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greatest of ease

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“Hey,” a voice he doesn’t recognize says, and someone with really broad shoulders is standing in front of him. “Stop it.”

 

It takes Andri several seconds to realize Dick Grayson is standing in front of him, hiding Andri behind his back from Aaron’s snarling face and raised fist. They are in the hall. Not exactly crowded, but some people are staring. They wouldn’t usually — Aaron and his fuckboy pals bullying and shoving around freshmen and sophomores isn’t a rare spectacle — but with Dick Grayson in the picture, it might as well be a show.

 

Aaron sneers. But he doesn’t take a step forward. Of course he doesn’t — he isn’t that stupid.

 

“And what are you, his boyfriend?”

 

Dick Grayson — Dick fucking Grayson — looks at Aaron calmly and says, “so what if I am?”

 

Holy shit. Holy shit

 

Absolute silence for ten seconds (Andri counted) because this isn’t Andri Prasasti, unabashedly gay South-East Asian sophomore who got in Gotham Academy through scholarship — this is Dick Grayson. Straight As junior, billionaire heir, abs for days Dick Grayson. Whose dad is literally Bruce Wayne. You don’t call Dick Grayson a fag and punch him in the face. His dental healthcare is probably worth more than everything Andri ever posessed in his entire life. Probably. 

 

Dick Grayson (wow, Dick Grayson) whips back, looks at Andri and smiles so effortlessly perfect and he extends his hand, “let’s go,” he says, so easily, so fucking effortlessly. As if Aaron and his peers aren't worth his attention. As if Andri is worth his attention. 

 

Andri doesn’t have enough conscious thought to do anything but accept his hand. 

 

Grayson pulls him and they walk away. No one follows them. They get as far as the Lit hall where it’s empty enough before Grayson stops and lets go of Andri’s hand — unfortunate, that, Grayson’s hand is warm and calloused and very muscled and bigger than Andri’s in a nice way — and the smile slides off his face. He tells Andri, very seriously, “are you alright? I mean, of course not, but are you? Did they hurt you?”

 

“No,” Andri says, because they didn’t. Almost, and probably would if Grayson didn’t come like a knight in shining armor just in time, but they didn’t. “Thanks. Um, for that. Uh.”

 

Very articulate. Much smooth. 

 

Grayson stares at him, his eyes looking for something in his face and Andri just — can’t stand under a look like that from a guy who looks like he just stepped out of a fucking magazine cover, so Andri just looks away. 

 

“You shouldn’t listen to them,” Grayson says finally, and Andri zips up to look at him and Grayson laughs a little bashfully. “I mean. Okay, that wasn’t helpful, was it? I’m sorry. I’m just saying. They’re being absolute fucking dicks, you know? You shouldn’t listen to assholes like that. I’m sorry,” he adds, and he sounds so weirdly genuine that Andri does a double take, like he can’t believe this is happening. Because he can’t believe this is happening. “Do they do this a lot? Have you tried reporting them?”

 

Andri nearly laughs. Aaron Rockwell’s mother is one of Gotham Academy’s chairmen. Alexei Mikailov’s dad is one of the biggest donators the Academy has. So on and so forth. They and their pals, just like Dick Grayson, have more money than Andri can ever dream of having. Gotham Academy wouldn’t give a shit to some 80% scholarship charity case. Something in Andri’s face must’ve shown that, because Grayson’s face twists into something painful and he says again, “I’m sorry. I should’ve known better.”

 

It’s not your fault, Andri feels he should be saying. Not your fault I’m not ridiculously hot and white and adopted by the second richest man on earth. But instead he shrugs and he says, “they just had their fragile masculinity threatened by me, is all,” and the laugh he gets from Grayson at that makes him feel … better. 

 

Grayson holds out his hand and says sheepishly, “sorry, I haven't introduced myself. I’m Dick. Dick Grayson, junior year.”

 

Andri blinks at that. Everyone knows that, he wants to say. I stalk your instagram before bed, dude. But instead he shakes his hand. “Andri Prasasti, sophomore. Also, stop apologizing. You’ve done that four times.”

 

Grayson — Dick — grins, crookedly, flirtateous and boyish and everything fucking perfect. “Sorry,” he says, and he doesn’t sound sorry at all. 

 

It sounds like teasing.

 

“Stop that,” Andri says.

 

“Stop what?”

 

“I’m not immune to white boy charms.”

 

“I’m not white.”

 

Well, shit. “Oh,” Andri says eloquently. 

 

“Don’t worry,” Dick says easily, and nothing on his face shows he’s offended at all. “You aren’t the first to assume.”

 

Still. “Sorry.”

 

“’s okay. I’m charming, though, huh?”

 

Andri — fucking hell — blushes. Before he can retort though, the bell rings, and Dick says, “fuck, I have chem,” and then Dick tells him seriously, “if they bother you again, tell me, okay? I’ll see what I can do,” and just like that, he zips through the hall and disappears like a dream as if he didn’t just gives Andri the biggest fucking crush ever in his pathetic 16 years of life.

 

What can Dick do, anyway, about his situation? He is a billionaire’s son, granted, but. How can Andri even like, tell him? He doesn’t even have his number (shit, why didn’t Andri ask for his number? Why is he an idiot?). It’s not like he can just dm Dick’s insta — revealing that Andri has, in fact, followed him for a year and liked all of his posts — hey, this is Andri, the sophomore from recess you just saved Wattpad One Direction fanfic-style? Have I told you you have wonderful abs?

 

“Dude,” Sasha says to him in calculus, eyes big and excited. “Is it true that you blew Dick Grayson in the janitor closet?”

 

Andri chokes. “No. What the — no.”

 

Sasha sighs. “Pity.”

 

A part of Andri agrees. Pity indeed. “Who said that?”

 

“Steven McCunnel.”

 

Great. 

 

But the rest of the day, no one bothers him. Some look at him weirdly, weirder than usual, but now with something like — like jealousy, especially the girls — but no one bothers him. He even ate his lunch in peace, for the first time in months.  

 

Across the room, Dick Grayson enters the cafetaria with a pretty redhead — and heads immediately whip, because probably everyone in school at some point has a crush on Dick Grayson since he hit puberty a year ago. Andri immediately ducks to his pancake (cheapest on the menu) to hide his stupid blushing face. When he looks up, though, Dick is looking at him, and he smiles and waves and Andri just stupidly raises his hand and does a movement that resembles a wave, but also a seizure. Then Dick smiles bigger and waves more excitedly. Then he looks away and talks to his pretty redhead friend like he didn’t just. Give Andri a heart attack. Like. Like it’s normal to just

 

Andri looks away to find Sasha and Anita and Sheila and Thomas stare at him.

 

“What the fuck was that.”

 

“Dri. Dri, I swear to fucking god.”

 

“Did he just do that?”

 

“Andri, I swear to fucking god.

 

“You said you didn’t blow him!”

 

I didn’t!

 

“I knew it,” Anita says, looking oddly triumphant. “I knew he was bi!”

 

Jesus. “Look, okay, he’s — “ straight? Dick did flirt with him a little, didn’t he? Was that flirting? “ — okay, I don’t know if he’s straight or whatever, but we didn’t. He just. We didn’t. Aaron and his douchebags bothered me a little, and Dick just showed out of nowhere and kinda, helped me out, and we talked a bit.”

 

“I’ll beat the shit out of Aaron,” Sheila says seriously. 

 

Thomas rolls his eyes. “Shei, you weigh like, 99 pounds.”

 

“I’ll still do it.”

 

Anita looks massively disappointed. “You didn’t blow him?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Shame.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Andri looks discreetly to the table where Aaron and his fuckboy pals sit and finds Aaron himself glaring at him — and then looking away.

 

What are you, his boyfriend?

