Dick Grayson a.k.a Nightwing. The prodigal son. The man who had, over the years, rightfully earned the mantle of ‘Batman’. If not ‘The Batman’. What is his true relation with The Caped Crusader?

This story is set just after Bruce ‘dies’ or is believed to be dead, but is lost in time. It is not cannon but rather an alternate version of what could have happened.

DC has all rights on the characters.

 

Part 1

The huge open den echoed with claustrophobic silence. In the last week grief had strangled all occupants slowly without mercy. However, it had reached its crushing peak today. Now, the very act of existing was a struggle.

Why?

Perhaps because today was the first time the group had paused long enough to think. Until now, ensuring Bruce Wayne and Batman’s ‘disappearance’ from Gotham could not be connected had been their only focus. That had been achieved successfully but it wasn’t a reason to celebrate.

Like a shroud, the heaviness of heart blanketed the inner circle of the Bat family. As always Bruce had been fully prepared – even in the event of his death. He’d recorded individual farewell messages for Damian, Tim, Dick and Alfred   the four members of his ‘family’. Upon receiving the discs, each had retired to a separate area of the mansion to view their message in private. Three of the four had drifted back to the den, drawn to one another by some unseen force.

Tim caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the glass display cabinet as he returned. His eyes were still puffy from the copious tears he’d shed. He’d held it together until the moment he’d heard Bruce’s voice. Reality hit home in that moment and he’d sobbed like a child waking from a horrific nightmare  but he knew this was a nightmare from which he would never wake.

Bruce’s message had been direct and to the point   reminiscent of the man himself. He’d loved Tim as a son and was proud of him. Those heart-felt words meant the world but also crystallized just how much he’d lost. Now, all Tim had left in the world was in this room and it terrified him that he may lose Dick and Alfred too.

The young man eyed the figure slumped on the couch. Dick’s eyes were distant, his expression hard to read, but his gaze was directed at Bruce’s leather chair which now stood so ominously empty.

Since this nightmare had begun, Dick had been a tower of strength, even if Tim had disagreed with some of the decisions he’d made. While Tim had known his friend was hurting, there had been no sign of it. Dick Grayson had kept an emotionless mask firmly in place allowing him to lead the rest of the Bat familyand accomplish all required. Bruce would have been proud. However, the events of today had stripped the mask away revealing the young man’s features ashened with despair, fatigue and grief.

Instinctively, Tim brushed Dick’s arm as he took a seat beside him. The other blinked, seeming to return from the distant place that had swallowed him. Dick settled his dull blue eyes on Tim, acknowledging the attempt at comfort with a grateful but almost indiscernible tilt of his chin.

Tim shifted his gaze to Damian and his stomach did a slow roll. In contrast to Dick and Alfred, Tim didn’t consider Damian family. He disliked the boy immensely and couldn’t help feeling guilty about it. After all, Damian was Bruce’s son.

The topic of consideration scowled.

Tim snorted. How could that obnoxious, self-centred brat, share Bruce’s blood?

“What are you starin’ at Drake?”

Dick’s back straightened and the nerve in his cheek jumped. “Damian, I’ve asked before. Now I’m telling you. Treat Tim with respect.”

Damian opened his mouth to respond but the steel in Dick’s expression stole the words. While Dick had never mastered the Batman glare in the past, he was damn near close today. That, more than anything, showed the toll Bruce’s death had taken out of the usually upbeat man.

Tim bobbed his head in thanks and again was swamped by not only his own overpowering grief but by the silent agony reverberating out of Dick. He didn’t know what Bruce had said to Dick in his private message, but he could imagine. The relationship they’d shared was something beyond love – a nebulous bond of strength and devotion the likes of which Tim had never seen before and doubted would see again. Bruce and Dick’s relationship had been based on so much more than just a shared tragedy. They’d been more than partners and brothers in arms. There was something deep and unique about their connection… there had been something deep and unique about it, Tim lamented sadly. Now Bruce was gone and Dick, like Tim, appeared empty and lost.

Alfred re-entered the room with purpose, strode directly to the DVD player and slid a disc into it.

“Alf?” Dick asked.

Wet tear tracks still stained Alfred’s pale cheeks. “Master Bruce left one further message. He asked me to show it to you once you had viewed your private message, Master Dick.”

“What is it?” Tim asked.

Damian made an exasperated sound in the back of his throat. “If Pennyworth knew that, he wouldn’t have to show us the message, would he Einstein?”

The acid in Tim’s stomach burned and his desire to lash out spiked. Dick gripped his arm… a mix of support and physical restraint. Tim ground his jaw.

“Alf?” Dick repeated.

“It is something Master Bruce wished to add, but recording your message again wasn’t an option.”

The television screen sprung to life and filled with an image of Bruce’s face. Tim’s chest tightened and again found himself battling tears.

Dick, there is something I have withheld. You have a right to know. I wanted to tell you, but made a judgement call not to say anything because I felt it was in your best interests. Whether this information is to be yours or not, is now up to you. It is hidden in a secret place.”

The screen went blank. An uneasy silence descended over the occupants. Alfred switched off the television.

“That’s it?” Damian demanded.

Tim drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “You know what he’s talking about, Dick?”

Dick, who had been leaning forward, sat back wearily and shook his head. “No.” Again, his gaze drifted to Bruce’s chair and his Adam’s apple bobbed.

Tim grimaced. The pallor around his friend’s eyes gave them a hooded look. It was clear he needed some sleep. Since Bruce’s death, none of them had had a lot of rest.

Dick shifted his attention to Alfred, clearly in search of answers.

“I suspect I may know to what he is alluding, but it is not my place,” Alfred murmured.

Dick considered the response for only a moment before rising to his feet. “We’ve got about four hours until we need to hit the streets. It’s been a big afternoon. I’m heading to bed for a few hours. I suggest you do the same.”

“Wait a minute,” Damian exclaimed. “You can’t just walk away. What about this information?”

“It’s not important,” Dick dismissed, walking toward the door.

“Master Dick.” Alfred’s talent for striking that very specific tone that made even the strongest and most powerful stop and take notice never ceased to amaze Tim.

Dick glanced back. Surprisingly, he seemed totally nonplussed. “Bruce made a judgement call, Alf. That’s good enough for me. I’ve always trusted his judgement. I’m not about to start doubting it now.”

Damian marched across, stopped in front of Dick and crossed his arms as if baring the man’s exit. “My father left the disc for a reason, Grayson. I think we have a right to know what this is about. If you’re too chicken to find out, I…”

“Damian,” Tim growled. The words ‘my father’, which Damian punctuated every sentence with, echoed over and over again in Tim’s mind and with each repetition Tim’s rage and ‘dislike’ of Damian grew. “Just shut up.”

Alfred peered at Dick and then slowly and stiffy crossed the room and inserted himself between Damian and Dick. He placed a hand on Dick’s shoulder. “Master Bruce did make a judgement call… when he was alive. That has changed, lad.” The calm, emotionless tone Alfred was renowned for faltered toward the end.

Dick searched Alfred’s less than stoic face. “Are you advising me to investigate?”

Alfred squeezed Dick’s shoulder. “I am only suggesting you consider not only what he said, but what he meant. Master Bruce believed you had a right to know the truth despite how painful it may be.” With that, Alfred briskly left the room, his composure dissolving completely as he did.

