renecdote on tumblr requested #5: "You can't stay in bed all day." and #21: "Maybe you should sit down."
Dick is about 13 here
The lights go out and three noises sound across the tunnel simultaneously: a scream, a thump, and a hiss. Dick knows the causes, too: the kid he was supposed to be rescuing, a kick to his knee that forces him to the ground, and a canister full of fear toxin being released.
Dick instinctively pulls his cape over his face. Feet are pounding down the tunnel, but Dick can't go after them, he needs to get the kid out. He presses his comm. "Batman." He holds back a cough and wobbles as he tests out how much weight his knee can take. "Found Scarecrow. He's getting away."
"Tracking your location now," Bruce replies calmly. "The child?"
"With me, getting him out now." He clicks his comm off when Bruce gives his grunt of approval and starts limping toward where the scream had sounded. "Travis? I'm Robin, I'm going to get you out of here."
His throat burns and his eyes are starting to water. The fear gas will kick in any moment.
"Get away! Get away! Get away!" the kid screams at him as he gets closer, causing him to gulp down even more gas.
Dick ignores the almost-sweet hiss in his ear—a hallucination, not real, just a hallucination—and holds his hands up to show he means no harm. "I know you're scared, but everything is going to be okay. I promise."
The kid is fighting against the handcuffs, and each slap against the bar echoes throughout the space.
"No! No! No!"
"Look at me, Dickie. Don't you want to see Mommy?"
"I'm going to give you something," Dick warns the kid as he pulls out his last dose of anti-toxin. "A quick pinch, and then we're out of here."
"No, Mary, he doesn't. Why would he want to see us when he doesn't even miss us? Look how happy he is—he's probably glad we're dead."
"Momma! Momma, help!"
"We'll go get Momma next." Dick grips the kid's arm, holding it steady so he can do the injection. "Good job," Dick says when he's done. "I'm just going to get these cuffs off, then I'll take you home."
The kid whimpers at him.
"I know you're scared, but everything's going to be okay."
The kid latches on to Dick's wrist with fierce urgency. "Don't let it take me," he begs in a trembling voice.
"I won't. I promise." Dick smiles at him and cuts the cuffs with a quick snap.
"Look at us!"
He gets the kid situated on his back and slowly stumbles out of the tunnel. His knee hurts and protests every step, but there's nothing to be done about it. At least the kid isn't fighting him.
It takes too long to get to where the police are waiting, but when he gets there, Travis's mom is with them. She plucks her boy up with a teary thank you and buries her face in his hair.
"I used to hold you like that. Do you remember that? Do you miss that?"
"Or did you find someone to replace that too?"
"Hey kid, you listening?" a hand on his shoulder makes him flinch, the flinch makes him stumble.
Dick looks at the officer, tries to focus on the present instead of the rotting faces of his dead parents and their bent necks. "I'm fine."
"I'm fine," Dick repeats, the actual question not processing until after he's already answered.
"Being replaced isn't what hurts the most, though, little Robin. No, of course someone else would fill a needed role. It's your preference that's the problem."
He squeezes his eyes shut and curls in on himself, slapping his hands over his ears even though some part of his brain tells him it won't do anything. He feels sick, like he's going to puke. Maybe he already did.
"If you could change things, you wouldn't, would you? You'd keep us dead—murdered. If you went back in time, you wouldn't say anything. You'd watch me fall. You'd let me and your mom fall. You'd watch with a smile and then happily run to Bruce."
Hands are on him against—real or fake? real or fake?—and they make him feel trapped, they make him feel like he's burning. "Maybe you should sit down. Take a few breaths, yeah? It's been a long evening for everyone."
Dick snaps his head up at that voice, and for a second, he gets some clarity and the fake hands are gone. He steps toward Batman and the officer removes his real hands.
"Would you miss him if he died? What about four years later? Or would you just forget him and find another replacement?"
"I think he got some of that fear gas, Batman," the officer warns.
"I'll take care of it." Batman puts a hand on Dick's back and Dick gasps, stepping out of his reach on shaky legs; Bruce doesn't try to touch him again. Instead, he presses a button on his belt to call the car. "Scarecrow is subdued; tell Gordon to search the tunnels."
