When did it start?
Dick couldn't pinpoint a specific moment in time when he'd fallen head over heels for his mentor.
He had always found Bruce attractive, though that just meant he had a pair of functioning eyes. Whereas finding Batman sexually appealing said something about his tastes. Black leather and thick heavy armor couldn't be that rare a kink. He had seen more websites than he'd like to admit that feature macho males donning the same outfit- just less armed but with more handcuffs and whips. He didn't investigate much further into the matter.
Dick's argument was that surely most people agreed with his sense of aesthetics. Add to that the whole taboo part of being guardian and ward, mentor and student, Batman and Robin.
He couldn't possibly resist falling for Bruce Wayne, could he?
Dick just had one teeny, tiny problem.
As they were guardian and ward, mentor and student, Batman and Robin, the chances of Bruce reciprocating were, quite frankly, negative two hundred past zero. Not to mention Dick wouldn't be crossing the age mark for at least half a decade. Bruce- whose morality was basically set in stone, whose public image was reasonably bad but nowhere near criminal- would never make a move on his ward. And if Dick even suggested such a thing, he had no qualms about Bruce firing him as Robin and sending Dick Grayson- harmless civilian- off to a prestigious boarding school in Scotland.
As it was, he was pretty content playing acrobat on a pommel horse in the Wayne Manor gym, than being shipped off to another continent.
So, to not jeopardize his chances of being close to Bruce as much as possible, he'd promised himself this: Dick Grayson could never let Bruce Wayne know how much he was in love with him, end of story.
Really, how hard could that be?
Dick had thought wearing a cup would be enough to save him from inappropriate boners.
From his experience, most erections happened on patrol. His body would be high on adrenaline, leaping from building to building, and his eyes would be following Batman's ass for a good portion of their time together. He'd be able to quietly ease his frustration in the shower, alone, taking advantage of the twenty minutes that Bruce took to type up a report while his memory was still fresh.
Now, all he could do was to keep his hands at his front. Not too long ago, he had had a warm wet towel, when he was pretending to be wiping his hands clean for a good fifteen minutes before an entirely too cheery waitress offered to retrieve his supposedly dirty towel, and he'd been left with nothing but two hands wringing at the front of his shirt. He lowered them considerably to shield, not too obviously, his dress pants.
Being the ward of the richest bachelor in the country meant that Dick Grayson had to keep up appearances. It meant that Bruce would parade him like a pet peacock, rewarding him with extra allowance for keeping his toothy smile in place and laughing at the terrible jokes some politicians made. It meant that being his guardian, Bruce tended to lean into him, have his arm wrapped around Dick's shoulder, and occasionally whisper into his ear in a conspiratorial tone that made Dick's cheeks warm. It meant that they shared more skin-to-skin contact as playboy billionaire Brucie Wayne and charming young heir Richard Grayson, than they ever had as Bruce and Dick.
Worst of all, it meant that that very platonic, situational affection had spurred one of the most poorly timed, unwanted erections of his life. All Dick wanted was to be out of public scrutiny, so he could at least adjust his boner without it tenting his dress pants.
When Mrs Erica Miles had finished her elaborate recount of the seventy-two-hour wedding she'd had with her third ex-husband, Dick scrambled for the chance. "Sorry, need to pee, I'll be back in a sec," he told Bruce as he eased the older man's hand off his shoulder. Then he shambled towards the washroom, wishing the polite smile on his face wasn't turning too quickly into a telltale grimace.
The merit of letting Bruce choose the movie on movie nights, was that Dick could pretend to fall asleep.
In Bruce's defence, his tastes weren't all bad. Documentaries were educational, and the few rom-coms that Bruce did choose, Dick had enjoyed immensely. But lately he'd timed himself to fall asleep at around three quarters through every movie, no matter how good it was. For Grey Ghost he'd almost surrendered and stayed up till the end. Still, no movie was tempting enough to move him from wanting what followed.
