It wasn’t the first time Dick had been tied up and at the mercy of a villain, but it still managed to be a unique experience. For one thing, he didn’t feel in immediate danger of being shot, tortured or blown up. Sure, Harley was muttering to herself about the possibility of killing him but he’d never gotten the impression she was much of a killer. Not caring about collateral damage and willing to go along with genuinely insane Joker-plans maybe, but she herself was more impulsive than sadistic.
Alone, he didn’t really believe she’d hurt him unless she had anything to gain from it. So he didn’t hold back his genuine reactions and found himself feeling bad for her. It wasn’t as if he was unaware of the difficulties ex-cons faced on the outside, but so many of his and B’s enemies fell straight back into crime he hadn’t ever seriously contemplated them.
All things considered, why was he surprised by his boner? Every other emotion had come up in this interaction, why not lust? Plus, he’d always had a thing for restraints. Probably inappropriate given his profession but it had genuinely never been a problem before. Usually the threat of a beating overrode any other thoughts.
And again, why was it surprising Harley returned his interest? Maybe she’d studied him and B in college, but she hadn’t become Harley Quinn until his last year as Robin, she couldn’t be that much older than him. They didn’t have much history. So he was kind of in two minds about the idea. On the one hand, she had knocked him out, tied him up and was best friends with the villain he and B were facing. On the other hand, he hadn’t gotten laid in a long time. Oh, and his cock was straining against his suit.
When she crawled on top of him, he had to work hard to keep his voice even. His whole body lit up in anticipation. Then she put a finger over his lips and ice flooded in his veins.
Oh yeah, that was why he’d been avoiding sex. A harsh whisper echoed in his head.
Shhh, mi amor…
Getting into a fight with one of Batman’s birds as the cherry on top of a crappy day. Having to lug his six foot something ass up to her ‘apartment’ and tie him up: yet more joy. At least he’s nice to look at, she thought, eyeing up his powerful thighs and pouty lips. He was probably the prettiest guy that would ever grace this dump, not that she made a habit of bringing men over. If she ever did lower her standards enough, she went back to their place: one eye on the exit, the other on her dumbbell-concealing purse.
She pushed all that to the back of her mind; she needed to focus on the problem at hand. She couldn’t keep him there indefinitely and when he left, he could rat her out to her probation officer. So, would she have to betray Pammie?
Harley genuinely hadn’t been aiming to turn her captive on but she couldn’t deny the idea was appealing. His outfit was really working for him and he’d looked thoughtful rather than dismissive when she’d expressed her problems. She could definitely do a lot worse.
And hey, it was a way to soften him up; maybe he could be persuaded to let her talk to Pam directly. It wouldn’t be so bad if she was there in person and she could help her friend make a get-away once she’d given up her scheme.
There was also curiosity: what kind of lover would Nightwing be? Gentle and tentative – it’d been a long time since she’d had that; passionate and dominating? Would he be a screamer? Quiet and controlled?
That could be nice, he said, what kind of sex was he used to?
She shushed whatever he’d been about to say about Ivy and kissed him. His lips were chapped but pliable. They parted under hers and she pressed in closer. She palmed his erection and he shuddered but Harley noticed he didn’t kiss back.
“Not much of a kisser?” She asked, nosing at the strip of skin above his costume.
After a beat of silence, Harley frowned and looked up. His eyes were shut and she realised that he was trembling.
“No.” He gasped.
She sat up and he squirmed, arms pulling at the duct tape.
“Don’t… touch me.”
Harley had seen enough to know he wasn’t really talking to her, but a memory. Why hadn’t he said anything? Stomach squirming, she climbed off him and got her craft scissors. When she freed him, he curled onto his side, muttering too lowly for her to make out individual words.
Harley dithered. “Oh great, now I’ve gone and triggered something.”
Nightwing didn’t reply, just crunching into a tighter ball. In Harley’s experience, he’d need space and quiet to come back to himself. She went to take that shower and decided on her classic Harley outfit to change into.
He was sitting up when she came back to the bedroom, his feet planted on the floor, head in his hands. It was an improvement? He sniffed and looked up at the door creaking.
He cleared his throat. “Sorry.”
Of all the things he could have said, what a lunk-head.
Harley shook her head. “I think I’m the one who should apologise. I should know better than to proposition someone who can’t say no.”
He rubbed his neck. “I didn’t really think you’d hurt me and I…kinda forgot, or rather, I’ve been repressing some stuff.”
Harley went over to the kitchenette. “No shit. Coffee?”
Nightwing eyed her a moment before shrugging. “Sure. It’s not like this can get any weirder.”
Harley cackled and they shared an almost comfortable silence as they waited for the percolator to boil.
