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)
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.
In a maze,
The way out,
Lady Elsinore Abernathy
“The Mystery Of The Maze”
Bruce found himself enjoying sightseeing with Ollie and Dinah with Alfred occasionally joining in while Dick was busy rehearsing. They attended other plays and ballets, and before Bruce knew it a week had passed without seeing Dick. He was determined to fix that situation right away.
He was in his customary box at the theater to watch Sleeping Beauty. As he absorbed the ballet, he frowned.
Something’s not right. Dick is not dancing…what’s the word? Normally? As gracefully as usual? With focus?
Whatever was the matter, Bruce felt as if he was the only one to notice. He would have to find out what was going on.
After the ballet was over, Bruce went backstage. Clint smiled and greeted him.
“Hello, Clint. How’s it going?”
“Pretty good. We’re packin’ ‘em in every night.”
“Good to hear. Looks like my investment is well-taken-care-of.”
“Yessir.” Clint looked around. “Alone tonight? No Mr. Pennyworth or the Queens?”
“That’s right. Going stag, that’s me.”
Clint smirked. “Like those stag films?”
“Yes, kind of like that.”
“Funny how even the short films we have now are just right for stag films, apparently.”
“Well, let’s face it. Our parents and grandparents’ generations were not as straitlaced as they liked to present themselves.”
Clint laughed. “True. I’ve seen some of the ‘special’ photographs that were circulated at certain clubs and societies. Pretty risque for those staid Victorians.”
Bruce thought of Dick in one of those explicit photographs. Maybe he could persuade him to pose for some erotic photographs for private viewing only.
“Well, it goes to show you, can’t always tell a book by its cover,” said Bruce.
“No, you can’t,” Clint agreed cheerfully.
“See you later, Clint.”
Bruce knocked on the door of Dick’s dressing room. “You decent?” There was no answer. “Dick?” He cautiously pushed the door open.
“Hey!” snapped Dick.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you …”
“So you barge right in? Damn it, Bruce!”
“Fine.” Dick was removing his make-up.
“I thought that we could...”
“I’ve got a headache. I’m just going back to my hotel.”
Bruce blinked. “All right.” He put his hand on the back of Dick’s chair. “Are you okay? Besides the headache, I mean?”
Dick glared into the mirror. “Just go, will you? I’m exhausted.”
Bruce frowned. He started to argue but thought better of it. “All right.” He kissed the top of his lover’s head. “Feel better.”
After Bruce had departed, Dick slammed his hand down on his dressing table. The jars and bottles rattled. He had not lied about the headache.
A big one is brewing. A real beauty. Just what I need.
The door opened again. “Jeez, Bruce, can’t you take a hint? I’m not interested tonight!”
“Whoa, tovarisch, what has gotten you so wound up?”
“Natasha,” Dick sighed.
“What is going on? You are biting my head off and our American millionaire is grumpy, too.” Her eyes narrowed in the mirror and she put her hands on her hips. “Did you two have a lovers’ quarrel?”
“No, we did not!” Dick threw down his make-up-smeared tissue.
“Well, then, someone’s playing the diva.”
Dick gripped his dressing table with white knuckles. “Please, ‘Tasha, I’m not in the mood.”
Natasha walked quietly over to the dressing table and put her hands on his shoulders.
“What is wrong, tovarisch?”
Dick stared down at the cluttered table. He could smell her perfume mixed with greasepaint. “Please go. I’m just tired.”
She squeezed Dick’s shoulders. “All right, but if you need to talk, you know where to find me.”
After she had left, Dick stared into the mirror. His nerves were on edge since he had received the blackmail note. He could gather five thousand dollars, though it would make a considerable dent in his savings. He was still waiting for a note with further instructions a week later and the uncertainty was getting to him.
What worried him was that after he paid the money, more would be demanded. Wasn’t that always the way with blackmailers?
He got up and began pacing. He simply could not tell Natasha or Bruce about the note. They were good people, but sometimes even good people became irrational over the subject of Gypsies.
