Push me under and pull me down
I can’t breathe when I’m inside out
Tim was watching him with narrowed eyes. Dick felt oddly cold, even though the Batsuit was always too hot. It didn’t matter that he had upgraded the cooling systems at least four times since he-- since he took over. But then the cold that was creeping over him had little to do with the actual temperature of his body and was more to do with the fact that his younger brother was looking at him with hate in his eyes.
Dick wished he could do something about that, but that would mean lying to Tim and saying that he believed him. He didn’t. He couldn’t.
He had held the body. He had seen the blood, felt the blood. Bruce was gone. But that was an old argument. Tim was only back in town looking into some new lead-- another rabbit hole.
“What?” Dick asked sharper than he meant to. He was tired. He was sore, and Damian had chosen to pick that morning to decide he was only going to drink oat milk. They only had almond, which was apparently unacceptable.
The incident might have been salvaged if not for the fact that Damian had received a very unpleasant call from his mother the night before. Dick knew that the resulting tantrum that had occurred was not at all about his choice of milk substitute, but more him trying to see if Dick and Alfred would crack the same way everyone else did when he wasn’t… doing as expected. Dick had only-- finally-- benched him for breaking Alfred’s favorite china set. He was off duty until the replacement china was delivered. Dick had even ordered next day delivery thinking it would arrive that morning. It had not. So Damian was-- true to Dick’s word-- still benched until the following day.
“Nothing.” Tim said with a small smirk. “Heavy is the head.”
Dick closed his eyes, glad that Tim couldn’t see them. He was so sick of this. Tim, Jason, Damian and Cass all didn’t think he was good enough, well Cass hadn’t said that, but Dick could read her. They didn’t think he was up to the job. Well they didn’t need to tell him that. He knew it.
“Let's just get this over with huh?” Dick wanted the night to be over. He was beginning to regret asking Tim for help. But Damian was grounded, Jason was… well Dick wasn’t sure he would be able to handle the task. He had been rocky lately. Another thing Dick needed to look into. If Jason had a relapse he didn’t know if he could bring him-- not down-- that was too harsh a word. Stop him maybe?
“Whatever you say, Boss .” Tim gave a mock salute before melting back into the shadows.
Dick watched him go sadly. He missed Tim, he missed happy Tim. Which he knew wasn’t fair of him. Tim had been through a lot. He had lost a lot in the past year, but Dick couldn’t help miss the small boy he had been before. The one who would hack into his computer just to leave a new game for Dick to play, or who would skip school and just show up at his work because he could.
But maybe that Tim was gone. Dick knew there were versions of himself that had died over the years. Maybe when a person that you loved died, they took a part of you with them. Dick shook his head. He couldn’t focus on that. Not now. Focus Grayson. Batman pulled out his grapple gun and let himself sail through the air.
The plan was simple, Dick would distract the men and lead them to the front of the warehouse, while Tim would slip in, get a sample of the drugs that they were dealing. Then he would plant trackers on the rest of the shipment. Batman would then vanish— seemingly driven away. The idea was to track the whole supply chain. So Tim going undiscovered was the key. It was really a pity Dick had to bench Damian. It would have been more convincing if Robin was seen with Batman, but then Dick couldn’t have everything. It wasn’t as if Robin was with him every night.
Once he was in position, Dick sent a short burst over the comms, nothing suspicious as to alert anyone who might be listening but something that would tell Tim he was ready. Dick jumped down and let off three smoke pellets. Thick dark clouds engulfed the floor. Men began to shout and move through the smoke in confusion. Using the infrared in his cowl to see, Dick herded the men towards the front docking bay. Men were shouting and throwing wild punches at him. Batman dodged them easily. It wasn’t hard to do when they couldn’t even see him. Dick bit back a laugh.
It felt like he was always doing that. Don’t laugh, Don’t smile, Be Batman . Think Batman. But Dick didn’t want to be Batman, had never wanted it. He hated the darkness. Sure he had always used it-- wrapped himself in it even-- but that didn’t mean he wanted to stay in it. He hated the bulky suit. He hated the cape that always felt like it was dragging him down. He hated the cowl that felt like a noose.
But he was Batman. Which meant Dick didn’t laugh. The plan seemed to be going well. The men were panicked and running about blindly bumping into each other, equipment and walls. Dick would have to let one land a blow or two to make it seem like they made Batman retreat for real. He didn’t want to give the game away.
“Richie! The Bat! The Bat! We need everyone in the loading bay now!” A man shouted behind a flat sorter.
Dick spun around wildly.
“I’ve got two crews with me in back. I’ll—”
Dick ripped the radio away from the man, and smacked him hard, causing him to drop and not stir again.
“—be there with thirty in five minutes just--”
Dick smashed the radio. His stomach dropped. Thirty ?