 

So what if I am? Dick said.

 

Huh.

 

Andri sighs, and opens his phone so that he wouldn’t catch himself staring at Dick. One instagram notification.

 

He finds that @flyingdick  — verified, 840k followers (followed by Bruce Wayne, Sheila Choi, Gotham Finest and 70 more) — dm-ed him a hey! it’s Dick. the charming one? <poop emoji>. And followed him back four minutes ago. And liked all of Andri’s posts.

 

You’re my instagram crush for a year, dammit, stop doing this to me, Andri wants to reply. Instead, he finds the rolling eyes emoji and clicks send. 

 

Dick responds with three poop emojis.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Stop," she says.

 

The boy stops almost immediately. It seems so sudden. The direct obedience feels too mechanical to be human — one moment he is beating the shit out of the man, fist swinging so mercilessly fast it looks like a blur — and the next he’s as still as a statue. Or he would seem so, if it isn’t for his shoulders rising and falling in a rapid rhythm. Anger manifesting in quick succession of breath. 

 

“Alright,” the boy says, his voice quiet and empty.

 

(There is ringing in her ears. The boy’s stopped, but she can still hear it. The nasty thump thump thump of flesh meeting flesh. It takes her a moment to realize it’s her own heart, flapping like a dying fish inside her ribs.)

 

The boy’s fist is still in the air — even from where she’s standing behind him, she can see the skin, blistered red, slick under the low alley light. He has his left hand holding the man in his shirt. He lets go. Thump. The man falls to the ground, head lolling, mouth open and bloody. Moaning. 

 

(Not nearly the same way he was moaning in her ears earlier, alcohol and smoke in his breath, moaning come on come on come on stop crying you little bitch — )

 

The man's face is absolutely wrecked. She sees teeth on the ground. And blood. A pathetic noise wrings out of her throat.

 

"Alright," the boy repeats. And then he turns — there are little spots of red on his face. Blood. His face looks — it's twisted, terribly furious she shivers at the sheer harshness of it. It looks wrong on a face so young. And then he looks at her, and that absolute anger disappears and he looks just — anguished.  “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m so sorry.”

 

She wants to say: don’t be. She wants to say: thank you, thank you so so much. She wants to say: get away from me — don’t look at me — please don’t look at me, oh god —

 

Her throat is all closed up and she is choking and she is crying. 

 

He jerks forward — that wrecked expression still on his face —  like he wants to hug her, or something, touch her, but then he stops shock still in his place. She is still shaking, and her knees feel like mush and she falls and the boy is there — holding her shoulders, keeping her from hitting the ground. And she is fucking shaking and she grabs the lapels of his shirt and sobs into his chest. It's a pathetic sound. She stays like that for five minutes. Maybe for an hour. It doesn’t seem like it matters, she is just — she just fucking can’t.

 

"I'm so sorry," he says again. And then he says, "it's okay. It's okay. It's okay." 

 

The man on the ground isn't moving. 

 

"I'll call the police," the boy says, and she shakes her head. That's the last thing she wants, the last thing she needs. "No," she snaps, but it’s more like she is wailing the word out. "No, no, no. Please, no. Just," she sobs, and she is crying again and she hates it. She fucking hates it. Fucking hates how weak she sounds, how weak she is. “I can’t — I can’t —“

 

“Okay, it’s okay — it’s okay, I won’t,“ he murmurs until she stops shaking her head, stops saying no, until she is just. There. "Do you want me to take you home?" 

 

She looks at him. Behind her tears, he looks back. He has blue eyes. He is young. He is just a boy.

 

She nods. She doesn’t trust herself to say anything. 

 

"Okay," he says again. “Okay. Can you stand? I'll hold you a bit, if that's — if that's okay?"

 

He takes off his jacket and puts it around her, covering her — covering her mangled shirt (Look at you, the man said, and he was touching her and it’s disgusting and he was tearing her shirt apart, and he said, dressed just like a slut). She's still leaning onto him, her knees wouldn't stop fucking trembling. 

 

“It’s okay,” he tells her, and she wants to believe him. She wants to believe him so fucking bad. 

 

The next thing she knows, she's in a cab.

 

"Where to?" he asks her. She opens her mouth, and closes it. "It's okay," he says. "Take your time."

 

She does. It takes her an embarrassing five minutes to tell the cab driver her address, and then they're on their way. 

 

Her hands are shaking, and she’s so cold and everything just — her vision blurs again — she just, she just feels so humiliated, scared out of her goddamn mind (you want it, don’t you? he said, spitting to her face, you want it, you want it)she just wants — everything to go the fuck away, she just —

 

“Hey, hey — no, no, no, come on. Breathe. Breathe. Look at me — look at me, please — ”

 

She looks. She is hyperventilating. The boy is holding a paper bag to her face. “Breathe, c’mon,” he tells her, and she does. She tries to, anyway. One choked up inhalation to another. 

 

“That’s it. Slow.”

 

Breathe. She closes her eyes. Breathe. In. Out. 

 

“You’re safe. You’re safe.”

 

She wants to believe that. She breathes until she does.

 

“Okay,” she says, her throat is dry and she sounds horrific. She huddles his jacket closer, focusing on how it feels (soft), how it smells (shampoo, books), and she breathes. “Okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”

 

He sighs — a relieved sound. He really is a boy — a high schooler, perhaps. He is wearing some kind of uniform, white shirt, light brown pants. He must’ve just gotten back from school when he —

 

(She stops right there. She doesn’t want to think about it.)

 

They are sitting ridiculously apart. He is sitting so close to the cab door, and he is looking down to his shoes (his feet are tapping anxiously to the ground). Giving her space, she realizes. He doesn't try to touch her. 

 

She is glad for that.

 

“Thank you,” she manages. 

 

He looks at her. And then he offers her a smile. It’s small. Looks a little sad. He shakes his head. “I wish I could’ve —“ he stops, and he looks away, back to his shoes. “Don’t worry about it,” he says.

 

They sit in silence, and then the cab stops. The boy gives the driver a ten. She tries to protest at that but her voice is weak, and she is so fucking tired and he tells her again, “don’t worry about it. Please.” 

 

She gets out, with some difficulty, and her feet sway right when they hit the ground — fucking get it together, she thinks to herself. The boy is there, a steady presence just far away enough from her before she hits hysterics. He doesn’t try to touch her.

 

They take the stairs to her shitty apartment — get it together, fucking get it together — and then she's fumbling with her keys. She can't do it. God, she can't even open her own fucking door, she's just shaking so much, get it together, get it fucking together, god damn it —

 

"It's okay," he says, for what must have been the hundredth time. "It's okay." 

 

She is okay.

 

She takes a deep breath. He doesn't try to take the keys from her. Doesn't try to touch her. She is okay

 

She tries her keys again. The door opens. 

 

She enters. He stands in the doorway. He doesn't try to enter.

 

"I'm Emily," she says. 

 

He looks at her, surprised. And then he smiles, and it looks happier, bigger. ”I’m Dick."

 

She can't help it. She snorts.

 

"Rude," he says, sounding hurt, and she’s fucking laughing, her snort evolving to a full blown laughter. It sounds hysterical. She feels hysterical. "How could you?" he dramatically puts his hand to his heart with a little offended shake of his head — enough mirth in his voice so she knows he’s faking it. He is using his right hand. His knuckles are bleeding.

 

Emily laughs until her stomach hurts, and then she's crying again, but she feels. Not better, but. A little lighter.

 

(He still doesn’t try to touch her. No one should. No one should try to touch her without her wanting them to.)

 

She wipes her eyes with the heel of her hands. Takes a deep breath. 

 

She looks at him. He looks back. He is smiling, just a small curve of his lips, and he looks old. Much older than he has any right to be. ”Are you going to be okay?" his voice is quiet. 

