Author's Note: Slight religious imagery. Spoilers for B:TAS episodes: "Old Wounds" as well as some Batman Beyond canon. This particular story is set between the flashback sequence of "Old Wounds" and before the token appearance in "Sins of the Father".
By Gen X
* * * * *
The sunset looked the same.
It always looked the same. Whether I was seeing it behind the mountains of Colorado, or the soft sands of Florida. It didn't matter if the Eiffel Tower was a backdrop anymore than the cliffs of Ireland on the horizon. It meant the same thing.
The beginning of a new night.
Away from home.
This was what I wanted. Right? That's what I was so determined to convince myself. Flying to and fro was a façade. I flew everywhere but I went nowhere. It was an expensive way to run away from problems. Problems that weren't even my fault. Why the hell should I go home? Fuck that, why the hell was I thinking of going home?
The dusky reds bled out of the sky and I realized that had to think to remember which city was in. A little voice reminded me that home, damn it, my former home was just a hopscotch away. What did that matter? I chided myself. I was living a great life. I drifted here and there. I did nothing, and did it everywhere. How many people can say they have a life like this?
How many people in their right mind would want to?
I'm not sorry that I'd left. And I sure as hell wasn't repentful. I'd had a lot of time to think about that. No, I was sorry because I couldn't go back. I'd burned all my bridges, but I was a stupid idiot that did it while I was standing on them. The sun finally faded, leaving trailing wisps of light behind. The dawning of a new night. Completely alone.
There was no going back.
It sucked to be alone.
Robin had flown the coop for good.
Or had he?
Maybe, just maybe it was time for Dick Grayson to return home.
I always wanted to be him.
I realize that now. Hell, I might have known it way back when, but didn't want to admit it out of some misplaced fear it would but a jinx on the whole damn thing. After, once I got older, and somewhat wiser, I casted off superstitions. I just denied the whole damn thing.
Bruce was the standard, y'know? He was the bar of excellence, the ultimate goal. The person against whom my every breath was measured against, and I hated him for that.
Even now, even though I've seen him through some difficult times. Now, I'm not deluded enough to think he's perfect. However, knowing it and believing it are two entirely different things. I've seen him at near worse. I've watched him fall from grace time and time again. It didn't matter; he was the best. In my eyes, he could never tumble from that podium. Not even if I pushed him.
He always had to be right. He always had to remain in that fucking-holier-than-thou-position. There was never any room for argument. No tolerance for complaints. If you couldn't take that, don't slam the door on your way out.
Why had I ever expected to see pride in his eyes?
Why had I even been looking?
But once I realized, I was never going to have that. I was never going to be worthy of that. I was never, ever, going to be him. Not even a garden-variety, brand-name knock off him. When that sank into my head, I had another realization. Another emotion had surfaced within me: I started to resent him.
Anger distracted me from the pain. It covered my misplaced sense of inadequacy, even though I didn't realize I was doing it. I knew I hurt, and that denying any expectations seemed a welcome distraction from it, even in a spiteful way.
The strange thing is he never had expectations. I don't know whether he just somehow knew, I was going to make the grade or what. But he never forced this life on me. Yeah. Right. I bet that's what he liked to think.
He never said it. But it was always there. It was in that look in his eyes. No, he never said it with words.
I almost killed myself to accomplish what he put before me. I never stopped to ask myself why.
When I did, it all fell apart.
It was that night. My last flight as Robin. My last night of having a home. I'd just left a shocked Batgirl, no, that was wrong, a shocked *Barbara* on the roof. I was still seething, how could she keep something like that from me! I fought hard with the little voice in my head that was calling me a hypocrite for doing the same thing.
My hands were shaking. My whole body seemed to be trembling, of course, against my will. It wasn't until after I dove off the roof, that I wished for my mask back. But not the role. Definitely not the role.
Oh, no, it needed to be tossed aside. Symbolic implications perfectly clear and biting, but just because I quit didn't mean I was going to tattle through negligence. I still had some decency. That was when I wondered how I was going to get home, back to that damn cave, with no one seeing me.
That was when I realized that I didn't have a home to go back to.
That was when the shaking started.
There was no time for that now. Plan. Action. Implement. Take only what you can carry. Prioritize. Move.
