Title: Live Without [Ch 4/?]
Continuity: Teen Titans animated series, mostly, cobbled together with bits inspired by the comics verse and Batman: The Animated Series, and stuff I just made up from scratch. Sort of an AU? Takes place after the end of the Teen Titans series.
Characters/Pairings: Robin (Dick Grayson), Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven, Alfred Pennyworth, Clark Kent... and Bruce Wayne, sort of. Robin/Starfire.
Word Count: 3589
Summary: Dick wakes up to a world disrupted and overturned. He has some tough decisions to make, and he won't have Bruce to help him... not this time, not ever.
Warnings: Not much, this chapter. ANGST; um... a dead body. The author shamelessly pretending she knows anything about how computers work. No spoilers.
Disclaimer: Most of the characters and locations in this story are © DC Entertainment Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment. All content is fictional and for entertainment purposes only, not for profit.
Posted to robin_fans, we_love_dick, batfic.
* * *
Dick shifted slightly, blinking as he woke. He was face to face with a sleeping Starfire, their limbs tangled together beneath the covers.
Dick's eyes felt sticky and tender. He closed them again, briefly, letting each moment of the last eighteen hours wash through him and slot itself into his memory. Bruce is dead. I've come to Gotham. Bruce is dead.
Dick tried to disentangle himself from his girlfriend without waking her, but as he slipped out of the bed she stirred, blinking fuzzily. “Robin...?” she mumbled.
Climbing partially back onto the bed, Dick brushed a hand over her hair, pressing a kiss to her temple to reassure her that he wasn't trying to sneak off. Then he headed to the bathroom and shut the door. He set his hands on the counter and stared into the mirror; his reflection stared back: red, swollen eyes, pale skin, greasy, mussed hair; he looked tired, like he hadn't slept well (he hadn't). Making a disgruntled noise in the back of his throat, Dick reached for the tap to wash his face, only to change his mind halfway through the motion and head for the shower instead.
When Dick emerged from the bathroom in a terry robe and a cloud of steam, Kory was still curled up half asleep in his bed. She blinked at him woozily and smiled. Dick offered up the best smile he could summon then turned to sort through his clothes, the ones he'd packed into the T-ship that Alfred had brought up from the Cave, and the ones Alfred always kept in the manor for him, just in case. It felt odd to him to have to think about style and color, to brush his fingers across folds of cotton, polyester, and silk. Dick almost never wore civilian clothes at the Tower.
There was a whisper of cloth behind him, a soft shift in the floorboards, and Kory wrapped her arms around him, snuggling into the terrycloth. She gave the back of his neck a kiss, and Dick turned his head to get a proper one. “I am going to go and become dressed. Okay?” she murmured.
“'Kay.” Dick turned and pulled her into another quick kiss. “Love you,” he whispered. Starfire smiled and slipped out of the room.
Dick selected a pair of dark-wash jeans and a light blue, checked, collared shirt. He was just buttoning up the shirt when there was a light knock on the door; a moment later Alfred stepped into the room. “Hey, Alfie.”
“Good afternoon, sir.” Alfred pulled the curtains open, revealing a steady, drizzling rain. “There is a cold luncheon waiting in the dining room, when you are ready.”
“And....” The butler hesitated.
“Is he here?” asked Dick softly.
“If you would follow me to the parlor, sir.”
Swallowing his dread, Dick followed Alfred down the stairs and through the manor. He stepped into the parlor and stopped, hovering in the threshold. Eyes fixed on the gleaming black casket across the room, Dick turned his head slightly and asked over his shoulder, “When's... everything supposed to happen?”
“The wake will be tomorrow, sir. The funeral is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. the day after that.”
Dick nodded absently; then, taking a deep breath, he walked slowly, deliberately, towards the casket. Alfred remained at the door. Dick could feel Alfred's presence like a physical pressure against his back, warm and solid.
Soon– too soon– he could see into the open casket, see the man that lay inside. Bruce Wayne. He looked... peaceful. Dick's lips twisted at the thought. That was so wrong. 'Peaceful' was probably not a word that had ever been used to describe him.
Dick stepped closer, laid his hands on the edge of the casket. There was a faint perfumey smell in the air, probably to cover up the smell of decay and preservatives, he thought. It was not a cologne Bruce ever would have worn.
Dick looked down at Bruce, unsure what to do with himself. He didn't want to touch him. He remembered touching his parents, holding their cold, dry hands and crying until Mr. Haley had led him away. He knew academically that it was socially acceptable, even expected, for mourners at the casket to touch their deceased loved one. 'Loved one' was wrong, though, insufficient. This was Bruce. There had been a time when this man was the center around which Dick's universe revolved.
