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When It Rains

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It's just before midnight when Bruce's phone rings.

He's out on patrol, so the comm in his ear beeps to let him know there's a redirected call from his personal cell. He lifts his wrist, checking the screen there to identify who it is. Dick Grayson is apparently the caller, but Bruce doesn't know why Dick wouldn't just ping him on the comm system itself since at this time of night they're both out on patrol anyway.

Despite the confusion, Bruce doesn't hesitate to accept the call, making sure it's still on a private line instead of broadcasting to everyone else when he says, "Nightwing."

"Wayne."

Bruce goes still, pulse ratcheting up to dangerous levels. He knows that voice, and he knows that Deathstroke calling from Dick's cellphone cannot possibly mean anything good. His mind immediately starts going to the worst case scenario, and he shoots out a grapple line to take him back to the batmobile, intent on getting to Bludhaven immediately.

"Deathstroke," Bruce replies, far more calmly than he feels. "Where is Nightwing?"

"He's home and not in any danger, and in perfect physical health," Wilson informs him. "But you should come to his apartment."

"If you've hurt him—"

"Wayne," Wilson interrupts sharply, but his voice is hushed for some reason. "He's not injured. But he needs you."

Bruce's fear reaches new heights, because Dick never—he never needs Bruce, not anymore. He's his own man, own hero, has been for years. Established in his own city. And he doesn't...sometimes Nightwing will reach out to Batman for assistance on a case, or offer to partner up if it's something that reaches Gotham, but Dick never asks for anything. Things between them are good, now, but he'd accepted that that particular door closed a long time ago.

And now Dick is asking for him, asking for him through Deathstroke of all people, and Bruce can only imagine the worst.

"I'm on my way," Bruce says shortly.

"Don't come as the Bat," Wilson says, and then hangs up the phone, leaving Bruce with a dial tone.

This could be a trap, honestly. Dick could be in real danger, and Wilson could be attempting to draw Bruce out by pretending like he's acting on Dick's behalf. Not going as Batman means going relatively unarmed, and if what he finds is a fully-armored Deathstroke waiting for him, he stands far less of a chance, especially if Dick's life hangs in the balance. It would be a good ploy, used by someone who knows Bruce would come running for any of his kids.

Or, Wilson could be telling the truth and telling him to leave Batman behind because it's Dick who needs him, not Nightwing. Which means bringing their night job into it will make everything so much worse.

And he can't...he can't take that risk, not if Wilson is telling the truth.

It takes forty-two minutes to reach his destination in Bludhaven, even breaking nearly every traffic law there is. He parks the batmobile in a nearby, hidden alley, and changes quickly out of his suit and into some civilian clothes he has tucked away. A quick check of the cameras tells him that the coast is clear, and he gets out of the car, barely even noticing the rain as he strides towards Dick's apartment building.

The elevator ride feels far too long, Bruce forced to watch the number tick by ever so slowly, and then he doesn't bother knocking on Dick's door, instead pushing straight inside.

There's no sign of anyone in the kitchen or living room, but the sight of a snapped escrima tossed off to the side makes Bruce's throat clog. Did he misjudge this? Is Dick tied up somewhere, beaten by Deathstroke?

But the bedroom door is half open, and there's no turning back now, so Bruce strides towards the door and pushes it the rest of the way open, taking in the scene inside.

Wilson is standing by the end of the bed, dressed far more casually than Bruce has ever seen him in a t-shirt and sweatpants. ...A t-shirt and sweatpants that Bruce actually recognizes, is pretty sure are his, that he left here the last time he was in Dick's apartment. Wilson's arms are crossed, but nothing about his posture reads as combative, so Bruce turns his attention away from the mercenary for the moment and to the other person in the room.

"He's been like this for almost an hour," Wilson says flatly.

