“You keep,” The boy with scratched up knees and blackened eyes hisses, “an orphanage of crime fighters from me and I can’t do this for my parents, Batman?” The title is spit out like a curse, and the child folds his arms, rocking himself back and forth, back and forth.
Tim has no idea what the everloving hell was going on as Bruce holds up placating hands and kneels down.
It’s been three days since Nightwing went missing and this is the location an alert went off at. Batman does have a duty to civilians no matter what, but the vigour with what is being said and the wording is completely out of nowhere. But they have to get a move on. Bruce can hold up fine on his own with an emotionally disturbed child when Dick is-
“Dick,” Bruce says, and Tim blanks out. “Listen to me- you are-“
“No!” The child- Dick Grayson- roars and kicks Bruce hard in the stomach, before continuing his blows in rapid succession. “No! No! No! Shut up! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
The grimy rooftop is slick , easy to lose balance on so Bruce doesn’t fend him off, instead taking each hit before pulling a sobbing and screaming child into his arms.
It’s a hold that Tim recognizes as one inherently restrictive, but still the younger version of his brother is squirming and fighting, causing Bruce evident pain to hold on.
But Bruce doesn’t falter, as he winces and whispers to Tim over the wails. “Tell everyone we found him. Suspected magical/time anomaly. And,” he pauses as Dick catches a tooth on the armor of the suit, trying to dig into the Kevlar to hurt. “Tell the others to give us a wide breach,”
“Yeah,” Tim agrees easily, not knowing what else to say about any of this.
It’s only as they return to the batmobile and once Dick has gone practically catatonic, limp in arms that swallow him, that Tim bites out. “What happened to him?”
Bruce places Dick down in the car’s back seat and buckles him in mechanically. While the man isn’t overtly affectionate, all of his kids get copious amounts of hair ruffles, shoulder pats, and half hugs. Especially when they’re injured and emotionally compromised. And especially when they’re super young.
So why is it different this time?
“He was an extraordinarily traumatized eight year old,” Bruce says softly and they both stare down at Dick, whose blue eyes are as blank as a corpse. “Brilliant, but after everything he’d gone through, he didn’t want love. He was the survivor who would bite you, tear you down to pieces if you got too close,”
Bruce gave him the keys to drive and slid next to the child in the backseat before sighing. “I gave him Robin,”
“I don’t understand,” the eight year old snarls with Dora the Explorer bandaids on his cheeks. “Why the hell is Zucco alive?”
Silence stretches out through the cave and the people in it, trying to be preoccupied with anything else.
They did everything according to protocol. Determined that Dick was three months out from his parents’ fall, one from juvenile detention, and that in his approximate timeline, Zucco was still out there. That’s what this child had been doing the last three days of his disappearance - roaming the streets for a mobster sent to prison years upon years ago.
This isn’t the happy child in the yellow cape he’d become. This is a human hurricane, coming to charge at anyone who dared approach the eye of the storm.
Bruce and Dick are looking over the file now at the boy’s ice cold demand to the news that Zucco has faced a version of justice.
“He’s serving a life sentence because of your work, Dick,” Bruce reports back. “Your work as my partner put him away,”
Dick twirls around to him. “The man who killed my only family is taking a cooking class in prison,” His voice is frighteningly demon-like in tone. “A cooking class. When he needs to die,”
Bruce says nothing, and puts his arms out on the defense when Dick strikes to attack. Catching him in the air before he lands, he takes the yelling boy upstairs, not saying another word.
Life falls into a rythme with this version of the family rock.
Dick cannot be away from Bruce for an extended period. But he also hates Bruce. He screams, and refuses to eat. He breaks anything he gets his hands on, storms around in rages that last hours with Bruce holding him down from hurting himself. Temper tantrums are the default, but it’s still somehow worse when he goes quiet and sullen.
Dick tries to light his stuffed elephant Zitka aflame and kicks Bruce’s hand when the man reaches into the fire pit to rescue her. But once Zitka is safe, he breaks down and clutches her for hours.