He didn't want to touch him, was afraid to. And yet... the more he looked down at the body in the casket, the more the sense of wrongness that pressed in on him grew and grew until some irrational part of him screamed that this couldn't be real, this was a trick, maybe somehow this wasn't really Bruce's body lying in front of him but a fake, and suddenly he had to know, had to check, and his hand shot out and he touched Bruce's wrist—
And it was skin, just skin. Bruce's skin. Dick's thumb brushed against a small scar that was shaped like a number four on the inside of Bruce's wrist, just barely under the edge of the cuff of his sleeve. Dick knew he had gotten it from a jagged piece of shrapnel that Batman's armored gauntlet had almost but not quite stopped, when they had gone up against Two Face together and failed to defuse one of the bombs in time.
Dick pulled his hand back, looking around for a chair. He hauled one over next to the casket and sat in it, head bowed, hands clasped and pressed to his lips, as if in prayer. But he had nothing to say to God, no questions to ask Him. There was nothing he needed of God just then. The man he needed lay before him in the casket.
“Bruce,” he whispered, “what do I do?” He closed his eyes and waited for an answer.
~ ~ ~
Dick ate mechanically. He had no appetite to speak of, but he knew the importance of a healthy diet to his physical and mental well-being, so he pushed the food that tasted like cardboard relentlessly past his lips.
Raven and Starfire ate with him, quietly discussing meditation. According to the girls, Cyborg and Beast Boy were still asleep. Alfred was off somewhere, probably accepting a sympathy call or a delivery of flowers; both the telephone and the doorbell had been ringing practically nonstop all day. There was no sign of Clark.
Dick finished eating. He was staring at a pile of finger sandwiches, trying to decide if he needed to eat more, when Alfred bustled into the room. “Master Dick?”
“I've just been on the phone with Master Bruce's lawyer. I've scheduled an appointment with him to come out to the manor at nine a.m. tomorrow, to review the will.”
Dick sighed. “Thank you, Alfred. ...Do you know where Clark is?”
“Mister Kent left to check into his hotel. He is supposed to have arrived in Gotham City late this morning.”
The loud jangling of the telephone emanated from the direction of the foyer. “Pardon me, sir,” Alfred said, and slipped out of the room again. Dick picked up another sandwich.
“Some of those sandwiches are vegetarian, right?” Beast Boy plopped into a chair and collapsed on the table, clearly still half asleep.
“Alfred's got it taken care of,” Dick assured him. “There's almond butter and apricot jam, roasted vegetable, and pesto tofu.”
Beast Boy closed his eyes. “Awesoooome....”
Cyborg came into the room, lightly smacking Beast Boy's head as he passed. “Gar, don't drool on the expensive furniture.” He pulled out a chair and sat, turning to Dick with a compassionate look. “Hey, man. How are you doing?”
“I'm—” Dick paused. He'd been about to brush the question off, say, 'I'm fine'... but he wasn't fine, and his friends deserved honesty. “I'm... I'm not sure how to answer that question.”
Cyborg nodded. “Fair enough. If there's anything we can do to help....” He shrugged. “...You know we've got your back.”
Dick nodded. “...Thanks.” He remembered to take a bite of sandwich, chewed, swallowed. “...About those active holograms... when you're doing the hair and clothes and stuff, think... the kind of kids who live in places like this.” He twirled a finger in the air, gesturing to the manor. “You're supposed to be my friends from school. And let me know when you've finished the renders. I've got our guy fabricating backgrounds and aliases for all of you, and he'll need those faces.”
Cyborg nodded sharply. “You got it.”
“Is that lunch I smell?” Clark's voice preceded him into the dining room. He sat heavily in an empty chair and reached for a sandwich. There were bags under his eyes; he wasn't used to being short on sleep, and he probably hadn't slept any better than Dick had. “Is the traffic on Nimbus Highway supposed to be that bad at this time of day?” he complained after swallowing a bite of salmon salad.
“It can be,” Dick replied. “It's always worse when it rains for some reason.” He glanced circumspectly at his friends; they were still clearly in awe of Superman, to go by the way they were staring. “You know, you don't have to drive,” he pointed out.
Clark shrugged. “I need to put some mileage on the rental car.”
“Hmmm. ...And which hotel is Clark Kent staying at?”
“Norris Regal Park Place.” Clark paused a moment. “I'm... not actually going to be staying there.”
Dick nodded. He looked down at what remained of the sandwich in his hands: two small lumps of bread pressed together, absent the filling. The idea of putting it in his mouth was beyond contemplation. He started shredding the bread.
