Disclaimers: Not ours. We're just their stalkers.
Spoilers: "A Better World," and references to
"Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker."
Summary: You don't exist in the Batfamily without
seeing things you never wanted to.
Ratings Note: R.
Authors' Note: I was joking with Livia about unauthorized
sequels to my own fic, and then she started writing
*this*. Like, out of the blue. Te hearts Livia.
Sequel to Reflections, and The Other Side available here:
Feedback is golden. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Regardless of when he goes to bed, Dick gets up every day at dawn and does a couple of laps around the park. It's good to watch the sun rise. To remember that it does happen -- every day, even. For a lot of his adolescence, the world was made of sunset and night.
He's taking a shortcut home through the alley behind the drycleaners when he feels it. Someone watching. He drops into a crouch and pretends to tie his shoe, casually glancing back.
There's no one there.
He stops and gets a paper at the newsstand on the corner. Nothing important in the news. Something...
Strange guy in jeans and a black t-shirt hanging out on the stoop of his apartment building. "Dick Grayson?"
Something *off* about this guy. Blond, jittery, way too lean. Not a junkie, though. Dick would be able to tell. "Who wants to know?"
"I probably shouldn't be here. I was just wondering." Jittery guy's eyes are red around the edges. "He ever fuck you?"
"Excuse me?" But of course he knows. This isn't anything he hasn't heard before. Even if it's usually from people he meets in uniform. People who don't, actually, know where to find *Dick*.
There's only ever one way to play this. He moves forward. "I don't know who you are, pal, but I think you need to get lost."
The guy just grins. There is something really off about him. Bruce would say that Dick's subconscious is picking up on a multitude of hints and cues -- body language, vocabulary, tone of voice. Dick thinks it's not that complicated. Sometimes you just *feel* things. Sometimes you just know when something's extremely, extremely fucked up.
He has his keys in his hand, pushes past the guy and into the lobby. Pulling the door closed, he looks up.
There's no one there.
He already knows he's not going to bother Batman with this.
The next morning the guy falls into stride with him on the way to the newspaper stand on the corner. Dick startles, hard -- he did *not* see this guy coming.
"I wouldn't ask," he says, grinning, "except for the other one."
"You sick fuck!" Dick has him by the collar, pushes him up against the raw board fence. There's no way, there's not. Not Tim. He'd *know*.
It's a little like being broken to realize he might have been watching for it, for just that shade of awful. That somewhere in the back of his mind, he'd asked himself *that* question, and it's wrong.
Because it's not --
It's *Bruce* and yeah he's so *completely* fucked up he redefines the words, but... Even though Dick would rather die than say it, Bruce is still the best thing that ever happened to him.
*Dick* at least is man enough to admit that.
And the blond is shaking under his hands, up against the wall. Watching him. Eyes quick and too bright, blinking too fast, and, somehow, *still* not the eyes of a junkie. It's hard to credit.
"Who *are* you?"
"You know me. I'm Jiminy Cricket." And the guy punches him in the side of the head and pushes him down sprawling and that should *not* happen, *nobody* moves that fast, without a warning, a giveaway twitch, and he's gone around the corner just as Dick rolls to his feet and.
There's nobody there.
Dick runs his tongue over his teeth, breathing heavy.
He is *not* going to bother Bruce with this.
Barbara visits Tim all the time. Alfred probably almost as much. Dick can't... It's hard to make time. To get out of the city.
God help him, but he really doesn't wish he could go more often.
He feels someone watching as he wheels his bike out of the garage. Pulls on his helmet and buckles it. He can't tell if it's real or if he's just jumpy.
The countryside outside Gotham is beautiful. Colors blooming as the smog and shadows fade. It doesn't make the fucked-up feeling go away.
Lakeshore Family Center is a two-hour trip. Dick sees fourteen cars, five trailer trucks and two other motorcycles. He doesn't see any of them twice. He's not being followed.
He confirms his appointment at the gatehouse, makes his way down the long, narrow drive, and parks the motorcycle around back of the old carriage house. It's a little out of the way, but he doesn't mind the slow walk up the hill to the lodge.