"Okay, what about—"
Tires screech as the Batmobile comes to a sudden stop. He and Batman both jump in, and then they're racing away seconds later.
"How bad?" Bruce asks immediately.
"We always knew when something was wrong. We cared. We loved you. And this is how you repay us? By replacing us with a man who puts your life at risk every night?"
Dick is leaned forward on his knees, hands in his hair. "Fine." Just ghosts. Just voices. Just guilt.
Bruce nods. "Did you take something?
"You're a terrible son."
Dick shakes his head. "I ran out."
"Hnn. We're not far."
When they get back to the cave, Alfred is waiting with the med bay prepped and one of the antidotes sitting on a tray. They do the injection first, then Alfred examines his knee. His parents sit by him the whole time, reminding him what an awful person he is for moving on and forgetting them. Bruce just reminds him that it can take ten minutes for the antidote to fully kick in. He tells him to focus on his breathing, but Dick can't because it's being drowned out by his parents' accusations.
Normally, Dick would distract himself by talking, especially after a night like tonight. Scarecrow had been on the run wreaking havoc for almost a week, and tonight he kidnapped the son of the lawyer who helped put him away. Dick saved the kid all by himself and he helped Bruce track down Scarecrow, who is now heading back to Arkham. It should be a victory, but none of it means anything to him.
(Lately, nothing means anything to him.)
He doesn't talk tonight—just nods or shakes his head when prompted—and instead chooses to focus on his knee. It screams at him with each painful throb, almost as loud as his parents. It doesn't work as well as he knows talking would, but it's better than counting the lengths of his breaths.
Alfred forces ibuprofen into his hand and puts some ice on his knee. All of his tendons and ligaments are in place, it's just sprained and badly bruised. It will be back to normal in a week or two, but he'll have to wear a knee brace for a few days and ice it until the swelling goes down. Twenty minutes later, Alfred takes the ice away and helps him into a knee brace before sending him to bed.
"Can you make it?" Bruce asks as Dick slides off the gurney.
His knee hurts, but it's not as unstable. He'll test his luck with the stairs. "I've got it."
"The antidote is working?"
"If you need anything." Bruce rests his hand on Dick's shoulder, looks him in the eye.
Sometimes, after nights like this, Bruce will sit with him until he falls asleep. But the ghosts he's carrying wouldn't be happy to see him seek comfort from the stand-in parent, and frankly, neither would Dick. As much as he wants comfort, it would only make him feel worse right now.
Dick tugs away. "Night."
He forgets to set his alarm. This happens. Alfred knows this and there's a system in place. His alarm not going off is not a reason for him to be late for school.
"Dick, come on, we're going to be late." Bruce is in here. Alfred sent him in.
"I don't feel good," Dick mumbles from where he's buried in blankets.
"So Alfred tells me. He also said you didn't have a fever."
"I didn't say I have a fever," Dick says, scowl evident in his voice, "I said I don't feel good."
"The fear toxin should be out of your system by now."
"It is." And it's the truth. It just left him with a bitter taste, some things to think about.
"What you saw—are you still on edge?"
Dick ignores him.
Bruce sighs, and Dick can picture him scrubbing his hand over his face. "You know that sometimes recovering from the effects can take a day or two. If that's the case, you need to tell me."
It's not the gas. It has nothing to do with the gas and everything to do with Dick. And right now, Dick wants Bruce nowhere near him.
"Did something happen at school then? Is someone . . . is someone bullying you?"
Dick rolls his hidden eyes.
"Dick, just tell me what's going on."
"I told you: I don't feel good."
A rush of cold air hits him as Bruce loses his patience and rips Dick's sheets away from him.
Dick flips over and glares at Bruce as he pulls his blankets back over his head. Bruce looks mad. "I'm not going today. You can't make me." It's childish, but today it's true. Not even Dick could make himself go if he wanted to.
"We leave in five minutes. Put on some clothes; maybe Alfred will fix you something to eat in the car."
Dick does not end up going to school that morning. Bruce and Alfred talk in passionate, hushed tones in the hallway, but Dick can't be bothered to pay attention to them. Bruce comes back in, calmer this time, going for what Dick expects to be a more sympathetic tactic. But there is no tactic. He just says that Dick can stay home and that they'll talk later. Dick doesn't look at him, keeps his face shoved in his pillow so that Bruce can't see the silent tears starting to spill onto his face.
