Before he heard the collective gasps and the coming screams, there was a moment of eerie silence.
Bruce didn’t know if it was because of the similarities between this tragedy and the one he experienced many years ago, but the strained quiet before the gunshot rang through his ears as he saw the two figures fall to the ground. He couldn’t help but cringe at the sound of bones breaking at the moment of impact and he tried to wake himself up from what was definitely a nightmare.
Everything was moving in slow motion as the crowd ran out from their seats in panic, trying to hide the scene from the children and avoiding the sight themselves. Parents covered the eyes and ears of the screaming kids and Bruce envied the children for having parents to comfort them. Closing his eyes he imagined his parents there to convince him everything was going to be okay. He wanted reassurance that he knew would never come and for a split second he felt like a ten year old again: scared and unable to look away from the bodies laid out in ways that shouldn’t have been possible.
Once the world started to move again he found his gaze fall on the only person still in the tent, a small boy slowly making his way towards the two dead acrobats. Bruce had seen him with the performers before the event laughing about something together and he could see a family resemblance, the same dark hair and tan skin.
His legs seemed to be moving without the direction of his brain but Bruce slowly rose from his seat and made his way towards the boy. If there was one thing he knew, it was how much children needed someone to depend on after a tragedy. This wasn’t Batman, he would have been examining the bodies and chasing after anyone responsible, it was entirely Bruce. He didn’t know how to feel about that.
Once he was in the center of the arena he could see that the boy was holding onto the hand of the woman and slowly massaging the man’s hair, moving it out of the way from two lifeless blue eyes. He ignored the puddle of blood growing out from beneath the bodies and seeping into his clothes while he practically collapsed on top of the two bodies. Silent sobs shook the boy’s frame. After a few moments Bruce could tell the boy’s throat was sore from crying and he awkwardly crouched down next to him. Resting his hand on the boy’s back, Bruce warned him of his presence before removing it unsure of how the boy would react. The boy had been alone for the hardest moment of his life so far and Bruce couldn’t leave him alone with good conscious, but if he chose to ignore the help of a stranger there was nothing Bruce could do to stop him. That would be his indication that the boy need Batman more than Bruce Wayne.
Fear ran through the boy’s body as he jumped at the feeling of someone touching him and he tried to put distance between him and the stranger disturbing his mourning. It took him a second to realize that Bruce was there with no ill intentions but he was still ignorant of his offer of support.
Bruce didn’t move until the boy made his choice; the last thing he wanted was to frighten him anymore than he currently was. He held his pose and made sure to look at the newly orphaned boy straight in the eyes, trying to convince him that he was there for to help him. Once he saw him he saw confusion replace fear, Bruce opened his arms and let him crawl into his embrace.
At first he was slow, his limbs probably feeling like lead, but after gaining his footing he threw himself into Bruce’s chest. Bruce was a little shocked and somewhat impressed with the boy’s strength, he hadn’t expected the boy to be as powerful as he was, but Bruce returned the embrace with a tight one of his own and listened while tears turned his eyes red and sobs continued to irritate his throat. The boy refused to look up at him and instead squeezed his body into Bruce’s torso, hoping that Bruce would somehow swallow him up and he wouldn’t have to feel all this grief anymore, but in the end it was a much needed distraction from the bodies to his side. Somewhere in the back of his mind Bruce was aware that his suit was ruined from the blood still on the boy, but he couldn’t bring himself to care in the slightest. It was much more productive to rub small circles in the kid’s back and try to coax him into some feeling of security.
They stayed in that position for what felt like hours before Bruce felt the boy loosen his grip. He pushed his way out of the hold and dried off his eyes on his sleeves before trying to think through the clouds in his head. Dick was a little embarrassed from his reaction, he definitely wanted to show this stranger how strong he could be, but it was too much nuance for either one of them to deal with. He didn’t move out of Bruce’s reach, but he did avoid returning Bruce’s gaze finding the floor more interesting.
Bruce’s decided to take the initiative and cleared his throat before formally introducing himself. “My name is Bruce Wayne and I want help you.”
Even though he still refused to look at Bruce, the expression on the boy’s face made it clear that he didn’t trust him and Bruce couldn’t fault him for that. There was absolutely no reason he should chose to turn to Bruce after his parent’s death it would take much more convincing on Bruce’s part before the kid left with him. Running a hand through his hair, Bruce tried to show his sincerity as he continued, “I lost my own parents when I was ten years old and I want you to know that I will do everything in my power to help you.”
