bradygirl_12 (bradygirl_12) wrote,
bradygirl_12
bradygirl_12

Fic: The Raven And The Nightingale Book I: Jeweled Nightingale (5-9/26) (2014 DCU_Bang)

Title: The Raven And The Nightingale Book I: Jeweled Nightingale (5-9/26)
Author: bradygirl_12
Pairings/Characters: Bruce/Dick, Alfred Pennyworth, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Ollie/Dinah, Steve/Diana, Queen Hippolyta, Various Historical Figures And OCs
Continuity: DC Comics/Marvel Comics (The Avengers (2012)
Genres: Angst, AU, Drama, Historical, Holiday, Mystery, Romance
Beta: The Sparkling silvertales! :)
Artist: The Amazing ctbn60! :) Link to fanworks: Here
Artist: The Fantastic veinards! :) Link to fanworks: TBA
Rating : NC-17
Warnings: (Ch. 8, Anti-Semitism), (Ch. 8, 13: Racism, racist language (ethnic slurs)), (Ch. 13, 14, 17: Violence) (Ch. 17, 19 & 25: Use of the word Gypsy) (Ch. 20: Allusion to sexual assault) (Ch. 25: Memories of death by burning)
Spoilers: None
Summary: In Edwardian Europe, young American millionaire Bruce Wayne becomes enamored of a beautiful and brilliant ballet dancer, Dick Grayson, who falls for his charming suitor, but Dick’s mysterious past threatens to tear them apart.
LJ Dates Of Completion: October 11--June 23, 2014
A03/LJ Dates Of Posting: October 24, 2014/October 27, 2014
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
LJ Word Count: 45,852
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the 2014 dcu_bang.
All chapters can be found here.

 photo russia_zpsca5a0343.jpg


LJ


Chapters 1-4


Chapters 5-9


Chapters 10-14


Chapters 15-17


Chapters 18-20


Chapters 21-26



A03





Part Two

Winter’s Snows

V

WILD ‘N’ WANTON

November 6, 1906


The music plays,
The Gypsy dances,
All is lost
In the whirl
Of passion.


Rula Taznik
“Under A Gypsy Moon”
1863 C.E.



The St. Petersburg Express rattled along the tracks as it passed barren fields. The harvests were in and the kulaks were busily preparing for the brutal Russian winter.

Bruce and Alfred were comfortably ensconced in the observation car. They each had a private sleeping compartment and slept comfortably to the clack of the wheels on the tracks.

The car was crowded with Russians heading to the great city mixed in with other Europeans. Bruce figured he was the only American on board. He could easily pick out members of the troupe by their flamboyance in manner and dress. He didn’t see Dick or Natasha until he turned around and Dick was standing there in the aisle with arms crossed.

“Are you following me, Mr. Wayne?”

Bruce was relieved to see a hint of a smile playing around Dick’s lips. “What if I said yes?”

“You’re wasting your time.”

“It’s my time to waste.”

Dick shook his head in exasperation. “Russia in winter is no picnic.”

“I don’t see any snow out there.”

“Just wait a few days. Can’t you feel it?”

“I’ve been inside all day.”

“Go out on the platform.” Dick smiled at Alfred. “Good to see you again, Mr. Pennyworth.”

“The pleasure is mutual, Mr. Grayson.”

Dick left the car and Bruce went out onto the platform, leaving Alfred to his book. He stretched and took in a lungful of cold air. The bare trees and stubbled fields made him think of the Manor. He had been away from home a long time.

He was an old hand in ‘feeling’ snow. Anyone who lived in snow country recognized the slate-gray sky and felt the approaching snow in his bones.

Dick’s right. Snow is coming.

Winter in Russia would be quite an experience. He hoped to find warmth in the cold Russian winter very soon. His thoughts drifted back to his time in Italy…

& & & & & &


The fire crackled in the hearth of the villa’s library as Bruce and Dick read while sipping mulled cider and eating cheese and crackers. Dick had also requested white grapes. He absently plucked a grape and ate it as he read.

It was raining outside, a steady drumming on the red tiled roof. The soft glow of the lamps made everything cozy. Bruce felt a rare contentment, and it was all because of the gorgeous man sitting on the rose-patterned sofa.

& & & & & &


Bruce took out a cigar from his carrying case. He lit it and smelled the rich tobacco. One of life’s simple pleasures was going to The White Owl, the finest tobacconist shop in Gotham. He remembered going with his father when he was a small boy, Thomas chatting with George the owner while he explored the shop with its fascinating array of Meershaum pipes, colorful cans of chewing tobacco, and a stern-faced wooden Indian that stood guard over the shop.

Bruce blew out a ring of smoke. He was probably a fool for pursuing Dick, but he didn’t care. One of the perks of being filthy rich was the freedom to go anywhere on a whim.

Though Dick Grayson is no whim.

Bruce leaned back against the railing, enjoying his Cuban cigar. He was getting low on the supply but he’d have to wait until he got home to get more. Cuban cigars were not available in Europe, though some enterprising sort would eventually try it.

The clack of the wheels was a soothing rhythm as Bruce watched the passing scenery. He wanted Dick badly but knew that he had to be careful. For whatever reason, the young man was skittish. Despite his obvious pleasure in their romance, he had almost seemed relieved to tell Bruce that he had to leave Rome.

What…or who…hurt you so badly?

The train whistle blew mournfully. Bruce was grateful for his warm coat. There was no snow but it was still cold. He let his thoughts drift again…

& & & & & &


“But, if you go, I won’t see you anymore.”

Dick stood by the fireplace, staring into the flames with crossed arms. “I’m a dancer, Bruce. I go where the troupe goes.”

Bruce nearly said, “Stay,” but didn’t dare. Dick would choose the troupe. He had a passion for dancing. It wasn’t hard to read that.

Don’t appear desperate. You’ll scare him off. Use your head and come up with a plan.


& & & & & &


His plan had been to pack him and Alfred up, leave Rome and follow the troupe. Alfred’s only reaction had been to raise an eyebrow and start packing.

Bruce smiled. He had seen enough plays and read his share of trashy novels to know that pursuit of the love object was a necessity. He would pursue Dick for as long as it took.

Bruce tapped his cigar, the ashes falling to the ground. He had all the time in the world.

