Author Note: Hi everyone. It has been a long time. This story is set just after Bruce 'dies' or is believed to be dead, but is lost in time. It is not cannon but rather an alternate version of what could have happened. Special thanks to Beth for betaing and to those on the Bludhaven list for their encouragement. Also thanks to Teri for always being there. I am in the process of creating a new Dick Grayson site. You can find the link on my author page. Thanks.
Good Enough for Me
The huge open den echoed with claustrophobic silence. In the last week grief had strangled all occupants slowly without mercy. However, it had reached its crushing peak today. Now, the very act of existing was a struggle.
Perhaps because today was the first time the group had paused long enough to think. Until now, ensuring Bruce Wayne and Batman's 'disappearance' from Gotham could not be connected had been their only focus. That had been achieved successfully but it wasn't a reason to celebrate.
Like a shroud, the heaviness of heart blanketed the inner circle of the Batclan. As always Bruce had been fully prepared - even in the event of his death. He'd recorded individual farewell messages for Damian, Tim, Dick and Alfred – the four members of his 'family'. Upon receiving the discs, each had retired to a separate area of the mansion to view their message in private. Three of the four had drifted back to the den, drawn to one another by some unseen force.
Tim caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the glass display cabinet as he returned. His eyes were still puffy from the copious tears he'd shed. He'd held it together until the moment he'd heard Bruce's voice. Reality hit home in that moment and he'd sobbed like a child waking from a horrific nightmare… but he knew this was a nightmare from which he would never wake.
Bruce's message had been direct and to the point – reminiscent of the man himself. He'd loved Tim as a son and was proud of him. Those heart-felt words meant the world but also crystallized just how much he'd lost. Now, all Tim had left in the world was in this room and it terrified him that he may lose Dick and Alfred too.
The young man eyed the figure slumped on the couch. Dick's eyes were distant, his expression hard to read, but his gaze was directed at Bruce's leather chair which now stood so ominously empty.
Since this nightmare had begun, Dick had been a tower of strength, even if Tim had disagreed with some of the decisions he'd made. While Tim had known his friend was hurting, there had been no sign of it. Dick Grayson had kept an emotionless mask firmly in place allowing him to lead the rest of the Batteam and accomplish all required. Bruce would have been proud. However, the events of today had stripped the mask away revealing the young man's features ashened with despair, fatigue and grief.
Instinctively, Tim brushed Dick's arm as he took a seat beside him. The other blinked, seeming to return from the distant place that had swallowed him. Dick settled his dull blue eyes on Tim, acknowledging the attempt at comfort with a grateful but almost indiscernible tilt of his chin.
Tim shifted his gaze to Damian and his stomach did a slow roll. In contrast to Dick and Alfred, Tim didn't consider Damian family. He disliked the boy immensely and couldn't help feeling guilty about it. After all, Damian was Bruce's son.
The topic of consideration scowled.
Tim snorted. How could that obnoxious, self-centred brat, share Bruce's blood?
"What are you starin' at Drake?"
Dick's back straightened and the nerve in his cheek jumped. "Damian, I've asked before. Now I'm telling you. Treat Tim with respect."
Damian opened his mouth to respond but the steel in Dick's expression stole the words. While Dick had never mastered the Batman glare in the past, he was damn near close today. That, more than anything, showed the toll Bruce's death had taken out of the usually upbeat man.
Tim bobbed his head in thanks and again was swamped by not only his own overpowering grief but by the silent agony reverberating out of Dick. He didn't know what Bruce had said to Dick in his private message, but he could imagine. The relationship they'd shared was something beyond love - a nebulous bond of strength and devotion the likes of which Tim had never seen before and doubted would see again. Bruce and Dick's relationship had been based on so much more than just a shared tragedy. They'd been more than partners and brothers in arms. There was something deep and unique about their connection... there had been something deep and unique about it, Tim lamented sadly. Now Bruce was gone and Dick, like Tim, appeared empty and lost.
Alfred re-entered the room with purpose, strode directly to the DVD player and slid a disc into it.
"Alf?" Dick asked.