 

"No," she says honestly. "But I think I will." 

 

He nods. He takes a scrap paper out of his back pocket - a bookstore receipt, she will find out later, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard Feynman - and scribbles on it with a pen from his breast pocket. It's a fancy fountain pen. 

 

"Here," he gives it to her. It's his number. And his name. Dick Grayson

 

"Uh. Call me if you need anything," he says, and he rubs his neck, looking a little shy, and he suddenly looks more like a boy again, and less like a man with a whole world on his shoulders. "I mean - I'll try to help. Anyway that I can. I’m, I'm sorry, I know it’s not much, but —”

 

“No, it’s — thank you. Really,” she means it. “It means a lot.”

 

He smiles. With teeth, this time, and it looks wonderful. She feels lighter again, just a little more.

 

She gestures unsurely to her apartment. “Would you, like to — "

 

"Oh, no," he says politely, a mannered automatic response. “I wouldn’t want to impose — except, if you need anything? Do you want me to stay until — "

 

"Oh no," she says hurriedly. "No, no, you don’t need to —” she pauses. He pauses.

 

They stare at each other awkwardly and then Emily laughs a little. Less hysterical, but she can breathe a little easier. Just a little. He laughs too, a boyish little sound.

 

She’ll be okay. Not now, maybe, but she will. 

 

“Well. I'll, uh. I'll better get going."

 

"Thank you," she says, and she says it again, because she really does mean it. "Thank you.”

 

He gives her one last smile. “Don’t worry about it. Please.”

 

It's not until two hours after he left that she realizes she still has his jacket on her. It's a Gotham Academy blazer.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Thursday, March 13th — Pictured above, Jackson Smith, age 37, has been arrested for seven alleged sexual harassment cases. Police Officer Harvey Bullock has revealed that an anonymous tip has helped the arrest possible. “We Gothamites have got to help each other," he said. "Especially against cases like sexual harassment. If we truly do wish to make this city a better place, we need more good Samaritans to help our cause."

 

The number of sexual harrassment in Gotham City has fluctuated in the past two years —

 

 

Emily puts Gotham Times down. She knows that face. She doesn't think she will ever forget. Her hands are shaking again. And then she realizes she is smiling.

 

She pulls out her phone.

 

Dick, she types, fingers trembling, and she is smiling so wide it splits her face, have you read today’s paper?

 

 

Chapter Text

"Is he — doing what I think he's doing?" Anita squints to the distance. She can't see all that well without her glasses. 

 

"Unless I died and went to heaven five minutes ago, then yes," Sasha says, her voice a little hoarse.

 

Dick Grayson waves at them and walks to their table. He isn't stopping until he is right in front of them, all six feet of him. He looks even better than the pictures, somehow. A little tanner. Leaner. Fuck.

 

"Hey," Dick says, putting his tray down. "Mind if I sit?"

 

He isn't wearing his blazer, and his white shirt has its sleeves rolled up. They do good things to his biceps. The pictures don't do his biceps justice, either. It's ridiculous. He is like, their age. Why is he fit like that?

 

They stare. 

 

Anita is the first one to get her shit together. "Sure," she says, and he flashes her a smile that makes her want to die a little, and then he sits beside Andri. Andri makes a noise that's close to a squeak. 

 

They still stare. 

 

"I'm Dick," he says good naturedly, so casually, like he didn't just make all of their brains short circuit. "Dick Grayson."

 

"We know," Thomas says, and yelps when Andri punches him in the ribs. Andri clears his throat and says, "that's Thomas," Thomas still stares. Andri punches his ribs again, and then Thomas gives a two fingered salute. Dick leans forward and shakes Thomas' hand — who does that? — and they try their best not to stare at Dick's forearm. Dick also proceeds to do the same to Sheila, Anita, and Sasha. Sasha holds his hand a little too long. So does Sheila. And Anita. Andri looks like he wants to reintroduce himself again just so he can hold Dick’s hand.

 

"Hey, you're in my lit class, right? And lots of others, actually,” Dick says to Anita, whom is also a junior. “Funny we never talked. I liked your presentation on Beowulf." 

 

"Thanks," Anita says, and tries to play it cool. It's a miracle she can even concentrate in any of her classes at all with Dick Grayson sitting only a few rows in front of her, but she isn't going to tell him that.

 

"Anita said you have a nice — “ 

 

Anita steps on Thomas' foot before he finishes that sentence. Dick's perfect eyebrows rise. "Oh," he says, and the faintest blush appears on top of his cheekbones. 

 

Anita puts her forehead on the table and groans. 

 

"Is it true that Andri blew you in the janitor closet?" Sheila says a little too enthusiastically. Andri puts his forehead on the table and groans.

 

Dick's blush hits full force but he laughs, and he has a very nice laugh. A very, very nice laugh. And then Dick's smile turns sly and he says, "well, I don't kiss and tell."

 

"Dick!" Andri gasps, horrified.

 

"Andri!" both Sheila and Sasha gasp, the opposite of horrified.

 

"Just kidding!" Dick's still blushing, but his eyes are crinkled with laughter. "He didn't. We're just friends."

 

"Friends can give brojobs."

 

"Thomas, please shut up."

 

Dick laughs again. He has dimples. They try their best not to stare. 

 

Thomas clears his throat, and gestures vaguely to Dick's ridiculously fit self. "Do you, go to the gym, or what?"

 

"I do gymnastics," Dick says with a little humble shrug, like it's no big deal.

 

"Yeah?" Sheila says, and swallows. "You must be very. Um. Flexible — ” 

 

Sasha punches her in the ribs. Andri clears his throat aggressively and as a code for his friends to stop embarrassing themselves further, and potentially pushing Dick to the conclusion that he should stay away from them for the rest of his school years. Or possibly forever.

 

"That where you get that from?" 

 

Dick looks to his knuckles. They look kind of bad, the skin looks badly scraped, bruised. “Nasty fall,” he says, shrugging again. “Hurt like hell.”

 

Sasha and Sheila both sigh a little dreamily like it's the manliest thing they ever heard. Thomas clears his throat again.

 

"Oh, shit," Anita says, when her phone dings. "The Riddler got out. Again,” it’s the third time this month.

 

"Wait, for real?" they whip out their phones. "Fuck. I got a date at three!" 

 

"Damn, Thomas. You really are destined to be single forever." 

 

"Shut up.”

 

"They say he’s taking over that bank in front of the mall, with, some kind of … bubble gum … jail thing … you know what,” Anita stops. “I don’t even care.” 

 

"That's close to my place, how the fuck am I supposed to go home,” Sheila types furiously on her phone, possibly texting her mom. “Fucking Riddler."

 

“God, I hate this guy. Listen to this hippie shit,” Anita reads. “‘What has no beginning, end, or middle?’”

 

“A doughnut?” Dick offers. 

 

“Huh,” Thomas says, thoughtful. “Hey, that kinda makes sense. Now you just gotta tell Batman that.”

 

Dick shrugs, typing along on his phone like the rest of them, perhaps texting his limo driver of the predicament, or something fancy like that. “Could be wrong. I‘m sure the big guy can find out by himself, anyway.”

 

“Does Batman even go out like, in day? I thought he’s exclusively a night creature.”

 

“He’s a vampire,” Sasha says.

 

Anita gives Sasha a look that illustrates they’ve been having this argument a lot of times. “He isn’t a vampire, Sasha.”

 

“You don’t know that,” Sasha says, pointing a fork at Anita. “You don’t know that. He could be a werewolf or some shit. Dude can’t be human.”

 

“Vampires don’t exist. Neither do werewolves,” Anita says, finality in her tone.

 

“Oh, hell, here we go again,” Sheila mutters, drinking her slushie. 

