A/N: To anyone who hasn't seen the author's note on my profile: I'm sorry about the wait for this chapter. My computer crashed a few days after posting the last chapter and I only got back the repaired hard drive last Monday week. Unfortunately, everything on it was wiped, including this chapter which meant a mad scramble to rewrite the chapter from my notes because I hadn't backed the file up (I don't need anyone to tell me how stupid that was, I already gave myself a thorough kicking). Needless to say, I won't be making that mistake again.
Also, thank you to every single wonderful person who commented on this story. I haven't been able to thank people individually as much as I would like, but your comments came during a very sad and difficult time for me, and I appreciate them more than I can ever express, so thank you.
Finally, thank you to my wonderful beta, Haleykim for all your help. I can't even begin to tell you how much easier you made the writing process. And just a note to everyone, Kim has just finished posting a really excellent Dick/Wally friendship fic called Fear which you should totally check out if you get the chance. :)
Somewhere in the sea of inky blackness, Dick could feel himself floating back to consciousness. But the only thing he was aware of with any sort of clarity was that he hurt. Everywhere. Pain stabbed at him with frightening intensity.
Broken images drifted on the periphery of his fragmented mind and Dick reached for them, but they floated away before he could even decipher what they were. He wondered vaguely where he was.
Snatches of speech permeated the dark fog clinging to his consciousness. "…okay? Please…something..."
Dick latched onto it. He knew that voice; it was familiar and made him feel safe. And for some reason that he didn't understand, he really wanted to feel safe.
He tried to respond to the voice, but long spikes of pain splintered his lungs, and Dick allowed himself a small whine. Crap. That hurt.
The voice was getting louder now, and was accompanied by the irritating sound of beeping. The blackness surrounding him started to dissipate and Dick could smell a strange combination of disinfectant and…peanut butter?
The darkness dissolved into light, and a blurry shape moved in front of him. Dick blinked several times until a pair of green eyes came into view. Someone was babbling, and it registered with him that the familiar voice belonged to those green eyes.
His brain grasped for a name. "Wal-ly?" he managed, lips sticking as he spoke. His mouth was parched.
Green eyes widened. "Finally! Dude, how do you feel?"
"Uh…" He needed something. Dick's mind searched for the word. "Wa-ter?"
The green eyes practically turned into saucers before disappearing. Seconds later they reappeared and Dick felt something against his lips. A straw. The contracting motion of sipping from the straw hurt his chest, but the cool liquid felt wonderful against his raw throat. He managed a few sips before his head sank further into the pillow – even such a small movement had left him feeling exhausted.
"Thanks," he mumbled, closing his eyes. Confusion niggled at him. Wally was here. Nothing strange about that, he was his best friend. So why did Dick feel like Wally wasn't supposed to be here?
Because he shouldn't be. Batman killed him.
Dick's eyes shot open. "You're alive," he whispered, eyes huge as he stared at Wally. He didn't understand. He distinctly remembered watching Batman kill Wally.
"I'm alive?" Wally choked. "Dude…"
Before Dick could blink, Wally was hugging him tightly. The movement sent pain shuddering through him and he cried out sharply.
Wally drew back at once. "OhmygodRobImsosorryareyouokay?!"
He looked frantic. Dick wanted to reassure him, but it was taking everything he had just to deal with the pain lancing viciously across his chest. Oh God, why did it have to hurt so much?
The corners of his eyes watered and he scrunched them shut. Dick was used to pain – being Batman's partner had given him more than enough experience in that area – but he had never experienced anything like this before. Raw agony rubbed at every nerve in his chest. He moaned while Wally continued to babble.
"ImsosorryIjustforgot!DidIhurtyou? Dude, please tell me you're okay!"
"Wally…s'fine," Dick managed to gasp out eventually. He opened his eyes and the tortured expression on his friend's face stabbed at him. That look didn't belong there. Memories of what had happened were flitting back to him now; Batman had been infected with rage and Wally had risked everything to help save him. Then Dick remembered that the antidote hadn't worked.
"Batman…" he ground out, as lingering tendrils of pain squeezed hard. "Where…?"
