A/N: This scene has been running around in my head at work for the past week, so I figured I might as well write it down before the hamsters tear the freaking wheel from its hinges and send it careening out my ear. ...Yeah.
Takes place after the ROTJ flashback, which to my knowledge, is also post-JLU. Which means that Bruce is probably in his mid-40s, if not pushing 50. Yay for peanuts time!
Batman landed silently upon the weathered cement of the church's clock tower. The bitter November wind whistled forlornly past him as he crept up to the silhouette a mere two yards in front of him. His cape did little to keep out the cold, but it didn't bother him; the biting chill, to the contrary, kept him focused on something other than the vague dread settling in his veins. Taking a deep breath, he disengaged from the shadows and stood beside the younger man. "Nightwing."
Nightwing inclined his head to acknowledge his presence, though he was certain the former Boy Wonder had already known about his arrival. "Strange place to hold a meeting."
He expected that response. "I wanted to keep this confidential."
Nightwing arched an eyebrow, slight irritation in his features. "Batcave? Clocktower?"
"I wanted to find a place more...neutral," Batman replied.
"Gotham Cemetery is hardly neutral territory, Bruce," he retorted sourly. He stood a bit taller, as if steeling himself for the argument to come. "So, what's the problem? Drug lords? Super villains? Tea party you want to pawn off on somebody else?"
Batman said nothing for a moment, pensive, as he fought for the proper words. A gust of wind screamed in his ears, reminding him too much of the creaking of Arkham's hanging gates. Tim. He hid the shudder. "There's no problem," he stated. "I just wanted to talk."
Nightwing gave him a wary sideways glance, lip curling in disbelief. "You? Talk?"
He let the boy – man – have his moment of emotional triumph. "Long overdue."
The wind howled; an old wooden door creaked in the far off distance. Nightwing frowned. "I don't know if someone's explained to you what 'talking' actually is, but this is the exact opposite of it."
His hands knotted into fists under his cape. He was inept at this. "Bear with me."
Dick scoffed, leaning on his right arm as he turned to face him. "Sure, take your time," he said, waving his hand in the air nonchalantly.
Bruce inhaled and took in Nightwing's appearance. The dim lighting made him nearly indistinguishable from the shadows, but his outline, his posture, was filled with grace and confidence. Strong and sure, just like always; even when he had been a traumatized nine year old. He allowed himself a single second of envy. "I wanted to congratulate you. You've surpassed me."
Nightwing's brows knitted in confusion, but he otherwise remained silent. Batman took it as a cue to continue.
The words were hesitant and unsure, coming from a part of him he took great pains to protect and hide away. "You were an exceptional child, and you grew into an exceptional man. You've taken everything I've taught you and improved upon it, and never once did you lose your personality in doing so. You're a better fighter, a better leader, a better friend." He paused. "And a better person." He smiled, a quiet and almost serene thing, because Dick Grayson's inner light was one of the few sources powerful enough to shine through his innate darkness. "I'm proud of you."
Dick merely stared at him in muted shock.
Feeling suddenly sheepish, Batman took a step back and leaned on the stone railing himself, waiting for the inevitable reply. Nightwing did not disappoint. "What brought this on?"
He looked down at the tombstones dotting the otherwise untouched snow of the cemetery. He couldn't help but think the landscape looked dirty. "I'm getting older, Dick. Wounds are taking longer to heal, my reaction time isn't quite what it used to be. Nothing lasts forever, and it seems that my adventures are starting to catch up with me."
He saw Nightwing crack a knowing grin as if he actually knew – oh, he had no idea what was in store for him – before he turned to stare at the haunting Gotham skyline. The silence that stretched between the two was surprisingly amicable. Bruce suspected it was because he had 'finally' acknowledged Dick's strength of character (though it had always, always been obvious to him). It was a shame he had to break it as quickly as it had arrived.
He bit back a groan. Here came the fun part. "I need a new heart."
He felt Dick's glare burn against the side of his head. "What?"
"Decades' worth of over-exertion has taken its toll, evidently." He glanced in his former protege's direction, a strange, lopsided smirk tugging at his lips for a reason he couldn't fully understand. "Guess I should've listened to Leslie, after all."
Nightwing's jaw clenched in rage. "I don't believe you – you think this is funny?"
He shook his head. "No. I think it's ironic. Something had to give, in the end." Shifting, he opened one of the pouches on his utility belt and plucked out a little orange bottle. His lips twisted in distaste as he transferred it to his other hand and held it out for Dick to take. "I get to take these for the rest of my life."
With the same caution one would take for a cobra, Nightwing warily took hold of the plastic bottle, squinting his eyes as he read the label printed on it. "Or until you get a transplant."
Batman remained silent.
Nightwing's shoulders slumped, ever so slightly. His focus passed through the bottle in front of him as he calmly, matter-of-factly stated, "You're not getting one."
He clenched the orange cylinder in his hand until Batman thought it might shatter. Hoping to head off the vehement rebuke already forming in the younger man's mind, he stated, "I risk my life out here every night, Dick. I could die at any time; a new heart would be a waste."