Every time he'd fallen asleep, Bruce would pick him up bridal style, walk past several corridors and two flights up the staircase, to put him down on his bed. It all happened gently, soundlessly, and Dick's heart warmed at the thought that Bruce was so considerate to not wake him. One time, he'd even woken up in Bruce's bedroom, with bright lights streaming in and a breakfast tray- still fresh and warm- on the bedside table. There was no indication of where the man had settled in for the night, or whether he had slept at all.
Dick supposed it were the little things that he could get away with without Bruce noticing, so he kept playing his card carefully, as frequently as he dared.
He wondered if Bruce would ever give him a goodnight kiss, but the key to avoiding disappointment was to never have too high an expectation.
Sneaking into Bruce's bedroom at night was a form of art.
It required a certain level of acting, including a fresh batch of tears, soul-deep horror in one's eyes, lips bitten enough to see blood, and long-lasting full-body tremor. In that regard, Dick was an excellent actor, and Bruce entirely too gullible.
But there were some nights when his tremors were real, when he woke wide-eyed, heart-thumping, feeling as though he had sunk deep into oblivion. The enveloping darkness seemed boundless, and he was drowning, drowning in his own blood, his parents' blood, Bruce's blood, helpless to save those he loved. His eyes would be bloodshot, his headache strong and recurring, his limbs trembling, coated with a thin sheen of sweat.
He held onto the cup of warm water Bruce had poured him, and felt the warmth radiate from his hands to the rest of his body.
Bruce sat on Dick's bedside, waiting for him to finish. "How bad was it?" He asked quietly.
Dick looked up from his cup. "Bad," he said.
Bruce nodded at that, acknowledging that Dick didn't want to talk about it, but it was bad enough that the kid had to knock on his door at three in the morning.
Dick pulled the covers a little tighter around himself. Pushing his luck, he asked, "Can I sleep here?"
If hesitation had passed in Bruce's mind, he didn't show it. "If you want to," he said simply. Then he flicked the lights off again and walked back to his side of the bed.
Dick spent a good half an hour staring at Bruce's back, watching those broad shoulders move with the rhythm of his slow breathing. There was something calming about seeing Bruce's moonlit silhouette inches away from him, and being comforted by the fact that the man would be there for another few hours to come. Bruce's bed itself was Dick's own special haven, a small port hidden away from relentless winds. It became his one place of shelter, in a world where he was too weak to fight on his own.
Sewing his Robin costume together had always been Alfred's expertise.
Bruce could work a needle, but he'd work it the way he'd stitch a wound up on his arm- messy and careless. The one time he borrowed Alfred's sewing machine, he was banned from that wing of the manor for a week.
Yet when Robin suffered another gash across his abdomen, Bruce called his costume into question.
"You need reinforcement." Batman rubbed his chin thoughtfully, stretching Dick's top to assess its flexibility.
"I can't wear armor," Dick made a face. Self-consciously he placed a hand over the bandage on his waist. It hurt, but it could have been worse. Way worse. "How am I supposed to jump around when I'm carrying twenty pounds deadweight?"
"I didn't say you should wear armor." Bruce pulled his cowl back, and was again speaking in his normal voice. "But it needs to be bulletproof. Mine is so yours should be too."
"You're not the one doing triple somersaults to get to Scarecrow." Dick absentmindedly picked up one of Bruce's gauntlets. It was heavy holding it like that. Wearing it in battle though, when even an ounce of weight would make all the difference- readjusting on the grappling hook would kill him before a bullet could rip through him. "I know my own limits. If it's anything near half this thick, I won't be able to move at all. It's chunky and I'll be moving at snail speed and- A second is all it takes for things to just… happen."
"I know," Bruce looked away, and they both knew which second they were thinking about respectively. "But all things considered, I think you need some sort of protection, with a lightweight, stretchy material perhaps. Your speed and flexibility will not be compromised."
"Wait, Bruce," Dick's jaw dropped. "You're making me a new suit? Seriously?"
"Do you really hate this one so much?" Bruce replied dryly.
"Well, no, I-" Dick's gaze travelled to his suit in Bruce's hands. "I loved it. Still do. Actually-"
"I'm not designing a new suit per se, there's a difference there." Bruce clarified. "But I have looked into new materials that might serve this purpose better. You can work your own design when you go solo."