I couldn’t bear it if I saw disgust in Bruce’s eyes. He wiped his brow. He was working himself up into a fevered state. I’d better go back to the hotel and try and get some sleep.
The next night Dick consented to go out with Bruce. It was a large party that left the theater: Bruce, Dick, Alfred, Natasha and Clint as they headed for a late supper at The Red Slipper. Dinah and Ollie were waiting for them at the restaurant, eager to be introduced to Natasha.
When they arrived at the restaurant, they discovered that Ollie had requested a private alcove table. The Queens stood to greet their guests.
Natasha immediately strode toward Dinah, who met her in the center of the alcove. They sized each other up like two prizefighters in the ring, Bruce thought with amusement.
Two divas at the height of their powers. Should be an interesting night.
He glanced at Dick. While heartened at his lover’s acceptance of the Queens’ invitation, he knew that something was still wrong.
Maybe a relaxing evening out will help.
After everyone was seated and had ordered, Dinah asked, “A wonderful performance last night, Miss Romanoff. Your talent shines on-stage.”
“Thank you, Miss Lance.” Natasha had been told about Dinah’s stage identity and she deliberately used her unmarried name as one professional woman to another. “I know that your voice is one of the finest in the business.”
“Thank you, my dear.”
Ollie and Bruce exchanged amused looks as Clint hid his smirk behind his champagne glass, Alfred studied his place setting, and Dick coughed into his napkin.
The women exchanged flattery as they verbally circled each other. Would there be only one Queen Bee left standing or could they co-exist?
The men were smart enough to stay out of the women’s way. They enjoyed a sumptuous meal of grilled fish and fresh asparagus in butter sauce with creamy au gratin potatoes sprinkled with red pepper flakes. French bread with country butter was piping-hot. Champagne bubbled in fluted glasses as Natasha and Dinah parried and feinted.
“So, Bruce tells me you’re related to the Czar?” asked Dinah.
“Da. I am cousin to Nicholas.”
Bruce was amused by how thick Natasha’s accent had become this evening.
“That must be exciting, to have an entree into the Court of the Czar.”
“It is of interest, yes.” Natasha ate a piece of fish. “But surely you have performed before the crowned heads of Europe?”
“Quite often.” Dinah sipped her champagne. “And more glitter in places like New York and San Francisco.”
“Do they really love opera all that much in America?”
“Some do. Star City is building up a fine company, and Gotham is planning to do the same.”
“They sound like quaint cities.”
“Star City might be, but Gotham is more Gothic than quaint.”
“It’s true.” Bruce smiled nonchalantly.
“Do you dance, Miss Lance?” asked Natasha.
“Yes, but nothing like you.”
“Well, I sing in shower, but have no Canary Cry.”
Both women chuckled. Ollie waved his handkerchief in relief and Dick grinned. Bruce smiled in agreement. Seeing Natasha and Dinah find common ground was a good thing for all concerned.
Dinah lifted her glass. “To artistic talent that makes our lives better.”
The men lifted their glasses and Dinah clinked hers to Natasha’s. Everyone drank and Natasha declared, “Ah, toasts! Delights the Russian soul. We must have vodka someday.” Her eyes sparkled. “Now, I propose toast. To good friends, who with vodka make everything right.”
“Hear, hear!” Ollie said, and glasses were clinked again.
Bruce clinked glasses with Dick, glad to see that his lover was taking part in the gaiety. Dick’s eyes were bright as he smiled; a welcome change from the last few days. He hoped that it meant that Dick was no longer troubled.
The rest of the evening went well, and when the party broke up Bruce asked him, “Come back to the hotel with me?”
Dick squeezed his hand. “I have to get up early for rehearsal tomorrow.”
“Okay.” Bruce squeezed back. At least the excuse for not seeing him was a legitimate one. “See you later.”
The next morning Bruce was on his way out to meet Ollie and Dina at the Arc de Triomphe when a messenger handed him a note. He tipped the boy and opened it.
