(re-uploaded for the link information)

AN: Hey guys, AmberSpirit here. We have recently found a tumblr dedicated to this fic so you should all check it out! It's just "theboyinthemanor" dot tumblr dot com

Also I have made a fic playlist with all the songs we picked so why not check it out? They are pretty angsty so watch out lol

If you feel like we can add some more songs feel free to leave one in a review! Just search "the boy in the manor" at 8tracks dot com

And lastly there is another video based on this fic on youtube. It's called "Dick/Bruce angst under the pressure"

(links don't work on ff, sorry)

Chapter 41: The Boy in Training

As Dick walked through the halls of the Academy again for the first time in two weeks, he kept his head down but his eyes up. There was an energy in the air as the students stressed over upcoming exams and excitedly made plans for the summer. Dick was glad - he didn't want anyone to notice him. The majority of the student body never had, but now it looked like they had forgotten he'd ever existed. Dick was fine with that. He was just afraid of the handful of people who did know him.

Of course he was looking forward to seeing Richard, but he was dreading the inevitable questions. He doubted the texting during his absence had totally convinced the senior, and now he would have to talk about it as if he had actually been sick. At least he felt like it, his body was still weak and he was sure he didn't look well as he shambled around. The older boy had always made Dick feel... lighter, and right now what he needed more than anything was a bit of distraction, some positive human interaction… Someone to just look him in the goddamn eyes.

Richard and the other boys on the gymnastics team would be a blessing. He knew they would be practicing every day now to get ready for the big recital at the end of the year, and while he wasn't sure if he would be able to join in, Dick expected to be allowed to sit and watch. He was barely a member of the team at this point, but he had the captain on his side.

But Dick knew he had enemies too. He'd always had, since his first day at the school. Specifically, he was keeping an eye out for McTravis' friends. They would know what had happened to the bully; the whole school probably did by now. Would they blame Dick? Would anyone who had been in that hotel room for their fight think it a little too coincidental that the eye McTravis was robbed of was the same one he had blackened on Dick? It seemed unlikely, but... Maybe McTravis had said something, now that he'd become so paranoid. Maybe his crew would be looking to put Dick in his place. Maybe the new leader would be looking to assert his dominance, carry on old traditions.

Or maybe the new boss wouldn't give a shit about Dick. Maybe he wouldn't give a shit about McTravis either. McTravis was gone, why should his successor care about him? He was old news by now, crazy and half-blind, forced to move across the country with no money to his name. Would anybody in this school even care?

For the first time since his enrollment in Allen Bex academy, Dick regretted not paying more attention to the internal politics of the student population. He had to hope that his status as Wayne's ward would keep on protecting him.

Dick found his locker, and began looking for the books he would need for his next few classes. He'd had to check his timetable that morning, having been away so long he'd forgotten it. The school had been notified that he would be returning today, so hopefully none of his teachers would make a scene when he walked in and his seat was suddenly filled again.

He glanced around, so far no one seemed to have noticed him.

As he closed his locker door and zipped up his bag, he felt a sudden loneliness yawn open inside him, which was just stupid. What had he been expecting, balloons and a band? Other people had their own lives that had moved on while he was trapped in the manor, broken. He only had one friend, and that friend had friends of his own. Of course he wouldn't have, what, come to school early, camped outside Dick's locker with a Get-Well muffin and a bottle of OJ?

Dick sighed, and pulled out his printed schedule. Which class did he have first again? Maybe if he walked slowly, he wouldn't be too pathetically early.

"Dick!"

The boy heard his name shouted and looked up. Further down the hall, Richard was shouldering his way through the crowd towards him, one hand up and waving, a huge beaming grin on his face, as bright as his hair.

"Wait!"

Dick stood stunned until Richard reached him. His fantasy was coming true?

When the senior reached him, he punched Dick in the arm and shoved him into the lockers, then swatted at his chest playfully, while emitting a kind of growl. It was like being greeted by an excited golden retriever. None of it hurt, not really, only a few pangs from the damage Bruce had done, and Dick managed not wince. Richard adjusted his bag on his shoulder, appearing to reign himself in and said, "Hey, welcome back, how are you feeling?"

Still, he had to look at the floor to hide the grin that stretched his cheeks as he was reunited with his friend. These were the kinds of moments he daydreamed about when trapped inside the manor's quiet halls.

"Fine," he answered, and for the first time in a long time, it didn't feel like a lie. Richard made him feel like that, like he was normal and there was nothing wrong with him.

