Damian stalked in, tutting to himself, to Dick's study, feet dragging across the carpet in the way that always made Alfred cringe. Dick, who was supposed to be working, was, in actuality, playing Call of Duty and quietly growling to himself about how unfair his life and the world of video gaming was.
"Damn it, why won't you die? I am such a bad shot."
"Of course", Damian snapped scathingly, "You're awful at everything." Dick frowned and turned to the boy.
"Well hello to you too little d, what's up?" Damian scowled and clambered up onto the "Damian chair" in the corner of the room, turning to Dick with a dark look on his face and crossing his arms. Dick cocked his head confusedly at the boy and paused the game.
"Is something wrong?" he asked turning his body slightly towards his younger "brother", "You're more irritable than usual."
"No", Damian snapped angrily, "Nothing is wrong, what would give you that idea?"
"Ohh, I don't know, just a guess I suppose. If you're just going to stare daggers at me from that corner, I might as well just play my game. If you wanna talk, I'll be here." Damian breathed a dark sigh and sat for a moment, watching Dick race around the battlefield, hefting a large gun.
Finally, after the Dark Knight's unfortunate soldier had died three times, all from sniper headshots, Damian spoke up, his voice soft and light like silk. "Can I ask you a question?" Had Dick not possessed superior hearing, he might not have heard the boy, but as it were, Damian's tiny voice carried over the sound of virtual death throws.
Dick paused his game and spun in his chair to face Damian, a small smile on his face (Spinning in the chair always made Dick smile. When he had been small, Bruce had possessed a large spinning chair in his office and Dick spent many a pleasant day spinning until he got sick and either darted to the bathroom or threw up on Bruce's expensive carpet. Dick had always been a man who enjoyed simple pleasures.) and put his hands on his knees in a way he assumed made him look professional.
Damian huffed, folded his arms and settled back into his chair, glaring at Dick. Naturally, it took about ten seconds for Dick's attention span to get used up. "Sooooooooooo, little bird. What's shaken'?"
Damian heaved a heavy sigh and said, "Well, I wanted to know the definition of a word, if you must know."
Dick resisted the urge to give a sarcastic retort and said, "I've heard the dictionary can be helpful for that sort of thing."
"I tried the dictionary", Damian snapped, "Its answer was unsatisfactory. The Internet, too yielded no results."
"Ok", Dick said, "What exactly is this mystical word, which cannot be defined by any mortal means so you must come to me, in all my infinite wisdom, to give to you the answers." Damian cast him a look to wither cacti and spoke again.
"The word is…Love." Surprise registered on Dick's face.
"Love?" he asked. Damian nodded darkly.
"Well", Dick replied, "that's easy. The Internet could have told you all about love. Love is having feelings for someone and wanting to hold them and be near them and be with them and…"
"No, no, no", Damian said, cutting him off, "that's not what love is. That's what people do when they have love. The Internet told me as much. What are these feelings? What is love?"
"Why the sudden interest?" Dick queried. Damian crossed his arms and looked away, muttering softly.
"Well, my mother said she loved me, yet she seeks to change or destroy me. You claim you love me and yet…you…you seem to wish for different things of me. And you say you love Drake, but you ask nothing of him. I checked the Internet and love seemed to equate to sex, yet you do not ask that of me and still claim to love me. My mother does not ask such from me either, although I wouldn't be surprised if you and Drake…"
Dick snorted. "Thanks Dame."
They were silent for a moment before Damian looked up desperately and asked, "What is love and why does it seem so different for everyone?" Dick gave a sigh and ran a hand through his thick back hair. He wished he still had a mullet, but he couldn't manage to ever stuff it into his cowl so he had to cut it. Love was a mullet, but he doubted that was the answer Damian was looking for.
"Gee Damian", Dick said, "that's kind of a hard question to answer."
"Can you?" Damian asked desperately.
"Let me think", Dick said slowly. He closed his eyes and nibbled on his bottom lip. "Well, I always knew that Bruce loved me, but how do I put that into words?" He was silent a moment longer before opening his eyes. "Ahh, that's it." Damian gazed at him hopefully.
"Alright Dammers, I got an idea."