 

“They have this debate a lot,” Andri tells Dick helpfully. “Sasha has this Tumblr blog where she tries to convince people that Batman is actually Vlad the Impaler.”

 

“I mean,” Dick says, propping his chin with his hand. It makes his bicep bulge. Andri tries to stare at it discreetly. “The Justice League has like, two aliens. Wonder Woman is some kind of a greek goddess, or something. Vlad the Impaler isn’t too far off, y’know?”

 

“Ha!” Sasha points at Dick like he is an art piece she made and is very proud of. “Hear that? Dick Grayson agrees. That’s indisputable argument.”

 

“And why is that?” Anita deadpans.

 

“Uh, because he’s hot?” Sasha looks at Anita like, duh, hot people gets a say. Dick faintly blushes again, rubbing his neck in this sheepish kind of way that makes him look impossibly endearing, like he doesn’t know that he’s hot, or whatever. Andri has to look away to keep himself from doing something stupid, like falling in love. I have legit photos of Batman sucking Penguin’s blood, okay — “ Anita scoffs “ — this theory makes more sense than the Bruce-Wayne-is-Batman one, anyway.”

 

Dick laughs. “I love that one,” Dick says, grinning lopsidedly. “I fucking love that one. I’m trying to convince Bruce to do Batman for Halloween.”

 

“I mean, what’s next? Kim Kardashian is Wonder Woman?”

 

They snicker. Anita looks like she’s holding a laugh, and failing.

 

“Dude’s a billionaire,” Thomas says, like it explains everything. Which it kinda does. “Why would he run around at night, chasing Joker.”

 

“I gotta admit,” Dick says, as if he isn’t literally the heir of  said billionaire. “He’s got a point.”

 

“Okay, but,” Anita looks at Dick suspiciously. “Is Bruce Wayne Batman? That is way more scientifically possible.”

 

“You caught me,” Dick lifts both his hands in mock surrender. “Bruce is Batman and I’m Robin. We go out with Superman for ice cream every weekend. Spare me, lest my loved ones endangered.”

 

They snort. “It is kind of possible, though,” Dick tells them, after the laughter died down. “I saw Bruce punched a dude, once. Punched five of his teeth out. Bruce has a black belt in Karate, I think.”

 

“That’s hot,” Sheila says, and Dick visibly cringes. 

 

“Not cool, Shei,” Andri reprimands her. “It’s his dad.”

 

“Guardian,” Dick corrects idly. “But please never say hot and Bruce in a correlative manner ever again. At least not in my presence.”

 

“Please, Andri, don’t pretend you don’t have an entire folder of a shirtless Bruce Wayne in your phone.” 

 

Andri blushes. He points at her threateningly with half a pancake. “Slander.”

 

“Welp,” Dick says, frowning at something in his phone. “Uh, I forgot to collect my history assignment thing,” he slings his bag in this one casual motion that should be casual, but it’s not, it looks weirdly good and graceful, like everything Dick does. “Catch you guys later!” he flashes a one million watt grin and leaves the cafetaria.

 

“Oh, god,” Andri looks at Sheila in horror. Sheila smirks at him like the witch she is. “You devil. Can’t believe you told him about that folder.

 

"I thought I was straight," Thomas says, staring at the door where Dick just left. "I'm pretty sure I was straight."

 

"Why didn't you warn us!" Sasha hisses at Andri. "Why didn't you tell us! I could've put on some liptint.” 

 

"He said he just wanted to say hi,” Andri says weakly, still looking horrified from the folder thing.

 

"How is he like that?" Thomas says, still staring at the door. "How does he. How does he fucking do that. Teenagers are supposed to be like. All zits and oily hair. And flabs, not abs.”

 

"That's just you,” Sheila and Sasha say in unison. They high five. "Fuck off,” Thomas grumbles, stabbing his plate.

 

"He seems nice," Anita tells Andri, as a somewhat encouragement because Andri is sporting a crush the size of Mount Rushmore.

 

"I know, right," Andri says exasperatedly. "I wish he was a dick or something — no pun intended — the other night he texted me a picture of a kitten.”

 

They gasp. “Aw,” Anita says.

 

"No!" Sasha says.

 

"I know!" Andri groans. "He found it in the rain and brought it home.”

 

They gasp again.

 

No!” Sasha says.

 

"How is someone so perfect?" 

 

"He doesn't even have pimples," Sheila says, sounding a little distressed by this fact.

 

"Wait, you've been texting?!"

 

Andri cringes.

 

"Andri!"

 

"I know!" Andri says helplessly. "It's just, he asked for my number — "

 

"He asked for your number?” Sasha and Sheila said in unison, looking positively murderous. 

 

“Nice,” Thomas says. “I know a couple of freshmen girls who’d pay good money for his number. By a couple, I mean half the population.”

 

Anita sighs pityingly. "He doesn't know what he's doing to you, does he?"

 

"I don't think he does, no," Andri agrees. He pities himself too. ”I'm fucked, aren't I?"

 

Anita sighs again. Andri puts his forehead on the table and groans. 

 

Sasha pats his back. "There, there."

 

"How am I supposed to keep myself from like, falling in love."

 

"Honestly," Anita tells him. "That's scientifically impossible."

 

Andri groans.

 

Thomas leans forward and takes Dick's french fry from his abandoned tray. "What?" he says when Anita stares at him, clearly judging. "His dad is a billionaire. This is basically charity."

 

"You're literally the richest out of the five of us."

 

"True, but I hate my dad, and my dad hates me, so."

 

"Fair."

 

"So," Sasha turns to Andri. "Mind telling us why Dick Grayson just sat with us?"

 

"I honestly have no idea," Andri admits. "I told him we were losers."

 

"Wasn't Grayson a loser?" Sheila takes a fry. "He was a mathlete."

 

"Yeah, before he turned into a sex god," Thomas grumbles enviously. "And then he's suddenly cool."

 

"Gross, dude." 

 

"What? He probably has lots of sex,” Thomas says, and they groan. “Natalie told everyone they fucked last summer."

 

"Natalie said the same thing about the entire football team,” Anita points out. 

 

"Is he going to like, hang with us?" Sasha says, sounding very hopeful.

 

"God, I hope not," Andri says. "But also yes. I don't know. Fuck."

 

Anita hums. "Not entirely impossible," she says. "Is that pork?" 

 

"Beef," Thomas says, pushing the plate to her.

 

Anita takes it. "He doesn't like, exactly hang out with cheerleaders and shit. I never even see him at parties. Literally never. Actually, I never really see him talk that much, except with, that redhead chick. And the blonde, the scholarship one? The one with the greek name."

 

"Athena. Artemis. Something."

 

"So, he only hangs out with hot seniors. Lots of sex, I’m telling you — ”

 

"Shut up, Thomas."

 

"So, what does he do," Andri says, and he is blushing very hard. He pretends he isn't. "Like, in class?"

 

"Honestly?" Anita chews and swallows. "He just mostly sleeps. Skips class a lot. Insanely good in chem, though,” Anita thinks and adds, “and physics. And computer science. And — ”

 

“We get it,” Andri sighs. “We get it, Nita.”

 

 

Chapter Text

It’s cold outside.

 

This city is always cold, always raining and always so gloomy — and at night, it’s even worse. It’s just so dark, and she can hear people talking and yelling, and various other loud scary sounds, like the banging that she hears often on TV. Ma doesn’t like it when she watches TV, she said they are stuff there that kids like her aren’t supposed to see. 

 

Ma also said that kids like her aren’t supposed to be outside at night alone. 

 

She shivers. It’s really, really cold. She wishes she brought a jacket with her. She’s only wearing the Wonder Woman shirt she likes (Ma said it’s getting too small for her, so she’s going to wear it as much as she can until she can’t wear it anymore. It’s her favorite shirt) and pants. They’re too thin and too old to stand a chance against cold Gotham night air.