"Good, good... Well, listen, I, er... It's a little lame but, I have something for you," Richard said, pulling a circle wrapped in a napkin from his jacket pocket and presenting it to Dick with his lips pressed together nervously, blue eyes flicking over the freshman's face to try and measure his reaction.

Dick took the gift self-consciously. "Thanks, you didn't have to..." he muttered politely. Ever since Bruce took him in, Dick started to associate gifts with a feeling of disgust and self-hate so it was strange to be put in a position where he was given a present by somebody he cared about. It felt more like it did with his parents, when he was taken over by a mixture of excitement and joy.

He turned the package over in his hands a few times, savoring the nostalgic feeling. Richard got him a present? How long had he had it? Or had he brought it especially today because he knew Dick would be coming back to school?

He unwrapped the napkin and found a chocolate chip cookie.

"You don't have to eat it now, but... I don't know if it's going to last much longer. My mom baked it last night."

"She did?"

"Yeah. She does that sometimes."

Home-made cookies. He thought of his own mother and that nostalgic feeling increased ten-fold. Dick began wrapping the present up again. For some reason, he didn't want to eat it yet – he wanted to save it. "Really? She didn't, um, seem the baking type, when I met her. I mean, wasn't she a model?" Dick wanted to keep the conversation going, but he wasn't sure how much he should say, how far he could go. He, more than anyone, knew what a sensitive topic family could be.

"Yeah, well... Every once in a while she gets this idea in her head, you know," Richard looked at Dick with his hand run through his hair, pulling it off his face. He must have seen that Dick didn't know what he was getting at, because he took a deep breath and pushed his hands deep into his pockets, dropping his eyes to watch his toe kick at the floor as he explained.

"...That she's like this terrible monster of a mother and I hate her guts and as soon as I move out I'm never going to speak to her again. And whenever that happens, she bakes cookies, 'cause what little boy doesn't like cookies?" There was a bitterness at the end there, but Richard forgot it as he caught on to what he had just said, jerking his head up to look at Dick, afraid he'd offended him.

"Not that I'm giving you my dysfunctional, 'love me' cookie or anything! Or that I think you're a little boy... This is coming out wrong, let me start again. I'm not giving you the cookie just to get rid of it 'cause I don't want it 'cause I hate my mom. I don't, I love my mom really, she's just, you know, a bit much sometimes and, I mean, you've met her, you know what she's like. But I was mad at her 'cause she'd hidden my car keys when she was drunk a couple of days ago and forgotten where she put them so I couldn't get to work, so I got fired-"

"You had a job?" Dick exclaimed in surprise.

Richard looked at him, apparently having forgotten that Dick hadn't known that and that he hadn't intended to tell him. "Oh. Yeah. Just a stupid student job, you know, no big deal. That was where I was coming from the night I had to… pick my mom up from you house. That wasn't the first time either, so they were already mad at me. I was barely holding onto it and then because of her...!" He took a deep breath.

"I was saving up for this summer. Just in case I... actually go for that audition, in New York, the Nox Ex one. Instead of college. As if that would ever happen."

Richard flushed as he dug himself deeper and got onto more and more painful topics. Seeing Dick again after so long seemed to have disarmed him, and now everything was all coming out in a rush. The boy wondered whether Richard talked about these things with anyone else. It was strange to see his confident friend stumble over his words but Dick didn't interrupt, interested in all the new information he had just received.

He remembered Mrs. Rawn's drunken words in the Midnight room about the unhappy state of her family. She was convinced her son hated her; at the time Dick tried to convince her it wasn't true but he had no idea about their family dynamics. Richard rarely talked about his mother and he didn't even know the senior had a job.

"Gah! It's just a stupid cookie! Why don't you just give it back, and we'll forget this word-vomit ever happened, okay?"

He reached for the wrapped cookie but Dick snatched it back on reflex, his body much faster than the senior's. "No! It's my cookie. I want it, and I'm going to eat it so get your own," he teased, holding the cookie behind his back. He was smiling but there was a hint of desperation in his movements; the boy found it almost unbearable to give back the present now that he received it in such an honest way.

Rather than sink to Dick's level and fight the younger boy for it, Richard conceded defeat and his lips widened in a smile.

"Fine. Selfish. See if I care. As long as you know that it's not like, a special cookie. I didn't give it to you because I like you or anything," he teased back, tousling Dick's hair and turning him in the direction of the classrooms so they could start walking.