& & & & & &


The dining car was appropriately elegant with green velvet curtains tied back with gold tassels at the windows and sparkling silver as the utensils. Green linen napkins were folded neatly by china plates as waiters glided soundlessly from table-to-table, discreet and dressed in good quality uniforms. Teakwood tables and hand-tooled leather booths offered a comfortable setting for dining.

“The borscht is excellent,” Bruce commented as he sampled the dish.

“I concur.” Alfred buttered his piece of dark bread.

Bruce looked up and saw Natasha approaching. He started to rise but she gestured for him to remain seated. She wore a glittering shawl with hand-stitched pink roses over a simple green dress with a wide black belt and a matching sparkling bead necklace that reached down to her waist. The only conventional thing she wore was the pair of high-buttoned black shoes and matching stockings. Gold bracelets jangled as she waved her hand.

“If you insist on following our dahlink, then I must invite you and Mr. Pennyworth to stay at my Aunt Drusilla’s estate outside the city.”

Bruce put his spoon down. “Thank you, Miss Romanoff.”

Natasha fingered her necklace. “You are welcome.” She nodded to Alfred and flounced away.

“Most extraordinary,” Alfred said.

“I have to watch my step around her.”

“Most assuredly.”

Bruce smiled. He broke off a piece of bread and said in a contemplative tone, “I wonder if our prima ballerina had an ulterior motive for inviting us.”

“I daresay that she does, sir, but perhaps it is for the best.”

“Why do you say that?”

“If she believes she is keeping an eye on you, she will be less belligerent.”

“Ah.” Bruce looked down at his borscht. “I think I must agree with you, Alfred.”

The butler nodded. “Quite, sir.”

Bruce enjoyed the lunch and a leisurely afternoon of reading in the observation car with Alfred. As the dinner hour approached he went to his compartment and changed. On his way to the dining car he heard faint music. Intrigued, he followed the sound and reached a private car. He pushed open the door that was slightly ajar.

Inside were members of the dance company. Their musicians played a fiery tune that Bruce recognized as Russian. Natasha danced as her colleagues clapped and stomped their feet, shouting, “Hey!” as her boots hit the floor hard. She wore the same outfit as earlier in the day with the only change being the boots.

She danced in true Cossack fashion, wild and passionate, controversial for one of her class. Bruce watched her with rapt attention. She could captivate whether folk dancing or performing ballet magic.

She whirled and dipped and threw her head back as her bracelets jangled madly. She met her colleagues’ shouts as she danced from one end of the car to the other. Bruce drew back, staying in the shadows.

The tempo increased as the music changed. Bruce recognized it as Gypsy music. The clapping and stomping grew more frenzied and suddenly Dick appeared, dressed in his harem pants and the embroidered vest and peasant blouse. His feet were shod in boots this time and matched Natasha stomp-for-stomp. He was smiling and his hair fell into his eyes as he allowed himself to be a free spirit.

Bruce couldn’t take his eyes off him. This was dancing in the blood that he could only imagine. He had no point of reference when it came to such unrestrained passion on the dance floor. His experience was with waltzes and quadrilles and other proper dances. This animalistic passion was foreign to him, but exciting nonetheless.

You will be the death of me, Dick Grayson.

Bruce was the proverbial moth drawn to a brilliant flame. His heart thumped in his chest as his blood sang in his veins. He watched the seemingly-random gyrations but realized that there was a pattern. Wild yet graceful, Dick and Natasha danced together in perfect rhythm. It was beautiful to see.

How I want to put that smile on your face.

Bruce continued watching until he heard voices from down the hall. He quietly closed the door and affected a nonchalant pose. A middle-aged couple sauntered by, chattering and laughing. Once they passed into the next car, Bruce considered opening the door again but decided against it, not wanting to push his luck. He checked his pocketwatch and decided to join Alfred for dinner. He looked back as he walked away.

The dining car was jarringly quiet, only the low murmur of conversation and clink of silverware to be heard. Bruce sat down at the table where Alfred was already seated.

“Are you all right, Master Bruce?” Alfred asked.

“I’m fine.” Bruce couldn’t get the image of wild, wanton Dick out of his mind. He picked up a warm roll from the basket on the table. “Are we having fish tonight?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” Bruce’s tone was distracted. He started to butter his roll.

“Sir?”

“Hmm?”

“Did something happen to you on the way to the dining car?”

Bruce looked at the clear, kind eyes of his old friend. He never could fool Alfred. Why did he even bother trying?

“Something did.” Bruce proceeded to tell Alfred what he’d seen, keeping his voice low in the quiet car.

“Sounds quite extraordinary, sir.”

“It was.” Bruce was starry-eyed as he smiled. “You should have seen him, Alfred. I’ve never seen dancing like that.”

“Folk dancing is often the base for the higher forms of dance.”

“Very true.” Bruce ate his roll as he contemplated Alfred’s comment. The study of art was a field that was proper for gentlemen to dabble in. “It’s like a field study.”

“Correct. You are observing a folk dance in its natural habitat.”

“It was very exciting music. First Russian, then some Gypsy stuff.”

“I can imagine.”

& & & & & &


That evening Bruce fell asleep to dreams of wild Gypsies dancing around a campfire and Dick smiling at him.


VI

AMERICAN ABROAD


“Americans are babes-in-the-woods when it comes to Europe.”


Malcolm Standish
American Writer
October 12, 1901



The palatial estate of Countess Drusilla Romanoff was impressive. Despite the bare trees and brown grass of November, the oak, spruce and fir trees created a green backdrop for the imposing three-story mansion of gingerbread curlicues and brooding, slate-gray roof. The sandstone-colored paint was accented by brown shutters and a massive oak door with an enormous brass knocker.

The clip-clop of the carriage horses’ hooves was loud in the quiet autumn air. Bruce, Alfred, Dick and Natasha were in the first carriage as a second followed with their luggage.

Natasha was first out of the carriage as soon as it stopped and up the steps to the front door. She banged the knocker against the wood, the rest of the passengers alighting. Dick seemed a little nervous but as the door opened, she smiled. The elderly man in butler livery smiled back at Natasha.

“Good to see you, Miss Natasha.”

“May I say the same, Malinkov.” Natasha’s tone was affectionate.