Bruce sighs and runs his fingers through Dick's hair before leaving. Once Dick is sure he's out of earshot, he lets himself cry as loud and as hard as he can until he has no more tears left.
It's ironic that's he's crying like this, because the thing is, Dick is happy. Really happy. And it's been making him guilty for a while now.
At 4:27, there's a knock on his bedroom door.
The anger Dick was feeling earlier that morning is gone. Now he mostly just feels apathetic. He forces, "Hi."
"Alfred says you haven't moved or eaten anything since I left."
That isn't exactly true: Alfred kept coming in every so often to insist he elevate and ice his knee, forcing Dick to flip onto his back each time.
He tells none of this to Bruce. Had he been feeling better, he would've openly done so with a cheeky grin. Now, he just says one word with a tone of indifference: "So?"
"So, we're concerned. I'm concerned."
Dick just shrugs.
"How about we go for a walk on the grounds and talk for a bit?" Bruce suggests. "Some light movement will be good for your knee."
"What about a pull-up contest then? If I remember correctly, you were wanting a rematch."
There's a very long pause. When it's clear Dick isn't going to answer (and Bruce has thought of something to say), he tells Dick firmly, "You can't stay in bed all day."
Isn't that what I'm supposed to say to you? "It's been working so far."
Bruce sighs, and the bed creaks as he sits down on the mattress. "I don't know what I'm supposed to say here, kiddo."
Dick doesn't know either, so he stays silent. Maybe if he's still and quiet enough, Bruce will leave. Maybe Dick will disappear.
"Dick, if you won't talk to me, I can't help you." Bruce is losing his calm, sympathetic tone. His patience is running low, but Dick's is running out faster.
"If you really wanted to help, you would leave me alone."
"I'll leave as soon as you tell me what's wrong."
Dick snaps into a sitting position, yells, "Nothing is wrong!"
Bruce's eyes tighten as they meet Dick's, but his tone isn't aggressive. "Clearly something is wrong, and I know whatever it is has been bothering you long before last night."
"I already told you," Dick says, and his eyes are filling with hot tears again. "Everything is fine. I'm happy. Don't you get it?
Bruce reaches out, tries to grab Dick's shoulder, but Dick puts his arms around himself and curls away. Bruce lets his hand fall back down, he admits, "I don't follow."
"I shouldn't be happy!" Dick says, hands gesturing wildly to emphasize his point. "I don't deserve it, it's wrong."
Bruce grabs his hands and pulls them down. "Of course you deserve to be happy. Why would you think otherwise?"
"Because—" He debates for a second on what he should say. "Am I a bad son?"
"Where the hell is that coming from?"
"My parents are dead, Bruce, and I'm happy." Dick tugs his hands away from Bruce's and looks everywhere but Bruce. "Everything is great and I, I don't miss them anymore. I mean, I do. Of course I do, but I don't—not like I used to. I like my life the way it is now and I don't think I'd want it to change."
Bruce's face falls as he understands what Dick is getting at. "Dick."
"And I'm forgetting them," Dick continues in an almost desperate, rambling confession. "Like, I still remember them in general, but I can't remember what they smelled like or what their voices sounded like or the way they moved—all the details are disappearing. And I never got to really know them. I only knew them as parents; I'll never know who they actually were."
Bruce wipes a tear from Dick's cheek with his thumb.
"After it happened, I used to wish for them to come back, but I don't do that anymore. It's not that I want them dead or that I'm happy because they're gone, it's just—it's just that—"
"You've moved on," Bruce finishes for him. "You went through a great loss, but you worked through it and rebuilt. That's a good thing, Dick, and it doesn't make you a bad son at all."
Dick's lip trembles as he looks up at Bruce with big eyes. "But I replaced them. I'll have more years of you as a parent than I did with them, you'll make up almost all of the memories. It's like I'm erasing their existence just by being here." Here with you.
Dick's words hang in the air, making the room thick with tension. Dick is so lost in it that he can't process Bruce's voice.
"Do you think I replaced my parents with Alfred?"
