A/N: Originally this story was going to be a one-shot but a handful of people were asking to see Bruce's PoV, so I did my best and hope you enjoy. 2nd person perspective is actually one of my favorite things to do :) I also want to thank the people who have read, reviewed and faved this little piece so far.
Oh, and not that it's a huge deal to those who have already read it, but I went through the first chapter of this and cleaned up whatever little spelling/grammar errors I could find.
You can't find him. He's missing. He was just here, before the bomb, before Joker, and now he's gone.
You search through thick smoke. Listen for him. You have no way of knowing whether or not Dick had been hurt in that last explosion, but if the sight of a lone Robin doesn't lure Joker in, the sight of an injured Robin will.
God forbid Joker finds him first.
Noise filters through the smog, high-pitched and grating. A voice. Harley.
Heavy smoke billows out of your way like curtains when you rush through. Keep going – you can see them now; Dick is down, face contorted in pain as Joker clutches the nape of his neck. Your vision goes red.
Within seconds, you are on them, your fist crashing against Joker's jaw. In the same breath, you drive a heel into Harley's abdomen.
Joker hits the ground hard and within seconds you pin him, delivering punch after punch until his laughter ceases. Out cold, which is so much better than he deserves.
You turn around to take care of Harley as well, but she has disappeared during the pummeling of her boyfriend. And that's fine. It means you can check on Dick.
He looks disoriented. Confused. You give a speedy inspection, gliding your hands over his limbs to check for breaks, through his hair to check for bumps. All the while, Dick makes no attempt to speak and hardly responds to your presence at all. So you gather him into your arms – and oh, he's so light and small and compliant – and rush him to the car. And far, far away from Joker.
The following night, Dick bounces back to normalcy and accompanies you to the charity ball. Woman cluck about how charming he looks in a suit, and what a fine young gentleman he is turning out to be. However, the normally laudatory comments do nothing for you tonight, since all you can think about is the previous night, in the cave after patrol.
Dick's intelligence and memory are above-average for a child his age, and yet he couldn't seem to recall most of what happened during his encounter with Joker and Harley.
"Take a look at that, Bruce. It would seem that my little Cynthia has taken a liking to Richard," Anthony Tanner says fondly, taking place at your side.
You spare a glimpse. Indeed, Cynthia Tanner takes hold of Dick's hand and pulls him out for a dance.
"Quite the ladies' man," you respond with a warm chuckle. Dick doesn't even need to try when it comes to winning people over, but you opt not to explain to Anthony how Dick is already rather smitten with the commissioner's daughter.
That's when Cynthia screams.
You are moving before everyone else.
Cynthia is on the ground and fighting tears. Her father rushes to her, to tear her away from Dick, while you run to Dick, who is now hugging himself tightly in the way you've seen so many asylum patients do. You run faster. Cynthia may have been the one to scream, but Dick looks beyond terrified.
Dick falls to his knees, face buried in his hands, and oh, God, you can see him shaking before you even reach him. And baby, poor baby, he looks right through you when you finally reach him.
"Dick," you whisper hoarsely, trying to pry his hands away from his face, and you can see the wetness of his cheeks glimmer under the chandelier lighting when you succeed. "Diiiick," you moan pleadingly. Please hear me, kiddo. The sound of his gasping sobs makes your ears ache. He needs to snap out of it now, not because of the party-goers and not for the sake of reputation, but because he's starting to scare you. "Dickie, get up."
Something flashes in Dick's eyes, some invisible barrier broken. Hope tries to find a place in you, because he's more responsive than he was before, but still very distant. Still shaking.
You cup his cheek with your hand, stroking just under his eye with your thumb to banish a fresh tear that threatens to fall. Dick leans into the touch, his eyes a little clearer. Finally, he sees you. And the crowd behind you.
His voice quivers with uncertainty. "Bruce?"
"Look at me, chum," you say, guiding his face. His lower lip disappears under his teeth, his eyes searching yours for answers you don't yet have, but come hell or high water, you will.
As Dick reveals to you the things he saw, you feel the same way you did when you first took him in. He's vulnerable all over again. A bleeding heart in need of your awkward, inexpert nurturing. You feel a ravenous desire to save him.
