AHHHH YOUR CARD LOOKS SO GOOD!!!! maybe hope is scary with young bruce and dick ?
Ugh, dust, you know I’m such a sucker for them!! Thank you so much for sending in your request, I hope you enjoy it~ @dustorange
Hope Is Scary
Bruce never really realized how quiet the Manor was until he began to notice the echoing of padded footsteps that weren’t his own. Alfred was easy to tell, polished shoes with prim heels step step stepping along waxed hallways and carpeted floors. Easy and comforting in a way that Bruce was accustomed to and found a strange warmth in. Alfred had been wearing the same brand of shoes since coming to work for Wayne Manor. The same color and shoe size, and though Alfred had lost some weight over the years, he still carried himself like the young man at heart he’s always been.
But the additional pair of footsteps was new to Bruce and the dim creaking of stairs and uneven floor boards made that apparent to him.
Dick didn’t like to wear socks. He said they were distracting and made it easier for him to slip and fall when he was running around and trying to do intricate flips off of the railways and walls. When Bruce suggested that, maybe, he just not do those things, Dick had leveled a look at him that made him feel as if he had just stepped upon his parents’ graves. Which, perhaps, he did. This was Dick’s livelihood. All he had ever known. To ask him to stop flipping and twirling was like asking him to stop breathing. It just couldn’t be done.
Bruce buys him some socks with rubber pieces on the bottoms as a compromise. Dick wears them only once before stowing them away in a drawer. He says he doesn’t like not being able to feel the floor.
And maybe that’s something Bruce should have been paying more attention to. That key part in Dick’s reasoning. He’s new at this though. New to being a p... a guardian. To being responsible for the well being of another. Bruce doesn’t interact with children. Ever. Sure, he’ll smile at the camera and kiss a couple babies on the head so the Gotham Gazette has a nice picture and headline, but he’s never actually had to take care of a child before. What do nine year olds like? What do they do? Are there certain rules he has to follow? Rules Dick has to follow? It’s not like Bruce can go up to him and ask what his parents usually did because that would be horribly insensitive and Bruce doesn’t want to replace Dick’s parents. He doesn’t.
It’s only been a month since Dick arrived at the Manor. A little more than three since the Grayson tragedy. The weeks in between were days Dick did not like to talk about. Why Gotham thought a juvenile detention center was the next best thing to house an orphan still infuriates Bruce. He tries his best not to think about it. Dick doesn’t seem to be bothered much by it, however. In all actuality, Dick has been remarkably resilient so far.
Again, maybe that’s something Bruce should have been paying more attention to. The stability factor. It didn’t align with everything that had happened recently, but Bruce had taken it as a sign of hope for the small boy. That perhaps he wouldn’t be as badly affected by the murders or the things that happened afterwards. Of course, these were all stupid and foolish notions Bruce had convinced himself of. He’s studied psychology before, knows the signs and symptoms of PTSD, but Bruce kicks himself sometimes for not having invested enough time into child psychology.
Bruce’s room is three doors down from Dick’s. Between them is a guest bathroom, a guest bedroom, and a spare closet Alfred likes to keep his dusters in. They had allowed the nine year old to choose his own room and when he had realized Bruce would be down the hallway from him, a strange look had passed over his face. Dick had looked up and down the corridor, something similar to trepidation flashing across his young features, and Bruce had glanced around too, searching for the thing that had caused that look. It was just an empty hallway though, a picture here and there of a late Wayne or some sort of art piece Bruce has never really bothered to look at.
Briefly, Bruce had allowed a sliver of panic to settle into his chest at the idea that it was himself that was the problem. Perhaps Dick didn’t want to be so close to Bruce, a near perfect stranger offering a house to live in, and maybe three doors just simply wasn’t enough for the boy to feel comfortable. The initial anxiousness had passed after a week though, Dick showing no further outwardly signs of distress at their proximity. In fact, he was a rather cheerful child.
Was, being the unfortunate key word.
The small but sure steps that echo down the hallway at twelve thirteen a.m are Bruce’s first clue that something is wrong. It’s not uncommon for any one of them to get up in the middle of the night, seeking an out from the nightmares or sleepless dreams. Alfred’s habits usually just had him retiring into bed late and getting up early, something Bruce has been trying to coax him out of by taking melatonin pills. Bruce himself is a deep sleeper, his REM cycle taking only about ninety minutes to take over, but even then he can’t seem to sleep more than five or six hours at a time.
