don't care about the money. I have lots of money." He cupped the boy's chin. "But I only have one of you."
Dick stared at him, wide-eyed.
"Dickie, did you really think I wouldn't pay the ransom?" Bruce prodded softly.
"A– a little. I'm sorry, Bruce."
"You have nothing to apologize for. But, Dick, why did you think that? Why would you think that I wouldn't pay?"
"It was a lot of money and…I– I'm not your real son."
"Yes, you are!" said Bruce at once, fiercely. "We may not be blood but you are still my son. Never doubt that, okay?"
Looking a little startled, Dick nodded. "Okay."
"That's my boy." Bruce smiled at him before getting serious again. "Dick, the police are going to want to talk to you. Did you get a look at the kidnappers?"
"I never saw them. They kept a hood over my head. But…" He hesitated before whispering, "I think I know one of them."
Dick shook his head. "I don't know; I couldn't place him. But I knew his voice, Bruce – it was so familiar."
Bruce tightened his jaw. Someone Dick knew had been involved in his kidnapping? The thought made him sick to his stomach. He was about to ask the boy more questions when another voice spoke suddenly.
"Is everything alright, Mr. Wayne?"
He turned to see Amanda framed in the doorway. "Dick's awake," he explained.
She beamed. "Well now, that's good news. Let's have a look at the patient." Moving to the other side of the bed, she smiled kindly at Dick. "Hello, sweetheart, my name is Amanda. How are you feeling?"
"A little cold and achy."
"That's normal given the circumstances. You were pretty hypothermic, so it'll take a few days before you feel back to normal, but we're gonna take good care of you, okay?"
She smiled again. "Now, I'm just going to give you a little check-up and I'd like you to stay nice and still, alright, honey? It's better if you don't move around too much just yet."
Dick nodded and the nurse started examining him while Bruce watched with a mixture of relief and anger. He had his son back safe and he was going to be okay, but that didn't change the fact that someone Dick knew had been involved in his kidnapping.
Bruce was going to find out who they were and make them pay.
"Come on, Bruce, please? I'm bored out of my mind here!"
"Not a chance, Dick. The doctors want to keep you for another day or two, and I agree with them."
"But I told you, I feel fine!" Dick protested.
"Feeling fine and being fine are two entirely different things. You were severely hypothermic, Dick, you almost died!"
"But I didn't," the boy pointed out, glib and cheerful.
Bruce crossed his arms and glared.
Dick sighed. "Alright, fine. Can you at least bring me my computer? Seriously, Bruce, I'm going crazy in here!"
"I'll get Alfred to bring some books when he calls this afternoon. Your hands are in no shape to go tapping at a computer just yet."
Dick sighed again, looking deeply unhappy, but Bruce wasn't budging. The boy had suffered second-degree frostbite to his hands, which had blistered horribly the day after he was rescued from the freezer. Doctors had assured Bruce that the blisters looked worse than they actually were, and that Dick shouldn't suffer any long-term damage, but Bruce couldn't help worrying. It didn't help that the wounds to his wrists had developed an infection after being stitched.
Bruce swallowed back a growl. He'd been ready to tear the kidnappers apart when he'd heard about the restraints used – fucking wire! What kind of animals did that to a child? Dick was beyond lucky not to have suffered any long-term nerve or muscle damage!
A knock sounded and Bruce turned just as one of the security guards he'd hired to guard Dick's room poked his head around the door. "Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Wayne, but Captain Gordon is here."
"Thanks, Keith. Send him in."
The burly guard gave a curt nod and withdrew. Seconds later, Jim Gordon entered. "Morning, Mr. Wayne, Dick." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the door. "What's with the security detail? Is everything alright?"
"Reporters," Bruce replied, scowling. "Two got in here yesterday – one of them when I wasn't even here! They've been very…persistent since Dick's kidnapping."
Gordon frowned. "They're harassing you?"
Bruce laughed bitterly. "No, they're clever enough to stop just shy of harassment – they haven't done anything I can get them on legally…and I'm not giving them the chance to either. Dick's been through quite enough."