There's a fresh spring breeze off the lake, and lush grass under his boots. Oak trees line the path, old and majestic and trailing moss.
Not what Tim is used to.
But kids are resilient. They can adapt to a lot.
He remembers his first impression of Wayne Manor.
He signs in at the front desk. "I'm here to see Tim Drake."
The nurse smiles at him, and it's not noticeably awkward. Of course not. Bruce hires good people. "Certainly, Mr. Grayson. It'll just be a--"
"You don't know where he is."
Her mouth twitches. He can *see* her consider 'That Tim, he's such a scamp,' and decide not to try it. She presses her lips together. "I believe he's with Dr. Tevis. One moment, please."
He waits till she's gone and turns around to leave.
His friendly neighborhood stalker is waiting in the doorway.
Dick keeps his voice low. "Where is he."
He tangles his fists in the blond guy's shirt and shoves him out onto the porch, up against the railing. "Tim-- *where is he*?"
The sonofabitch *laughs*. "You know you sound just like Daddy when you--" He stops smiling when Dick jams his finger into a pressure point. "Ow, Jesus! I don't know! I just got here, I followed *you*, okay?"
"Because I saw the future. But I didn't see mine."
He's not smiling. He's just cocking his head to the side, blond hair falling into his eyes. Watching him with patient regard, and something like expectation. Like he's a mirror.
Dick never liked being anybody's reflection.
He backs off a little, though. "You're not gonna tell me what that means, are you."
There's something familiar about Jiminy's smile, something he's *almost* getting. Dick knows he's seen it before, in a file, on a screen, and that might help narrow it down a little if the computer files down in the Batcave weren't as psychotically comprehensive as they are.
Jiminy's darting eyes settle on him for a moment, and hold. "What happened to the kid?"
There's a cover story. Barbara helped work it out. Bruce Wayne's ward: kidnapped, traumatized. Not so far from reality. Not very far from the cover stories Dick used to tell the social service ladies, the counselors at school, the girls he dated.
Dick looks at Jiminy and his mouth dries up. He doesn't know what he's going to say when he opens it again. Bruce would call that a tactical error. "It wasn't Bruce. It wasn't--" But he can't explain without talking about that other life. "He never fucked me."
He gets a long, serious gaze, and then Jiminy turns away, nodding, still shaking. Running his hand back through his hair, pushing it away from his face. "Okay. Okay."
Then he looks over his shoulder and *grins* and Dick smiles back, half-reflexively -- Jiminy's is the kind that drags it out of you -- and then the smile falls off his face, because he *sees*. Remembers. Where he's seen that smile before. The *speed*. Of course. Idiot.
"Hey, look! Timmy!" The Flash points and Dick turns to look. Makes it a conscious act. Waits.
Doesn't wait long.
"Wait, nope, he's up on the roof of the boathouse. My mistake."
Dick breathes out. Looks out at the lawn, at the leaves spinning and settling in the wake of a spent breeze.
He puts a hand on the rail and vaults over it, dropping to the lawn. Follows the path marked by the displaced leaves.
Spends some quality time not-quite-thinking about Flash, about his own instincts and whether or not they're going to get him killed. Because he'd let (let?) Jiminy get too damned close. Because. He shakes his head.
At the edge of the lawn he looks back, but of course there isn't anybody there.
He's already pretty much realized that there's no way in *hell* he can ever tell Bruce about this.
Hey Bruce, you'll never guess who I ran into...
Hey, is there a reason that one of your teammates would ask me if you ever...
When was the last time you saw Tim?
Did you ever want to fuck me?
He laughs, walking under the trees, because he already knows what Bruce's response to that last one would be: Don't ask questions you already know the answer to.
He comes out into the sunlight again. He doesn't see Tim till the kid sits up, peering over the edge of the roof. The kid smiles like Bruce does. Like it hurts. "Hey, Dick. What brings you to Lake-bore?"
Dick smiles the same way he smiles back at Bruce. Like maybe it could actually fix something. Mean something. "Came to see you."
"Hm," Tim says and lies back down again, disappearing.
"You wanna come down?"
"You gonna make me come up there?"
Dick smiles and finds a few good handholds in the slate. Swings himself up over the gutter.