Wet tear tracks still stained Alfred's pale cheeks. "Master Bruce left one further message. He asked me to show it to you once you had viewed your private message, Master Dick."
"What is it?" Tim asked.
Damian made an exasperated sound in the back of his throat. "If Pennyworth knew that, he wouldn't have to show us the message, would he Einstein?"
The acid in Tim's stomach burned and his desire to lash out spiked. Dick gripped his arm... a mix of support and physical restraint. Tim ground his jaw.
"Alf?" Dick repeated.
"It is something Master Bruce wished to add, but recording your message again wasn't an option."
The television screen sprung to life and filled with an image of Bruce's face. Tim's chest tightened and again found himself battling tears.
"Dick, there is something I have withheld. You have a right to know. I wanted to tell you, but made a judgement call not to say anything because I felt it was in your best interests. Whether this information is to be yours or not, is now up to you. It is hidden in a secret place."
The screen went blank. An uneasy silence descended over the occupants. Alfred switched off the television.
"That's it?" Damian demanded.
Tim drew in a deep breath and exhaled. "You know what he's talking about, Dick?"
Dick, who had been leaning forward, sat back wearily and shook his head. "No." Again, his gaze drifted to Bruce's chair and his Adam's apple bobbed.
Tim grimaced. The pallor around his friend's eyes gave them a hooded look. It was clear he needed some sleep. Since Bruce's death, none of them had had a lot of rest.
Dick shifted his attention to Alfred, clearly in search of answers.
"I suspect I may know to what he is alluding, but it is not my place," Alfred murmured.
Dick considered the response for only a moment before rising to his feet. "We've got about four hours until we need to hit the streets. It's been a big afternoon. I'm heading to bed for a few hours. I suggest you do the same."
"Wait a minute," Damian exclaimed. "You can't just walk away. What about this information?"
"It's not important," Dick dismissed, walking toward the door.
"Master Dick." Alfred's talent for striking that very specific tone that made even the strongest and most powerful stop and take notice never ceased to amaze Tim.
Dick glanced back. Surprisingly, he seemed totally nonplussed. "Bruce made a judgement call, Alf. That's good enough for me. I've always trusted his judgement. I'm not about to start doubting it now."
Damian marched across, stopped in front of Dick and crossed his arms as if baring the man's exit. "My father left the disc for a reason, Grayson. I think we have a right to know what this is about. If you're too chicken to find out, I..."
"Damian," Tim growled. The words 'my father', which Damian punctuated every sentence with, echoed over and over again in Tim's mind and with each repetition Tim's rage and 'dislike' of Damian grew. "Just shut up."
Alfred peered at Dick and then slowly and stiffy crossed the room and inserted himself between Damian and Dick. He placed a hand on Dick's shoulder. "Master Bruce did make a judgement call... when he was alive. That has changed, lad." The calm, emotionless tone Alfred was renowned for faltered toward the end.
Dick searched Alfred's less than stoic face. "Are you advising me to investigate?"
Alfred squeezed Dick's shoulder. "I am only suggesting you consider not only what he said, but what he meant. Master Bruce believed you had a right to know the truth despite how painful it may be." With that, Alfred briskly left the room, his composure dissolving completely as he did.
"He knows. He knows what this is all about!" Damian insisted, spinning and starting after Alfred. "Pennyworth, I'm ordering you..."
"Damian... leave him," Dick growled. "And you don't give Alfred orders. None of us do."
"But..." And again, Dick delivered a glare of such intensity, Damian's bravado faded... if only a little.
"My father left a message for us. I think we should find out what it was. Information is power."
Dick ran his hand through his hair. "And long held secrets are sometimes best buried with those who guarded them."
"Bruce didn't leave this for, us. He left it for Dick," Tim pointed out. "It has nothing to do with us."
"Everything has to do with me. He was my father."
"You self-centred, self-righteous..."
"Enough! Both of you." Dick exploded, but the anger drained quickly, he not appearing to have the energy to maintain it. "I'll be in the cave."
A right to know the truth.
Dick frowned. "The truth about what?" Something painful, according to Alfred. Something Bruce had done? Something he hadn't done?
With a shake of the head, Dick entered his password and the huge screen in front of him sprang to life.