Gordon nodded his agreement, turning to the boy in the bed. "Dick, how are you feeling?"
"Much better, thanks, Captain."
"Your hands healing okay?" the officer asked, his eyes darting towards the blackened blisters.
Dick grinned and wiggled his fingers at him. "They took the bandages off this morning. I can move them now."
"That doesn't mean moving them at every opportunity," Bruce replied. Dick had been weirdly fascinated by the blackened blisters once he knew his hands weren't going to suffer any long-term damage – he'd even sent pictures to Wally! Bruce supposed it was some kind of boys-will-be-boys thing because he definitely didn't understand the fascination. He thought the blisters were flat-out disturbing.
Dick just grinned and wiggled his fingers at Bruce. Shooting the boy a reproving look, Bruce returned his attention to Gordon. "Captain, have you anything new on the kidnappers?"
"Yes, actually. That's why I'm here." He exhaled before announcing, "We have one of the kidnappers in custody."
Bruce narrowed his eyes. "Then why don't you look happy about it?"
"Because I know why Dick recognized one of the voices." Gordon looked at Dick. "The man's name is Nick Coulson."
Dick's brow furrowed for a second before his eyes widened and he exclaimed, "Wait! You mean…Mr. Coulson? My teacher?"
Gordon nodded. "I'm afraid so, Dick."
"Dick doesn't have a teacher named Coulson," said Bruce, as the boy stared at Gordon in stunned shock.
"He was a student teacher," Gordon replied quietly. "He was only on placement for six weeks before Christmas, and the school never thought to tell us about him when we were questioning the staff."
Bruce exploded. "If he was a student teacher then how the hell did he know about the trip?! The school's security policy is supposed to prevent that information from being revealed to anyone other than permanent staff!"
Gordon looked uncomfortable. "One of the kids told him."
"Which kid?" Bruce demanded, furious.
"Me," Dick answered quietly, and Bruce turned to him in surprise.
"What! Dick, why? You know what school policy is."
"We were talking about virtual computers and the virtual reality simulator at TanaTech came up – I told him I was looking forward to seeing it on the January trip. He was a teacher so I thought he knew we were going there. Besides, he was really cool and…and…" Dick tailed off, looking upset.
Bruce sat on the edge of the bed, placing an arm around Dick's shoulders. "Is Coulson that computer teacher you mentioned back in November?" he asked, a vague memory of Dick chattering excitedly about some teacher pinging in his brain. It had been the week WayneTech were bidding against LuthorCorp for a piece of extremely advanced technology, and Bruce had been so busy that he hadn't really listened. He wished now that he had paid attention.
Dick nodded. "We talked a lot about computers…he knew so much about them." He swallowed and stared up at Bruce miserably. "I trusted him, why would he do this?"
Bruce had no answer and just squeezed his shoulder comfortingly.
"For what it's worth, Dick," Gordon spoke up, "he didn't want to do it. He was pretty much forced into it. His older brother, Kevin, was heavily in debt to Eastside 13–"
"The gang?" Bruce interrupted.
Gordon nodded. "Coulson isn't sure of exactly how much, but it was in the region of several million – mostly for drugs and gambling. Anyway, his brother was in prison, where gang members were threatening him, looking for their money. Then they started getting violent – they even cut off three of his fingers. Eventually, they started harassing the family for money and Coulson got desperate when his mother had a heart attack from the stress. He approached the gang with the idea of kidnapping Dick in order to pay his brother's debts and stop them from threatening his family."
"Do you expect us to feel sorry for him?" Bruce demanded.
"No," Gordon replied calmly. "I'm explaining to Dick that the last thing Nick Coulson wanted was to hurt him." The officer turned back to Dick. "Coulson didn't take any of the ransom money and he turned himself in last night."
Still looking upset, Dick asked, "Why would he do that?"
"His brother was murdered in prison yesterday morning, most likely by Eastside 13, giving Coulson no reason to protect the gang anymore. He asked me to tell you that he's sorry, Dick."
The boy didn't respond.
