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May. 16th, 2008 @ 07:18 pm Why: One-Shot
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Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, DC does--I just like to write about them...

Why?

A three letter word. A simplistic question which always demanded much more complicated answers. A probing remark used to evoke conversation from a very guarded source.

Why?

The first time Dick had used it, he had been at the manor for nearly a year. It had taken him almost a month to find the courage to ask his daunting guardian. The hardness that often settled behind the clear eyes was hardly inviting, but there were times that the ten-year-old could see the mask faltering a little. He had spent several dinners daring a long glance over the top of his glass of milk to scrutinize the man sitting at the far end of the table. Other times, he would trace the prongs of his fork through the thick maple syrup that cascaded down his pancakes, cocking his head to the side to peak at the stern eyes studying the newspaper. He began a nightly ritual of slipping into the large downstairs study after he finished his dessert and settling cross-legged in front of the sizable fire, book in hand.

But only if Bruce was there.

The night he finally blurted his question out, he had been staring at the same page of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the past half hour. The neatly printed letters were blurring into each other, their descriptions, the dialogues lost to the boy whose mind was far from them. His hands were starting to cramp as they found a tighter and tighter grip on the taut edges of the book, and his knees ached from being restricted to the same position for so long with no reprieve. The rustling of the papers at the desk behind him teased the boy, urging him to ask the question before they stopped and the man that was perusing through them left for his darker duties.

“B-Bruce?”

The papers shifted and the sound of a pen smoothly running over them paused.

“Hm?”

But Dick’s courage began to fade along with the dying fire that echoed in his bright eyes. After a few seconds, the roller of the pen began to move again, gliding against the hard mahogany desk as Bruce signed his name to a few business documents.

“Why……”

But again, the boy’s courage faltered. Dick suddenly shrugged and shook his head as if he had answered the question himself. He convinced himself it didn’t matter because his enigmatic guardian’s attention was probably buried once again amid the endless spreadsheets before him.

But it wasn’t. The pen rolled along the edge of the desk as Bruce put it down and leaned back in his leather chair to stretch his tired shoulders.

“Why what?”

Dick swallowed a few times as fear stole the moisture in his mouth. He kept his back to the man before closing his eyes and drawing in a deep, stuttered breath.

“Why did you take me in?”

The question was answered before the man could draw another breath, before another flame’s crackle resonated in the spacious fireplace. It was answered immediately.

In Bruce’s mind.

Because you were lost, and only I knew the agony you felt.

But conveying the sentiment to the awaiting ten-year-old was another matter entirely. The dark head was tensed, was shifted just slightly to the side as the small ears strained, waiting for the answer. But second after second slipped by in a drowning silence until nearly a minute had passed. Dick’s face flushed as the blood rushed to his cheeks, burning them with the man’s perceived rejection. Before he could jump to his feet and flee, Alfred had rushed in with news that a bomb had detonated in yet another bank.

Batman had rescued the floundering father just in time.

The next day, Bruce had taken costly measures to ensure he could leave the office early to fly Dick halfway across the country to see his favorite baseball team in a sold-out playoff game.

That night, Gotham had to survive without its cowled avenger. The sacrifice went unrealized by the boy.

XXXXX

Dick was eleven when he ventured another try. Another question had been brewing in the back of his mind, swirling among the uncertainty of his new role in his guardian’s life. It had been a particularly brutal night. Batman and his formidable little bird had stopped three robberies, one assault and a near car-jacking. But the boy had floundered in his self-doubt, his confidence shattered with a well-placed kick just under his jaw. He had been knocked to his feet and almost thrown off a roof before feeling a large gloved hand wrap around his wrist and help the former acrobat find his balance. Bruce had said nothing in the car as they drove home, instead concentrating on following the curves of the deserted dirt road.

The silence nearly strangled the breath out of the forlorn boy.

Dick stood in the costume chamber alone, his small frame surrounded by the eyeless cowls of the spare Batsuits behind their glass cases. They seemed to mock him, to ridicule him, to bore into his soul with their complete disgust. Dick lowered his eyes as he carefully began to peel off the layers of his costume, wishing he could do the same for his unappeasable guilt.