 

She hopes it’s not going to rain.

 

She hugs herself to warm herself up more. She’s getting pretty far from her house. She isn’t sure where she's going, anyway. She doesn’t really have anywhere to go. 

 

Oh! She can see the park. Right, that’s the park Ma brings her on Sundays! She shuffles her feet. Maybe it’s somehow warmer there? 

 

And anyway, it’s scary to be out by herself on the streets. She hasn’t met anyone yet, the street is thankfully empty, but she doesn’t want to push her luck. She knows what happens to little girls walking alone in Gotham. Well, not really, but Ma told her it's bad stuff. Like, major, really really bad stuff. She shivers again, speeding up her pace.

 

The park is bright and colorful at day. Her favorite is the yellow see-saw that she plays with Bree a lot. Bree is bigger than her, so whenever they play it she ends up being up high. It's the closest thing to flying, and she can almost see the whole park like that. She loves it. 

 

However, at night, she disappointedly finds that the park is also … scary. Everything looks gray, and the only light she sees is from a street lamp near the bench. The trees are everywhere and they make everything dark. She imagines invisible, glowing eyes watching her from the branches and she shivers harder. The park is empty, though, so she guesses she’ll be fine there. Probably. 

 

The street lamp is flickering slightly and it has moths flying around it. The park bench is painted in rainbows, but the paints are chipped here and there. It looks worn and a little lonely, as if it knows that it’s the only colorful thing in the park right now, being bathed in the yellow light. She sits down on it. It creaks.

 

She feels a little warmer. Not much, but a little. She brings up her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth. She tries to rub her hands together. Pa taught her to do that to get warm. Why didn’t she bring her gloves? She bites her lips. She really is dumb. She feels tears pricking at her eyes again. She rubs her eyes furiously, attempting to hold them back, but her throat is already closing up and she’s crying again. 

 

“Nice shirt you got there.”

 

She looks up, startled. 

 

It’s a boy. A small boy. He is leaning against the tree right across the bench, hands in his pants pockets. He has black hair. His skin is a little dark; much lighter than her own, but not as light as Ma’s. He smiles at her.

 

She stares at him, unsure of what to do. Should she run? Can she be fast enough? She cautiously pulls her knees down.

 

“I’m not gonna hurt you,” the boy says. His voice is soft. 

 

She glares at him through her tears. She isn’t stupid. Ma told her to never trust anyone in the streets. 

 

“I promise,” he adds. “Shouldn’t you be home? It’s pretty late. Kids shouldn’t be out here at night.”

 

You’re a kid,” she grumbles accusingly, before she could help it. She shouldn’t talk to people she doesn’t know. Ma told her that many times. She sniffs. Thinking about Ma makes her feel bad again.

 

“I’m a teenager,” he says, frowning.

 

"You're like,” she hiccups. “Ten."

 

The kid looks aghast. He’s wearing a shirt with a picture of a flying Superman and some words on it that she can’t read with her eyes getting all blurry. ”I’m thirteen!"

 

She shrugs. He doesn’t look thirteen. He looks ten. ”You’re r-really short."

 

The short thirteen year old stares at her for a long time with the same offended face. "That's very mean. When I hit my growth spurt you'll be sorry." 

 

She doesn't know what growth spurt is and she doesn't care. She goes back to sniffling. 

 

He's still looking at her.

 

"Stop l-looking at me," she hiccups again. Crying makes breathing a little hard. "Ma says I can't talk to strange stuff."

 

"Strangers," he corrects. 

 

"Strange stuff," she says stubbornly. Pretty sure she got it right.

 

"O-kay," he says, sing-songing the O part, and then he turns to the tree so she can’t see his face, and when he turns back —  "but can you talk to ... Batman?" 

 

She gapes. He's wearing the bat face stuff! The cool thing Batman wears on his face. With the bat ears stuff! She really likes the ears. They look cute, and cool. Where did he get that from? He wasn’t holding anything just a second ago! It’s too big on his face, though.

 

She scowls. She isn't stupid, she won’t be deceived. ”Batman isn't short!" 

 

The boy deflates, his shoulders slumping down. "You know,” he tells her, sounding kind of hurt. “That really is mean.”

 

She feels a little bad, but she won’t be fooled. She only wants the real Batman. 

 

"Also, you don't sound like him."

 

"Yeah? What does he sound like?"

 

She thinks. "All like, growly and stuff."

 

The boy clears his throat. ”Like this?” the boy says, and he sounds growly and stuff.

 

"Whoa!" She gapes again. "How'd you do that!" 

 

He looks smug, smiling under the bat stuff. He huffs and puts his hands on his hips. "Told you I'm Batman."

 

"Batman isn't short."

 

"Is too."

 

"Is not."

 

"Fine," he pouts, and takes off the bat head stuff. It looks huge on his small hands. ”Ugh, Bruce will be pissed."

 

"Who's Broosh?"

 

"No one," He looks at her again. He is still pouting. He has blue eyes, like Ma. She tells him this. “Your eyes are blue, like Ma’s.”

 

“Really?” He says, and he sits on the bench, next to her. She finds she doesn’t mind so much. 

 

“Uh-huh,” she nods. She sniffs a little, but she’s so tired of crying already, so she stops. “My Pa has brown eyes. That’s why I got brown eyes. See?” She points to her eyes, and makes them large so he can have a clear look.

 

He squints, checking her eyes, and then he nods, satisfied with the proof. He mulls over the information. He is a good listener. She likes it when people listen to her. Adults are annoying, they never actually, like, listen to what she’s saying. They just say stuff like, yes honey, sure sweetie, why don’t you go play with your dolls, now, baby?

 

“Funny,” the boy says. Unlike hers, when he sits, his feet actually touch the ground (he’s still short, though). He scrapes his shoes to the ground rhythmically, making shrrk shrrk sounds. His fingers are tapping on the bench. “My Ma’s eyes are blue too. My Pa’s are also brown,” he grins at her, crookedly. “Twinsies?”

 

“Huh,” she considers this. “Then, why’re your eyes blue?” that’s weird. It’s not supposed to work like that. “You should check your Ma and your Pa's eyes again. I think you got it the other way around,” she advises him. The boy looks at her and then he laughs. He laughs for a long time, until he is hugging his tummy, wheezing. 

 

“Yeah, I should,” he giggles, and then he smiles at her again. This weird boy sure smiles a lot.

 

“You smile a lot,” she says. 

 

“What’s wrong with that? Smiles are nice.”

 

She thinks about her answer. “You smile when you’re happy,” she points out. “It’s weird to smile when you aren’t happy.”

 

He stops smiling. It’s like watching someone turning off the light. “Huh,” he says, blinking at her. His eyes are a little different than Ma’s, she finds, the blue a little darker. “You’re pretty smart, aren’t you.”

 

She is, she thinks. Ma calls her smart a lot, so she must be. “Yep.”

 

“Y’know, smart kids don’t wander alone at night.”

 

She freezes. She looks to the ground, kicking her legs. She feels … a little guilty. He’s right. “So?” she mutters under her breath. 

 

So,” he says, drawing out the o, “you’re smart. Why’re you here?”

 

She bites her lips. Should she tell him? But … he is a strange stuff, isn’t he? Ma said she shouldn’t talk to strange stuff. Oh, Ma is going to be so mad. Ma is going to be so angry when she gets home, Ma’s going to yell, and look at her with hurt eyes. She hates it when Ma looks at her with hurt eyes. She feels tears pricking at the back of her eyes, hot and watery. She starts sniffling.

 

“Hey, can I tell you a secret?” 

