Day 6

Title: Day 6
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: DC Universe
Rating: PG
Pairing: None
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: For Nightwing, Batman being disappointed in him is nothing new.
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2019-20 project project for Anonymous

“I can't believe you did that!”

One thing Dick had learned long ago was that Bruce lived in a constant state of disappointment. When he'd flown the nest a few months ago to make it on his own as Nightwing, he had missed Alfred preparing breakfast, doing laundry, and offering him reassurance. He had missed late morning workouts with Bruce in the gym, where they each pushed each other to new levels of achievement. He had missed his giant canopy bed and the soundproof walls of his old room where he could sleep at any hour of the day and not be bothered. But he absolutely had not missed this feeling of Bruce being disappointed in him.

“I had a chance,” Nightwing said. “So I took it.”

Batman didn't accept that as an answer. “You had a chance to show off. Of course you took it. What you should have been doing is protecting the victims, instead you risked their safety.”

He was beginning to hate the word 'should.' Teeth clenched, Nightwing kept his gaze trained at the floor. He knew he needed to explain. It hadn't been about showing off. He'd had to make a tough call, the sort of call that always fell on the shoulders of a team leader. He knew now that he had made the wrong call, but at the time it had seemed like an acceptable risk. If he had succeeded in hitting the target the first time, it would have meant almost immediate capture of the villains. And, honestly, he'd felt confident even with the state he was in that he could have made it. But, in the end, he'd missed. Which had meant his team had needed to spend valuable time scaling walls to get to where the captives and the bomb were. But Batman was blowing this all out of proportion, like he always did. In the end, they had caught the bad guys, rescued the victims, and diffused the bomb. They'd done it the hard way, but they'd done it. Didn't they deserve some credit for that success?

“You've got to be better than that. I know you're smart, and I know you're a good leader. It's time you show that in your missions now that you're out there on your own. You don't have me watching your back out there any more.”

But he hadn't been alone. Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Aqualad had been with him. They were a formidable force.

“If you keep acting like you did out there tonight, you're going to get hurt or, worse, you'll get others hurt. I taught you better than that, Rob—Nightwing!”

The slip stung, and Dick was glad that Tim wasn't around to have heard it. Taking on the mantle of Robin after Dick had literally created it and carried it for so many years hadn't been easy on any of them. But Dick needed to know what it was like to be out from under Batman's protection. It was the only way he was going to grow as a hero and learn what he could really do. Or, in tonight's case, learn what he couldn't do. Damn it, he should have hit that target. Or he shouldn't have taken that risk to begin with. He should have played it safe and not wasted the time. There were so many 'shoulds' hanging over his head. But he already knew that. He didn't need Batman lecturing him on it.

“Okay,” he whispered, rubbing his black gloved hand on the back of his neck. “I get it.”

“You used to always go for the quick, flashy option. Have you learned nothing at all since I took you in?”

That didn't just sting; it hurt. Anger bubbled up in him, but he didn't snap the way he usually would. Batman wasn't scolding him to provoke him; Batman genuinely disapproved of what he'd done. But Nightwing just couldn't argue this time. He didn't have the energy for that tonight. He felt so tired. So very tired. And his head was pounding—it had been all day.

“You still have a lot of learning to do, if this is how you behave when you're left to make your own decisions. You'll never get into the Justice League if you act like this.”

Batman spoke as if this were the dream of every super hero. Joining the Justice League was way down at the bottom of Nightwing's list, just above taking the Joker to prom.

“I certainly won't vouch for you if you continue to make stupid moves like this.”

Nightwing didn't really care if Batman spoke highly of him or not to the police or the other superheroes. He was out to make a name for himself on his own. But that didn't mean he wanted to be berated for the next two hours. When Batman got on a roll, he he didn't stop. And it hurt to have his mistake thrown in his face over and over and over again. He just wanted this over with. “I understand. You're right, Batman. I'll do better next time.” He turned to head out to his cycle. He wasn't exactly looking forward to heading back to his shitty apartment where the pipes rattled and he could hear Conner counting his push-ups in the next room, but he certainly preferred it to this verbal beat down.

Batman grabbed his arm, the grasp tight, pinching. Nightwing felt like the breath was being sucked out of him as he was jerked back. “We're not finished here!”

It took every ounce of energy Nightwing had left in him not to instinctively strike back. He wanted that hand off him. He wanted to fight against the touch, to pull free, to be free. Instead he stood there, taking the licks. He was strong enough to endure them.

