Denial was something Duke specialized in.
Nowadays, he spent 90% of his time in the land of “what is happening?” and his subconscious kept whispering that this was only a temporary arrangement.
It wouldn’t be like this forever.
It couldn’t be like this forever.
His parents would show up at Wayne Manor and they would thank the Waynes for their courtesy and they’d wrap him up in that honey-and-lavender hug that his heart ached for all the time.
Around the seventh month of being a Wayne, Duke had gotten better at hiding his grief. He avoided the dinnertime that Alfred forced everyone to be at and used it as an opportunity to do some patrol the old way. Black hoodie, sneakers, and alone with his thoughts.
It was one of those days where the sadness seemed to sit on his chest like an elephant. He could hear the sounds of ruckus and laughing and shouting but he was sitting on his bedroom floor with his arms around his knees and trying his best to hold it all together.
The sobs came soft at first, soft with the realization that he’d never see them again. No more game night on Fridays where his dad promised them his lasagna could only get better. No more of his mother’s cookies that Duke would always prefer to Alfred’s.
Then the dam burst and he couldn’t stop crying.
Skies, Duke couldn’t stop crying.
His head was starting to hurt but that didn’t mean he would stop. He felt like every tear was for every time he failed them. Every time he didn’t tell them he loved them when he could have. Duke didn’t find them fast enough, now they were suffering, prisoners to a madness akin to Joker’s.
Duke barely registered his door opening, and he barely registered Dick’s arm around him.
“Hey, hey, you’re gonna be alright.”
Duke jerked away. He swiped at the tears lingering on his cheeks and pointed an accusatory finger at Dick.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to help,” Dick softened his tone. “Duke, why are you…is it your parents?”
Duke scoffed, “You can’t help crazy parents, Dick.”
“I can’t help them but I can try and help you.”
Dick adjusted his sitting position to sit crisscross-applesauce right in front of Duke, forcing him to look at him.
“Duke, how can I help?”
Get them back.
“I don’t know.”
Duke sniffed and stubbornly looked at the lamp. Wow, fancy detailing I’m not rich enough to appreciate.
Dick ran a hand through his hair as he tried to relate to the sorrowful teenager. It wasn’t his first time doing this.
“It’s fine to cry, Duke. I remember when I lost my parents. I didn’t fully register it at first. It was like living in a fog. B took me in and I just…it was always in the back of my mind that I hoped they’d come back for me. I’d almost imagine them walking through that door and thanking B and Alfred then taking me back to the circus.” Dick’s voice was slightly above a whisper, but loud enough for Duke to hear.
He hid his shock. That was exactly what he felt like.
“Is it like,” Duke fiddled with the zipper of his hoodie, “like you felt this wasn’t permanent. Like you really aren’t a Wayne because your parents are waiting for you. Like this is just a bad situation that’ll get fixed by some miracle.”
Dick nodded, “Exactly like that.” He reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, and Dick took it as a good sign that he didn’t immediately shrug it off. “Duke, it gets better, but you have to get to a place where you have to realize you’re not selfish for wanting to live your life.”
Duke felt numb listening to it, even though he knew Dick was right. He wiped his eyes again.
Dick nodded and reached an arm out, not hesitating to pull his brother in for a hug.
“Duke, I know it’s tough right now, but just remember you got me.”
Duke nodded quietly, allowing himself to rest his head on Dick’s shoulder. He ignored the swelling in his chest at the familial gesture with which Dick hugged him. But he appreciated it.
Dick had never seen Duke look this…vulnerable. In the months he had been at the Manor, Duke had effectively distanced himself. Everybody already knew that Duke was sneaking out at night to patrol on his own, but nobody had stopped him. Dick had to stop Damian from marching to Duke’s room in his aggressively affectionate manner and demanding to know why Duke wouldn’t join dinner.
Duke had always seemed like the strong one, the one who was the most emotionally stable out of all of them. Dick should have known.
“Why do you care?” Duke sniffed, his brown eyes meeting Dick’s blue bravely. “It’s not like we’ve known each other for very long.”
It was a valid question, Dick could admit, but he still wanted to laugh out loud. Why wouldn’t he care?
He flashed a comforting smile at the kid, to let him know he cared.
“The moment that B took you in, you became a part of this family.” Duke raised a skeptical eyebrow, and Dick raised his hands up defensively. “It’s true! You’re one of us now, Thomas, whether you like it or not.”
Duke wiped at his eyes, smiling a little. Smiling was a good sign, right?
“That doesn’t completely answer my question.”
That earned him an eye roll, but Dick wrapped his arm around Duke shoulder again and squeezed lightly.
“It’s cause you’re my brother, yah goof.”
Despite the guilt, Dick felt another emotion creeping up his heart as he held the boy. He felt that protective instinct that he always felt during patrols and missions that included Jason, Tim, Cass, Dami, and Steph.
Duke might have been new, but for better or for worse, he was a Wayne now.