His hands still flapping, Wally shook his head. "I don't know– he's okay!" he added quickly, as Dick inhaled in panic, almost choking on the reflexive action. "He's cured. We just don't know where he is. He took off after you freaked out at him."
"You know, the first time you woke up."
Dick stared at him.
"Don't…don't you remember?" Wally asked uncertainly, his hand gestures becoming less expansive. Dick shook his head, then winced at how that made the room tilt.
Wally shuffled uncomfortably, and it was only then that Dick noticed he was leaning heavily on a crutch. His eyes were shaded with ugly, fading purple bruises, and stitches were visible on his swollen lip. Dick swallowed. Those marks hurt him almost as much as his own injuries.
"You've been out of it for days," Wally explained quietly. "And you only woke up a few hours ago. You didn't react too well to Batman and he sort of…I dunno, lost it or something. He just left without saying a word."
The pain cutting into him was clouding his mind, making it hard to think clearly. Dick had to work to understand Wally's explanation. "Batman's…okay?"
Wally nodded. "J'onn and Uncle Barry came up with a cure. He's fine." The teenager paused. "He's fine physically anyway. I think– I think he's having trouble dealing with what he did. You know, to you?"
Dick nodded and tried to shove away the image of Batman looming over him, strangling him.
"He didn't leave your side all week," Wally continued. "Just sat there, watching you." The speedster squirmed, looking uncomfortable. "It was kind of creepy actually, even for Batman."
"Where is he now?" Dick was surprised by how weak his voice sounded; all thin and wispy.
"I don't know." Carefully, Wally sat on the edge of his bed. "Like I said, he took off right after you woke up and no one's been able to reach him on his comm. I think Dr. Leslie might kill him when he comes back though."
"You said I freaked out. Wally, what did I do?"
"You really don't remember?"
Dick shook his head, feeling the room swim as he did so.
Wally sighed. "Well, you acted like– like you were scared of him. He had his cowl down and everything, but…well…you were kind of out of it. You know, from the drugs and all? I don't think you got that he wasn't going to hurt you. It wasn't like you did anything bad, you just…freaked a little. Dr. Leslie had to sedate you again after Bruce took off."
"He just…left?" Dick didn't know whether to be hurt or relieved. Part of him wanted nothing more than to see his guardian and make sure he was okay, but another part of him quivered in fear at the idea of being within ten feet of Batman. The dilemma bothered Dick. Batman had been under the influence of the rage virus, he knew that – so why was he still afraid of him?
"Don't blame him for taking off, Rob," said Wally, fiddling with the bedclothes, not quite able to look at him. "It was a rough few days. We almost lost you twice."
Dick wasn't sure how to react to the news that he'd almost died, but at least it explained why his body felt like it was half-dead.
Wally touched his arm. "Dude, you know, it's really good to hear your voice."
The speedster's own voice wobbled suspiciously as he spoke, and guilt stung at Dick when he realized what he had put Wally through. He had been so desperate to save Batman that he had sacrificed himself without giving any thought to how it would affect Wally – and clearly the trauma of watching Batman almost kill his best friend was hurting Wally terribly. Dick could see it in his pale, pinched face.
"Walls," he whispered. "I'm sorry." The words felt totally insufficient for the hurt he had caused.
Wally stared at him blankly. "For what?"
A hard lump stuck in his throat. Typical Wally. Already he had forgiven and forgotten. Dick knew his friend could be immature, and a bit of a drama queen at times, but he didn't think there was anyone else in the world as loyal or big-hearted. Wally had almost been killed in the effort to save Batman, and even though Dick didn't know what had happened after he lost consciousness, he was certain that the only reason he was still alive was because of Wally.
Something swelled in his chest and he was overcome by the sudden need to tell Wally how grateful he was for his help, and how lucky he was to have him for a friend, but the words stuck in his throat. Desperately, he grabbed Wally's hand and squeezed it, trying to convey how he felt through touch.
Wally looked surprised, but returned the squeeze and gave him a lopsided smile.
"I'm sorry," Dick whispered again, fighting with himself to say what he really wanted.
Wally patted his hand. "It's cool, Rob. I get it. I know why you had to save him. After watching Bruce sit here for the last week, I think I understand you two a little better. You don't need to apologize to me."