He winced a little as he unfastened the red Kevlar vest. Several marks reminded the boy just how ineffectual he was, blaring at him from under his ribcage as they threatened to swell and darken into bruises. He didn’t hear the rustling of a cape behind him.

“Dick…..”

The tone was quiet, the harshness tempered by what the boy thought was disappointment. He was too focused on drowning in that than realizing the true emotion behind the soft appellation.

Empathy.

“Why did you ever think I could be Robin?”

The words had tumbled out and ricocheted in every dark crevice of the shadowed cavern before Dick even realized it. The black mask had slipped from the boy’s grasp, fluttering to the concrete floor below, as graceful as the aerialist himself.

The answer rushed to Bruce’s lips.

Because you’re phenomenally talented, and I have complete confidence in you.

But the words never found flight. The brooding mentor’s soul grasped and swallowed them, dragging them deep inside to bury them for good. Robin had endured a harsh beating that night, scaring his companion to his very core. The older one knew if he thought too much about the boy’s question, he would begin to doubt the decision himself.

And Bruce didn’t want to do that. He had grown to need those bright eyes and lopsided grin by his side in his dark quest.

Even if he refused to admit it.

The older one closed his eyes and allowed other words to take their place.

“You need to have Alfred tend to your wounds. You suffered a few serious blows tonight when you left yourself open.”

Dick sighed and shook his head. He would never live up to the legend standing before him. Never.

The next night, Bruce quietly asked the boy if he could patrol the west side of town alone. It would be his first unaccompanied mission, and it was imperative that he did well. Batman would be just a few miles away if the boy found himself in any serious trouble. The implicit trust his mentor placed in him was unrealized by the doubting partner.

XXXXX

The young hero would find himself in a very strenuous first year of high school before the next incarnation of his question was born through frustration. His schedule was grueling, and he was pushing himself far beyond any regular teenager’s limits with his difficult courses and a very demanding boss. He had been offered a spot in an early morning Calculus class—the first and so far only freshman at his school to accomplish such a feat. Dick had only accepted to make Bruce proud of him. To make Bruce notice him. To notice Dick and not Robin, or maybe in someway, Dick and Robin.

They were, in the battered psyche of the drowning boy, separate. And each one yearned for the mentor’s approval.

But his guardian seemed indifferent to the triumph and had simply reminded the boy that his morning sparring sessions would now be an hour earlier.

“Do it again.”

He had just completed the new training course Bruce had installed nearly a minute faster than yesterday’s time. Only one weapon had managed to touch him, grazing his arm just enough to draw a few drops of bright red blood. It wasn’t even five yet, and the raven-haired hero still had to shower, finish the last three problems of his homework and somewhere along the lines grab a quick breakfast. The boy placed his hands on his hips and looked at the man in disbelief.

“I’ll be late for school, sir.”

“I said do it again.”

Dick’s jaw tightened, buckling under the strain. Bruce could see a deep rage burning behind those wide eyes, but he wasn’t entirely convinced it was all for him. But here, now, rage was good. Rage fueled the boy’s need to be relentless. To be perfect. It was a tool Bruce felt guilty using but knew its absolute necessity in their world. If his protégé ever lost that need, the price could be very dear.

“Bruce, I—“

Now.”

Dick took the towel from around his shoulders and flung it on the ground. The lack of sleep was beginning to wear on his control, and he was treading dangerously close to falling into the darkness of his own seething emotions. He was treading dangerously close to becoming Bruce.

“My time was better than—“

“I don’t want to hear it.”

The teen slowly shook his head, closing his eyes before the question that swirled viciously in his mind seeped into the air.

“Why isn’t anything I do ever good enough for you?”

Bruce bit his tongue hard enough to draw blood to prevent himself from answering.

Because you have to be perfect out there. If you’re not perfect, Dick, I could lose you. And this is the only way I have to protect you.

That night, Bruce softly informed the boy at dinner that he thought he could take the night off. He could even invite his friends over if he wanted. Dick was devastated. In his mind, Batman was grounding him for his insolence that morning. Yet once again, Bruce’s misjudged gesture only fueled the growing fire of doubt that burned deep in the boy’s soul.

