Title: Falling (PG) - added March 24, 2005
Author: Lacey McBain
Characters: Dick, Bruce
Summary: It's always the same.

It's always the same.

Every night, a different rooftop. Or the same rooftop. It doesn't matter. The differences are negligible. Concrete. Gravel. The slight slope that comes from age and neglect. Occasionally boots land on tile, fitted and polished, when they cross into the better part of Gotham.

That doesn't happen much these days. Or at all.

Bruce spends his nights on rooftops. Or at least Batman does, and Bruce gets dragged along for the ride, like a reluctant child who can't let go of his mother's hand for fear of getting lost. Bruce worries about getting lost on the rooftops. In the dark. Reaching out a hand and finding nothing.

Nothing to hang on to.

It shouldn't surprise him his world is shaped by the edges of buildings, the sharp corners of city blocks and streets, endlessly dividing and reproducing like a rabid amoeba. Wherever he looks, there is always more. Buildings thrust into the skyline like fingers on a glove. More things to keep him up at night. Keep him doing this.

This thing he's done so long he can't remember doing anything else.

Being anything else.

The light sound of boots touching down beside him. A few feet away. A puff of air too small to ruffle the hem of his cape. Robin has always been small. Or at least smaller.  All things are relative.  Sometimes Bruce looks at him, remembers Dick when he was ten and fit easily in his arms, and thinks he can still tuck him in the palm of his hand if he tries, believes he can make him small and manageable again instead of fifteen and stubborn and--

Far too much like him.

"Everything's quiet," Dick reports. His voice is professional. Give the information. Nothing more. Don't whine about warm beds and cold nights. The cookies Alfred was making when they left. Homework due tomorrow. Bruce has taught him efficiency. Silence. Distance.

He wonders if Dick even realizes that's what this is.

Bruce nods. Scans the endless sea of buildings for something. Anything. A feeling there's something hiding in the dark. Waiting for them. For him. A feeling he can't shake, and it's been there for years. It's why he keeps coming up here.

Even though Bruce is afraid of heights, deathly afraid of the first sweep of air across his face, the stomach-clench of falling, and still he does it. Every night. Because Batman demands it of him, and fear can be a useful tool in keeping you alive.

He wonders if Dick knows that too. That he's afraid.

Every night.

The cape holds back the first splashes of rain, and Bruce can hear the muted protest as Dick slips under the eaves of the roof entrance. There's little protection this high up, and the Robin suit soaks up the rain like blood, turns a deeper shade of red. Bruce hears him shiver. Dick won't admit he's cold. Wants to go home. Would give anything for the taste of one of Alfred's cookies, chocolate melting on his tongue, sweet and warm. Tasting like home.

Bruce would give anything for that. Too.

"Home," he says, and in the lightning flash of decision, it's there. On the edge of his vision. A figure draped against the moon, hair a rotting mess of straw, colour of cracked-corn. The sliding peak of his hat, bent over and soft, as if struck down by the feet of too many crows, claws harbouring in his skin, insides tumbled out. Prometheus still alive, spilling into night. The air is wet with rain and burlap. The pale damp stench of fear.

"Scarecrow," Bruce says, although it's not necessary. Dick is already moving, bird in flight, red and sharp as a feather quill. He ducks and spins, avoids the first smash of metal against flesh. A burst of greenish gas that promises nightmares. And worse. Bruce is pulling his gas mask from his belt, batarang already spinning through the night. Catching on empty space.

Scarecrow moves like a dream. Swift as thought, and harder to catch. Somewhere there is laughter, and Bruce is a whirl of cape and darkness. Watching. Waiting for the next flash of lightning because it's not as easy to see in the dark as it used to be, and he wonders if he's getting old. It's not something he'd ever considered possible.

He assumed he wouldn't live that long.

In the silver wink of light, he spots them both. Scarecrow. Robin. Perched on the edge of the roof, and Bruce doesn't know how that happened so fast. He runs towards Dick, but the roof has become as large as a field, every step leading him further away. He opens his mouth in warning, the Scarecrow's scythe cutting the night like a crescent moon, and Dick just grins that altar-boy smile and steps back. Even beneath the mask his face is all invitation. Dare.