Drawing Dick's blood is not something you enjoy doing, nor is it something Dick takes pleasure in, but this is admittedly not the first time you've had to do it and it sure as hell won't be the last. You put the sample under the scope for signs of Scarecrow's work (because sometimes the most obvious choice is the best way to go), but you find nothing. Not a thing.
"I don't get it, Bruce…" Dick sighs when you tell him of your findings, or lack thereof. The day's events have visibly drained him, and all you want to do is put the poor boy to bed. "How did this happen?"
"I don't have an answer," you say honestly "Not yet."
You retrieve the antidote to Scarecrow's fear toxin anyway – better safe than sorry. Dick allows you to inject the corrective without complaint, then hops off the table. The bags under his eyes make him look so much older than thirteen, and it just… doesn't sit right. "Go to bed, Dick." Please.
Yet, as you settle yourself in front of the computer, prepared to spend some long hours wising up on the matter, you feel Dick linger.
"Bruce? Why don't you get some rest, too?"
It is no surprise that Dick would concern himself with such things, and you are no stranger to this display of kindness, but you summon a deepness to your voice, and try again, "Bed, Dick."
And while Dick knows that you are not ordering him to sleep, he knows when you are in no mood to argue. He leaves, wordlessly.
The next morning, when you enter the kitchen, you find Dick holding his stomach and squinting at his breakfast. You can't ever remember a time that Alfred has presented a meal that Dick didn't like, and you wonder if maybe he is feeling sick.
"Tell me I'm not eating worms," he asks you seriously.
Lips thinning, you observe his breakfast plate. Three fluffy waffles, decorated with fresh fruit and whipped topping, untouched. You realize, shit, this isn't going away. The antidote did nothing. Dick still needs to be saved.
Frowning, you say, "…You're not."
But it does not rekindle his interest. Dick folds his lips inward and pushes the plate further away, his stomach still growling. "I think I'm still seeing things."
This confession lingers with you for the rest of the day and it is with immense hesitation that you allow Dick to join Young Justice later that evening, and only because Dick near-begged not to be withheld from his friends. You put his life into their hands all the time, but tonight it comes as a challenge.
Alfred senses your wariness at letting the boy go and brings you something hot to drink. He's the oil to your overworked gears. Keeps you moving in a straight line. Provided you with the guidance you needed to raise a child.
"Did I do the right thing, letting him go out tonight?" you ask. It already feels like the wrong decision.
Alfred does not let you down. "I am afraid you will find it is impossible to be there for him at every waking hour. One of the pitfalls of holding guardianship to someone else, Master Bruce, is the necessity of letting them out of our sight every now and again."
"I just have a bad feeling, that's all," you admit. True, keeping someone as lively and stir-crazy as Dick on total lock-down might do more harm than good, but Dick's mind is not completely his own these days, and that changes things.
Alfred puts a reassuring hand on your shoulder.
"Bad things are going to happen. I assure you, it is the reaction to those things that holds more resonance than the bad things themselves."
The feelings of discontent and culpability are still very real, but Alfred succeeds in making it bearable. Livable. "Thank you, Alfred."
His words assist you in pushing through the rest of the day, but you are undeniably comforted when you leave the confines of the cave to greet Young Justice as they return from a mission. The mission itself is a success, but there is a weight hanging in the air. No one on the team discloses why this might be, but you notice that Dick has trouble meeting your eyes.
Walking the long corridors of the asylum, you keep glancing back at Dick to make sure he is sticking close and still grounded to reality. With his eyes concealed behind a mask, you rely heavily on his body language. Bringing him with you may not have been the best idea, but you feel better, and more useful, having him within reach.
You are certain Crane has something to do with this, and even if he isn't directly responsible, he must have an idea who is. And if he is the one making this happen, then he better tell you how to unmake it. It is disturbing to think that something as potent and dangerous as Crane's toxin has been enhanced so dramatically. And when someone like you – someone that Dick often laughs and calls a control freak (and maybe he's right) – can do nothing to fix things, it is downright maddening.
At Crane's cell, your rage makes your voice sound like you've been gargling gravel.
"No games. You've upgraded your formula."
Instead of fear, Crane seems delighted by your powerful emotions.
"Which one of you got it?" he asks, grinning. Fear is a second language to him. No matter how well you hide it, he can sense it on you. Sense it on Dick. "Tell me, how is it treating you?"