"What", Damian asked.
"I'll tell you a story."
Damian cocked his head interestedly. "What sort of story?" he queried.
"Well", Dick replied, "the best way I can define love for you is to show you what it looks like. And the best way for me to show you what it looks like is to share with you a memory of mine from back when I was seventeen."
"What memory?" Damian asked.
"Come here", Dick said, beckoning. Damian came forward and Dick swept him into his arms, sitting him comfortably on his lap. He was surprised that Damian didn't offer more resistance.
"Well", Dick said, "I had just turned seventeen and for my birthday, Bruce had bought me this new motorcycle right. She was a gorgeous thing too. I mean, I already had a car, Bruce had bought me one for my sixteenth, but I had been hankering after a motorcycle for a while and he finally got me one."
"Well, I wasn't too good at motorcycling quite yet so he was a little reluctant to let me out very often. In fact, that was sort of what our argument was about that afternoon. I remember it vividly because I was such an idiot, asking for what I did…"
"Bruce, come on, you're being so old fashioned. It's not that big of a deal." Bruce Wayne faced his ward, arms crossed.
"Absolutely not", he replied, "it's out of the question."
"But Don is going, and so is Jimmy. It's only for two weeks."
"I won't even go into how detrimental it would be for you to take two weeks out of your school year. Let's just focus on why this is absolutely one of the dumbest things you've ever tried to get me to let you do ever."
"Oh come on", Dick growled angrily, "we're going on one small two week trip, the eight of us, on our bikes. It'll be fun. You're acting like I'm trying to commit a homicide."
"Dick, first of all, I don't like those kids. They aren't good people. You're going to get into trouble. You're a seventeen-year-old boy and you're not all that good at driving that motorcycle yet. It's dangerous."
"Bruce", Dick moaned, "I'm practically eighteen already. It'll just be for two weeks. For god's sake, I just want to get a little freedom, you know."
"Freedom is one thing, but I'd have to be a complete idiot to let you go off alone with those boys."
"I thought you trusted me", Dick growled.
"This isn't about trust, this is about common sense. If you were thirty and you wanted to do something dumb like this, I'd still try to talk you out of it. As it is, you're seventeen. You're going to be kidnapped and raped. I thought you had more sense than this."
Dick snorted. "Don's parents are letting him go. Anyway, we'll be with an adult."
"Yea, Billy Farthing. You don't even know who that guy is. What could his motives possibly be for letting a couple teenage boys drive with him and his gang for two weeks? You've seen what people will do to kids your age."
"I'm not a kid anymore", Dick howled.
"Dick", Bruce yelled, "Use your head. This doesn't feel right to me. Just trust my judgment on this one."
"You're smothering me", Dick roared, "that's all you ever do is pull me down. God, I can't wait to get out of this stupid house." With that, he stormed away.
"Dick", Bruce called after him, "Where are you going?"
"Wouldn't you like to know", Dick snapped, slamming the door behind him, "God, I hate you Bruce." Bruce crossed his arms, closing his eyes. He heaved a sigh. Dick stormed, muttering angrily, down the driveway. He kicked open the garage and climbed onto his motorcycle, revving the engine.
"Damn Bruce and his damn rules", he cursed quietly, "Someone ought to just fuck some sense into that damn head of his." The machine reared like a recalcitrant stallion and leapt foreward eagerly, gaining moment rapidly as it zoomed out of the Wayne Manor grounds and away.
The wind whipped Dick's hair behind him in the breeze. He hadn't bothered to put on his helmet. What was the point anyway? Bruce would be happy if he died, one less thing to worry about. "If I killed myself, he'd be awfully sorry", Dick muttered. "He'd feel so guilty."
The idea of it made Dick feel pleasant inside, the idea of an unhappy Bruce. "I hope he feels awful", he muttered to himself. Almost unconsciously, he spurned the cycle to top speed and she flew down the road and into the city. The street curved and bent and the wind tore at Dick's hair. It was such a wonderful feeling.
