Warning: This fic deals with suicide and suicidal thoughts. No one in the fic dies of suicide, but please be aware that suicide and depression are major themes throughout the fic.
Before anyone is allowed out in the field, they need to learn how to use a grapple gun properly. Bruce taught all of them how to aim quickly and efficiently, how to prepare for the tug, and what to do if it gets stuck or jammed. It becomes instinctive to reach for the device, pull it out, and aim it toward the best location. They can do it so quickly because as soon as they walk in a room, they know where those spots are. It's ingrained into each of them.
The point is, Dick knows what he's supposed to do when his feet no longer have anything to stand on. His hand is on the grapple gun, but Dick doesn't pull it out. He hesitates.
The thug that knocked him out of the building is being taken care of. Batman is probably securing him right now, getting the remote for the bombs and saving the city. So, really, there's nothing more for Dick to do. Gotham is saved; there's no need for Dick to go back up there.
Wind is rushing past his ears, his mouth is filling with blood from where he bit his tongue when the thug punched him. His fingers twitch over the device training is telling him to grab, but—
Let go. His thoughts say. What's the point? Isn't this what you want?
His fingers relax and he closes his eyes. It's over. He gets to let go.
The fall doesn't kill him. Not even close.
It was only two stories and, just his luck, he landed in a dumpster and gained a concussion and some pretty decent bruising. A bottle broke on impact, too, and some of the shards even managed to impale themselves into his back despite the kevlar. But no, it didn't kill him.
"You better hope your grapple gun malfunctioned," he remembers Bruce growling as he secured him on a gurney. But they both know it didn't. Dick would've screamed, the thing would've at least been out of its holster.
Dick has currently been left alone in the Cave's med bay, lying on a cot and feigning sleep despite the weight on his chest. Bruce had told him they would talk later—threated that they would talk later.
The others are still in the Cave, and Dick can almost barely hear them. After everyone was patched up and showered, Bruce gathered them up for a post-mission debrief. They had all been in different sections of Gotham for most of the night, trying to hunt down bombs. Dick had been the one to find the lead bomber; Bruce just happened to be the closest backup available. Dick would think Bruce would want to hear what he had to say, but he was told to rest. He would be dealt with later.
If everything didn't hurt so much, he would run off without a second thought. But everything does hurt that much so he settles for sleep.
Dick is fine. He's always fine. Everything is fine, so why do people keep looking at him like that?
"Can I help you with something, Timmy?" Dick asks. He tries to go for a light, joking tone. It comes out snappy and impatient.
"Sorry," Tim mumbles and looks back down at his plate. Damian is oddly silent at the far end of the table.
Dick can't bring himself to deal with it, so he goes back to picking at his breakfast in the same fashion as Tim. God, why does he have to make everyone so miserable? Why is he even still here? Why wasn't that building just a bit taller and that dumpster just a few feet to the right? Why the fuck couldn't he have just—
Dick hears footsteps running down the hall, followed shortly by a tight but loud call. "Dick?"
He turns his head, popping a bite of pancake into his mouth. He chews it slowly as he watches Bruce appear in the doorway. His face shifts from somewhat panicked to anger before going neutral.
"You shouldn't be out of bed."
"I feel fine. Alfred said I was fine." His back is bruised, his spine will stick around for a while longer. Painkillers and ice. Rest. No more jumping out of buildings. Ha, ha.
"Hn." Bruce walks over to where Dick is still seated. He places a hand on Dick's shoulder and leans forward, mouth close to Dick's ear. Tells him in a quick, hushed tone, "Let's talk."
"I'm eating," Dick protests loudly, shoveling some eggs into his mouth to prove his point.
Bruce grabs the back of his chair, pulling it back so roughly that it causes Dick to coughs on his eggs. "Now."
"Fine." Dick throws his fork down on the table and storms out of the kitchen. He can feel eyes on him, but they just make him walk faster. Bruce is following him rather than herding him, so Dick leads them to the gym. It smells like a mix of sweat and chalk and something that can only be described as childhood nostalgia. He knows other people might classify the smell as something more along the lines of unpleasant, but it makes him calm.
He hops up on a tall stack of mats, pulling his legs into a full lotus and leaning back on his outstretched arms. He looks at Bruce, tilts his head, and waits for what he already knows is coming.