 

She looks up, wiping her eyes. The boy leaves the bench, and he is kneeling in front of her, one knee touching the ground. His face is right in front of her, so she can look right into his eyes. “W-what?” she sniffs. 

 

The boy looks right, and left, checking for anyone who might hear. And then he looks at her very, very seriously. “You have to promise that you won’t tell anyone,” he says solemnly. 

 

Oh. Secrets are important. Then this must be very important. She wipes her tears.

 

“I promise,” she tells him seriously.

 

“Pinky swear me,” he holds out his pinky. She pinky swears him.

 

“I promise.”

 

“Like, never, ever, ever tell anyone. Say it.”

 

“I promise that I won’t tell anyone,” she says. He looks at her, unsatisfied. “Ever,” she adds, putting pressure on the word. He still looks unsatisfied. He rises one eyebrow. She says again, “like, never, ever, ever.”

 

He nods, convinced by her promise. “Good,” he says, and then he leans to her ear and he whispers, “I’m friends with Batman.”

 

She gasps. “No freakin’ way.”

 

He nods, confirming this. “Yes freakin’ way. Where did you think I got Batman’s cowl?” he twirls the bat face stuff with his forefinger. 

 

She gasps. “That’s the real bat face stuff?”

 

He stands up, smiling proudly. “Yep.”

 

No freakin’ way.”

 

“Still don’t believe me?” the boy gives her the bat face stuff. “Hold this a bit. Watch me.”

 

She holds it. It's smooth, big, and pretty heavy. She puts it on her lap.

 

The boy steps back, two steps (she counts), and then he runs, jumps to the bench, and he flies. He flies through the air, flips, and lands on his hands. And then he flies again, and then he stands on the ground, just like that. “Ta-da!” he spreads his hands, flashes a bright smile at her, and then bows. 

 

She gapes. He flew. That was flying. He is just like — like a bird.

 

She gasps. 

 

You’re Rob —

 

“Ssh!” he puts a hand over her mouth. She stares at him, eyes big, in awe. 

 

“I’m not,” he tells her, grinning, and then he winks conspirationally. “Call me Dick, alright?”

 

She nods, still looking at him in awe. Rob — Dick smiles, satisfied, and takes off his hand. “What’s your name?” he says. 

 

“Alyssa,” she answers without any hesitation. 

 

“Okay, Alyssa,” he kneels in front of her until they’re face to face again. “Mind telling me why a smart girl like you is out here alone?”

 

She bites her lips. She looks down. She doesn’t want to tell him. Shame bites her insides, and she can feel her cheeks redden in embarrassment. “It’s dumb,” she mumbles. “I’m dumb. ’s totally my fault.”

 

Dick hums, and he leans forward, propping his chin on his knees. “Wanna know another secret?”

 

She looks up at him. She nods, slowly.

 

He leans in, and then he brings up his hand to mock whisper, “Batman’s dumb too, sometimes.”

 

She frowns. “Really?” that doesn’t sound right. Batman is, like, super cool. And strong. He can't be dumb

 

“Yep,” Dick says, his tone all serious. She doesn’t think he’s lying. “But I’m smart, so that makes up for it.”

 

She giggles. “Batman’s the smartest.”

 

No,” he says, drawing out the o sound. “I’m the smartest. I told you, he’s pretty dumb. One time, he burnt himself from using the toaster. The toaster. I think he never used a toaster before in his life, and he just didn’t want to admit it.”

 

She giggles harder. The thought of batman flailing around with fire in his cape is too ridiculous. Dick smiles says, “well? You got a secret you wanna tell me?”

 

“Promise you won’t tell?”

 

“Promise.”

 

“Never, ever, ever?”

 

He brings up his pinky finger solemnly. She takes it. “I promise that I won’t tell anyone. Ever. Like never, ever, ever.”

 

“Okay,” she takes a deep breath. She looks around to check for anyone who might be listening. There is no one. The park is still empty. She whispers, “I broke my Ma’s vase.”

 

He listens to her, waiting for her to go on. So she goes on. “It’s her favorite. It’s blue and and it got these really pretty flowers on it. Pa gave it to her before he l-left,” oh no. She feels her eyes getting hot again. She hates crying. “Ma loves that vase,” she starts to sob. “She’ll hate me for breaking it. She won't love me anymore. So I-I r-ran away.”

 

“Oh, Alyssa,” Dick says, and he’s standing to her, arms open. She launches to them, and she hugs him, sobbing into his Superman shirt. “It's okay, it's okay.”

 

She nods, and hugs him tighter. He hugs back. He smells like shampoo and paper. 

 

“You know, Alyssa,” he says. She can feel the rumble in his chest on her cheek when he speaks. “Sometimes I get really mad at Batman. Like, really mad. Cuz, y’know, he’s dumb. But y’know what? That’s alright. He’s dumb, but I still love him.” 

 

She lets him go, takes a hiccuping breath. “W-why?” she blinks up at him. He kneels again so she doesn't have to look up.

 

“He’s my family,” he says. He has a hand on her hair. It’s small and gentle. “That’s why your Ma will still love you, too. Cuz you’re her family.”

 

“Y-you think s-so?”

 

“Yes,” Dick nods, and he sounds all serious again. “I’m smart. I’m always right.”

 

She giggles. She wipes snot off her face. “P-promise?”

 

He holds out his pinky. She holds hers out too. They pinky swear. “Promise.”

 

“Okay,” she sniffles. “Can you t-take me home?”

 

“‘course,” he says, and he puts on the bat face stuff again. “I told you, I’m Batman. Now, show me the way!”

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What’s your shirt say?”

 

“‘Superman is my dad.' Sweet, huh? Batman hates it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You ever met him?”

 

“Who, Supes? Oh, yeah. He’s awesome. Takes me out for ice cream on weekends.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Who wins? Superman or Batman?”

 

“Batman, obviously.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a single parent is not easy for Kathreen Miller. But then again, it isn’t easy for anyone. 

 

So when she sees her daughter, the love of her life, running towards her with arms spread wide and yelling, “Ma!”, she thinks, I’m not gonna get any luckier than this. 

 

She hugs her back, lifting her, and hugs her even tighter. “Alyssa,” she says, and she ignores how her voice is cracking a little. “Alyssa, you little devil, don’t scare me like that ever again.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Alyssa says, her voice muffled into her neck. “I miss you.”

 

“I miss you too, sweetie,” Kathreen says, and she lets herself hold her daughter for a few more seconds before she lets go. “We have a lot to talk about, young lady.”

 

Alyssa nods, and she looks like she’s about to cry. “I’m sorry,” she says.

 

Kathreen sighs. She hates it when her daughter cries. She hates it even more when she’s the one causing it. She holds her daughter’s cheeks. She has her father’s eyes. “It’s okay, baby. I’m just glad you’re here. I’m just happy you’re okay, sweetheart.” 

 

Alyssa nods, and hugs her again. Kathreen huffs a laugh. Her hands are still trembling from adrenaline and fear. When she got home and found her vase broken all over the floor and her daughter missing, she thought she was going to have a heart attack. She set out to look for Alyssa in a desperate frenzy, praying for god to please, just this once, be merciful. 

 

After all, no sane person is going to call GCPD over a missing half-black kid — from the bad part of the town, no less. 

 

“Let’s go home,” she says, and wipes her tears before her daughter can see. “It’s dangerous out here, sweetie.”

 

Her daughter hugs her again, nods, and then she smiles. Big and bright. The prettiest smile in the world. “Ma, you got to meet Batman,” she says, and Kathreen blinks.

 

“His name is Dick and he goes with Superman for ice cream and he is so nice and he gets me home and — “

 

“Okay, okay,” Kathreen says, the barrage of words confusing and does not make any sense in the slightest. “Alright, where is this Dick?”