Despite Bruce's entrance, Dick hasn't moved from his position, sitting with his back against the wall and knees folded up to his chest. He has the heels of his palms pressed to his temples, chest moving in deep, even breaths that Bruce knows are purposeful, are a sign of fighting back hyperventilation.

Wilson specified on the phone that Dick isn't injured, that he's in perfect physical health. He said nothing about Dick's mind.

"Chum," Bruce says softly, ignoring the mercenary watching to instead crouch by his son's side. "Can you look at me?"

Dick's next breath shudders, and his palms dig in a little harder before they drop enough for Dick to turn his head, meeting Bruce's gaze.

Bruce's chest clenches at the look on Dick's face. There are tear tracks down his cheeks, clumping his eyelashes. His expression is crumpled up in something extremely fragile, something Bruce can't remember seeing since he was nine years old and fresh off the deaths of his parents. Bruce feels just as ill-equipped to handle it now as he did then.

"What happened?" Bruce asks, keeping his tone soft.

Dick's face twists, and then he's truly crying in earnest. He pitches to the side, and Bruce catches him, pulling him tightly against himself and rubbing his hands up and down Dick's back automatically.

"I'm sorry," Dick says between gasping breaths. "I'm sorry—I didn't mean—shouldn't have—"

"Hey, it's okay," Bruce says, a little wide-eyed. He has absolutely no idea what Dick's talking about, but he doesn't really need to right now. Dick is crying in his arms and he has no idea how to fix it. "Everything's okay."

"My fault," Dick sobs. "It was all my—'m sorry—and ruined his night—and interrupted patrol—"

Bruce looks up at Wilson, and finds the mercenary staring intently at Dick. His hands are clenched so tightly on his upper arms that it looks like it must hurt, jaw and shoulders drawn tight. He doesn't look angry, though. He looks like he's holding himself back from coming over here. And the idea that Deathstroke is fighting against the urge to comfort Dick is just—Bruce has no idea what to make of it.

"You didn't ruin anybody's night," Bruce says firmly, because he doesn't need to be the world's greatest detective to figure out Dick means Wilson, even if those dots aren't quite connecting. "And patrol was a slow night anyway, I was happy to come over here."

Dick clings to his shirt, tears soaking through the fabric. "I'm sorry."

Bruce hasn't felt this helpless in a long time. He doesn't know what to do, other than hold Dick tightly and let him cry. He doesn't know how to fix this problem. Doesn't even know what the problem is.

Once more, Bruce lifts his head to look at Wilson. He doesn't bother trying to mask his expression, too unsettled and upset by Dick's state to care about Wilson seeing what he's feeling.

He asks, "What happened?"

There's a moment where Wilson doesn't respond, his gaze still locked onto Dick, before that blue eye slides over to Bruce. He still looks serious, intense, and Bruce feels his shoulders automatically go tense, a fight response rising in him. This is Deathstroke, after all. He might seem to have no violent intentions right now, but that could change in a single instant.

"I think it's a PTSD episode," Wilson says through clenched teeth. "He safeworded out of a scene, and then seemed to be...seeing something, maybe. Accused me of being someone called 'Mirage'. Needed me to show my healing factor to prove I'm me."

Bruce blinks, and then frowns. He compartmentalizes away the safeword comment, deciding to deal with that little piece of information about their relationship at a later date, and digests what Wilson said about Mirage.

He remembers that name; a meta from the future, briefly on Dick's Titans team. Then something happened—the reports are slim from that time period, and Bruce hadn't been in a position to ask Dick for anything—and Mirage was taken down, apparently not the hero she made herself out to be.

Bruce had...never asked. By the time he and Dick were in a good place again, it didn't even cross Bruce's mind. What was one betrayal? They face dozens in their line of work, and Bruce felt that Dick and his Titans had handled the situation, and there was no reason to go digging. It might've even made Dick angry, too. Might've made him think Bruce was checking up on him, thinking he couldn't handle himself. With their bond so fragile, he wasn't going to do a damn thing to screw it up.