It's warm up here. He can see the appeal of this spot. Hidden, but not confined. Dick stretches out next to Tim, watching the few sparse clouds drifting across the sky.
"What do you see?"
He turns his head. Maybe he shouldn't make a big deal of it. "Nothing?"
Tim laughs at him. Stretches. He's getting so tall. "Tell me what you see? I get enough of that from Doctor Tevis."
Right. "I didn't mean --"
Tim punches him in the shoulder. Hard. He shuts up.
Stares up at the clouds for a while. "So, is Doctor Tevis cool?"
"Is he *cool?*" Tim sounds a little choked. He rolls onto his side, away from Dick, and makes a soft, broken sound. Stifles it. Is he -- "Fucking A, Dick, don't make me *laugh*--"
"Sorry. Shit." Dick covers his mouth with his hand. This is. Bruce *told* him that.
There's not a sound in the world except for the lake gently lapping on the shore. All Dick can do is listen until Tim gets it under control.
He gets it under control.
Good soldier, Dick thinks. It's the echo of a whisper that maybe he only ever heard when he was asleep, or unconscious. Before. Good soldier.
He shouldn't, he shouldn't, but of *course* he still thinks of Tim like that. He still thinks of *himself* like that. Shell shocked or AWOL, their lives are still defined by the war. Bruce's war.
It never ends.
Sometimes he has days where there's more of Bruce's voice in his head than his own. Some nights he has to admit that that's not all Bruce's fault. Not all his doing.
Dick listens to the water. Doesn't reach out to touch Tim. He tells himself he's going to stay at Lakeshore till the sun sets, and he does.
He rides home in the dark and pulls eighteen distinct sets of prints off the doorframe of his apartment building.
It's not complicated to narrow it down. To find what he's looking for.
Wallace Rudolph West. He has an place in Central City. Dick memorizes the address, closes his computer down and goes to the north wall of his apartment almost automatically. Stops himself just before he brushes his hand over the tracery that'll shift the sliding panel aside.
This isn't... business.
He rides out of Gotham in black jeans, a gray t-shirt and a black motorcycle jacket.
And part of him is wondering what this kid-- and okay, he and West are exactly the same age-- what this *kid* has that he never did. Why Bruce picked him. Because it's like that; it's got to be like that, despite the fact that he knows, *knows* that Bruce is too broken to be a part of anything like a normal relationship. Too broken to even want the same things Dick wants.
But Dick knows. Because part of him is wondering what exactly Bruce did to fuck West up so badly and part of him knows it really can't be anything else.
The fact that Wally knew how to find him -- knows his *name* -- is enough to make it certain. Jesus, Bruce. Just how *chummy* are you getting with your teammates these days, anyway?
But really it's just par for the fucking *course*. Dick's not in the loop any more. Not in the inner circle.
But he still knows Bruce would never --
Part of him hates West. Not for having Bruce, but for having Bruce and having doubts. Nobody who *knows* him would ever think he'd...
Not to Tim, anyway.
God, Bruce. What did you *do*.
And then he takes some time to hate himself for a while, and it's a long night's ride to Central City.
West's apartment is smack in the middle of a really cute neighborhood. Busy all morning with shoppers and joggers, kids on skateboards, pretty girls in short skirts walking in twos and threes. West comes out around ten o'clock and has breakfast in a cafe across the street. If what Dick knows about his metabolism is accurate, he'll probably be there for a while.
He goes in. He's thinking he'll have to catch the door as it swings shut behind one of Wally's neighbors, and he's pretty good at doing that kind of thing unobtrusively. But at the last second the girl turns around and pulls it open for him with an apologetic smile. "Sorry. Didn't see you there."
Dick smiles back. She takes the elevator. He takes the stairs.
He doesn't think he's ever going to get used to how *easy* it is to break into other superheroes' hideouts. Or, well, their apartments, as the case may be.
Bruce had always called it the 'natural overconfidence of the metahuman,' and yeah, there's something to that.
But Bruce is also -- and has always been -- really fucking paranoid.
It's not a comfortable thought that he's the same way.
It's worse than that, though, because. Because what he wants, right now, is just a few positive thoughts about Bruce. *Good* thoughts.