Dick did not show up for rehearsal this morning. Could you please stop by the hotel and see if he is all right?
Bruce had a key and after knocking several times without a response, he let himself in. The room was dark as the drapes were still drawn. The maids had not come around yet.
A moan lured his attention to the bed. “Dick!” Another moan met his exclamation. He opened the drapes and light streamed in. The blanket was pulled up to Dick’s chin and he was shivering. His skin was flushed and clammy.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Bruce said sadly. He put his hand on Dick’s brow. “You’re burning up!”
Bruce sent for a doctor. He wet a washcloth and wiped Dick’s face. “Should’ve known with your too-bright eyes. Damn it, Dick, why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”
Bruce let the doctor in ten minutes later. The man sported muttonchop sideburns, his white hair carefully slicked down. His clothes were expensive, so he must have a successful practice, Bruce thought. At least he hoped so.
Dr. Philippe Gateau seemed to be competent, using a stethoscope to listen to Dick’s heart and doing other medical things that satisfied Bruce. Gateau finished his examination and put his stethoscope away in his black bag.
“He has caught the grippe, I am afraid. Probably brought on by exhaustion.”
“So what can be done?”
“I will leave a draught and a prescription for more. Keep wiping him down. I will inform the hotel manager to keep the maids out until the young man has passed the crisis. They can leave food and other items outside your door.”
“Because he’s contagious?”
Gateau nodded. “But he’s young and strong. He’s one of those dancers at the Ballet Magnifique, isn’t he? My wife dragged me to see a performance last week.”
“He’s the star, along with Miss Romanoff.”
“Yes, I remember her quite well.” The physician wrote on his prescription pad and ripped off the top page, handing it to Bruce. “If you require more, you can send a messenger around to the chemist. My number is also on the pad. I have a telephone, but if the hotel’s telephone is out, there is my address to send a messenger in case I am needed. I will also leave a thermometer. If his temperature reaches 103 degrees, do not wait to send for me. Have him transported to St. Joan d’Arc Hospital right away.”
Bruce noted the instructions. “Doctor, I need to send a message to friends I was supposed to meet. Also a note to my butler. Could you see that the manager gets them?”
“Certainement.” Gateau took the note after Bruce hastily wrote the missives. “Adieu, Monsieur Wayne."
Once the doctor departed, Bruce took a fresh cloth and wiped Dick down. He cared little that Dick was contagious. He would not have left him even if he had the bubonic plague.
He settled in for a long haul, trying not to panic. The grippe could be inconsequential or fatal, depending on what Alfred called ‘the turn of the wheel’. He would stay and help Dick get through this. The wheel would turn their way if he had anything to say about it.
Bruce kept the drapes open so that he could see the stars. Notes from Alfred, Ollie and Dinah had arrived earlier that day, slipped under the door. He had asked Alfred to go and tell Natasha the news. She had sent a note of her own, all of them offering help if necessary. He had sent notes back assuring them that he would send for them if he needed their assistance.
“No…Mama…Papa…leave them alone!”
Dick thrashed violently, fighting some terrible enemy. Bruce grasped his shoulders, trying to calm him, but Dick gasped and pleaded, tears running down his cheeks.
Finally Dick collapsed, more from exhaustion than anything else. Bruce sat in his chair as the moonlight spilled into the room, illuminating a very pale Dick.
He could not imagine life without this beautiful soul. Dick soothed the rage and anguish that had burned for years inside him.
Something terrible happened to his parents.
His heart ached, a pain that he knew well. He brushed the hair back from his patient’s brow. He wished that Dick would tell him what had happened. Of all people, he could help.
He sighed and stood up, stretching stiff muscles. He walked around the room and spotted a new note that had been slipped under the door. He bent down and picked it up, unfolding it.
Bring the money next Friday at 1:00 to the Gardens of Versailles. Place it under the cupid fountain and walk away.
THE BLACKEST HEART
In the shadows,
Whispering his words
Sir Albert Torvath
“The Blackest Heart”
Bruce was shocked. He started down at the note he held, its ugly words illuminated by the moonlight. His hand shook and he was tempted to crumple it up and throw it into the fire.