He doesn’t talk unless it’s screams, insults, or whimpers. The only other time he verbalizes is when he’s around Alfred, shy and polite in manners. But he can’t be around Alfred long, or he’ll dissociate or scream for Bruce.
Damian stays out of the house with Jason after Dick screamed bloody murder at him and tried to hit him with a fire poker.
Bruce tells all of them later that Dick’s cousin John was around Damian’s age of thirteen when the Flying Graysons fell. With the similarity in skin color of the boys, one dead, one alive, it’s striking and Dick can’t handle it. Of course it doesn’t excuse the behavior, Bruce says as he hugs Damian. But all of them know- it’s understandable.
After all, they’re seeing first hand how this child is treating a dark haired man with an athletic build and deep voice.
Bruce takes as much time off patrol as he can. No one except him comes up into the manor at night, where Dick is constantly trying to escape with a knife in his pocket to kill Zucco or having visceral nightmares.
Jason at one point suggests to Bruce to start training him for Robin again. Not to genuinely release him to the streets, but as a coping mechanism.
“No, Jay. Even with supervision, I’m not going to allow him into an area with gym equipment,” The man sighs and nurses a bad shoulder. “He isn’t stable enough to handle that, “”
“Like he might be triggered by it?”
“Like he might harm himself- I can’t trust him right now to stay alive,”
There’s nothing to say to that except think over and over at night about the mind and person that is Dick Grayson.
Tim and Alfred are sitting in the kitchen, staring at Dick’s tiny form, as the boy sleeps for the first time in what must be days.
“Do you remember him being this bad?” Tim asks over the top of an energy drink and Alfred sighs.
“Yes and no. I remember the hyper-codependency present, the nightmares, and even some memorable and spectacular temper tantrums,”
“But not his aggression?”
“Yes,” Alfred admits. “I believe Bruce dealt with that on his own, and did not tell me of all the incidents when it is clear now that it was bountiful and plenty,”
Because they’ve all seen it. Bruce is lined at the arms with bite marks and bruises and scratches from fending off and comforting Dick in his rages. The indents of teeth are there, turning blue, purple, green.
It’s not like Bruce is permissive with Dick. He lectures him on the “destructive behavior,” and does not budge on the rules they have established. But he’s always there, always the punching bag for the world of rage that the boy possesses.
Tim wonders why no one took Dick to a child psychologist.
He looks into the records, and apparently Bruce took him to three. The third one came out crying because of the cruel and manipulative things Dick told her in the session.
It’s not that different of a report from the other two.
“You’re not my father!” Tim hears Dick bellow from a study. He’s honestly not surprised to hear that fight going on. It’s a constant rage that Dick has with this future he’s suddenly been put into.
He doesn’t want another father. He already has one that’s dead and Bruce is an imposter, a fake, a sad pathetic man that will amount to nothing in life, and would be a failure as a dad anyway.
These are biting words that have come up and out of the eight year old’s mouth numerous times. And that’s when other people are in the room to witness.
It’s difficult to see how the first Robin, the dynamic force of nature, his big brother, is this angry little boy who wants to destroy people and himself. But, he supposed, the legend of Robin rivals that of Batman’s. Both born out of the same stewed rage. Except Robin’s had a much shorter baking time.
Tim isn’t surprised to hear numerous crashes either. He tried to help the other day when Dick escalated like this, and it had ended badly for everyone. So he was staying out of it.
O-U-T, he reminds himself as Dick continues to yell. Focused on the case in front of him, where is the connection with the arms deals-
Suddenly, he hears the sound of big feet sprinting down padded carpet in the halls. And oh no, Bruce isn’t with Dick while he’s having the tantrum.
Tim’s running too, and arrives at the study four seconds after Bruce.
Dick is rocking himself, completely silent, as Bruce stares at the ground.
Tim looks too.
Every single Father’s Day mug. The ceramics of ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ Collected by kids throughout the years that sat on Bruce’s desk. Even the little birthday cards and drawings he saved. Dick has destroyed them and left them in a pile on the ground.
Bruce kneels down and picks up the hammer that Dick had procured in the limited time he was without supervision and gave it to Tim.