The boy closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of the swiftly moving air. It still smelt like Gotham, but at least it felt good. Suddenly, his jacket caught on his handle bar. Dick tugged it loose and felt the cycle shift beneath him, easing into the other lane. He tried to correct her, but she seemed jammed somehow. Then, he heard the roar of a car horn. Dick looked up in terror at the large van careening towards him. He swerved frantically, but wasn't swift enough.
The front of the car slammed into the back end of his motorcycle. The machine went flying to one side and Dick was thrown from her. He hit the ground hard, his leg snapping sickeningly beneath him as he skidded across the asphalt, the rocks tearing him open. Finally, he halted, rolling off the road, but the next thing he knew, she was falling right towards him.
The cycle landed heavily on Dick's prone form, smashing him against the pavement. He felt his rib cage cracking beneath its great metal bulk. He practically screamed in agony and would have if he had still been able to scream. As it were, he no longer possessed that ability.
His body was wracked with excruciating pain and he felt his blood seep into the road. The cycle rolled off him, slicing the skin on his arm to the bone and snapping it into shards. He could hear people screaming, but didn't register anything.
Richard John Grayson, only son of the flying Graysons and ward of Bruce Wayne knew at that moment with absolute certainty that he was going to die. The thought frightened him enough to send him over the edge into the deep abyss that was unconsciousness. He knew no more.
Killer Croc was a moron. After all, his MO was all over this case. The half eaten people, the stolen money. Bruce wasn't sure how he had even survived this long in Gotham. Well, brawn before brains was the motto in this town.
The Dark Knight was deep in thought about how best to capture the carnivorous crocodilian when the phone broke the silence of his study. Grumbling quietly to himself, Bruce picked up the ringing communication device. "This is Bruce Wayne speaking, how can I help you."
"Mr. Wayne, this is Thomas Wayne Memorial Hospital, we have your ward Dick Grayson down here in the ER." Bruce's blood ran cold.
Bruce Wayne blew into the ER like a hurricane, rushing down the hallway. "Excuse me sir", the woman at the desk called, "You can't go back there", but Bruce ignored her. Skidding down the hallway, he stopped in front of the freshly cleaned window.
Dick was lying there, unmoving, looking practically dead already. He was completely naked, a dozen doctors swarming around him like so many bees. The cruel slashes across his entire form, from which dark blood bubbled like mud at a hot springs, contrasted so horrifyingly with his painfully pale skin.
Bruce started to shake, his shoulders quaking and tears streaming down his cheeks. It was like none of this was real, it was like it was some sort of awful dream, like one of his many nightmares had suddenly sprung from his tortured self-consciousness into reality, where it didn't belong and was not welcome.
"Excuse me sir", a large male doctor said, coming up behind Bruce, "We're going to have to ask you to leave. This is a private area."
"That's my boy", Bruce murmured, "that's my little boy."
The doctor glanced at Dick and then back at Bruce. "You're Bruce Wayne?" he asked. Bruce nodded slowly, his eyes not leaving Dick. "Then, I need to talk to you."
Bruce turned to him. "He's going to be ok, isn't he?"
The doctor gave a sigh. "Right now, he's in pretty rough shape. It's a miracle he even survived. He's not going to last the night."
Bruce gave a strangled cry. "But he has to", the helpless Dark Knight pleaded. "Please, I'll pay you anything. I'll give you anything. There has to be something you can do."
"We're doing everything we can", the doctor said softly, putting a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "I'm sorry, but there are some things even money can't buy for you. I'll keep you posted, but I suggest you start making whatever arrangements you need to."
As if death had suddenly struck him down, Bruce dropped to his knees, anguish piercing his soul like a knife, and let out an agonized cry before stooping again into frantic tears. He had never known such pain in his life; he had never known such pain existed.
Bruce woke up with a crick in his neck and a pinching arch in his spin. The hospital chair was one of the most uncomfortable places he had ever slept, but he had flatly refused to leave Dick's side, or as close to Dick's side as he could get. Already, the media had come in, trying to get pictures of him and the boy, and he had done his best to chase them off.
It hadn't been easy and he figured his public image probably wasn't as good as it had been after kicking that female reporter who had dared insinuate Bruce would be happier without the boy, being able to return to his life as a lone bachelor. All through the night, all that had gone through his head were images of what would happen if he lost the boy, what would happen if he didn't have him anymore.