If he was being honest with himself, he had no idea what would help the young boy. he couldn’t remember anything helping all those years ago either, but Bruce also knew something would be better than nothing. It had to be.
Looking up from the ground the boy returned the greeting. “I’m Dick…Richard, but everyone calls me Dick.”
His voice was hoarse from crying and the words were murmured, but Bruce considered it an improvement from the silence. For a moment he found himself distracted by the piercing blue eyes that resembled those of the dead man, but he was pulled back into the conversation when he heard, “Thank you for that…I needed it.”
Bruce gave Dick a soft and sympathetic smile before assuring him, “It’s no problem. I know that it helps to have someone there for comfort.”
He regretted his forced optimism when Dick tried to return the smile with one of his own but he couldn’t hide the way it didn’t reach his eyes. No matter how much he tried, they gave him away and even when he turned away from Bruce to take in the empty tent Bruce could tell Dick was on the edge of panicking.
Bruce decided it would be best to find out more information on Dick’s situation and he softly asked, “Dick, do you have any family? Someone to take-”
The words stopped halfway out of his mouth and he couldn’t help but feel as if he’d turned the conversation into an interrogation. Even when he tried to keep his voice as soft as possible, not wanting to threaten or force the boy into a situation where he felt uncomfortable, his inner bat was leaking through.
More surprising was the sudden shock that replaced the tension in Dick’s eyes as he rose from his spot next to his parents and made his way out of the tent as quickly as possible. There was a moment his balanced wavered, he was still regaining some feeling in his legs, but he ignored it to rush to whatever he had just remembered. It must have been something important to make the boy move so quickly and Bruce wasn’t far behind.
Making his way into the open air, Dick ran past the few remaining attendees outside of the big tent but as far as Bruce could tell they didn’t seem concerned. Most people had already left to resign themselves for their own mourning and the few remaining were either trying to avoid any conversation or talking to the police about everything they knew. Going past he could see a look of understanding on their faces as they watched him make his way to the edge of the property and Bruce started to feel more curious than concerned. Taking a moment to look around he noticed that the lights from the too bright signs and decorations covered in neon colors seemed out of place. The air around the circus has changed drastically from the few hours since the beginning of the performance, but that was to be expected.
None of this seemed to phase Dick. He ignored the knowing look on the faces of the other members of the and made his way to the trailers stationed far from the action.
All this time Bruce followed not knowing what he was doing, he didn’t know if Dick was running away from him or to something, but he refused to leave until he had good reason to do so.
Dick reached a pair of trailers and stopped in his tracks. Two trailers were parked close to each other, one slightly smaller and newer than the other, but it was obvious they were for the same family. Looking around Bruce noticed that there were cloths on the line and toys in the mud. Someone hadn’t picked up the paper, probably in a rush to get to somewhere, and the dim lights showed a trampoline resting not too far away. It was their home and Bruce knew there was no chance of saving it.
Bruce wondered if this was what Dick was thinking: how absolute the events of today were, how his life was never going to be the same again.
After staring at the sight for a few more moments, Dick opened the door to the smaller trailer and made his way in. His movements were slower than before, losing all sense of urgency and carrying much more weight with each step. Dick made sure to make as little noise as possible and Bruce considered the door he left open behind him as an invitation to follow.
Inside, Bruce found another boy fast asleep without a care in the world. He was in the lower bunk of two beds attached to the wall with the soft hum of music spewing from headphones no longer in place in his ears. His body was in an uncomfortable position with a leg hanging off the floor while the blanket rested on the ground. He looked a little paler than than Dick, but Bruce could see the resemblance in their shared jet black hair and could only imagine how those blue eyes would look on him when he woke up. Bruce could also tell he hadn’t meant to fall asleep, probably wanting to wait until his family made it back but unable to do so, and couldn’t help but feel thankful as the difficult conversation they would have to have with the boy would wait till the morning.
For a few minutes all they could do was watch the boy sleep and Bruce could see why Dick would want to rush over to him, they were the only thing either of them had left.