What was this? Was I some sort of fugitive now?
Might as well be, the voice in my damn head chirped. I had a brief and slightly unbalanced mental conversation, I told it to shut up.
Most of my stuff was at the dorm. Did I need anything from the manor? If I went home, I'd see Alfred. I'd have to talk to Alfred. I'd have to explain it to Alfred. I really hadn't worked out the whole rationale for myself yet. Well, the proverbial straw was a no brainer, Batman threatening a guy in front of his kid. Sick. But it went deeper than that.
It started before that. I had just forgotten when.
No, home wasn't an option. I'd talk to Alfred, and he'd keep me until Bruce got home. And I didn't want to talk to Bruce. And Barb might be with him. I didn't know what to say to her yet. She might not come, but she might be there. She might come with Bruce.
No, I couldn't go home.
I went to my college dorm room, packed a bag with the essentials. Twenty minutes later, I closed my bank account. Ten minutes after that, I was on a bus heading to the airport. Two hours later, I was outside of the city limits. As the plane took off the window blind stayed firmly closed.
Just like the chapter in the epic that had been my life.
I didn't know why I came.
The taxi driver looked at me with impatient eyes. Decide already, they said.
I closed the door I had been hanging on to. Then as the cab sped away, I wished I hadn't. It's not too late, the voice told me. It was still around despite my nagging attempts to quell, squash, and outright murder it.
You could turn around, it said. But he'd know, I thought.
He's not God, the voice said. As I shuddered slightly at the blasphemy, it added, and he never was.
I scoffed. You don't know Bruce.
The house, the fucking manor, looked the same. I found himself growing angry. Why should it be exactly the same? Why should Bruce's life have fucking continued? Did I really mean that little?
What were you expecting? The voice mocked. A sign saying the Prodigal Son has returned, go kill a goat? Or maybe a tribute statue of you commemorating the loss? What do you think a nice memorial of Robin out on the front lawn?
Shut up, I ordered again.
You really should have called in advance if you wanted attention. Why the hell are you even here?
I had no fucking clue.
I needed to leave. Now. Quickly, before anyone saw. Run away again, Grayson.
No, damn it. I was staying. But I didn't want to. I don't know what I was doing there, I don't know what I was expecting?
Hell, I didn't even know what I wanted.
Well I knew, but far be it for me to admit it to myself.
I wanted to open the door and be taken in like no sins were ever cast. I wanted to reclaim my role in the so-called holy land, the crusade. Then, part of me wanted to throw it all back in his face. I wanted him to make the effort, to draw out emotion from him, then I wanted to crush it. Then, I could proclaim myself free and complete as my own separate entity. But more so, it would hurt him. I needed to hurt him. That feeling of triumph would cover my mourning for another six months, maybe a year.
But that's not really why I wanted to cast it off.
I couldn't let myself believe.
If I took it at face value, I'd always doubt it. I didn't want him to just say the words and go through the motions. I wanted it to actually mean something.
I shouldn't have worried with Bruce.
Bruce is Bruce. I wouldn't probably even get a hello, he probably wouldn't have noticed if I was gone. Fuck him.
So I went in, I didn't care. Besides, I needed to see what his expression was going to be when he saw me.
It wasn't worth it. The whole trip wasn't worth it.
I didn't knock.
I should have knocked.
I had keys. You don't knock going into your own house. You probably should. But this house was kind of mine. I grew up in it. I had no clue why or how I'd kept the keys. The house was familiar, intimate like a lover. I knew about the creaky side of the third step. The cobwebs that always dwelled in the far right corner of the stairwell. Alfred never could reach those. I remember, I once thought of helping, but Bruce had stopped me. "If we clean it, then that means that Alfred didn't or couldn't do it," Bruce had said. "He knows about it. Just let it be."
"You mean ignore it?" I had asked.
"For his sake. For his pride."
"You'll get it someday."
"That's not what I meant. Don't you think he knows that we know? That he understands what we're doing?"
Bruce had just shrugged. But I had still cleaned the cobwebs. Alfred had never mentioned it.
The cobwebs were still there. They stood alone, untouched, just another sign of a lack of change. Just another sentiment of a lack of compassion.
Alfred wasn't home. The car wasn't in; he was off doing errands. I went to check my room first.