He looked over at Dick. What could his sweet soul have done to warrant blackmail? His heart pounded as all manners of terrible possibilities flittered through his mind.
Or is this a grave injustice somehow?
Bruce’s mind was in a whirl. He sneezed and realized that he had used his handkerchief awhile ago to wipe Dick down while the washcloth dried. He needed to find another one.
Bruce opened the top dresser drawer. Nothing except Dick’s shirts. He went down to the next drawer and did a quick rummage, knocking his hand against a small box. The lid sprung open and Bruce’s eye was caught by the glint of moonlight off a piece of jewelry nestled inside.
Looks like a ring. He lifted it out. No, an earring.
He wondered who it had belonged to. An old girlfriend, perhaps? She must have lost one of the pair.
He held it up to the light. It was plain gold but well-made. He frowned. Something about this earring…
Then he remembered. He had seen the exact same earring worn by the boy he and Dick had rescued from a beating by thugs last December in Russia.
That boy was a Gypsy!
He looked over at Dick in the bed. He clenched the earring tightly.
Finally he replaced the earring in its box and put it back in the drawer, grabbed a handkerchief, and closed the drawer. He went back to the chair by the bed and sat down slowly.
Dick eventually recovered, abashed at Bruce staying at his side. Bruce said nothing about the note while Dick was still ill, but the deadline in the blackmail note was fast approaching.
“Glad to see you feeling better.” Bruce sat comfortably in his familiar chair next to the bed.
“I am very glad to be feeling better, believe me.” Dick grimaced as he tried to get comfortable.
Bruce took a deep breath. “I dislike bringing this up while you’re still recovering, but there’s no help for it.” He took the note out of his jacket pocket. Dick’s face paled, a ghastly sight as he had been pale to begin with. He took the note with shaking hands.
He read it quickly, then started down at the blanket. “So you know.”
“Yes.” Bruce touched Dick’s shoulder and felt him flinch. “Why didn’t you tell me you were being blackmailed?”
“And tell you…?” Dick lifted his head and Bruce drew in his breath as he saw his lover’s haunted eyes.
“I know that you’re a Gypsy,” he said gently.
Dick flinched again. “Roma.”
“It’s what we call ourselves.”
Dick leaned back against the pillows. “I understand that you’ll be dropping me. I just ask that you keep my secret.”
Bruce’s mouth opened in astonishment. “Why would I leave you?”
“Because I’m Roma.”
Bruce grabbed Dick’s arm. “Listen to me. I don’t care that you’re a Gypsy, or Roma, or whatever. I love you!”
Dick blinked. He looked very tired, and Bruce thought that it was not just a result of his illness. How long had he worried about this before he fell ill? It probably helped bring on his collapse.
“You can’t mean that. If it was discovered that you were involved with a Roma you’d be drummed out of Society, not to mention that I’m male, but even if people didn’t realize we were romantically involved, it would still go badly for you.”
“First of all,” Bruce said calmly, “we aren’t going to let the world know our romantic business, and secondly, even if inversion was accepted but your heritage was not, I would never give you up, Society be damned!”
Dick’s eyes blurred with tears. His illness was making him weepy. Bruce handed him his handkerchief and Dick wiped his eyes and blew his nose.
“Where do we go from here?” Dick asked, hiccuping a few times.
“We plot to capture the blackmailer.”
“He wants you to make the drop in the Versailles Gardens.” Bruce’s eyes gleamed. “We’ll have to bring Dinah and Ollie into this. Alfred is a given.”
“I…” Dick looked supremely uncomfortable.
“Dinah and Ollie can be trusted,” Bruce said gently. “I’ve known Ollie since we were kids, and Dinah for a very long time.” Bruce tapped his knee as he thought this out. “Natasha and Clint, too.”
“Good. And I’ve seen their archery skills. They would be quite useful.”
“So, what’s the plan?”