Bruce opens his mouth, closes it, takes a breath and tries again. Dick brings one hand in front of himself, gesturing for Bruce to continue. Bruce pulls a hand down over his face, fixes Dick with a firm look, and finally asks in that special, serious tone reserved only for conversations like this, "How are you feeling?"
"Hungry. Someone rudely interrupted my breakfast," Dick quips. "Next question."
He smiles, almost laughs as he continues, "Come on, old man, I'm going for the speed round here. Hit me."
Bruce tightens his eyes and crosses his arms. "You can't honestly expect me to believe that last night was an accident."
Except here's the thing: it was. At least when "accident" refers to Dick's survival rather than the fall, which, for Bruce, it, of course, does not. "Of course I don't. You never believe anything; you just hunt down leads until you know."
"Then let's start with the facts." And there it is, the confirmation that this is an interrogation. An attempt at evidence collection. "You didn't remove your grapple gun after you fell out the window—explain."
Dick shrugs. "Can't. One second I was in the room, the next I was hit and in a dumpster." It's not a total lie.
"Are you implying that you blacked out?" How far are you willing to take this? is what Bruce is really asking.
"I guess." In a sense, Dick's common sense, his preservation to live, blacked out. "What else would explain it? Plus, I have the concussion for your probable cause. Can I go now?"
"That's not—" Bruce stops himself, rubs at his eyebrows. "And you weren't able to come up with this cover story last night because?"
"One, not a cover story, it's the truth; two, concussion; and three, you wouldn't let me talk," Dick lists off, bringing his hands back in front of him again so that he can count his reasons off on his fingers. "Does that check out, officer?"
There's genuine concern in Bruce's voice now. He knows it should—used to—have a calming effect on him, or at least make him realize that he's not alone, that someone's looking out for him. But now? In this mindset? He just wants to run off and maybe break his own fist in the process.
He slides off the mats. "Look, I can't deal with this today. Pick another kid to play parent with for a minute."
"Dick, stop." He grabs Dick's arm, holds him steady. "Let's discuss this. If you're not comfortable talking about it with me, I understand, but let me get you to someone who can help. Hiding it and then passing it off as a joke whenever someone notices what's really going on won't help in the long run. Trust me."
He tugs his arm away, fixes Bruce with his own glare. "Oh, and this is coming from you? 'Cause you're so great at confronting your problems, right?"
It's quiet. Dick's face softens and he shifts his weight.
"Look. Last night was—it was dumb. It won't happen again."
"You can't be sure of that. That's not how these things work, you know that."
(He does, he does know that.)
"I was exhausted and it's been a rough week, and it just took me a second too long to realize what I was doing."
"Rough weeks don't push healthy brains into suicidal tendencies."
"I'm not suicidal," Dick quickly defends. "I've never—" not for a long time. (His mind quickly reminds him of his go-to plan from his teenage years, quickly reminds him of how easily he could still access that plan if he wanted.)
But he won't because he's not. He's fine. He's always fine.
Bruce puts his hands—those heavy, rough, warm hands that Dick has known for more years than not now—on Dick's shoulders. Dick takes a deep breath, focusses on the smell of the chalk.
"I need you to be safe." You scare me. I'm worried about you.
"Or do you just need someone to save?" Dick shoots back, tugging away again as his mind screams at him to get back on the defensive. He needs to get out, he feels like he can't breathe in here. The chalk in the air is getting too thick to breathe, and it's hot. Why is it so hot? Isn't the AC always on in here? He needs to go. His bike is in the garage.
Bruce hasn't said anything, hasn't reached out again. It's what Dick wants, but it makes anger flare up anyway.
"That's what I thought." He pushes the gym doors open, storms out without another look.
Bruce doesn't follow.
"Master Dick, are you alright?"
Why does everyone have to ask him that?
"Sure, Alfred. I'm going to take off, see you later." His ears are ringing, his head is spinning. Is his vision going out? He still can't breathe, that could explain the black spots dancing across his visual field. But he can't smell the chalk anymore, so why is the air still choking him?
His fingers fiddle with the bike, and he debates on the helmet for too long. He decides not to be an idiot two days in a row and slips it on. He pulls out of the garage and the sharp air tells him he forgot his jacket.
