Author's Note: Dedicated to A.J. for getting me obsessed with the notion of Dick and Babs. Thanks to Vandalia for beta reading.
By Gen X
* * * * *
It wasn't supposed to have happened. The conversation, the confession, everything. In retrospect, I realize that I could have stopped it at any time. I could have stopped him. But I didn't. I stayed silent. In truth, I can't say I completely regret my decision. Part of me knows that it's nothing he hadn't said to me before. But never had it hit me with so much emotion until that moment.
I was in the cave, a rare occasion in itself. It was an update on the batcomputer that got me out of my tower. Bruce had gone out early to deal with the psychotic elements of the city, leaving me alone. If circumstances had been different, it never would have happened. But they weren't, and it did.
I had started a system diagnosis, preparing the computer for the update, when his voice chirped through the line. Something was different about the tone. That was the first thing I noticed. It had shades of weariness, and there was a lingering undertone present as well. Frustration?
"Hey. I know you're busy, so you don't have to answer. Just listen, okay? I need someone to talk to."
I was about to interrupt the program so I could active the comm system. The viewscreen had already been taken offline. For the briefest of moments, a feeling of envy flashed through me. He had called to talk to Bruce, not to me. It stung to not be able to offer help, when it was so obvious from his voice that he was hurting. Nevertheless, he deserved to know that Bruce had left. He deserved to know whom he was talking to. I moved to hit the button, but his next words stopped me cold.
"It's about Babs."
I shouldn't have done it. It couldn't be helped. I just sat there. My fingers were poised, I just had to press a button, flip a switch, another button, then speak. A series of simple gestures had become impossible for me at that moment. So I sat, silent, awaiting his next words.
"I figured you'd still be here, it's too early for you to be on patrol. Besides, the terminal's active. Look, I know you've heard this tirade before and can probably recite it on cue, and I know you're probably not even listening but I just needed to talk. So continue on with whatever is you're doing and let me ramble. I won't take up too much of your time." There was a pause and wry chuckle, "Just pretend you can't hear me, shouldn't be too much of a stretch."
He'd set it up perfectly, for me at least. Bruce need not say a word, all he had to do was listen, if he even did that much. Listening was something I could do. Something I shouldn't have done. I tried to rationalize my action. Too much time had passed and I'd missed my chance to interject. It would have been awkward and embarrassing for him. Come right down to it though, it was curiosity. I wanted to know what I had done to put that weary timbre in that normally authoritative voice.
"I'm at my wits end. It's getting worse now. Every laugh of hers I hear, every teasing statement, every playful gesture, they drive me crazy. It's everything I love. It's everything I can't touch. It's like watching the world move on without you, as if I were a spectator behind this glass curtain to her world.
"Did I ever tell you I love the little things about her? Of course I did. Did I tell you that each time I call her up I'm greeted with a new nickname that always makes me smile? She's always there to pick me up, or cheer me up, and even, on occasion, patch me up."
I smiled, albeit somberly, at the sentiment. Vigilantes would be vigilantes. I was pretty sure it's inherent nature to them, yet still tragic at times. I thought back to that whirlwind time. No Man's Land, Blackgate, Petri, Huntress. Bad train of thought there, I backed up the memories until I reached the one blissful moment of the entire affair: The. Kiss.
Remembering it brought a smile to my face. It didn't last, and I turned my head from the computer as if burned. I couldn't tie him down. I won't. Sometimes, he made it so damn hard to turn away, to step back. He's blinded by love. I couldn't…let myself be there when the glow fades. I refused to set myself up for that fall. I was chewing on my bottom lip. My thoughts had distracted me and I'd missed what he'd said.
"I her little quirky smile. I love her teasing nature, hell, I even love the way she bites her lower lip."
My smile returned as I realized what I was doing at exactly that instant.
"I love all those things about her. I love her for the woman she was-"
She's not here anymore, I thought. I've changed Dick, and you don't see it.