Dick had been working this opp for weeks. There were only ever twenty men in the warehouse. He had used the infrared scope to track foot traffic patterns in the building. He knew when and where everyone would be every evening. So why was he calling for thirty odd men in the back to come join them.
Dick felt his blood run cold. Tim was in the back. Tim was completely unaware that there were more people then the ones Dick had pulled away. Batman was running. The men, still confused by the smoke, he left shadow boxing an nonexistent phantom.
“Red Robin, you have incoming.” Batman said breathlessly as he moved past crates and around equipment. Nightwing would have been able to leap over and flip through the maze quicker, Dick thought bitterly.
“What the hell do you mean I have incoming?” Tim shot back at him.
“I mean you have thirty potential hostiles coming your way.” Dick ground out ignoring Tim’s tone to the best of his ability.
“Thirty?” Tim said in disbelief. “You said the max count was twenty two.”
“It was. Now it’s not.”
“How close are you to finishing?” Dick panted as he rounded the last door, Tim was just somewhere in this massive storage room.
“Not anywhere near.”
“Abort. We’ll regroup.” Batman ordered.
“What? No. Just give me another five minutes and we’re good to go.”
“Red Robin, we don’t have five minutes. Abort, now.” Dick let as much of Batman bleed into his voice as he dared. He had been truthful when he said he saw Tim as an equal, but this was still his operation, and Tim had been perfectly clear he wanted no partnership between them.
“Oh please, just stop pretending will you?” Tim spat through the feed.
Dick felt as if he had been hit in the gut. “Red, I’m not kidding. We have fifty possible hostiles in the building, abort .”
“I’ve just go--”
Dick’s heart stopped. He leapt over a container, in a very unbatmanlike move. “Red!” He called this time not on the comms unit. His only reply was the faint sounds of fighting, on the other side of a wall of pallets. He pointed his grapple gun wildly at the beams above, and trusted his subconscious to make the calculation.
Tim was surrounded by five men and another ten were heading their way. Dick could still hear voices shouting in the distance. Batman descended heavily on two men wearing dockers uniforms. They went down and didn’t get back up. His cape caught slightly on a pallet board, without pausing he yanked himself free.
He turned towards the men running towards them, trusting Tim to take the ones he had his back to. In the chaos Red Robin and Batman were separated. Dick did his best not to worry about Tim. Tim was good. Dick knew that Tim was more than capable of taking care of himself, but that didn’t mean Dick wouldn’t worry. Tim was after all his little brother. He couldn’t help the Jason shaped whole in in his heart-- even if Jason had come back-- that ceased up every time Jason, Tim, Cass or Damian were left alone.
Dick was mostly surrounded by unconscious men, by the time he caught sight of Red Robin again. He was up in the rafters, dropping birdarangs on the men below. Dick held back a snort, he could just imagine Tim’s amusement at such easy pickings. That was until he dropped. Dick’s heart skipped as Tim fell from the sky. Had he been hit? But no. It was deliberate. He landed on a man’s shoulders, forcing him down while swinging his bow staff down on another's head.
Dick smiled. Tim had gotten better during his time away. He was lighter on his feet. He landed better; he leaned into the roll more. A flash of metal caught Dick’s eye suddenly. Tim hadn’t seen it. He didn’t know there was a man behind him, knife held aloft.
Dick jumped. Batman landed between him and Red Robin. The man swung his arm wide, Dick deflected the blow with his forearm and stepped into the man using his own momentum against him as he stuck.
The man gasped for breath as the Dark Knight struck him again. Dick thought he had him. His eyes were bulging and he had hunched over slightly. Tim at that moment yelped, and Dick turned without thinking.
Pain lanced though Dick’s leg. Batman recoiled and grabbed his attacker by the back of his shirt, slamming him to the ground. He groaned but didn’t get up again. Dick didn’t take time to look at his leg, Tim was hurt. Tim had shouted.
“Red?” Batman spun about wildly looking for Tim. He ignored the pain in his leg as he went. Tim seemed so far away though it was merely feet. He kicked a man kneeling in front of him hard once in the chest causing him to fall back with a groan.
“Red?” Dick called again fearing the worst. Tim’s back was to him. He couldn’t see what damage lay there. He couldn’t see if there were bullet wounds, or stab wounds on him. Tim turned slightly to deal with another two men. Blood soaked his jaw and mouth. His nose was bleeding.
Batman ran at full speed and hit one of the men at a dead sprint, not bothering to break at all. The man fell like a sack of potatoes. Dick rolled off him quickly, his leg hadn’t agreed with his choice, but it didn’t matter, because Tim was still fighting. Batman pushed himself back up and threw a Batarang over Tim’s head into the man he was fighting’s shoulder. He dropped his knife and Tim hit him hard in the head with his bow staff.