"Did he give you the names of the other kidnappers?" Bruce asked, ignoring the apology. It meant nothing after what Dick had suffered.
The officer nodded. "All prominent gang members. Unfortunately, they've all skipped town. Apparently, they only gave what Kevin Coulson owed to Eastside 13 and kept the rest of the ransom money."
"The gang will be hunting them once they discover that," Bruce commented.
"If they don't already know," Gordon replied.
"What's the likelihood of you catching up with them before the gang does?"
"No idea. We're liaising with the FBI's violent gangs' task force, so hopefully we'll find them first."
Bruce narrowed his eyes. If Gordon didn't, Batman would. "What about the restaurant they used? Is it connected to the gang?" Bruce had looked into the restaurant but discovered nothing untoward: Sully's was a family-run restaurant that had closed its doors last month after twenty years in business when the family patriarch died. His sons had sold the business and it was currently awaiting refurbishment by its new owners.
Gordon shook his head. "There's no connection to the gang and Coulson has no idea why they picked it. They didn't tell him anything about their plans – he didn't even know they'd planned on locking Dick in the freezer until the ransom call."
"Then why involve him in the kidnapping at all?"
"They needed his computer skills to bounce the signal while they made the ransom call."
"Probably intended to use him as a patsy as well," replied Bruce, thinking. "He was the kidnapper who stayed with me when the others left, wasn't he?"
Gordon nodded. "Part of their agreement for leaving his brother and family alone was that he would be the one to wait with you so they could get away. They were probably covering their asses in case the police decided to follow you." He fixed Bruce with a look and darted his eyes warningly towards Dick, who was staring miserably at his hands. "It also explains why he disobeyed them and told you where Dick was only minutes after they left."
Bruce pursed his lips. No matter how desperate Nick Coulson had been, Bruce would never forgive him for the ordeal he had put Dick through. But he understood why Gordon was playing up Coulson's guilt – Dick was clearly gutted by the betrayal and Gordon was trying to lessen the blow.
"Anyway," Gordon continued, "I have to get back to the station. I just wanted to let you know about Coulson."
"I appreciate that, Captain," said Bruce. "Thank you."
"I'll keep you updated on the others." Gordon turned to Dick and patted the boy's leg through the bedcovers. "Dick, I promise we'll do our best to get the rest of the kidnappers, okay?"
Dick nodded and mumbled, "Thanks, Captain Gordon."
The officer gave a sad smile and nodded to Bruce before leaving.
Bruce promptly returned his attention to Dick. "You okay, kiddo?"
Dick shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Dick. I know this is a big shock."
"I don't know why. I mean…" Dick shrugged. "I recognized his voice so I knew it had to be someone who knew me, right? I guess I just thought…I wasn't expecting it to be someone I liked."
Bruce could plainly hear the wobble in his voice and pulled the boy into a hug. He didn't know what to say to make Dick feel better. The boy had already been struggling with the concept of someone hurting him for money. Knowing now that it was someone he had liked, trusted even, who was responsible for setting up his kidnapping…it would have a massive impact on Dick's ability to trust people.
He suppressed a sigh. Dick wasn't naturally suspicious like he was – he'd always been inclined to believe the best in people unless proven otherwise. And while Bruce had been concerned that his trusting nature could be dangerous for someone in Dick's position, he didn't actually want that part of him to disappear either. His belief in other people being inherently decent helped Dick maintain his optimistic outlook despite the things he'd seen. Bruce absolutely did not want that side of his son to disappear because of what a man Dick should have been able to trust had done.
He had to find a way to fix this.
Nick Coulson shifted in his chair, feeling the interrogation room close in around him. Beside him, his lawyer was silent, reading over his notes. Normally the man was irritatingly chatty and Nick usually wanted him to stop talking, but right now he wished he would talk about the weather, his case, something, anything, to distract him from what was coming.
He glanced at the clock – almost eleven. They'd be here soon.