Next to you, Dick braves proximity to the bars. "So you're admitting that you have something to do with it."
Crane's face twitches. You grab at his jumpsuit, clenching. "What makes it different? This one isn't like the others."
For the past few days you have not seen Dick smile once, and it's been a long time since the manor has felt so desolate. If Crane doesn't sing for you, you fear he will have won.
"Oh, you noticed! It hits you at random, doesn't it? Pulls you in deep. Strokes your hair softly and then grasps you by the roots," he drones. A tingle shoots down your spine that feels nothing short of sinister. "The fear is the same, Batman. What is different is the intensity. The sensation. Fear is meant to be experienced by all of the senses."
Your teeth clench, close to cracking. "How is it administered?"
"Oh. You mean you haven't figured it out yet."
For some reason, when your boy is involved, everything changes. You are easier to rattle. Dick, in costume or not, is a weakness you've always failed to hide completely. He is the link to a fear in you that is deeply embedded. It doesn't require fear toxin to make you feel it. And right now, with Dick trapped in an unrelenting world of nightmares, you feel as though you've been thrown into one of your own.
You can't exactly give Dick any words of comfort because they feel more like lies, and Dick deserves better than that. Dick never actually comes right out and tells you he's afraid, but he doesn't have to, because you know. And, it's okay, you want to tell him. It's okay. You're scared, too.
When you see him, he's standing in the middle of the darkened hallway, still and noiseless, like a ghost as he stares vacantly into his room. The place he is supposed to feel safe is filling him with dread and uncertainty. There must be something you can do for the kid.
Dick's hands are trembling, whitened from squeezing at the hem of his pants. It is hard to tell whether or not Dick is dreaming right now, but you rush to him.
As you reach him, you follow his gaze into his room. Everything looks normal, but Dick refuses to take another step forward, and that's reason enough not to make him.
"Bruce, I…" he cuts himself off, sounding strange and so much younger than he already is. "…I'd understand if you said no, but…"
He doesn't need to finish. If sharing a bed makes Dick feel safer, so be it.
It brings back memories of Dick's first year at the manor; nights where he would appear at your bedside, clutching that everlasting stuffed elephant of his and asking for the safety of your company. Those nights are much less frequent now, and you don't wish bad dreams on him, of course, but a selfish side of you has no trouble admitting that there had been something very… gratifying about the dependency. Rewarding.
Sometimes you miss it.
You guide him to your room. It is a little unnerving how silent he is. He doesn't even say good night as he slips under the covers and turns his back to you. You get in next to him, sure to give him some space, and stare at him for a long, long time. It is therapeutic to hear him breathe.
It sounds like he might be out of it already (he must be exhausted), but Dick is also skilled at feigning sleep. You want to believe he is finally resting, and that the night will progress with simplicity.
But really, you know better than that.
You rouse in the middle of the night. Or, well, you are startled awake by the sound of silence. The warmth on the other side of the bed is gone. Dick is gone.
Damn it, though, if anything happens to him because you fell asleep…
You leap out of bed. Check the rooms. No, damn it, no. He can't be missing.
Calm down, calm down. There is still plenty of house to search. "Dick?" you try. Maybe he had trouble sleeping and needed to move around. Needed some air. A glass of water. Hell, he could be sleepwalking, for all you know.
It comes from the kitchen. He sounds like he's talking to someone. Yelling. He sounds… not right. Oh, Dick's voice should never sound like that.
You are sprinting now. You skid into the kitchen. And freeze.
Dick is standing there in the dark, looking as though someone has just ripped his beating heart right out of his chest. His hands are cupped together protectively like he's holding something precious. When he holds them out, you grab them and nervously fold them open. There is nothing there.
The darkness hides the details of Dick's features, which you realize bothers you, so you head for the light switch. In your rush, your foot knocks into the trash bin.
"NO!" Dick suddenly wails, voice cracking. "Bruce!"
He rushes for the bin at your feet and practically dives inside, digging and sobbing.
"Dick!" you call, wrapping your arms around him and pulling him back. In his irrational state of mind, Dick's strength seems to heighten as he struggles to get out of your hold. He throws you off balance, knocking you into the counter and then to the floor, but not before one of Dick's sleeves catches the knife drawer.
