Dick… honestly doesn't know what he was thinking when he started dating Chloe.
She's a civilian and she has the personality of someone he just… can't stand. Dick prides himself on being a people person, but sometimes… sometimes he has to take a deep breath around her and not kick her out of his apartment. She talks loudly and rudely, she gossips, she is constantly setting herself on a pedestal and looking down on others and Dick doesn't know what he was thinking when he started dating her.
Because she's moved in, and Dick can't escape her.
And maybe it's because she's gentle and sweet when she wants to be, and she didn't show her true side until she had a drawer in his dresser and a toothbrush in his bathroom. Maybe it's because Dick isn't known for giving up on people, even when they probably don't deserve his faith in them. Maybe it's because Dick doesn't actually know how to break up with someone; most of his breakups had been because the other half of the partnership was done with him.
Maybe because Dick's still reeling over his last fight with Bruce and he doesn't know how to say no to the first person who finds him useful.
It makes patrol infinitely harder too. He would have told her he's not ready for living together but she came to him several days ago with her entire room packed into her car, telling a sob story about how she quit her job because it wasn't worth the broken nails and she can't pay her landlord and Dick couldn't say no.
He planned to have her sleep on the couch or something until she got back on her feet, but next thing he knew three quarters of his closet is hers and half of his bed is hers and the food in his fridge is hers and the everything that is his is hers. He hates coming home now, whenever he's done with his day job and he comes home and just wants to relax before heading out for the night she's crawling on top of him and clutching his hair as she kisses him breathless and he can't say no.
He's been having to make excuses to get out of sex, out of spending the night with her pressed against his body in the most blood-pumping ways. Just so he can go out and stop a few robberies and muggings. Not because her body against his feels like poison. Not because he feels like poison. Just to patrol.
So he makes excuses.
Excuses like he forgot something at work or a friend needs help or he promised someone that he'd drive them across town. He can normally get away from her for a few hours, not as long as he'd like, but long enough to make the night slightly safer without her screaming at him when he came home.
Tonight, it was shopping. They were out of milk—milk that he dumped down the sink—and a few other things so he told her that he'll go to Walmart and grab a few things and she nodded and gave him permission. He spent a good two hours tonight patrolling the worst of the 'Haven, and then before heading back he grabbed stuff from the furthest Walmart from where he lived, already planning the excuse that all the other ones were out of cream cheese. If the night workers thought anything strange about Nightwing coming into the store and buying fifty dollars worth of food in cash they didn't say anything. God bless retail workers.
After grappling down in the alley a block from his apartment and getting redressed back into his sweats and his old BCPD tee-shirt he mostly just uses to sleep in ever since he quit the force, he walks into his front door, arms ladened with groceries—which made it super hard to grapple by the way—already talking about traffic and cream cheese the moment he sees her sitting at the kitchen table.
She then pulls out her phone and shows him a phone tracking app she has, and that it's showing Dick's contact photo right on top of his home in Google Maps. He sets down the groceries and pulls out his phone, finding the very same app hidden in his phone's storage, notifications turned off so if he wasn't told or didn't comb through every app in his system, he would never notice it.
"What's the real reason, Dick Grayson?" She asks before he can demand how she even got it on his phone, how she knew his passcode. "Are you cheating on me?"
And Dick wants to scream no. No he'd never cheat on her, even if she's controlling and rude and narcissistic. He can't have another relationship end that way. Not when it ended that way with Kori and Babs…
He will never cheat. Not again...
He tries to tell her so, trying to tell her whatever excuse he can think of at the top of his head. Something about needing fresh air and a long drive but the more he talks the more cold she looks.
"Do you think I'm stupid?" She hisses, and Dick's blood freezes.
"Do you think I'm stupid?" Bruce growls when Dick tries to explain it was an accident. Bruce doesn't believe him, he's angry and worried and doesn't believe him. Cass is unconscious while Duke and Tim do their best to lower her in the cot and stay out of Alfred's way as he begins to check her over for injuries.