“Come in. The Countess is waiting in the parlor.”

“Lead on, old friend.”

The party entered the foyer. Bruce was reminded of the Manor with the dark wood paneling, grand staircase and glittering chandelier. Suits of armor lined the foyer and in the alcoves as they reflected the sunlight streaming through a narrow set of windows flanking the door. The floor was polished parquet and their shoes’ heels clicked on the surface as Malinkov lead them out of the foyer and down the hall.

Bruce noted the stern-faced portraits of ancestors lined along the walls and felt right at home. He could feel the weight of centuries in the house, much like his own, though the mansion here was much older.

The butler opened the doors to the elaborate parlor and Bruce immediately saw the imposing woman sitting in a pink damask chair. Her snow-white hair was elegantly-coiffed with a decorative silver comb studded with amethysts. She wore a deep purple dress of the latest high-collared fashion. A diamond brooch sparkled at her throat.

The most distinctive feature was her eyes. The color was a dark purple, very unusual. Bruce noticed how those eyes scrutinized the newcomers. She smiled graciously as if she was the Queen of England holding court and receiving a supplicant audience.

“Ah, so good to see you, dear Natasha.”

“I feel the same, Aunt Drusilla.” Natasha took the older woman’s outstretched hands. “You look well.”

“So do you.” Drusilla’s accent was heavy but she spoke perfect English. “And is this your ballet partner?”

Dick bowed slightly and smiled brilliantly. He was dressed moderately (for him) in his wine-red suit and a matching vest. He was almost distressingly-conventional, with regular high-buttoned shoes and starched white shirt, though his cufflinks were his green, sparkly set.

Natasha was subdued in a faun-colored outfit that was very fashionable with puffed sleeves and full skirt. Her hat was wide-brimmed and bedecked with a multitude of ostrich feathers.

I wonder if they’ll keep this up.

Bruce knew that he and Alfred would have no trouble with dressing conventionally. He saw that the Countess was cool toward Dick.

“And this is Mr. Bruce Wayne of America and his manservant, Mr. Alfred Pennyworth,” Natasha said.

Bruce smiled. He had met his share of dowager queens in his lifetime and knew the right tone to take as he took her proffered hand and bowed slightly over it. He noticed the diamond ring and bracelet that were of the highest quality.

“A pleasure to meet you, Countess.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wayne.” She nodded to Alfred, who bowed. “I am interested in conversing with someone from America.”

“I’m honored.”

“So you should be.” Drusilla rang a little silver bell that she picked up from the end table. Malinkov appeared and she asked, “Has the luggage been carried upstairs?”

“Yes, Countess.”

“Excellent. You all must be tired from your journey. Dinner will be served at eight.”

She rose and swept out of the room. Bruce broke the silence. “Is she always this regal?”

Natasha laughed. “Always.” She removed her hat. “You might want to lie down once you have unpacked. Dinner will take all evening.”

“But I’m hungry now!” Dick lamented.

Natasha patted his cheek. “There will be some chocolate in your room, and perhaps some fruit.”

Dick brightened considerably. Bruce and Alfred exchanged amused glances. Dick’s appetite was already well-known to them. Luckily for him his energy seemed to burn off fat because in his profession, being fit was essential.

The four of them ascended the staircase. As Natasha talked with Alfred, Bruce said softly, “I wish we could share a room.”

Dick squeezed his hand. “I don’t think it would be a good idea.”

Bruce was heartened that Dick was even considering it. Rome had been a perfect setting to kindle their romance. Maybe Russia could revitalize it.

“Here is your room, Bruce.” Natasha indicated the room closest to them. “I am serious about getting some rest. You will have to be on your toes tonight.”

“Ah, yes, for the endless dinner.”

She smirked. “Apt description. Mr. Pennyworth, you are next to Bruce, and dahlink Dick, you are on the other side of Bruce.”

“Quite cozy,” said Dick with a saucy wink.

Bruce was pleased to see that Dick was more like his old self. A subdued Dick Grayson was against the laws of Nature.

Bruce entered his room and Alfred followed. “I will draw your bath, sir, and put away your clothes.”

“Thank you, Alfred.”

Bruce knew that it was useless to argue with his old friend about the unpacking. He would insist upon doing it as Bruce’s manservant, and that was that.

Bruce did manage to hang up a few jackets while Alfred was down the hall drawing his bath. By the time the butler returned, he insisted Bruce head down to the quaintly-named ‘water closet’.

Bruce obeyed, bringing his robe, slippers and toiletries with him as he went down the hall. Fortunately Oakwood had modernized enough so that there was rudimentary indoor plumbing. He hadn’t fancied taking trips to the outhouse in the middle of the night.

The claw-footed tub held hot water and a hint of lemon. Alfred had scented his water with some Parisian indulgence.

What, no English lavender?

Bruce chuckled as he soaked. The bathroom was small but he was happy with the set-up. He closed his eyes and began plotting. He wanted the delectable Dick Grayson in his bed again before they left St. Petersburg.

& & & & & &


Dinner was an old-fashioned meal of several courses served in a massive dining room with crystal chandelier, mahogany sideboards, and a long table set with silver dinnerware and bone china. There was French onion soup, warm and crusty bread, roast squab and pheasant, a medley of root vegetables in cream sauce, squash with brown cinnamon, fresh fish caught from the Black Sea, asparagus, and a dizzying array of other foods until the final course, slices of a three-layer Black Forest chocolate cake.

Throughout the meal Drusilla asked questions about America. Dick ate quietly while Natasha occasionally interjected a comment into the conversation.

“I hear that time is very important to your people,” Drusilla said to Bruce.

“Time is valuable, yes.”

“Is that because of the bourgeois mentality?”

“I’m not sure I understand.” Bruce’s fork was poised over his fish.

Drusilla waved her hand, her diamond ring sparkling in the chandelier light. “The business of your country is business, is it not? Commerce is king.”

“Well, I suppose that’s true…”

“Money is all that matters.”

“That’s true of some people, but not all.” Bruce lifted his wineglass and watched the swirl of light in the light depths. “Appreciation of fine wine and food is not unknown in the hinterlands.”