He didn't need to know the information. If it had been essential… or even remotely important… Bruce would have told him.
"Truth is over-rated and is subjective," he quoted, remembering something Alfred had once told him. He trusted both Bruce's judgment and Alfred's wisdom. Whatever the 'secret' had been, he felt it was best it died with Bruce.
"Arkham Assylm." The computer responded to the voice command and opened the video feed directly from the prison. This had enabled Batman to check on the status of the world's most dangerous criminals. For now, that role fell to Nighwing. In the future…
"The Joker." Instantly, an image of the Joker's cell filled the screen. The madman was sitting on the floor in the middle of the cell cross-legged, singing the National Anthem.
Dick sighed. Where the hell did he go from here? Should he shift back to Gotham? What was he supposed to do with Damian? He couldn't send the child back to his mother! He couldn't expect Alfred to care for the kid alone. All of which meant Bruce's difficult offspring had become Dick's responsibility.
"What goes around, comes around," Dick murmured. Bruce had taken him in and raised him and now history was repeating, for the raising of Bruce's child now fell to him. While Dick accepted and 'wanted' to do it knowing it would be what Bruce wanted even if he'd never expressed it, the personality clash between Tim and Damian wasn't going to make it easy. Damian was arrogant and smug and Tim was finding it increasingly difficult to turn the other cheek. Considering Damian had almost killed Tim, Dick couldn't blame his brother.
Dick swallowed. "My brother." Tim had become his brother in more than legal name. They'd become extremely close in the last few years. While Donna, Wally, Garth and Roy had always felt like family, Tim was family.
Tim paused at the top of the long staircase, looking down on the lone figure sitting at the control panel staring at the screen - so small and insignificant in the enormity of the Batcave.
Dick blinked and turned to rest his gaze heavily on Tim as he approached. "You should be getting some rest."
Tim smiled. "Ditto." The smile fell and the two men stared at each other, each sensing the other's pain and wishing they could ease it. "Are you okay?"
Dick sighed and nodded. "Yeah. You?"
Tim swallowed and looked away as tears threatened to tumble down his cheeks. "No." He heard the scraping of a chair before feeling the comfort of a strong arm across his shoulders.
For a long time, they stood silently in the shadow of all Bruce had built.
"What are we going to do?" Tim whispered.
"Continue his fight. That's all we can do."
"What about Damian?" Dick opened his mouth to respond, but Tim cut him off before he could do so. He didn't want to hear any more excuses. "Damian is a fully-trained assassin, Dick despite his size and age. He doesn't give a damn about us and he doesn't respect any of Bruce's rules. He'll destroy everything Bruce worked so hard to create and I can't stand by and let that happen. I won't. I know he's Bruce's son but everyone else had to earn the right to wear the costume and become part of what Bruce built. Why is Damian exempt? Because he has Bruce's DNA?"
"Leave Damian to me. I'll deal with him, but I need your help. You have to learn to ignore his abrasive comments. We both had Bruce in our lives and felt secure in our relationship with him. Damian had no chance to get to know Bruce and so he seems to have the need to lay claim to him every chance he gets."
"Dick, I feel sorry for him. I do. I know what it is like to lose your father young… we both do. But… Damian is arrogant and lacks respect for everyone."
"I know he isn't easy to like, but the bottom line is, we're all he's got. I guess the old saying's true."
"You can choose your friends, but not your family. Just as we're stuck with each other," Dick smiled and depth of the affection Tim saw there made his chest tighten. He loved Dick like a brother… and could see Dick felt the same way.
"We're stuck with each other, Tim… and we're stuck with him too. That's the nature of family."
"He thinks he's God-damn..." Dick drew Tim closer. Tim clenched his jaw, a physical response to his battle to control his anger.
"He's a ten-year-old boy who wasn't shown a single day's love before Bruce took him in."
"That's no excuse for his behaviour," Tim muttered, but the anger was losing the battle in the wake of Dick's argument.
"We'll get through this, I give you my word. Let's not dwell on this today. Today should be about Bruce. In his message to you, I know he must have told you how much he..."