“The Justice League is having a... a gathering, on the Watchtower,” Clark said after a few moments. “After the funeral. All of you are welcome, of course.”
Eyes widened around the table. “The Watchtower?” Garfield breathed. “With the Justice League?”
Raven was watching him. “...Dick?”
Dick looked up. He nodded. “Of course. We'll be there. Thank you.”
Clark nodded and took a bite of his sandwich, and then he asked... someone else a polite question about... something. Dick let the quiet conversation fade away around him and went back to shredding his bread. When there were only crumbs left he brushed off his hands, and then he watched Clark eat sandwiches until Clark noticed him staring.
Clark raised an eyebrow at him. “...Okay, Dick?” he asked tentatively, frowning a little because he already knew the answer to that question, could feel the answer in himself.
“When you have a moment, Clark, I'd like to speak to you. Privately,” Dick said.
Frowning a little more, Clark popped a last bite of sandwich into his mouth, wiped his hands on a napkin, and stood. “Where to?” he asked.
Dick thought a moment. “The Batcave,” he said. It seemed appropriate.
With Clark trailing quietly behind him, Dick made his way down the long stone staircase to the cave below the manor. He crossed the Batcave's floor, drifting to a stop behind the large leather chair at the Batcomputer. Batman's chair. He stood looking at it for a few moments before resolutely turning away from it and facing Clark. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I need a favor. I'm going to ask something horrible of you.”
Clark raised his eyebrows, shoved his hands in his pockets, and waited.
Dick pulled in a slow, deep breath; he let it out again. “We can't afford to let... to let Bruce's death be connected to the disappearance of Batman. ...I need you to go out on patrol with me. I need you to be Batman.” Clark's jaw tightened, and when he exhaled it came out shaky. “I know,” Dick said. “I know. I'm sorry. I hate the idea too. But Batman can't disappear. At least, not yet. And Clark... you're the only one who can do it. You've got the right build, and you can use your powers to fake the training. I can help you, if it's necessary... I can provide direction through sub-vocalization. ...You know him, Clark, you know how he acts, how he works. ...Worked. And... I trust you.” Dick's expression twisted painfully. “I'm sorry, I know it's awful, and I'd do it myself if I could, but... but I can't!” He gestured to himself helplessly. “...I need you, Clark.”
Clark scrubbed a hand down his face, hollow-eyed. “...He wouldn't like it. He was adamant about Superman keeping his nose out of Gotham. Bruce wouldn't like it.”
“Well Bruce isn't—!” Dick cut himself off sharply, clenching his fists and looking away. “...Bruce isn't here. I'm here. And I'm not him. I can't be him. I can't do this by myself.”
Clark sighed heavily, squeezing his eyes shut and opening them again. “Okay,” he said.
“Thank you,” Dick said, turning back to Clark. “I'm sorry. ...We need to start tonight.”
“Rao,” Clark cursed softly.
Dick swallowed. “I know. But it's bad enough Batman didn't make an appearance last night—”
“It's all right, Dick.” Clark held up his hands. “It's a lot to ask, but... you're the one asking.” He offered up the tiniest curve of his lips. “And you're right... it needs to be done. ...So. What do we do?”
Dick squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. This part was easier– outlining a plan. He was good at plans. “I'm going to review the database. I've... been away for a while, and we're going to need to know everything Bruce knew if we're going to pull this off. You can take a look at it later. You... read faster than I do. For now, you should probably spend some time practicing moving like Bruce, pulling your punches. You'll need to practice faking exertion and effort... Batman's strong, but not Superman strong. Just wear one of the gi for now... we don't want to damage the Suit. Don't worry too much about breaking the training equipment, though. It can always be replaced.” Dick ran a hand through his hair, thinking. “...You'll have to learn how to use all the gear....” He huffed a breath, a small exhalation, almost of amusement. “You'll have to learn how to swing. ...I'll come over and help you when I'm done here.”
Clark stood with arms loosely crossed, listening attentively. When Dick finished Clark shook his head a little, fond admiration and a little wistfulness showing in his eyes. “You've gotten really good at this,” he said. “When did you grow up?”
Dick shrugged a little and looked away, embarrassed. Clark smiled at this, just a little; then, he squared his shoulders and sighed, loosening his tie as he headed for the training area. “Don't take too long,” he said. “I knew Bruce well, but you're the expert.”
Nodding, Dick let out a breath and turned away from Clark to face the Batcomputer. He looked at the chair again, stared it down like it was an enemy. He'd sat in that chair hundreds of times, but it was Bruce's chair, like it was Bruce's computer, Bruce's cave, Bruce's Mission---
He huffed a sigh, laid a hand on the black leather and rolled the chair back and sat, deliberate in every movement. Then he typed a few commands. “Identify user,” requested a synthetic female voice.
