Barbara closed her textbook with a snap. She was done. For the last three hours she had been steadily slogging her way through the piles of homeworking she’d been putting off for the better part of two weeks. When Barbara had first donned the cape and cowl, she had only ever considered some of the consequences; the damage it would do to her body was a given, and she’d spent countless hours planning on how to hide it from her father. What had never crossed her mind was the completely mundane. Slipping grades and sleepless nights were a lot more common than grievous injury.
The numbers on her alarm clock blinked at her steadily. 11:23 PM was such a strange time. For normal people, it was time to be snuggled in bed – for Barbara it was too late to head out on patrol but too early for her dad to be home, which left her alone and a little bit hungry, but food would require going downstairs and she wasn’t sure she had the mental energy for that.
She stood from her chair slowly, her arms sliding above her head as she stretched, feeling the pulls and pops in her shoulders and back, her joints realigning. A part of her longed to throw open her window and climb out into the night; she probably would have too despite the time if it hadn’t been for the rain continuously beating against her window.
As she watched her window longingly, she noticed a shadow move in the darkness, something louder than the rain striking against the glass. With narrowed eyes, Barbara backed up to her desk, pulling open the top drawer and reaching for the baterang stashed there. She was pretty sure she knew what was going on, but it never hurt to be cautious.
“Babs?” a voice called, muffled by the glass and the rain. “Please be there, your light is on.”
With a sigh she abandoned her weapon and went to the window; she flipped the lock pushing it open as far as it would go.
“I do have a front door you know,” she said looking down at the boy dangling from her windowsill.
“Yeah, because the neighbors wouldn’t talk about a masked vigilante walking through Commissioner Gordon’s front door.” Dick, dressed in his Nightwing uniform, quipped as he pulled himself up and into the room.
“Yes, you’re right. The window of his young daughter makes much more sense.” She moved to her door to grab the towel hanging off of it. “You’re dripping onto my carpet.”
“Okay, one you’re not that young. And two... I got nothing for that.” Dick took the towel and began rubbing it through his hair. “Why didn’t you come out tonight?” he asked, his words subdued by the terrycloth.
“I told you,” Barbara said with a sigh. “I had a lot of homework. I can’t believe you managed to go out tonight with everything coming due and –”
“Don’t,” Dick interrupted, his voice a little on the hostile side as he looked up at her. Barbara filched. The whites of his lens only made him look colder. He frowned at her, his body almost deflating as he brought his fingers to his wrist computer, quickly entering in the code to unlock his gear, before pulling the domino mask from his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I shouldn’t have snapped like that, not at you.”
“No kidding,” Barbara agreed, moving closer to start helping pop off his armor plating. “So what’s going on?”
“We got into it again.”
“You and Bruce?”
Barbara bit her lip before turning her back on him. “Lay your gear out on the towel, I’ll find you a shirt.” She moved towards her closet, pushing aside her hanging school uniforms and the couple of dresses she had until she could reach the hidden back shelf. It wasn’t that her dad made a habit of snooping through her things, but she was pretty sure he didn’t want to find the bag with her Batgirl gear, or the couple of spare t-shirts and pair of black sweatpants that clearly didn’t fit her but lived in her closet for moments like this.
She turned back to find Dick standing in his underwear, arms crossed over his still damp body. It certainly wasn’t the first time she’d seen him like this, but it always left her just a little breathless. Objectively, the boy was gorgeous. His tan skin stretched tightly over taut muscles, dark hair just a little too long starting to curl at the ends. Barbara allowed her eyes to wonder, his change of clothes clutched tightly in her hands. The light scars that traced his body would always distract her. Her eyes narrowed on a bruise starting to discolor the skin of his left side.
“What’s that?” she asked, flicking her chin towards him.
“Those are my abs that you can’t stop staring at,” he offered, a cheeky smile splitting his face as he moved towards her, his hand outstretched. Barbara wasn’t sure if he was coming for her or the clothes, so she quickly made the decision for him; she tossed his clothes as she brushed past him, her shoulder bumping into his on her way to close the still open window.
“Your ego is as impressive as always.”
“You wouldn’t know what to do with me otherwise,” he quipped.
Barbara shook her head. She knew him. Whenever Dick turned it on this thick he was trying to avoid something and she now had two choices. Barbara could make him talk, or she could give in. He was hurting and looking for an outlet.
He moved behind her, his arms encircling her waist and chin coming to rest atop her head. She knew this was as far as he’d take it on his own. Even when he was like this, hurting over something he didn’t want to talk about and craving physical comfort, Dick would never be the one to push for more. If a hug or cuddling were all she was willing to give, he’d take it without complaint. Barbara weighed her options.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered, leaning into his touch even as he tensed behind her.