What would he do, how would he go on? Dick meant more to him then life itself. He wished and wished, all night, that he hadn't argued with Dick, that he had somehow handled the situation differently, that he kept the bike away from him when he was as angry as he was.
Bruce slowly stretched and groaned, cracking his neck and back before getting up. It was then that the doctor appeared around the corner, his face grim. "What is it?" Bruce asked desperately, eyes searching the doctor's face. "Did he…" The doctor shook his head and Bruce breathed a shaky sigh of relief. "So he'll live!"
"Well", the doctor said slowly, "Yes, but there's something you should know."
"What?" Bruce asked, elation bubbling within him despite the doctor's dismal demeanor. What else mattered if Dick was going to live?
"Mr. Grayson is in a coma right now, Mr. Wayne. Basically, it's a persistent vegetative state. He'll be in it for the rest of his life, or whatever's left of his life."
"What", Bruce said, his stomach practically dropping out of him.
"I'm sorry", the doctor said softly.
"But", Bruce whimpered, "but isn't there something you can do for him, some way to get him to come out of it?"
The doctor shook his head. "I'm so sorry", he said softly. And once again, Bruce Wayne dropped to his knees and sobbed.
Sitting beside Dick on that hospital bed was like a nightmare, some sort of bad dream. The boy had his eyes closed and was breathing slowly. He didn't need a respirator anymore; all they had him on was an IV and a feeding tube. Bruce stoked his hair smoothly and methodically, his fingers gently fondling the boy's scalp. He felt numb, like he was empty on the inside. There was nothing left.
Dick was so pale still and covered in more bandages than skin. His leg, broken in three places, was elevated above him and his chest was held up as best it could be, it having been smashed in by the impact of the cycle. Bruce couldn't even hold him, but that was all he wanted to do right that second.
He had to settle with simply lying beside him in the silence and putting his arms around him as lightly as he could. He pressed his forehead to Dick's temple. The boy felt so fragile. The brace kept Bruce from gently kissing his neck, the pins from him rubbing his back. He could do nothing for him, yet all he wanted was to cradle him in his arms and forget the rest of the world existed.
The nurse came in and took in the sight of Bruce lying beside her patient with sympathy in her young auburn eyes. The billionaire didn't notice her at first, so she called to him softly, "Mr. Wayne." Bruce opened his eyes and sat up slowly. She gave him a gentle smile. "I was going to change a few of his bandages. You can help if you'd like."
Bruce stood up quickly and wordlessly went to her side. "Thank you", he murmured, taking the disinfectant and wraps from her. They silently cleaned Dick's wounds together, gaining a kind of kinship from their mutual ministering. They moved to gently wash the boy as best they could around his many bandages and change his IV and catheter. By the end, the girl felt comfortable enough to permit the use of first names.
"The hospital doesn't usually like parents to stay with their kids all the time, but I'm sure they'll make an exception for you", Stacy said, her eyes sparkling gently with empathy. Bruce gave her a weak smile. "I'm surprised you don't mind helping. This isn't the most pleasant of business."
Bruce shrugged. "He's my little one", he replied, an intensity in his voice, "I don't mind doing anything for him. I do it for love."
Stacy smiled a little in return. "You must love him a great deal."
Bruce nodded. "Everyone did. You would have too, had you gotten the chance to get to know him."
"I'm sure I would have", the girl replied, and she quietly padded out. The week dragged by slowly and Bruce never left the hospital. He helped Stacy take care of Dick everyday, ministering to his needs as much as he could. By the end of the first week, he was exhausted and had caught only brief snippets of sleep when Alfred had sat beside Dick's bed after bringing a change of clothes for Bruce.
It was at the end of that week when the doctor came in and examined Dick, searching for signs of change. He moved back after a few moments and shook his head. "Still nothing", he said, "I'm sorry Mr. Wayne." Bruce sighed, a heavy, lengthy sigh that seemed all too familiar to him. This emptiness, it was familiar to him as well.
He had descended into a depth of his soul where he no longer felt anything at all. Those words too, "I'm sorry", they were so familiar. "I'm sorry", Clark had whimpered helplessly, hovering in the window of the hospital.