Dick laughed. "Liar, we both know I'm your favorite."

They were both smiling now. It was strangely elating, being with Richard again after so long, like a narcotic. Dick had been waiting for this for two weeks. He wondered for a moment how he could hear that from Richard, that he didn't like him, and not break down in panic. It was because Richard was his friend. Dick could feel it, the boy did like him. They were smiling and touching and there was nothing scary about it at all. It was nowhere near like his relationship with Bruce. The thought of his guardian not liking him anymore made him feel cold – the only thing keeping him alive would be gone. If Bruce lost interest, then...

Dick couldn't even imagine. He would either be killed, deliberately or because Bruce didn't care enough to hold back the next time he wanted to punish his ward, or he would be simply ignored, forgotten, left to gather dust like so many other possessions of the Wayne family kept in that house. Either way he would not be allowed to escape or given a chance at a life of his own, he knew that. He had seen too much, was too angry. And besides, Bruce wasn't the type of man to let anything go for free.

"Ooh, careful, don't let the rest of the team hear you say that," Richard replied. "But it's okay, I only like guys who actually come to practice and take part in the recital and, you know, win medals at the end."

"Hey, I was... sick..."

"Yeah, I know, I'm just messing around," Richard said, throwing an arm around Dick's shoulders and tugging him closer. The boy found this to be the right moment to ask for something he had been wondering about for a while.

"I know I've missed a lot of practice, but I'm ready to start again. I've been... working out at home, building my strength back…" he trailed off hesitantly. It was a lie; he was nowhere near ready for training, especially as intensive as the one Richard suggested for the upcoming recital but he wanted to participate regardless. He didn't want to think too hard about his reasons for the competition; it was most likely linked to that empty void inside of him that used to be occupied by his parents and his life at the circus.

"Really? That's cool. We can start slow so that you can get back on your feet properly. Coach would be focused on the recital anyway so-"

"No, I mean…" It was painfully obvious that Richard didn't even consider entering him in the competition in his current state. Dick couldn't really blame the guy; he had just recovered from what appeared to be a bad virus and didn't even have a month's worth of training.

"I mean I want to participate in the recital."

Richard's smile fell and was replaced by a deep look of disapproval. They stopped walking at this point, becoming the only two static figures in the hallway full of motion.

"I'm pretty sure that's not a good idea."

Dick pressed on. "You know I can learn the moves. You know how I fast I can be-"

"Oh, I know you can learn it alright but the training would be… intense. I mean you were really sick right now, Dick. I know you said you worked out at home but it takes such a little time to lose muscle strength," as he talked, one of his hand gripped Dick's arm as if to measure his power and the boy had to fight a wince. It hurt.

"I can do it. I'll train every day. I'll change my training routine, please Richard," he looked up at the boy, trying to show his sincerity, his need to have this chance of harnessing this gift given to him by his parents. Richard's hand was still gripping his arm but the grip was gentle now, almost a caress.

There was a small pause during which a new expression formed on the senior's face, one Dick hasn't seen before, but it was gone the moment he blinked.

"Shit. Okay," the blond replied tightly, looking away from him and the hand on his arm moved away swiftly. Dick brightened.

"You won't regret it. I swear I will win you a medal," he stated, excitement making his words rushed and Richard's serious face transformed into his usual sunny smile and he chuckled. They started to walk again.

"Wow, cocky much, circus boy? I know you're a Youtube celebrity but this is the real world and if we do this then we do it by my rules," he patted the boy on the cheek and while from other people the gesture might come as patronizing, Richard just made it look affectionate.

"Before we tell coach anything, we go over the routine together, got it? He will probably take you on anyway; you're the only one in our team who can compete in the junior class."

Dick nodded enthusiastically, already thinking about the possible training he will have to undergo.

"But before we do, I need to know that you can handle this routine. The moment you start having doubts or start to feel weak, you tell me, ok?"

"Yes," Dick agreed immediately and felt guilty for lying to his friend like this. He didn't plan to stop even if he encountered problems; he would just have to grit his teeth and work through the pain. Fortunately that was a thing he had a lot of practice with.

They continued their conversation, planning the next training session and the possible routines that would play on Dick's previous experience in the circus. From his words it was clear that Richard was prepared to put a lot of time and effort into this and Dick hoped that it wouldn't affect the senior's own performance; he understood that this was Richard's last year to participate in the competition.

