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Car Crashes and Hot Chocolate

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The Mercedes could accelerate to 60 miles per hour in about 3.7 seconds, which translated to an acceleration of about 25 feet per second squared. The speed that the car needed to hit the gate had to be enough to break it open but not enough to risk serious injury. A speed of between 20 and 30 miles per hour should be enough. Therefore, the car would need to start from rest roughly 20 to 40 feet away from the gate.

Simple kinematics.

The quickly calculated numbers didn’t predict the fear and panic of the one second drive before the loud crash.

Dick’s head rested on the inflated airbag that had burst from the steering wheel. He wasn’t sure if he’d just regained consciousness, or if everything had just happened too fast to register. He’d floored the gas pedal, heard the purr of the engine, and then his head was cushioned by the airbag. He could barely remember the jolt of impact.

The car was full of smoke, but it didn’t smell like anything was burning. Probably just residue from the airbag’s chemical reaction. Gingerly Dick lifted his head to look through the haze of smoke and the cracked windshield. The gate hadn’t budged.

Dick wasn’t sure why he felt relieved.

Like he’d been trained, he carefully began cataloguing injuries. He was in shock, and the adrenaline was masking most of the pain. From what he could tell, he had only a few bruises and scratches. Nothing serious. At least his speed safety parameter had been effective, if nothing else.

He opened the door, which thankfully hadn’t been crushed shut, and stumbled out onto the driveway pavement. He was swaying on his feet, so he decided to sit. He hugged his knees to his chest and tried to calm his racing heart.

The last thing Dick had said to Bruce was a venom-filled I hate you. Dick could have died, and Bruce’s last memory of him would be a bitter, cruel fight. Dick could have died, and both of Bruce’s sons would be dead. Fuck.

Bruce wouldn’t survive losing them both so close together. To make it worse, they had both been running away from Bruce after a brutal argument. Bruce would never forgive himself. He’d lose himself in Batman, funneling all his self-hate and guilt into cleaning up Gotham. He’d kill himself slowly.

Dick realized he was crying. He didn’t have the energy to wipe away the stream of tears.

During their fight, Dick had shouted that Bruce wasn’t his father, that he’d been a terrible father figure, that he should’ve left Dick to fend for himself. Bruce had taken it impassively, but Dick had seen the hurt in Bruce’s tense shoulders and stiffly crossed arms. 

“Dick!”

Trembling, Dick curled further into himself. He didn’t want to face Bruce. He didn’t want to face what he’d done – what he’d almost done.

“Are you hurt?” Bruce was kneeling at Dick’s side, his hands hovering over Dick’s shoulders, as if hesitant to touch.

Dick shook his head, refusing to meet Bruce’s eyes. “’m sorry,” Dick whispered hoarsely.

Finally, Bruce’s hands settled on Dick’s shoulder, and Bruce pulled Dick into a gentle hug. “It’s alright, chum.”

Dick sobbed into Bruce’s chest. “I-I said s-s-so many hurt-hurtful th-th-th-things. I’m s-so sorry.”

“I know, sweetheart. I know,” Bruce murmured, stroking Dick’s hair soothingly. “You were angry.”

“I wasn’t th-thinking,” Dick said. “I a-almost d-died.”

Bruce’s hold tightened. “But you didn’t. You’re safe now. I won’t let something like this happen ever again.”

“It’s – it’s my fault, B,” Dick said. “I w-was being st-stupid and reckless.”

Bruce kissed the top of Dick’s head and continued to hold him. It took a few minutes, many meditative breaths, and a lot more tears for Dick to calm down enough to stop shaking.

“Can I – can I go back to the manor now?” Dick asked meekly.

“Of course, chum,” Bruce said. “I’ll make you some hot chocolate.”

“With…with extra sugar?”

“With extra sugar.”

+++

Things were dire if Bruce was willing to double the sugar in Alfred’s hot chocolate recipe. Bruce had the opposite of a sweet tooth, and, while not as vocal as Alfred, Bruce did not approve of Dick’s general dietary choices – namely, anything sweet and sugary.

Dick was swaddled in blankets on a loveseat and sipping his extra sweet hot chocolate while Bruce silently watched him from across the coffee table. Bruce’s posture was rigid, and Dick knew it was his fault.