Nick swallowed. He wasn't looking forward to facing Dick Grayson. He'd been struggling with guilt ever since he'd found himself at an abandoned quarry pointing a freaking gun at the twelve-year-old…it hadn't been real until that moment. But it had been horrifying real from there on out, the other men not caring about the harm they inflicted on the child so long as they got their money. It had been terrifying to see how cruel the gang could be. Nick knew he shouldn't have been surprised – he'd known how ruthless they were. He'd just thought they would have shown some restraint when it came to a kid. But they hadn't, and Nick was responsible for every awful thing they had inflicted on the boy.
The guilt was eating him alive.
Right leg jittering nervously, Nick glanced at the clock again. He'd assumed he wouldn't see Dick until the trial, and had been shocked when Captain Gordon came to his cell yesterday and told him that Dick wanted to speak with him. Speaking with Dick Grayson was the last thing Nick wanted to do. He'd been responsible for the boy's kidnapping for chrissake! His dreams were being haunted by the kid being forced into the freezer, by Eddie winding wires around his wrists until they bled, and worst of all, by the kid's frozen corpse. Nick could only imagine the crap his subconscious would pull on him after this little meeting.
The thing was, he didn't have to do this – his lawyer had told him he didn't have to agree to the meeting. But the kid wanted to speak to him and Nick felt he owed him that much. Besides, he was fairly certain that interviews like this weren't generally allowed and so serious strings must have been pulled to make this happen. Which wasn't exactly surprising given that Dick's father was Bruce Wayne.
The door opened and Captain Gordon entered. "They're here," he said. "Are you both ready?"
"We are," the lawyer replied.
Mouth dry and heart pounding, Nick nodded. Shit, he so wasn't ready for this.
Crooking a finger to someone behind him, Gordon stepped aside, and the enormous figure of Bruce Wayne entered the room. Nick couldn't help but shudder at the air he was projecting – an angry calm that reeked with the promise of pain. There was no sign of the bubblehead playboy from TV. Behind him came Dick, his slight frame dwarfed by his guardian's.
Nick grimaced. Fuck, he was so little! How in the hell had he ever thought helping those assholes to abduct him would be okay? The end absolutely did not justify the means, even if his brother had lived.
Bruce and Dick sat down, the billionaire directly in front of Nick, glowering like some big, angry shield between Nick and the boy. For a minute, no one said anything and Nick twitched nervously. Was he supposed to say something? But it was Dick who'd wanted to speak to him so maybe he should wait? Besides, Bruce Wayne was radiating some serious protective-parent vibes and Nick wouldn't be surprised if he launched himself across the table if Nick even looked funny at his kid.
Finally, Dick cleared his throat and Nick chanced a glance at him. The kid was biting his lip and watching him with an edgy, apprehensive expression. "Were you…" he began in a low voice. "Did you…"
The boy swallowed and looked at the billionaire beside him. Nick was surprised to see the man soften, placing one massive hand on the kid's shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. Dick gave him a small smile and took a deep breath, his uncertain expression melting into one of resolve, before looking straight at Nick. "Were you planning the kidnapping while you were teaching me?"
Nick stared. He'd been expecting 'why', or even 'how could you'. He definitely hadn't been expecting that.
"Well," Bruce Wayne growled, "aren't you going to answer him?"
Nick shrank back a little from the intimidating man's glare and returned his attention to Dick. Not quite able to meet the boy's eyes, he kept his gaze on his cheek, where he noticed a blotch of fading purple bruises. He winced. That was where Jake had hit the kid. "No," he managed in a strangled voice. "That…I didn't think of it until my mother's heart attack. I was sitting in the hospital while she was in surgery and I…I was trying to think of ways to pay back Kevin's debts."
"And I was your way?"
The coldness in the young voice startled Nick and he nodded.
"How much of the kidnapping was your idea? How much did you plan?"
Nick blinked. Talk about weird questions for a twelve-year-old, not to mention the grim expression on the boy's face – it was eerily grown-up for a child. "The actual kidnapping, taking you off the bus and bouncing the cell signal for the ransom call were my ideas. The rest…what they did…I had no idea. About any of it."
"But you still let them do it."
Swallowing, Nick nodded again.