When they turned down a corridor, Dick realized Richard was walking him to his class; the senior classrooms were on the top floor and in the completely different direction.

"Anyway, I'll talk to coach about giving us access to the gym. I already have the keys but it's always better to let him know beforehand. How soon-"

"Tomorrow," Dick cut in, eager to start as soon as possible. Richard gave him a mock glare and a light shove to his shoulder.

"Hey, I have a life too, you know," he complained but his face looked amused and he continued to hold onto the boy.

"So, while I check my very busy schedule, why don't you tell me what you've been doing at home? I trust you weren't bedridden the whole time?" The older boy asked him with a genuine look of concern.

"Oh, you know... I was pretty sick for a long time, didn't really do much. I spent the weekend in the gym though. Working out... Yeah, Bruce is actually, like, teaching me some stuff. Like, boxing, I guess?"

How to phrase what was going on in that gym? Self-defense? Martial arts? Whatever it was, Dick was painfully aware of what it had done to him the first time he'd tried it. It had felt good, but it had completely wiped him out. He'd cried, hit Bruce, then collapsed and been carried to his room. That was humiliating. But he'd slept without nightmares, woken up feeling stronger, and spent hours doing it again the next day, and the next, building his strength and his stamina each day, and always with Bruce there, teaching him.

"Whoa, really? Can't really picture Wayne doing that, but I guess you know him better than me, huh? You know, I always kind of got the feeling you didn't like him very much. I'm glad you two have found something you can do together, even if it is a little weird," Richard mused, his arm relaxed around Dick's shoulders, unaware of what his words did to the boy.

Dick forced a laugh. "Yeah... You know, I also saw this thing... Er..."

"What?" Richard looked at him.

But Dick couldn't think of the words. How could he ask Richard about McTravis? He probably didn't know anything Dick didn't, he probably didn't fall asleep in front of the TV and catch some weird late-night conspiracy theory show where the now one-eyed bully blamed Batman for his attack. And if Richard didn't already know about McTravis, should Dick even bring it up? He didn't want to sound like a gossip, and maybe the best thing to do was to just let it go, at least as far as Richard was concerned. God knows it had unsettled him enough, he didn't want to do the same to his friend.

"Nothing," Dick said in the end, smiling to placate the senior. They'd reached his classroom anyway.

Richard took his arm away and stepped back, making a move to go find his own class. "Whatever, circus boy," he said with a wink. "I'll see you later."

"Get ready for tomorrow because I will own you," Dick replied with a teasing smirk. He doubted that would be true; his body was in no state to impress anyone but the comment made Richard laugh and that was enough. A few seconds passed with people walking in the corridors behind them and the senior's face grew more serious.

"I'm glad you're back," he said finally and it felt as if he meant to say something else. The tone confused Dick but before he could reply Richard already turned and blended back into the crowd.

Glad to be back, he thought to himself.

The boy's slight confusion gave way to sudden nervousness at the prospect of sitting through class again. He'd missed so much, it would be just like when he'd first arrived, he'd be miles behind everybody, and exams were coming up at the end of the month. He didn't know when he'd have time to catch up, if he was going to work late at gymnastics practice every day, and train with Bruce when he got home. He supposed he could study during his lunch break, and then another couple of hours before bed... It didn't sound like enough, but it would have to do, because he wasn't willing to give up the team or the self-defense lessons. He needed the power Bruce's training gave him, his only weapon once the man grew tired of training and went back to his old ways of violence.

And he wanted to show Richard he could give an extraordinary performance and impress everybody at the recital, to let the whole world know that the legacy of the Flying Graysons had not ended with his parents' death.

To show that he was still here and he was still a Grayson.

o0o

From that day on, the boy's weeks were spent in a constant blur of activity. He had hardly any time to stop and think; if he was not busy with Bruce's strict training, he was going over Richard's routine and perfecting it either in the privacy of the manor's gym or at school. The rest of the time passed with his head buried in his school books as he desperately tried to keep up with the classes and the lessons he missed during his absence. He slept like the dead each night and required additional two hour naps after his return from school to be even able to function; his appetite increased dramatically and he often asked Alfred for seconds and sometimes even thirds.

It was rather difficult to describe, it's not like Dick felt happier being run down like a horse but he had to admit that there was a certain comfort and familiarity in this constant strenuous existence. If he was busy, if he didn't have the energy to stay awake at night and stare at the cameras in his room it was almost… easier. His thoughts didn't wander and Dick found himself lacking that terrible self hatred coursing through his chest whenever he imagined his future in Wayne Manor or the painful happiness of the circus. His insomnia was cured almost instantly.