“What the hell was that?” Tim rounded on him blood dripping off his chin as he spoke.
“What was what?” Dick asked slightly breathlessly.
“That?” Tim motioned to the destruction around. Them. “You had one job. One, and you couldn’t even do that right.”
Dick stilled, his heaving chest the only part of him that moved. Just breath. Just breath. “Red, I… There were more men than expected. I told you to abort.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you’re not my boss” Tim pushed past Dick bumping his shoulder as he went.
Dick closed his eyes. Tim was right. He wasn’t his boss. He wasn’t Tim’s anything. Tim had been very clear last time he was in Gotham. They weren’t partners, and… Tim didn’t want to be his brother, either. Batman turned and followed Tim out of the warehouse. Better to go before anyone else showed up.
Dick slid into the Batmobile-- alone-- wincing. He still hadn’t removed the knife from his thigh and it ground uncomfortably as he moved. But to pull it would would be stupid. Alfred was already likely to lecture him as it was.
Tim was already at the bunker when Dick pulled into the parking spot. He stood at the computer muttering as he fumbled with wiring.
“Tim?” Dick asked, slumping out of the car. “You have Alf look at you yet?”
Tim’s back was suddenly rod straight. “I’m fine.”
Dick sighed and did his best not to limp on his way over to the computer. “Your nose is still bleeding.” Dick said gently.
“Will you just-- Just don’t. Okay?” Tim spun on his heel causing blood to splatter on Dick’s face as he did.
Dick held back a flinch. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t… care .” Tim's face grew redder as he spoke. “I don’t want you hovering, you don’t get to… pretend anymore. It’s just us. You don’t have to put on your fake ‘Big Brother’ act. Bruce isn’t here to impress, Alfred’s asleep… And … And you can’t lie to me anymore.”
Dick’s jaw dropped. “I’m not acting.”
“Oh yeah, well maybe you’ve been performing so long even you’ve bought the lie. But I can see through you. You don’t care… you’ve never cared about anyone but Bruce and so of course you would pick him over me.”
“Tim what are you--”
“Damian!” The name echoed off the bunkers walls. “He hurt me and you still… I was dying… I thought I was going to die and you still-- But he’s Bruce’s and you can’t help it.” Tim ears were growing redder by the minute. “You're just playing dress up like a child, Dick. You're not him. No matter how many times you try on Dad’s shoes, they just don’t fit.”
Dick couldn’t remember how to breathe. “Tim that’s not what--”
“No. Don’t I don’t care. You… we’re nothing. Okay. you’re not the real Batman anyway, and when I find him, he is going to be so disappointed in you. I mean look at you!” Tim’s smirk was cold.
Dick felt ice wash over him. It was as if his veins had been flushed with saline.
“You can’t even run a proper surveillance operation. Face it, Dick. You had bad intel and it almost got us killed.” Tim crossed his arms and glowered up at him.
Dick stood with his mouth still hanging open. Part of him wondered-- hoped-- he had been gassed by Scarecrow. But Crane was locked up.
“Master Tim, that is enough.” Alfred’s voice sounded much more tired than usual. Dick hadn’t even heard him come in. Tim’s words were still ringing in his ears. He couldn’t breath. Tim was right. He wasn’t enough. He wasn’t good enough. Dick’s limbs were cold.
“It’s fine Alf.” Dick’s voice cracked slightly. “I’m going to bed. Just… do whatever you need Tim. I’m too tired to fight with you anymore.”
Dick walked to the changing room before he remembered he still had a knife embedded in his leg. His cape must have hidden it from view, or Alfred would have made him sit down. Dick sank onto a bench and looked at the hilt of the blade for a long time. It was wooden. And had a chip in the handle. Dick wondered how old it was. It looked well used. Well, loved.
He should yell for Alfred. He should have someone help him. The cold he was feeling might be more from blood loss than what Tim had actually said. But then it was true. He was Batman and he couldn’t even run a simple sting. He was Batman and his whole family had fallen apart.
Dick almost jumped. He turned slowly to face Damian. “Yeah?”
“I was… Your leg.” Damian's eyes went wide. “Grayson?”
“I don’t want Tim--” Dick bit back a sob. He was so embarrassed. He was a mess. Tim was right. Maybe that was why he was sitting here alone. He didn’t want to admit anymore of his screw ups to Tim. Not when he had fallen so low.
Damian turned and left the room. For a moment Dick thought he too was disgusted with him. But not even a moment later Damian returned with a first aid kit. “It doesn’t look too bad but I wish you would have called me to look at it, Grayson. Honestly, there was no need to hide it from me.”
Dick looked at Damian unable to speak. He sounded just like Bruce. His voice was higher but he had that same ‘don’t be so silly, Dick’ tone in his voice that Bruce had used on him countless times.