“He knows. He knows what this is all about!” Damian insisted, spinning and starting after Alfred. “Pennyworth, I’m ordering you…”

“Damian… leave him,” Dick growled. “And you don’t give Alfred orders. None of us do.”

“But…” And again, Dick delivered a glare of such intensity, Damian’s bravado faded… if only a little.

My father left a message for us. I think we should find out what it was. Information is power.”

Dick ran his hand through his hair. “And long held secrets are sometimes best buried with those who guarded them.”

“Bruce didn’t leave this for, us. He left it for Dick,” Tim pointed out. “It has nothing to do with us.”

“Everything has to do with me. He was my father.”

“You self-centred, self-righteous…”

“Enough! Both of you.” Dick exploded, but the anger drained quickly, he not appearing to have the energy to maintain it. “I’ll be in the cave.”

A right to know the truth.

Dick frowned. “The truth about what?” Something painful, according to Alfred. Something Bruce had done? Something he hadn’t done?

With a shake of the head, Dick entered his password and the huge screen in front of him sprang to life.

He didn’t need to know the information. If it had been essential  or even remotely important  Bruce would have told him.

“Truth is over-rated and is subjective,” he quoted, remembering something Alfred had once told him. He trusted both Bruce’s judgment and Alfred’s wisdom. Whatever the ‘secret’ had been, he felt it was best it died with Bruce.

“Arkham Assylm.” The computer responded to the voice command and opened the video feed directly from the prison. This had enabled Batman to check on the status of the world’s most dangerous criminals. For now, that role fell to Nighwing. In the future

“The Joker.” Instantly, an image of the Joker’s cell filled the screen. The madman was sitting on the floor in the middle of the cell cross-legged, singing the National Anthem.

Dick sighed. Where the hell will he go from here? Should he shift back to Gotham? What was he supposed to do with Damian? He couldn’t send the child back to his mother! He couldn’t expect Alfred to care for the kid alone. All of which meant Bruce’s difficult offspring had become Dick’s responsibility.

“What goes around, comes around,” Dick murmured. Bruce had taken him in and raised him and now history was repeating, for the raising of Bruce’s child now fell to him. While Dick accepted and ‘wanted’ to do it knowing it would be what Bruce wanted even if he’d never expressed it, the personality clash between Tim and Damian wasn’t going to make it easy. Damian was arrogant and smug and Tim was finding it increasingly difficult to turn the other cheek. Considering Damian had almost killed Tim, Dick couldn’t blame his brother.

Dick swallowed. “My brother.” Tim had become his brother in more than legal name. They’d become extremely close in the last few years. While Donna, Wally, Garth and Roy had always felt like family, Tim was family.

Tim paused at the top of the long staircase, looking down on the lone figure sitting at the control panel staring at the screen – so small and insignificant in the enormity of the Batcave.

Dick blinked and turned to rest his gaze heavily on Tim as he approached. “You should be getting some rest.”

Tim smiled. “Ditto.” The smile fell and the two men stared at each other, each sensing the other’s pain and wishing they could ease it. “Are you okay?”

Dick sighed and nodded. “Yeah. You?”

Tim swallowed and looked away as tears threatened to tumble down his cheeks. “No.” He heard the scraping of a chair before feeling the comfort of a strong arm across his shoulders.

For a long time, they stood silently in the shadow of all Bruce had built.

“What are we going to do?” Tim whispered.

“Continue his fight. That’s all we can do.”

“What about Damian?” Dick opened his mouth to respond, but Tim cut him off before he could do so. He didn’t want to hear any more excuses. “Damian is a fully-trained assassin, Dick despite his size and age. He doesn’t give a damn about us and he doesn’t respect any of Bruce’s rules. He’ll destroy everything Bruce worked so hard to create and I can’t stand by and let that happen. I won’t. I know he’s Bruce’s son but everyone else had to earn the right to wear the costume and become part of what Bruce built. Why is Damian except? Because he has Bruce’s DNA?”

“Leave Damian to me. I’ll deal with him, but I need your help. You have to learn to ignore his abrasive comments. We both had Bruce in our lives and felt secure in our relationship with him. Damian had no chance to get to know Bruce and so he seems to have the need to lay claim to him every chance he gets.”

“Dick, I feel sorry for him. I do. I know what it is like to lose your father young, we both do. But Damian is arrogant and lacks respect for everyone.”

“I know he isn’t easy to like, but the bottom line is, we’re all he’s got. I guess the old saying’s true.”

“Huh?”

“You can choose your friends, but not your family. Just as we’re stuck with each other,” Dick smiled and depth of the affection Tim saw there made his chest tighten. He loved Dick like a brother and could see Dick felt the same way.

“Dick ”

“We’re stuck with each other, Tim and we’re stuck with him too. That’s the nature of family.”

“He thinks he’s God-damn…” Dick drew Tim closer. Tim clenched his jaw, a physical response to his battle to control his anger.

“He’s a ten-year-old boy who wasn’t shown a single day’s love before Bruce took him in.”

“That’s no excuse for his behaviour,” Tim muttered, but the anger was losing the battle in the wake of Dick’s argument.

“We’ll get through this, I give you my word. Let’s not dwell on this today. Today should be about Bruce. In his message to you, I know he must have told you how much he…”

“He did,” Tim confirmed turning to stand face to face with Dick, the other’s arm sliding off his shoulders. “And you?”

Dick’s gaze drifted toward the cabinet that held Buck’s cowl. In a hushed voice he admitted, “He said everything I knew but still wanted him to say.”

Tim nodded. “Good. He loved you, Dick. More than he probably knew himself.”

“Yeah,” Dick agreed.

“You don’t have to be strong around me.”

Dick nodded. “I’m not trying to be, but thanks. Around you, I know I don’t need to be anything but myself.”

Tim stepped forward and hugged Dick… hugged him firmly. He felt his brother shudder. “Let me be here for you too, Dick.”

The older man pulled away, his eyes glistening with unfallen tears. “I will.” Dick blinked, forcing the tears to fall, then wiped them with the back of his sleeve. He shook his head as if trying to clear it, then turned to face his partner. It was time for ‘business.’ “So, I’m guessing you think I should investigate what Bruce meant?”

Tim shrugged. “I just think…”

“You saw his expression, Tim. Whatever it is, it was painful for him. All I have left is honoring what he wanted. He chose not to tell me so…”

“But that was only part of what he said. ”

Dick exhaled. “You mean my right to know.”

“No.”

Dick’s brow furrowed.

“I’m talking about the fact he said he wanted to tell you. Like maybe it was weighing on his mind and this was his chance to get if off his chest.”

Dick cursed softly, reached for his temples and began massaging them. For several moments, silence descended in the cave, the only sound the hushed whir of the equipment around the pair.

“You don’t have to do it now, Dick, but at least think about it. I hate to admit it, but I agree with Damian. Bruce made the message for a reason.”

“He wanted me to know,” Dick whispered.

“Otherwise, why not take the secret to his grave? It looked to me like he wanted to makes things right.”

Dick sighed. “There are some days when I wish Bruce had been a normal guy.”