Having Nightwing at her kitchen table wasn’t something she’d anticipated but as he’d said, this was already weird. Harley thought hard as she drank her coffee. Since the mutual itch scratching and afterglow persuasion option was out, what was she going to do? She did feel bad about almost assaulting him, but that wasn’t Pammie’s fault. Harley still had to get her temporary hero pass to help her friend.
“I know a guy who’ll have Ivy’s address.” She said eventually.
Nightwing looked up from where he’d been staring into his cup. “Okay, and what do you want for it?”
“I want to come with. To have a chance to talk her out of whatever it is she’s doing.”
Nightwing considered. “I don’t think Batman would allow that.”
“What’s he gonna do? Growl at me?”
“No. He’ll talk to your PO.”
Harley huffed. Crap. She studied Nightwing’s hunched posture, how he was cradling the cup in his hands – leagues away from the confident hero who’d swooped down on her only about an hour ago. It obviously wasn’t sex he needed, but maybe she could offer him…
“I take it you haven’t told anyone.”
“About, you know, that.” She waved vaguely to the bed and he got her meaning.
“Oh, uh, no.” His gaze dropped to the table and then back up to her. His shoulders scrunched further in. “You won’t…?”
“Tell Batman?” Her cynical mind finished for him. It genuinely hadn’t occurred to her and she hoped her unimpressed face was answer enough. She was an ex-con, not a monster.
“It’s really none of my business but as a psychiatrist…”
His mouth twisted a little.
She gave him a minute to think it over before venturing casually. “I assume it’s about shame rather than not being able to trust anyone.”
He swallowed and then sighed, now tipping the half-full cup this way and that.
Sensing he needed more nudging, Harley watched him closely as she went on. “You don’t have to tell me any details, just talking about how you’re feeling right now could help.”
“Stupid.” He said, still not looking at her. “I feel stupid.”
Slipping right back into psychiatrist mode, she watched him silently, just knowing the dam was about to burst.
“It’s been more than a year. I should be over it by now.” He glanced up at her, seeming to expect input.
“You know it doesn’t work that way. We don’t get to choose how long it takes to process things. Especially if we don’t process things.”
He laughed bitterly. “Yeah. God, I know.”
He fell silent again, though the tension bunching up inside him was so strong she could almost feel it. He was toying with the cup again and even without being able to see his eyes, she could tell he was spiralling.
“Friend or foe?” She prompted.
He looked at her, from what she could see of his expression under the mask he seemed impossibly young. “Friend. At least I thought…I…”
Then he broke, covering his eyes with one hand as his breathing hitched. Harley reached out and took his other hand. He squeezed back and they sat there together as their coffee cooled.
There were any number of reasons Nightwing hadn’t reported in so Batman hadn’t exactly been fronting when he’d said Nightwing could handle himself. It still didn’t quash the worry that always surfaced when one of his charges was out of coms though – no matter how old they got.
At least his tracker was still on and the location, a condemned building with only two heat signatures, didn’t seem very life-threatening. Likely Harley was living there and Nightwing was still getting Ivy’s location from her.
Still, Batman went up. They were on a time crunch after all. He couldn’t hear anything on the landing so switched on his sound enhancer. Low, calm voices; so they were negotiating. Batman slowed his walk – he didn’t want to interrupt if Nightwing was almost there.
As his former sidekick was fond of telling him, he could complete cases and missions perfectly fine on his own. It took effort, but Bruce knew he had to put trust over his urge to do things himself. He and Dick had come a long way since Dick had quit as Robin in that spectacular fight years ago, but their relationship had never fully recovered the closeness of before.
Part of that was normal for parent-child relationships, according to the parenting book Alfred had forced him to read, but it still hurt.
Batman crept closer and even from a few feet away was able to start making out words.
“…you can’t blame yourself for that.” Harley was saying.
Nightwing sighed. “I know. It’s just hard.”
Batman frowned. What were they talking about?
“There’s really no one you can talk to about this?” Harley asked. “I mean, it’s your story and no one is entitled to hear it but it sounds like keeping it to yourself hasn’t helped any. Aren’t there any bat-approved shrinks?”
Bruce leaned in, thoughts swirling. What had happened to Nightwing that Harley Quinn was recommending therapy? Why would he tell Harley but not Bruce?
Nightwing sighed again. “Do I have to?”
Bruce was reassured by the slightly whiny quality: whatever it was, Nightwing could still make light of it.
Harley snorted. “Of course not, Mullet.”
As Bruce tired not to smirk at the reference, Harley continued more seriously. “But they could help you get some healthy coping mechanisms and avoid…”
She trailed off but Nightwing’s reply indicated he’d understood. “Okay, yeah. I should talk to someone.” His voice began stronger as he went on. “I will, I promise. Thanks Harley.” A pause and then. “Ugh, what time is it? I should have reported back by now.”