(He also didn't grab his duffel. Or his Nightwing suit. Idiot.)
He rides for a long time, focuses only on that for a while, letting the road hypnotize him until what he now recognizes were the symptoms of a panic attack have all ebbed away. He's not quite sure where he's going, but it's a nice distraction nonetheless. He doesn't know what time it is, either, but he guesses it's now sometime between four and five because the traffic is moving kind of slow. His thoughts have slowed down, too; he takes it as a good sign.
He figures out where he is and makes his way to Bludhaven. He debates over staying somewhere else—out of state, maybe with friends—but decides against it. If Bruce looks for him and doesn't find him, it will only make things worse in the long run. (And apparently, it's all about the long run. Who cares how he's doing now as long as he's prepared for the future, right?)
When he gets to his apartment, he immediately makes his way to the upper cabinet in the bathroom, opening it up and pulling out a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol. He takes two pills and swallows them dry before heading to the kitchen to find food. Nothing looks particularly appetizing, but he doesn't feel like leaving the house or even going to answer the door for delivery.
He shoves a couple of handfuls of dry cereal into his mouth and walks back to the fridge. He pulls out a slice of cheese, ripping off pieces and chewing them methodically as he stares into the cold shelves of food. There's not much in there—he really needs to get his act together and go to the grocery store like a real, functional adult would. He closes the door, making the almost-empty bottle of milk rattle as it shuts. He shuffles back over to the cupboard, grabs a handful of crackers, and then goes to bed as chews them.
He plugs his phone into the charger and swipes away his unread messages, deciding to deal with it later. He should go on patrol, he'd probably enjoy going on patrol, but he really can't see himself following through on coming back if he heads out. Not like this. He doesn't know what's wrong with him, but he pushes the mystery off to be solved another day and closes his eyes.
He hasn't moved from his bed all day.
Actually, that's wrong. He got up to pee a few times, and at some point, he made his way into the kitchen. He ate what technically counted as food and he'd brought a box of cereal back into his room with him. Now all that's left is emptiness and crumbs in his sheets.
He keeps refreshing social media accounts. He'll open one up, scroll for a few minutes, realize he's bored, then open a new app. He cycles through the same three apps over and over and over again out of something close to habit. It makes him feel restless.
To say the least, it's been an unproductive, meaningless day. It exhausts him all the same.
He's yet to turn any of his apartment's lights on today. But his window's curtains are pulled open (not because he actively opened them, he was just too tired to close them last night and it seemed dark enough at the time). The light was bothersome during the day, but after a good ten minutes of staring at them, telling himself to just stand up and pull them shut, he rolled over to face his wall. The room's lighting slowly shifted through the day, but now he's just lying here, watching the world go dark.
He thinks he's going dark too.
Is that what this is? Yeah, depression. He's depressed.
Though, when he thinks about it, Dick wasn't—isn't—actually depressed. Part of the clinical definition of depression is when those feelings are an abnormal, persistent response. Which is why grieving is not depression, except in cases where it has gone on too long (but who gets to decide when someone should be done grieving?). And this? This is a normal response to all the shit Dick's been through. This is a normal response to realizing that Dick is a shitty person who's shit at everything.
So, yeah, maybe he's a bit depressed. But it's a normal response and it will last within the normal timeframe. He doesn't have clinical depression, he just caught a case of the human condition. He felt too much, failed too often, and now all he has is numbness. Maybe it's a coping mechanism, his brain rebelling in order to get a vacation.
He closes his eyes and doesn't open them for what must be hours.
(He thinks he hopes that they won't ever open again.)
(Maybe Bruce is right, maybe he should talk to someone.)
This has happened before. Dick has been very depressed—clinically depressed, Major Depressive Disorder depressed—before. He has been passively suicidal with all of the suicidal thoughts and lack of self-preservation a person could handle and then some. He's had the lack of motivation and the feelings of worthlessness and the complete and utter physical and mental exhaustion. It's not ideal, but it's familiar, and he knows it will be hell to get back out again. Worth it, but hell all the same.