XXXXX

Dick was restless as he neared graduation. A world that was once so narrow with its strict paths was about to offer the young man an endless chasm of choices. He had several decisions to make. Bruce was pushing for college. It was the proper thing for the ward of a billionaire business man to do. But while Dick was incredibly bright, he found no interest in academia. He wanted to travel. He wanted to train. He wanted to do everything his mentor had at his age. Bruce wanted to groom him for his rightful place at Wayne Enterprises. Batman wanted to groom him for his rightful place under the cowl.

He never told that to Dick, though. Not with words. And the silence only bolstered the boy’s doubts. He thought he needed to make his own shadow to slip out from under Bruce’s.

Deep down inside, Bruce wanted him close. But his bird wanted to fly.

The chasm that opened so many opportunities for the boy now began to sever him from his guardian. Dick could almost feel the separation inside him, could almost feel the distance between them as he stood on one side and Bruce melted farther and farther into the other. It was the first time he stood apart from his mentor instead of beside him. Dick could feel a heavy sorrow in him as he realized it wouldn’t be the last.

Dick hadn’t slept in nearly three days. His leadership of the Titans had become an increasingly intense commitment, and as of late, he had been trying to balance Robin’s roles as best he could.

“You were late.”

The opaque lenses did little to hide the fury seething behind the bright eyes.

“By five minutes.” The exhausted boy snapped.

“You were late.”

The soft rustling of a yellow cape momentarily shattered the thick silence as it landed at Bruce’s feet. Its smooth fabric almost shimmered in the muted light that glowed around them.

“I got to you as fast as I could.” Dick was focusing everything left in his fading mind to steady his breathing. He had to stay calm. He had to match Bruce’s confident control. “The Titans needed me. I think we did a pretty good job disposing of a serious threat.”

Bruce’s teeth ground together so hard that it felt as if they would shatter under the immense pressure.

“I didn’t realize you took my oath for accolades.”

“Don’t worry—I would never expect that from you.” The boy icily retorted. Two green gloves skidded across the cold cement floor and joined the pool of yellow. Bruce didn’t even flinch.

“If you plan on continuing with this personal crusade, perhaps you’d better reevaluate your position with me.”

Dick suddenly lowered his head and became very still. The dark mask he had almost savagely ripped from his face crumpled in his brutal grip. He had been expecting those words more and more lately. Every confrontation with Bruce made his heart tighten a little more, made it burn in his chest. At night when the boy was supposed to find solace in peaceful dreams, he could only see the shadow of a cowl, the flash of cold eyes and the twist of a frown as his loyalty was questioned. Every night he imagined just what expression his mentor’s face would hold and just what tone the harsh words would take. What he never imagined though, what he never allowed himself to ponder, was his response.

Dick wasn’t sure what he wanted it to be.

But now that the moment had finally arrived, he whispered the first thing that took shape in his mind.

“I don’t want that.”

After a brief but oppressive moment of silence, the dark cowl gave a tense nod. Then it turned away.

“Bruce?”

The softness, the utter vulnerability that had crept into the boy’s voice abruptly stopped the vigilante as he walked towards the computer.

“What?”

The dark head remained lowered, but a pair of subdued eyes dared a sideways glance.

“Why can’t you ever say that you’re proud of me?”

A nearly imperceptible sigh escape the older one’s lips, as if it had been wrenched from somewhere deep inside.

Because I’m afraid that you’ll stop pushing yourself to be better. And you are, Dick. You’re better than I could ever be. I want you to always have that drive.

The next week, a large supply of expensive equipment and a substantial cache of impressive weapons were anonymously donated and delivered to the Titans’ headquarters. Dick knew instantly just who had offered the devices, regardless of an elaborate attempt to cover any paper trails. Bruce wanted to offer a gesture of support to his protégé’s crusade. Dick saw it only as another stinging reminder that he needed the older one’s help.

XXXXX

Bludhaven was the nesting ground for everything and everyone scraped from the underbelly of Gotham. It had a crumbling skyline and a maze of decaying streets. The pungent smell of diesel and the smoke pumped into the air by the countless factories stung the lungs with every breath. Not a minute would go by without a siren shrieking in the distance. There wasn’t a concentrated area of crime, of a sublime evil. It had woven itself deep within the very soul of the place.