Just in case something happened, I needed to know what had been done. Was it covered? Boxed up? Kept up? Besides, it would give me a clue what to expect when I made my entrance.
But nothing could have prepared me.
I guess a lot of people would describe it as getting kicked in the gut. I've been kicked in the gut. This was nothing like it. It was like freefalling. You have expectations, you have ideas, then you hit the concrete and none of that matters.
That's what it felt like.
I never made it to my room. I got distracted.
Time hadn't changed Bruce. Time... hadn't changed either of them.
My bag dropped to the floor. My mouth opened in as it did so. No was the only thing I could think of. Just... no. No emotional reaction. This was shock. I was pretty sure that this was shock. This had to be shock, why else would my brain have suddenly shut down.
I needed to run. I truly did. I needed to melt in the floor. I needed to be in Cancun or Bali, I needed to be as far away from Gotham as I could possibly be.
The first word out of my mouth wasn't as I had planned. I had envisioned all sorts of scenarios. Bruce reading, not paying attention, me standing in the doorway saying his name. Or maybe working out in the cave, his back turned. As I found my feet moving towards his bedroom, maybe him getting changed for a meeting or party. But his name was always going to be the first thing out of my mouth. Or that's what I planned.
It didn't go that way. Nothing goes the way I want it to. If it did my parents would still be alive and Gotham would have just been another stop on the road of life. Not a fucking detour.
"Barbara," I managed to choke out.
Well this just blew all my welcome home scenarios out of my delusional waters.
She was beautiful the first time I saw her.
There was this cute but sexy aura that surrounded her. She was confident in herself, happy as she lived in the ignorance of a carefree life. And her smile, her smile was to die for. She was always nice, always pleasant. Well liked around the campus, she remembered my name, even in passing. Even, when I was just that kid in the back of her bio lab. She was always courteous, and what could be called a carefree spirit, but she was down to earth. And for a short time she was mine.
Barbara Gordon wasn't a pushover though. Oh, she was a spitfire, as well. The commissioner's daughter had attitude. She could be snappy and curt. Quick with a comeback or a dig. Like the red haired stereotype, her temper flared, but quickly burnt out. She didn't stay angry for long.
But, that was more likely with the Batgirl-her.
That her was an amateur, a novice, talented but lacking. Always in the wrong place, when she had first started out. But she had heart, and a good head on her shoulders. It used to make me feel like a surrogate brother, teaching sis the ropes.
But it wasn't brotherly love.
When Barbara and I first started dating, it was the top of the world. Everything looked better, everything looked brighter. All the little things no longer mattered. It that wasn't true, though. All that had done was shift annoyances. Now it was nightly patrols instead of Bruce's cold demeanor. It was Batman more than Bruce. But Bruce was Batman. The blame didn't travel far at all.
Then of course, that night. Always that damned night. The night where everything was laid on the table. The night I left, feeling betrayed and angry. The night when the loneliness started.
Somewhere I heard that one is the loneliest number in the world.
They're wrong. It's three. And you're the odd man out.
But worse than anything. I found myself wanting to *be* him again. Life might never been fucking fair, but I'd like a break once in a while.
She bounded up from bed. A short nightgown flowed around her entrancingly. The next instant, she had wrapped me in a hug, her hair nestled under my head. I didn't move. This wasn't right. Why the hell was she happy to see me?
I looked at her, and I could feel the world tipping. She was as beautiful as ever, and she was Bruce's. Everything was always Bruce's.
Barb tittered off words I didn't hear. My eyes had locked with Bruce's. His were calm, stoic as always. I don't even know what he saw in mine.
I tore my gaze away to look at my angel before me. For a moment, just a moment, she smiled, and I smiled back. In that moment, I pretended she was mine. I brought myself back to busy college nights, as I tired to gain some sanity from a life I no longer wanted.
I wanted to kiss her, to embrace her, to rest my head on her shoulder and hear her murmur that everything would be okay. But I wanted Bruce to fucking say something.
I pushed Barbara away from me slightly, my voice was low, but calm. "Isn't this the part where you tell me it isn't what it looks like?"
"Dick..." she started. She pulled completely away and sat on the bed. She invited me to sit down. No fucking way, thank you very much. And I thought things were the same. The laugh's on me, wasn't it? Some sick twisted joke, but it was real. And it hurt.