Dick's heart did a cartwheel of its own- now that was an acknowledgement that you don't get every day, or any day, from Batman. "You really think I'd go solo?" He exclaimed, sounding all too excited.
Bruce looked down at the Robin suit in his hands, fingers tracing the bloodied gash. "One day."
"Woah." Dick picked up his escrima sticks and struck a pose. "What do you think my superhero name should be? You know there's this really cool superhero in Kryptonian mythology-"
"Bruce-" His whine didn't have the intended effect on his mentor. Bruce sat down at his main computer and started typing. "You're such a party pooper."
He sneaked closer. "Hey Bruce-"
"Bruce-" he sang, dangling from the ceiling.
"Bruce." He finally got low enough to look Bruce in the eye, despite being upside down.
If Dick didn't know better, Bruce looked annoyed. "What?"
"Here will always be my home. You know that, right?" Dick said. It felt like a cinematic reveal when he saw the mask in Bruce's eyes break. The shield that spoke of so much knowledge and experience and wisdom, shattering to reveal an almost indiscernible fragility. A child's fear, fear of abandonment, fear of being alone. "Home is where you are."
If Bruce had some snappy comeback at the back of his throat, he bit it back. He'd only shut his eyes and say, "All robins learn to fly. Most don't come back."
Dick grinned. "I will be the one that does."
It never occurred to Dick that taking his measurements would be the most challenging part.
Bruce had him stripped bare in the Batcave, and was running a full-body scan to better fit the next suit to Dick's growing body. So, Dick- with a painful, unrequited crush on his mentor- was standing naked on a photogrammetry pod breathing the same air as Bruce. He'd aimed all his concentration to his lower body for himself to not get erect. Even if Bruce decided to strip with him to try out his new equipment, his life goal was no boners, ever. Or else he'd willingly jump off a building with no grappling hook that evening.
He'd managed to think determinedly unsexy thoughts, like Penguin strip dancing for him or the Joker putting on his makeup or Bruce flipping pancakes in nothing but a lacy apron- No. He was not heading down that road.
He walked off the pod with two thirds of his dignity in place, the remaining shattered since his penis decided to poke its head up halfway. If Bruce had seen his half-erect cock- which the man definitely did see, because how could he not when that stiff rod was bobbing with his every step- Bruce's expression was as telling as stone. Textbook neutral. So neutral, that if Dick had pressed a ruler under Bruce's lips, he'd be able to draw a parallel line to it.
Oddly enough, while half of Dick was downright mortified at the episode, and immeasurably grateful for Bruce's trademarked poker face, the other half of him was… strangely, inconsolably sad.
Because Bruce's neutrality also meant his indifference. That the man never saw his boy as anything other than… a boy. There was no possibility there, no potential. The thought had never even occurred to Bruce before it dissipated into thin air.
Dick had only just raced back to his room before leaping into his bed, where he spent the night stifling muffled sobs into a soft pillow.
"Is Conner like, your son?"
Clark raised an eyebrow at that. He kicked his fridge door back into place and returned with a bottle of coke. "Like my son?"
Dick waved an arm, gesturing 'something like that'.
"Technically," Clark answered, because combined DNA is basically what sons are made of, if Kansas State's undergraduate biology course hadn't failed him outright. "I see him more as a distant cousin, or a younger brother. But Bruce seemed convinced that he is." He paused, recalling a painful conversation about him needing to be a responsible father to Conner. It was surreal having to receive a lecture from Bruce on parenting. "It's complicated."
Dick took the bottle with a nodded thanks and lounged back into Clark's couch. "You know how," he paused, uncertain how to phrase his thoughts. "You're loved, but not in the way you want it to be?" He took a long sip of the drink. The sugary boost made his confession easier. "It sounds selfish, doesn't it? Because you already have so much, yet somehow, you still want more."
Clark watched him with narrowed eyes. When aliens with super senses watched you like that, they'd be abusing their heart rate monitors and pupil dilation detectors since your first syllable. "I know that feeling. I've experienced it once or twice." He said carefully. "Is this about Bruce?"