Because 'what did you do, Bruce?' just isn't one of those thoughts that close off on themselves and *end*.
And now that he knows the jittery little junkie boy is *West*, he also knows that he's *The Flash*.
He remembers the Flash. Just a few meetings when the man had gotten restless and wandered east, nothing like a real *conversation*, but.
But he never would've pictured the man behind the silly red suit looking like *that*. Being like that.
He looks around the apartment and it, at least, looks right. Predictable, even. Dirty clothes in messy piles, empty boxes of cookies and bags of chips.
Posters for bands Dick was too cool to listen to when he was *twelve*.
He smiles to himself.
It can't be *too* bad. Or else the place would look like...
(A Cave, whispers a singularly unwelcome part of his brain.)
He's not smiling anymore.
But he's got a job to do, unofficial or not, so he keeps moving. Avoids the things on the floor that look like they'll crush or crinkle, eases past the limits of the sun that just pours in on everything from the cheerfully (lazily?) uncovered windows.
The bedroom is easy to find, and here's where it starts sinking in -- *here*.
Because... it's a bed. And it's neatly made.
And there's no sound, not so much as a breath, but he knows he's not alone.
"What are you doing here?"
And the question is right, but the voice *isn't*. Dick remembers the way Bruce had wandered through the Manor after he and Barbara brought Tim home.
The way he'd never stopped *moving*.
"I could ask the same question, B --" Bites his lip *hard*, because, fuck, what the hell is he supposed to call him now?
And there's a long, long silence, followed by a rough little exhale. Batman -- *Batman* -- steps out of the shadows, and that has to be right, because the man is in uniform, and they *are* in, if not enemy territory, then at least neutral ground.
"You might as well call me Bruce here."
He sounds. He sounds *old*, and Dick swallows bile. Backs off a step.
And then another when he sees what Batman's holding in his hands.
One pair of red tights in serious need of repair.
One pair of black tights that are only a bit rumpled.
"Bruce. Bruce, what the *fuck*?"
And for a moment, he doesn't think Bruce is going to say anything at all, that Dick will be left to his own conclusions, that he'll fucking *strangle* the man, because those are *his* tights, and the red ones...
You only tore up -- *cut* up -- tights like that for one reason.
"Talk," he says, and he wishes he didn't recognize the tone in his voice. "Talk *fast*."
"These aren't yours," he says, and tosses them on the bed. "Not... not a you that existed. Here."
A moment's confusion, and then it all comes back. The League's 'new look.' The way they'd dealt with that monster in Metropolis. The suspicious lack of Batman *and* Flash.
He'd spent nights -- *days* -- scanning through every emergency channel, waiting for word.
Because *he'd* known, even if the rest of the world hadn't caught on.
But it had all ended without a call, and Dick had settled into himself to wait for whatever dribs and drabs he'd be able to drag out of Bruce on one of those Later Dates that happened less and less now, and.
Bruce is still holding the red tights.
"They're Flash's. Wally's."
Bruce still isn't looking at him, and after a moment, he starts to work the fabric in his fist.
"I hid them. I should've *burned* them. But I hid them, and Wally is... very quick. Very *thorough*, when he wants to be."
"What." He feels himself grimacing and smoothes out his expression as best he can.
Turns around in the doorway. Rests his hand on the doorframe. There's not enough room here to pace.
He turns back around.
"The other... there was another Batman."
"He took Flash. Wally."
"Yes," he says again, and his voice is flat, but his jaw is working.
Dick is very happy he can't see Bruce's eyes right now. "And he." He can't keep his face from twisting. "This is where you offer some cold comfort, Bruce. You tell me that they came from a world where up was down and the sky was green and the Joker was a social worker --"
He makes himself stop. Makes himself wait.
Bruce shakes his head. Just a little.
Dick nods, mostly to himself. "So. The reason why Wally is stalking me, the reason why he's a fucking *basket case*..."
"I did it."
And Dick... he really wants to hug himself, rock a little bit, maybe even fucking *hum*, but all he can do is nod. "I was there."