Bruce smiled with almost feral intensity.
Dick was still weak but he was necessary to carry this operation off. The seven of them met in Bruce’s hotel suite, Natasha taking note of the Gardens layout as drawn in a brochure advertising tours of Versailles.
“We need to be stationed around the Gardens but not be obvious.”
“Agreed,” said Clint. He and Ollie had hit if off right away when Bruce mentioned Clint’s archery skills. Ollie had talent in that area himself and immediately fell to discussing its finer points with the stagehand.
Bruce was grateful that his friends did not let class distinctions interfere with life. So many of those in Society did, and the British were ten times worse.
Most of all, he was grateful that everyone was okay with Dick’s heritage. It would still have to be kept secret, as the general public would never accept a Roma as star of the ballet, but otherwise there were no problems within the group. He was very proud of his friends.
“We should choreograph this,” Dinah said. “Like a ballet.” She smiled at Natasha and Dick.
“Da. That is what we must do.”
Planning went smoothly, Bruce ordering tea and pastries to be sent up. Dick was looking pale but determined to hold up his end in this little drama. He was center stage, a place that suited him, as the only one they wanted the blackmailer to notice in the Gardens.
“Dick makes the drop,” said Ollie. “Dinah and I will be close by, to the west, and Natasha and Clint will be the couple to the east. Alfred will be south and Bruce north.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Clint drawled.
“Better be a good one,” Bruce said. “We can’t let this guy get away.” He and Dick exchanged weighted looks. Even though everyone knew Dick’s secret, they still shared a link that no one else did. It made Bruce feel warm inside.
“We have to plan for all eventualities,” said Natasha. “What if the blackmailer does something unexpected? What is our response?”
“Do we stay anonymous or reveal ourselves?” Dinah asked.
“Depends on what the blackmailer does, I should say,” Alfred said calmly.
“Yes,” Bruce agreed. “I think we should expect to break our facades once the cretin shows up and we grab him.”
“We will have to be subtle, however,” Natasha persisted. “If we are obvious, we will scare off the blackmailer.”
“Good point.” Ollie frowned. “Dick, you’re certain you don’t have any idea who’s blackmailing you?”
Dick shook his head. “No one but Natasha and Clint know about me, or at least that’s what I thought.” He sighed and crossed his arms. “While I thought I was safe, of course nothing can be one hundred percent.”
Bruce hurt as he clearly saw Dick’s pain. What must it be like to keep such an enormous secret, hated simply for who you were? He knew that some people resented him for his wealth and privilege, but not his heritage.
He supposed it was very much like being a Negro back home, hated merely for the color of their skin. He kept his counsel, of course, because he doubted that Dick would appreciate his thoughts being vocalized in front of everybody.
“All right, then. Let us time this thing out,” said Natasha. “At fifteen minutes before noon, Clint and I will…”
Bruce listened to Natasha while watching Dick. He had to admit that his cheerful, sunny lover could hide his feelings very well when he wanted to do so. Could it have been a lifetime of hiding his secret that made him so skilled?
After everybody had left, Bruce helped Dick into bed. His lover was exhausted and needed rest before the events of the next day. Bruce plumped up the pillows and Dick rested back against their softness. As Bruce pulled up the covers, Dick grasped his arm.
“Did you really mean it? About loving me?”
Bruce’s expression softened as he felt his heart quicken. “Yes,” he said simply.
Tears shimmered in Dick’s eyes as he smiled shakily. “Me, too.”
Bruce pulled Dick into a tight embrace.
Nothing would stop them now.
THE GARDENS OF VERSAILLES
The air is light,
As the sweet scent
The grass bows
All shall know
That winter fades.
“A Lovely Spring Day”
The Gardens of Versailles were even more beautiful than the Palace itself. The Hall of Mirrors was certainly grand, almost a fairytale in its majesty and allure, but Bruce found the outdoors soothing, somehow.