"No, Bruce, that's what happened-" Dick argues back, frustration crawling in his gut like an old friend. It was all a trap, Professor Pyg, as creepy and horrible as he is, can be rather clever and smart when he wants to be. He's an honorary member of Gotham's usual Rouge Gallery for a reason. When he escapes Arkham, it's code yellow, which means anyone nearby who can help should get their butt to the cave at the earliest convenience. Dick was just thankful that Damian was with Jon and the rest of the Teen Titans for the weekend. The poor kid hates Pyg for a lot of understandable reasons.
Dick hates Pyg too. He had something good with Shawn. But Pyg made her realize that Dick's dangerous, and a relationship with him can be deadly. The realization probably hit harder too because of the baby scare. Knowing Dick won't only get her killed, but the child they almost thought…
And Dick was in town anyway because Tim was tracking down some gangster Dick helped arrest last time and he thought he'd help out and give as many helpful tips as he could.
One thing led to another—Pyg escaped and Dick came running to help. He and Cass entered the warehouse together, and Dick tripped on a wire, igniting a dosage of some sort of sleeping gas right into his face and got a gun pressed to his head from one of Pyg's puppets, forcing Cass to surrender unless she wanted to see Dick's brains splattered everywhere.
"You were careless and you almost got Cassandra/killed," Bruce was snarling, because there were acid marks left on her mask from where Pyg tried to fuse a puppet's face through her uniform. There were burns on her cheeks, ones that will heal and won't scar, but Bruce is still angry. Still needs someone to blame without going to Arkham and beating Pyg to a pulp.
And Bruce doesn't know the whole story. He's not letting Dick tell the whole story. All he sees is Cassandra hurt and unconscious—because it seemed even Pyg was afraid of Black Bat enough to keep her knocked out—and Dick who was the one who tripped the wire and who got held hostage and who was the entire reason they were caught in the first place.
It's been years since Bruce had punched Dick. The last time was before Spyral when Bruce beat him into letting his family continue to think he's dead even though he told him no. I trained you to live and I watched you die!
Like that was Dick's fault too. And Dick couldn't say no.
Right now, Dick wouldn't be surprised if Bruce threw a punch. Everyone knows he's protective of Cass. Maybe it's because she's the only daughter. Maybe it's because she knows how to read him perfectly. Maybe it's because she's the perfect soldier.
Maybe maybe maybe maybe. Regardless, Bruce's fists are shaking and his eye is twitching and Dick can almost feel the punch coming.
So he lashes out first.
"Would you listen to me for once?!" He shouts, curling his hands into fists.
Bruce whirls on Dick, his face turns into a snarl, and Dick wants to rip the cowl off. "I will not listen to you when you yell, Richard."
And Dick… and Dick sees red. The use of his name. The blaming? Dick has so much anger built into his limbs now that he- he- "YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!"
Bruce's scowl turns cold and Dick turns, wringing his hands in his hair and heaving breaths of air. He needs- he-
Tim and Duke stand there, eyes wide, and Dick remembers that they've never seen this. Jason knew how bad it could get. But Tim and Duke… Dick doesn't want to do this here. He doesn't want to do this. He-
He's still so angry. Blood boiling. Somewhere in his head he knows that screaming at Bruce is going to do a fat load of nothing, but he's always had people tip-toeing around his temper. His bipolar tendencies.
Heaven, Mary, and Jesus just thinking of the phrase is getting him all worked up again.
He turns on Bruce, glaring and ignoring how his wrists itch in a way that begs for something to… to hurt. "You never listen to me. Even if I fucking whisper."
Bruce regards Dick with no emotion.
Then, two words he's always hated hearing since he was seventeen and recovering from a bullet-wound courtesy of the Joker.
And that's just so typical of Bruce, isn't it? It almost sends him stumbling.
But he doesn't. He just glares. "No."
"No. We're going to talk about this like normal fucking human beings and-"
Bruce plows forward, stalking towards Dick and looking taller than what Dick could have sworn he was a second ago. This time, Dick does stumble back, his words choking in his throat as Bruce stands above him, heartless white eyes staring right into his soul. "You have no claim to make demands, Nightwing. I told you to get out." Batman leans in, teeth flashing. "So. Get. Out."