 

“There!” Alyssa turns back and points to — nothing. The street is empty. “Dick?” she calls, confused. No answer. “But ... he was there.”

 

“Batman is busy, Alyssa,” Kathreen tries to explain. She doesn’t need to know who this Dick is. Hell, she just wants them to be safe at home as soon as possible. “Maybe he needs to help someone else?”

 

“Maybe,” Alyssa says, but it’s clear she is disappointed. 

 

“C’mon, baby,” she lifts her up, and she squeals delightfully. She is still small enough that she can carry her with no trouble. “Batman is probably bringing more naughty kids — like you, that’s right, you are very naughty, young lady — home to their worried-sick parents. So, you met Batman, huh?”

 

“Yeah! His name is Dick, and he is short, and he can fly!”

 

“Really?”

 

"Yep! He said Batman and Superman are best friends, and Batman sometimes sleeps with his bat face stuff on, and ... "

 

 

Chapter Text

"Who did it," Dick says, and he sounds calm. Not angry or anything, or even concerned, just — calm.

 

"David," Sasha answers.

 

"Which one?" 

 

"David Hower."

 

"I see," Dick says, and he turns away and leaves. 

 

"Dick?"

 

Dick doesn’t seem to hear her — and if he does, he ignores her. Sasha still has her arms around Anita — who is still shaking, crying into Sasha’s shoulders. Dick keeps walking. It’s Andri who moves.

 

He stands in Dick’s way, scrambling to do so — Dick is fast — and holds his shoulder. "Dick," Andri says slowly. Carefully. Something feels off. "Dick, what are you going to do?" 

 

For a second, Dick looks at him with such a — such a detached expression that it startles him. Without a smile on his face, Dick looks foreign. Like a stranger. "Don't worry about it," Dick says after a short moment, still so fucking calm, and he holds Andri’s hand that’s holding his shoulder and puts it away — not gently, but not harshly either, just a clinical and practical gesture. Then Dick zips past him so fast Andri almost falls.

 

"Dick," Andri calls again, falling behind Dick’s pace, and he feels like he has to do something. Anything. His heart is thumping with adrenaline, even though nothing has happened yet, but somehow he knows — he knows something is off. ”Where the hell are you going?" 

 

"Calc," Dick says, still walking, metres in front of him. He sounds eerily neutral still, but something is wrong with the picture — the way he walks, fists clenched so hard at his sides, his strides measured and punctuated — he reminds Andri of the soldiers marching in those war documentaries his dad loved, the strength twisting in those shoulders like cables, muscles coiling and ready to snap, all contained in a succession of rigid motions. ”Hower is in calculus." 

 

"Dick — "

 

"Don't worry about it," Dick repeats, and Andri has to run to catch up with how fast Dick is going. When he does catch up, he puts his hand on Dick's shouder again, this time a little tentatively. ”Whatever you are going to do —“ 

 

And then Dick stops so abruptly that Andri almost bumps face first into his back. Andri steps back, wobbling to catch his balance.

 

David Hower is in the middle of the hall, talking to a couple of his friends, laughing about something — just a few feet in front of them. Dick walks towards Hower, still with that same unnatural, statuesque poise.

 

Andri isn't sure why, but he just — watches. Feet nailed on the spot, unsure of their purpose. 

 

Dick walks until he is face to face to Hower, the distance between the two close enough to look wrong. The laughter dies down. People stare. Andri feels a mild déjà vu.

 

"Whats up, Grayson?" Hower says, casually. He is taller than Dick by an inch. Unlike Dick, however, Hower is all skin and bones. Andri can’t see Dick’s face, but Dick’s posture is still wrong. Fists still clenching at his sides, and Andri can see Dick’s knuckles, can see how they are alarmingly white.

 

With a start, and far too late at that, Andri realizes that Dick is angry

 

"Did you do it,” Dick says flatly. 

 

"What?"

 

"Did you take off Anita's hijab." 

 

“Oh, that,” Hower says, and one of Hower's friends snorts. Hower cracks a grin, and for a moment Andri almost lungs forward to punch the fucker. “Yeah, what’s that got to do with y —“ 

 

Dick grabs the the front of Hower's shirt and lifts him. Literally lifts him — off the fucking floor. Hower’s feet are flailing, arms too, and he looks like a hapless four limbed chicken, dangling in the air helplessly. After a few seconds of gaping, Andri realizes that Dick is lifting Hower with one hand, and for a terrifying moment, Andi thinks Dick is going to fling Hower to the wall, or something. Throw him like a rag doll. Someone gasps. 

 

And for the life of him, Andri can’t do anything but stare.

 

"Don't fucking do it," Dick says, and he sounds so furious it astounds Andri — Dick’s tone has pitched so lowly it turns into a growl, syllables harsh and thick and unrecognizable — it sounds violent, it sounds wrong coming out of a seventeen year old high schooler. It sounds terrifyingly dangerous it sends involuntary shiver down Andri's spine. ”Ever again. Do you understand?”

 

No one makes a sound. One of Hower’s friends — Tyler, Andri notices — stutters forward and Dick just looks at him, with a slight turn of his head and one hand still holding Hower in the air — and Tyler doesn’t move another muscle, just visibly pales in his half movement.

 

The scene looks comical, surreal, like something out of a cartoon, like something that should be happening with Batman and some random villain on some battle terrain or some shit — not with Dick, and certainly not in a fucking school hall.

 

Bullying is one thing, Andri has seen to that, has been to that, bullying is a bunch of cruel children with some brute strength and mean mockery. But this — 

 

“I said,” Dick repeats, still with that guttural, unrecognizable voice, “do you understand?”

 

Hower chokes out a “yes, god fuck, yes,” and Dick lets go. Just, takes his hand off Hower’s shirt, and lets go, letting gravity to take care of the rest. 

 

Dick’s ridiculous fitness, Andri realizes for the first time, isn’t just for show.

 

Hower crumples to the ground, and then he scrambles to stand up — feet wavering for a while, unstable — and immediately (valiantly) lunges forward, raising a shaking fist. Andri holds his breath in preparation for the fight that would ensue, but Dick just fucking pushes Hower, just one simple move of his right hand pushing Hower’s chest — and Hower falls back down again. It’s like watching a cat playing with a mouse. A mouse that has zero chance of not being the cat’s lunch.

 

The hall is silent. Someone shoud call a teacher, or — or stop him, help Hower up, anything. Hold Dick back. But no one moves. No one even makes so much as a noise.

 

"Don't fucking do it ever again," Dick repeats, and the fury is just gone from his voice — he just sounds empty, now, hollow like an informercial voice over.

 

"Fuck you," Hower stands up for the second time, face red with anger and embarrassment, and he grabs the front of Dick's shirt roughly. Dick doesn’t even do anything, just lets himself be grabbed, watching disinterestedly as Hower spits into his face. ”Fuck you, you faggot fucking piece of shit, who the fuck do you think you are? What the fuck are you going to do, huh — "

 

"You know who I am," Dick says. Andri can't see Dick's face from where he is standing, but he can hear the smile in Dick’s voice, the slight tilt of mirth — and that change, that sudden shift of emotion from anger to nothing to whatever the fuck it is now — it’s fucking disturbing. ”And you know who your daddy works for.”

 

The implication is clear.

 

Hower lets Dick’s shirt go as if burned. 

 

Andri feels sick.

 

Dick turns around and walks back. Everyone stares at him. Dick doesn't seem to care. Of course, Andri thinks, and the pit of his stomach feels like ice. Why would he? Why would Dick give a shit about the rest of them? 

 

Dick stops in front of Andri. "You coming?" 

