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Dad...I’m Bilingual

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When he wakes up, the first thing that Dick’s sluggish mind can latch onto is how tingly his tongue feels. His taste buds buzz like someone poured a can of Pepsi into his mouth while he was sleeping, bubbles tickling the path down. Or maybe pop rocks. Or tiny little bumblebees, their legs scritching and scratching the surface they tread.

The tingling spreads outward, Dick notices as he careens toward the wakeful part of wakefulness. Mouth to neck to torso to fingers to the cement block that he is pretty sure used to be his right leg. Soda and pop rocks and bees, the whole way.

A quiet, questioning groan slips through Dick’s heavy lips. He cracks his eyes open and squints, blinking against the unforgiving brightness of the room he’s in. “Mm. Bruce?”

A nearby chair squeaks. “Dick? Are you awake?” Bruce’s voice is uncomfortably close, booming in the short space between them.

Dick grimaces. “C’n you...back up? Your breath smells like meatloaf.” He opens his eyes fully and is greeted by Bruce’s lined face, bags sagging under his eyes. They’re in a hospital room, white walls and white sheets.

Bruce’s meatloaf breath huffs once in amusement, then retreats. “I’ll take that to mean you’re back up, then.” In his lap is a magazine laid open to a page that’s all squiggles and bumbled lines. It matches the rest of the room. Dick’s head swims.

The numbness has receded mostly now that Dick is back online, but his stubborn cement leg takes longer to reboot. “Feels like I died. Then came back to life. Then died again.” His mind churns slush and soup.

“You did just get out of surgery,” Bruce tells him. “Leslie said you’ll be woozy for a few hours.”

Dick frowns. “I can’t feel my leg.” He has to parse his words carefully, his mouth working slowly like his muscles have melted into molasses.

“I should hope not. You just had your knee put back together.”

That part sounds...somewhat familiar? Dick has mismatched memories of surfing a stop sign across Clayface’s back, then sirens so loud and so close they split his head in half. He remembers Leslie yelling into one ear while the other listened to Bruce and Steph arguing about a video she uploaded to the Batman Incorporated Twitter account.

That was completely irresponsible, Bruce said, out of his Batman suit and in one of the backup outfits he has stored in Leslie’s office for nights like that one. You’re lucky he only broke his knee.

That stunt earned the Bat brand fifty Twitter followers, Steph snarked back.

I need a goddamn vacation, Leslie said.

“Tim left to crash a jet ski in the harbor,” Bruce continues, though Dick doesn’t remember asking, “so your alibi is taken care of. Jason and Cass went to track down the pudding cart, and Alfred took Damian home to sleep.” The half-drawn curtains make it hard to decide if that’s a sunrise or a sunset he’s seeing. Either way, it speaks to long hours of sitting and waiting and hoping.

“I think…” Dick licks his dry lips. “I think they cut my leg off?” It feels like it. Did Leslie take his leg away as punishment for being dumb? Is the hospital hiding it from him?

Bruce snorts. “Then what is that?” He gestures to Dick’s leg, the entire thing encased in weighty layers of gauze and plaster.

“An imposter,” Dick says. Duh. “They gave me fake metal parts like Vic.” Dick slumps against the pitifully flat pillow behind his head. “My brain feels fuzzy. Did they take stuff out of my head?” That would explain the foggy memories and the way all of his words swim away from him like he’s been plunged underwater.

Underwater hospital. Now there’s an idea.

“You’re on painkillers,” Bruce says plainly, licking his thumb and turning the page of his magazine. “Heavy ones, it looks like.”

Dick can’t remember if painkillers are supposed to feel like bumblebees buzzing around inside his thoughts. Maybe they’re made of honey. “Y’know, last time I woke up all confused in a hospital room, a bullet stole secrets from my head.”

Bruce looks pained. “I assure you that all of your secrets are intact this time around.”

Dick hums. “You should...take the painkillers out.”

“Why is that?”

“‘Cause I don’t wanna spill stuff.”