"What?" Bruce's head lifts, and then he looks down at his hands again. "No. You weren't... They were in the Cave, on a... In a case." A pause. "There were mannequins of all of you. Barbara, Tim..."
"*Christ*. Fucking *Christ*, Bruce, he *was* psycho!"
"No. He was just... alone."
"What. *What*? We were *dead*?" And it's sick, but dammit, even *that's* something to hold on to.
"No. You were just... gone. There were things that had happened there that haven't happened here, yet. I --"
"*Stop*. Just *stop*. I don't want to hear this, Bruce."
And Bruce rocks, just a little, on his heels. Bites his own lip. "All right."
"Get back to Wally. Why. Why are you here *now*?"
Steady again, all at once. Batman. "Because I have to be."
"Sure. Sure. And by the way, when's the last time you visited *Tim*?"
It's a good strike, he can feel it. But Bruce doesn't take the bait. "It's not about guilt. Not entirely."
He's. Pointedly, obviously, not looking at the bed.
And the bile is rising again, rising and rising and *choking* him, because.
Because it could've happened. No, *he'd* never fucked Batman, but he'd wanted to, *God* he'd wanted to. So much, and for so long, and Dick has always thought he handled it pretty well, considering.
They're not exactly *buddies* but it's not like *Dick* is some kind of non-functional mess.
It's not like...
He always figured that one day, he'd look back, and maybe not *laugh*, but maybe find some greater understanding of the giant fucking *freak* currently molesting a pair of ripped red tights. He'd be able to see Bruce as just a man. And even in his head, even now, he can't stop qualifying that. Not *just* a man. A brilliant man, an unstable man, a passionate man.
But, deep down inside, like any other man.
He'd look back on all the adolescent fantasies with fondness, and just a touch -- a nice, adult touch -- of heat.
Right now all he feels is fucking *sick*.
"Bruce," he says, when he thinks he can open his mouth without vomiting all over that neat, neat bed. "You have to know this is fucked up beyond all *measure* of comprehension."
And Bruce's jaw works for just a little longer and then he's... laughing.
And it's more than a little cracked, and it's more than a little *broken*, but it's a laugh. It's a laugh Dick can recognize. Can *feel*, in some warm part of him, regardless of how long it's been.
Regardless of everything.
It's a *Bruce* laugh.
"Yes, Dick, I know. I... I really do."
And that's... well, it's not enough, but it's at least familiar.
Familiar enough to let him look away. Walk out of the bedroom and head for the door. Wally won't be eating *forever*, after all.
Bruce lets him go without a word, and maybe that's just a little *too* much like the usual, because he has to stop with his hand on the doorknob. "Bruce. You... love him?"
Deep, shuddering breath. "I think so."
Dick nods to himself, shoving back the part of his brain with all the questions and confusion and the stupid, immature rage that has no place between them. At least, not here.
"It. It doesn't have to be terrible, Bruce."
Bruce doesn't give him anything back except silence.
Dick didn't really expect anything else.
Dick has always hated winter.
It's not about the cold -- Bruce has taught him everything anyone would ever have to know about insulating the *hell* out of a uniform -- so much as the ice.
And yeah, he's learned all about how to be careful on unsteady surfaces -- *long* before he'd met Bruce -- but ice just always seems vaguely *unfair*. Mother Nature's way of poking well-meaning vigilantes in the 'nads.
In any case, he hasn't slipped *yet*, but there are four different bundled-up thugs doing their damnedest to beat the hell out of him, and he knows it's only a matter of time.
Like, say, when he takes a punch to the back of the head.
Just enough time to bite off a curse before his left foot goes out from under him and the edge of the warehouse roof is suddenly a lot closer than it should be.
He looks at the men advancing on him and decides to go for it, swinging down to the street and ducking into an alley.
It takes the thugs a couple of minutes to get down after him -- and had he really used to get *upset* in the days they'd assume Robin would run away?
Was he *insane*?
No matter, there's enough trash here for him to keep his footing, as long he doesn't twist his knee again.
Which, of course, is exactly what happens when thug-in-the-toque lands a surprisingly, *annoyingly* well-placed kick, and it's time to get serious.