“We should talk,” Dick said when he was halfway through with his drink. The sugar would hopefully be enough to get him through this conversation.

“Yes,” Bruce said. His voice was hard. Apparently, he’d decided that Dick was no longer too fragile to yell at. “What were you thinking?

Dick cringed. “I-”

“You could have died,” Bruce snapped. “You purposefully drove at full speed into the gate. If you’d hit it at a slightly faster speed, you would have died. This isn’t running through the forest or trying to call Barbara. This was a suicide run!”

“Bruce-”

“Did you want to die?” In a rare show of blatant agitation, Bruce ran a hand through his hair. He looked angry and haggard.

“No! I swear, Bruce,” Dick said. “It wasn’t like that. I – I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted to get out, and I was so mad at you, and I just…wasn’t thinking.”

Bruce sighed and folded his hands in his lap. Wearily, he said, “I don’t know what to do with you, Dick. Even when I try to keep you safe, I fail.”

“That isn’t your job anymore,” Dick said. “Yeah, I might need help from time to time, but for the most part, I can take care of myself now. I’m an adult. I don’t understand why you can’t see that. Why don’t you trust me anymore? You used to trust me.”

“I still trust you,” Bruce said. “I trust you to do the right thing and make me proud. I don’t trust you to take care of yourself or stay safe. You’re right. You’re legally an adult. But you’re so young, just like Jason. You’re only a few years older than he was. I trusted him to make the safe decision, and I was wrong.”

“So locking me up is the only solution you could think of? Don’t you realize how extreme and crazy that is?” Dick demanded. 

“Would you have agreed to give up Nightwing and move to a safer city, like Metropolis?” Bruce said.

Dick was silent. He couldn’t imagine leaving Gotham and Bludhaven forever. As corrupt, dangerous, and just generally messed up both cities were, this was his home. He would never willingly leave. And who would he be without Nightwing?

“I thought so,” Bruce said.

“It’s still my choice,” Dick protested. “I’m old enough to make the choice to die fighting or not. It’s stiffing, being here. I feel suffocated and helpless, and then you forced me into my room for almost two days, without seeing you, and I felt – I feel so alone. You know I can’t stand being alone. Why – why did you do that to me?”

“That’s the point. The parenting books all say-”

“God, not the parenting books again,” Dick said with automatic exasperation, briefly pulled away from his turmoil. “I thought Alfred had confiscated them.”

“I bought new ones after I adopted Jason,” Bruce said. “Alfred never found out.”

Dick couldn’t help but laugh, startling himself with the sound. When Bruce had taken Dick in, Bruce had obsessively read so many parenting books. It had been hilarious to watch Bruce awkwardly try to follow proper parenting guidelines. Alfred had not been so amused.

Bruce relaxed and offered his own quiet chuckle. The brief comedic moment eased some of the tension between them. It felt unnatural for Dick to be at odds with Bruce for so long. Dick usually broke up the strain in their relationship by keeping his visits short. That obviously wasn’t an option anymore.

“We need to make a truce,” Dick said. “I can’t – This animosity between us is so draining, and I’m starting to make decisions that I’m not proud of.”

“Truce?”

“A compromise. We set boundaries and expectations to avoid this emotional rollercoaster,” Dick said. He focused on his drink while Bruce contemplated the suggestion.

Finally, Bruce said, “Alright. First expectation – I know that you will continue your escape attempts, but I’m requesting that none of them will risk your life again.”

Dick quirked a wry smile. “Yeah. That sounds like a good plan. I’ll be less reckless. Second expectation – as long as I don’t do anything stupid, you won’t be angry with me for trying to leave.”

“You want me to be calm when you try to leave the safety of the manor, knowing that if you succeed, you’ll be endangering yourself?” Bruce asked, his eyes narrowing.

Dick scowled. “Either way, I’m not going to stop. It’s not my nature to be pinned down like this. When you’re angry with me…I don’t like it when you get angry. It makes me feel off-balanced and scared.”

“I would never hurt you,” Bruce said. His face softened. “You know that.”

“You locked me up!” Dick snapped. “I don’t know what you’re capable of anymore!”

“Fine,” Bruce said stiffly. “I will not…express my anger when you attempt to leave.”

“Thank you,” Dick said, just as uncomfortably.