Bludhaven was a dying city. And Dick loved every inch of her.

When Bruce sent him to the city as a soldier in Gotham’s crusade, as a means to contain the erupting criminal element webbed into Bludhaven’s very fiber, he never expected to call her home. He never expected to find his own battlefield. Dick wasn’t Batman, and Bludhaven wasn’t Gotham. Yet the city needed him. Needed her own protector.

She needed Nightwing.

When Bruce offered his help, he was decisively rejected. When he showed up anyway, he only fueled the boy’s need for solitude even more.

“I told you I could handle things here.”

The taller figure had given a slow shrug, then had done a fierce examination of the cramped studio apartment. It was crowded with unpacked boxes and mismatched furniture. Certainly not the expected residence of Bruce Wayne’s ward. Certainly not the headquarters of Batman’s protégé.

“I thought I’d check on the status of your investigation.”

Dick crossed his arms over his chest and fought hard to keep his gaze locked on the clear eyes he knew were hidden behind the cowl.

“I don’t need help.”

Bruce resisted the urge to sigh. Every word, every conversation, always a battle. He studied the young man before him, the images of the boy’s different incarnations filtering through his mind. From the bright, radiant colors of a boy’s costume to the dark, subdued ones of a man’s—ones that shadowed his own.

“Bludhaven seems to be drowning in her own corruption.” The older one quietly observed, his back now turned. He reached over and picked up a discarded fast food wrapper, holding it up in the air disdainfully.

Dick scoffed and shook his head. “I can handle it.” He edgily assured. “Why can’t you see that I’m my own man now?”

The cowl lowered, shifting its shadow from the other figure in the room.

Because I would have to admit to myself that you no longer need me. I would have to accept that I should let you go.

“Contact me when you’ve found a lead.”

And with that, he was gone. That night, Bruce gave strict orders to the other members of his circle that Nightwing had absolute reign in Bludhaven. They were not to question his methods. They were not to extend an offer of help unless it was sought first. He also sent Alfred to the apartment at seemingly intermittent times, bearing a home-cooked meal or an ‘extra’ device that Batman no longer needed. Dick greeted each attempt with venomous resentment, seeing only that he was not trusted to take care of himself. He was blinded to the kindness behind the offerings.

XXXXX

A year later, Dick found himself perched on the gritty roof of an abandoned factory, binoculars in hand. It was a busy night, and he had procured some lucrative information about an incoming shipment of stolen military weapons. He didn’t even flinch when he heard the soft crunching of gravel behind him.

“Why are you here?”

The formidable vigilante offered a slight shrug before narrowing his eyes and studying the steadily growing group of men gathering around a white van. He hadn’t heard from Dick in almost four days, and despite his faith in the younger man’s abilities, the father inside his shielded soul began to worry. Dick let a frustrated sigh escape before he finally turned and rose to his feet.

“Why don’t you ever answer my questions?”

The cape fluttered a little as a swift breeze brushed past it. Otherwise, the daunting figure was very still as it looked down into the city. He felt the bright eyes boring through his armor—both the literal and figurative protection that guarded Bruce and Batman. Only Dick could penetrate it. Only Dick had discovered the weaknesses that made it unstable.

Bruce cleared his throat before doing the exact opposite of what the boy expected. He whispered an answer.

“I thought I always did.”

Dick drew back. Avoidance? That was considered an answer? But then the realization hit him. Hard.

Answers aren’t always born from words. Sometimes, they’re born from actions.

All those years, all those questions, Bruce had answered. The gifts, the donations, the solo flights, the forced vacations. The sacrifice, the gratitude, the trust, the pride. Dick allowed a hint of his lopsided grin to escape.

“Yeah…..I guess so.”

Bruce nodded once and turned back to the jagged skyline. The hint of his smile lasted much longer.

End.


Fandom: Batman

Genre: Angst/Fluff

Rating: PG

Series: Stand alone

Dick questions his place in Bruce’s crusade throughout the years, and his search only brings about more frustration. The protégé must learn just where to look to find his mentor’s answers.



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