Blades shimmer and dance around you. A small string of blood splashes against the breast pocket of your nightshirt. It does not belong to you.
Dick's wrists are clasped in your hands the instant you realize this. There is a red gash on his left palm contrasting the white pallor of his skin. A single line of blood snakes down from the cut and drips to the floor, and, you realize, Dick hasn't even flinched. Your grip tightens dramatically. "Dickie!"
Please come back to me.
Like a blessing, he does, big blue eyes coming into focus. The fear in them becomes more palpable once reality sets in, but at least the alarm he is feeling stems from something real. His breath shakes.
"I'm in… the kitchen?"
He is petrified and there is nothing you can do. As Bruce Wayne or as Batman. "Oh, Dickie."
You observe the slice in Dick's hand and wince. It was not the sting of an injury that had brought Dick back to the real world. It had been your voice.
A powerful fear makes your heart skip a beat. Dick was oblivious to the harm done upon himself. What if, in the future, God forbid, it happens again? And what if it is far, far worse than a simple cut to the hand?
Sleep eludes you.
No. That's inaccurate. You elude sleep.
Your lids are heavy. The bags under your eyes feel as though they are adding actual weight to your head.
Alfred reprimands you several times, insisting that rest will provide you with the clear head you need to continue successful research. But you feel there is something… unfair about taking a few hours of sleep when Dick isn't able to do the same.
And you are so close, too, to finding that cure that will fix the things that are tearing Dick apart, the things that are tearing Dick away from you… and yet you are not close enough.
"You are going to hurt your eyes, staring at the screen like that for so long," a thoughtful voice comes from behind.
"I need to find an answer, Alfred. You know that."
"Indeed, sir." He approaches. A soft chuckle slips past your ear. "I must say, you remind me of Master Dick right now, when he plays one of his video games."
"Once, the young sir confided in me that when he is getting aggravated with gameplay, he steps away and returns at a later time, only to be successful on the first retry."
You press your face into your hands, then push your hair back. "I knew I kept you around for a reason," you acknowledge. Though, even with Alfred's kind words of wisdom, it is still difficult to even think about taking a break.
You can hear the tiniest of smirks in Alfred's voice. "I do try to earn my keep, sir."
Yes, the fishing trip is a distraction, but it is one that you know Dick will enjoy, and it is something somewhat long overdue. Plus, a boat is much smaller than the manor, making it easier to keep an eye on the kid.
Of course, Dick looks too exhausted to so much as stand, let alone wander off. He sits on the bow with the fishing pole resting loosely in his hands. His eyes droop, body trying to rest, but Dick fights it. Despite this, Dick does seem to be having a good time.
"You got something," you inform when you see his bobber dip under the water. Dick blinks a few times, starts to reel it in, and for a moment, everything feels alright.
The fish makes a small splash when Dick brings it topside, but before you can praise him on the catch, the fish thrashes in one final attempt at freedom, and succeeds. It even takes the bait with him.
"That's not even right," Dick says flatly.
"Let's try that again," you say, reaching for the minnow bucket, but it's all water and no minnow. "Whoop. All gone. I have another bucket below deck. Watch my line."
Handing him your fishing rod, you force yourself to leave him, rounding the side of the boat to retrieve another bucket. As soon as you are below deck, your phone rings.
"Alfred," you answer.
"Afternoon, sir. Just checking in."
"Everything's great," you say pleasantly, and it feels so good to say. "Dick is pretty beat but he's enjoying himself."
"That is excellent news, Master Bruce. The lad certainly deserves it. And do not forget, I packed you both a snack."
You smile warmly, glancing at the bag next to the mini fridge. Inside is a tub full of chocolate chip cookies that Alfred baked just this morning. "I remember," you say "And thank you. I'll be sure to…"
You freeze. Hold your breath. Was that… a splash?
Something isn't right. You can feel it.
You drop the phone. Run. Within seconds you are back on the bow of the boat. Your heart freezes. Dick isn't there.
"Dick!?" You race to the railing and glare into the water. The ripples haven't settled yet from where something dropped into the water. Oh God, oh God, he didn't… "Dick!"
But he did. And you know. He was just here and now he isn't and every second you waste thinking about it is another second that Dick is under the water.
So you jump. You swim. You go down so far and so deep until, dear God, you can see him, and…
Is he… is he swimming down?