It's been almost eight years since it got really bad for the first time. A combination of trauma, teen brain, and perhaps some genetic factors made him an ideal candidate. It had started slowly and then somehow turned into a hurricane. Bruce had seen it coming more so than Dick had, because, apparently, you never really know how bad you are or what you're capable of doing when you are that bad and that desperate until it's too late. The passive suicidal thing had gotten him benched—back then when it first started, Bruce had called it careless and reckless; Dick knows now that he just freaked Bruce out.
He felt isolated, and a part of that, a big part, was kind of his own doing. Depression thrives in isolation. Depression survives when the affected person doesn't want to get rid of it. An illness's job is to thrive and survive, and depression is really good at it because it attacks the part of the body that controls behavior and motivation.
One night, he found himself benched and alone. He had a plan. He'd thought about it a lot, stepped up to do it a couple of times. That night he decided he was officially done and committed to ending it. He wrote out his goodbyes and carried out his plan.
Around the same time, Bruce had called for backup. Dick didn't answer his comm so Alfred went to go get him, thinking that Dick was simply in too deep a sleep to hear it or that he had dropped the comm somewhere in the manor. Instead, he walked in on a half-dead teenager in need of an ambulance and Bruce had to run home.
Dick woke up confused and still hurting with Alfred and Bruce next to him, tears in their eyes.
He got help. He stayed in a psychiatric facility for another week after he had physically recovered to make sure he was stable enough to start an outpatient program. It was a lot of work and Brue helped him through it, every step and setback along the way. He saw a psychiatrist and got meds and saw a psychologist Bruce knew they could trust with their other life. It helped. Three years of that and he wanted to see if the depression was gone, so they agreed to wean him off. He was fine. Had been fine.
After nearly five years of relatively good mental health, he's been beaten back to ground zero with a bat. At least he knows the Bat will help him get back into fighting shape again, just like last time. He's not looking forward to trudging through all of the hard stuff and setbacks that come with recovery, but on the bright side, maybe it will be good to head back home for a few months. He's been lonely, isolating himself again.
He's ready to take the first step, this time before things get out of control and someone else has to take it for him. He pulls out his phone and calls Bruce.
"Hi, you've reached Bruce Wayne. I can't—"
Dick hangs up and redials, panic suddenly seizing his throat. The phone rings until he gets voicemail again. He calls one last time—no luck.
He decides to leave a voicemail, just in case. "Hey, Bruce, it's Dick. Call me back when you get this. I'm ready to talk."
He hangs up, bouncing his knee and biting his lip as he thinks about what to do. He doesn't know what to do because Bruce was supposed to tell him what to do. It took hours to get himself to call Bruce, how is he supposed to do anything else on his own now?
He reaches for his comm unit, hoping that Bruce has just shut himself in the cave. He puts it in his ear and turns it on, but before he can say anything, his phone starts vibrating. It's Alfred.
"Hey, Alfred," Dick says lightly, heart rate slowing down. "Sorry about the other day, I've had a lot going on." What day is it anyway? How long ago had he stormed out of the manor? A week?
"Don't worry about that now, my dear boy. You're needed at home." His tone is serious and his voice wavers.
Dick straightens his back. "Of course. What happened?"
"I do apologize, but I'm afraid that this is something that must be discussed in person."
Dick is clinically depressed and socially grieving and it's the worst timing for this combination.
Dick moves back home but it's not at all how he pictured it. He feels like ghosts are suffocating in there, thicker than chalk.
Dick thinks Tim is losing it, and his insistence is going to make Dick jump out a window. (No, no, no—not funny.) Dick is probably rubbing off on him. He's definitely setting a bad example.
Dick takes on the Cowl.
Dick makes Damian Robin.
Damian is . . . difficult.
Alfred is the only person he wants to talk to, but he can't bring himself to do that because it wouldn't be fair. He just lost his son.
Meds take too long to kick in and he's struggling to focus on fixing his own issues when the world is on fire. (Selfish, selfish, selfish.)
Dick is not fine. He's never fine.
He just wanted one motherfucking happy ending, but at this point, he'd gladly settle for a goddamn mediocre intermission. Anything other than this.
I wrote this at four in the morning when I was in a mood, and I posted it a while ago on tumblr and AO3 but just now realized I never actually put it here. But yeah, if you ever find yourself feeling like this, please reach out. Hope you're all doing well, I'm rooting for you.