There was an obvious wobble to the child's voice this time, and Nick realized the rigid control he was displaying was nothing more than a mask to hide behind. The boy was confused, upset, and struggling to understand why Nick had done this. The enormity of what that meant staggered him. He hadn't just been responsible for putting Dick in a dangerous situation; he had probably destroyed the boy's ability to trust people, even those he should be able to trust. Dick Grayson would likely never look at a teacher in the same way again.
Regretting his actions even more, Nick forced himself to look the boy in the eyes. "I can't give you a good answer because there is no good answer. What I did was stupid and selfish."
Dick frowned. "But weren't you…you were trying to help your family…"
"Yeah. And I was desperate, caught between a rock and a hard place, but it still doesn't justify it. It doesn't make it right. I'll spend the rest of my life regretting what I did."
"Is that why you helped me? You know, when they were…" Dick raised a hand from his lap and gestured awkwardly at his stomach.
The blackened blisters on the child's hand caused Nick's stomach to swoop sickeningly. Jesus Christ, his lawyer had said there'd been no long-term damage from the freezer but that looked nasty. Nick was overcome with a sudden, powerful need to throw up and glanced away. Breathing deeply, he fumbled out an answer. "I…they…what they were doing was…despicable. Helping you was the right thing to do."
"And yet you left him in that freezer," Bruce Wayne's cold, angry voice interrupted suddenly.
Nick looked back at the billionaire, whose eyes were dark with hatred and fury. It was chilling to be looked at in such a way by another person. He sighed miserably. "I was a coward. I didn't think they were going to leave him there for as long as they did, and I thought going along with them would end the whole thing quicker. I just wanted to be finished with them." He looked at Dick and whispered, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?! You think an apology makes up for everything he went through?" Bruce Wayne practically snarled, leaning forward. "That freezer almost killed him!"
Nick shrank back from the billionaire's anger while Dick placed a hand on his guardian's arm. The large, angry man glanced down at the boy, who was staring up at him, and sighed before nodding. Giving Nick a dirty look, he sat back in his seat once more.
Dick returned his attention to Nick. "So…why didn't you take any of the ransom money?"
Nick grimaced. His stomach was twisted up in painful knots from the stress and guilt of this conversation, and he wished the kid would stop asking questions. "The ransom…it was blood money, I couldn't take it. All I wanted was Eastside 13 to leave my family alone."
The boy glanced down at his lap and Nick hoped he was finished asking questions. But then he looked up again. "Why did you turn yourself in?"
Nick looked away. "I regretted your kidnapping ever since the quarry, but if I'd backed out then they would have killed me and my brother. And afterwards, I was afraid they'd kill Kevin if I said anything, so I kept quiet. But then they killed him anyway."
Nick could hear the taint of bitterness and grief in his own voice. He'd loved his big brother very much, but he was also so angry at him for bringing Eastside 13 into their family. All their lives were destroyed now.
"I'm sorry about your brother."
Nick's head whipped around and he stared in open-mouthed shock at Dick, unable to believe the boy had just offered sympathy to him after everything.
"My family were murdered too," Dick continued quietly. "I know how much it hurts."
And fucking hell, way to pile on the guilt. Remind Nick that he was responsible for the kidnapping of a kid who'd already watched his whole family die right in front of him. It was official, Nick would never sleep again. He managed a hoarse, "Thanks."
Dick now turned his gaze to the man beside him and stared at him questioningly. No words were said, but whatever passed between them had the man narrowing his eyes and tightening his jaw. "Dick, no."
Nick was surprised at the wordless way they seemed able to communicate. There was a real closeness there, belying the rumours which claimed Bruce Wayne regretted taking the boy in and that's why Dick was rarely seen at functions with him. Nick suspected the real reason was far more parental: Bruce wanted to shield the boy from the insane publicity that the Wayne name brought. Everything Nick was witnessing here said Bruce Wayne cared very much about his kid.
The man in question was now frowning and shaking his head at the boy, but the child didn't seem at all bothered and turned instead to face Cyril Jackson, Nick's lawyer. "Um…it's Mr. Jackson, right?"
