Sea and Sky:


by Chicago

'rith will forward feedback

It hadn't taken a rocket scientist to guess the source of the unusually battered collection of muggers and petty crooks. Nonetheless, Nightwing had been trained by the World's Greatest Detective, and he did not jump to conclusions.

He spent three nights investigating, tracking, questioning.

His suspicions were confirmed near dawn of the third night on a Bludhaven rooftop.

She had preceded Nightwing from Gotham, and she had waited for him to appear on the roof of the 4:29 am train from the larger city. She was worried, she confessed. She felt bad. Guilty, even. But it was over.

He could see from her eyes that she meant it, and he didn't press for details.

He spent the fourth night with his lover, agonizing over what to do. Garth had been supportive but reserved, offering no answers.

So as the sun set on the fifth evening, Dick Grayson appeared on the steps of Wayne Manor. The worry and relief in Alfred Pennyworth's expression as he opened the door to the former young master of the house told him he had made the right decision.

"Downstairs?" Dick asked as Alfred closed the door behind him.

Alfred nodded once. No more communication was necessary.

Dick squared his shoulders and headed for the den. Decision made, he did not pause as he reached for the clock and opened the hidden door to the Cave. He strode purposefully down the stairs, stopping only when he reached the first landing and could see the training mats below.

What he saw was what slowed him to a halt.

He had expected to find Bruce assaulting the heavy bag or running katas or punishing himself with drills of one sort or another.

He was doing none of those things.

Instead he sat serenely in the middle of one of the mats, meditating.

As Dick stood uncertainly at the foot of the stairs, Bruce's eyes opened. Their clear blue focused unerringly on Dick, and he said only Dick's name by way of greeting.

"Hi, Bruce," Dick replied, resuming his journey down to the training level.

By the time he reached Bruce, his mentor had settled onto a weight bench with a bottle of water, but it was clear he was not about to start lifting. Instead he watched expectantly as Dick recognized the implicit invitation and settled onto a nearby bench facing Bruce.

Dick felt Bruce scrutinize his face. "You've talked to Selina," he noted, his tone free of rancor.

"Yeah," Dick admitted, blowing out a puff of air and pushing his hair back. "Bruce, I'm sorry."

"So am I," Bruce answered softly. "She deserves better."


Bruce cut him off, not with a glare, but with the slightest head shake. "It's for the good, Dick." He let his eyes rest steadily on Dick's face, sincerity clear in their blue depths. "All this," he continued, making a broad gesture that managed to encompass the Cave, the Manor, Gotham, the world, "this is where my heart is. I don't leave much for me, let alone the people I want to love."

Dick furrowed his brow. "Bruce?"

"I don't know how to love people, Dick. Not - not the way people are used to being loved." Bruce's tone was reasoned, matter of fact. "I know loyalty, exactness, fierceness of devotion. I know how to hold tight, but not how not to bruise."

Dick swallowed hard, having no answer to make to a truth suddenly and simply laid bare. "Bruce--"

Bruce reached a hand forward, briefly touching Dick's shoulder and then letting his hand drop away. Dick managed not to flinch, although whether more from shock or discipline, he could not say. "It's okay, Dick. It's what I am. I don't know why I couldn't see it before, but it's just... true."

"Bruce," Dick began again, feeling like he should be fighting, should be demanding Bruce *let* himself reach out, be happy. But how could he?

A fleeting smile twisted one corner of Bruce's mouth, appearing to be suppressed out of habit rather than desire. "You tried so hard with me, Dick. I know that."

Dick realized he was fighting tears.

Bruce, though, remained calm. Reasoned. Clear. "It was already too late, even back then. But you tried so hard to make me happy, to believe I could be loved, could love like everyone else. You almost had me believing you. I love you for that. But it's also why I hurt you."

Dick couldn't answer. To refute any of it would be a lie, but it felt like a betrayal not to defend Bruce against his own words.

"Selina was right to leave, even if she didn't realize the right reasons. Although I think somewhere underneath it all, she did. More than any of us."

Bruce took a swallow of water. Silence sat between them for a moment.

"What did Garth say about you coming here?"

Dick blinked and tried for a lopsided smile, forcing his voice to be steady. "You know Garth. He wouldn't stop me, but I think he's ready to pick up the pieces if--" Dick stopped himself, feeling like a traitor.

Bruce turned the bottle of water in his hands, not appearing to register the slight Dick had inadvertently revealed. "I don't know Garth," he confessed. "I think I should. You deserve someone who can love you as deeply as your heart demands."

"God, Bruce," Dick choked, lunging forward in spite of himself and clutching the larger man in a tight hug. After a moment's hesitation, he felt Bruce's arms come gently around him, resting carefully against him as if Bruce feared he might break if he held on any tighter. Dick pressed his face to the join of Bruce's shoulder and neck, tears tracking his face, feeling as if his heart was breaking for him.

Bruce's hands stroked over his back in the sort of comforting gesture that reminded Dick of being a young child kept safe from nightmares. "I'm okay, Dick," Bruce murmured.

Dick knew it, but he couldn't let go. He wasn't sure who he was crying for: Bruce, or himself.

After a few minutes, he regained his composure and pulled back, standing.

Bruce let him go easily. "I'm only doing a short patrol tonight," he revealed. "Cassandra and I can cover it."

It was a gentler dismissal than Dick anticipated, and he shifted uncertainly.

"Tell Alfred when you go back up that he should plan for you and Garth for dinner when your schedules next allow."

Dick wiped the back of one hand across his still damp cheek and forced a weak smile. "We'd like that."

"Good." Bruce stood up, signs of the Bat creeping into his demeanor. "I have to get ready for patrol," he said briskly. "Have a good night, Dick."

Then he was walking away, heading toward the locker area, and Dick was staring at his retreating back. "You, too, Bruce," he said softly, recognizing defeat.

He headed back up to the Manor with heavy steps.