Bruce had obviously expected the younger man to fight back, because he raised his hand in a fist, a show of strength and to protect his face from a blow that might result in Nightwing flinging his arm out or throwing an elbow. But nothing of the sort happened. Nightwing stood there, tense and not moving. Bruce narrowed his eyes. “What's wrong?”

This time, Nightwing was quick to answer. “Nothing's wrong.”

“Something's obviously wrong.”

“Nothing's wrong,” he repeated. It wasn't a complete lie. He felt tired. Exhausted, really. And while that wasn't usual after a mission, it wasn't entirely unexpected. He'd been feeling kind of off all day today, and not just because of the throbbing in his temples. His only thoughts right now centered around ending this conversation then heading home and getting into bed. He'd surely feel better after a good sleep. Burning the candle at both ends had surely caught up with him.

“No,” Batman said, still looking suspicious. “Something's definitely wrong.” He stripped off a glove and stepped forward, pressing the back of his palm against Nightwing's forehead. “You're burning up.”

Nightwing ducked backward,  away from the touch but not as quickly as he expected to. “No, I'm not.”

Comprehension dawned on Batman. “You're sick.”

But Nightwing continued to shake his head. “No, I'm not.” But even as he finished saying it, he was starting to doubt the fact. Being sick would explain how run down and distracted he had felt since that morning. He pulled off his own glove and felt his forehead. The coolness against his skin felt excellent, subduing his headache just a little.

“You can't feel your own temperature.”

Oh, but he could. And he felt chilled, not warm—certainly not like he was burning up. Batman might think he knew everything there was to know in the world, but he didn't really know what was happening inside Nightwing. Nightwing marveled at the fact that there was still one thing he knew more about than Batman. He knew he was cold. And tired. And about to sneeze.

ahh!” He cupped his hand to his nose and mouth just in time. “ahhh-httchhoo!

Frowning, Batman flipped open a compartment on his belt. He pulled out a tissue and offered it.

At first, Nightwing was inclined to refuse it. But his hand was wet and he had never thought to build a compartment for tissues in his sleek, streamlined suit. Reluctantly he took the tissue, turned his back on his former mentor, and wiped at his nose and hand.

He heard Batman move, taking a step forward. Then, before he could pull away, he felt a strong hand come down on his shoulder. “Come back to the manor with me.”

Nightwing tensed. He didn't live there any more for a reason. It was impossible for him to maintain this new identity and to really find out what he was capable of if he was still under the bat's wing. Going back to Wayne Manor now would be awkward, for one, and counter to everything he'd worked hard to establish, for another. Most importantly, he didn't want to give Batman the satisfaction of being right. “No,” he whispered. “I'm fi-fine hah-Tttxxch!” he sneezed into the tissue.

The hand on his shoulder tightened. “Come with me to the manor, chum. You wouldn't want to deprive Alfred of the chance to fuss over you, would you?”

The corners of Nightwing's mouth twitched, approaching a smile until his nose tickled again, sharp and quick and unbeatable. “h'TXXXshhh!” He pressed the tissue to his nose and turned back around, Batman's hand dropping away from his shoulder. “Does Alfred still make those hot toddies for colds?”

Batman shrugged. “Wouldn't know. I never catch cold.”

Nightwing burst out laughing. He remembered the last time Bruce had been sick, coughing so much his voice went from deep and raspy to non-existent and sneezing so much Robin had needed to drive the Batmobile home (though it probably could have managed the way fine on autopilot). The worst of the cold had passed after a week, but the coughing had persisted for a month. And the whole time, he had insisted that he wasn't sick. He never admitted weakness, never gave in. But that didn't mean he didn't have one.

So if there was anybody who could understand Nightwing's answer, it was Batman. “All right. I'll go back to the manor. Ahh... hahh-HXXXshhhh! Sniff! But I'm not sick.”

Batman smiled. “Agreed.” They both knew that as soon as they were at the manor, Dick was going to give into whatever treatment Alfred dolled out.


“You can sleep if you want to.” Batman took a corner so sharply only two of the batmobile's tires remained on the pavement. The other two caused a loud screetching sound. So used to this sort of driving from his time as Robin, Nightwing found it easy to roll with the motion. Balance and grace were the two things that came most naturally to them; those were in his blood, where as all the rest was learned over many years of working with Batman. “You look tired.”

Tired? That felt like the understatement of the year. He felt bone-weary. “You would be, too, if you just scaled a wall and foiled a kidnapping.”