"I'm sorry", Diana had crooned as she wrapped her arms around Bruce's trembling form, rocking him slowly while Donna had stroked Dick's hair.
"I'm sorry", Barry had murmured as he'd held a sobbing Wally in his arms.
"I'm sorry", Oliver had sighed, stroking Roy's hair as the boy fought back despair.
"I'm sorry", Lucius had said, bringing a home cooked meal from his wife and as much comfort as he could .
"I'm sorry", all the cards had said.
"I'm sorry", all the flowers had attested.
"I'm sorry", the chocolates had whispered.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." But, the sorry's didn't make anything better. They didn't make Dick any better.
"I have to ask though", the doctor said, cutting into Bruce's somber thoughts, "When are you going to return to your regular business?"
"I'm not getting in the way", Bruce said desperately, "I'm helping." He turned to Stacy, who nodded.
"The boy is a littler heavier than I can handle. Mr. Wayne has been a great help to me."
"Be that as it may", the doctor said, "this is a hospital."
"Then I'll take him home", Bruce replied, "and take care of him myself. Stacy's been teaching me. I can do it."
"Mr. Wayne", the doctor said, sounding slightly exasperated, "Are you honestly willing to devote what could be ten to twenty years to taking care of this boy." Bruce nodded vigorously. "There is an alternative", the doctor replied.
"What?" Bruce asked slowly.
"Well", the doctor said, "he'll probably never come out of this. My advice to you is just to ease him on his way."
"What!" Bruce exclaimed, "You mean euthanizing him."
"Think about it this way Mr. Wayne, do you think he'd really want to go on living this way. It's pointless to keep him alive."
"No", Bruce replied, fire in his eyes, "It's not. Dick loved life and he would never want something like that. He would never want me to murder him."
"I'm not talking about an injection or anything that drastic, but we could simply remove the feeding tube. It's peaceful, painless and humane."
"And let him starve to death. He's not a dog, he's my son, you can't just put him down."
"Just know the option remains open to you", the doctor said stiffly, and walked out the door. Bruce collapsed onto the bed with a sigh, putting his face in his hands. Stacy sat down next to him. She put a hand on his shoulder.
"Do you think it would be better, you know, if I did just let him go?" Bruce asked softly, looking up at the girl with darkness with his eyes.
"If he really loved life like you said", Stacy murmured, "he wouldn't want to die."
Bruce sighed. "He'd want to me to take care of him, like I always have, so that's what I'll do." He turned towards his comatose son, gazing at him with intensity in his eyes. "I'll take care of you son, I promise, as long as you've got left, I'll make it good to you."
Dick's eyelids fluttered slowly open. He was so drowsy. Why was he so drowsy? The last thing he remembered was that excruciating pain and the blacking out. The motorcycle crash! Dick tried to sit up but found he couldn't move.
At first, he started to panic, writhing weakly until he realized where he must be, the hospital. "How long have I been out?" Dick murmured softly to himself. His head was throbbing and he couldn't feel his legs. Well, could feel one of them at least. He could wiggle his toes on his right leg, but that was the extent of the movement there.
At first, he felt frightened, that perhaps they'd had to amputate. But then, he looked up and noticed the cast. There was his other leg, right where it should have been. That was good. "One thing at a time Grayson", he murmured to himself, "one thing at a time. I've still got both my legs and that's good. How about my arms?"
He tried to lift one arm, but found it hopeless, wrapped up tightly in a cast. The other was also wrapped up, though less heavily. He couldn't move any of the digits on either hand, but at least he still had two hands. Two arms, two hands, two legs, a good start.
Slowly, Dick did his best to account for the rest of his body parts. There were a few he simply couldn't feel no matter how hard he tried, so he did his best to trust they were still there. He couldn't move his neck to see.
Essentially, he was stuck and his leg really itched. He gave a sigh and tried to ignore it. He was alive; he could deal with one itch. He was alive. The realization crashed over him. He should have been dead, yet he was alive. But, there was just one thing missing. Where was Bruce?