Drusilla lifted an eyebrow at his dry tone. Natasha said, “Commerce is of importance, Aunt, but I have heard of other interests in the country such as museums and libraries. Mr. Andrew Carnegie endowed many cities and towns with money to build public libraries.”

Bruce sipped his wine. “Education is very important to us, too. We have fine institutions of higher learning like Harvard and every town has a school. Newspapers and magazines thrive because so many people know how to read.”

Drusilla carefully cut her fish. “That is rudimentary education for the masses, not elites. And I highly doubt that Harvard can match any of the great universities of Europe.”

Bruce kept his irritation from showing on his face. He had dealt with European snobbery before, and he was a guest in the Countess’ house.

“Harvard can’t compare with the longevity of some European universities, certainly, but it has some top-notch professors. I should know; I’m a graduate.”

Drusilla responded to Bruce’s smile with one of her own. “What did you study?”

Bruce chuckled. “Business, but I also took courses on philosophy, history and science.”

A spark of interest appeared in the Countess’ eyes. “Tell me about these courses.”

Bruce was happy to do so. He was proud of his alma mater and glad that after a rough start, he had made an effort and done far better than a ‘gentleman’s C’.

He was good at painting the picture of life at Harvard. He was pleased to see the interest in Drusilla’s eyes. Despite her snobbishness she seemed to be genuinely interested in America.

Even more pleasing was Dick’s interest. The dancer looked totally absorbed in his meal but Bruce knew better. Dick was listening intently.

“And it’s true, we celebrated a bit, ahem, excessively, after we beat Yale in The Game.”

“So this game of football is popular?” Drusilla asked.

“Pretty much. Very big at the colleges.”

“Did you play?” Dick asked.

Bruce smiled at him. “Quarterback.”

“You have to teach me this game. And baseball, too!”

Bruce laughed. “I’ll happily teach you the finer points of both games.”

Dick’s smile rivaled the chandelier's blaze and Bruce’s heart fluttered. He was getting his lover back; he just knew it.


VII

INFINITY


Ride the wind,
As the day
Stretches out
Beyond
The horizon.


Count Alexei Barishnikoff
“Ride The Wind”
1859 C.E.



When Bruce came down to breakfast the next morning, he learned that Dick and Natasha would be going into the city for rehearsals in the morning. They would be back by lunchtime and would keep up the schedule until the following week, when they would start later but stay in town for their performances.

Drusilla offered Bruce the use of the stables. He happily accepted. It was a beautiful day and riding appealed to him very much.

He said goodbye to Dick and Natasha in the foyer and was pleased to observe Dick watching him as he strode up the staircase. The mirror on the wall that had just been installed between two alcoves was coming in handy already. He refrained from whistling, but Alfred declared that he had “a canary-eating grin on your face, sir.”

Bruce’s grin widened. “I believe you’re right, Alfred.”

Alfred manfully restrained from rolling his eyes. “I will get your riding boots, sir.”

“Thank you.”

Bruce quickly put his boots on and stood up from the bed, surveying himself in the full-length mirror. The rich material of the brown riding habit and shiny boots made a fine picture.

“You look tip-top, Master Bruce.”

“Thank you, Alfred.” He adjusted his cravat. “How was dinner last night in the kitchen?”

“More than adequate. The food here is quite good and the staff was friendly.”

“Good.” Bruce had worried about Alfred during dinner. He knew that he couldn’t insist that his friend be seated with him at the dining room table, so he hoped that Alfred was enjoying a peaceful dinner. “I’m sure the conversation was more diverting than in the dining room.”

“At least the vernacular was,” Alfred said dryly.

Bruce laughed. He combed his hair and was ready to go downstairs when Alfred spoke again.

“They seemed quite interested in America.”

“Perhaps influenced by the Countess. Though I suppose they could be interested on their own.”

“You are a fine representative.”

Bruce laughed again. “I hope so.” He put his comb down on the dresser. “I’ll be out until luncheon.”

“Very good, sir.”

Bruce went downstairs and out to the stables. He enjoyed looking over the horses, fine specimens of horseflesh, in his educated opinion. A thin boy with a shock of straw-colored hair ambled over to the stall where Bruce was standing.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Bruce petted the nose of the mare in the stall. “Yes, you can. I’m interested in riding this morning.”

“You experienced?”

“I am.”

“How long?”

Amused, Bruce said, “Since I was five.”

The stable boy looked satisfied. “This way, sir.”

The boy led Bruce to the end of the line of stalls. The next-to-last stall held a big, strawberry roan that was chomping on oats as its tail switched.

“Strawberry is a good, solid horse, sir. He’s got some spirit but won’t buck you off like Black Bolt.”

“Black Bolt?”

The boy nodded solemnly. “The Head Groom is out ridin’ him now.”

Bruce cocked his head. “You’re not Russian, are you?”

“No, sir.” He grinned. “Me speakin’ give me away?”

“Yes, your English accent is a dead giveaway,” Bruce teased.

The boy laughed. “I’ll get your tack, sir.”

As the boy dashed off, Bruce called after him, “What’s your name?”

“Jack!”

The roan came over to nudge Bruce, who responded by petting the horse’s nose. He took an apple out of his pocket that he had picked up from the foyer table on his way out and offered it to Strawberry. The horse noisily chomped on it and Bruce continued petting him.

A few minutes later, Jack entered the stall and led Strawberry out to the space between the double rows of stalls. He led the horse out to Bruce ten minutes later fully tacked. He held the reins out to Bruce.

“Here you go, sir.”

“Thank you, Jack.” Bruce took the reins and swung up into the saddle. “There you go, boy,” he said soothingly as he patted the horse’s mane. He galloped down the lane and let Strawberry have a good run.

Bruce smiled as he continued the run. The air was fresh and the sun warm as riders and horse galloped down the lane and veered off into a meadow with patches of colorful vegetation. He felt supremely confident in his horsemanship and his ability to win Dick back.

He’s wary like a little bird unsure of whether to take what I have to offer.

& & & & & &


“All right, ten minutes’ rest.”

Dick was glad to hear their director’s order. As Pierre went to his office, Dick sat on a table backstage. Natasha leaned against the wall and smoked a cigarette.

“Your aunt is quite a lady.”

Natasha blew out a ring of smoke. “She is. She seems quite taken with your amore.”