Tim smirked. “Are you saying he wasn’t?”

Dick grinned, indicating the cave around them. “You have to admit he had the odd quirk.”

The mirth was welcomed by both.

“So he hid the information for me to ease his conscience?”

Tim shrugged again. “Maybe. Maybe to ensure justice was done. Something he couldn’t do himself.” Tim licked his lips. They hadn’t discussed this yet but he felt they needed to sooner rather than later so he prompted quietly, “Maybe something to do with taking over as Batman.”

Dick grimaced. “I can’t be him.”

Someone would have to and Dick was the best qualified to do so. However, it was obvious he wasn’t ready to face that yet. “I guess the first problem we need to solve is where he left a copy of this secret. He didn’t leave any clues.”

Dick smirked and bounced his eyebrows.

“He did? When?”

“In his message he emphasized the word ‘secret’.”

“So?”

“It was out of place. The word was unnecessary. Which probably means…” Dick crossed the cave and stopped in front of the glass case that contained Thomas Wayne’s journal. It had always held pride of place. Without a word, Dick lifted the protective lid and withdrew the leather-bound book. “The secret, Tim. The ultimate secret we share. When I became Robin, Bruce made me take an oath. I became part of Bruce’s secret that day and I made that oath with my hand on this book. So knowing the way Bruce’s mind worked, I’m guessing… ”

Tim joined Dick and watched as the other opened the cover. There, adhered to the inside was an SD card. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

Dick snorted. “The one item in this place he knew I’d guard with my life because it, more than anything, reminds us of what we’re doing and why. To fight crime and corruption and never sway from the path of righteousness.

Tim waited for Dick to remove the card but he didn’t. He just stood staring down at it, caught in a time tunnel of memories. Realizing he needed to take the lead, Tim leaned over and removed the card, then took it to the computer and downloaded the data.

When the huge file finished downloading, he swallowed and turned to face his brother. “I’m staying, so don’t even think about asking me to leave. I honestly don’t care what this is about, but I’m staying. Just for once, let me be here for you.” Alfred had said it could be painful. Tim had no intention of letting Dick face this alone.

Dick thrust his hands into his pockets. “One thing being a part of the Teen Titans taught me all those years was that family face things together.”

Tim nodded. “Good.” With a click of the mouse, he launched the file and then backed away to stand next to Dick.

Part 2

Dick drew in his breath as ‘Bruce’ moved in front of the camera. Surprisingly, the older man smiled, but there was tension pinched at the side of his eyes and the smile was little more than a flash disappearing without a trace as it usually did.

Adrenaline flushed through Dick’s veins and a feeling of dread consumed him.

Dick. I know the decision to watch this isn’t one you’ve made lightly.” Bruce’s tone was firm, bordering on harsh. His Batman persona always took control when he was stressed. Bruce began fiddling with his watch, a dead giveaway his discomfort level was going through the roof.

I’m sure you wanted to respect my decision and trusted my judgment  as you did all your life. So I assume Alfred convinced you, you had a right to know and Tim pointed out I wanted to tell you.”

Tim shook his head.

Dick crossed his arms over his chest. “He read us all like books.”

To be honest, I’m relieved.” His face didn’t exactly reflect the words, but his tone lightened a shade. “Before I get into that, there is something else I need to say. I don’t know when you are viewing this message. Hopefully you are an old man, though in our line of work, it is likely I faced my day of judgment before your hair turned grey. In the last few months, I become responsible for Damian.”

Dick shook his head slowly; now he had a timeline. Bruce had made this very recently. So what had prompted him to share this important secret? The ‘arrival’ of Damian?

If fate is kind, I will have been given the opportunity to raise Damian and he is a grown man when you view this. If not  I’m truly sorry, Dick. You are the only one I can ask to bring him up in my absence.”

“You didn’t need to ask, Bruce,” Dick murmured.

At the moment he’s confused and suspicious of everything. I know you will know what to do. You inspire trust in a way I’ve never seen another do. I’m sorry to leave this to you, but I guess this isn’t a unique situation.”

Dick’s brow furrowed.

”  the eldest being left to raise the youngest when the parents pass away.” Again, Bruce smiled, but this time it held great affection and lingered on his face.

Dick swallowed hard. He felt Tim’s hand on his shoulder.

I know you probably would have taken responsibility for Damian without this appeal and I thank you for it. As I said, if fate has been kind, Damian is already a man and this request is superfluous.”

Bruce sighed and dropped his face for a moment as if to collect himself. When his chin came up, he looked emotional. “Now, Tim, I’d like you to leave. What follows is for Dick alone. Dick, pause the video until Tim is gone.”

Dick snorted.

Tim paused the video and the pair glanced at each other.

“Man, he’s good. I can’t believe he knew that ”

“Where else would you be at a time like this?” Dick pointed out.

“Point taken.” Tim exhaled deeply. “Look, I know it is his wish that I go, but ”

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine.”

Tim removed his hand, but appeared torn.

Realizing Tim needed a purpose, Dick suggested, “Go up and check on Alfred. He’s more upset than he’s letting on.”

“Will do.” Tim nodded encouragement, handed Dick the remote control, then turned and headed up the stairs. He paused at the top, glanced back, nodded again and then disappeared.

Dick directed his attention at the frozen image on the screen and a lump swelled in his throat as his mind drifted back to the personal message Bruce had left for him.

30 minutes earlier .

With a trembling finger, Dick clicked the play button on his laptop. For a few moments the screen remained blank and then Bruce’s face filled it. Just seeing Bruce caused Dick’s eyes to moisten. In the last few years, things had been better between them not perfect, but better.

Dick, there are only three things I need to say.”

No fluff or niceties. “Don’t make this clinical, Bruce,” Dick growled. Surely Bruce would Dick shook his head. Maybe not.

First, you don’t need to become Batman.”

Dick frowned, his insecurities at ever living up to his mentor’s expectations rising.

I know you may feel obligated, but there is no need. It is difficult for a man to move out of the shadow of his father particularly when he is ‘larger than life’ and I guess it doesn’t get much larger than Batman. But Dick, you did. You forged a path of your own. You earned the respect of others in your own right. Only recently, I found myself dropping Nightwing’s name to gain trust.” Bruce winked. “It wasn’t something I enjoyed.”

Dick smiled, Bruce’s attempt to ease the tension successful.

Your abilities are second to none. You will not be letting me down by burying Batman with me. I mean that. Nightwing has his own reputation. It is one I believe should be respected as much as Batman’s. If anything, Nightwing is the one who has connections who can call for allegiance and receive it out of friendship and respect. I have started to realize the importance of such connections.”

Dick blinked.

There was an overwhelming sense of relief coupled with pride. Bruce had been proud of him and he didn’t expect him to take over. Dick wasn’t sure he could anyway. He’d worn the cowl before but then, he’d simply been filling in for a while. He’d enjoyed it on so many levels. But now, now it would be like wearing a shroud.

Second and this isn’t easy to say .”

Dick drew in a breath and held it.

Thank you. You saved me from myself, Dick over and over again.”

A single tear burst its dam and trickled down Dick’s cheek.