“Babs…” he groaned, shifting his head to her shoulder. “It’s just been a long day, okay?”
“Come on,” she said, dragging him over to her bed. “You’re supposed to talk about things when you’re upset. Not burry them down like landmines for later.”
He sighed heavily, his warm breath fluttering the wisps of hair that had fallen from her ponytail.
“I’m fine,” he lied, letting her go so that they could both sit. Barbara grabbed his hand and pulled him until they had their backs pressed against the wall. She tucked herself carefully into his side, doing her best not to press against the bruises she’d seen.
“What did you fight about?” she asked, keeping her voice as light as possible.
“Same as before.”
Barbara sighed, lacing her fingers through his. “He’s just…”
“He wants me to be something I’m not,” Dick said, his voice distant. “He just keeps pushing . I’m still top ten in our class – or I was …I just.”
“It’s okay,” Barbara soothed. She knew how this fight went. How it had started. Dick had been getting recruitment letters for college, and Bruce had sat him down for a talk about the future. Dick had hated every second of it.
“It’s gotten worse.”
“What do you mean?” She sat back up, shifting her weight until his arm slipped down her back, and his head went to her shoulder.
“Jason started getting college letters,” Dick grumbled.
“But he’s like – ”
“Doesn’t matter,” he interrupted. “He took the PSATs. Fucking rocked them too. He’s always been good with those timed tests.” Barbara could hear the bitterness in Dick’s voice. The added anxiety of a timed test had always been an issue for Dick. Stick the guy out in the field and he could defuse a bomb cool as a cucumber. Sit him in a stuffy classroom with a pencil in his hand and he just… cracked .
“So what? Jason’s smart. We all know it. You’re not stupid, Dick. And Bruce is still proud – ”
“He found my last English test.”
“What?” Barbara asked, trying to move so she could look down at him, find his face, but Dick wouldn’t budge, all she could see was the top of his head. He had curled himself against her, trying to take up as little space as possible. Trying to disappear.
“I got a seventy-two.”
“That’s…” she trailed off, not sure what to say. It would be a lie to call it a good grade, particularly for someone who hadn’t gotten less than a B+ since the beginning of high school. If it had been her, she would have been freaking out too. “ …okay? ”
“It’s not,” Dick whispered. “And Bruce didn’t think so either.”
“So what did he do?”
“Sat me down in his office again, like I was a little kid. Wanted to know what had happened. Had I tried my hardest? Did I use my accommodations? When was the next test? What’s my plan for doing better?” The longer he talked the rougher his voice got.
Barbara tried her best to keep from sighing. The problem was she understood where Bruce was coming from – but that wasn’t her job here. Carefully, she began carding her fingers through Dick’s still damp hair.
“Okay,” she whispered, “then what?”
“And then I lost it. I started yelling about how much I didn’t care. I told him Jason was going to be his little valedictorian, so he should just leave me the fuck alone.”
“ Oh. ”
“Yeah…” Dick sighed. “It’s fine though.”
Barbara was pretty sure his definition of fine was a little skewed. She let her head rest back against the wall, her hand still running smoothly through Dick’s hair. There was more to this, but she knew better than to push too hard. For as open and affection as Dick Grayson was, getting him to actually talk about his feelings was a bit of a mess.
“I’m seventeen,” he said, breaking the silence that had fallen between them. “So there’s that.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Barbara asked, her hand stilling and her mind racing to put together the puzzle Dick was laying out before her.
“He’s almost done with me if he wants to be.”
“No, seriously. I can pick up a shitty job somewhere. Roy might even let me crash at his place for a little bit. Worst-case, I can stay at Mount Justice until I figure things out.”
“Has Bruce ever…” Barbara paused, looking for the right words. “What makes you think Bruce wants to be done with you?”
“He’s always talking about opportunities available to me,” Dick said, his voice dropping lower to mimic Bruce’s. “He makes it sound like I’m not grateful for everything he’s done for me – and I am but…”
“But…?” Barbara prompted, slowly starting to get it. She wondered if Dick even understood what he was really upset about.
“But that’s Jason’s job, right? I mean he’s the one who’s going to follow in Bruce’s footsteps. Be a legacy at Yale, or some other Ivy school. Fuck. The kid’ll probably double major pre-law and English lit. or something.”
Barbara could feel the tension building as Dick sat up, pulling away from her. There were tears sitting in the corners of his eyes, being held back by sheer force of will. She reached out to him, but he pulled even further into himself.