“Look after him for a second, okay? I need to,” He swallows down air and chokes it back up. “I need to take a walk,” and with that, Bruce leaves.
Tim can’t pretend he hadn’t seen the tears border his father’s eyes.
“Why did you make him Robin?” Tim asks as they’re gluing back the damage done later on. It’s hard work, but they’ve all done puzzles before. And the results of putting back the mugs and ripped cards together puts Bruce back into a better head space.
“I was twenty four,” Bruce replies, utterly focused on his task of gluing back a handle to the ‘World’s Best Farter’ cup. “And it was month two of me fostering him. And the caseworker came. She told me that based on his behavior, if there wasn’t immediate change, then I’d lose custody and he’d be institutionalized,”
“Shit,” Tim breathes.
“And he was sneaking out to kill his parents’ murderer,” Bruce hums and taps the top of the mug before placing it to dry on a rack. “He also was an acrobatic prodigy with enough strength to seriously injure a grown man. There were a multitude of reasons. Not all of them sound. He’s a force of nature, and there wasn’t stopping him. So I gave him the best I could,”
“You did right by him,”
“I only wish that was true, Timmy,”
The switch back to normal comes one morning with limited announcement and fanfare.
Jason and Damian took a weekend trip out somewhere to get out of Gotham’s stifling air. Tim presumes they’re out in the country because last time he talked with Jason, the man was on a transcendentalist kick about finding thine’s self in nature, and while some parts of the philosophy was elitist, the tenants of self was great, great historical stuff came from it, and trees can expose our true nature, and Tim kind of fell off listening when the tree hugging talk came up.
So it’s just him, Cass, and Alfred at the counter on an early Saturday morning, talking about the clementine orange sky and a gun trafficking case with dead ends.
“If you need help with guns,” A familiar tone lilts behind them and all three snap to it.
Older Dick Grayson with bright happy eyes and copper skin free of tear stains flexes his arms to show off the bronzed muscle. “I’ve got some great big guns right here,”
“You are ridiculous,” Tim chokes out at the pun, and then flings himself at the man’s waist. He feels hands hug him back, and this is so different from having to hold down a violent traumatized child he wants to cry.
Cass is smiling with her face next to cracking and kisses their older brother on the cheek. “We missed you,”
“Completely understandable when there’s so much to miss, Cassie,” It’s obvious that Dick is compensating with humor for the aftermath of the experience but they allow it, joking back. After all, this is a smiling happy young man that has returned .
Dick leaves for a moment to collect cereal and granola bars from the pantry, and they regain a bit of silence before Bruce comes storming in.
“Dick’s lost,” he thunders, scanning the room, eyes hunting for a sign. “We have to find him before he finds a way off the property or onto something high enough for him,”
It’s evident he just woke up, with brazen eyes sleep dazed, and wrinkled sweatpants. He’s not wearing a shirt, so every mark of abuse is stark against his pale skin. They’re even worse than usual, and Tim stares, vaguely remembering how bad the entirety of yesterday had been.
No one answers him so Bruce repeats again. “We have to find-Dick?”
Dick is standing in the doorway, re-emerged with his box of granola, mouth open with nothing coming out.
Bruce moves first. Tentatively, he pulls out a small flashlight and raises it to Dick’s eye to check for remnants of the situation. He presses down on the younger man’s cheek, to examine the bruise that had been there from before.
It’s a process that is riddled with care, the kind of I-love-you Bruce is prone to giving, but Dick flinches away and backs into the cabinet.
“That was- all of it-“ Dick startles, staring down at the puncture wounds on their father’s arms. “That was me?”
Bruce gives him space, while also placing a hand on his shoulders. “It was an eight year old child, displaced and scared and angry,”
“But it was me,” Dick protested. “Was I like that- like that in the early days?”
Bruce contemplates for a second before saying. “Yes. I never told you,” The kitchen grows silent for another second. “I never told you how happy I am that you’re okay,”
Dick tackles Bruce into a hug, crying out apologies and gratitude. And Bruce hugs back, just as hard, muttering back sweet nothings.
And once again, Tim is amazed at the person that is Dick Grayson.
And of Bruce Wayne as well.