When Dick had woken up, he had assumed Bruce would be there for him, yet his mentor was noticeably absent. Well, perhaps he had gone home and was getting some rest. But, Dick hoped someone would be around, anyone. He didn't want to be alone, not after he had just woken up. He was still frightened.
Then, Dick heard voices. One was gentle and smooth, a girl's voice, while the other was deep and rumbling and sent waves of pleasure washing over Dick. Bruce's voice, the voice he loved more dearly than any other. "Thanks for helping me carry this stuff Bruce", the girl's voice trilled, "I would have had to make at least three trips."
The voices got closer and Dick heard two sets of footsteps enter the room. "Bruce", he said blearily. He heard the sound of glass crashing and breaking and an instant later, Bruce was by his side. "Dick", he exclaimed, "Ohh, Dickie my baby!" And then he was crying and laughing and snuggling him all at once, frantically and desperately.
Dick managed a small smile at this. "Hi", he said softly, because that was about all he had the strength left to say. Bruce pulled back and gazed at him, such relief and joy in his eyes, Dick wondered what exactly had gone on while he had been out.
"Well, it's a miraculous recovery", the doctor said, a smile on his face as he talked to an elated Bruce, sitting on the bed next to Dick with a hand over the boy's heart as if he were afraid it might stop beating if he ended the physical contact. "Against all odds and after all hope was lost, he came back. A month is a long time to be out." Dick's head swam at this. A whole month! He had been out for a whole month!
"When can I take him home?" Bruce asked eagerly.
"I should think in a few days or so. Most of everything he's got left to heal is just broken bones and those are almost done. We'll take the rest of the stitches out and he can go home."
Bruce breathed a heavy sigh of relief and lay back on the bed next to Dick. "Now", he said softly to the boy, "I can finally sleep in peace", and he closed his eyes.
Dick stood on the balcony, his face to the wind and leaned heavily against the railing. The air carried with it the scent of salt rolling in from the ocean and the sea birds called. It was early morning, earlier that Dick usually cared to awaken, yet he couldn't sleep. The breeze pushed his hair back out of his eyes. It was a lovely feeling.
But then, all at once, the scent of asphalt returned, the taste of blood, the feel of the bike smashing into him, the loud blaring of the horn, all tokens of the last time he had felt the breeze in his hair. Feeling a sudden surge of terror in remembering those moments, he backed away from the edge and slowly hobbled back inside on stiff legs and metal crutches.
From the other room, Bruce watched quietly, his eyes filled with worry. Something was different since the accident, something had changed; Dick had changed. He was quieter now, more intense, more brooding, darker even. What Bruce wished for more than anything was to hear his laughter, see his smile. He got none of that now. His body might be healing, but something had changed within his heart and though Bruce hardly cared to admit it, he was worried about the boy.
He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. The first week after Dick had come out of the coma, he had been reserved, but Bruce had simply attributed it to his being in pain and the frustration of needing to be taken care of. Bruce doubted his fiercely independent son appreciated in the slightest having to endure everything from being fed to having his diapers changed, even if it was only for a short while and Bruce was always gentle, in both the words he spoke and his actions (he insisted on being the one to help the nurse and since Dick gave no objection, he had assumed it was alright).
Now that Dick was mobile and home, he was able to do most things for himself and Bruce had assumed he would perk up. So far, that hadn't happened. Dick had even taken to long bouts of inactivity, lying on his bed for hours in his room. It killed Bruce to see his normally so active and excited boy doing nothing but well…nothing. Bruce just wasn't sure what to do.
"Dick", Bruce said softly, coming into the boy's room.
Dick looked up at him from where he had been gazing at the ceiling. "Yea?" he asked.
"Let's go for a walk son", Bruce replied, coming over to help Dick to his feet, "You need to get out a bit."
The leaves crunched beneath Dick's crutches as the boy and his mentor made their way across the ground of the manor, beneath the shade of the red maple trees. The leaves were just beginning to change color and had already taken on a brilliant shade of red. Some had fallen now to earth, ready to sink down into the ground and make soil for other trees, life from death.
Dick moved slowly and methodically, his steps measured and painstaking. There was silence between the two of them, minus the occasional grunt from Dick. His legs ached, but he didn't tell Bruce so. "Alright", the older man said, "let's stop here and rest for a bit."