"How can you say that?" Dick whispers, his throat choking him. Bruce said Nightwing. Bruce is dissociating. Bruce is handling this like Batman. Dick needs Bruce back. Otherwise… otherwise he will lose. "You have no right to-"
"No right?" Batman demands cruelly and Dick knows he's lost right then and there. "I have every right. You have compromised the mission and endangered a team-mate and almost got her killed. You are no longer welcome to work with us until you get good enough to be useful."
"B-" Dick tries, flinching at the word useful. "B- you can't kick me out. Not again, you can't-"
"And why not?"
Don't answer Dick. "Because… because I'm your son."
He should have not said anything. He should have said okay and let Bruce cool off and let himself cool off. He should have said nothing.
Because Bruce's face wouldn't have twisted like this if Dick had just said nothing.
With the force of a lion, Batman howls. "YOU ARE NOT MY SON."
And the world crumbles. Batman doesn't even touch him, just leans more forward and Dick's legs give out. There's a shout from the med-bay but Dick can only see Batman and Batman can only see uselessness and failure.
"You are my former ward. You are an asset. A partner. A comrade. But you've never been my son."
And there's fire behind Dick's eyes.
"And until you understand that," Batman continues, "Get. Out."
And Dick runs.
He runs because there's no coming back from this one. Dick's never setting foot in the manor again. He doesn't have any parents or siblings or family- just co-workers and disappointed bosses.
Dick's fooled himself into thinking he belonged somewhere again.
And he runs. Grabbing everything he can without running into anybody from his- the bedroom he would spend the nights in.
And he runs.
And he ran to Blüdhaven.
And he ran to a bar.
And he ran into Chloe.
And he ran into trouble.
And here he is, a few weeks later, feeling the burn in his legs that's begging him to run again. Run from the girl seething in front of him, who broke into his phone and tracked him and is accusing him of cheating, who won't listen to any excuses be gives, who won't believe him, who won't trust him, who won't-
Dick's useless. He'd dumb and slow and useless and no one ever sticks around him long.
She asked if she looked stupid to him. Dick could say no and she'd be right. He could say yes and she'd be right.
It doesn't matter what happened.
Because she'll be right and he'll be wrong because he's always wrong even on the things he's most sure about.
So he shakes his head and drops his shoulders.
"I'm sorry," he says, "I cheated on you."
And why does it sound so much like the truth? He's sure if he confessed and admitted to Nightwing it wouldn't sound as true as those four words.
Because he's wrong wrong wrong and always uselessly wrong. Everyone besides him are right, always.
She strides forward and strikes him across the cheek. He can't help but feel like he deserves it.
"Fine," Chloe says, her voice wobbling, "I don't need you anyway. My ex texted me last night, says he wants to try again. Can't believe I almost told him no…" she sighs, "he was better in bed anyway."
And ow, that shouldn't hurt as much as it does. To think Dick is so useless to this woman now that even that isn't good enough for her.
And it turns out, she was already packed and had already stuffed her car. With a final goodbye she strides out and Dick feels empty.
He watches her rush to her car in her high heels from his apartment window, and he almost watches her leave too, just to torture himself some more. He doesn't know why this all hurts so much. She wasn't someone he'd want to stick around anyway…
But he doesn't watch her go, because his eyes land on a second car that's just pulled in next to where her car is parked in the residential lot.
He recognizes the car. And when the doors open, he recognizes the passengers as well.
He closes the blinds, panic swelling in his chest.
Because out the driver's door was Jason, and out from shot-gun was Duke, and from the back doors unloaded Tim and Damian and Cass-
He runs. He runs and locks the front door and turns off his lights and tries his best to make it seem like no one is home even though Dick knows better. They're all smart kids. Smarter than him. They probably noticed he was home before they even parked the car.
It doesn't stop him from trying though.
Except he didn't expect them to outsmart him, because after locking his front door he turns to find none other than Jason climbing through his living room window.
Dick's five stories up.
He stops in his tracks and watches as Jason hops into his apartment, shutting the window and grinning a classic Jason grin, all teeth and all lopsided. "We have ice cream, and we don't want it to melt before we convince you to open the door," he explains and Dick stands there, his heart in his ears.
"Why?" Dick whispers. What are they here, why have they brought ice cream, why why why. He swallows. "You guys here to yell at me too?"