"Yes, I do! Wally, what I did, the position I put you in..." Dick's face burned in shame. "I was selfish, and I could have gotten you killed! Not to mention that me and Batman wouldn't be here without your help – you saved us both." Dick tightened his grip on Wally's hand. "Thank you. For everything."
Wally raised an eyebrow. "Dude, what's with the Hallmark moment?"
"I'm just trying to apologize for being a butthead and thank you for being an awesome best pal." Dick cringed at how much like a child he sounded, but pain was making it hard to verbalize his thoughts.
Wally shrugged. "You'd have done the same for me."
"In a heartbeat," Dick told him softly. They smiled at each other and Dick released Wally's hand so he could rub at his chest. "What happened at the factory after I passed out?" he asked, hoping the tale would divert him from the pain sawing into his torso.
"You really want to talk about that?"
Wally didn't sound too enthusiastic about the idea, but aside from wanting to know what happened, Dick needed the distraction. He nodded and Wally sighed. "Okay."
He started to talk. Dick listened with horror and admiration as Wally described how he had feigned unconsciousness in order to trick Batman into releasing him, how he had fought with Batman until the Justice League arrived, and what had happened in the aftermath of the League's takedown of Batman. By the time he finished explaining why Jenkins' chemical compounds hadn't worked on Batman and how J'onn and Barry had synthesized the antidote, Dick was finding it difficult to concentrate. The pain in his chest was now unbearable and exhaustion was creeping in at the edges of his vision. Dick was pretty irritated by the latter; he'd just spent the better part of a week unconscious, how in the heck could he still be tired?
"Did Jenkins tell anyone why he created the virus?" he asked, trying to shift into a position that didn't make him feel like he'd swallowed a bag of needles.
"No. Superman went to see him the day after…you know," Wally gestured towards Dick's injuries, "but the dude's not talking. Arrogant creep."
Dick knew he should be worried that they still didn't know what the endgame was – not knowing meant the virus still posed a threat – but he was in too much pain to focus on that at the moment. "Wally, can you–"
"Dick, you're awake," a voice interrupted. They both glanced at the door to see Leslie Thompkins standing there.
"Hi, Leslie," Dick greeted her.
"How long have you been awake?" she asked, coming towards the bed.
"Um, I'm not sure."
"About an hour," Wally supplied helpfully.
"An hour?! Wally!" she scolded. "I gave you specific instructions to fetch me the instant he regained consciousness!"
Wally looked sheepish. "Sorry, Doc, we started talking and I kinda forgot. But he's okay – he remembers Gotham and everything."
"His pain medication has also been dialed down to help his coherency in coming out of the sedation," she pointed out in exasperation.
"Is that why it hurts so much?" Dick blurted, before he could stop himself.
Leslie turned her attention to him. "Yes. I'm sorry, Dick, but I needed you clearheaded in order to get a handle on that head injury. I was concerned after how you reacted to Bruce. That's also why I wanted to be here when you woke up–" she gave Wally an irate glare "– so I could give you something to help with the pain once I was certain you were lucid."
"I'm lucid!" said Dick desperately. "Honest!"
She gave him a sympathetic grimace. "I know, Dickie. Hang on and I'll give you something." Reaching into her coat pocket, she withdrew a syringe filled with clear liquid. Uncapping it, she injected it directly into his IV-line while Wally mumbled apologies from the other side of the bed.
"Will it take long?" Dick asked, as a tingling, ice-cold sensation flowed up his arm.
Leslie shook her head as she removed the syringe. "It's morphine, so it should kick in pretty quick."
Leslie gently swept the bangs out of his eyes. "Flail chest is a painful injury, Sweetheart. It requires a potent analgesic."
"I'm just going to elevate you slightly for comfort," she told him, pressing the button on his bed in order to raise it up. The motion hurt like hell, but once it stopped at an almost sitting position, Dick was surprised to find that he was actually more comfortable; the upright position took some of the pressure off of his lungs.
"Better?" Leslie enquired, and he nodded.
"Other than your chest, how are you feeling?" She was looking at him in concern and Dick knew she wasn't just talking about physically.
"I'm okay." He didn't have the energy to talk about Bruce. He still wasn't sure how he felt about his guardian, or even if he wanted to see him. Dick bit his lip. Those thoughts made him feel guilty; what happened wasn't Bruce's fault, so why was he blaming him? It was irrational!