Dick laughed. “He’s not my amore.”

“And why not?”

The dancer shrugged. “There’s no future in it.”

Natasha crossed an arm over her mid-section. “Since when do you require a future, dahlink? He is a fling, no?”

“No.”

Natasha’s eyes narrowed. “You have not fallen for him?” Dick avoided her eyes. “So it is true?”

“What if it is?” Dick’s tone was defensive.

Natasha raised an eyebrow. “Dick…”

“Look, nothing will come of it, all right?” Dick hopped off the table. “I’m going to do some stretching exercises.”

He could feel Natasha’s eyes on him but he refused to look back. He went out to the stage and began stretching.

Love with Bruce Wayne is a dead end. He’s a rich American who will be going back to the United States and I’ll be here in Europe, living my passion.

He sighed as he stretched out his left leg, feeling the blood flow. His previous liaisons had been so easy, just fun and gifts and no romantic feelings.

All right, I did kind of fall for a few, but that was way back at the beginning of my dance career.

He stretched his other leg and thought of Bruce. They really did have a wonderful evening in Tuscany and fun sightseeing in Rome

And his body is so athletic and his intelligence is really attractive.

Dick stretched his arms high up over his head and arched his back. He had enjoyed the nights in bed, of course, but had also reveled in discussing books and plays with Bruce. So many socialites were either empty-headed or thought he was. It had been a refreshing change.

As he performed another series of exercises, he wondered why he couldn’t enjoy what he had for now. Bruce was clearly offering it.

I want him. He arched his foot. The trouble is, I love him.

There. He’d said it to himself.

Dick bent all the way back, his head touching the stage. He felt like the rubber man in the circus, able to stretch out to infinity.

He had never told anyone his feelings about his sense of his body and what he could do with it. He chuckled. If anyone could hear his thoughts, they would accuse him of lewdness. He preferred to think of it as creative thinking.

Maybe I should ask Bruce how much he appreciated my creative body.

Dick laughed out loud this time. No one even turned their heads. They were accustomed to occasional outbursts of Dick Grayson joy.

& & & & & &


That evening at dinner, Drusilla said, “I am planning a whist party. You are all invited, of course.”

“That sounds like fun, Auntie.” Natasha buttered a hot wheat roll.

“I am glad you approve.” Drusilla rang the little silver bell she kept on her right. One of the maids came out from the kitchen immediately.

“Yes, madam ?”

“Dessert, please.”

The maid curtsied and departed silently. Bruce sipped his wine.

“Are you a good whist player, Mr. Wayne?”

“I’m a fair hand at the game.” He chuckled. “Alfred is not too happy with my other card-playing skills. He says that I should focus on other pursuits.”

Drusilla lifted an eyebrow. “Your manservant said that to you?”

“Yes.” Bruce smiled fondly. “He says that card-playing is fine for a gentleman, but one must be careful of excess.”

“He sounds like a wise man,” Natasha said.

“But a bit familiar. Are all servants in America so familiar with their employers?” Drusilla asked.

Bruce was not about to go into the particulars of his relationship with Alfred but said, “No, it’s not the usual, but what Alfred and I have suits us.”

The maids came in with dessert and Dick smiled at Bruce. Bruce returned his smile and directed one toward Natasha for her support. He concentrated on his strawberry meringue pie with a satisfied smile on his face.

& & & & & &


Bruce snarked about it being a ‘busman’s holiday’ but went along with Dick and Natasha as they went to a performance of Sleeping Beauty staged by the Imperial Ballet School. Dick wanted to see the up-and-coming Vaslav Nijinsky in action.

Bruce and Dick sat next to each other and held hands once the lights were dimmed. The ballet began and when Nijinsky danced onstage, his magnetic personality captivated the audience. Bruce watched as Dick followed every move Nijinsky made with intense concentration. He had to admit that the man was talented.

Bruce was glad of the novelty of a different ballet. He had memorized Dick’s ballet a long time ago.

It was a mesmerizing performance. Bruce could see why this young dancer was creating waves in the ballet world. His style was similar to Dick’s, strong yet graceful.

After the performance, Natasha sent a spray of flowers and a note inviting her old friend Nijinsky to dinner. The trio waited backstage, and Nijinsky sent word that he would meet them at Maximoff’s.

They waited for a bit at the restaurant but finally ordered, Natasha shrugging and saying, “He probably has brushed us off.” They enjoyed oysters and caviar and were drinking champagne with dessert when Nijinsky finally showed up.

He did not cause a stir, because Bruce was surprised to see that he was quite ordinary looking.

Vaslav Nijinsky was a man of slender build with brown hair and eyes. His face was rather ordinary, and if you passed him on the street, you would probably not even take notice of him. Yet his movements were graceful, and as Nijinsky arrived at the table, Bruce saw the faintest hint of glitter around his eyes.

“Vaslav, we have dined already,” Natasha drawled.

The dancer took a seat. “It is of little consequence. I will drink champagne.”

“Would you like something to eat, Mr. Nijinsky?” Bruce asked.

Nijinsky waved his hand negligently. “Natasha, why are you suddenly interested in the Imperial Ballet School again?”

“I am always interested in you, Vaslav. I see you have not lost your form.”

Nijinsky pretended disinterest but Bruce could see him stealing glances at Dick. At first he was jealous but quickly realized that Nijinsky had other things on his mind besides Dick’s looks.

“And who is this gentleman?”

“Mr. Richard Grayson, and this is Mr. Bruce Wayne.”

Nijinsky barely spared a glance for Bruce. “You are not a ballet dancer.”

“No, I’m an American millionaire.”

Dick nearly choked on his champagne as he stifled his laughter. Natasha smirked as she ate a piece of cream pastry.

“Your dancing is amazing, Mr. Nijinsky,” Dick said as he coughed.

“Of course, Mr. Grayson. You have some talent in the traditional ballets.”

“I would like to do modern dance, too.”

“Modern dance is what we should be concentrating on.”

“The Imperial Ballet will never go that way,” Natasha said.

“I will find a patron who is willing to experiment.”

Natasha cut a piece of flaky pastry. “Lofty ideas, Vaslav, but the ballet world is very stodgy.”

“So we take it by storm.”

“What kind of ideas do you have?” Dick asked.