"I said: Do you think I replaced my parents with Alfred?"
"Good. Because I didn't, and neither did you. People can't be replaced, even if we want to replace them—which I don't think you did. And just because new people come into our lives doesn't mean we have to get rid of other people to make room, dead or alive. Do you understand?"
"I've told you that I've had mental health problems since I was young, and they got worse during my teens." Dick nods again. "I used to feel guilty about this kind of stuff too. Survivor's guilt. I saw a therapist for it, and maybe it's time to consider having you see one."
Dick lets himself fall into Bruce's shoulder, and Bruce holds his head there with his hand
"You can't grieve forever," Bruce says quietly. "Just because they're gone doesn't mean we have to force ourselves to be miserable. They would want us to be happy and live our lives."
"I don't want to forget them," Dick says. "I love them, and forgetting is like losing them again. What am I supposed to do if I lose everything?"
Bruce pauses for a long moment, then rests his chin on Dick's hair. "Tell me something you do remember."
Dick thinks for a minute, eyes going to the ceiling as he tries to focus in on something tangible. "They never made their bed. I would point it out whenever they told me to make mine, and then my dad would say that they were just saving it for me to do." Dick gives a small, breathy laugh. "Then he would look to my bed and stage-whisper that I clearly needed practice."
"What else?" Bruce prompts, and Dick tries to tell him everything.
One day after school, a few weeks after Dick's talk with Bruce, he walks into his bedroom to find a giant box sitting on his bed. He drops his bag on the floor and goes to open it. On the top is a card that reads, "A celebration of John and Mary Grayson." Inside of it, he finds journals, a few VCR tapes, photo albums, and letters. He smiles and his eyes well up with happy tears. He shakily grabs the first photo album.
There's a sticky note on the front that reads: Photos are treasures in themselves, but they're even better with context –Bruce
Dick frowns a little but flips it open anyway. As expected, he finds pages full of pictures, but each one has a little notecard explaining what was going on and when. There are photos ranging from when his parents were young all the way up until they died. As Dick reads through the notes, he realizes just how many people Bruce must have tracked down for these. They all took place at Haley's or during that time, so they're probably from people who worked with them. Haley probably gave Bruce contact information as a starting point, and then maybe the Bat-computer to supplement that, but still. It must have taken a lot of time.
The videos are all labeled, but there aren't many and none have notecards like the photos. One says "Dick's first steps," another says "Dick's first flight (Trapeze)." Others seem to be general family videos and filmed trapeze routines. One is a wedding video.
The journals are more planners than journals, mostly filled with show and training schedules. But every few months, there's a real journal entry and update. They're filled with both rants and excitement, and one page has scrawl all over it that slightly resembles the letters R-I-C-H-A-R-D. It's circled with a note that says it was the first time Dick wrote his name correctly. Other pages have doodles on them, drawings that must have been Dick's. They're surrounded by better drawings, clearly drawn by one or both of his parents.
Then there are the letters. Some are notes that his parents left for each other in passing and then saved. Other letters are written for Dick by people who knew them. They talk about good memories, what kind of trouble they got into as kids, what kind of people they were, their hobbies and interests outside of trapeze, and always how much they loved Dick.
There are a few other miscellaneous items in the box. Some of it is merch from Haley's back when the Flying Grayson first made their debut, and then there are a few books. Most of them were used by Mary and/or John themselves, but one or two are new copies of books they had loved. The rest are C.D.s and a few cassette tapes, all with notes saying who liked them and when or what their favorite track on it was. There was one cassette tape from a Roger who said he had gone on a road trip with Dick's parents back when they were all teenagers. The attached tape had apparently gotten stuck in the player and it was all they were able to listen to for the rest of the trip.
By the time he's pulled everything out and flipped through some of it, two hours have passed and there are itchy lines on his cheeks were his tears had dried. He packs his box back up and slides it under his bed for safekeeping—it's time to find Bruce.
Luckily, Bruce isn't hard to find. He's in the den with a basketball game on, but he's looking down at his phone, probably at news reports.
Dick runs over to him, falling over the back of the couch to hug him as tight as he can. "Thank you, Bruce. I loved it."
"Anytime, chum." Bruce ruffles Dick's hair. "Anytime."
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!