Cyril nodded. "It is. Do you have a question for me, young man?"
"Could I…if I were to ask the judge to go easy on Mr. Coulson, would he do it?"
Nick gawped at the boy. What the hell was he doing?!
"Difficult to say," the lawyer told Dick, "this is an unusual situation. However, given that you are the victim, I would have to say yes, I believe the judge would consider leniency."
"How would I go about doing it? Would I have to make a statement to you? Or the police?"
"Don't answer that question, Mr. Jackson!" Bruce Wayne snapped before turning to the boy. "Dick, you are not doing this – that man is the reason you were kidnapped!"
Clearly, Bruce Wayne wasn't interested in leniency. Nick was willing to bet that if he had his way, Nick would burn in the lowest circle of hell for all eternity. And while the hell thing was a bit extreme, Nick was inclined to agree with him about the leniency bit. "Mr. Wayne is right. I don't deserve leniency. I don't want leniency. I deserve whatever I get for this."
"Damn straight you do," muttered Bruce Wayne.
"But what about what I want?" Dick asked.
There was silence as every adult in the room stared at the child.
Dick exhaled, placing his hands on the table and nervously tugging at his sweatshirt sleeves. "Look," he said in a low voice, staring determinedly at his hands, "I don't want him to go to prison for years and years like everyone's been saying he will. I don't think that's fair."
"Dick…" his guardian began but the boy cut him off.
"No! It's not right, Bruce. He came forward when he could have got away with it. And he did try to help me during…everything. But…" Dick took a deep breath and gave Nick a slightly bitter look, "it doesn't mean I forgive you – I don't. I just want things to be fair."
Nick didn't know how respond to that and just sat there, staring at the boy.
It was Captain Gordon who broke the silence. Stepping forward from where he'd been leaning against the wall watching the proceedings, the officer moved behind the boy. "Dick, I want you to really think about what you're doing…are you sure this is what you want?"
The child nodded.
Gordon sighed and shifted his attention to Bruce Wayne who was sitting ramrod straight and clenching his teeth so hard Nick could hear them grinding. "Mr. Wayne," the officer began, "if this is what Dick wants, then he'll need to give us a statement. But he'll need your permission first."
Bruce Wayne scowled at the subtle hint telling him that this was what Dick wanted. It was blatantly obvious to the entire room that it was the last thing he wanted. He glanced at the boy beside him and the child stared unblinkingly back, once more communicating in the strange, silent way they seemed to share. Eventually, the man sighed. "Alright. I'll give my permission."
"Okay then," said Gordon as the boy smiled at Bruce Wayne, "Dick can give his statement before he leaves if he wants."
"I do," Dick spoke up quickly.
Gordon gave him a small smile and patted his shoulder. "Do you have anything else you want to ask Mr. Coulson?"
Dick glanced at Nick before shaking his head.
"Then it looks like we're done here," said Bruce Wayne abruptly, standing up. "Captain Gordon, where do we go for Dick to give his statement?"
"Come with me and I'll take it," the officer replied as Dick also got to his feet. "Mr. Jackson, do you need any more time with your client?"
"I'd like a few more minutes if you wouldn't mind, Captain," the lawyer responded.
The officer nodded. "Fine. Just tap on the door when you're done and the officer outside will open it."
The officer opened the door, jerking Nick out of his shocked stupor. "Wait!"
Everyone turned to look at him. Heart beating hard, Nick addressed the boy, "Thank you. You're a good kid, Dick, and I'm truly sorry for what I did to you. I don't expect forgiveness – I just want you to know that."
Dick made a motion somewhere between a nod and a shrug before Bruce Wayne placed an arm over his shoulders and said, "Let's go, Dick."
The child gave Nick one last look while Bruce Wayne shot him one last angry glare before they followed Captain Gordon out of the room.