“Ah, revolutionary ones. If I had the opportunity, I would change the face of ballet.”

Bruce thought that the man was incredibly arrogant, but he had been around enough artistic types to know that Nijinsky’s attitude was not that unusual. Dick and Natasha were exceptions, Dick with a low level of diva behavior, while Natasha possessed a higher level but was still far from the worst that Bruce had ever seen.

“You are pipe-dreaming, tovarisch,” said Natasha.

“I do not think so,” Nijinsky sniffed.

“I hope you are right.”

For the rest of the evening the dancers talked about moves and other technical aspects of their profession, then segued into gossip. Bruce was content to listen, happy to see Dick so happy.

Dick is really a dancer at heart. He’ll always need this world of ballet or at least showmanship.

Dick was sparkling with excitement and this time Nijinsky was taking notice. Bruce gritted his teeth but clamped down on his jealousy. The last thing he needed was to show Dick how possessive he could be. Dick knew he could be possessive, just not how deep that particular emotion ran.

Though if you make a move on him, Nijinsky, I’ll have to make mine.

Bruce’s smile was grim as he sipped his champagne.


VIII

WHISTFUL THINKING


“You can learn a lot about a person by playing cards with them.”


Beaurugard Clayton
Riverboat Gambler
1842 C.E.



The staff prepared the secondary parlor for the whist party. The room was not as formal as the primary parlor, a room so stiff and fossilized that the double doors were rarely opened and the heavy drapes rarely drawn back.

The secondary parlor was much more cheerful, decorated in greens and blues with a touch of violet. Card tables were set up and comfortable chairs arranged around the tables. Decks of cards were set on each table and each setting held a notepad, quill pen and inkstand. Tea would be served along with molasses cookies. Dick loved the cookies and had already eaten a handful as Verda the head cook laughingly chased him out of the kitchen.

“Hurry, Alfred, I want to get downstairs,” said Bruce as he searched for his cufflinks.

“I thought you liked to be fashionably late?”

“Ha, ha.”

“Or do you wish to encounter young Mr. Grayson in the hall?”

Bruce rummaged through his jewelry box. “If I meet him, what of it?”

“Indeed, what of it?”

Bruce ignored Alfred’s dry tone. “I’m looking for my square cufflinks.”

“Of course, sir.” Alfred checked over the satinwood box and produced the silver cufflinks.

Bruce huffed. “Thank you.” He affixed the cufflinks to his shirt cuffs. Next he buttoned his light-blue vest and shrugged on his dark-blue suit coat. He ran a comb through his hair and adjusted his pale yellow cravat adorned with a sapphire stickpin. “Have a good evening.”

“I shall, sir.”

Bruce was glad that Alfred would get the night off. He left his room and lingered in the hall. As the door to Dick’s room opened, he pretended he was just leaving his room.

“Ah, I see you’re ready,” Dick said with a smile.

“Nice outfit,” Bruce said.

Dick beamed. He was wearing a dark-green suit with pale yellow vest and wine-red cravat affixed with a gaudy diamond stickpin. His feet were shod in green slippers, the entire outfit just bohemian enough to be charming. Some of the nobility would consider it fascinating.

They brushed hands as they walked down the long hall toward the staircase. Sharing a smile, they headed downstairs together.

Guests were starting to arrive. Dick immediately turned on the charm and the Russian nobility was suitably impressed, titillated by his bohemian clothes and personality.

Drusilla made a grand entrance and was the quintessential hostess, aided by Natasha and the crisply efficient staff. Drusilla led them into the parlor and the party began as the cards were dealt. The maids poured tea and the cookies were served.

Bruce and Dick were at a table with a matronly woman and a younger man. The woman wore her brown hair fashionably coiffed to frame a hawkish face and her brown suit was finely-tailored. Bruce immediately divined here to be a sharp woman who missed nothing. She introduced herself as Duchess Mirelle Karlinkov.

The man was dark blond, slender, and dressed in a modest dark-brown suit and stiff collar. Bruce noticed the cuffs were slightly frayed. He guessed the young man came from a genteel family fallen on hard times. The young man kept looking over at a pretty blond young woman at the next table.

“This distracted gentleman is Mr. Valentin Korsikoff,” the Duchess said dryly.

The preoccupied player turned back guiltily to the table. “Sorry.”

“Quite all right, Val. Now look sharp. You are my partner and I intend to win.”

Bruce smiled. He had a feeling that the Duchess would be a worthy opponent. Dick smiled across the table at him with a gleam in his eye.

So, a challenge appeals to Dick, too. Good.

The cards were drawn and Mirelle was dealer with low card. Using a second deck, she dealt out thirteen cards to each player. She narrowed her eyes as the cards were dealt. Bruce hid his smile. He and Dick would have to be careful with their signals. The Duchess would be on guard. The last card was turned up for the trump suit, diamonds.

Bruce thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. He and Dick managed to convey signals but only by the subtlest flick of a lash or quirk of the mouth. As Bruce played his hand, he nearly jumped as Dick’s foot nudged his leg under the table.

Oh, you little tease.

Dick studiously focused on his cards while Bruce tried to keep from laughing and Mirelle looked at him suspiciously.

“Val, dear, it’s your turn,” she said with a touch of asperity.

“Oh, sorry.”

“Look sharp, boy. Emily isn’t going anywhere.”

He leaned forward conspiratorially. Everyone else leaned forward instinctively to match him.

“Vladimir Molotov is her partner.”

Mirelle frowned. “Hmm, that is bad news, but Emily can take care of herself.”

Val looked nervously over at the next table. “I suppose so.” He quickly returned his attention to his cards and played the hand.

“Very good,” Mirelle said approvingly.

As they continued playing, conversation drifted over from the next table.

“Your turn, Vlad,” spoke a matronly woman.

“All right.” Vladimir presented his card. “Honestly, did you hear about that incident at Volgostad?”

“No, what happened?” Emily asked.

“The stinking Jews caused a riot. The mayor had to send in troops from St. Petersburg to quell it.”

“A riot? Why would the Jews incite a riot?” asked the matron.

“Who knows about Jews? Though some say the dirty Gypsies egged them on.”

“Why would the Gypsies do that?” Emily asked this time. She sounded highly skeptical.

