After Blackgate

Dick lay back on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He was trying not to seethe, quietly or otherwise. He'd been angry with Bruce before plenty of times. But *this* kind of rage he hadn't felt in a long time.

He'd been angry, the sort of anger where he'd deliberately ignored Bruce -- or Batman -- and did his own thing. He'd been the kind of angry that made him want to scream. He'd even been the kind of angry that made him hand over his costume and walk away.

That hadn't been entirely anger. But he *had* been angry.

Right now, though, he felt what could only be called rage. Closer to what he felt each night he went out into the streets...

Focused on Batman.

Dick wondered if he wanted to talk to Bruce about what he'd done, or if Bruce would even hear him. If it would make a difference.

Regardless, he hadn't seen Batman yesterday, when he'd finally gotten free of Blackgate. If he had, he might have said something. Maybe he would have been able to indulge himself and yelled, gotten it off his chest and... well, not felt better. He'd only feel better if it had an effect, and he knew it wouldn't. Batman didn't change what he did, for Dick, for anybody. Batman did what was necessary and you either kept up and toed the line, or you went home and stayed under the bed.

But he wished Bruce would listen, at least once.

He reached over to the nightstand for the mug of tea he'd made. His cold was worse -- what did he expect when he didn't stay home in bed? He tasted the tea and made a face. Cold. It figured.

He pushed himself out of bed to heat it back up and heard someone enter the apartment. He tensed for only a second, then relaxed -- sort of -- when he identified his visitor. Resolutely he continued for the kitchen.

Bruce met him there, as Dick was nuking his tea back to palatably hot. Dick didn't greet him other than giving him a quick look and a short nod. There was silence in the room for a long moment, stretching out into the dull greys of morning that were peeking through the blinds. Bruce remained quiet as the microwave beeped, and Dick took the mug out and tasted the tea.

It was still gross. But at least now it was a hot gross. He took another drink and looked over at Bruce. "You want something?" he asked.

Dick thought he saw the tiniest bit of surprise in Bruce's face and figured it was at his own hostile tone. It wasn't hostile, not exactly. It was distant, matter-of-fact, the way you'd greet a telemarketer before you tell them thanks but no.

"I wanted to find out if you were all right," Bruce finally said.

"Like you didn't already know?"

Bruce's face closed back down, not showing even those little signs Dick could read. "I suppose I should go." He took a step backwards.

"Then why'd you come?" Dick really wanted to be asleep, blankets pulled over his head. But he had to get back to the academy and see if he could salvage something of his life out of this escapade. Bruce wasn't helping. He was standing there, looking like he wouldn't mind just turning around and walking out.

Dick was ready to let him. Much as he wanted to yell at Bruce, he wanted more to avoid the need for it. More than that, he wanted not to see Bruce's response. Lack of response.

Dick turned back around and began digging in the cabinets for aspirin.

"Were you hurt?" Bruce sounded concerned, then. And surprised; he *had* checked up on him, after all, Dick realised.

"No. I have a cold and my head hurts."

There was no reply. Dick hadn't expected one. He took two aspirin and turned, leaning against the counter. He regarded Bruce.

What *was* he doing here?

"I'm sorry."

Dick gaped at him, shocked. "You're what? You're *sorry*?"

Bruce just shrugged as if the words had meant nothing.

Dick stared at him in disbelief, then wondered if Bruce's mask would shatter if Dick threw his mug at him. After all this, after yanking Dick out of his life and into hell, he had the gall to show up and offer apologies.

Exactly as Dick had been hoping. Almost exactly.

He wondered if he should push.

"Sorry for what, exactly?" he asked, as Bruce hadn't replied to his first question.

"I know you hadn't wanted to go. I... I wondered if there was anything I could do. To help with the Police Academy."

"I doubt it. I don't even know, myself, what kind of trouble I'm in." He couldn't help glaring at Bruce. He didn't want to hear the line again. 'You'll think of something.'

It wasn't that he didn't want Bruce's faith in him. Once in a while he admitted to himself, it was Bruce's faith in him that got him through the night. But sometimes he wanted something more than respect. Bruce just stood there, not making another offer. Dick sighed, and decided to at least acknowledge what he'd been given. "But thanks."

Bruce shrugged, and Dick realised that the other man was uncomfortable, standing there, trying to have the conversation they were barely having. Usually he let Bruce off the hook. This time he set his mug of tea down, and crossed his arms.

"Could you at least say it?"

Bruce looked startled. Almost honestly startled. "Say what?" he asked, and Dick nearly lit into him.

He held onto his temper, though. "You know what I'm talking about. I know you hate to think it, much less say it. But I think I deserve to hear it, this one time. It's the only reason I do this for you and you know it. And you still never even say it."

The mask was up, again. Smoothed on without a single crack. Dick knew what was behind it and he wasn't sure he cared. He wouldn't even give this much.

"Dick, I--"

Dick walked past him, heading back for his bedroom. "Never mind. It doesn't matter, anyhow."

He'd gone three steps when he heard, "Thank you." The words were soft, unexpected.

Dick stopped, and didn't turn around. "You're welcome." He took another step. "Those weren't the words."

He didn't stop again until he was inside his room. For a moment, he thought Bruce would leave. Dick made it as far as setting his mug on the nightstand to get cold again, and pulling the blankets back on the bed.

"Dick."

He turned, hiding his surprise. Not successfully, he knew. Bruce stood in the doorway, looking nervous and worried. Then he stepped forward and Dick grew amazed.

He wasn't. He wasn't actually going to say it?

Bruce looked apologetic as he came closer. Dick narrowed his eyes and frowned. If Bruce even *tried* to repeat that he was sorry...

"I didn't think you needed to hear it."

Dick's jaw dropped. "Didn't... didn't think...." He wondered what he could throw. A pillow, a fist, a tea mug.... He grabbed onto his anger and held it back so he could speak. "Why the *hell* do you think I *ever* do this for you? Do you think I get some weird kick out of risking my life, my sanity, and whatever else they wanted in the Gate? Because I don't have enough to keep me busy, here?"

Dick advanced a step when Bruce just looked back at him.

"But... you *know*." Bruce stopped abruptly, then his expression changed.

Dick continued glaring at him. Bruce opened his mouth again and Dick cut him off. "If you say you're sorry I'll throw you out that window."

"I don't have my belt," Bruce responded mildly. Distractedly.

"Tough."

Bruce took another step forward.

Dick glared up at him, wondering what Bruce was going to do to get out of saying it. He always managed to avoid it, and always made it seem like he hadn't meant to avoid it, that he simply didn't actually mean those words so of course he couldn't say them.

He didn't fall when Bruce moved forward to kiss him, because Bruce was holding him. There was no other reason he remained on his feet. When Bruce stopped kissing him, Dick found his arms around Bruce's neck and his legs still unable to hold him. When he looked at Bruce, he saw that for a moment the mask had slipped partway.

Then Bruce was letting go. The mask came up, and Bruce was looking at him once more from a safer distance. Dick tried to ask any of the questions that were struggling for coherency in his mind.

But then Bruce turned and left, vanishing as if a cape had flown up to obscure his path.