“But I will still discipline you – nonviolently – for your actions,” Bruce said. “It might be your nature to leave, but it’s my nature to make you stay.”

“Do you have to keep me in my room for days? It’s bad enough that I’m so isolated here. It’s horrible to not even see you.” Dick gnawed on his lip as he remembered how awful it had been – no human contact for almost two days. His meals delivered when he slept. Feeling so alone. Dick needed socialization like he needed air.

“The parenting books say to match the punishment to the real-world consequences,” Bruce said.

“How does that match the real-world consequences? I wouldn’t be alone.”

With a grim set to his mouth, Bruce studied Dick for a long moment. “Let’s say you did manage to leave. Where would you go? Clark in Metropolis would be your first thought, but you know that’ll be the first place that I’ll check. It’ll be easy for me to convince Clark to give you back. If not, I can beat him in a fight – I’ve done that before. So not Clark. The Teen Titans? They don’t know your civilian identity, and I doubt you’d want to change that. What are your other options? You can’t stay in Gotham or Bludhaven – I’d find you too easily. So you’d probably go to Europe or Australia, somewhere you can easily blend in, far away from here. You know I won’t give up. I’ll always be on your trail. But let’s say you are able to evade me. You’ll move from country to country, rarely stopping for more than a few days. No allies. No friends. Alone.”

“Bruce-” Dick could feel the blood draining from his face as he pictured what Bruce was describing.

“You won’t be able to get close to anyone,” Bruce continued ruthlessly. “You won’t even make new acquaintances. No one can know your face. You’ll see corruption and crime in all the places you visit, but you can’t stay long enough to make a difference.”

“Stop.”

“If I don’t catch you, you’ll slowly go mad from the paranoia, constantly looking over your shoulder.”

Bruce.

“How long will you be able to keep that up? You’re stubborn, unrelenting. You won’t give in. Eventually just seeing people pass you by won’t be enough. You’ll feel completely invisible. Isolated. Forgotten. Perhaps you’ll make a friend, but then it’ll all be over. One connection – that’s all I’ll need to trap you, and you’ll know that. So, yes, keeping you in your room for a few days is just a tiny taste of the real-world consequences of leaving.”

“That – that’s awful,” Dick said. His throat felt tight. He hadn’t thought much about leaving besides just getting away.

“You can always stay here,” Bruce said, his voice now gentle. “You won’t be alone here. You’ll be safe.”

“But not happy,” Dick said hoarsely. “I can’t be happy like this, Bruce. You’re right – I’ll be miserable on the run. So I’m screwed either way. Don’t you want me to be happy?”

“You’ll learn and adapt to this way of life,” Bruce said. “You had a happy childhood here.”

“I’m an adult now! I can’t pretend I’m a child. You shouldn’t pretend that I’m a child.” Dick rubbed furiously at his eyes.

Bruce didn’t respond. He just sat there, calmly, as if this was just a minor disagreement and not about Dick’s freedom.

“Fuck,” Dick said. He took a deep breath. “Compromise. We were talking about compromise. Fine. You win. I can’t leave until I can somehow convince you to let me be Nightwing again.”

“You shouldn’t hold onto false hope,” Bruce said.

“It’s all I’ve got,” Dick said bitterly. “So, expectations. I won’t recklessly put my life endanger. You won’t get mad at me if I try to leave. All… ‘disciplinary actions’ will be non-violent. If – when I figure out how to be Nightwing again, I will find a way to leave, but until then I’ll stay here. Anything else?”

“Will you at least try to be happy?” Bruce said.

“No. You’re right – I’m stubborn. I don’t give up without a fight. It might be a false hope, but I’m going to be Nightwing again, eventually. And just so you know, I’m still furious. That’s not going to go away anytime soon. But…” Dick sighed. “But you’re my family, so I’ll keep my outbursts to a minimum, and we can start getting along again.”

“Very well.”

They fell into an uncomfortable silence as Dick sipped his now-cold hot chocolate.

“Are you going to ‘discipline’ me for the car accident?” Dick asked when his cup was empty. “Or was almost dying enough of a punishment?”

“The books say to be consistent,” Bruce said. “But I won’t keep you there for as long, and I’ll wait until after dinner.”

“Wonderful,” Dick said sullenly.