And then the whole thing had simply faded from memory. Unimportant, completely forgettable. Just one more mission.

Maybe that was a mistake.

In his arms, Dick's sobbing has died down, leaving the boy shaking and pulling in hiccupping breaths. His hands are wrapped in Bruce's t-shirt, hanging on like his life depends on it. Like he's terrified of Bruce letting go.

"What do you need, Dick?" Bruce asks, utterly unsure about what he's supposed to do next. He's never—this has never happened before, not with any of his children. He's never had to...

Bruce's heart clenches when a thought occurs to him—have things like this happened to his children before? Have they experienced severe PTSD, frozen like this, panicking like this? Have they just never told him about it? Have they just never felt they could come to him?

Maybe they're not wrong. Considering how badly Bruce is doing right now, maybe they were right to steer far clear of him.

"What do you need?" Bruce reiterates when Dick's only response to his first question is his hands clenching tighter. Bruce tries to gentle his tone further, most of the effort going towards making sure his voice doesn't shake.

Dick's breathing is beginning to even out, and Bruce would be more pleased with it if it wasn't accompanied by the way Dick says, "I want the rain to stop." Dull and near lifeless. Dissociating? God, Bruce hopes not.

"The rain?" Bruce echoes, glancing towards the window. It's still coming down in heavy sheets, and apparently is...a trigger?

But Bruce can't—he can't make the rain stop. The one fucking thing Dick asks for and he can't—

Wilson draws in and lets out a sharp breath, and then strides forward, closing the distance between them in just a few steps. Bruce goes rigid, instinctively curling more tightly around Dick, but Wilson doesn't spare him a single glance, instead crouching beside them and reaching out to place his large hand on the back of Dick's head.

It makes Dick flinch, and Bruce is two seconds from telling Wilson to back off, when Dick twists his head away from Bruce's chest to instead blink teary eyes at the mercenary. The expression his face shifts into is almost...confused.

"Why are you still here?" Dick croaks out.

Wilson's face closes off, but he doesn't pull away, hand still resting over Dick's hair. "Do you want me to leave?"

Dick shakes his head immediately. "No, please don't...please don't leave. But you don't—I don't understand. We just...we didn't have sex. And Bruce is here."

Wilson's lips thin, and it looks like he's carefully weighing his words before he says, "I offered to call him or one of your brothers, and you said to call your dad." Bruce's heart thuds. "So Wayne came. You didn't tell me to leave, so I stayed. And I'm sure as hell not leaving you like this unless you want me to."

Something tells Bruce that even if Dick did tell him to go, Wilson wouldn't leave completely. That he'd still be somewhere nearby.

(Bruce would do the same thing.)

Dick still looks confused, but he seems to accept what Slade is saying for the moment. His eyes stay locked on Wilson's face, and Bruce slowly begins to feel Dick's breathing reach equilibrium, perfectly matched to the even way Wilson is currently drawing air in and letting it out.

This close up, it's obvious to see what's happening. The care with which Wilson touches Dick, the way Dick begins to melt limb by limb simply by having Wilson at his side, relaxing far more quickly than he has so far. Bruce doesn't know how he had no clue that this was going on, but he really didn't. Feels a little blindsided, actually. Now isn't the time to think about that though; Dick needs him, doesn't need judgement on his life choices.

"I'm sorry," Dick says again, words that are beginning to make Bruce feel nauseous. "You—you came all the way here—"

"Without calling, and even if I had—" Wilson starts, and then cuts himself off with a rough sigh. "Little bird, I'm not mad. And we'll have plenty of time to talk about this in detail another time, but right now—what do you need, kid?"

Dick blinks at him slowly. His hands relax a little from their death-grip on Bruce's shirt, but don't let go completely, still pinning himself against Bruce's chest.

"Please stay," Dick whispers. "Both of you, pl-please don't—please don't leave. I just. Please."

