Author's Note: This story was originally inspired by a request from ARL15 to see an adult Dick going in to Bruce for cuddles. It will be a three-shot, and the next chapter may be a few days out since I'm trying to keep up on Firework, too. In any case, here are angst and cuddles galore! Happy reading!
Bruce had been waiting for his bedroom door to crack open before the silent footfalls of his eldest child ever since he'd retired to his chamber. When it finally happened, he felt the corners of his lips twitch upwards into a sad smile. About time, chum. I was beginning to wonder if I needed to go to you. He'd known something was wrong from the moment he entered the manor that afternoon only to be informed that Dick was downstairs and had announced his intentions to stay the weekend. It wasn't an unusual occurrence – he did this every few months or so when he managed to get two days off in a row – but there had been a glint in Alfred's eyes that told him that something was amiss.
His first and unspoken favorite son wasn't like the three who had followed, he knew; when the time was right, he would talk. There was no need to pry or to drag the truth from him. Consequently, the billionaire had put up with the façade of happiness the younger man wore all through the evening and into their joint Batman/Robin/Nightwing patrol without comment. As the hours crept by, however, his worry deepened. Dick had come home for advice, comfort, or both, he was certain, and in such instances the severity of the problem was always given away by when he broached the topic. The earlier in the day, the better: things mentioned during their pre-dinner conversation or over the meal itself usually ended in laughter; troubles saved for the hours between one of the butler's gourmet entrees and their drive into the city were nothing to laugh about; those reserved for the rooftops would have resulted in tears had they not been in costume. Only life-and-death matters of the utmost importance lingered until after bedtime, and that was why Bruce felt a knot of concern writhing in his stomach as a shadow approached the bed. …It's so late, he thought. What could be so bad that you didn't want to tell me about it until now? It's worse than that, even, he realized as the figure came to a halt. You've had time to go to sleep since we got back, which means you probably had a nightmare. It took a bad dream to convince you to talk to me about this. Jesus, Dick, it hasn't taken that much in years…what's wrong?
He lifted the covers with one arm, inviting him in. With the others he wouldn't have bothered, since Damian would have just scoffed, Tim would have given him an odd look and likely remained standing, and Jason wouldn't have come to him to begin with. Dick, though, simply tumbled in with a sniffle and allowed himself to be pulled close, just as open to affectionate caresses at twenty five as he had been at ten. "…Talk to me," Bruce whispered, his fingers automatically beginning to draw circles on the thin cotton shirt that couldn't quite mask scarred ridges of flesh.
"…I'm afraid to," came back shakily. "I'm afraid you're going to…to hate me."
…You say that like you honestly believe it, the billionaire winced. How could you, though? I could never… "You know better than that. I won't hate you." Silence. "Come on, stop this. It can't be that bad. Unless someone died, I think you're being a little overdramatic." Usually you're pretty good about not exaggerating your problems, but we all have our moments. Maybe this is one of yours, he thought hopefully. You're probably going to feel silly in the morning for blowing this thing way out of proportion…
Dick burst into tears.
"Whoa, hey," Bruce started, taken aback. Okay, now we've moved into a whole different realm of trouble, he grimaced, moving his hand up to cradle the back of his sobbing son's head. Damn it, why did I say that? I should have known better…who could possibly be dead, though, that would upset him like this? I know it's no one in the League, I'd have been one of the first to hear…another cop, maybe? That would bother him, especially if it was one of the few he talks about semi-regularly, but…I don't think that's something he would brood about like he has been. He'd bring that up right away. This doesn't make sense…
"Dicky," he crooned, pulling out the diminutive nickname that he hadn't voiced since the man in his arms had first left home. "What's this about? You have to tell me, I can see it's got you riled." There was no answer. "…You're starting to scare me, chum. I need you to calm down and talk to me." The crying went on into a spate of hiccups that left him sounding as if he couldn't breathe, and Bruce felt his apprehension begin to morph into outright fear. "If you don't calm down, I'm going to have Alfred get you a sedative," he warned gently. "I don't want to do that, baby. I'd rather you talked to me. Please."
The hitching in the younger man's shoulders eased slowly as he tried to control himself. He clung to the figure holding him, short nails leaving half-moon crescents where they dug into a hard tricep. "I…" he managed finally. "I…"
"Slow and easy."
"…I didn't mean to do it, Bruce. I didn't, I just…I didn't have a choice, and…and now…"
"…Now what?" he resumed the gentle circles of earlier.
"I…I'm on leave from work. I know they had to do it, they had to put me on probation during the investigation, but…oh, god, why?!"
…He's not this worked up about being on probation, the billionaire frowned. It must be whatever he's in trouble for. "Why are you being investigated?"
"I…I don't want to talk about it," his voice broke, "but if I don't…I don't want you to read about it in the paper. I don't want you to…to be blindsided if someone c-c-calls…and they will, I kn-know they will, the press is going to be all over it and I'm sorry, Bruce!"