Dick turned off the music and placed it on the table before repositioning the boy into a more comfortable position. The younger boy seemed to appreciate the consideration and he hummed his praise before falling deeper into a peaceful sleep. Dick picked up the blanket and after waving it in the air a few times to clean off he crawled into the bed with his brother. He chose to lay down on the side of the bed facing the room, probably wanting to make sure the boy didn’t fall off onto the floor.
He was on autopilot as he tucked the two of them into the bed and Bruce could tell he was repeating a routine he had become accustomed to over the years. Dick held the smaller boy in a tight embrace for a long time, long enough for the boy to roll over and nuzzle into his older brother’s chest. Out of respect Bruce gave the two brothers some space, choosing to pull out a seat and plan out the best course of action for them in the future. He only turned to face the two when he felt Dick open his eyes and place his attention on Bruce. There was a protectiveness Bruce didn’t ever want to challenge.
With a low voice, Dick explained, “This is Tim. He’s my little brother. If you’re going to help me you have to promise to help him too.” Although he was trying his hardest to hide it, there was still some panic in his voice, his fear of what would happen in the future if they were left to their own devices. Dick had no idea what would be best for his baby brother but he knew he couldn’t take care of both of them; the circus just wasn’t the kind of place for two kids to raise each other. The other performs were nice and they cared about the two, but they were too busy to actually do much good. Bruce was their best option.
Bruce nodded his agreement to those terms and felt unsure about his presence in the room for the first time. He didn’t know what he wanted to do here but he didn’t feel like Dick wanted him to leave so he chose to offer some kind reassurance. “You have my word. I’ll keep the both of you safe and take care of you from now on.”
Dick returned a weak nod before returning to his brother. He was tired and feeling the whole weight of the situation at once but he needed the rest. Bruce could tell he wanted to stay awake and hold Tim, maybe wanting to make sure he didn’t die on him too, but this was what Bruce was there for.
“How about you change out of the costume and into some pjs and I’ll watch over you two while you sleep? It’ll be more comfortable and you’ll sleep better.”
For the longest moment Dick didn’t do anything. He just held his brother and avoiding the world around him. With a murmur just loud enough for Bruce to hear, he asked, “How do I tell him? He’s going to be so scared.”
They both decided not to mention how he was almost squeezing Tim or that he was just as scared as his brother.
Taking in a deep sigh, Bruce tried to think of the best solution, one where everyone felt safest. He concluded that there was no benefit in waking him up to give the bad news. There was no problem in waiting for the morning, they would need the rest if they wanted to face tomorrow. He advised, “We can explain everything to him in the morning but right now the two of you need the rest. It won’t feel any better tomorrow, but you will be better equipped to handle his reaction.” Somewhere in the back of his mind he was thinking about his inability to talk to kids but he knew better than to focus on it when the situation in front of him was much more important.
That was how he found himself making a call to Alfred explaining that he wouldn’t be home tonight while Dick changed into more comfortable cloths in the trailer. The uniform would probably have given him chaffing that made waking up even worse. Looking around the grounds, he saw the other performers diverting reporters and photographers from the area before he heard the screen door open and welcome him back in. Bruce noticed that the performance cloths Dick had been wearing were put in a plastic bag beside the trashcan and he remembered that it was still caked in blood. Dick followed his gaze and cringed at the thought of having to clean or wear it ever again. Just looking at it reminded him of his parents in a watching set dead on the ground. Seeing his shoulders deflate again, Bruce decided to take the initiative for the rest of the night.
Bruce felt proud for getting Dick to drink some water before helping him into bed, it hadn’t been that hard considering the boy was half asleep already. At the very least the cold liquid would help his sore throat and at the best it would help him fall asleep faster. Bruce didn’t even try to help him into the upper bunk and watching Dick slowly crawl into the same bed as his little brother and retake his place Bruce knew he might never be able to separate them. Even though he was still asleep, Tim enjoyed that his brother had returned and moved half of his body onto his brother’s chest.
Once everyone settled and the breathing evened, Bruce sat in a chair and watched the boys sleep for hours.
He forced the police away and put the blanket back on the boys after Tim kicked it off again. He ignored the calls from meetings he was missing and watched the sunrise silently because he knew what came next. He knew what happened when you woke up and he knew they weren’t all that different once he saw Dick’s defeated face as he saw Bruce and knew it hadn’t been a nightmare.