Or, it *would* be, if thug-in-the-Gryffindor-scarf and thug-in-the-enviable-parka weren't suddenly *zooming* backwards through the air, propelled by a red blur that *stops* just in time for the thugs to hit the wall.
And then it's down to toque and purple fuzzy earmuffs, and *that* doesn't take long at all.
And... he can't say he hasn't expected this, so he's not sure why he knots up a little at the sight of Wally -- Flash -- walking up to him. There's a smile hanging sort of halfway off his face, and Dick can't decide whether he's glad or not that he can't see his eyes.
But. The uniform. He knows how to play this.
"Thanks for the assist."
The smile gets a little wider. "Anytime." And then Flash looks around at the alternately unconscious or just plain groaning criminals. Looks back at him with a naked kind of hunger that the mask doesn't do a thing to hide. "Uh. Can we... I mean. Can we talk?"
Dick nods, ignoring the twist in his belly. "Yeah, just let me call this in."
The night dispatcher has *long* known his voice, but pretends she doesn't with a sort of winking fondness that makes Dick crave some of Alfred's peanut butter cookies.
The police will arrive before hypothermia sets in for the bad guys.
He cuffs them anyway, and turns to find Wally rocking back and forth on his heels, frowning vaguely at the ground.
Dick gets close enough to whisper. "My place. There's a slightly less... obvious entrance --"
"Around the back, hidden under a bush, yeah, I know."
Right. "Gimme a minute. I'll be there to let you in."
By the time he's got his Dick-clothes back on over the suit and the mask safely stashed, Flash has vibrated and paced a melted little path around the bush.
Dick waves him in, making a note to do a little damage control before people start moving around in the morning.
And then they're in, and Wally rips off the mask before he can say anything.
Scrubs a hand through his hair.
And Dick has had more than enough time and practice at surreptitious study to know how to do it right, but Flash -- Wally -- grins at him.
"Don't worry. I'm not... I won't go all nuts on you, I promise."
"I wasn't --"
A slyer smile. "Hey, I'm pretty much *living* with Batman these days, Dick. He doesn't let me..." Wally shakes his head. "Let's just say I'm used to it and leave it at that, okay?"
Why don't you call him Bruce? Dick nods. "Want some coffee or something?"
"Have any cocoa?"
Dick grins, a little helplessly. "Yeah, but only the cheap kind --"
"With the tiny marshmallow bricks?"
Another grin. "Perfect."
Dick boils a whole pot of water, and is glad for it, because Wally drinks cocoa like frat boys drink tequila.
"Doesn't that... burn?"
"Hmm?" Wally swipes chocolate from his upper lip, looks like he's giving serious thought to licking it off, then just wipes his hand on his uniform. "Oh. Uh. It's freaking *cold* here, man. Even for me."
"No insulation in your suit?"
"Insulation? That's *allowed*?"
And Dick can't help but laugh, but it's okay, because Wally's laughing, too. Almost easily.
He puts on another pot of water.
And then it's just quiet for a while, Flash drinking cocoa at near-normal speed and tapping his fingers on his knee.
Dick wants... he wants the kind of life where the words 'are you okay?' are perfectly acceptable parts of the English language, and not just invitations to vast, horrible trauma. He settles for, "So. Wally." Winces internally at the lameness.
"I... yeah. Dick. I wanted. Um." Shaky breath. "Look, I know I was a giant creepy *freak*, okay? And I wanted to apologize. You didn't. Deserve that."
Dick puts a hand on the man's shoulder, and wonders if the low-grade vibration is normal. "Hey, it's okay --"
"*No*. No. It wasn't. It was. I wanted." The vibration is heavier, almost alarming for a moment, but then he stills, all over. "I wanted to make someone hurt. I was. Really kind of a mess?" Small, shaky smile.
Dick squeezes his shoulder. "Well, you know, I've had *years* to deal with Bruce, Wally. You kind of got the concentrated version."
And Wally makes a face like he's bitten into a lemon, and Dick has time, *eons* of time to realize just what an insensitive *prick* he is. He's vibrating again. "Oh, man, Wally, I --"
"I didn't mean --"
And Dick's moving in closer, and he doesn't know if he's hoping for a hug or a solid punch to the jaw, but Wally is *laughing*.