“I don’t know. Who can trust either a Gypsy or a Jew?”

Bruce noticed Dick’s mouth tighten. He was pleased that the young man was irritated by such blatant prejudice. He knew that Vladimir Molotov’s opinions were in the majority, but Bruce was not one of them.

Mirelle’s lip curled in disgust as she played a card. “Vladimir, people are trying to play.”

“And good conversation is part of the deal, Duchess.” Vladimir stroked his mustache. Brown eyes gleamed with malice as his handsome face looked placid, but Bruce figured that a raging bigot lurked below the surface. On the other hand, he did not bother to keep it a secret.

Bruce dearly wanted to wipe that smirk off Vladimir’s face. He knew plenty of men like this, nobles who considered themselves far superior to everyone else.

He played his next hand, hoping that Dick picked up his signal. Despite being distracted, Val was playing a good game, perhaps out of fear of the Duchess, but whatever the reason, Bruce knew that he and Dick had to stay sharp.

Unfortunately, Dick missed his signal and misplayed his hand. Bruce frowned. His partner was very distracted. What had upset him?

Is he that angry about Molotov’s remarks?

The game continued and Bruce and Dick came back strong, but in the end Mirelle and Val barely beat them.

“Good game, Bruce,” said Mirelle. She slapped her cards down.

“Thank you, Duchess. You, m’lady, are a cutthroat at cards.”

She laughed heartily. “Thank you, Bruce.” She looked at Dick. “You are a sharp card player, young man.”

“Thank you, Duchess.” Dick flashed a smile but Bruce sensed that he was still off-balance. He appreciated that Dick disliked Molotov’s slurs but to have the incident affect him so deeply was curious.

The next game was faster, and this time Bruce and Dick were the winners. By the time the evening finished, they had won seven games out of twelve, much to Mirelle’s disgust and their amusement. Even Val’s eyes sparkled with merriment.

There was a light supper served in the dining room while the guests mingled and chatted, some boasting about their victories while others lamented their losses. Bruce decided that it was wiser to refrain from boasting. He doubted that the Duchess would be amused.

Dick was at the other end of the room and charming a group. Mirelle was talking to Drusilla and Val and Emily were talking in a corner, unaware of anyone else with their heads together. Amused, Bruce left them to their mutual fascination.

He saw Vladimir Molotov talking with a group by the dining room table. He slowly made his way over to them, taking an interest in the raspberry tarts on the table while listening.

“So we have to remain on guard against the schemers in our midst,” said Vladimir.

A reed-thin woman with a bit too much eye make-up (scandalous!) fluttered her handkerchief at him. “Oh, Vlad, dear, you do carry on! Enjoy our hostess’ repast and be merry.”

Vladimir laughed. “Oh, Emma, you are priceless. Just laugh and have a good time, eh?”

She smiled, her dark-red silk skirt rustling as she moved closer to him. “Good times are precious.”

Bruce bit into a raspberry tart, the sharp tang delicious on his tongue. He frowned as Vladimir laughed again. That laugh irritated him. He quickly covered his reaction and searched for Dick.

He was like a ray of sunshine in the room. His laughter was something pleasing, not irritating. Bruce’s heart was uplifted as he listened to Dick’s laughter.

When the party broke up, Bruce made sure that he ended up by Dick’s side. They ascended the staircase and Bruce asked, “Did you have a good time?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes, it was interesting.”

“Are you sure?”

“What?”

“You seem distracted.” He wanted to say ‘upset’ but refrained.

“Oh, I guess that’s true. Rehearsals have been brutal lately.”

“No doubt. Well, get a good night’s sleep.” Bruce leaned forward and nearly succeeded in kissing Dick when his companion pulled away.

“Good night, Bruce.”

Dick disappeared into his room while Bruce looked at his closed door, finally retiring to his room.


IX

SLEIGH BELLS


Sleigh bells jingle
While we mingle
And the snow
Is pure
And clean.

Let me breathe
In air so cold,
That I become
So bold,
Your hand
To hold.


Alan Deerfield
“Romance For All Seasons”
1888 C.E.



“It’s snowing!” Dick’s eyes were sparkling as he greeted Bruce at the door of the American’s room.

“I know.” Bruce could not help grinning. Dick’s enthusiasm was infectious.

“We have to take the sleigh out.”

“We do?” Bruce asked in amusement.

“Yes, we do.”

“We’ll have breakfast, then a sleigh ride.”

At breakfast, Drusilla was just as amused as Bruce by Dick’s excitement. “Of course you may have use of the sleigh, child.”

“Thank you, Countess.”

Natasha cut up her eggs. “I do not see what all the fuss is about. After all, you will see plenty of snow during a Russian winter.”

“Well, that’s true, Natasha, but it is the first snow,” said Bruce.

She rolled her eyes while Bruce and Dick exchanged a smile.

& & & & & &


Dick’s cheeks were pink from the cold, his blue eyes sparkling like sapphires as he smiled at Bruce. Bruce answered with a smile of his own as the sleigh zipped over the pristine snow. Bells jingled and the horses glided in perfect rhythm. The driver was warmly-dressed and a wine-red blanket was draped over Bruce and Dick’s laps. Bruce reached over to grasp his companion’s gloved hand.

The air was cold but bracing. Except for the sleight bells, it was quiet as only winter could be. Bruce was glad that Dick had suggested the ride.

The estate was large, the fields offering space for the sleigh to roam freely. Evergreen trees bordered the fields in the distance.

“Can’t you see the Cossacks in the distance?” Dick asked as he leaned close to Bruce to be heard over the jingling bells.

“Where?”

“Anywhere.”

Bruce realized that Dick was being playful. “Ah, yes, I see them right over that hill.”

Dick laughed, delighted that Bruce was playing along. “They are the best horsemen in the world.”

“Fierce and independent.” Like you.

Dick smiled. He squeezed Bruce’s hand and the sleigh flew over the snow as Bruce dreamed of spangled Cossacks and graceful trick riders.

& & & & & &


Dinner was the usual superb affair with crisp chicken, snow peas, and creamy mashed potatoes. Vegetable soup had started things off, and Drusilla promised chocolate cream pie for dessert.

“Did you enjoy your sleigh ride?” asked the Countess.