"No, it's not about Bruce."
Clark nodded. "Mystery man then."
"Don't patronize me."
"You did come here on a good Sunday afternoon for relationship advice, so it's mystery man until you own up to who you're talking about." Clark ignored the boy's non-verbal protests. "So, you love him, you're in love with him, he loves you, and you want him to be… in love with you?"
"Well summed up."
Clark heaved a loud sigh. "Do you want Kal's or Kent's advice?"
"That depends," Dick propped himself up warily. "Is this Kal's or Kent's apartment?"
"Kent's advice is, don't." Clark said, his voice serious. "You're underage, you're his ward. I've covered enough child molestation cases at the Planet than I'd ever want to read about."
Dick grimaced. "That's encouraging, farm boy. You know Bruce would never lay a finger on me."
"Do I?" Clark replied just as quickly, which made Dick more than a bit offended. "Because you're hell bent on changing that is what you're implying. Bruce's got resolve, a terrifyingly solid one at that, but he's not a saint. You're playing with fire, kid."
"My mama always encouraged me to play with fire," Dick snapped back. In the circus only losers burned or choked, because they'd always been striving for the impossible, the unconventional. That was probably when Dick had become so attracted to the dark and dangerous.
"Look, Dick, I'm only being realistic." Clark sighed. "What you do as a consenting adult is your choice. But look at you, you're half his age, you're a child. You'll ruin him. If the media doesn't crush him- believe me, there will be some very irritating paparazzi that will want to get to the bottom of the Bruce Wayne and his adopted boy toy scandal- his own guilt will consume him." When Dick pouted and turned away, Clark pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "You're not listening, are you?"
Dick decidedly kept his eyes fixed on Clark's pot plant. He had half a mind to shove it off the table. "I want to hear Kal's advice," he grumbled.
Clark fell silent. He scratched the back of his neck, seeming guilty. "I shouldn't."
"Are you going to leave me hanging," Dick rolled his eyes. "Is this the part where you say 'cliffhanger, come back next Sunday for episode thirty-six of Dick Grayson and his painful unrequited pseudo-incestual crush?"
When Clark said nothing still, Dick rose from his seat, ready to leave.
"It's not unrequited," came the words, and if Dick wasn't desperate to hear them, he wouldn't have heard at all.
"How do you know," Dick gritted his teeth.
"Because the ground for Kal's advice are super senses. Because I hear things that I'm not supposed to hear, and I know what attraction sounds like." Clark looked put out, and Dick's world- Dick's world came to a halting stop.
"Does he-?" Dick stammered.
"Yes," Clark said quietly. "He hates himself for it, hates the monster he thinks he is. And I'm conflicted, I'm conflicted because-" Clark turned away, eager to watch his own wringing fingers. "I honestly don't know what will hurt him less. It wasn't my place to interfere, it still isn't."
Dick plunged back into his couch, wrapping his arms around his knees. "You knew," he said eventually.
Clark nodded. "Do what you will with the knowledge."
Dick nodded back, then he buried his face into his arms.
He was back in Bruce's bed. Fists clenched, breathing shallow, mind wandering. Could he risk the man's wrath, his rejection, his everything for- a chance? Should he?
He turned slightly, careful not to pull on the sheets. The man facing away was still as a rock, which meant he was still awake, listening.
No answer. How typical. For so many times he'd spent hours in the Batmobile, talking to himself, or the moon, or the empty streets. Bruce didn't contribute to conversations. He'd listen, occasionally grunt or snort, but that was enough for Dick to go on. By this point, Dick should know how to start a one-sided dialogue.
"We've run out of cocoa flakes," he whispered to the ceiling.
Bruce waved a dismissive hand. "Tell that to Alfred," he grumbled.
"You really hate those, don't you?"
"Sugary. Bad for your shape."
Dick looked down at his flat stomach. "My shape's fine."
Bruce snorted, but it sounded like a reluctant agreement.
"I saw you on TV today."