Leslie cupped his chin and tilted it upwards. "Don't worry, Sweetie, it'll all work out."
Dick gave her a small smile. He hoped she was right.
Light filtered slowly through Dick's eyelids. It took him a moment to realize that he had fallen asleep after the morphine had taken away the worst of his pain. A squeak to his left told him that someone – probably Wally – was sitting by his bed. Blinking away the last vestiges of sleep, Dick sucked in a breath when the room came into focus and he realized it wasn't Wally sitting by his bed.
It was Bruce.
Dick's instinctive reaction was to panic. His heart thumped painfully against his chest and his whole body went rigid. What made it worse was that he could tell by the look on Bruce's face that he knew exactly what was happening; the tell-tale increase of the heart monitor was a dead giveaway.
"Oh, Kiddo, I'm not going to hurt you," Bruce told him quietly, almost pleadingly.
"I know," Dick whispered, trying to make his heart stop racing. This was ridiculous, what the hell was wrong with him?
"Do you want me to leave?"
"No!" Dick took several deep breaths, forcing his heartbeat to return to normal. He stared unhappily at his guardian. He didn't know what to do about this irrational fear. He knew Bruce would never hurt him – that stupid rage virus had been a one-off – so why couldn't he make himself believe it?
Bruce's eyes never left Dick's face. "How are you feeling?"
"Not much. Leslie gave me something."
An awkward silence fell. Dick fiddled with his bed covers, uncomfortable under Bruce's intense stare. Why was he staring so much? Couldn't he look away? Oh God, what if the rage virus wasn't really gone and Bruce was turning again?!
To his horror, he realized that the heart monitor had sped up once more, while Bruce looked as though someone had ripped his heart out of his chest. "Are you really that scared of me?"
"No!" Dick hesitated, then looked away. "I don't know," he admitted finally.
Bruce leaned forward and buried his head in his hands. The vulnerability of the movement stunned Dick. "Bruce?"
Bleary eyes rimmed with enormous dark circles came up to meet his.
"You look like a tired panda," Dick told him without thinking.
Bruce made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "Oh, God, Dickie, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
He sounded desperate and broken in a way Dick had never heard before, and it scared him. He studied his guardian, taking in how terrible he looked; his face haggard and pinched with stress, his jaw peppered with stubble. It was obvious that guilt for his actions was eating him alive.
Despite his own fear, Dick's first instinct was to reassure him. "It's okay, Bruce. You couldn't help it."
Bruce shook his head. "It's not okay. I attacked you! I nearly killed you." His face twisted in anguish. "How can things ever be okay again?"
His words sent a cold shiver through Dick. The thought that things would never be the same between him and Bruce, that there would always be this strained silence, this uncertainty and dread between them, frightened him even more than the clinging tendrils of residual fear left by Batman's rage.
I need Bruce, Dick realized, remembering why he had fought so hard to save him. Bruce was his father, the person he trusted most, who made him feel safest…how could Dick allow one – albeit very terrifying – incident that Bruce had zero control over to destroy all of that?
He didn't leave your side all week, Wally's voice rang unexpectedly in his head. Just sat there, watching you.
And suddenly Dick understood: Bruce needed him every bit as much as he needed Bruce – they just didn't work without each other. Dick couldn't bear the thought of things changing irrevocably between them.
"Bruce…" His voice wobbled. "Please don't say that."
The pain on Bruce's face morphed into confusion. "Say what?"
"That things won't be okay. They have to be okay."
"Oh, Kiddo…" Bruce reached for his hand and Dick resisted the urge to flinch. "If only you knew how much I…if I could just…" He swallowed and his voice dropped to a choked whisper. "Dick, I'm sorry."
Dick curled his fingers around the hand clutching his, and immediately felt the hand tighten. Before he could process what was happening, Bruce had gotten to his feet and enveloped him in a careful hug, all without ever letting go of the hand he was clinging to.
Dick stiffened for the briefest of seconds until a familiar woody scent washed over him, making him feel warm and safe. This was the Bruce he knew and loved, the man who cared about him and who would never in a million years hurt him. The tension and fear drained away and Dick buried his face in his guardian's shoulder while something resembling a sob was wrenched from his throat.
