Three months. It had been exactly three months since Dick had taken on the Batman mantle. Three months since Bruce had -
And he’d already fucked up. The cave computer was opened to Twitter (was that a bad sign in and of itself? Was this just another example of how different he was from Bruce? How he couldn’t be Batman.) and Dick watched in discomfort as hundreds of tweets using the same hashtag poured in.
Batman and Robin had stopped to rest on the top of an apartment building after the bird had tripped and his nose punched the concrete (because of course the concrete hadn’t hurt him , no no no, he’d obviously caused structural damage to the sidewalk with his nose). Damian insisted he was fine, and that this was “not how warriors handled injuries, Grayson!” But Dick also didn’t want nose blood in the Batmobile. That’s when he heard the cry. A little kid, no more than nine was sobbing, begging his babysitter Jackson, not to touch him there. Dick leapt off the roof and into the apartment. One fight, and a mildly maimed pedophile, later and he was sitting next to little Alex, asking him where his parents were.
The soft tap of size 12 Rockport’s sounded behind him, and Dick couldn’t help but smile. Alfred was wearing the ‘Fancy shoes!’ he’d bought him on his 57th birthday. Dick had been 13 at the time and didn’t know much about men’s dress shoes. He also didn’t care, preferring his off brand Converse (“I could buy you the namebrand, Dick. I could buy the entire company”, Bruce had said. “But then they wouldn’t fit my aesthetic”). But he knew his pseudo-grandfather prided himself on his wardrobe and sought out to get him what he thought to be a nice pair. Apparently $50 wasn’t a lot to spend on a pair of shoes.
The man wore them for a month to show Dick he appreciated them. He hadn’t worn them since.
“I really fucked up this time, Alfred.” Was what he managed to say, head in his hands.
Alex didn’t want his parents to know what happened. He was so sure they’d think he was gross, or they’d be mad at him for chasing off another babysitter. Apparently the last babysitter Alex had, Nicole, was annoying, so he put a cockroach in her purse. She quit and never came back.
The man hummed in response. “The media does seem to be all over this story. This might be the most scandalous thing to happen in Gotham since your father decided to set his Algebra teacher’s lawn on fire.”
Dick wasn’t entirely sure he didn’t give himself whiplash with how fast his head turned to stare at the butler. “I’m sorry what?”
Alfred ignored him, continuing on. “However, I’m not sure I’d classify this as a failure. Or a ‘fuck up’, if you will. Not long before his…. departure, it had been hard to tell what ‘the mission’ had turned into. But at the beginning, shortly before he took you into his care, Master Wayne has created Batman ultimately to be a protector of the innocent. To ensure that the terrible things that had happened to him, to you, would not happen to others. The media may be more aware of the Bat’s presence than was originally intended. But what you did last night, was not a failure. It was perfectly on Mission.”
“It doesn’t make you gross, Alex. Nothing about this could make you gross. What Jackson did to you…. It wasn’t okay. It was wrong. But it wasn’t your fault. Adults are supposed to protect you. Not hurt you. That never should have happened. I’m sorry that it did. I want to take you to your parents so they know you’re safe. I’ll help you tell them.”
“I don’t know, Mr. Batman. My dad is scary sometimes, and I don’t want him to be upset. I just. I wish it didn’t happen. Can we… maybe we don’t have to tell them. They don’t have to know.”
“They have to know, Alex. So they know how to help you. They’re not going to be mad. I promise they won’t.”
“How do you know?” How did he know. Did he know? How was Dick supposed to answer that? Technically, the kid’s parents could be mad. And the fact that Alex thought his dad was scary sometimes wasn’t exactly encouraging. But everything about their home told Dick they were a fine family. There weren’t any signs of abuse, or negligence. He was pretty sure. And what a great detective, a great Batman, that made him. Pretty sure.
“Because I’m just like you, Alex. I know what it’s like. I’ve had people hurt me too. Just like this. And it doesn’t get better until you tell someone.” That was laughable. Dick was officially a hypocrite. Not a liar though, because the fact was, that things hadn’t gotten better. And it wasn’t a bad guess that if he would just tell somebody, things might stop being so awful.
“But…. you’re Batman! Someone can’t… they can’t hurt Batman!”
“It can happen to anyone, kiddo, even though it shouldn’t happen to anyone. And your parents will understand. They want what’s best for you. Let me help. You can trust me, I’m Batman .”
“B would have found another way to handle it. To get the kid to open up. He wouldn’t have-“ Dick shook his head. “I miss him, Alfred. I miss fighting with him. I keep going through conversations in my head. Picking them apart and putting them together to figure out what he’d say to-to this! I want him here to yell at me about giving out personal information in the field! I want him here to fix it! To fix this.” And maybe that was silly. Maybe he was remembering Bruce wrong already. Is three months all it took for memories of his father to fade and change? All he could think about right now was his ability to repair things. He remembered Bruce telling him that no matter how bad a problem seemed, he could always come to him. Batman could fix it. Bruce would fix it.