The smallest things will forcibly wake him up, now ingrained into him not to ignore them ever , and that has resulted in him listening very carefully to the patter of tiny feet across wooden floors. It’s Dick, Bruce knows this, and it’s not uncommon for Dick to get up late in the night for water or exploration. The boy was still learning to accept the fact that neither Bruce or Alfred would be angry with him for exploring the Manor, peering into all the rooms and invading the attics. Bruce had done the same thing when he was younger and he does remember it being quite fun, but Dick carries the notion with him that one little slip up will spell out his removal from his new home.
Bruce struggles with reassuring the boy. He hasn’t made any head-way as of yet.
The footsteps stop outside his door and Bruce can see the shadow of small feet beneath the gap. The lights are on, dimmed in the hallway, and the figure stands there for several moments, refusing to move. The handle shutters, like someone grasping at it but failing to fully turn the mechanism, and Bruce sits up in bed unsure at what to expect. The handle slowly turns again, jerking back upwards when the door opens a crack, and Dick stands in between the door and the corridor. His slight figure blocks out some of the light, shadowing the child’s face, and Dick continues to stand there, seemingly staring into the void that is Bruce’s room.
“Hey,” Bruce whispers, completely lost on what he should be doing or saying. “Are you okay, bud?”
Is he allowed to say that? Is it alright for him to use nicknames yet? Bruce has heard Alfred refer to Dick as “lad” or “chum” a few times, old English nicknames second nature, but Bruce has been careful not to overstep his bounds. He still doesn’t know what the boy thinks of him. What he thinks of his… guardian.
No sooner do those thoughts enter and leave his mind does Dick turn around and begin walking away. He pads away almost as noisily as he came and Bruce tosses off his sheets to follow the boy. Just as Bruce steps out his door, he sees Dick re-enter his own room, leaving the door wide open. The lights aren’t on in Dick’s bedroom, bathed in darkness, and as Bruce takes measured steps to check in with the boy, he hears Dick begin to cry.
It’s a sad and hollow cry, one that Bruce himself is much too familiar with, and his heart skips a beat as he fumbles with the light switch. Dick is sitting on the floor, legs splayed out in front of him like he’s fallen, and for a moment Bruce wonders if he did fall and hurt himself. He crouches down beside the boy, hands hovering and unsure of what’s appropriate for him to do.
“Dick?” he asks, trying to look into the boy’s eyes. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
The nine year old ignores him though, continuing to cry and look down at the carpeted flooring. The tears that pour down his face and drip off of his chin sadden Bruce deeply, a strange pang in his chest as he merely watches the boy sob in earnest. Should he get Alfred? No, the man gets little sleep as it is. Besides, Bruce is an adult. He can handle this, he’s handled much worse before.
“Dick,” Bruce tries again, “Bud, please look at me. What’s wrong? Did you have a nightmare?”
He’s ignored again, the boy’s small shoulders shaking beneath the weight of his tears. Cautiously, Bruce reaches a finger under Dick’s chin, tilting it upwards so he can see his face. Dick’s eyes are open but there’s a lull in them, like he’s not quite focusing on anything at all and is merely just staring off into space. They contract and expand like normal though and carefully Bruce waves a hand in front of his face. This seems to be the wrong thing to do as Dick flinches back, a whimper escaping him. At the sound, Bruce feels himself pale a bit.
“Sorry,” he is quick to rush out. “I didn’t- sorry. Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
It’s like Dick can’t hear him though as he continues to whine, hands fidgeting with nothing and grasping at air. His mouth moves in patterns like he wants to speak but has forgotten the right words, and his eyes dart about as if picking one thing to look at only to find it gone the next. It scares Bruce. He doesn’t know what’s going on. What’s happening? What is happening?
Despite his better judgment, Bruce reaches out a hand again, gently placing it on the ankle of one of Dick’s splayed legs. He’s wearing SpongeBob themed sleep-wear, and though Bruce nor Alfred know hardly anything about the cartoon, Dick’s smile had bloomed at the sight of them and had shyly given them each a hug. It was like receiving a… gift. Full of love and gratefulness that Bruce isn’t used to getting. It was warm. Genuine. Kind. He places his hand, that is neither warm nor kind because he has hands made for punching and handling sharp things, atop the ankle-cuff of the silly pajama bottoms and Dick screams.