“Ermm.” That was a sound Nightwing knew intimately. That was Batman disagreeing and trying hard not to argue. Usually, Nightwing hated that sound, but tonight he was glad to hear it instead of another of Batman's lectures. He got that sound, but then he got a few additional words from his former mentor. “All I meant is that you can take a nap on the way there if you need to.”

Nightwing was tempted, certainly. But he he was grown. He was tough. He didn't need a nap like some little kid. He stared out the window, watching the night sky lighten around the tall buildings of Gotham. Dawn was slowly creeping up on them, shade by shade. Second by second.

Twenty minutes later, Nightwing woke up to Batman shaking him by the shoulder. He leaned into the touch for a moment, his head fuzzy with sleep and fever and cold. Then he seemed to remember what was happening. He coughed and pulled away, clearing his throat. “Ah, sorry. Guess I... nodded off. I... ah...”

“Gotta sneeze again?”

“No,” he replied, but he was rubbing at the fluttery tickle in his nose with his wrist.

Batman chuckled to himself as he pulled another tissue out of the compartment in his belt. “Yeah, you do.”

Feeling a flush hit his cheeks, Nightwing took the tissue and hid his nose in it. He wished he could hide himself behind it completely. “ahhh ahhh-Tshhooo! tttshhhhhh!” He closed his eyes, resting his head back against the seat. He felt too achy and drained to move. “Maybe I should just stay here?” Another should.
Batman reached over again, pressing the back of his hand to Nightwing's forehead. This time, Nightwing didn't have the energy to try to pull away. The only thing he wanted right now was to go back to sleep and avoid the prickling in his nose. “You must be sicker than I thought if you don't even want to go up into the manor. Maybe I should drive you to the doctor's office.”

With that, Nightwing pulled the handle of his door. It swung open, and Nightwing climbed out. It was surreal, being back in the Batcave like this. He felt both right at home and out of place. Familiar footsteps sounded, and suddenly Alfred appeared on the stairs. “Welcome home, Master Bruce. How was your... night...” His gaze landed on Nightwing. “Oh! Master Dick! Well, this is a... pleasant surprise?” He framed it as a hesitant question, looking at Batman for confirmation. Batman gave an almost imperceptible nod, and Alfred warmed immediately. “Did you have a good night?”

Nightwing bobbed his head up and down, about to answer when a sneeze snuck up on him. “ahh” He cupped the tissue to his nose and mouth with both hands. “ahhh-HITChhhh!

“He's a little under the weather.” Batman said, walking around the car and placing his hand on Nightwing's shoulder.

Unable to shake him off or disagree with him in front of Alfred, Nightwing nodded.

Alfred's expression was one of concern. He headed straight over to a drawer beneath the video monitors and pulled it open to reveal a wide array of pills and bandages. He selected a bottle, then another, tucking them between his arm and chest. “How bad is your headache?” he asked, still rummaging.

Nightwing thought for a moment. He had most certainly had worse, concussions caused by a bad hit from a henchman or a dastardly weapon of a villain. He rubbed at his prickling nose. “N-not... ahhh-TIHHShhhhhh!” The pain got worse when he sneezed, the physical exertion causing a sharp stab through his temples. But it only lasted a moment before backing off again. And it wasn't much worse than the ache he felt throughout the rest of his body. Not so bad.”

Alfred gave him a look like he didn't believe him. Nightwing really should have expected that look. Alfred put one pill bottle back and replaced it with another. He took a bottle of water out of the mini fridge further down and brought everything over. Nightwing found himself obediently swallowing pills. But the cold water made him shiver, as he gulped it down, and Alfred frowned. “Let's get you out of that outfit and into something a little warmer,” Alfred said. “Not to mention more comfortable.”

Honestly, his black and blue costume was extremely comfortable, albeit skintight. The tightness might contribute to holding in his body heat on a normal day, but he felt chilled now, and he knew the coldness of the underground batcave wasn't helping. “I don't have any clothes—” he began to protest. But Batman, already taking his gear off, strode past him. He walked past the compartments that displayed his various costumes, each one carefully designed to be able to adapt to different circumstances. After the Batman ones were several displaying Robin's costumes. Where the final compartment should have been, however, was merely a solid metal wall. Bruce pushed a button beneath the space, and the wall slid up to reveal a display compartment with mannequin exactly Nightwing's size and shape. Bruce stepped aside, and the small plaque reading “Nightwing” was suddenly visible. Dick pulled off his mask and rubbed at his eyes with his wrist. Maybe he did have a fever after all. Maybe that was why he suddenly felt overwhelmed and teary, prickles not just in his nose but at the back of his eyes.

