The rhythmic creaking of the gymnastic apparatus and the soft chittering of the bats were the only sounds in the cave. A wave of chaos marched across the mats towards the high bar, detailing a map across the cave floor, from one training area to another. A crumpled towel here, torn athletic tape there, too few water bottles dropped where they’d been drained.
Hnh. Minutes passed by and the sounds didn’t slow, let alone cease, though the spinning body above was showing clear signs of exhaustion. “How long are you going to keep this up?”
There was no answer. There was also not even a stutter in the motions above. Dick had sensed his presence before he’d spoken. He waited some more. He knew it was only a matter of time. Dick couldn’t hold it in forever.
Dick’s grips were growing a bit sloppy, but his form was textbook. That, in itself, was a bit of a warning sign. Dick knew perfect form inside and out, but he liked to experiment, innovate, play. The easy, fluid grace was gone, replaced by a punishing series of drills and endless cycles without ever a dismount. Turn, turn, turn, over and over and over. This rigid adherence to standards he didn’t necessarily espouse was as telling as the emotional coldness he could feel from here.
“Damian’s upstairs. He’s asking for you.”
Dick continued, but Bruce could see the quivering in his muscles as he held the handstands for longer than seemed humanly possible. Bruce wouldn’t go to him, though, couldn’t tell him to stop, though he clearly needed to. He needed to have stopped a good half hour and more ago, he was sure. Dick was punishing himself, which meant he was upset and doubting himself every bit as much as he was angry at Bruce. He could only wait for him to wear himself out and then run triage as much as he was able.
Mere mention of Damian cracked Dick’s concentration; He cast up into one last handstand before beginning a dizzying array of swings and releases. His focus shattered when deadly silent feet descended into the cave, four paws padding behind him.
Dick missed his grip entirely, grabbed for the bar, but he was at an awkward angle, moving too fast, body too taut to absorb the excess forces of the spin. He fell towards the mats, holding his arm to his body before he even hit the floor.
Damian rushed forward, sliding to a halt at Dick’s side before Bruce could even reach them. He watched Dick force a smile and murmur something before Damian hurried back up the stairs. Titus butted his head up against Dick’s uninjured shoulder and licked him once before following.
Bruce knew he didn’t have long before Damian returned, with Alfred in tow. Whatever words they were going to have would need to be said now.
“He cares, Bruce. You just need to learn to trust him.”
“He has to earn my trust, Dick. He’s killed. He lived with the League his whole life before us. It’s not that easy.” Bruce kept his voice level and dispassionate.
“You’re just using that as an excuse, Bruce, and you know it.” Dick was shaking now, and it wasn’t just from pain and exhaustion. “He can do it. He can follow orders. You just have to trust me. I mean him. Trust him.” He swayed a little, skin too pale except for the anger burning bright on his cheeks.
And that was what it boiled down to, wasn’t it? In not trusting Damian, Dick thought he wasn’t trusting him, his judgment. He’d left him a message saying not to be Batman, but not because he didn’t trust him; he hadn’t wanted him to have to bear that burden alone. He knew what it could do, apparently had already done, to Dick. But it hadn’t been all bad. He could see that, too. Dick shouldn’t discount any of that.
“Dick…” He brushed sweaty hair back from his son’s brow. “I’ll try. I can’t promise it will go smoothly, but… I’ll try.” He ran his hand down Dick’s shoulder, feeling the bump where his shoulder had pulled out of socket.
“You… did a good job with him.” Even more importantly, he’d given Damian what he needed and what Bruce hadn’t before he’d gone away. “You did a good job with everything. I trusted you even after the Joker. I can learn to trust him, too.”
Dick was still reeling from his injury, his exhaustion, his pent-up anger, and the way Bruce had just blindsided him by suddenly agreeing with him. And of course that was when Damian re-appeared, pulling Alfred behind.
Dick would be out of commission for a few weeks at least, while his shoulder healed. Maybe they could all use that time to get to know each other and work on that trust. It was time and past he reconnected with all of his children, and they all looked far too worn since he’d disappeared. He could do that. He would. He owed them that much. All of them.
“Let’s get that shoulder taken care of and then get you to bed, okay?” His hair was just beginning to gray and fine lines mapped out the years on his face; he was definitely older than he’d been when he’d first brought Dick home, but he brought out the same fond smile he’d had back then. He could feel Damian behind him, worried, but not wanting to show it. Dick was right.
After his long trip through time, now here at the end of it all, back where he was supposed to be, he traveled once more, on a smaller but much more important scale. His son who’d been his Robin was now in turn Batman to his younger son. He turned to Damian. “I have an important job for you. You have to help me keep him occupied and out of trouble. Think you’re up to it?”
“Tt. Of course, Father.”
Titus punctuated Damian’s affirmation by thumping his tail on the ground and whoofing happily.
Everything would be fine. Bruce smiled.