"He did," Tim confirmed turning to stand face to face with Dick, the other's arm sliding off his shoulders. "And you?"
Dick's gaze drifted toward the cabinet that held Buck's cowl. In a hushed voice he admitted, "He said everything I knew but still wanted him to say."
Tim nodded. "Good. He loved you, Dick. More than he probably knew himself."
"Yeah," Dick agreed.
"You don't have to be strong around me."
Dick nodded. "I'm not trying to be, but thanks. Around you, I know I don't need to be anything but myself."
Tim stepped forward and hugged Dick... hugged him firmly. He felt his brother shudder. "Let me be here for you too, Dick."
The older man pulled away, his eyes glistening with unfallen tears. "I will." Dick blinked, forcing the tears to fall, then wiped them with the back of his sleeve. He shook his head as if trying to clear it, then turned to face his partner. It was time for 'business.' "So, I'm guessing you think I should investigate what Bruce meant?"
Tim shrugged. "I just think..."
"You saw his expression, Tim. Whatever it is, it was painful for him. All I have left is honouring what he wanted. He chose not to tell me so..."
"But that was only part of what he said. "
Dick exhaled. "You mean my right to know."
Dick's brow furrowed.
"I'm talking about the fact he said he wanted to tell you. Like maybe it was weighing on his mind and this was his chance to get if off his chest."
Dick cursed softly, reached for his temples and began massaging them. For several moments, silence descended in the cave, the only sound the hushed whir of the equipment around the pair.
"You don't have to do it now, Dick, but at least think about it. I hate to admit it, but I agree with Damian. Bruce made the message for a reason."
"He wanted me to know," Dick whispered.
"Otherwise, why not take the secret to his grave? It looked to me like he wanted to makes things right."
Dick sighed. "There are some days when I wish Bruce had been a normal guy."
Tim smirked. "Are you saying he wasn't?"
Dick grinned, indicating the cave around them. "You have to admit he had the odd quirk."
The mirth was welcomed by both.
"So he hid the information for me to ease his conscience?"
Tim shrugged again. "Maybe. Maybe to ensure justice was done. Something he couldn't do himself." Tim licked his lips. They hadn't discussed this yet but he felt they needed to sooner rather than later so he prompted quietly, "Maybe something to do with taking over as Batman."
Dick grimaced. "I can't be him."
Someone would have to and Dick was the best qualified to do so. However, it was obvious he wasn't ready to face that yet. "I guess the first problem we need to solve is where he left a copy of this secret. He didn't leave any clues."
Dick smirked and bounced his eyebrows.
"He did? When?"
"In his message he emphasised the word 'secret'."
"It was out of place. The word was unnecessary. Which probably means..." Dick crossed the cave and stopped in front of the glass case that contained Thomas Wayne's journal. It had always held pride of place. Without a word, Dick lifted the protective lid and withdrew the leather-bound book. "The secret, Tim. The ultimate secret we share. When I became Robin, Bruce made me take an oath. I became part of Bruce's secret that day and I made that oath with my hand on this book. So knowing the way Bruce's mind worked, I'm guessing... "
Tim joined Dick and watched as the other opened the cover. There, adhered to the inside was an SD card. "Well, I'll be damned."
Dick snorted. "The one item in this place he knew I'd guard with my life because it, more than anything, reminds us of what we're doing and why. To fight crime and corruption and never sway from the path of righteousness."
Tim waited for Dick to remove the card but he didn't. He just stood staring down at it, caught in a time tunnel of memories. Realizing he needed to take the lead, Tim leaned over and removed the card, then took it to the computer and downloaded the data.
When the huge file finished downloading, he swallowed and turned to face his brother. "I'm staying, so don't even think about asking me to leave. I honestly don't care what this is about, but… I'm staying. Just for once, let me be here for you." Alfred had said it could be painful. Tim had no intention of letting Dick face this alone.
Dick thrust his hands into his pockets. "One thing being a part of the Teen Titans taught me all those years was that family face things together."
Tim nodded. "Good." With a click of the mouse, he launched the file and then backed away to stand next to Dick.
Continued in part 2.
I hope you enjoyed this part. Thank you for reading.