His dad did fix it.
Alex’s parents took him to the police station as soon as they heard. They filed a report, had evidence taken, the whole nine yards. Batman lurked in the corners and shadows, keeping it so only Alex and his parents could see him. An officer sat down with the family and a notepad and took Alex’s statement. In true nine year old fashion, Alex told him everything. Including what Dick had told him. Six other civilians were in the precinct in that moment. Later, Dick would wonder which of them sold the story. If he had to guess, he’d put his money on the blonde woman with the shitty haircut.
“Was it true?” Alfred asked, voice more unsure than Dick could ever remember hearing.
“Was what true?”
“You must know I heard you over the communicators. I heard you speaking to that young man. I’m asking if it was true. You don’t have to tell me. It’s a question, not an order.”
I’m giving you control in this situation. Is what Dick heard. And fuck how did they do anything without Alfred around here? The man could read them better than they could read each other.
“I wouldn’t lie about something like that. Not even if it was for the ‘greater good’. I- I did understand. I understood why he didn’t want to see his parents. He was,” Dick’s entire body was tense and each word felt like it was forcefully crawling it’s way up his throat and out of his mouth. “He was ashamed. Ashamed, Alfred. A nine year old. A nine year old should NOT KNOW-“
A deep breath. Raising his voice wouldn’t change this. Alfred didn’t deserve that. Calm down calm down calm down. “He shouldn’t know what that kind of shame feels like. I’m a whole lot less concerned about the fact I can relate to him and more pissed that he can relate to me.”
“I see. So you told him there was nothing to be ashamed of. And the only one that should be feeling ashamed is the man that touched him.” A pause. “Has anyone told you that, Richard?”
Not Nightwing. Not Master Richard. Richard. Like a grandfather talking to his grandson. A loose sob escaped and Dick covered his face with his hands. “It’s not the-“
“If you say it’s not the same, I’m putting Splenda in your tea.” The harsh words were wrapped in the tenderness brought by Alfred’s arms wrapping around the younger man. "I can not pretend to know what happened to you. If you want to tell me, I am ready to listen. But otherwise, I will just leave you with this,” The older man was now crouched down to Dick’s level in his place on the chair. He gently took his hands in his own, and bent his head to catch the man’s eye. “It was not your fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of. The only person that should be ashamed is the one that decided to touch you without your consent.”
“What the hell, Dick.”
Tim winced at the tone in the man’s voice. Apparently the honeymoon period was over. It had been nice. Everyone coming together, welcoming Bruce back, making sure he was resting and recovering. No one was surprised when the other shoe dropped.
Now that Bruce was being reintroduced to the public, and taking back the role of Batman, a few things were coming to light. The hype around the “Batman is a rape victim” news had worn down. But Bruce was actively seeking to catch up on the goings on while he was gone. It didn’t take him long to see that Batman had become a symbol for the abused, the assaulted, the ones taken advantage of.
Damian had announced to Tim and the others that it was all a stunt. That Dick had made it all up to get the boy to safety. Tim couldn’t guess what the others were thinking in regards to the truth of the statement. The fact that Damian had been the only one of them actually there led to him having some credibility. And Tim wanted to believe it. Or, he didn’t want to believe the other option.
But now, watching the way Dick curled in ever so slightly when Bruce yelled, he wasn’t so sure. If it had just been this once, maybe he would have bought it. But ever since the news broke, he’d been watching. Watching the seemingly “innocent” interactions between Dick and other heroes. The “innocent” comments by the general public.
The way the man’s eyes glazed over during these situations painted an ugly picture.
And now, now Bruce was about to lay into him, based on the information a ten year old gremlin passed along. Which, okay, the rest of them had believed Damian too. But Dick had backed him up. Dick played the part Damian claimed he played. Bruce hadn’t even asked Dick yet. Tim frowned, trying to decide how to proceed when a hand was gently placed on his shoulder.
“Master Timothy, Master Damian requested lunch, so I made some for you as well. Please see to eating it before it spoils.” Only Alfred could make lunch sound so threatening. So he left, sparing a glance backward at the ultimately disastrous scene that was playing out.
“For someone that wasn’t here, you sure have a lot of opinions about what happened.” Dick said with an eye roll. His inner voice was playing “just tell him” on a loop. But Dick wasn’t the type to back down from a fight. He was more than ready to match Bruce’s energy. If that’s how he wanted it to be, fine, that’s how it would be.