Bruce jerks his hand back, immediately shuffling backwards, and he’s about to say something, say anything, say sorry because he’s still new at this, still doesn’t know where the boundaries are, still doesn’t know if Dick is even happy here at the Manor, but Dick is still screaming and wailing. He’s staring off into a dark corner of the suddenly too massive room and a chasm yawns before Bruce as he struggles with the urge to help and the knowledge that it’s not wanted. He steals a glance towards his open hand, half-way expecting to see blood or angry red or something that would tell him what he did, how he hurt the boy, because that wasn’t his intention but he should have known. He should have known.
His hands are not made to be gentle.
Soft and thunderous footsteps pound against the wooden floors and Bruce surges upwards as Alfred enters the room, robe half on and feet clad in old gray slippers. His crinkled eyes are wide open, searching for the distress that had announced itself so loudly, and with a presence of mind Bruce himself isn’t capable of having at the moment, flicks on the light switch to the room.
“Good heavens,” Alfred cries as he finally sees the sobbing child. “Master Dick, what in the world-”
Finally, Alfred’s eyes flick over to Bruce’s guilty and hunched form, a hand hidden behind his back and an awful look of shame shrouding his sharp face. “I don’t know what I did,” Bruce says, shaky and uncertain. “I didn’t hurt- I didn’t mean to hurt him, Alfred.”
The butler just frowns though, neither unkind nor scolding. Instead of a lecture or some reprimand, Alfred cautiously approaches the nine year old, who is still staring sullenly into the far corner of the room and heaving with great hiccups that expand his small frame to a great degree that was surely painful. Carefully, in full view of the child, Alfred lowers himself to the ground and assesses with an experienced and all-too-ready gaze.
“Master Dick?” he calls softly. “Can you hear me?”
There is no response other than the continuing tears and rough hiccups that echo in the much too wide room. One would think with the impossibly thick pillows, soft blankets, and even softer still carpet, sound would travel as if stuck in a tube, but each cry is as loud as a gunshot in Bruce’s mind. He caused this. He did this. He… didn’t mean to.
Bruce is a man composed of glass shards and copper stained cement. There is nothing gentle about him. He should not have tried to be.
Alfred stands then, hands on his knees as he heaves himself off of the ground. Were his joints bothering him? Bruce thinks he should look into getting another physical therapist for the butler. Maybe a chiropractor or massage therapist as well. It couldn’t be good to crouch and bend so often and the man has-
“Master Bruce,” Alfred says, “a word, please.”
At the beckon, the younger man takes a few steps forward, meeting the butler halfway to the door. The brighter lights from Dick’s room bleed out into the dimmer hallway, a shadow of sorts created between the two sources as their figures shroud the doorway. Carpet meets wood and Bruce wonders if Dick chose the softer texture for a reason. If he chose the cushioned floor so he’d have something nicer to land on when he falls.
“I don’t like it when I can’t feel the floor, Bruce. I just don’t.”
Bruce sighs heavily and with the knowledge that he was never fit to be any sort of guardian to Dick. He had fooled himself into believing he could save this child from the same fate he’s cursed himself into, save the child from years of torment and ache that came from the bones of murder and the empty graves of justice and peace. Who was he to think he could save someone from that when he was still stuck in that chasm himself, still struggling to use these scarred hands of his for anything else other than exacting his vengeance in the dark night.
“Alfred,” and Bruce hates the way his voice cracks but he’s so lost and still so young himself, “I didn’t-”
“No,” the butler sighs, placing his own calloused hand on Bruce’s sagged shoulder, “No, you didn’t, my boy. I know you would never hurt that child, not if you could stop yourself, and even then that would be some fight.”
“But, Dick, he’s-”
“He’s fine, Master Bruce, I promise you that. He won’t even remember any of this come morning.”
The younger man looks up, still so horribly ashamed and confused. “I don’t understand. He’s crying. He- He screamed when I touched him, Alfred. He’s terrified of me. I must have done something to make him so scared. Maybe this was all a mistake. I thought I could help him by bringing him here, but I’m just making it worse, aren’t I?”