Wilson gives a serious nod, as if striking a contract, and lifts his gaze to meet Bruce's. "Get him to the couch, put something on the TV."

And then he's getting to his feet and slipping silently out of the room and down the hall. Dick lets out a wounded noise, shuddering, and Bruce feels a spark of rage for the mercenary not fucking explaining whatever it is he's doing, because he sure as hell isn't leaving.

Nothing to be done about that now, Bruce shifts his grip on Dick so that one arm is under his knees and the other around his back, and then slowly gets to his feet, taking Dick's weight effortlessly. It sends him back in time, when Dick was so much smaller and used to fall asleep in the living room or even the cave, not waking up as Bruce carried him up to his bedroom and tucked him in.

This is so very different from back then, but it still draws a smile to Bruce's face, sad as the expression may be.

The walk to the living room isn't far, and the nearly open floor plan allows Bruce to see into the kitchen, where Wilson is now apparently standing by the stove. There's a kettle on one of the burners, and maybe after everything he's already seen tonight that shouldn't surprise Bruce, but somehow it still does.

He sits down on Dick's lumpy couch with a grunt, and attempts for a single moment to slide Dick to sit next to him before he realizes that's futile, that Dick is clinging to him in a way that clearly shows he has no interest in moving away.

So Bruce strains for the remote, doing his best to not dislodge Dick from his position, and flicks the TV on, immediately lowering the volume when Dick winces at the burst of sound.

For a minute, Bruce scrolls aimlessly through the guide, unsure about what might be appropriate here, what they're even aiming for. He eventually settles on a reality joke show he's heard his boys bickering about before, and watches absently as the four men on the screen go about making each other do ridiculous things.

He can't say he really enjoys it, but it's worth it for the way Dick breathes out a quiet laugh. The sound shakes, his breath catching, but the laugh seems at least partially real. And Bruce will take all the progress he can get.

Footsteps approach after a few minutes, and it nearly unsettles Bruce—he knows how quiet Slade Wilson can be, knows that despite his bulk he can sneak up on just about anyone, so the surely purposeful way he's making noise is just one more factor of this strange night that Bruce knows he's going to be overanalyzing later.

Wilson settles onto the couch, far enough away to give them space but close enough to reach if Dick wanted to, and then holds out a steaming mug of something sweet-smelling towards Dick.

For a moment Dick only blinks at Wilson, looking surprised and confused all over again, and it breaks Bruce's heart, just a little. Something flares in Wilson's eye that Bruce can't interpret, but he can imagine that the man might be feeling much the same.

Slowly, Dick's fingers uncurl from Bruce, and he reaches out for the mug. A soft breath escapes him when he has it, the warmth seeming to help, and he hums after taking a sip, holding it close against his chest.

"Thank you," Dick says, sounding a little steadier than he did before, and Wilson nods.

Bruce takes a sniff, and his brow furrows when he smells Rooibos and honey. Apparently, Wilson knows Dick's favorite tea.

He needs to stop being surprised. He needs to accept what's in front of him. Analyze later. Freak out later.

Dick wiggles in his grasp, and Bruce loosens his hold to allow Dick to escape if that's what he's trying to do. But instead, Dick simply extends his legs, tucking his feet under Wilson's leg. There's something hesitant about his expression, but Wilson doesn't even bat an eye; his hand lifts, and he settles it on top of Dick's ankles, thumb rubbing slow circles in the curve of one.

Dick lets out a shuddering breath. "You're not leaving."

"No, little bird," Wilson says. His hand seems to gently squeeze, and then continue on in its motion. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Me either," Bruce murmurs, dropping a kiss to the crown of his son's head, arms tightening once more around him.

He still feels lost and unsure, still has no idea if he's even really helping at all, still doesn't know what to do or where to go from here, or how to handle all he's learned tonight, or how to talk to Dick about the trauma he has so clearly experienced—

But he doesn't have to. They're giving Dick what he needs right now. And that's truly all that matters.