“Very much so.” Bruce sprinkled paprika on his potatoes. “It was gorgeous out there.”

Dick smirked as he concentrated on his chicken.

& & & & & &


The evenings were usually spent in the parlor, reading and talking. Bruce asked Natasha, “When do you start performances?”

“Next Saturday. We will be performing Swan Lake here in St. Petersburg before we head to Moscow.”

“Moscow, ah, yes. You’ll be appearing at the Bolshoi?”

“Most definitely.”

“The ancient city on the banks of the Volga.”

“It’s an amazing place, I hear,” Dick said. “I can’t wait to see it.”

“You will love it.”

Conversation continued about the grand old city, but gradually Drusilla retired for the night, quickly followed by Natasha.

Dick picked up the book from the pier table next to him and flipped through the gilt-edged pages. “That was a fine ride this morning.”

“It certainly was.”

Dick’s attention was on his book…until he looked up through his lashes. “I felt very happy.”

Bruce swallowed. “I’m glad.”

“Remember the night in the villa when we celebrated Halloween?”

“Yes, I’d told you about the American custom and Alfred helped us decorate with gourds and streamers and we had our own version of trick-or-treat.”

Dick laughed. “Oh, yes.” His tone was fond. “I like Halloween.”

Bruce stood up and walked over to Dick. He leaned over and said, “Want to celebrate the first snowfall?”

“The first of many.”

Bruce was highly encouraged by this response. He brushed his lips over Dick’s and took his hand. Dick stood and went with Bruce up to his room.

Moonlight glinted off freshly-fallen snow as they stood by the bed, slowly removing each other’s clothes. Very quickly they were both nude, Bruce grasping Dick’s shoulders.

“You’re so beautiful.”

Dick’s smile sparkled in the darkness. “I could say the same.”

Bruce smirked. “I hope so.”

Dick laughed as he put his arm around Bruce’s shoulder and drew him down for a long, deep kiss. He flopped back down on the bed and Bruce followed, covering the smaller man’s body with his own. Kisses and caresses were hot and passionate, strong hands gliding over silken flesh.

Bruce ground their groins together, reveling in the sensation of their cocks rubbing against each other. He groaned at the delightful friction. He rained kisses down on Dick’s face and throat, kissing each shoulder before starting on his chest.

Dick purred, his nimble fingers carding through Bruce’s thick hair and skittering down his lover’s exposed ribs. Bruce squirmed as Dick laughed.

“Who knew that the Prince of Gotham was ticklish?”

Bruce growled, “Keep that tidbit to yourself,” as Dick giggled when Bruce nuzzled his neck.

They laughed and kissed and Bruce’s mouth found one of Dick’s nipples, quickly reducing the younger man to writhing beneath him. Bruce took his time lavishing attention on each nipple, sucking gently at first and then harder. Whimpers and moans were his reward.

Strong hands cupped his buttocks as Bruce moved his lips down Dick’s chest, teasing at his navel as he reached his stomach. Dick’s hands went to his shoulders as Bruce blew gently over his lover’s cock. Dick groaned again and panted, “Hurry up!”

Smiling devilishly, Bruce swirled his tongue around the head, tasting the drops of pre-come that promised so much more to savor. He took his time until Dick begged him in a language he couldn’t understand. He took pity on his companion and slowly took Dick into his mouth.

Bruce sucked as he feasted his eyes on the sweat-slicked body beneath him as Dick moved and twisted on the dark-blue sheets. He applied all his skill and was rewarded by Dick’s shout as he came into Bruce’s mouth.

He swallowed his lover’s seed down, the slightly bitter taste unique. He never tired of the taste. Releasing Dick’s cock, he kissed the younger man’s knee as he stroked his stomach.

“You’re beautiful.”

Dick opened his eyes and smiled lazily. “You’re a sweet talker.”

“I hope so.”

Dick’s hand trailed down to Bruce’s cock. “We should take care of that.”

“Now that sounds like a good idea.”

Dick rolled over and opened the nightstand drawer. “Always prepared, aren’t you?”

“Better than being caught short.”

“You, short?” Dick grasped Bruce’s cock. “Never.”

Bruce’s cock twitched in that warm hand as Dick held out a jar. Bruce unscrewed the lid and Dick dipped his fingers in after letting go of Bruce’s cock, applying a liberal amount to his lover’s manhood.

Bruce shivered at Dick’s touch. “Mmm.”

Dick grinned at Bruce’s moan. “And I thought I was the impatient one.”

“You’re a tease, you know that?”

Dick laughed and finished prepping Bruce, who took some cream and reached between the dancer’s legs, preparing him. When they were ready, Dick hooked his legs over Bruce’s shoulders.

“Take me hard and fast.”

“Oh, no worries about that.”

Bruce eased into Dick, heat surrounding him as he established a rhythm that was best for both of them. Dick’s face reflected utter bliss and Bruce remembered a similar scene on Halloween.

& & & & & &


The candles glowed in the gourds carved into ghoulish faces. Dick had eagerly joined in the fun. Alfred had made spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce and garlic bread, lamenting the absence of pumpkin to make a proper pie. Instead he made apple pie dusted with cinnamon and cookies shaped like pumpkins and bats, amusing Dick greatly.

After dinner ghost stories were told as they sat by the fireplace while eating cookies and drinking apple cider.

Eventually they both retired upstairs after Alfred had gone up a short time earlier, ending up in the same position as…


& & & & & &


…they were now, Bruce teasing Dick by calling him ‘bewitching’.

Dick opened his eyes and Bruce saw that he remembered All Hallow’s Eve, too.

“You’re magical, Brucie,” Dick cooed exaggeratedly.

Bruce chuckled and thrust in a little harder, hitting the sweet spot. Dick yelped as pleasure washed over him. Bruce’s own pleasure came very quickly after his companion’s as he felt the surge of energy.

He slipped out of Dick’s body and gathered the younger man close. “Halloween was never like this.”

“Actually, it was like this.”

Bruce laughed and threw the covers over the both of them.



Tags: alfred pennyworth, batman/robin, big bang, black widow, bruce wayne/dick grayson, challenge, clint barton, dc comics, dcu_bang, hawkeye, marvel comics, natasha romanoff, the raven and the nightingale
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