"Well, it wasn't just you. They did a replay of the Wayne charity ball. The one you brought me to?" Dick licked his lips. "I didn't really notice before, but it was so embarrassing watching it with Wally. 'cause I didn't notice that I looked so flustered. Too much cuddling." There was only one person that he'd even touched that night.
Bruce pulled his covers over his head. "Do you ever sleep?"
Dick inched closer. He poked Bruce in the shoulder. "Hey," he said quietly. He stayed there, waiting, breathing in the familiar scent of Bruce's shower gel. They hardly ever get that close.
The stiff shoulders relaxed a tiny bit. Bruce relented. "Dick?"
"Why do you sleep facing away these days?" He wrapped his arms around Bruce's body, feeling the man's warmth from everywhere he touched. The muscles beneath his hands tensed again. "You used to sleep facing me. Talk me out of my nightmares. Smile."
There was a long pause. Then Bruce turned around, his expression unreadable. He placed Dick's hands back on his pillow, and maintained at least a foot's distance away from the boy. "You're not nine anymore."
"Is that why you've stopped taking showers with me?"
Bruce's brows furrowed. His eyes screamed guilty. "One of us has to write a report."
Dick pressed on. "That didn't stop you a few years ago."
"Then I realized it wasn't efficient. So I swapped it around."
"Or maybe," Dick swallowed nervously. He sneaked closer, close enough that he was pressing against Bruce's chest. Close enough that he could hear the wild thumping of Bruce's heart. "You're keeping your distance, to keep a secret."
Bruce frowned, feigning innocence, but the breathless edge to his voice betrayed him. "What are you insinuating?"
Without warning, Dick flipped the older man onto his back, pinning Bruce's wrists with his hands. He was nowhere near as strong as Bruce, so clearly the man had let him do that. Straddling Bruce's hips, he leaned in and whispered, "I have a secret of my own, too."
He lowered his body, closer, closer still. Their breath mingled, Bruce's quiet and soft, Dick's quick and shallow. "I want to share it with you," Dick whispered, shutting his eyes. "Let me share it with you."
He brushed his lips against the older man's in silent apprehension, waiting for the cue that spelt rejection. Any minute now, Bruce would push him off, tell him to get off of him, get out of the room. He'd pressed his lips to warmth longer than he dared, longer than he'd ever thought possible. Bruce's lips were softer than he'd imagined, and let no one say he didn't imagine enough of how this could possibly play out. While he didn't get a response, Bruce laid still, so still, voicelessly granting him permission.
Almost reluctantly, Dick pulled away from him. He watched his mentor through half-lidded eyes, trying to read the warring emotions that were evident on the man's face. Softly he said, "This is the point, where you say, 'this is a mistake, this is wrong, it's immoral and criminal and sinful.' This is when I tell you, 'if it's wrong, it shouldn't feel so right, because this is where we belong, here is our place in the world'." And suddenly his composure was breaking, suddenly his voice was small, cracking, vulnerable. Suddenly he was back to being the nine year old who knew nothing of begging but saying please, over and over again. "This is when you play the rule-abiding asshole, and I beg that you don't leave me or chase me out of the manor, because I'm hopelessly, hopelessly in love with you and I don't want to lose you."
"Richard," Bruce whispered, then his fingers were combing through his boy's ruffled hair, and there was wetness stinging Dick's eyes, he could see the tears threatening to fall. Bruce said, ever so softly, "This is wrong, it's immoral, and criminal, and sinful." He said that, and Dick's heart wrenched, every syllable draining a small fragment of his soul, irreparably tearing him apart at his most vulnerable. "The devils may claim me, and hell may chain me," Bruce continued, tilting Dick's chin up so he could finally see those beautiful blue eyes looking back at him. "Heaven forbid that I fall in love with you- my ward, my protégé, my boy. Yet-" He pulled Dick to him, this time their kiss surer, firmer. For how could he ever deny the light in his darkness, the piece that made him whole again?
When Dick finally pulled away to breathe, his smile was back, his eyes bright. "God I love you, I love you I love you I love you," he kept murmuring between kisses.
Bruce didn't say a word, then again, he didn't have to.