“Okay if you just hold this for me.”
Dick took the offered gauze. He shouldn’t let Damian do this. This was his job. He was the adult. “Damian, it’s okay. I’ll have Alf--”
Damian pulled out the knife in a quick fluid motion. Dick’s vision when white and his breath hitched.
“And press.” Damian forced Dick’s hand back down onto the wound.
Dick watched Damian stitch the puncture evenly and with a completely steady hand. Guilt filled his gut. He wasn’t supposed to do this. Damian was ten. Nearly eleven, a voice that sounded like Damian supplied him. He shouldn’t be giving him stitches. He should be in bed and dreaming of race cars and trips to the zoo. He shouldn’t have blood staining his fingers as he patched up his guardian.
“I can hear you over thinking, Grayson.” Damian gently tied off the last stitch. “Don’t let Drake get to you, he is an idiot.”
“Don’t call him that.” Dick said weakly. He hated this. He wanted to wake up from this nightmare. But then he couldn’t. He was stuck.
Damian tutted softly and began applying the dressing. “Well, someone needs to. I can’t believe he let you get injured. First he disobeys your orders then he gets you injured because he’s not competent to watch his own back. Grayson, he’s an idiot if he thinks tonight was your fault.”
Dick frowned. “You were supposed to be sleeping, not watching the cowl feed.”
Damian shrugged. I don’t like when you don’t have someone watching your back.” Damian held up a hand cutting off Dick before he could object. “Drake doesn’t count if he’s not going to actually look out for you in field.”
Dick watched Damian curiously. “You don’t have to do that all the time either. I know you don’t like to admit it but you’re ten. I’m supposed to look after you and Tim.”
“I thought you said family looked after each other.” Damian placed the last piece of tape on the dressing and stood up. “Or was that just you saying things.” Damian crossed his arms and looked down at him as if daring him to object.
Dick smiled. “Well in that case. I could use some ice cream.”
Damian rolled his eyes. “Only if you let me bring a blood bag upstairs. You look like you lost a lot.”
Dick chuckled. Yeah, how about you go set up. I need to change and put this in the wash. Before the blood sets in and stains it.”
Damian eyed him for a moment considering. “Don’t fall and break your neck.”
As suddenly as he had appeared he was gone. Dick sat for a long time just looking at his boots. He was still tired. But Damian needed him to be stronger. So he got up.
“Master Dick, I-- good heavens.” Alfred walked in as Dick wiped down his leg with yet another wet wipe. “You... you didn’t say.”
Alfred pulled the blood stained wipe from him and began cleaning Dick’s leg himself. “Alf, it’s fine. I just didn’t want to get the stitches wet.”
Alfred rolled his eyes. “You don’t need to hide injuries from me.”
“I wasn’t hiding. I just forgot.” Dick bit his lip as Alfred threw the wet wipe onto the pile of dirty ones. “Well, I didn’t want Tim to see.” Dick admitted.
Alfred’s head shot up. “Why on Earth?”
Dick snatched up a shirt that he had put on the bench. “He… I just didn’t, okay.”
Alfred sighed and reached for a set of sweats. Still kneeling in front of Dick, he rolled up the legs so Dick could put his feet through while sitting. “Well, I won’t give you away. But I think it would maybe make him see that you're not as invulnerable as he seems to think.”
Dick laughed. “He knows I’m not. That’s the problem. I’m not good enough.” Dick hesitated for a moment. He knew Alfred still didn’t like to talk about Bruce. “I’m not Bruce.”
“No, you're not.” Alfred agreed.
Dick couldn’t hide the flinch.
“But you are just as wonderful and brilliant. You don’t have to be your father.” Alfred stood pulling Dick up with him. Dick was too busy wiping away tears to protest as Alfred pulled the trousers up the rest of the way for him. “Bruce always said you were what Batman was meant to be. ‘Hope, like Superman, but much more intelligent’.” Alfred winked and brushed off Dick’s shoulders and turned back to the door.
Dick smiled, that sounded like something Bruce would say.
“Sir, I know you’ve been trying to be him.” Alfred stopped and looked back at the door. “But that’s not the way to honor him. You were always one of his biggest successes. Find a way to be yourself.” Alfred looked at him with watery eyes. “You don’t have to hide under the cowl.”
Dick stood staring after Alfred long after he had gone. Eventually the night’s activities demands on his body overcame his mind's inability to comprehend what had just happened and he followed. Tim was still at the computer typing away. Dick let himself watch for just a moment. Just three seconds. Then he turned to the elevator. Tim didn’t turn to acknowledge him as he went.
Maybe he would hide just a little longer. After all, if there was one thing Bruce had taught him it was the importance of a mask.