You drill though the water, desperate. With every inch you gain on him, he creates another two. Like he wants to reach something more than you want to reach him. It feels like a complete miracle when you finally get your arms around him. He struggles, fighting like he doesn't want to be rescued, but you refuse to let him go.
Swim up, go, now.
Half way to the surface, your horror peaks. You can feel Dick's chest deflate as he sacrifices his air with a terrifying shriek. Seconds after that, his body goes limp. Your heart forgets how to pump.
It is strange to think that the moment you reach breathable air again, it is the same moment you feel like you may never breathe again. Only after Dick starts choking and rasping do you remember how.
With powerful strokes you swim to the boat. Even sopping wet, Dick is light when you lift him onto the platform.
Once on a solid surface, Dick rolls onto his belly and coughs and coughs, and it's the most beautiful sound in the world because people don't gag and hack up water when they're dead.
"Easy, Dick. Easy," you instruct, stroking his back. That was close. So close. Dick could have easily died. Be gone, just like that, and just… just… "Jesus Christ."
You crawl onto the platform next to him as he spits up more water. When he seems to have more or less finished, you collect him in your arms and carry him to the captain's chair. You run a shaking hand through his matted hair not only to reveal his eyes, but to reassure yourself by feeling something tangible and alive. Dick reacts, blinking up at you. Thank God, you think. He's back.
"Hey," you croon softly. Then, even softer, "Hey."
Although it isn't cold, it feels right to throw a blanket around his shoulders. Dick looks to you, his blue eyes pleading and sad and scared and so many things he should never be.
"How do you feel?" you ask. It's a stupid question. You need to get him to shore, get him looked at.
"Like I nearly killed myself."
He sounds dark. Hollow. Very unlike himself. You wonder if too much time has passed since all of this started and a part of him is already dead.
Before going on patrol – alone – you give Alfred a pair of handcuffs. You can hardly meet his eyes. It sickens you to your stomach to think that Dick may need to be restrained for any reason, even if it is for safety.
While you don't want to leave Dick alone again, you also don't want to drag him on patrol with you. Dick didn't even ask to go with you, which you consider to be a sign of distress.
Clear your head. Your target tonight is Joker, and by association, Harley. You are not stupid. Dick started seeing things shortly after your encounter with them several days ago. It is too much of a coincidence to ignore.
Joker is easy to find. He sets off fireworks and self-made bombs. All you have to do is follow the colors bursting in the night sky. They lead you right to him.
The clown's laughter increases when he sees you. Harley is latched onto his arm. "Batsy! How I've missed you!" he chimes.
"Stop what you're doing."
The easy way never works, but at least you can say you gave him a chance to take it.
"Back off, B-man," Harley barks. "We were here first!"
Then you smell it. A strange aroma mingling with the sulfur.
You strap on your rebreather right away as a precautionary measure. Joker sees you do this, his grin stretching.
"Gigs up, I guess. What's wrong? Is the big bat afraid of a few bad dreams? I wonder what a guy like you dreams about."
A confession. They know about the hallucinations. "It's in the air," you realize, eying Harley. "You're infecting the air."
It's brilliant and daunting all in one, but it is also good news. Joker and Harley are obviously, for whatever reason, immune. A simple blood sample could fix everything.
Well. If collecting a little blood is all it takes, then you may as well gather up a nice, generous helping.
You are feeling pretty good about things by the time you start heading back. Halfway home, however, your phone rings. You see it's from Dick, and something cold touches your spine. Dick knows not to call this number on patrol.
You answer it, but before you can even speak, there is noise on the other end of the line. It does not sound right, or normal, or safe.
"Dick?" Is he having another nightmare? Where is Alfred? It sure as hell sounds like a real struggle, like Dick is fighting against a real, physical thing. "Dickie?"
He doesn't answer you. You stomp the pedal to the floor and rocket through the streets. You wonder if it really is Dick who is suffering from all of these horrible deliriums, because it's really starting to feel like it is you who is living in a nightmare.
You reach home and burst through the front door, which has been left ajar. Your momentum is ruined when you trip over a soft lump on the floor.
"Alfred!" you gasp when you see him. Carefully, you prop him against the wall and pat his cheek. "Talk to me, Alfred."
The older man's face twitches before his eyes peel open. Instantly, he grasps at your shoulders.