“There are t-shirts, Dick. Hashtags. National story coverage. What did you do.”
Every word out of his mouth sounded like an order. It was irritating. Enraging. He wanted to scream. The whole thing was making Dick increasingly twitchy. And he didn't like being twitchy. Twitchy normally led to angry, and angry led to, well. Regret, mostly.
“I did what I had to do.” Dick said challengingly. Bruce had said those words in response to questions he didn’t want to answer countless times. In response to choices he didn’t want to (or couldn’t) justify.
“What you had to do… you made Batman a household name. You gave out personal information in the suit. You gave out false personal information in the suit. It was completely irresponsible! I know it was a lot on you when you took over. But that doesn't mean you could change what it's all about. What were you thinking?” Bruce demanded. This was practically a mockery of the symbol he had created all those years ago.
“I saved a nine year old little boy from being raped! I’m sorry, would you have ignored that? Would you have left him there? Because I thought that was what it was all about! Is that not the mission anymore, Bruce? Protecting the innocent, taking care of the less fortunate? Has it just become about us? Protecting ourselves only? Hurting those that hurt us? This can't just be about revenge! And if it is... well it wasn't for me. And definitely not that night. Because on that night it was all about a little kid named Alex that was terrified. He wouldn’t tell me where his parents were. He didn’t want them to know what that fucking - fucking heathen was doing to him! I got him to open up to me by opening up to him! I understand that that’s a foreign concept to you - because heaven fucking knows you can’t open up about shit! But if telling him my story meant that he would let me help him, I’d do it ten times over!”
The silence in the air hung thick. So much for not getting angry. So much for not saying anything that he was going to regret. In his defense, Bruce started it. ("But he started it, Bruce!" "I don't care, Dick. You're better than that. We don't sink to the level of bullies," Bruce insisted, after picking Dick up from the principal's office for punching Tony Lendsor for calling his mom dumb. "We rise above them. Never meet someone at their level. Force them up to yours.")
Dick blinked. My story. Stupid stupid stupid. “A story. Telling him a story.” It was too late to back track now.
“You said your story.” Bruce repeated. “He was nine. Did someone hurt you? When you were a child? In my care?” Someone must have let a thousand fire ants loose on Bruce’s skin because he had never felt so hot. He had never felt this much immediate pain and increasing panic. This was his child.
“What? No! No. No it wasn’t…. No. Just no. Not when I was a kid. My story didn’t mirror his. It’s not even really a story. More of a… a footnote. To a bigger story.” Dick said, turning away and grabbing his stuff. “I’m gonna head out. I think you’ve got things from here.” Bruce grabbed his wrist before he could take a step toward the exit.
“Let go.” He snapped, snatching his arm back. “Don’t just- you can’t-“ he growled in frustration, unsure if it was more at himself or Bruce. He was pretty sure it was at himself though. For having such a ridiculous reaction to Bruce. This was Bruce. Not her.
“What happened, Dick?” It wasn’t quite Alfred’s complete relinquish of control, but it was a question. It was a question, not an order.
Bruce cut in before he could continue.
“No. Not him. When that happened. When I…. did what I did. I freaked out. A panic attack, I guess. I, uh, I went to get some air, but it kept getting worse. Like I was suffocating. And then um. Then she came….” And he continued. He told Bruce what happened that night between him and Catalina Flores. How she had taken more than Roland Desmond's life. She took something from Dick. She tore a hole inside his chest and left him with it.
“I swear I said no.” He repeated, tears running down his cheeks. And if he didn’t know him so well, he might not have noticed the suspicious wetness in Bruce’s eyes as well.
“I don’t need you to tell me that, chum. I don’t need reassurances that you did the right thing. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t say no. You weren’t in a position to consent. And you didn’t say yes.” Bruce said, voice dark and gravelly in a way it only got when he was holding something back. Whether that was anger at the situation, or grief that he hadn't noticed, even the man himselve wasn't sure.
“I said yes the other time though. And I’ve never said no whenever the smaller stuff happens. But this time, with her, I said no. I know I did. I know I did.”
Other time? Smaller stuff? The fire ants were back. Just how much of Dick’s life had he been blind to that he didn’t know his son had been raped twice, and sexually harassed countless times? What kind of father was he?
They spent two hours in the cave. Just talking. Their voices raised a few times, tears were shed, and people were put on Bruce’s List, but it was good. The whole thing was cathartic in a way that Dick hadn’t experienced in a while. A way that reminded him of better times. A way that felt like a father's embrace, even before Bruce hugged him. Things weren’t perfect, they never would be, but they were going to be okay.
“Hey B, did you really burn the answer to an Algebraic equation into your teacher’s lawn?”