Head thrown back and eyes squeezed shut and just... *gripping* his own stomach like he's afraid it'll detach itself from his body.
Now he's *definitely* hoping to get decked.
He doesn't bother to hide his wince. "Wally...?"
And the laughter trails off, settling into *giggles* before falling into a weird, atonal hum. And Wally sits up, blinks away the tears at the corners of his eyes.
Wipes the ones on his cheeks away with the back of his hand.
Smiles, slow and... it's not easy so much as inevitable. Wally has to smile, it's what he does.
"I did mention that I'm an asshole, right? I *thought* I had."
And Wally's squeezing *his* shoulder. "No, see, I just have this *image* in my head. Little canisters of Batman. 'Just add water!'"
Dick snorts. "'Fresh-squeezed Batman -- not from concentrate.'"
Another giggle. "Warning: More than twelve ounces of Batman per day can lead to blindness, tremors, and irreversible brain damage.'"
"Christ, you've got that right."
And for a moment, Dick thinks Wally's going to laugh again, but the sound is a lot closer to a sob than anything else, even though his eyes are dry again.
"I'm. I'm still pretty fucked up."
All he can do is nod.
"I just. I just wanted to meet you. *See* you, and. And Tim. I wanted... I had to know..."
Dick forces himself to hold the man's eyes. "I understand."
And the smile is back, small and hard.
Dick can see where the wrinkles will form, one day.
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess you do."
After a minute Wally takes his mug over to the stove and looks at the teakettle. Changes his mind and rinses it out under the tap.
"You know him better than I do."
"Bruce?" Dick asks, jealousy rearing its head again. No *shit*, Speedy.
"Tim. Actually." Wally says, and Dick kicks himself. Wally looks around for a place to put his mug, then just turns it over in his hands. "Do you think he's going to be okay?"
Still bristling a little, Dick's first instinct is to say 'none of your business.' But what the hell. Wally's... part of it now. "Barbara thinks so. Bruce..."
"Batman generally doesn't think anything's going to be okay." Another joke. Or it's meant to be, Dick thinks. But it falls flat between them.
"Tim's young," Dick says. "He's got time."
Wally nods. Shreds a packet of instant and pours himself another cup of cocoa almost absently. "Well, hey," he says. "They say I'm pretty immature."
Dick does smile at that. "That's what I hear."
Wally leans back against the counter, rolling his neck back to get the kinks out. "You got any good movies or anything?"
"Not a lot. Some."
"Put something on," Wally says. "You gotta have snacks here too, right? We can make a night of it. You can tell me embarrassing stories about Batman. We'll comb each other's hair..."
Dick blinks. "You want to hear embarrassing stories about Batman."
"I want this to be a lot less fucked up than it is." Wally says, and his hand is tight on his cup. He shrugs, looking up at Dick through his "But I'll settle for a little."
For just a second he sees what Bruce must see. That same insanely *open* look. Something he can only call *young*. And Wally's waiting, hopefully. Watching him. (I saw the future but I didn't see mine.)
Dick glances over his shoulder, out the window. It's starting to snow again. Nobody's going to be making any trouble tonight. "In that case," he says, "you're practically part of the family."
Wally grins at him, zips back over to the couch and settles in, legs stretched out and boots up on the coffee table. Dick gets up and heads over to the shelves next to the TV.
It's late. Tim must be asleep by now, in his big white bedroom at Lakeshore. Bruce, wherever he is, definitely *isn't* asleep. Barbara's somewhere Dick can't touch.
He thinks of mannequins all in a row.
Understands, more than he wants to.
Dick opens up the cabinet and runs his fingers over a row of DVDs that have been there mostly there for decoration, so far. Verisimilitude.
Thinks about Bruce, and about Wally, and does his best not to think about Bruce *and* Wally.
He has what he has, and it has to be enough.
There's a soft sound from behind him and he turns, surprised. Wally's asleep, sitting up and snoring, just a little.
Dick watches him for a moment, then sighs and shoves him into something resembling a comfortable position.
Covers him with his extra blankets.
Settles into a chair and watches him sleep.
Part of the family.