And he doesn't mean to ask that. He has to force himself to keep from flinching when Jason's grin falls. Jason shuffles on his feet and Dick does his best to prepare for another onslaught of accusations he can't deny. He clutches his wrist. They're hurting again. His fingernails might even break skin by the end of this.
"Tim told me what happened," Jason says, his voice laced with anger.
Dick almost flinches again at the tone alone. Jason watches him, the anger suddenly forcibly shoved out from his facial features. Dick can always tell when Jason is trying his best to not get angry. He'll always fold his arms and grip the inside of his upper-arms; his eyes looking a tad bit greener.
"Look," Jason continues, just a bit softer, "none of us... none of us agree with him."
Dick doesn't get a chance to ask Jason to elaborate, because there's a knocking on his door and he practically jumps out of his skin. He feels like he's going to throw up. He wants them all to go. Just leave him alone. Let him just be alone like he's always destined to be.
But Jason's grin comes back and he places a hand on Dick's shoulder as he walks past, squeezing slightly, before letting go and unlocking Dick's door.
There's five smiling faces behind the door. He didn't see Steph getting out of the car—and with a secret nudge of amusement he wonders where they hid her in the car, it only has five seats—but here she is, holding one of three Walmart bags, each occupying two half-gallons of Tillamook ice cream of various flavors. Dick doesn't have room in his freezer for all the ice cream. They must intend to eat it all here.
"Family movie night!" Tim announces, walking inside and setting his own bag of ice-cream on the counter. Cookie-dough and mint in his. Damian walks inside too, heading straight to the sink to start washing bowls by hand because he knows there won't be any in the cupboards, Dick never does the dishes.
And as everyone else begins to walk inside and crowd his apartment, kicking off shoes and jumping on his sofa, he can only just stand and watch and listen to the pounding in his ears.
Then, slender arms wrap around his torso and he looks down to see Cass pressing herself against him in the best kind of way. The way that has him lifting his chin to make room for her shorter stature beneath his jaw, the way that has him wrap one arm around her shoulders and another around her head without even realizing it, pressing her tighter against himself as a wave of there's a person here he loves so much and they're real and in his arms and breathing and warm crashes against him.
"I yelled at him," Cass says and Dick almost lets out a wet laugh because he would have loved to see that. "He was wrong. You were right. You saved me."
Her hands clutch the back of his shirt and something does escape his mouth. Something caught between a laugh and a sob. He leans down and buries his head in her hair.
Because she told Bruce that it was she herself who didn't notice the tripwire, too busy fighting off a Pyg puppet. As phenomenal as Cass is, sometimes even she misses stuff here and there. It's rare. But Dick noticed it. He pushed her away from the wire, not knowing what it would do, and got hit in the face with sleeping gas. Mild compared to other stuff that it could be.
And Bruce always believes Cass.
His hug is suddenly interrupted by a bowl being shoved under his nose—chocolate-peanut butter with an ungodly amount of chocolate syrup piled on top—by none other that Jason. Dick feels Cass give him one last squeeze before backing up and smiling like the sun.
Dick takes the bowl, wiping under his eyes with his shoulder, and turning to see Duke pull out a DVD from the backpack he's gotten in the habit of always carrying around. "I brought Newsies!"
"Newsies?!" Jason says, outraged, though he doesn't look… angry. Just… fake offended.
"I thought you liked musicals," Steph says, scooting to make room for Cass besides her. Dick feels Damian grab his shirt and practically drag him to the sofa, sitting Dick down next to Duke and inserting himself next to Dick, shoving Tim aside.
"Yeah but I'm no traitor to New Jersey," Jason says back while Duke rolls his eyes and Cass looks confused. Steph leans over to explain the relationship between New Jersey and New York that even Dick doesn't really understand either but it still causes him to make… the beginning of a smile at the normalness of it all.
Tim is elbowing Damian's side because "you're touching me" and "scoot over, gremlin-" and Jason is already humming Seize the Day despite his earlier protests while Steph and Duke argue which version of Newsies is the best version—movie vs Broadway.
And Dick… feels light for the first time all week.
Because he's here with his family, and no matter what Bruce does or say…
He knows now he can always count on them.