Staring at the door, Nick barely heard his lawyer starting to talk about what this new development would mean for his case. He was struggling to understand how a twelve-year-old child could show such magnanimity towards the man who was responsible for putting him through a terrifying ordeal that had nearly killed him. And while he was impressed and grateful for Dick's actions, he also resented him ever so slightly – how was he ever supposed to ease his guilt now?
Dick and Bruce didn't speak as they walked back to the car, although Dick could tell his guardian had a lot to say.
He was honestly surprised at Bruce's restraint. He knew the man wanted the harshest punishment possible for all of Dick's kidnappers, including Nick Coulson, but that he hadn't insisted on it was confusing Dick – Bruce wasn't one to back down easily. He'd also stayed quiet during Dick's statement to Captain Gordon, refraining from making any arguments against leniency for Nick Coulson or trying to talk Dick out of it.
Dick had expected Bruce to say something as soon as they left the station. He wasn't the most verbose of people, but if he had an important point to make then he would make it…usually in as few words as possible. That he wasn't doing so now seemed weirdly uncharacteristic for him.
To Dick's relief, they reached the car without incident. He'd been half-expecting some paparazzi to be lounging outside the station – they'd certainly been everywhere else ever since his kidnapping. Dick supposed Gordon had warned his officers not to breathe a word about this morning's interview.
Bruce unlocked the car and they got in. Dick watched his guardian put his keys in the ignition and unable to bear the silence anymore asked, "Bruce, are you mad?"
The man turned to him with raised eyebrows. "Why would you think I'm mad?"
"Because I asked for leniency."
Bruce gave him a small smile. "I'm not mad, Dick, I'm proud."
Dick stared at him. "What?"
"That you could show such goodwill towards the man responsible for your kidnapping shows what a good person you are. Most adults in your situation wouldn't have done it. I know I wouldn't."
"But…I thought you wanted him to spend a long time in prison?"
"I do, but that doesn't mean it's the right thing." He sighed. "I'm not you, Dick. I'm not good at forgiving people."
Dick frowned. "I didn't forgive him."
"I know. But you don't hate him either, otherwise you wouldn't have asked for leniency."
He had no response to that.
"Did talking to him make you feel any better?" Bruce asked.
Dick thought about it. There had been a miserable weight pressing on his chest ever since he'd found out about his teacher selling him to the kidnappers. It had been hard to deal with the fact someone he liked and trusted was willing to do that to him. It was why he'd asked to speak with Mr. Coulson, even though Captain Gordon had already told him everything about the man's motivations. But Dick had needed to talk to the man himself to get his head around it.
And it had helped. Dick was surprised to find the awful weight in his chest felt less heavy. He definitely didn't forgive the man for his actions but…seeing how broken up Mr. Coulson was made a difference. Dick could see that he was truly sorry, that he really did regret his actions, and it was actually something of a relief.
He looked up at Bruce. "I think it did. I feel better knowing that he didn't just plan to sell me off all along…he only did it because he was desperate, because he didn't know what else to do. And he's sorry – honestly sorry, not just saying it. I guess that makes me feel like…I am a person to him, not just money."
Suddenly, Bruce leaned over and hugged him, surprising Dick. His guardian wasn't the most affectionate of people. "Kiddo, you're worth so much more than money. Never forget that."
Dick closed his eyes and hugged back. Bruce had been amazing through all of this: it had been over a week since Dick was kidnapped and yet his guardian still hadn't returned to work. He had organized the meeting with Nick Coulson despite disagreeing with it, and he had supported Dick's request for leniency even though he clearly didn't want the same. Most importantly, he had been working tirelessly to track down the other kidnappers, and it wasn't because he wanted his money back. Bruce didn't care about the money – all he cared about was tracking down the men who'd hurt his son.
Dick was still trying to get to grips with the fact that Bruce considered him his son. He'd always known Bruce cared about him, but he didn't realize he cared about him that much. It was a comforting discovery, soothing the horrible insecurities that had plagued him during his kidnapping. For the first time since his family's deaths, Dick really felt like he had a home.
"Thank you," he whispered into Bruce's chest, "for everything."
Bruce responded by squeezing him a little tighter. "Anytime, kiddo. Anytime."