“Voiceprint accepted.” The computer chimed and the screen cleared, and a program started running unprompted. A window opened on the screen, simply labeled 'ROBIN'; below this label was a blank field, empty but for a blinking cursor.
Dick frowned; this had never happened when he'd logged in before. A brief investigation turned up no useful information about the mystery program; it was heavily encrypted. Dick sat back in the chair and pressed a thumb against his lips, eyes narrowed at the screen.
He left me something. It wants a password, but I don't know what it is. Bruce wants me to open it, and he knows I don't know the password. So it has to be something I can guess.
Dick ran his tongue across his bottom lip then leaned forward and started typing. He let his fingers run almost on automatic, choosing words and phrases more-or-less at random, words and phrases that held special meaning for Robin, or Batman, or Dick or Bruce. He tasked a part of his brain to remembering which words he'd already tried so he wouldn't waste time on repeats. He set the rest of his mind to trying to work out Bruce's logic.
I should have been expecting this, he thought. It would be so like Bruce to leave final instructions in case of death or disappearance. That must be what this is, my final orders for how best to carry on the Mission. So, maybe something specifically relating to the Mission? Or to death. ...Or both. Yeah. Yeah, I think you were morbid enough for that. His fingers kept typing, selecting key words from a narrower subset. It's impossible... it's unlikely that he would have anticipated the circumstances of his own death. So.... He typed, 'ZUCCO'. He typed, 'HALEYCIRCUS'. Hmmmm. Is this a message to me or from him? He typed, 'CHILL'. He typed, 'CRIMEALLEY.' ...No. Too obvious. His fingers paused for a moment then continued. 'ZORRO'. 'MARKOFZORRO'.
There was a chime as the program accepted the password, and the window refreshed, revealing an embedded video. Dick's heart pounded in his chest. He steeled himself then clicked 'Play'.
The image of Bruce appeared. He was sitting where Dick now sat, wearing the Batsuit but with the cowl pulled back. His gloved hands were clasped before him on the console; the lines of his face were calm and grave. The date stamp in the corner of the window read '04-14-08'. That's just after he visited Titans Tower, Dick thought distractedly, then pulled his attention back to the recording. Bruce was speaking.
“Dick,” Bruce began. “If you're watching this recording, there's a pretty good chance that I've died. If that's the case, then... I'm sorry.” The businesslike tone dropped from his voice, and something soft and sad showed in his eyes. “You've lost too much already. But you've got a lot of people who care about you, so... I know you'll be all right.”
Bruce paused for a moment, exhaling softly. Dick watched a small wrinkle appear on his forehead as he opened his mouth to continue. “I could tell you what to do,” he said. “I've gone over dozens of possible scenarios, determined how I think each one would best be handled. I could ask you to take over for me, or give the job to someone else, or just let go, let Jim Gordon take things from here. There could be good reasons to do any of those, depending on the circumstances. But when you see this, it's not going to be about what I think anymore. So no orders. No instructions. ...The thing is... you turned out good.” The tiniest bit of a smile appeared then, more in the eyes than the lips. “Better than good. Brilliant. I trust your judgement, Dick. You've earned every inch of your independence and you don't owe me a thing, so. It's up to you. Your decision.” Bruce huffed a sigh then, the small, sad smile in his eyes reappearing. “Whatever you decide, however you end up living your life... good luck, son. Take care of yourself.” He breathed in softly; his mouth fell open just a little, as if to say more, but he closed it again and reached forward to tap a key. The recording ended and the window went black.
Dick pulled in a breath, nearly choked on it. His eyes burned and the computer screen blurred out of focus. He blinked and felt wet on his cheeks.
Clark's hand settled at the base of his neck and he jumped, startled. More tears fell, hot against his skin. “Hell,” he choked out, his shoulders curling away from Clark's touch. Dammit, he didn't have time for this!
Clark's hand slid along his shoulder as the man knelt, wrapping his other arm across Dick's chest, forced into an awkward angle by the chair. Even as Dick swallowed and sniffed and scrubbed at his eyes one-handed, forcing the tears back down into the aching in his throat, he clutched at Clark's forearm with his other hand, for Clark's sake as much as his own.
“That was only three months ago,” Dick said when he could speak. “Do you think he knew?”
Clark shook his head. “If I know Bruce, he probably made new recordings periodically.” His voice sounded suspiciously hoarse.
Dick snorted softly, a wet noise. “Yeah.” They sat in silence for a few moments until Dick sniffed and cleared his throat. “...We have a lot of work to do.”
“Mm,” agreed Clark, and didn't let go.
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