Alfred said that before you came into our lives I was existing, not living. You gave me my life back and you showed me how to do this job without it being totally consuming. I know I’ve had ‘relapses’ at different times  a lot of times  but you were always there to find me again to show me the path back and to remind me of why I’m doing this. Thank you. You are the one person who always completely understood and who I could trust… who trusted me even when I didn’t trust myself.”

Bruce’s licked his lips and Dick felt his chest tighten.

Finally  I want you to know how much I love you, son.”

Tears appeared in Bruce’s eyes and Dick felt his own tumbling down his face. Bruce had never before used the ‘L’ word. When Dick had been young, there had always been a hand on his shoulder, hugs, smiles all of which had conveyed love. As a child he’d felt safe and cherished. But as he’d grown, the hand no longer found his shoulder, the hugs had ceased and the smiles disappeared altogether. There had been times when he’d wondered if the love Bruce had felt for him had dissolved along with the gestures of caring.

I care very deeply for Tim and Cassie and consider them my children as well, but they say the first born holds a special place for a father  whoever ‘they’ are, they’re right. I am proud of you, Dick. I know I have hurt you over the years, but it wasn’t because I didn’t love you. It is probably because I loved you too much and I was terrified I was going to lose you. I have been selfish and cold, and distant and so many other things but I pray you know how much you mean to me. No father could be prouder of a son than I am of you.”

Bruce opened his mouth, seemingly going to say something more, but he clamped his jaw shut and stared at the screen for a few moments. Pain, frustration and a multitude of other emotions flashed across his eyes  and the screen went blank. Just as abruptly as the message had started, it finished. No salutation. He was gone, just like that.

Dick lowered his face and wept.

The memory faded.

Dick refocused on the screen in front of him. What was it Bruce had kept from him? A right to know. He’d wanted to say something, something he hadn’t said in the earlier video message. Something he’d appeared about to say but had locked his jaw in an effort to contain the secret, a secret Dick realized now, Bruce had been battling to keep. Considering keeping secrets was second nature to the man, Dick felt grave concern.

Setting his shoulders, he raised the remote control and restarted the video.

Dick, it is important we are alone. Very important.”

“We are,” Dick muttered.

Now “

The cave echoed with a dull whirring sound and out of thin air appeared…

“Bruce!” Dick gasped. The man who’d raised him, who Dick loved like a father, stood not five feet from him. The signals being sent via Dick’s eyes overrode what his brain knew to be impossible. In that moment, all thought processes ceased. The emotion and the conflicting messages from his senses and brain sent him darting forward. He reached out instinctively and tragically watched as his fingers passed through Bruce’s image, a three-dimensional holographic image.

Reality crashed.

“I hope this didn’t startle you. I thought for what I’m going to say, a holograph was better than talking to a flat screen.”

With a cry of grief, Dick allowed his brain to beat back the cherished hope he’d secretly held that Bruce had someone beaten death, despite having seen the body and doubling checking the DNA twice.

Dick stared down at his hand which was still piercing the image and tears filled his eyes. He’d honestly thought he’d convinced himself that this time Bruce was really gone and yet Dick squeezed his eyes shut. He simply hadn’t been ready to say goodbye. Of course, that was part of the pain. He hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye or to tell Bruce  He swallowed and lifted his gaze.

The holographic image looked solid and sounded so real. This was cutting edge technology, years ahead of what the rest of the world had. Clearly it was also interactive and intuitive, ‘Bruce’ having stopped speaking in response to Dick’s cry and movement.

Slowly Dick lowered his hand, sighed with deep regret, then took three steps back and commanded, “Resume.”

“You see ” Bruce paused and grimaced. “I’m really not sure how you are going to react. You may want to take a swing at me.”

“It’s that bad?” Dick asked. The hologram froze again. “Resume.”

“What I’m going to tell you may change your opinion of me. What you do with this information is up to you.” Bruce lowered his gaze. “It can’t affect me now.”

“Can’t affect you?” Dick muttered. The hologram paused. Dick stared intently at Bruce. “What the hell is going on?” Again, he was overcome with a sense of foreboding. Tim’s words echoed in his mind. ‘Like maybe he wants to put things right.’

“You want me to put things right for you,” Dick murmured. “Damn it, Bruce. That’s not fair.”

Dick shook his head, cursed softly and then gave the command for the holographic message to continue.

“You have a right to see me for who I really am.” Bruce sighed and lifted his chin. “I have struggled with this for a long time. Reviewed my actions a thousand times.”

He paused, collecting himself. “When I was seventeen I fell in love.”

“What?” It was the last thing in the world Dick had expected Bruce to say. “Resume.”

“I was just a kid. It lasted three weeks and six days. They were probably the twenty-seven happiest days of my life. But she was in love with someone else as well.”

Dick grimaced.

“She didn’t lead me on. She was in the unenviable situation of falling in love with two people at the same time. It was agony for her because she had to make a choice and she did.” The nerve in Bruce’s cheek jumped. “I had enough money to offer her the world on a plate, but she loved him more. So, I left. Started my trek around the world, training from the masters of every martial arts discipline. I had planned to do that as soon as I finished school but decided to go immediately and complete my education by correspondence. I was certain I would forget her but ” Bruce shook his head again. “Irrationally, exactly twelve months later to the day, I returned to see her and discovered she was married with a six month old baby.”

Dick did the calculations in his head and realized, “She was already pregnant when you were seeing her. Ouch  Resume.”

“I felt betrayed. I was so angry, Dick. I had dropped my guard – something I had promised myself I would never do. When my parents died, I swore at their funeral I would never feel that pain again and the only way to ensure that was never to get close to anyone.”

Dick ran his hand through his hair. “Life doesn’t work that way, Bruce  Resume.”

“I fell for her and she deceived me, or that is how I saw it at that time. I reacted very badly. I lost control and…” Bruce clenched his jaw, apparently unable to continue.

This didn’t sound like the man Dick knew. Bruce was always so controlled; his rage always metered his emotions buried so deeply they appeared non-existent. But by the sound of this there had been a time when none of that was so.

With great determination Bruce set himself and repeated, “I lost control and became what I despised.”

Dick’s chest tightened as the night Bruce made him take the pledge was drawn from his memory   “No matter what, we must never take a life. It is what separates us from the scum we deal with.” Had Bruce been a hypocrite? Was that what this was all about? Had Bruce crossed the ultimate line when he’d been a teenager?

“Oh, Bruce. What the hell did you do?… Resume.”

“I wanted to kill him and her both, not that I think I would have. Thankfully, it never got to that. The moment I burst in yelling like a mad man, he stepped in front of her  just as my father had done when Joe Chill threatened us. She screamed  just as my mother had. It all came rushing back, but this time I was the aggressor threatening innocent people. I had become what I wanted to rid the world of. I left Gotham immediately to continue my training with an emphasis on learning self-control. I was determined my emotions would never again get the better of me. A Mongolian Monk, cast out of his order for taking a life, taught me how to bypass my emotions  to capture and store them in an inactive part of my consciousness before they manifested or if they had manifested, to dismiss them completely without actually experiencing them. I guess, after a while, I become so accomplished at it I did it automatically and so completely that I actually existed, void of any feelings.”

Dick cursed softly. “All because you loved someone who didn’t love you. ” Now Dick understood. Bruce hadn’t always been cold and unfeeling. He had learned such behavior not just to protect himself, but to protect others from him. “Resume.”