"I'll never hurt you again," Bruce whispered into his hair. "I promise."
Dick nodded. Bruce wouldn't have hurt him in the first place if it hadn't been for that stupid virus, something his subconscious finally seemed to comprehend. Physically unable to return the hug, Dick clutched tighter at the hand holding his.
It was several minutes before Bruce pulled back. Sitting on the edge of the bed, his left hand still clinging to Dick's good one, he reached forward with his right and gently swept the bangs out of Dick's eyes. "Dick, I need you to promise me something. If anything ever happens to me again – no matter what it is – you are not to sacrifice yourself to save me."
Dick's eyes widened and he released Bruce's hand. "You can't ask me to promise that! It isn't fair!"
"I think it is," said Bruce quietly. "And I think Wally would agree with me. Dick, you nearly died! Do you know what that was like for us?"
"Do you know what it was like for me to think I might lose you?" Dick countered. "Bruce, you're my dad. No kid should have to lose their dad–" His heart twanged painfully and he felt hot tears rush up into his eyes. Swallowing hard, he blinked them away. "No kid should have to lose a parent once, much less twice," he finished in a miserable whisper.
Bruce's hold on his hand tightened. "I know how much that hurts, Dickie, I do. And you're right; no child should have to lose their parents when they're still so young. But, Dick," Bruce's eyes were tight with pain, "no father should ever have to bury his son. I can promise you, there is no torture in hell worse than that."
Dick stared. Those were strong words for Bruce.
"It's your job to outlive me, Kiddo. I know that sucks for you, but it would be unnatural for me to outlive you."
Dick looked at the bed. That was a concept he did not want to entertain anytime soon. His vision blurred and his lower lip trembled. Seconds later he felt Bruce's arms go around him again.
"Oh, Dick, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you," Bruce murmured while Dick clutched at his shirt. "Shhhhh, it's okay, Dickie, I mean to be around for a very long time yet."
Dick didn't respond or lift his head. Instead, he closed his eyes and inhaled the familiar smell. He didn't want a day to come where he would have to say goodbye to Bruce. He knew from experience that those goodbyes never stopped hurting.
One of Bruce's hands was rubbing circles over his back while the other cradled his head. "Dick, I'm not making you promise not to save me, just that you won't sacrifice yourself while doing it. The one thing I get to be selfish about as a father and not feel guilty about, is making sure that you outlive me. It's my job to ensure you live a long life. That's why I need you to promise me that you will never sacrifice yourself again, Dick. Not for anything."
Dick shook his head into Bruce's chest.
"Dick, I need your word on this. Otherwise…" Bruce moved until he was holding Dick's shoulders and staring down at him. "…I'm going to have to retire Robin."
Dick gawped at him in horror. He couldn't…he wouldn't! "That's not fair!" he burst out finally.
"Maybe not," Bruce agreed, looking like it hurt him to do this. "But if that's what I have to do to keep you safe, I will. Dick, you're my son, I love you and I won't lose you to anyone."
Dick's eyes widened and his body went limp with shock. Had Bruce just…did he really just say…? Dick had never heard him utter those sentiments to anyone before. He doubted Bruce had said those words since his parents died. "What– what did you say?"
"You heard me," Bruce replied quietly.
Dick had, but he almost didn't believe it. He knew Bruce cared about him, and that in his own strange way he did love him, but he had never in his wildest dreams thought that Bruce would actually say the words. That he was doing so now really brought home how serious he was about this.
The boy gulped. If he was serious, then that meant he would have to give his word if he wanted to continue being Robin. He couldn't just say the words and not mean them. Aside from the fact that Bruce would know at once if he was lying, Dick didn't want to lie to him. Lies between them would damage the trust between them, and it was that trust which kept them alive in the field. But how could he not do everything in his power to save Bruce if the situation demanded it? His guardian couldn't ask him to do this, it wasn't fair!
"Dick?" Bruce was looking at him questioningly, his face serious.
"I don't want to promise that," whispered Dick pleadingly.
"I know you don't. That's why you have to."
"For my own peace of mind. Dick, I need to know that you will always act with the best intentions for your own safety, regardless of whose life is on the line. It's the only way I can let you be Robin and not lose my mind."