"A waste?" Dick hissed, eyes venomous as he wheeled around to face him.
He ignored the outburst and continued, "I could live another twenty years, or another twenty minutes. I can't deny another person a second chance at life because of me." He sighed. "Besides, if Bruce Wayne were put on the transplant list, he would most likely receive preferential treatment."
"You know, speaking about yourself in the third person has never stopped being creepy," Nightwing snapped. "Has it occurred to you that your heart's in the shape it's in because you're working yourself to death for these people?"
Batman regarded him impassively. "What's your point?"
Dick grit his teeth, looking for all the world like he wanted to strangle the man in front of him. He wasn't surprised; he had that effect on people. "Bruce, are you insane? Why are you treating this like some – some minor inconvenience?"
"Quite frankly, Dick, I'm amazed I've survived as long as I have," he explained. He did his best to pretend he didn't see the spark of anger, that flare of absolute outrage, in his former ward's eyes. "I've been able to walk away from things that no one should rightfully survive. I've been lucky." He shrugged, an odd gesture for a man so used to keeping his body language under tight control. "It had to run out at some point."
Nightwing bowed his head and shook it violently. "Why do you have to pull this kind of stuff on me? Why did you tell me this?"
He stared at the little vial of pills in Dick's hand ruefully. For the rest of his life. "Because you deserved to know."
"That you're dying?"
"I'm not – " He stopped short when he appraised the man in front of him; ran the words and inflections through his mind again. The person in front of him wasn't Nightwing, anymore; it was Dick Grayson. Robin – the bright-eyed youth that looked up to him, the one that was so fiercely devoted to him that he regularly bit off more than he could chew just to prove himself (he never had to; not once, not ever). In retrospect, he wondered if the Robin of then and the Nightwing of today were truly any different at all.
Dick was genuinely upset. Frightened. For him.
He wasn't prepared for the guilt that rammed into his stomach. He was surprised he'd made it this far without having to duck a punch; he hadn't expected such a severe reaction. Not for the first time in his life, he began wishing he had approached the situation differently; eased him into such a revelation instead of dropping it on his lap like so much garbage to be disposed of. Why didn't he ever learn?
Regretfully, he tugged the bottle from Dick's fist, putting his other hand on the younger man's shoulder. "A heart transplant isn't the only option. There's medication, surgery – "
"Actually listening when a doctor tells you, 'Don't overdo it'?" Dick interjected unpleasantly.
A flicker of a grin flashed across Bruce's face. "There's that, too."
Dick's head remained bowed even as he gaped up at him. His insides twisted, just a little. "Bruce. Promise me something."
He couldn't say no to a face like that. He wasn't sure he wanted to. "What?"
Dick stared at him, into him, as if he could brand the importance of his words onto Bruce's soul. He didn't believe such effort was required; despite the outward perception, he really was a sucker for those he cared about. If only the ones in his inner circle fully realized how much of himself he offered up on a nightly basis just to keep them safe. "Listen, Bruce. I know you – you're never going to give this up if you can help it." Dick's arm swept wide across the winking, dreary skyline around them. "But if and when there comes a time when you know you can't keep it up anymore, hang up the cape."
Batman stiffened. That kind of request was outrageous, borderline blasphemous. He swore on his parents' grave that he would never rest so long as there were criminals about to prey on the innocent – he would protect those who could not protect themselves. That was his oath; his penance. "I am the cape."
Dick's disappointment was all too clear. "Yeah. I thought that would be my answer." His movements were rigid as he turned away and crouched upon the railing; equally angry and afraid. "Is there anything else you need from me?"
Bruce angled his head to take in the entity that was Gotham City around him. It had changed in the twenty years – had it really been twenty years? – he was out patrolling the streets; some for better, some for worse. The human element still remained largely the same, though. The criminals of his city were like vapor, smoke, clouds in the sky; their shape changed, names, faces, personalities, but their dark ambitions were always the same. He stopped them to prevent innocent lives from being lost, but for how much longer? His gaze dropped from the buildings and to the little orange bottle still in his grip, then to the tombstones jutting despondently from the snow.
He closed his eyes and sighed.
Nightwing was standing on the railing, arms akimbo and about to leap off silently into the night, when Bruce's voice – soft, almost defeated – stopped him. "You have my word." Dick twisted down to look at him. "I never break a promise, Dick – ever. You know that."
Dick's lips curled into a small, cautious smirk. "Thanks, Bruce." The smirk was quickly swallowed up by a much larger, brighter grin. "Catch ya later. Call me if you need anything."
Bruce watched Dick soar away, his old, damaged, malnourished heart coiled painfully in his ribcage. If only they knew how much of himself he destroyed, how much of a cheat and a liar and a hypocrite he had to become, to keep them safe – safe from him.
The plastic bottle all but crumbled in his hand, tiny blue pills tinkling to the eroding cement around his feet, forgotten.
He would have to break one promise to keep another.