Alfred’s face is a weathered one. The creases in between his brows tell of many nights spent thinking, frowning at the future and unknowns. The crow's feet that dance and jump at the corners of his eyes also tell of many days spent laughing, smiling, embracing the present. He, too, has his own scars to tell about stories that are best left unsaid, marks that are proof of a life that could have been but would never be. There are a thousand words alone that can be thought of through the visage of the old butler’s weathered face, but sometimes, it’s good to say them aloud. Sometimes, they are needed, deserved, to be said aloud.
“My boy,” Alfred says, a softness in his eyes belaying the heartache in his face, “you have done a tremendous thing, bringing Master Dick here. A tremendous and kind thing. In the few weeks that boy has been here, I have seen remarkable growth and healing. This,” Alfred motions to the crying nine year old still on the floor, “is all part of that. This is a sign of hope, Master Bruce.”
“He’s frightened of me, Alfred. He… I’m not good for him.”
“These are simply night terrors, Master Bruce. When you were a child, you had them too. I know it’s… scary to look upon but you must understand that they are here because the boy finally feels safe. Master Dick finally has a place, a home , to feel safe and happy in once more.”
Dick wails again, forlorn and raw, and Bruce flinches at the sound. The palm of his hand stings with the phantom touch of soft fabric and the echoes of wrong-doings.
“What do I do?” he asks, head bowed and voice hardly above a murmur. “I don’t know how to help him.”
Alfred squeezes his shoulder, a grounding and solid gesture. “For now, my boy, you must merely be there for him as I once was for you.” Alfred sighs, releasing Bruce’s shoulder and letting his arm fall back to his side. “Talk to him. The terror will be over soon enough, but in the meantime, comfort the boy. Coax him back to bed. This will pass, Master Bruce, but please. Do take it as a sign of hope for the boy. He is in desperate need of it.”
Alfred’s muted footsteps go back out into the corridor and Bruce is left standing halfway between the open doorway and the weeping nine year old. The carpet feels like grain beneath Bruce’s toes as he shifts to face the boy, tugging against his feet as he takes the three steps that distance them. Slowly, gingerly, Bruce lowers himself to the floor and criss-crosses his legs. He does not touch the boy, does not dare get close enough to even consider it, and folds his hands together in his lap. The bumps and fine lines he feels on his own palms make him cringe and he hides them deeper into his knees.
Dick doesn’t stop crying. His bright blue eyes stay transfixed into the far corner of his bedroom and Bruce wonders what he sees. What captures his attention so completely and holds onto him like that of cold hands and wilted flowers. Alfred said Dick won’t remember tonight. Won’t remember coming to Bruce’s room. Won’t remember cowering away from Bruce’s touch. A small part of Bruce hopes that he doesn’t. Hopes that tonight remains forgotten in oblivion, the only shred of evidence of it all being the wet stains on SpongeBob pajamas.
Dick mutters something, voice small and a jumble of nonsense, and Bruce’s heart clenches in his chest. His hand twitches to wipe away the salty tears that slide down the boy’s face but Bruce resists the urge and continues to sit motionless. Yes, it was better to have this chasm between them. Dick is kind and pure, composed of things that would only become crippled when exposed to what makes up Bruce.
He was not made to be gentle.
Bruce sat with the nine year old into the night, well after the terror had stopped and Dick had fallen asleep once more. He leaves before the first creep of morning, slinking back into his room, and splashing cool water on his face. By eight, Alfred is ringing him to come down for breakfast and with heavy limbs and an even heavier heart, Bruce lumbers down towards the kitchen.
He freezes when he spots Dick happily munching away on eggs and toast, mussed up and pillow-worn hair splayed in different directions. He sees Bruce as well and gives a sloppy wave, sleep still tugging at his small arms and droopy eyelids.
“Mornin’, Bruce,” he says. “Alfie made toast.”
And it’s just as Alfred said it would be. Dick doesn’t remember any of it. Bruce does. He always will. But this is hope, right? This is what healing is: searching eyes. Tears. Screams. Terror. Helplessness.
This is hope, Bruce reminds himself later that night as his door creaks open again and footsteps slap against the wood floors. Dick screams at him again and howls at the walls, grieving over things he won’t remember in the morning but will bounce around in Bruce’s head for weeks after.
This is hope. This is healing. This is Dick feeling safe and comforted. It has to be, it has to be.
But it scares Bruce.
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