Dick knew that Bruce was only making him promise because he had been so badly frightened by almost losing him. And while there was something very comforting about knowing he was that important to Bruce, it also scared him to think he might not be able to do everything in his power to save Bruce again if the situation demanded it. He really didn't want to promise this.
"Dick, if it helps, we're going to be doing some very, very advanced tactics training after this," Bruce told him quietly. "And Clark has promised me that even if we're in the middle of the apocalypse, he will drop everything to help you if you need it. You're never going to be in the position of being so alone that you have no choice but to sacrifice yourself again."
"But I wasn't alone!" Dick protested. "I had Wally."
"I know, and that's something else I wanted to speak to you about."
Dick's heart plummeted. "You're not mad that I told him my real name, are you? Bruce, he'll never tell anyone, I swear!"
"Relax, Kiddo. I think Wally has proven that he can be more than trusted. Although I wish you'd told me what you'd done. How long has he known?"
"Almost from the start."
Bruce blinked, looking mildly impressed. "That long? I guess I've never given him enough credit for discretion."
"Well, he usually sucks at it," Dick admitted. "But he knows to be careful about the important stuff."
"And that's what matters. Regardless, Dick, he knows your identity and he's proven that he can be trusted."
Dick stared at him with a hopeful expression. "Meaning?"
"I think he's earned the right to stay at the manor."
"YESSSSSS! Bruce, thank you! Wally's going to be so stoked." Dick beamed in gleeful anticipation.
Bruce gave him a dry smile. "Just imagine how excited he'll be when he tastes Alfred's cooking."
Dick burst out laughing at the thought, then groaned when it made his ribs ache.
"Are you alright?" Bruce asked anxiously.
Dick waved a hand. "Fine. Shouldn't have laughed, that's all." Bruce's miserable, guilt-stricken expression tore at him. "Please don't do that," he begged, reaching for his guardian's hand.
The man looked confused. "Do what?"
"Blame yourself. Bruce, it wasn't your fault! You couldn't help it."
"Doesn't make it any better. I'll never forgive myself for what I did."
"But you didn't do anything!" Dick pointed out, a thought occurring to him. "You were under the effects of the virus and couldn't think rationally, which means technically it wasn't you, so you can stop feeling guilty."
The man sighed. "You know it doesn't work like that, Dick."
"Because guilt isn't something you can just rationalize away."
"But I don't want you to feel bad. What can I say to convince you?"
"Promise me that you'll never sacrifice yourself again, no matter what."
Dick scowled. Dammit! He'd walked into that one.
"Dick, we can bat this back and forth all night, but I'm not going to change my mind. Either give me your word or give up being Robin."
"I feel like I'm being punished."
"You have nothing to be punished for, you did nothing wrong. But, Dick, please try to understand what it felt like to wake up and discover that I'd almost killed you, that I could still lose you. It was the worst moment of my life. I need to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."
"I'm not one of your contingency plans!" Dick burst out in frustration.
"No. You're more important, which is why this is so important. Dick, I promise, we will make a hundred different contingency plans for scenarios like this so that we'll both be okay if anything like this ever happens again. I just need you to promise me this one thing so I can sleep at night. Dick," Bruce's eyes were painfully desperate, "I know it's selfish, but you're my whole world and I nearly killed you. Please."
Dick's shoulders slumped. He could see how much this nightmare had hurt Bruce; there was a certain desperation and vulnerability around the edges that the man had never exhibited before. And while pain had always been a feature of Bruce's eyes to those who knew him well, this new pain made it look like Bruce was drowning in anguish. Dick knew with resigned clarity that the only way his guardian could even begin to move past this was if Dick promised to never put himself in such a dangerous position again. Otherwise, the guilt for his actions would continue to eat at him until there was nothing but a shell left. Dick had no choice.
"I promise I'll never sacrifice myself for anyone again," he whispered miserably. "Not even for you." Saying the words made him feel like he might cry.
"Thank you," said Bruce quietly, leaning forward and hugging him close. "I promise it'll never come to that again, Dickie. I just needed to hear those words."
Dick was silent. It had better not come to that again; he didn't want to lose Bruce any more than Bruce wanted to lose him.