“Once my training was complete, I hit the streets of Gotham as Batman. For the first time since I’d lost my parents, I had a real purpose and didn’t feel ” Bruce swallowed.

Dick’s brow furrowed. “Didn’t feel what?… Resume.”

” My life went on but every year, on that anniversary I’d spend an hour like some strangely demented peeping Tom, watching her. I never approached or let her know I was there. At first, I could barely look at him but over the years I saw how genuinely happy they were and I realized she had chosen the right man. I could never have given her the attention she deserved. No matter how much I cared for her, Batman still would have come first. My love faded over time to simple affection, but  perhaps for nostalgia’s sake  I still stood in the crowd once a year. That was why I was at the circus that night.”

It took several heartbeats for Dick to process what Bruce had said.

He blinked.

His eyebrows drew down.

There was a rushing sound in his ears as his heart-rate doubled in that split second. “Why you were at ” Dick’s eyes widened as the pieces fell into place. “My mother!”

Part 3

Dick propelled forward, stopping when he was only inches from ‘Bruce.’ “You were in love with my mother?”

Bruce remained motionless.

“Say something, dammit!”

Bruce stared through him, a frozen holographic image.

Dick swore, every muscle in his body rippling. His mind reeled. He glared at the hologram. He felt anger but didn’t know why. So Bruce had known his mother  loved his mother. Did that make a difference? He was confused. He’d always believed it had been fate that had brought Bruce to the circus that night. That fate had caused their paths to cross but that wasn’t the case. Bruce had been there to see  watch  his mother. So, what did that mean exactly? That Bruce had taken him in because

Dick grimaced as all he’d ever believed dissolved. Bruce had taken in the son of the woman he’d once loved. Dick lowered his chin. Was he just the son of Bruce’s first  perhaps his only true love? Dick felt winded  and wounded.

“A right to know,” he whispered. “Not the man I thought you to be… Change my opinion of you.” All of the statements Bruce had made, now made complete sense. Dick walked across to the chair at the computer, sank into it and shut his eyes. He’d always thought… always believed Bruce had taken him in because he’d recognised a kindred spirit. Others had said it was because Bruce felt sorry for the ‘poor little circus tramp’, but he’d never believed that. Now… now it would appear they had basically been right and Bruce had simply felt sorry for a past love’s child.

Dick raised his face and stared at the hologram. “Resume.” Even to his own ears, his voice sounded hollow.

The hologram flickered momentarily and adjusted its perspective so ‘Bruce’ was directly facing the direction of Dick’s voice.

“When Mary started to fall, I knew I could do nothing. Immediately I looked up at you. I watched your face and I was taken back to the night my parents died. I saw every emotion I had felt replayed on your face. After my parents were murdered I lamented the fact no one had leapt out of the shadows and saved them like you see in comic books. I trained to be that someone but with all my training, all the expertise I had gathered, I could do nothing to prevent another child being orphaned in the same way. My nightmare had repeated and someone else was starting a life of living hell. When you slid down that rope and raced toward your fallen parents I remember leaping to my feet and vaulting the chairs in front of me to get to you. But the circus performers had flocked you. You were surrounded by people who cared. It was the best I could hope for because it allowed me to go in search of justice for you.

I left the tent, suited up and immediately began investigating. By the time the police arrived, I knew of the protection racket Zucco was running and that he’d threatened Pop Haly. I knew you were a witness to Zucco’s threats. At first Jim refused to let me speak to you, stating you were in shock and that my Batman garb would frighten you. I knew he was right about the first and entirely wrong on the second point. You had just seen the most frightening thing in your life. Nothing you would ever see again would compare.”

Dick swallowed. Bruce was right. He had seen the most shocking thing in the world when he was eight years old… nothing he had seen since came close to the horror of seeing the looks on this parent’s faces as they fell. He still saw it in his nightmares. He remembered every moment of that night. Those who said such memories faded over time were wrong. Everything was crystal clear. Time had slowed. He remembered seeing the impact as his parents had simultaneously hit the ground. He remembered his father’s eyes were open. He remembered the blood trickling from his mother’s mouth.

Dick shook his head, consciously blocking the images as Bruce had taught him to do and instead focused on the man who had directed the course of his life following that night.

He remembered when Batman had approached him outside the tent. He had been drawn to Batman’s eyes… the eyes of a human being in pain. A man who had said exactly what he wanted to hear. “I will get the person or people who did this. Tell me exactly what you saw and I will make sure your parents get justice. I swear.” Others had been saying ridiculous things like, ‘it will be alright’. Batman had said he’d get the person. Dick had needed to hear that.

“You looked me straight in the face and described what you saw. I actually felt closer to you than I’d ever felt to anyone. No one else would understand that, but I know you do.”

Dick nodded. He did understand. He understood completely. He had felt safe in Batman’s company that night. His life was totally out of control but the chaos had paused momentarily when Batman had spoken to him. In those seconds the rest of the world had ceased to exist and it had only been the two of them. Batman’s voice had been firm, yet reassuring.

Bruce had listened intently when he’d described seeing Zucco in the tent and when he’d asked if his parents were dead, Batman had answered him honestly, unlike others who had insisted a doctor was coming. ‘They died the moment they hit the ground. They felt no pain. Death would have been instantaneous but the last thing they would have been thinking was how much they loved you and that they wanted you to be strong. You can do that soldier, can’t you?”

“I understood your pain and sensed instinctively you saw beyond the mask.” Bruce’s voice jolted Dick back to the present. “I asked Jim if you had any family and when he told me he didn’t think so, I decided right then I wouldn’t allow them to put you through what I had. You would have a home with someone who understood. I left you with Jim momentarily to examine your parents’ bodies and it wasn’t until they pulled back the blanket I remembered it was Mary.”

Bruce paused. “I had loved your mother and she was the reason I was in the audience that night, but don’t for a moment think your being Mary’s son influenced me. Dick, we share a common tragedy and as a result, I felt a unique connection to you. That, and that alone, is the reason I took you into my life.”

Dick took a slightly deeper breath to centre himself. All he had always believed and more had just been restored and confirmed.

“I wanted to make a difference for you so you didn’t end up like me.”

Dick swallowed. “There are worse things than turning out like you, Bruce… Resume.”

“I wanted you to have someone to go to who would understand the anger, the grief, the sense of helplessness… the nightmares. I should have told you I that I had once loved your mother, but I didn’t want you to think the reason I opened my life to you was because of her. It was never about her. I admit that as you got older you looked more like her. And I won’t lie you. There are times when I do see her when I look at you. But she had, and has, nothing to do with how I feel about you. She was not the motivation for me making you my ward. She is a faded memory.”

Dick clenched his jaw. Only Bruce could say something that tactless.

“The only reason I remember her at all is because she’s your mother… not because you’re her son. I hope I’m making sense.”

“You are… and I believe you.” Bruce had been a lot of things, but he’d never lied to Dick. He’d withheld things, shared things on a need-to-know basis which Dick had found infuriating, allowed Dick to believe things that weren’t necessarily so because apparently it was for his own good, but Bruce had never lied to his face – Dick was certain of that. When others had questioned, Dick would ask and once Bruce gave his answer, Dick had no doubt in Bruce’s word. Of course, as a teenager he’d questioned everything Bruce said… but then, that was what teenagers did. Yes, he’d questioned, but he’d never had doubt.