"I'm not tired", Dick replied smoothly.
"I am", Bruce said, and sat down on a rock. Dick shrugged and sat down next to him. Bruce took his crutches and put them aside. "Dick", he said softly. Dick looked up at him. His black eye and cheek, still swollen, made Bruce cringe slightly in empathy, but he took the boy's face in his hands nonetheless and turned to him.
Sunlight flitted in slightly through the leaves, casting everything in an almost mythical like glow. "Son", Bruce continued, stroking the boy's cheek with his thumb, "Something's different about you, something's changed since…what happened. What's wrong?"
Dick looked away, his eyes moving down to a beetle crawling over the warm earth. He heaved a sigh. "I don't know Bruce", he mumbled. "I just…I just feel so strange. I almost died you know, and right there, I was gonna die. I should have died. By all rights, I should be in the ground right now, next to my parents. And then, and then…"
He started to shake, but Bruce put his arms around him tightly, drawing the boy to lean against his steady chest. "Shh", he said softly, "no, no Dick, all that matters is that you didn't die. You're here, you're right here."
"But, I feel so frightened all the time now", Dick whimpered, "I can't sleep, I can't do anything. I just keep reliving those last few moments before I blacked out. Over and over again, I just keep seeing that bike flying towards me, those people screaming, the honk of the horn, the smell of blood…"
At this point, he started to sob frantically, but Bruce drew his arms more tightly around him and stroked his hair. "It's alright Dickie, it's ok, it's all over now, I won't let anything happen to you ever again, I promise."
"I just kept thinking that the last thing I ever said to you was that I hated you, that's what really scared me when I felt myself dying. I just read an article yesterday; Don's dead, he left without me. He was found in some alley in Star City, he'd been raped. Billy Farthing is their only suspect right now. That could have been me."
"But it wasn't, Dick", Bruce said gently, holding him even tighter, "it wasn't you, alright. You're ok, you're here, you're safe, you're with me." Dick sniffled loudly and turned his head slightly so he could gaze at Bruce. Bruce stroked his cheek.
"I shouldn't be this way", Dick muttered angrily, "I should be stronger than this, I've faced death a hundred times."
"But you've never come this close", Bruce replied, "you've been through a lot little one, a lot more than you deserved, that's for sure. It's going to take you a little while to get back to normal, but I know you will. You're strong Dick, that's why you survived, because you've always been strong. The day I met you, one of the things that impressed me the most about you was how strong you were."
"I…I heard…I mean…the nurses were talking… you thought about euthanizing me", Dick said softly.
"I didn't really seriously consider it", Bruce replied slowly, "they tried to make me believe your continued existence would be pointless, but somehow, you still had worth to me. I just wouldn't be able to do it, you know, kill you." Bruce stroked his shoulders, his fingers digging gently into the tense muscles he found there, trying to ease them a bit. Dick was full of so much anxiety these days.
"What would you have done with me if I'd stayed in that coma?" Dick asked, snuggling a bit. Though he hadn't begged for such reassurance in a long while, he found he needed it now. He allowed himself a little while to be a child again and be quietly reassured, the security he found in Bruce's arms quieting him. Bruce would protect him. He was probably in the safest place in all the world right there in that forest under those great trees on the autumn afternoon, resting in Bruce's loving embrace.
"Well", Bruce said softly, brushing a leaf from the boy's head, "I would have taken you home and taken care of you, I suppose."
"For the rest of my life?" Dick asked incredulously, looking up at him with wonder in his eyes. Bruce nodded.
"It wouldn't have been all that great of a burden. Come now Dick, I love you. I'd give up anything you."
Dick smiled. "I'd do the same for you", he replied.
"Then", Bruce said sternly, "I expect not to be put in a nursing home when I get older."
Dick snickered. "What if it's a nice one, you know, with bright colors. Wouldn't you want to be with the other senile old guys, talking about the war or whatever the elders speak about these days?"
Bruce smacked him lightly. "You're such a nasty child." Dick giggled more and wrapped his arms around Bruce, returning his mentor's embrace. "See", Bruce said softly, "that's the Dick I missed."