"Don't be mad at me for making you promise, Dick," Bruce begged.
"I'm not. Not really," Dick mumbled tiredly into his shoulder. "I just wish things could be easy for once." And he did wish that. Why couldn't things ever be easy?
"It's the hardest things in life that make us who we are, Kiddo," Bruce told him quietly.
Dick's mouth quirked in a slight smile at that. "Are you quoting fortune cookies at me?"
Bruce laughed. "Even I'm not that bad! But I'll tell you what. When you've healed, why don't we go away together camping for a few days? Just the two of us?"
Dick pulled back and looked at him in disbelief and hope. "You mean that?" He and Bruce hadn't been camping together since his wilderness training before becoming Robin. It had been the best time they'd ever spent together – just him, Bruce, the mountains and open skies. Dick had always longed to do it again, but had given up hope as time had passed with no indication of it happening. He didn't hold it against his guardian; Bruce was a busy man, both as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and Dick had accepted long ago that they wouldn't always be able to do normal father and son stuff. To be given the chance now was more than he could hope for.
"I mean it," Bruce replied. "But, Dick, did you hear me? After you heal. Don't go pushing your PT just to make it happen faster, okay?"
Dick nodded, a huge smile unfolding across his face. He was going camping with Bruce! Talk about totally making up for the horrors of the rage virus.
Dick straightened as the memory of the virus crawled back into his brain; they still didn't know what Andrew Jenkins' endgame had been! "Bruce, I almost forgot! Jenkins, he was working for someone else! He had a reason to create that virus, but I don't know–"
Bruce held up a hand. "Relax, Kiddo. That's taken care of. Jenkins was working for Lex Luthor."
Dick's mouth fell open. "Lex Luthor?!"
"But…how…when…how did you find out?"
Bruce eyed him in concern. "It's a long story, Dick and you look tired. Maybe you should get some rest first?"
Dick rolled his eyes in irritation. "Bruuuuuuce! I've just spent the last week sleeping!"
His guardian gave a small smile. "Alright then. But lie back against the pillow, that way if you do get tired, you can fall asleep."
"Could I– could I lie against you?" Dick asked carefully. Bruce was rarely tactile or emotional, but over the last hour, Dick had seen more physical contact from his guardian than he generally saw in an entire year. And it felt nice. He wanted to make it last as long as possible.
Bruce looked surprised at the request. "Of course." He moved up and sat beside Dick, where he put an arm around him. Dick happily leaned in against his side. He could see Bruce smile down at him in some amusement.
"How long are you going to milk this for?" the man asked.
"A while," Dick replied, totally unconcerned about having been caught out. "That okay with you?"
And then Bruce did something else he'd never done before – he leaned down and kissed the top of his head. "I'm fine with it," he said softly, as Dick blinked in surprise. "Are you comfortable?"
Dick nodded. He was. He felt content and safe lying against Bruce, the safest he'd felt in a long time. It surprised him to admit that to himself. He hadn't realized it till now, but entering his teen years and joining the Team had put a slight distance between him and Bruce. He supposed that growing up meant becoming more independent, but Dick was glad to know that he could still turn to Bruce when he needed him. He was enjoying growing up, but that didn't mean he was completely ready to let go of all the strings of childhood.
Bruce gently squeezed his arm, nudging him out of his thoughts. "You want me to start?"
Dick nodded again, before resting his head against Bruce's chest. As the big man started to narrate how he had tracked the virus back to Luthor, Dick closed his eyes and let the comforting rumble of Bruce's voice wash over him. Life sure was funny sometimes. To think that almost being killed by his own guardian had brought them closer together was a strange turn of events Dick hadn't been prepared for. But growing up was teaching him that you can't always predict people, even the ones you know well.
He knew that life's hard lessons wouldn't always end so well. But so long as he had Bruce and Wally around, he had a feeling that he would always come through those lessons relatively unscathed. Dick smiled to himself. There was something comforting about knowing that no matter how bad things got, he had someone to depend on. And that in itself would be enough to get him through the worst of times.
Feeling happy and at peace in the reassuring presence of his guardian, Dick slowly drifted off to sleep where he dreamed of mountains and blue skies.