Author: Kat Lee
Challenge/Prompt: beattheblackdog 94: Disappoint
Word Count: 1,251
Date Written: 2 January 2018
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to DC Comics, not the author, and are used without permission.
There are nights when she can sleep soundly through whatever few hours she has in bed before dawn and then for several more hours until sunlight bathes her room and finally wakes her. Then there are the nights where every slight sound makes her cringe, where she passes her short time in her lonely, cold bed, tossing, turning, and trembling. There are times when every close of her eyes brings his ugly face looming or the sight of the bullet that sped at her with intent to end her life -- and almost succeeded, even though it didn’t hit her heart. There had been nights when she’d wished it had, and she still remembers every one of them, every one of those low moments, every one of those twinges of pain. She still remembers it all.
There are times when she aches for someone to be near her, times when she calls out in her sleep, and times when she doesn’t have to, when it’s as though he can feel her in his head, sense her need in his heart, and he comes to her without a sound. Tonight is one of those nights as she twinges and tosses onto her other side in her bed, her fingers holding tightly to her sweat-soaked sheets. He slides into her open window as heat lightning streaks across the night sky.
She hasn’t called his name tonight. She hasn’t had to. She’s been on his mind all night, and he’s wanted to be here before. He’s ached to be with her before. But he hasn’t dared to say it. He still doesn’t as he crosses silently over her bare floor and slides into bed behind her. He takes her in his arms, and as she moans in her sleep, he understands both pains. They’ve always understood each other better than anyone else and often without ever speaking a word.
As his arms wrap around her, his fingers seek out the place in her spine that has caused them both so much strife over the years. If the Joker had never hit her, if she’d never spent years being paralyzed, perhaps they would still be together. Perhaps he wouldn’t have to wait until he could stand being away from her no longer, or until, as they both know she’s done in the past, she’s whispered his name while feigning sleep and conveniently forgetting to pull the mic from her ear. Perhaps they both would have been whole, happy and in love together, and their worlds and lives would have been so much different, and so much better.
But the Joker had shot her. He had paralyzed her, and Dick knows there are times that Barbara had fervently wished that he had killed her. Instead of giving into the potentially fatal darkness of her own despair, however, she had fought against what had been done to her. She had guided heroes and inspired other handicapped people. She had inspired them all, really, as she herself had become a heroine right from her wheelchair.
Now, at last, she was back, whole again, body and soul, but the past had still left its marks. They were still not as close as they had been when they’d been younger, before everything bad had happened to leave them both scarred. Dick knows she still has nightmares about being paralyzed and about the worst moment in her life. He knows she does not just because he’s heard her cry out in her sleep but because he has the nightmares too.
She’s trembling in his arms now not from delight or cold but from pure fear. He strengthens his hold on her, but his thumbs are gently as they gently rub the damaged spot in her spine, slowly adding strength, adding heat, until she murmurs in her sleep. She doesn’t say his name this time, but she also doesn’t cry out. He rubs a little harder, forcing the Joker from her mind, forcing away the horrors she’s endured, willing her to feel his love through her touch.
Her trembles cease. Slowly, her lips lift into a smile. She’s awake for quite a while as he continues to massage her until she finally opens her eyes just a little. She smiles up at him, and the warmth in her beautiful smile is enough, Dick feels certain, to warm any heart even when Mister Freeze holds their city in his icy grip. “Hello,” she murmurs, grinning.
“Hello yourself.” He chuckles, and this time, she’s the one warmed by his sound.
“How long have you been here?”
“Long enough.” He’s been here long enough to know she’s needed him, but he could never be here long enough. He could never be with her long enough, even if he spent the rest of his life right beside her.
Her beautiful eyes gaze up at him, and in their depths, he knows he’s loved even if she will never speak the words aloud. “How long can you stay?” she whispers.
He longs to withdraw one hand from her lower back to caress her face, but at the same time, he’s scared she’ll pull away as she so often does. Although her body is healed, she still often think less of herself than anybody else does. She still thinks he “deserves” somebody else, as though he could ever want anyone but her. He should tell her, but of all the secrets they’ve shared, he can never quite find the words to tell her exactly what she means to him.
“As long as you want me,” he whispers, but just then, the small, handheld computer on her nightstand begins to beep and the night sky outside becomes lit up. Sirens wail, and Dick silences his instinctive groan at the sight of the Batsignal.
She’s still staring at him; he doesn’t move a muscle. With everything he possesses, he wills her to answer him, to tell him what he’s always wanted to hear, to say that she will always want him, always need him, always love him just as he will always want, need, and love her. But instead her eyes lower from his and she murmurs, “Duty calls.”
She doesn’t move, but he knows he has to. Lives are at stake. It could be anyone who needs them on a night like tonight, or any night in this crazy town for that matter. Batman can’t solve everything or save everyone on his own, no matter how much he thinks he can. He forces himself to withdraw from her, and where his arms and hands had just touched her warm body, he feels an instant ache as he recoils.
Yet she’s already rolling from her bed and grabbing her handheld. She presses a button on it, but as she’s pulling up information, he darts from her bed and her window. He darts from her life again, swinging back into their city like the full grown, night bird he is, swinging back alone . . . And if he hears her murmur in disappointment as she slides her mic back into her ear, he doesn’t speak a word. He just swallows his own disappointment at another shattered opportunity and the continued resistance and failure of them both to say what should have been said long ago. He’d like to think he’d tell her when he sees her again, but he knows already he won’t. Bright lights fill his eyes as he swings through their city, shimmering with the tears that no one will ever see.