Dick ran his hand through his hair, trying to picture a seventeen year old Bruce in love. It wasn’t easy to see. By the time Dick had come into Bruce’s life, Bruce was filtering his emotions but by the sound of it, that wasn’t the man Dick’s mother had known.

His mother and Bruce.

Bruce and his mother.

Dick snorted. Considering what Bruce had just said, Dick had every right to suspect any affection the other man had showed him was because when he looked at him all he saw was his mother, but Bruce was adamant that wasn’t so  and Dick accepted that.

Dick understood why this had played on Bruce’s mind and why the older man had made the decision not to say anything. In his own rather strange way, Bruce had been trying to protect Dick. Over the years he had realized that protecting him had been one of Bruce’s strongest motivators.

Dick rose to his feet and studied the frozen hologram. He had the compulsion to walk up and hug Bruce… to thank him… to…

Bruce had mentioned the bond they’d shared. Dick had always sensed it too. Their common tragedy linked them in a way others could never begin to understand.

No one else really ‘knew’ Bruce. No one else truly understood Bruce the way he did, not even Alfred. The little boy who had stood staring at his murdered parents was forever alive in Bruce and at times crippled him emotionally. While an identical tragedy was a part of who Dick was, Bruce had been there to ensure the same hadn’t happened to him.

“Thank you. For everything,” Dick whispered. He was who he was because of Bruce. His parents had played a part, but through no fault of their own it had been a small part. They had laid the foundation, but it had been Bruce and Alfred… and to a lesser extent Barbara, Roy, Donna, Garth and Wally, who had built on the foundation and shaped him into the person he’d become. All in all, he’d been extremely fortunate Bruce had known his mother and therefore had been in the audience that night. “Resume.”

“So I simply didn’t tell you I knew your mother. There didn’t seem to be any reason to… but everything changed in the week before your sixteenth birthday.”

Dick frowned. Had someone found out? Threatened to tell Dick? Dick’s breathing quickened. If that was the case, Bruce would have reacted badly.

Bruce sighed and shook his head slowly.

Dick waited but nothing further was forthcoming.

“Bruce?” The hologram froze. Dick cursed softly. It was so easy to forget it wasn’t actually Bruce standing there. “Resume.”

The holographic image started again, but Bruce said nothing. He blinked several times indicating the programme was still running.

“You were just beginning to rebel. Not badly  not compared to other teenagers.” Bruce smirked affectionately. “Alfred assured me I was lucky but I still wanted to kill you every time you questioned my instructions.”

“You didn’t give instructions, Bruce. You gave orders and disobeying them was akin to treason.” Dick sighed. He’d resented it so much once. Now he’d give his right arm to have Bruce give one of his royal decrees as Alfred had dubbed them.

Dick’s thoughts turned to the elderly man who was the glue that held their unusual family together. As an eighteen year old, Bruce had employed Alfred as a butler. It was his first act as an adult  no longer a ward of the state. Alfred loved to tell the story of how he had retired from MI6 deciding to return to his original professional as a butler because he was looking for a less ‘exciting’ life. It hadn’t quite worked out that way. “Resume.”

“A few days before your birthday party – a party you insisted you didn’t want, but appearances dictated it was a requirement.”

“Appearances be damned” Dick growled. “All those stuck-up people from the society pages coming along to celebrate the birthday of Bruce Wayne’s major charity case. That’s why I didn’t want it, Bruce  Resume.”

“We both simply had to play our part and once it was over we could do whatever you wanted. It is the price we pay for doing our job. We had a hell of an argument over it. You just wanted a quiet night at the manor with a few close friends but  actually, I wish we could have done that.” Dick could tell the comment was genuine. “A few days before your birthday we had the official photos taken.”

“Pause.” The hologram responded. Dick glanced to the right where a framed photo rested. It was a 10 by 12 photograph of him from the photo session Bruce had just referred to. This was one of the rejects  one most people would have deleted because it captured Dick preparing for the official image. He was getting settled and only just beginning to turn on his ‘photo’ smile. Others from the shoot decorated the walls upstairs but this one had slipped through the elimination process and Alfred had placed it down here. For some reason, this one had always been Alfred’s favourite. Dick had no idea why.

It was then Dick remembered something. Alfred had become ill that afternoon. Actually, it was the only time Dick ever remembered Alfred being ill.

Dick walked across and picked up the walnut frame, other memories of that day returning. He and Bruce had argued before the team of photographers arrived. Hell, they’d argued after the horde left as well, but they’d played happy family while the photographic team had been present. Bruce just didn’t seem to understand that Dick had wanted ‘Bruce’ at his party  not the brainless socialite Bruce insisted on the world seeing and if it was a large public party then the brainless socialite was a must. With a long sigh, Dick replaced the frame. “Resume.”

The hologram flickered once and readjusted its perspective to face Dick.

“I don’t know if you remember, but Alfred retired to his room that day unwell. He had received a shock. You see, he discovered “ Bruce’s mouth continued moving but no words formed.

“Somehow he discovered that you had known my mother,” Dick guessed. “And he wanted you to tell me before someone else did. So how did Alfred find out? Resume.”

Bruce produced a photograph and held it up. It appeared to be the one Dick had just been examining. The frame was different   gold – but it looked like the same photo of him sitting in the chair ‘almost’ smiling.

“Alfred was given the job of going through the digital proofs and deleting the ones we didn’t want. As he was scanning he saw this.”

Bruce produced a second photograph, this one clearly the one from the cave. Dick scrutinized the two photos and his eyes widened. The photo in the walnut frame was of Dick, but to his surprise, he realized the one in the gold frame wasn’t. Dick remembered seeing the gold frame once on Alfred’s bedside table. A photo Alfred had found in a box when he’d first moved into the manor. A photo of… Dick’s mind churned, suddenly moving in a vacuum.

“Never once did it enter my mind. It should have. I should have checked. The moment I saw that baby in Mary’s arms I should have demanded a paternity test.”

“I don’t… are you saying…” Dick stuttered. All at once he felt like he was drowning. Did Bruce mean… Dick shook his head in an attempt to clear it. How could… Dick’s gaze was drawn to the visual evidence Bruce held. As a boy, Bruce had never truly smiled and the photo of Dick captured him beginning to smile. The two photos were very similar, not identical but the resemblance was uncanny. The evidence seemed to point to Bruce being… Bruce would have checked! “DNA. Did you check the DNA? DID YOU… RESUME.”

“For years others had been saying how much you looked like me but I…”

“Dammit, Bruce. Get to the point! Resume, damn you. Resume!”

“…dismissed that as ignorant people seeing what they expected to see before finding out you were my ward.”

Dick stepped forward, unable to control the adrenaline flashing through his system. Instantly, the hologram froze. “RESUME!”

“Dick, I simply didn’t consider you could be my son. The numbers didn’t add up. It wasn’t until I saw that photo I started thinking outside the box… something I prided myself on doing automatically. I made the elementary mistake of accepting things at face value. It took sixteen years, but I finally did the paternity test I should have done all those years ago.” Bruce swallowed. “It came back positive, Dick. I’m your father.”