"I know," he hushed him, his own cheeks dampening under the sheer hopelessness and desperation underlining every word that hit his ears. "I know you're sorry. But I don't know what you're sorry for. I need you to tell me that part still." Tell me everything. This is torture, listening to you like this. You're far from a defenseless person, Dick, but whatever this is has obviously left you bare. Let me help, please. I'm begging you, let me fix it... "Just start at the beginning, okay? The very beginning."
"You're going to get mad. You're going to…to hate me…"
"I won't. I promise." You're far too disturbed by this for it to make me mad. I'm much more concerned about helping you past it than about being angry with you, regardless of what the problem is.
"I…" He coughed, his lungs protesting the odd strain that his fierce crying jag had put them under. "I was on patrol," he said quietly.
"BPD. I…I have a couple different routes, and I try to mix them up so there's no pattern, you know? Anyway…there's this bank that I go by every day when I'm on duty. I just poke my head in, maybe…maybe flirt with one of the girls if it's quiet. Grab a lollipop. They all know me, and I can tell it makes them feel…safer, I guess. Anyway, yesterday afternoon I did what I always do, just…strolled in. Right…right into the middle of a fucking stick-up." He paused to take several deep breaths. "There was just one robber, but he had a hostage. Gun to his head, the whole nine yards, just…just holding him like that while the teller emptied the drawer into a bag for him. Everyone else was on the ground, scared out of their minds. I don't even think they heard me come in at first, because half of them screamed when I ordered him to drop his weapon. I don't know why no one behind the counter had hit a panic button, but…maybe there wasn't time. I don't know. It doesn't really matter.
"He turned around fast when he heard me, and put his prisoner between us. I felt so bad for that poor guy, standing there with a muzzle against his temple. He had this look in his eyes, this…this gleam of mortal terror with just a little bit of resignation growing every second. I loathed that, Bruce; I didn't even know who that man was, but he didn't deserve that. The front of his pants was wet, and I knew that if he got out of there alive that that was going to be what stuck with him. Not the gun, not the guy holding it, but the fact that he'd pissed himself in fear. He didn't deserve that either, that…that emasculation, I guess.
"I'd pulled my gun when I hollered at him. Usually that's enough to make them back off; they don't mind pointing a weapon at someone else, but they get scared quick when they're looking down the wrong end of a barrel. If I had thought I could get away with it I'd have tried to sneak up behind him before he knew I was in the bank, but there were just too many people and too much ground to cover. Even if I'd gone full Nightwing, I don't know that I could have managed it. He had the hostage's head too close to his own for me to risk throwing my baton for a knock-out…I didn't even have time to call for backup. It was just him and me, staring each other down across the lobby like…like a couple of Old West gunslingers."
He shook his head against Bruce's shoulder. "I don't know exactly how many people I've fought, or in how many different situations, but that…that was the most surreal moment of my life, except maybe when…when my parents were falling. It's…it's a close tie. I know that sounds weird, but it's the truth. I keep thinking about it, those couple of seconds when we were measuring each other, trying to read what the other person was going to do, what we were going to do in response…I think I already knew what I…what I was going to have to do, but…I didn't know if I really could, when it came down to it.
"One of the people on the ground piped up to say that there were three more men in the back with the manager, trying to get into the safe. My guy…he just yanked his hand around and shot her. Like it was nothing. And I know I've seen that happen before, you know I've seen it happen before, but…never during the daytime. I wasn't ready for it, for the way her head just…ugh. Not when I wasn't seeing it from behind a mask. Not without that filter.
"Like I said, I think I knew what was going to happen before it did, but…well, I've had to point my gun at more than a few people to defuse a situation. I hate it, I hate it every time, but when there's no other way to get the job done without giving myself away, I do it. But I'd never actually pulled the trigger before. There's…there's no way to prepare yourself for that. I…I aimed for his hand, Bruce, I swear to you that I just wanted to disarm him before he hurt or k-killed anyone else. And I know…I know I hit the gun. I saw it afterwards, I saw where my bullet hit it and…and ricocheted." His voice cracked again, echoing the pain in his heart. "It deflected into his face. Right…right through his eye. He dropped, of course, and the hostage ran straight for the bathroom. It took the others almost forty minutes to get him to unlock the door and let them in, once they arrived, but…I wasn't worried about him. Not right then.
"I had one hand on my radio the second I saw him go down. The other three burglars panicked and ran out a back door when they heard the first shot, or at least that's what someone – maybe it was my sergeant, I don't really remember – told me later. I haven't heard the recording, but I must have managed to tell dispatch what they needed to hear, because about eight other officers arrived inside of ten minutes, and…and paramedics, too. It didn't matter, though. It didn't m-matter."
He began to shake with sobs once more as he reached the crux of the story, his distress making his last sentence almost unintelligible. "I t-tried to save him, honest, I t-t-tried so fucking hard, Bruce, but…he was d…de…d-d-dead b-before he even hit the gr-ground."