He casually strolled through the Gardens, having already made a pass through this area earlier. He passed the Apollo Fountain and headed for a nearby bousquet, admiring the trees formally planted as a quincux. A light breeze blew through the grove as Bruce turned back toward the fountain.
He studied the magnificent fountain as Apollo drove his chariot toward the sun. The depiction of Apollo reminded him of Dick, though his lover was not as broad-shouldered.
It was the sun motif that made Bruce think of Dick. When Dick was happy, which was more often than not, he reminded Bruce of sunshine. After years of gloom, he welcomed it.
He gritted his teeth. He resented this blackmailer darkening his beloved’s life with his foul greed. The man was also stupid. Dick had not been a premier dancer long enough to have accumulated a considerable fortune. Why not blackmail a wealthy person?
It was a vile business, blackmail. He was determined to free Dick from it as soon as possible.
The day was pleasant and the grounds immaculate. Bruce appreciated the Manor’s grounds back home. Perhaps contemplating trees and flowers soothed his nerves.
He moved casually, as if observing the beauty of his surroundings. He knew how to judge cultivated gardens and hoped that the blackmailer took no notice of him.
He could see Natasha and Clint several yards away as they played a young couple out for a stroll. Dinah and Ollie were playing the same role in the opposite direction. Alfred was discreetly examining blooms close to the Apollo Fountain.
There were other people around, enjoying the fine day and Gardens, but none of them looked furtive or otherwise suspicious. Most were couples, a few families, and the solitary men were dressed as gentlemen.
Dick sauntered into view, dressed conservatively for once. He admired the fountain and casually dropped a satchel by the base and wandered off as if he had not a care in the world. He was a consummate actor.
It was now up to the rest of them to keep watch. Dick had to disappear; otherwise the blackmailer would not show himself. It was a waiting game now.
Bruce contemplated a rosebush, inhaling the sweet scent of the flowers. He turned slightly to view the fountain. A small boy skipped over, too busy splashing his hands in the water to notice the satchel. An exasperated nanny appeared and scolded the boy, dragging him away from the fountain.
The sun was at its zenith as noon approached, and Bruce was grateful that it was still spring and relatively cool. Waiting in broiling summer would not have suited him.
He wished something would happen. Had the blackmailer spotted them and been scared off? Anything was possible in this wretched game.
There was a scream from several yards away. Bruce’s head snapped up as his heart pounded. Was that Dick? The person screamed again and this time he recognized it as a woman’s scream. He began to run.
He burst into a clearing and saw a young woman sitting on the ground as she sobbed. Her skirts billowed out on the grass and her hat was knocked askew. Her bodice was torn as she looked up fearfully at Bruce’s sudden appearance.
“A…a man accosted me!”
Dinah and Ollie appeared and Ollie asked, “What did he look like and where did he go?”
“He was…short, and dark-haired, dressed a bit shabbily. He went that way.” She pointed to the east.
Bruce and Ollie took off while Dinah stayed behind with the woman. They searched for ten minutes but found no signs of a man that the victim described.
Returning to the clearing, Ollie said regretfully, “We couldn’t find him, Miss.”
Dinah had helped the woman onto a stone bench. Wisps of red hair trailed from under her fashionable straw hat. Freckles sprinkled a pretty face.
“That’s all right. I was fortunate so many people were around to help.”
“Yes, well, we’re sorry we couldn’t catch him,” Bruce said.
Alfred appeared with a mildly distressed expression. “Sir, during the excitement, the satchel was taken.”
Bruce’s stomach dropped. “Then he knows it was a trap.”
Bruce cursed under his breath. There had been a little money on top of a stack of blank papers in the satchel in case that the blackmailer checked it, but nothing else. Now he would know that they had tricked him.
Dick, I’m so sorry.
As if conjured up by magic, Dick appeared. His blue eyes were wide as he asked, “What happened?”
Bruce took a deep breath. “Our man took advantage of a fortuitous distraction. He took the satchel.”
Dick’s expression froze. He knew what that meant.
The beautiful Gardens of Versailles suddenly became chill as a strong wind blew.