The first time Dick feels his heartbeat racing uncontrollably he barely notices. He has been in Gotham more frequently, trying to balance staying close to Damian with not upsetting the fragile balance of Batman and Robin. It’s a tricky task but Dick has been balancing tightropes for as long as he can remember. He writes off the throbbing pulse as a symptom of the exertion and forgets it.
He doesn’t forget it the next time it happens.
He’s out with Damian and they run into some of Black Mask’s men. The resulting fight seems like an easy win for the brothers until Dick is half-way through a summersault. The sudden pain shooting through his chest throws him off enough that he cannot quite avoid the bat aimed at his ankle.
To make matters worse, he lands wrong and barely manages to knock the thug out and not before Damian notices. Damian is understandably concerned, and Dick almost finds himself missing the days when Damian would insult him for not being a worthy Batman and leave it at that.
Now Damian notices more than Dick wants him too and he’s proud, so proud of how far Damian has come but it makes it harder to live up him. To keep his private pains and worries and fears out of the view of this boy who looks up to him in a way that no one else does. Jason did once and well Dick still feels guilty about how he died and worse how he came back, and no one noticed. Tim did too once upon a time before bridges were burnt that can never be replaced.
Damian is the last holdout, the one who doesn’t look at him like he is a disappointment; Bruce sees a Robin that let Lex kill him, and Jason and Tim see a Robin that betrayed what robin means and, well maybe Alfred isn’t disappointed either and he hasn’t seen Steph or Cass enough to know, but Babs is still angry and sometimes Damian’s faith in him is only just enough.
Dick resigns himself to being interrogated by first, Alfred and then Bruce once Damian tells them what happened, and Dick explains the unexpected chest pain. It doesn’t make any sense; he hasn’t been hurt recently, or at least not badly and not in his chest. His ribs are in working order, and he hasn’t so much as shocked himself on a loose plug.
Damian hovers, pretending to be absorbed in taking care of Batcow, but he keeps shooting anxious glances towards Dick and he has swept out her stall at least four times.
Alfred cannot find anything wrong and sets him free with a stern warning to tell Leslie if it happens again.
This time he’s out as Dick Grayson. Damian has been volunteering at one of Gotham’s many animal shelters and he and Dick go out for ice-cream afterwards. It’s a tiny place, more suited to a country town than the city. The ice-cream itself is hit or miss, with flavors like grapefruit (a surprising hit) and tomato-basil (a catastrophic miss) and cucumber (which Dick could do without, but Damian is fond of).
It’s sunny out and it’s Spring and he has Damian by his side, and he should be happy, there was a time what feels like a lifetime ago that days like this made his heart leap, made him want to fly. Instead, he feels tired, his palms are sweating, and the bright sunlight feels cold and dull.
He doesn’t notice the ice-cream cone falling until it hits the ground with splat that sounds thunderous to his suddenly hypersensitive ears. Damian turns worried eyes towards him and his traitorous hand.
“You’re shaking,” his brother says.
He clutches the material in his jacket trying to still the tremors running through his fingers and ends up sitting abruptly when the world narrows to the runaway beat of his heart and the black edging his vision.
When his eyes do clear, there are small, callused hands giving warmth to his freezing ones and Damian is beside him, uncaring of who sees this softer side as he tries to get Dick’s attention.
“I’m calling Leslie this instant unless you say something, Richard!” he orders, a touch of fear in his voice.
“I’m, I’m alright, I think,” Dick answers, slowly feeling like he has been pulled out of deep water, “I’m not sure what came over me.”
“You promised Pennyworth,” Damian reminds him, and so he did. Even if he hadn’t, this episode has scared him enough that he probably would anyways. What if this had happened while they were out patrolling? Either one of them could be dead because Dick almost blacked out.
Leslie confirms what Dick has been afraid of once he had the presence of mind to catalogue these new symptoms, what she can’t figure out is why Dick who has been perfectly healthy up till now, exempting vigilante related injuries, has suddenly developed an arrythmia.
She’s still listing possible causes, when Dick feels a familiar dread welling up because sometimes symptoms take longer than expected to manifest. Long enough, for someone who has been desperately trying to forget that their heart was forcibly stopped with an experimental drug, to actually forget that there are always side-effects to these things.
“Luther stopped my heart,” he says quietly, thoughtlessly. And realizes his mistake at Damian’s gasp next to him.
Leslie and Dami both are looking at him and he tries desperately to recover his balance, to explain.
“When the Crime Syndicate captured me,” he hears himself say, “There was a bomb, it was linked to my heart, so Luther stopped it. My heart I mean…and the bomb too, I guess.”
Damian is glaring and Dick wonders why, because he’d already told Damian about the bomb and…
“You told me they threatened you!” Damian bursts out, startled into colloquial English “You didn’t say that they actually killed you, you told us you faked your death.”
Dick sighs (he’d never actually admitted to faking it, he’d tried to get a word in edgewise and given up when it became clear that no one was listening), “They didn’t in the end; Luthor did, but only for five minutes maybe ten tops, I’m actually not quite sure,” he glances at Leslie who looks horrified, “Bruce could tell you, he probably still has the cowl footage somewhere, if you need to know to fix me.”
“He doesn’t,” Damian contradicts him, “Or if he does still have it, Father must have hidden it somewhere. He didn’t write it in the mission report either, he just stated that you barely escaped with your life.”
And oh Bruce, is all that Dick can think, and he isn’t sure if he is…beyond angry or just pities him, if Bruce is actually altering mission reports to avoid the idea that Dick can die. He still feels lost and scared and he’s not sure why he is surprised that being half-smothered and having his heart paralyzed has side-effects but just once, this once he thought maybe the world owed him a break.
But it’s not the soul-crushing loneliness of before, not the ache of a missing…child, Leslie will figure something out, or he’ll learn to live with whatever this is, and, in the meantime, he shouldn’t be so happy to let Damian see this side of him. To clue him into the well-kept secret that Dick can be frightened and broken and killed…
But Damian is still here and it’s such a relief to let the façade fall just a little and not have him run in the opposite direction like his father when Dick had been shot, or Tim when he’d screwed up the Robin succession or Jason when Dick had finally gotten back from Spyral or Barbara when Blockbuster had been hunting him down.
Dami is still here, hand in his hand and his fingers have stopped shaking.