Part 4

Dick stopped breathing.

The words, ‘I’m your father’ echoed in the cavern.

Bruce’s eyes became moist and his voice shook as he repeated in a hushed and strained voice, “I’m your father, Dick. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to say that aloud.”

Dick’s entire world shifted to the right. He couldn’t breathe… couldn’t think. “My… father.” He gulped air, hyperventilating. His legs became weak and he allowed them to buckle, dropping slowly and smoothly to his knees. “Bruce,” Dick whispered, his face now ashen. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The only response was resounding silence.

Abruptly, Dick was bombarded with a plethora of conflicting emotions struggling for supremacy, but one climbed above all others. “Alfred knows,” Dick realized. “That’s why he said I had a right to know,” his volume grew with each syllable he uttered. “Of course I had a right to know.” He was on his feet again and marching forward. “Damn you, Bruce. You had no right to keep this from me!”

Bruce’s image remained motionless, his face blanketed with regret.

As quickly as the anger rose, it dissipated, leaving Dick feeling emotionally exhausted. Standing suddenly became demanding as the weight of the past week’s events tumbled upon him.

Batman had been killed.

The body had been positively identified.

Bruce was dead.

Bruce was his father. Not like a father… actually his father.

And Bruce had known.

Why hadn’t Bruce told him?

What possible reason could he have to keep this a secret? “Resume.”

“A premature birth. As simple as that. You were born three months premature. I didn’t know what to think at first, but I felt… good, really good about it. I got confirmation during your sixteenth birthday party. I was going to tell you the moment the guests left, but you made a speech that night and spoke so passionately about your parents. I realized I couldn’t take them away from you.”

“Take them away? I don’t understand. Resume.”

“All you had left of them were your memories. Those memories are as dear to you as mine are to me. I wouldn’t let anyone tarnish them, not even me.”

Dick shut his eyes. Damn Bruce. Damn Batlogic for that is what that was. Dick had never understood it. Never.

“Besides, knowing you are my son didn’t change anything. It didn’t change the way I felt about you so telling you for my benefit achieved nothing. I loved you as a son before I did the DNA test and loved you no more or less after getting the DNA results back… and I didn’t think knowing would make any difference to the way you felt about me.”

Dick swallowed as raw emotions began to bubble and rise again.

“Your memory of your parents was important and you deserved to remember them as they were.”

Dick spun away from Bruce. If Bruce had been standing there he’d have swung at him. “Of course it was important, but…” Dick ground his jaw. “You’ve known since I was sixteen. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”

Dick turned back to the impassive hologram. “You didn’t tell me because you didn’t think you could handle my reaction. You selfish self-centred bastard!” Dick glared.

“Yes, in some ways he was.” Despite Alfred’s soft tone, the declaration filled the enormous cave.

Dick turned to his right startled. “Alfred. How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough.”

Dick’s anger burst. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind a thousand times over the years,” Alfred admitted stopping in front of Dick. “But this was something that had to come from him.”

“HIM! What about my right to know who my father was?”

“And now you know,” Alfred stated simply.

Dick blinked, stunned by Alfred’s reaction. “You’re going to defend him, aren’t you?”

Alfred’s expression softened. “Master Dick, there are times when he is indefensible but this isn’t one of them.”

Dick shook his head not wanting to listen to Alfred’s explanation. He sighted a spot over Alfred’s shoulder.

“You should know that I’ve never seen him so happy about anything in his life than that day when he discovered you were his son.” Dick swallowed, and returned his gaze to meet Alfred’s. “The moment he got the results he wanted to race upstairs and tell you but I convinced him to wait until the end of the party.”

“That doesn’t sound like Bruce.”

“No, it doesn’t, but that’s what happened. And then you made that speech. It was a beautiful speech about your parents, about Bruce and about me. But in Bruce’s mind you’d made it very clear that you saw him as your mentor and your guardian, but not your father. You even thanked him for not trying to be your father because you already had one.”

Dick licked his lips. “I…”

“How could he possibly walk up to you then and say, ‘By the way, there’s been a mistake. I’m really your father and John Grayson was just the man your mother married?”

“Hang on a minute…”

“Exactly,” Alfred cut him off. “Bruce knew John Grayson was more than that. John Grayson had to have known you weren’t his, but he clearly loved you as his own. And you adored him as every child should adore his father. Would you have continued to adore him if you discovered he wasn’t your father?”

Dick opened his mouth to respond but paused.

Alfred smiled with understanding. “Bruce loved you enough to ensure you didn’t have to face that situation. He cared enough to preserve your childhood memory of the man you adored. At sixteen you were still a child. Should Bruce have told you once you were an adult? Yes, of course he should have. I can’t profess to understand his reasoning for not doing so, but let me make one thing very clear, young man. Your father’s love for you was stronger than his need to have the title of ‘father’. So, yes. Master Bruce was selfish and self-centered, but not when it came to you. At least give him a chance to explain.”

Alfred turned and strode away, his footsteps disappearing, but his pearls of wisdom hanging in the air like shining beacons of sanity.

Dick’s arms hang by his sides. He felt like he’d just been sucker-punched. ‘Your father’s love for you was stronger than his need to have the title of father.’

Dick returned his gaze to the holographic image. He was still angry, but confused as well. Alfred was right. Bruce deserved the chance to explain. “Resume.”

“I realize now I was wrong about one thing. Things did change after that night. Not because you are my biological son, but because I consciously became aware of how much I had. I had grown up alone in the world with nothing but memories of those I loved, but that was no longer the case. I had both a son and a father who meant the world to me. It changed my thinking and rightly or wrongly, I started trying to protect you. I hadn’t been able to protect my parents but by God was I was going to protect the two of you. It drove Alfred mad and drove you away.

“That’s why,” Dick muttered. It had never made sense. Almost overnight, Bruce had become obsessive about Dick not taking risks, about him leaving the Teen Titans, about him focusing solely on his academic studies and reducing his Robin patrols. “Resume.”

“The night you were shot I admit I handled everything badly, as I usually do when it comes to my family. When you walked out…”

“Walked out?” Dick exploded. He heard the volume of his voice and immediately lowered it. “Bruce, you basically threw me out. Resume.”

“…I knew I’d acted foolishly on so many levels but I couldn’t tell you why and there was no way I was going to apologise for trying to protect you… though, I concede it was an overreaction on my part.”

“Ya think! Resume.”

“Thankfully, over time, you forgave my idiocy and I accepted that both you and Alfred could more than look after yourselves. Everything went back to normal… until Damian appeared out of nowhere. All of the sudden your paternity was an issue. Alfred insisted it was wrong for you not to know the truth, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell you. Every time I considered it, I thought back to what you’d said at your sixteen birthday. You deserved to keep that memory.”

Dick exhaled deeply. “But Bruce, you didn’t give me a chance to… you based your entire decision on the words of a sixteen year old boy who was angry with you that night… and…” and who felt confused and guilty because he loved his guardian as much as he loved his father. Dick dropped his chin to stare at his boots. Bruce’s earlier statement about knowing the truth not changing the way Dick felt about him now hurt like hell. “I didn’t just think of you as my mentor and my guardian, Bruce.” Dick lifted his gaze. “You must have known that. Resume.”