"Is Master Dick safe?"
God. If Alfred is freaking out, then something really is going on. "I'm going to get him now."
"I fear the intruder is still here. Please hurry, sir. "
You do. You give it all you got.
As you run, you realize you have no idea where Dick actually is. That is, until you hear Dick cry out in absolute agony, and you have to clutch at your chest as you run because the sound is physically painful to listen to.
It comes from the library, which is within your sights. Go. Go.
When you pivot around the corner, you are forced to take in several things at once.
Dick's eyes, wide and fraught and unresponsive to your presence even though he seems to be looking right at you. Dick's arms, limp and odd-looking – dislocated. Dick, frantic and crying while a man in black pins him to the floor and finishes binding his hands with twine.
Blood boiling and heartsick, you charge, using every bit of your body weight to tackle the man to the floor. You trap him in a headlock and apply pressure to his external carotid artery, putting him to sleep. Securing him takes no time at all but it still feels like forever before you can run to your boy.
Dick has yet to stop thrashing. He chokes on a sob as soon as he feels your hands on him. He tenses. Like you'll hurt him.
"Wake up," you plead. Beg. He shakes his head and screws his eyes shut. "Wake up."
"No!" he cries, lips trembling. Behind you, Alfred has found his footing and dizzily makes his way into the room and gasps.
"Dick… Please wake up, kiddo."
His brows knit together like he's trying to register your voice. Then, his eyes open, red-rimmed and dark lashes clumped together with tears. He looks young. So much younger than you ever had the gift of knowing him, and it takes everything in you not to smother him to your chest.
"B-Bruce," he says wetly. "My arms… He… he took them! I don't have any arms! What do I do!?"
No arms? God. Is that what he thinks has happened? Fuck.
"Ohh, no, baby," you whisper desperately. You reach around to unbind his hands. Maybe if he sees they're still attached, it will pull him the rest of the way back. "Just let me get this off of you…"
His arms fall uselessly at his sides when you free them. "Bruce?" he whines.
"Listen to me," you request. Dick is confused when you take one of his hands and hold it up for both of you to see. "I promise you, you're in one piece. Your arms were just bound behind you-"
Dick tries to verify this by moving his arms. You wince when the pain makes him wheeze.
"…And dislocated," you finish lamely. God, Dickie… You press your fingers against his and wiggle them. "But see? Look. Everything's here."
Still in one, precious piece.
You see the fog lifting. Dick cranes his neck to observe the dislocation of his arms, slowly breaking into a relieved smile when he realizes they're still attached. It is the first smile you've seen in what feels like ages.
"And not only that," you continue. The sooner he knows this, the better. "But we're ending this tonight. I figured it out, Dickie."
His eyes flit up to meet yours, and oh, Dick's eyes have never looked so vibrant and blue.
When the needle sinks into Dick's arm, you are not only giving him the antidote, you are also renewing his confidence and sense of security. He sighs softly as you bandage his arm, looking ready to pass out now that he knows he can do so safely.
My brave boy.
You'll still have to walk him through what happened. Make the case file. Understanding often leads to preparedness, and fortune favors the prepared. This is not something you want to have happen again.
Dick yawns. You wonder if he'll let you tuck him in tonight. Lord knows it would beneficial for you, and somehow, you feel like if you try, Dick will let you.
He's missing. Again. You can't find him. Again.
It seems to happen a lot, but it never gets easier.
You search all the rooms upstairs; the bathrooms, both your rooms... The search gets relocated to downstairs.
You find him in the den, in front of the fireplace. Just a tiny lump on the couch. He looks so cozy and comfortable. So relaxed.
"I couldn't find you," you confess, rounding the couch to get a better look at him.
"It's a big house, Bruce," he grins, readjusting. He sounds very much like himself. The manor seems alive again.
He teeters on the cusp of sleep, eyelids heavy. There are so many things you want to say to him right now. Things you want him to know and things he needs to hear, but you can't, and you don't. But it's okay.
You palm his hair to the side and out of his face. It is not often that you do this (and damn, it might be time to make a change), but tonight, you lean in and press your lips to his forehead. And you suppose you don't need to say anything because Dick, bless his soul, knows what you mean, how you are and what makes you tick.
So he gets it. And he lets you, and that is how you know he loves you, too.