“Just because you leave the manor doesn't mean you leave the family,” Bruce said. He strode back to the first compartment, bent down to the cabinet beneath, and took out two pairs of sweatpants and two sweatshirts. He handed one set to Dick. They were big on him, reminding him of how he still didn't measure up to Batman in many ways. But they were warm, and the sweatshirt had a pouch in front he could hide his hands or tissues in, and he appreciated those qualities.

After changing, they headed upstairs into the manor. Bruce kept going, making straight for his bedroom with a hand wave and a gravelly “G'night,” to them both. But Dick found himself in the living room, not sure where to go. Bruce was going to bed, but Dick didn't have a room here anymore. Alfred was bound for the kitchen, but Dick didn't feel very hungry. He didn't belong here any more, and the uncertainty of where to go and what to do now was paralyzing.

But the tickle in his nose prevented total paralysis. “ahh-HITTChhhh! hahh-Hxxxxxshhh!” He had spent the whole night fighting in one way or another—first to rescue the hostages and then fight to keep his cool as Batman berated him. It was nice to not have to fight against the strong sneezes now. “Ixxxxshhoo!” He bunched the tissue that had already outlived its usefulness at his nose and hunched forward, his body instinctively curling to protect himself when he was vulnerable.

But then he felt Alfred's hand on his back, guiding him forward and to the left, over to the couch. Dick sat down on it, sinking immediately into the plush cushions that were infinitely times more comfortable than anything he had in his apartment. Even the tissues Batman had given him felt softer and thicker than they should have.

Alfred walked over to the closet at the far end of the living room and took out some sheets, blankets, and pillows. He disappeared down the hall and reappeared a moment later with a box of tissues and a small, wire trashcan. He brought them over to Dick, who was feeling even more overwhelmed than before.

He felt his cheeks flush as Alfred began making up the couch as a sick bed, even with Dick still on it. When Dick felt another sneeze come on, and tried to shoo Alfred out of the way, Alfred only pulled a few fresh tissue from the box and handed them over. “ahhh-ahhh-AHSHXXXshhhh! AHHXXshooo!” He felt Alfred's hand stroke his arm. Then the older man took the tissues, swapping them for fresh ones. Dick felt more self-conscious than ever. “Thank you, sniff, sniff, but you really don't need to bother.”

Alfred gave him a kind smile that could have warmed any heart. “I spent many years of my life looking after young boys with runny noses and stubborn men with injuries. In my experience, 'don't bother' actually means 'please bother.'” He tucked a final pillow behind Dick's back and flipped the switch on the electric blanket to the on position. A few moments later, Dick felt himself beginning to warm up. “I'm going to go start a pot of chicken soup in the kitchen. Call me if you need any more bothering.”

Dick frowned. “I appreciate it, but...” He yawned partly through the statement and then didn't feel he needed to continue.

“Master Dick, it's pushing six-thirty in the morning. I wouldn't expect you to be anything but exhausted, especially with a fever and flu. Get some rest. The soup will take a while to make and be ready when you've got your appetite back.” 

Dick wanted to protest. This was just a little sniffle, not the flu. But he felt his eyes closing and his body giving into the warmth and comfort around him. He heard Alfred's footsteps heading in the direction of the kitchen. But he heard lighter, faster footsteps on the stairs, rushing downward. The footfalls raced across the room, not pausing for a moment. “Morning, Dick!” Tim's voice called out, and his hand grazed the top of Dick's head, mussing the hair just a little. The young boy made it sound like it was the most normal thing in the world for him to come down for breakfast and find Dick there on the couch. After running down the hall, there was a slapping sound as he barreled through the doors to the kitchen. This was followed by an equally cheery, “Morning, Alfred! What's for breakfast?”

Though he didn't have quite enough energy to laugh, he did smile. He fully expected to wake up to find Alfred or Bruce or even both of them watching over him, and he knew that wasn't necessary. But he also knew there was nothing he could do to stop them. He may no longer live in Wayne Manor, but Alfred was never going to lose his fatherly instinct to care for him. And they may no longer patrol the night together as a team, but Bruce was never going to stop looking out for him. Maybe it was the fever or the flu, but he felt warm and comforted in a way he hadn't for years. He drifted off to sleep, all the shoulds in his life giving way to dreams of flying.