Bruce wants to tell him to be careful. Have a cookie. Do your homework. Wonders why he's brought him out here. Up here. He's wondered this a thousand times and the answer is always the same.

He's afraid.

Scarecrow twirls his scythe like a perverse baton. The night is full of whispers, and Bruce is running in place, water splashing on his cape like tears. His mouth is open. Silent. He can't say the things he needs to say. The words get caught in his throat like a bone. He chokes.

He's done this before.

Robin bounces on the balls of his feet, perfectly balanced. Ducks the sweep of blade. The fingers reaching for him, scrabbling at his suit like claws. He steps back. Away.

Lightning flash, a mouthful of rain to drown the scream, and Bruce knows the exact moment when Dick's feet touch air. The round white eyes, bright moons, and the name that breaks the silence isn't Batman.


And now the world is moving too fast. The distance to the edge crossed in a single leap, gauntleted hand stretching into emptiness, reaching, reaching, and--

hitting flesh. Sliding on Dick's rain-wet skin, bicep to elbow, the edge of gauntlet, Dick's wrist captured in Bruce's palm like a wren. Bruce pretends he doesn't know how fragile Dick's bones are, hollow inside like a bird, and he could crush him to powder without a second thought.

He must be careful.

A second. Passes.

"Hold on. Don't let go."

He's found his voice, but his boots are slipping on the tile. Or concrete. He doesn't remember which. The rooftop is slick and dark. He doesn't know where Scarecrow has gone. Doesn't care, although he knows he should.

Will. Later.

When his world isn't hanging from the rooftop.

And Bruce can't pull him up. Strength leeched from his body like something has eaten him from the inside, hollow as an egg, and he wonders how long this has been going on. This slow scraping of his bones. Emptiness blowing through him like a Gotham wind. Wonders if Dick could break him too. Snap him in half like a decayed limb on a long-dead tree. Squeeze him to dust. Forgotten. Lost.

"Don't let go."

Dick's face is a promise clinging to him by a damp thread. His fingers can't hold on the shining leather of the gauntlet, and there is a breathless second when Bruce knows Dick is going to fall. All the air has been torn out of his lungs. Punctured. His body is empty. A vacuum.


He had always imagined if it happened, there would be silence. A moment like this, eyes meeting, knowing, and then the heartbeat-second when the world changed. Instantly. Like the snuffing of a candle. And he closes his eyes against the spill of red. A drop of flame. Extinguished. Robin-red. Red breast. Blood red.


He didn't expect to hear screaming. More surprised to know it's his throat that will be raw by morning, Dick's name ripping through his mouth like an arrow edged with glass, and he can taste blood underneath the rain.

Knows that Robins can't fly. Not really. And he'll be gathering broken wings against his cape for the long flight home. But he can't stop himself from reaching, reaching, as if he could stretch himself into a rope and catch him before he hits--


It sounds like "bruise" in his ears, and it fits. Feels right. Body a purple ache of tender skin, and even the raindrops hurt where they touch him.


Sharp fingers against his wrist, and he opens his eyes. Dick is kneeling on the edge of his bed, nails pressing crescent moons into his flesh. Dick's eyes are tipped with fear, and Bruce wonders how long he's been trying to wake him.

He breathes. Air damp with rain, and he's left the window open again. Dick shivers, not just from the cold, and Bruce reaches for him, not as small as he was, but enough to tuck against his chest.  And holds on.

"You were screaming," Dick says. Cool hands pat Bruce's skin, slip around him in a sideways hug. The way children always comfort adults. Awkward. Fierce. With all the love in the world. "You were calling my name."

"Was I?" Bruce says. The dark hair smells clean against his skin, and he knows Dick would taste like warm milk and chocolate chips. If he allowed himself a taste.

Which he doesn't.

Instead he holds on. Leaves Batman on a rooftop somewhere, stalking demons. Folds Robin's costume in a neat square of red like an origami bird. Tucks it away.

Bruce wraps fatherly arms around Dick and holds him. Just holds him.

And doesn't let go.


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