She must have seen it in my face because she stopped talking. She cast her eyes down, for the first time avoiding me. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"I could have loved you, Barb."
"I couldn't wait."
And that was that.
I was shaking again. It was really an unpleasant feeling. It was an involuntary loss of control. With my world, or what was left of it, spinning away from me, it was hell. The arsenic chaser to a bad night of drinking. It was too soon. I wasn't ready. After this, I doubted I ever would be.
The sun was setting now. All the red had near left the sky. It looked pretty, it looked different in Gotham. It looked sacred, the sun bleeding out, dying. Then, it would appear the next day resurrected. It made sense, Batman being a nocturnal past time. Bruce never allowed himself a rebirth, a new life. Nighttime was comforting, because it was familiar. Like the building.
The same building. The one the Joker had used in his stupid scheme. It was some radar thing, wasn't it? Why couldn't I remember clearly? The building Barbara had been thrown off, only to have me perform a dazzling rescue at the last moment. I wonder if she knew how worried I was, even more so afterwards, when I realized it was Barb all along. The building I'd been too late in getting to and too early in leaving. The night I should have taken back.
I sat on the ledge, watching the sunset. Shadows fell on my face as the sun sank behind buildings. That stupid poet I'd studied in school was right. You can't go fucking home again.
Especially, if you don't have a home to go to, the voice agreed somberly.
No home. No family. No friends. Some cash in a wallet, and a hitchhiker's thumb. Hardly a life. I mourned for the loss, the difference of then and now. Dreaming of yesterdays and cursing the present, and dreading the future. If I could get the world to stop, could I turn back time?
The temperature had dropped, the sun completely gone from view. The sunset is only a sunrise in reverse. It's the end, not the beginning. I stood on the building's ledge. I watched the dying sky. I reveled in the wind. The sun had died.
Then, I became the sunset.
I cheated. That's what the voice screamed at me on the way down. I didn't feel like I had. I thought maybe I could be at peace. I closed my eyes and cleared my mind. I was in my right mind, that's the scary part. Well, as sane as I could be considering.
It was such a great feeling. I felt all those expectations lifted off my shoulders, all those emotions, everything faded to the background. Focus shifted. If nothing mattered, there was nothing to be angry about. It was a freefall and the outcome was a certainty.
I had my wings back.
I wanted to kill him. Afterwards. Apparently suicide and homicide are related kin. He caught me with little effort and swung us to the roof of another building. I thought about jumping again. But he'd be there to catch me.
I pushed him away and just started hitting him. Like that night. Everything had to come back to that fucking night. And that realization made me hit harder and faster. Until I collapsed, close to sobbing, punching at the hard stone beneath me.
He never said anything. I wanted him to say something. Anything. Even just my name. Please. He could do that couldn't he? It wasn't that hard. Surely, he could say something. He had to. Didn't he?
He stood their watching, until I stopped my pathetic attempt at masochism. I didn't even look at him. When I finally looked up, he was gone.
I was a cobweb; and he had been right. I laughed aloud. I finally got it.
Everything went unsaid, because nothing needed to be spoken. I didn't realize it and maybe he didn't know, I needed time. Desperately. To sort everything. To cast away the last bits clinging to my soul, to cast out my hatred. Words weren't everything. He's not good with words. Hell, he's not even good with emotion. But it didn't matter, in this case words meant nothing.
Because I finally got it.
He'd always be there to catch me.
No matter what.
This was proof. I finally had my proof. But more importantly, for me, it finally was enough.
Now, I could greet the sunrise.
And when I did visit the next time, right after he had taken that kid in. I had no expectations. I just wanted, not even needed, to visit. It felt right. And this time, the first word out of his mouth was my name.
He spoke softly but his voice was filled with emotion. It just felt right; it felt sincere. But more so, I believed it and that's all that mattered.
It didn't hold. It couldn't hold. The center fell out again and I became a human yo-yo rehashing the same shit. But that moment, that's a treasured moment. That was the moment I felt free. It was as close to perfect as I would get. I'd give anything to have it back, but I know life doesn't work that way. So I'm just happy I was there for it. And I'll be waiting until it comes around again.