“So, I created this holographic message so you’d learn the truth from me. I gave it to Alfred with strict instructions it was only to be given to you once I’d passed away. Now John Grayson and I are on equal footing… both memories. I hope you can now remember us both as fathers.”

Dick drew his breath sharply in an attempt to maintain control of the emotions threatening to consume him, but it was rapidly becoming a losing battle.

“If you want to take a swing at me, go ahead. I had no right to keep this from you, but believe me, nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to tell you face to face. Fate saw that I was there the night Mary and John Grayson died so I could make my own son my ward. I know you must be asking why I adopted you when you were in your twenties. I did it because… to be honest, my emotions got the better of me. I wanted to be your father without hurting you.”

Dick blinked clearing the single tear that had broken through his defences and was obscuring his vision.

“So, that’s it. Of all the secrets I carry, this is the one I’ve guarded the fiercest and the one that weighed the heaviest. You had a right to know, Dick. I wanted to tell you but I made a judgment call and I stand by it. I honestly thought it best you didn’t know so you could cherish your memory of John Grayson. I wanted to protect you from the pain you may feel in discovering John Grayson wasn’t your biological father.”

“Bruce,” Dick murmured, shaking his head. Everything always came back to Bruce tying to protect him. “Resume.”

” So, tell everyone… or no one. It is your choice. Look after your brothers. They both need you.”

His brothers. Tim would be elated for him and Damian… Dick wasn’t sure how Damian would react when told. Dick would do it gently. They had a right to know. There was no doubt the information would inflame the antagonism between Damian and Tim. Damian would likely make a point of highlighting the fact Tim wasn’t Bruce’s ‘real’ son. Bruce had never seen it that way. Dick didn’t either. Tim was as much his brother as Damian, probably more so. ‘Blood a family does not make’… another profound Alfredism.

“Your grandfather needs you as well. Alfred is astute at hiding how he feels, but my death will affect him deeply. He spends his life looking after us… we should spend more time looking after him.” Bruce paused and stood up straighter. His tone changed. Instinctively Dick’s back straightened. “You are head of the family now… and of the Bat family. It is a huge responsibility, but I know you will lead them well and protect them all.”

A lump swelled in Dick’s throat. “I will. I give you my word… Resume.”

“The full report of my investigation is on the end of the disc if you want to read it.” Bruce’s expression softened and he smiled… genuinely smiled. “I love you, Dick – not because you share my DNA but because you are, and always have been, my son… and the person I’ve always felt closest to.”

The hologram flickered and then dissolved leaving Dick standing in the middle of the cave alone in the echoing silence.

VVVVVVVVVV

Dick rubbed his hot, puffy eyes. He had lost the battle and succumbed to his grief.

In the twenty minutes since the holographic message had ended, Dick had skimmed through Bruce’s investigation. It had been thorough, but that was no surprise. What was a starling was the fact that Dick’s birth had been deliberately induced three months early. Officially because his mother had been experiencing pain – unofficially because apparently the circus had been losing money without its trapeze act – though, the most likely reason why a mother would consent to deliberately inducing the birth of her child was to protect the baby. That had been Batman’s conclusion.

Mary Grayson had to have known if she’d showed up in Gotham with a three month old baby Bruce would have recognized the truth and contested custody. She wouldn’t have had a chance against the team of lawyers the Wayne billions would have bought. Backed into a corner, Mary Grayson had done what she had to, to keep her child. Dick understood her motivation but also appreciated how betrayed Bruce must have felt. Perhaps that’s why she was a faded memory.

Dick’s thoughts returned to Bruce.

“My father.” Dick had repeated those two words over and over and every time he said it, it felt right… but then, why wouldn’t it? It appeared the instant connection Dick had felt to Bruce had been a result of much more than sharing a common tragedy. It had been an extension of the natural and innate bond between father and son. They just hadn’t known it.

Dick’s eyes drifted to the Batsuit. He was still incredibly angry at Bruce and yet, he respected the man more than ever. Bruce had been a flawed individual… an emotionally constipated dictator for want of a better description… but every decision he ever made had taken one primary fact into consideration – protecting those he cared about. How could Dick be angry at him for that? After all, it was a father’s prerogative to protect his child – a family’s responsibility to protect each other.

Dick stared down at the disc in his hand. “A right to know,” he murmured. For the hundredth time he shook his head. The hardest thing was being unsure if Bruce realized Dick had thought of his as a father and not just a guardian and mentor. He had to believe Bruce knew.

Movement at the top of the stairs drew his attention. Tim paused, instinctively waiting to be invited.

Dick nodded and his brother continued toward him.

“Hey.”

Tim’s expression was one of deep concern. “Are you okay?”

Dick rose to his feet and nodded slowly. “Yeah. ”

“You don’t look it. You look a mess.”

Dick returned his attention to the CD in his hand. He’d made his decision… two important decisions. “I need to get the team together and clarify a few things.”

Tim didn’t attempt to disguise his relief. “You’re going to take over as Batman.”

“I honestly don’t know yet. But I want to make it clear who’s calling the shots.”

“Yes, boss.”

Dick gave his brother a warm smile.

“I still say it’s essential that you…”

“Maybe. I need to think about it.” Dick’s attention was drawn back to the disc.

“Okay, I’ll stop pushing as long as I know you’re considering it.” Tim licked his lips. Dick sensed his brother’s discomfort. “And the information on the disc?” Tim asked carefully. “If it’s important, I should be told.”

So often in the past Dick had been standing in Tim’s shoes facing the big black Bat demanding to be informed. Batman had seen all knowledge on a scale of need-to-know and very rarely did Bruce feel Dick needed to know.

Dick lifted his gaze to meet Tim’s.

Tim’s expression hardened, clearly ready to argue his case.

Without a word, Dick handed Tim the CD.

Tim tilted his head to the side, studying his brother intently.

“I had a right to know. But Bruce was right… about a lot of things it would seem. The information doesn’t change anything. Not a single thing. He was my father.” Dick smiled at Tim. “You’re my brother. And whether we like it or not, the midget assassin with the endearing personality is family… and our responsibility. Out there, the war continues and we have to fight it because that’s his legacy. To be ‘the someone’ who leaps from the shadows when innocent people are threatened. That’s why he did it, Tim. It was always about protection.”

“I know. But what was on the disc? What was the information?”

Dick exhaled slowly. “The information on that disc is important, very important as a matter of fact, but I’m making a judgment call.”

Tim frowned.

“No one but me needs to know at this point.” It would only inflame the situation between his brothers. When things settled down between them, Dick would tell them both. “But I understand if you want to watch it. I mean that.”

Tim bit his bottom lip, his brow furrowing deeply.

Dick turned toward the stairs. “I’m going to check on the others.”

“Dick…”

Dick glanced back.

Tim held the CD out, returning it, his blue eyes reflecting total trust. “You’ve made a judgment call, Dick. That’s good enough for me.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

nightwing

So ends this tale.

(FYI:  Bruce Wayne did come back after few years and once again resumed the mantle. Dick Grayson, in the meantime (while Bruce was gone) did very well fill in the shoes.)

 

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