"-but more importantly I love her for the woman she is today. I can't imagine not having her in my life."
That sounded like a prelude to a proposal. I hoped Bruce had talked him out of it beforehand. I'll always be here for you, I thought at him, just not the way you want.
"I'd miss her spirit. If there's one person I can always count on to speak her mind, it's her. She's not afraid to tell me when I'm wrong. Or when I'm stupid. Or when she's jealous."
Jealous? My first reaction was outrage, I was one step away from flipping those switches and chastising him for even entertaining such a notion. Jealous, of all things. I squashed the impulse and then I had to wonder, what sparked such a defensive response. Was I jealous? No, couldn't be. Yet what was it that made my eyes narrow and a stern look settled on my face when it came to discussing his love life with him.
"Over the years she's been a mother, a partner, and always a friend. It's not enough. I love her." He paused slightly, his voice returning with a louder timbre. "So much it hurts. Each damned time she pushes me away."
I did love him. I was in love with him. I've known that I love him. But I couldn't admit it to myself, much less him. That's why I had gotten jealous in the past. I wanted to be a part of his life, but at the same time I knew I couldn't. You can't cage birds; it's a tragedy. It's a sin. Although, he's no longer Robin, he still needs to fly. He couldn't do that with me. It's the sacrifice I would have to make for the happiness I knew he needed.
"It's not fair," his voice stopped as a sardonic chuckle interceded his words. "But then, I suppose it never is. Not for me. Not for her. I suppose that's what it all comes down to. Living with our lives.
"I can be patient. I know I can. I'm not trying to push, but, I mean, life is short. All too short in this business. I don't want to die without ever sharing my love with her.
"And it's not the same as a friend." He let out an audible sigh. In my mind's eye, I could picture him. He'd be pacing around his apartment, running his hands through his hair. The frustrated tone had come to the surface and he started speaking in harsh sentences.
"I've told her how I feel. I'm waiting. I'm being patient.
"And I...and I just don't know what to do anymore. I've showed her. I've told her, and it's not enough.
"What did I ever do to deserve this? Did I piss off the karmic love gods in another dimension or something?"
No, no, no, no, no. No, I thought angrily, directing my thoughts towards him, it's not you. It's me. Don't even think for a second you're not good enough. In fact, you're too good. That's the problem.
"No matter what I do, I'm still kept away from her heart."
It's for your own good, if only you could see that.
"I just...I just don't know what to do anymore."
His voice was so resigned; I wanted to hear that jovial timbre. Then, I realized, I was the one responsible. I was the one that put that weariness there, the one responsible for his anger, and for his self blame. I could stop it all. I could tell him how I feel.
I could. I could. My finger was tracing the comm button. Simple things. Simple. I could do this. I didn't. I couldn't. I'd be vulnerable. I might be hurt. The situation wasn't fair to him. Not fair to me. So who should be hurt? Me or him?
"There's only one thing I can do. And I've been doing. I've been waiting for ages now. But I'll keep waiting. It's all I can do."
Hope. That was the difference. Dick had hope, still did. That's why he'll be waiting. That's why he'll be holding his breath for my word. It may not work out, but he wants it to. God, I did too. I wasn't optimistic. I didn't have Dick's faith. I was...scared.
Was one moment of happiness truly worth a lifetime of heartbreak? My fingers went down to stroke the cool metal of the wheelchair. Was it worth it? Would this be? I reflected on my life and I knew my answer.
"Anyways thanks for letting me babble on and on."
I could do this. I could be strong.
"Time for me to stop slacking, eh? I'll see you in the sky."
Hurriedly, I flipped the switches. You can't leave just yet, I thought.
"Dick?" I was desperate to reach him; it showed in the high pitch of my voice. "Wait!"
But the connection had already been terminated. The soft light of the computer illuminated the cave. In the ensuing silence, I spoke ever so softly, regretful I'd missed my chance.
"I do love you."