Bruce frowns. He doesn’t say anything for so long that Dick wonders if he spoke in Portuguese by mistake. Bruce places his magazine on the plastic chair beside him. “Well, I can’t take out the IV because you’ll be in pain, but I promise you that the room is safe. Tim checked for bugs.” Why a bug would be in the human hospital, Dick doesn’t know.

He shakes his head. The front pieces of his hair fall into his eyes, but his arms are too tired to fix it. “That doesn’t work, ‘cause then...then you’ll know. And that’s bad.”

“This isn’t about your secret identity, is it?”

Another head shake. “I might acci-mentally tell you ‘bout how I spilled tapioca on the Batmobile’s seats.”

Bruce’s eyes widen. “That was you?”

“Yeah, but don’t tell Bruce, ‘kay? You gotta promise.”

Bruce rubs his temples like he’s sleepy. “I spent ten minutes yelling at Jason for that. I made him clean the seats.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you’re an asshole.” Dick huffs, blowing at his pesky bangs until Bruce rolls his eyes and pushes them back for him. “Thank you.”

“I appreciate you telling me about the tapioca. We’ll talk more about that when you’re sober.”

Dick makes a face. “The whole point’s that I can’t tell you about the tapioca. It’s a secret. I’ve got too many of those—a whole big fuckin’ army of secrets. And it’s too many. No fun when you can’t share ‘em.”

“What about Nightwing?” Bruce asks.

“‘S different. You already know that one. I can share it.”

“But you can’t share the other ones,” Bruce finishes.

Dick snaps his fingers. “Zactly.”

Bruce studies Dick—his bundled-up leg and the clear bag hanging on the hook beside his bed, pumping drugs into his bloodstream. “I should let you rest.” He starts to get up, the action somehow guilty despite there being no inherent guilt in vacating a chair. Bruce can pour guilt into anything if he tries hard enough.

“You wanna know the worst part?” Dick continues on like Bruce hadn’t spoken, words spilling freely over compromised lips. “I could tell you. I could. But I’m a scaredy cat, so I can’t.”

Reluctantly, Bruce sits back down. “I don’t know about that. I think you’re very brave.”

“I’m not. If I was, I’d be able to tell you, because I know you’ll still love me no matter what I am, and I’m still scared. And that’s what scaredy cats do. They run away.”

When Bruce’s face wears that expression, that gentle turn of his mouth and that pang in his eyes, Dick is stricken by memories of being nine years old. He’d go out every night in the Robin suit, wearing it like a suit of armor and trusting that nothing could hurt him. Bruce would be there by his side, protecting his Robin from harm at all costs. His soul wrapped around Dick’s like a second layer of armor, and it was then that Dick started to wonder if it was possible to have two fathers.

“There’s nothing wrong with being scared sometimes,” Bruce tells him now.

“There is if you’re a superhero.”

“Even then. Sharing a secret can be a scary thing, even when you know it’s safe. That’s why they stay secret for so long.” If Dick didn’t know any better, he’d think that Bruce already knew what Dick desperately wanted and didn’t want to say. But not even Batman can read minds.

Dick hums—a quiet, sleepy sound. He’s drifting, but only slightly. The painkillers are doing their job. “It’s dumb,” he says. “I can beat up bad guys an’ stop an apocalypse, but I can’t even tell my own dad I’m bilingual.”

Bruce just stares at him. Realization kicks in a moment later. “Do you mean bisexual?”

“Yeah, bionical.” He said that, didn’t he? Bruce must be getting slow in his old age.

Bruce leans back in his chair with an odd, bemused expression. It’s not an angry one—more like when he’s cracked a case and lets the truth soak in. What case he’s cracked, Dick doesn’t know. Puzzlement morphs into something soft. “Okay. You’re bisexual. That’s not so bad.”

“Yeah. But it would change stuff if you knew.”

“Not exactly,” Bruce says. “You’re still you, Dick. Nothing’s changed—not really.”

“Mm.” Dick’s chest warms. That must be a delayed effect of the painkillers, surely. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime, then. Later,” he amends. “When my head’s not full of mothballs.”

“Sure, son.” Bruce reaches out to ruffle Dick’s hair. “Whenever you’re ready to tell me, I’ll listen.”