Batman heard the clinking of crockery and shifting of furniture. He telegraphed his footsteps up to the door. Nightwing opened it a second later.
“Hi! Right on time. I was just about to call you.” He was rubbing the back of his head but didn’t seem injured beyond some stiffness in his limbs.
Batman harrumphed, deciding to leave off his questioning until after the case was over. He did look around the room though: bedsheets rumpled, left-over duct tape on the posts, no furniture broken or damage of any kind. The whole place was rundown but surprisingly tidy and Harley…
“Reporting for duty, sir!” She snapped off a salute.
Nightwing smiled sheepishly. Batman held back a sigh; why hadn’t he anticipated Harley Quinn wouldn’t settle for a brief cameo?
In between worrying about Pammie going full megalomaniac and how banged up she’d be for her next shift, Harley watched Nightwing. If anyone knew anything about performing different roles, it was her, but still, it was interesting.
Everyday Nightwing was a happy-go-lucky yet competent vigilante: compassionate but unmoving. Real Nightwing – or civilian Nightwing as Harley called him in her head – was still those things just squishier, more vulnerable.
He had only told her the broad strokes: no names, dates or details of the circumstances, but he’d related how he’d felt seemingly without a filter. Harley knew better than to be surprised that a cape could be hurt in such an intimate way but Regular Nightwing was so peppy and durable it had taken her aback to see him spill his guts.
It had also felt good. Being trusted, that was. It had been so long since she’d acted as a proper psychiatrist to anyone but Pam, who already trusted her. Someone putting their faith in you to help them, she’d forgotten how much of a rush that was.
She wished that she could’ve helped him more than nudging him to find someone who could do the heavy lifting and it made her ache for her revoked medical licence. Still, it was something.
As the unlikely trio ran around trying to stop the Veggi-pocalypse, she watched Nightwing the Partner. Harley had only run into Batman and Robin once or twice before the Robin had changed, so she only had vague memories. There hadn’t been any friction; they’d moved like a well-oiled machine as far as she could remember. Somehow she’d heard Robin had moved away and become Nightwing, getting the impression of some kind of rift? Had Mr. J told her? She couldn’t remember.
Anyway, their relationship was obviously different now. Nightwing was less confident, or perhaps more cautious, around Bats. It wasn’t so much in his voice or how he moved, but in how his gaze would linger on Batman after Nightwing had contributed something; his posture stiff and to attention but also leaning ever so slightly forward. As if waiting for a specific reaction.
Harley guessed he was looking for approval, even after years of going solo. Some habits were hard to shake: she knew that well. The image was adorable though – the big bird becoming like a Black Labrador, patiently waiting for pets. Harley resisted the urge to give him some herself.
Although Batman seemed to be either ignorant of or actively ignoring of this, Harley swore she caught his eyes sliding to Nightwing in quiet moments – lips pursing like he had something on his mind. Whatever the nitty-gritty, it was obvious the two needed to talk.
Harley didn’t manage to help Ivy escape but apparently her friend’s eleventh hour change of heart would go some to reducing her sentence so Pam didn’t seem to hold it against her.
As she and Floronic Man were being loaded into the prison truck, Nightwing turned to Harley.
“I don’t know how much good it’ll do but I’ll put in a good word with your PO.”
Harley hugged him. “Thank you, thank you!”
He patted her back lightly. “Well, you were a big help.”
When she pulled back he tilted his head and lowered his voice. “In more ways than one.”
Harley eyed Batman in conversation with a State Trooper and replied. “You’ll remember what I said.”
Nightwing smiled a small, genuine small. “Yeah, I will. Thanks.”
Batman approached and Harley stepped further away, bouncing on her toes. “What an adventure!”
Batman hummed. He said to Nightwing. “We’re done here.” Then he looked to Harley. “If you promise to behave, we’ll give you a lift back to Gotham.”
“Oh, you are a good and kind soul, Mr Batman, sir!”
Batman didn’t reply, simply walking away. Nightwing grinned though and accepted Harley’s arm threaded through his as they followed Batman to the Batmobile.
As there was still a half day until he needed to patrol Blüdhaven, and he hadn’t slept a wink all night, Dick agreed to have lunch at the manor. Alfred’s cooking beat whatever takeaway or sandwich Dick would have and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d changed the sheets on his bed.
Normally, he only stayed at the manor for special occasions or family crisis but it’d been a while since he’d seen Alfred and the usual itch to get away from Bruce’s heavy expectations and judgement was absent. If anything, Bruce had been like a true partner on the mission.
It had been odd – welcome – but odd. Dick himself was feeling unbalanced from his panic attack and subsequent therapy session with Harley Quinn of all people. Though on reflection, she had actually been a psychiatrist once upon a time.