“No, it’s fine,” he whispered, moving until he was only just perched on the edge of her bed, looking for all the world like he was getting ready to jump. “That’s why he adopted Jason, right?” And there it was, the final piece, falling painfully into place.
She and Dick didn’t talk about it often, but Barbara knew that whenever Dick and Bruce fought, Jason’s adoption was the elephant in the room. She wondered if Bruce knew it too.
“Hey,” she murmured, moving to mimic his hug from earlier, her arms sliding in around his waist from behind, trying to tether him to the here and now. It had been a while since Dick had had a full-blown panic attack, but Barbara wanted to avoid it if she could.
“What am I even supposed to say to him?”
Barbara held him tighter, feeling his body starting to tremble.
“Like, hey Bruce, I know I’ve almost aged out and all, but is there a reason I wasn’t good enough for the Wayne family name?”
With her cheek pressed into his back, Barbara did everything she could to keep breathing deeply, to keep him grounded. She knew that sometimes Dick’s brain lied to him – that this wasn’t about not being good enough. How could it be when Bruce had a habit of smiling with pride whenever Dick took the lead in meetings? In her mind, she could see the way that Bruce lit up whenever Dick was teaching something new to Jason – or to any of the younger heroes. It was so clear to her how very proud Bruce was, but Dick was always distracted when those smiles came; his back turned as he focused on whatever was in front of him. No matter what she said, Barbara knew that she couldn’t make Dick see what she did.
Minutes ticked by as they sat without speaking. The rain on the window, the only sound besides their breathing, his matched carefully to hers.
“It’s getting late,” Dick whispered as the time on her alarm clock switched over to twelve thirty- two AM. “Your dad should be home soon.”
Frankly, Jim Gordon should have been home more than thirty minutes ago, but Barbara just nodded.
“Yeah,” she replied, still not letting him go, not yet willing to trust that the slightest movement wouldn’t leave him in pieces.
“Don’t worry, my bike’s stashed like three blocks away. He won’t see it.”
Her stomach dropped as she pictured him out in the rain, angry and hurt, on his motorcycle. When she had finally given in and let Dick teach her to ride, those had been two of his most important rules: Don’t let your emotions drive you, and always be aware of your surroundings, which meant doing everything you could not to ride in bad weather. Tonight he’d broken both of them, a part of him asking her to let him go out and break them again.
Dick twisted until he could press a kiss into her temple. “Babs, as much as I’d love to spend the night in your bed, I’d rather Commish not find me here.”
Barbara laughed, letting him break the tension by flirting, watching as he packed everything he’d been feeling back down into a little box to stash in the back of his mental closet. He accused her of doing that a lot – but what one hated most in others and all that.
He pulled out of her arms and off the bed before dragging his t-shirt back off his body. With a wink, he tossed it at her before turning towards his mostly dry gear. Dick chatted at her while he worked. Easy useless things as he reassembled his uniform, piece by piece the disguise falling back into place.
“Dick?” she called, stopping him just before he could press his domino mask over his eyes. He gazed at her, a smile more counterfeit than real marring his beautiful face.
“Nah,” he answered. “Nightwing now.” And before she could say anything else, tell him he really did need to talk to Bruce, or at least Alfred, he covered his eyes with the mask, letting her know he needed to be done talking about serious things.
“Whatever, birdbrain,” she chuckled humorlessly as she crossed her carpet to stand beside him at her now open window. Before she could think better of it, Barbara leaned up on her toes to press a soft kiss to his lips. “Let me know when you’re safe?”
“I always do,” he promised, his smile a little more real, but no less sad. Without another word, Dick launched himself from her second story window, flipping in the air so he could land facing her. He bowed quickly before fishing his helmet out of the bushes and taking off into the night.
Barbara stayed by her window, watching long after he was gone. It wasn’t until her phone buzzed that she turned away. She was pretty sure she knew who the message would be from.
Jay: He with you?
Shaking her head, Barbara fired off a reply letting Jason know his older brother had just left.
Jay: He was yelling at B before he left tonight. He okay?
Barbara didn’t know how to answer that. Because no , Dick was not okay. She would do anything in the world for him – except break his trust when all the things that made him not okay were his own secrets to tell.
“Talk to him,” she whispered as she typed the message into her phone. Jason responded with a thumbs-up before Barbara allowed the screen to go dark.
A part of her hoped that it would be enough, even though she knew it wouldn’t be. Barbara promised herself she would try again tomorrow. She would pick up breakfast on her way to school and maybe after some sleep and a fresh cup of coffee she could convince Dick that it really was time to be honest with Bruce. And barring that, she’d do her best to make him see that he really was enough.