"I feel better", Dick replied, "I guess I just needed to talk to someone."
Bruce nodded. "I'm sorry I didn't notice something was wrong before, I was just so happy you were alive and awake and better."
"Well, I don't know how better this is", Dick replied, indicating his heavily bandaged limbs.
"You'll heal", Bruce promised. He stroked the boy's cheek. "Come on, let's get back to the house, I'm starving."
"I still don't fell normal though", Dick said softly.
"You will", Bruce replied, "everything will heal Dick, but it's going to take some time." With that, he helped Dick up and handed him his crutches. "And don't fret, I'll be here for every step of the way." And with that, they walked slowly back up the path, beneath the pale August sky, to the manor.
"Well", Damian said.
"Well what?" Dick asked.
"That doesn't explain anything."
Dick gave him an incredulous look. "Come on now, I went through all the trouble of telling you that story and you got nothing out of it?"
"Well, I learned several important things, such as the fact that you were a moron when you were seventeen and, as a result, my father had been submitted to such menial tasks as changing your diapers, which is disgusting I might add."
Dick rolled his eyes. "That's not the message I intended baby bird. I answered your question for you, about what love is. Love is sacrifice Damian, that's what love is, or real love at least. Bruce loved me so much, he was willing to sacrifice his entire life for me, or the frame of time at least that was left for me to live."
"Love isn't just a feeling. If it was, he wouldn't have done that for me. Love is a commitment, it's an oath. You think I like dealing with you twenty four/seven?" Damian scowled at him, the dark look adopted by his whole body.
"I do it", Dick said softly, putting his face up close to Damian's and gazing into the young boy's bright blue eyes, "because I love you. And, because I love Bruce, I made a commitment to Gotham. I hate Gotham; I'd live anywhere but here. I stay in this awful city because Bruce would want her protected. I sacrifice for him. I'd die for him and I wish I'd had the chance. Even though he's dead, I still make sacrifices for him because love doesn't end after death. It just keeps going like it doesn't even care."
Damian was quiet for a moment, turning all this over in his mind, seeking understanding. "So, you say you love me; this means you would be willing to give up everything for me?" Dick nodded. "You'd die for me."
"Real courage, little d, isn't dying for someone, it's living for them. It takes a hell of a lot more guts to spend your life doing something for someone else than taking a bullet for them. But yes, yes, I'd die for you, but more than that, I live for you. I suffer for you. That's real love. Love is sacrifice, love is suffering, but it's suffering with real worth." Damian leaned into Dick almost unconsciously at this, his head on the older man's chest as he perched ever more comfortably on his lap.
Dick put a hand on the boy's leg, drawing him in gently. Damian either didn't notice or didn't care. He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts, Dick wouldn't have been surprised if it had been the former. "But my mother, she certainly does not wish to give up everything for me. She gives nothing for me."
"Your mother…feels affection for you in her own way, but true love asks for no change in the person."
"You want to change me", Damian retorted, gazing up at Dick.
"I want what's best for you teddy bear", Dick replied, smoothing his hair. "If I ask for a change from you, it's because I think, in the long run, it'll be better for you. That's the difference between your mother and I, she wants to change you for her own good, I want to change you for yours. You're just going to have to trust me sometimes, if you can. But, even if you stayed exactly the way you are right now, I would still love you. I wouldn't necessarily be particularly pleased with you, but I would certainly still love you."
"This has given me much to think over Grayson", Damian said stoically, "I suppose I owe you some gratitude for your helpfulness in this matter."
"Golly Damian", Dick said sarcastically, "you certainly do make me feel good." Damian slid off his lap and started towards the door. Dick swiveled his chair to get back to his game, flooded with memories of old times.
"Dick", a voice said softly. Dick turned to look at the boy. "I…I suppose I'd die for you too. Perhaps…perhaps I'd live for you as well. I'm glad father didn't decide to kill you."
Dick grinned. "You know, behind all that nasty "assassin's son" exterior, you really are quite sweet."
Damian rolled his eyes. "I think perhaps you've simply contaminated me." He started out the door.
"I love you Damian", Dick called over his shoulder.
"I…I love you too."