Talking over some of his feelings with her hadn’t been as bad as he’d anticipated. Every time he’d pictured telling someone in his head, it had involved excruciating shame and a valiant attempt on the listener’s part not to say ‘I told you so’ or ‘what did you expect?’
Dick knew his reputation as a flirt, manwhore, cheater, and as much as he knew it’d been unfairly earned, sometimes the darkness in his head would disagree.
No one else picks your outfits. No one makes you quip and flirt and fall into bed with anyone who gives you the time of day.
So for Harley to show a complete lack of judgement, to believe him and to insist it hadn’t been his fault…A weight had lifted from his chest and he’d had to fight tears all over again, except they had been of relief.
Lunch was nice; just him, Bruce and Alfred. They managed some light conversation in between Bruce answering business calls and Dick checking up on his current cases in ‘Haven. Some things never changed.
When they were done, however, Bruce caught him before he could slink up to his room and grab a couple of hours of sleep. They went to one of the dens, Dick curious but also made nervous by Bruce’s vague ‘do you have a minute?’ It obviously wasn’t work-related so, what was it?
Once inside the den, Bruce began. “I overheard you and Harley talking.”
Dick froze, heart skipping a beat. His ears began to ring slightly, but not loud enough to cover Bruce’s next words.
“I don’t know what exactly the topic was, just that you’re struggling with something.”
Dick’s shoulders relaxed minutely.
Bruce’s expression was still, but his eyes were soft. “If you wanted to talk to me about whatever it is. I’m here.”
Dick’s brain took a moment to process the offer. Whilst Bruce really wasn’t as bad at emotional comfort as some made him out to be – Dick included when he was feeling uncharitable – it was rare for him to make the first move. Dick didn’t think Bruce had explicitly said he was there for him since…since Dick first came to the manor as a new orphan.
He really hadn’t planned on telling Bruce anything. His first thought had been Dinah: there was the possibility of her being influenced by his reputation but she was a professional so at least wouldn’t judge him to his face.
Dick wasn’t comfortable talking about normal sex with his father figure, let alone… But on reflection, Bruce did have experience with less-than-consensual sex and he wasn’t one to put much stock in gossip. Would Bruce really shrug off Dick’s pain and tell him that he should have been more careful? That he should have anticipated it?
Dick looked down at his hands and all of a sudden felt like that little boy again: cautious of this near-stranger but also desperately hoping he could trust him. He looked up to see a touch of concern on Bruce’s face.
Maybe it was his exhaustion, maybe it was his panic attack earlier, maybe Bruce’s comforting presence but the words tumbled out of his mouth before he’d even realised he’d made the decision.
“After Blockbuster…after I let Tarantula kill him. She raped me.”
Bruce hadn’t been able to come up with any likely guesses as to what was troubling Dick. Their lives were so separate now; he only really knew about Dick’s current cases and the broad strokes of his relationships with their allies and family.
They had talked briefly about Blockbuster a few weeks after it had all gone down. Dick had spilled the whole story very reluctantly and with a lot of shame. Bruce had understood more than Dick could ever know – foes threatening his family was the worst thing they could ever do to him. So he hadn’t been proud or happy but he’d forgiven Dick his split second decision; regretting that his son had ever been forced to make it.
Bruce wasn’t under any illusions that their quick heart-to-heart had scrubbed away all of the trauma from the incident – though Dick’s relief was evident – but it hadn’t fallen into the category of ‘not being able to talk about it’.
But this? This fit.
He saw red for a full three seconds, counting in his head to try and control his reaction and keep it from his face. How dare that woman hurt his son?
Dick noticed, of course he did, and winced.
“No. Not at you.” Bruce forced out.
Dick nodded, though he was holding onto one wrist, shoulders caving inwards. Unsure if touch would be welcome, Bruce indicated that they sit down. He and Dick settled on the couch, not quite touching.
With a little prompting, Dick elaborated in quiet and halting tones. Bruce kept his face as relaxed and open as possible, letting Dick get it all out.
“I should’ve fought harder. Why didn’t I? I just froze.”
Unable to bear the self-recrimination in his son’s voice, Bruce interjected. “It’s a natural response and not something to be ashamed of.”
Dick took in a deep breath, eyes flicking up to Bruce’s for a moment before falling again. “Yeah, I know. It’s just hard to really believe it.”
Bruce placed a light hand on Dick’s shoulder. “I understand.”
Almost immediately Dick twisted to hug him and Bruce hugged him back fiercely.
“I am so sorry this happened to you.”
Dick sniffed and his grip tightened.
“I’m here for you.” Bruce repeated.
“I know.” Dick replied.
They sat there for a long while until Dick recovered his composure. He promised to schedule some therapy sessions with Dinah and went for a nap. Bruce also had things to do but first he made a call to a TV producer he knew.
It was the least he could do.