Now the boy could only focus on things that were right in front of his eyes like the meal served by the butler or the maneuver that Bruce wanted him to perform. They were easy things, something he could do well without focusing too much on the big picture, like why Bruce wanted him to know these things and whether it was his responsibility to use this knowledge against his guardian the next time he decided to strike.

The man was a brutal teacher, always demanding more, never hesitating to demonstrate the weaknesses in Dick's defenses by penetrating them with a fist or a kick, but he'd stayed at Dick's level. The boy had hit the mats countless times, but it had been through his own mistakes, not because Bruce was trying to dominate him. They had sweated together, and progressed together. Dick was a fast learner, and while he didn't feel that he was particularly talented in the art of violence, Bruce's insistence to go along with the lessons made him feel as if he was becoming somebody more meaningful in his guardian's eyes, somebody or…something he approved of.

Of course at this point he wouldn't be allowed to quit nor did he want to. The lessons were making him feel strong. He knew he was still nothing compared to his guardian, but one day, if he kept at it... One day, he could knock Bruce down. Slip a knife into a hole in his defense. Get him in a chokehold and keep him there. However these fantasies never went beyond the simplest imagining of the violent act; Dick knew there was a difference between performing a trained attack move and using it in a real life scenario.

Thinking hurt. Responsibility hurt. He kept telling himself that he was learning all this new knowledge to use it against his guardian later, when the time was right, when the man would reveal an opening and Dick would take an advantage and stab him in the back. (-I still think people should try to help themselves, instead of waiting around for someone else to do it-) He simply needed to learn how and that's why he was going along with the training.

It was simple to justify it to himself instead of contemplating the possibility that it was merely easier to go along with the instructions, easier to obey and focus on small simple steps to get him through the day. He found it difficult to summon any sort of anger when in the presence of the older man; the steady rigorous exercise left him pleasantly numb, as if he was removed from the rest of the world and the people that resided there. It drained him of any strong emotions and replaced them by physical needs such as thirst, hunger and exhaustion.

He stopped questioning things. He stopped asking why and simply accepted information at face value. Until something happened to derail him from his current track, he just didn't have time to think about McTravis or what he was going to do about the Wayne heir.

He had no free time. The moment he finished the next day's school assignments, his mind gave out and Dick fell asleep instantly, barely managing to make it to bed before flicking out like a candle. The instant he woke up in the morning he was already doing laps on the manor grounds, spending an hour every day before school on pure physical work out to strengthen his body. During dinner he would be almost asleep with his eyes open and barely taste the food, only caring about quantity.

He caught himself thinking about the different ways to disarm a person when sitting in class, looking at his teacher and thinking of the most efficient technique he could use to take him down. Other times his fingers were twitching as he imagined the grip on the bars as he went through the routine in his head, thigh muscles tightening in his seat as his body kept remembering the moves.

The only time he surfaced from this mindless existence was with Richard and his constant kindness. The senior put a lot of effort into helping Dick with his routine and they spent hours after hours on perfecting it even after Dick gained the coach's permission and assistance. His time with Richard was the only part of the day during which he had an actual conversation with someone and really listened. His friend's voice had the mystic power of pulling him from the sludge of apathy and allowing him to connect with another human being, no matter how briefly. It was only in Richard's presence that Dick remembered his motivation and reasons for his involvement in the recital. Each time they met the boy would be thrust into being, full of emotions and hopes, and every time he left, the mindless existence would once again submerge him in its never ending routine, its never ending path of goals to be achieved and deadlines to be met.

The competition was drawing near as days grew longer, with the Wayne grounds in full bloom as Dick passed them by every day.

His body started to recover and while it wasn't a dramatic change he noticed that he was getting stronger, or perhaps tougher. The familiar moves on the bars came easy to him now and he no longer felt any pain when he stretched. Dick's stamina was also improving drastically and he could now do five laps around the manor without stopping. Bruce's lessons now required protective gear. All of this felt like it should be important to him and his guardian showed satisfaction with his progress but to Dick, the only praise that registered at all was Richard's.

He sometimes wondered what he would be like if he never befriended the blond boy but the possibilities were so horrific he didn't even want to consider them. It was easier to think of nothing other than the next step, but the longer it went on, the stronger his feeling grew that it couldn't last. Something was going to happen, he just couldn't see what.