To my new fandom :raises glass:
Only one can wear the Crown
Bruce has been able to squash down the odd lump in his throat he used to get watching Terry work. It was at first sheer nostalgia for better times—for flashes of green and yellow, and the stretch of the cowl over his own face as the wind whistled past them. But, just like he'd done with Jason's death, and all of his other perceived failures and sources of emotion, he soon managed to shove the writhing mass of sentiments to the back of his mind and focus on the here and now, Terry's new cases and Gotham's new-old wave of corruption. It was surprisingly easy, because Terry is neither Dick nor Jason nor much less Tim or Damian. It means Bruce is able to see him as a separate entity and not an echo, a ghost, of an old one.
Soon, the odd lump in his throat is merely an embarrassingly sentimental occurrence brought on by his old age.
His heart stutters. It's something that happens more and more as age wears him out like a dishrag. Though it's usually accompanied by the same shortness of breath he's now experiencing, he knows it's not his heart giving him problems. The ache that squeezes his chest is not literal, though he feels it as strongly, as painfully, as if it were.
That move… that pose… Bruce closes his eyes and re-opens them. For someone who was not brought up doing acrobatics from diapers, as Dick was, or learned them at a young age, like the Robins who followed, Terry was a surprisingly graceful acrobat. Under his own admission, Terry had been climbing walls and scaling buildings since he was old enough to sneak out from home.
But never will he, or anyone Bruce has ever met, match Dick in the kinetic poetry his body was capable of. Bruce still has dreams about the flips and tricks Dick had pulled off during his career, movements that are ingrained in Bruce's mind even though he has never been able, even with hours upon hours of tapes and footage, to dissect and understand them beyond mere physics and theory. Even then, how someone could inject so much beauty and force into formulas and inertia is something that to this day forces Bruce to pause and be thankful that he was once witness to that sight. He had been prepared to never bear witness to it again in person.
Terry McGinnis is not Dick Grayson. He will never be able to make a treaty with gravity that allows him to bypass its laws without penalty the way Dick did. He will never be able to make Bruce's heart clench with sheer need and want and awe.
But he came close.
He shuts his eyes and all he can see is Terry's body, the twist of his torso, perpendicular to his hips, and the way his knees had risen and his back had arched, the back of his pale neck bared as his chin tucked into his chest, and the way his toes had been pointed, his calves and shin muscles chiseled with the tension. It's the tension that gives it away. For a moment, Bruce hallucinates longer hair and slimmer shoulders in that exact same pose, but without the tension.
It was never an effort for Dick.
Still, Bruce feels the world spin for a moment as Terry, for the pure enjoyment of showing off, flips again in front of Bruce, landing on the uneven bars and somersaulting off. It's almost-but-not, and Bruce tries to focus on the differences—how much paler this skin is, how much squarer the jaw and lighter the eyes, the width of the shoulders and the relative stiffness. Because if he overlooks those, all he can see is a smile that made the darkest pillars of his mind crumble, a body that took everything Batman threw at him and made it his own, slim hips and shoulders that reached for the heavy night-sky of Gotham, lips that were pulled into a constant grin, eyes that tugged and tested everything Bruce had built inside himself. It's too easy to see dark hair, blue eyes, moves that defy gravity and feel a vertigo of—nostalgia? The pain of missing someone who could be just a phone call away? Someone who was at once everything Bruce could not be, and the only thing Bruce can be rightfully proud of?
Bruce realizes he has his eyes closed and is sitting in the chair, breath shallow and heart stut-stuttering. The air is cold, the leather chair colder even, but Dick used to be so warm…
Dick's voice was deeper, able to pull—drag—something out of Bruce every time he spoke his name.
"Where did you learn that?" Bruce finally asks, and his voice is only slightly breathless. There's still flashes swirling in his head of skin and lean muscle fibers that pivot in place. He forces his eyes to open and focus on Terry's smug face.
"I was watching some old files. The Comish' told me to check out a certain someone, and he had some pretty shway moves. Recognize them?"
Terry thinks it's a game, maybe to make Bruce proud of him. Bruce clenches his cane. Recognize them? He was there when those moves were conceived, he was there to make corrections and remind Dick to be careful. Recognize them? They were one of the few things capable of taking his breath away.
"Never do that again."
Ultimately, those moves are something too beautiful for someone else to even attempt to reproduce. And that's the key: it will never surpass a mere attempt.
Terry's eyes widen with shock, a blue that Bruce sees in the mirror every day but with a hurt that he remembers seeing on Dick's face over and over again—after the ordeal with Two-Face and when he became Nightwing…
Bruce stands and turns as quickly as his body allows him to, because he can't stand to see the hurt on Terry's face, but the Dick that was once Robin and is now buried metaphorically in Bruce's head is rolling around in his grave at the mere thought of anyone pretending they can ever attain the perfection of his movements.
"It's because they're his, isn't it?"
Bruce doesn't bother responding, because in his head, Dick is smiling at Bruce, only Bruce, and settling back in his throne.
To cap it off: I lovelovelove Terry, and I think that Bruce loves him in a way that he never loved any of his other boys, but at the same time Dick is special in a way that Terry never will be either.