 

Andri looks at him. Dick is smiling. Not the perfect blinding smile he usually sports —just a twitch on the corner of his mouth. It looks a little sad. It makes him look so much older, less of a boy and more like a man. A very, very tired man.

 

Andri blinks. "Yeah." 

 

Dick nods and just walks away. As if he didnt — as if he didnt just

 

Andri spares a last glance to Hower. Dude is glaring at the ground, his face redder than a tomato. Andri feels almost bad for him — but then he thinks about Anita’s shoulders shaking violently as she sobs, and he decides he can’t find it in him to sympathize, after all.

 

Hower deserves worse.

 

Andri follows Dick and walks away. People give way to them, and no one still tries to stop them. The hall gets emptier as they go.

 

Andri opens his mouth to say something — he doesn't know what — and then closes it again, because what the hell is there to say? The whole thing was unsettling and scary (and frankly, though Andri would never admit it outloud, a little hot.) 

 

It’s just. Not something that Andri expects Dick would do. It’s something so frat boy-esque, the I’ll-tell-my-daddy-and-punch-your-balls move. It’s just something a handsome, crazy rich white boy would do —

 

Right. That's Dick. Minus the white part.

 

It’s just, it’s just that, he didn't even think Dick could hurt a fly five minutes ago.

 

To be honest, he might be a little biased. After all, Dick's dad is literally one of the most powerful man on earth. Dick is the sole heir of the most, perhaps, influential company in the world. Something like that is — should be — something one expects Dick Grayson would do.

 

Except it’s not. It’s really not.

 

Dick Grayson is the richest kid in the school, one of the smartest, even, and arguably the most popular — but Dick Grayson is not a party crazy, hyper masculine bully. Dick Grayson is the smiling guy who says hi to everyone in the hall and sleeps at the back of the class while somehow maintaining straight As. Dick Grayson is the guy who steps in front of homophobic assholes and holds Andri’s hand. Dick Grayson is the guy who hangs out with Andri and his loser friends like he is one of them, picking them up from shady clubs and teaches them on their homeworks. 

 

Dick Grayson wouldn’t lift some rich kid off the ground in the middle of the hall. Dick Grayson wouldn’t threaten someone with Bruce Wayne’s money. Or, Dick Grayson wouldn’t — until he does.

 

And the way Dick sounded, that unnatural, chilling voice that came out from his mouth 

 

Andri doesn’t recognize this Dick Grayson.

 

Dick stops walking without warning. For the second time today, Andri nearly bumps face-first into his back again. 

 

Ironically enough, they are in the Lit hall. 

 

Dick turns, and he just looks tired. ”I'm sorry. You shouldn't have seen that.”

 

Andri blinks. Dick runs a hand through his hair — effortlessly tousling them — and sighs. He does look sorry. In fact, he looks wrecked. He even looks pale, like he’s a little sick, or something. ”I didn't want you, or, or anyone, really. To see me like that."

 

Andri searches Dick's face, looking for something, anything, anything resembling the Dick he’s seen everyday. He just sees a startling amount of exhaustion. ”Like what?"

 

"Like," Dick gestures vaguely. "Like a dick."

 

"Never do puns on your own name ever again."

 

Dick laughs abruptly, and it's not bright and rainbows and sunshine like usual; it’s a short, brittle sound. He is smiling, though, that soft curve of his mouth. 

 

It looks wrong.

 

”To be fair," Andri says, and Andri is telling the truth. "Hower really deserved it. Worse, even. And you know, as scary — ” Dick’s smile falters “ — and fucked up that was, that was like, the single most badass thing I’ve ever seen, probably.”

 

Dick laughs again. It makes Andri smile. “And I’ve seen Batman kicks ass in person,” Andri adds, eager for another laugh, and he is rewarded immediately. “What? It was. How'd you do that, dude?" Dick gives him another laugh, and another, until he sounds like Dick again. The Dick that Andri knows, anyway, Andri thinks.

 

Andri is thinking too much about this. Imagining things. Seeing things that aren’t there.

 

Dick was angry. He was being angry, like any other person, he was angry and that was it. That’s all there is to it, there is no some other big secret, there is no some other guy hiding in Dick’s body.

 

This is still Dick. This is his friend.

 

Dick’s laughter has died down, leaving only a residue in form of a smile. Dick is always smiling, isn’t he? “My guardian is Bruce Wayne."

 

"No, the other thing. The badass one."

 

"I do pull ups a lot."

 

"Sick."

 

"Yeah. Adds to my bad boy image, doesn’t it?"

 

Andri snorts. "You dont have a bad boy image," he reminds Dick. “You were a mathlete."

 

"Why do people keep saying that. What's wrong with being a mathlete. It’s not that lame, okay."

 

"Well," Andri thinks about Hower. "I think you have one now. Bad boy image, that is." 

 

“More like, fuckboy image,” Dick says, and his smile twists into something harsher. Self deprecation? Cynicism? Mockery? Andri can’t really put a finger on it, the subtle changes. Changes that he wouldn’t see if he doesn’t talk to Dick as often as he does. 

 

“Girls find it hot,” Andri says, nudging him, trying to get another laugh. Another smile. Anything but whatever that is on Dick’s face.

 

“They do, don’t they.”

 

"Were you going to do it?” Andri asks. He doesn’t know what to do with Dick’s answer, whatever it will be, but he asks anyway. “The thing with Hower's dad?"

 

"No," Dick answers without missing a beat. Something in Andri’s chest loosens. "If it didn't work, I was going to — uh, to punch him or something," Dick tells him, in this helpless way, like he was actually going to do it. And Andri can't help but laugh at that. "Hey, I'm serious. That’s my plan B. I do pull ups. I got a mean hook." 

 

He believes that. He’s seen Dick's biceps. Dick probably does. 

 

He thinks about how Hower fell to the ground when Dick let go. Dick probably really does.

 

“Dick,” Andri pauses. “That was — you were — “ weird. Off. Scary. He isn’t sure what to say. 

 

Maybe it was the way Dick said the word daddy; the blithe, cruel way he said it. Maybe it was just the threat as a whole: petty, outrageously arrogant, and entirely cold blooded. Maybe it was just how cold he sounded, and looked, and walked. How untouchable, like Dick knew that Hower — that none of them could ever reach Dick’s level, wherever that level is. Because none of them can. Because, for a moment, it felt like Dick lived on an entirely different plane, far away from Andri and anyone else. Like Dick was living a life they couldn’t possibly dream of. 

 

Or maybe, Dick is. Maybe, Dick has always been living a far, far different life, a whole fucking world away, and they’ve just been too blind to see it. And then — if only for a moment — they saw it for the first time. 

 

And that voice. That voice. Andri doesn't even want to think about it.

 

Or maybe. Maybe Dick is just angry for Hower’s assholery and Andri is thinking too much about it all and he is making stupid, baseless assumptions. Imagining things. Seeing things that aren’t there. 

 

Dick looks at him, and for a brief moment, there is that look again; that cold, detached look, and then it’s gone so fast Andri thinks he imagined it. He probably did imagine it.

 

“I’m not sorry I did it,” Dick tells him. “I’m sorry you had to see it.”

 

“He deserved worse.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“You were being a huge dick.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“He deserved worse,” Andri repeats, “but you aren’t obliged to be a dick. Not for douchebags like him, especially.”

 

Dick blinks. He looks at Andri with something like wonder, and surprise. And then Dick looks down, and smiles to his shoes. “Yeah.”

 

“Don’t live up to your name, dude,” Andri shoves Dick’s shoulder playfully — Dick doesn’t even budge, it’s like hitting a concrete wall — and Dick, finally, finally grins. Finally looks familiar. “Yeah. Okay.”

 

Andri grins back. “C’mon,” Andri says. “Let’s go check on Anita. I gotta tell everyone how badass you were.”

 

 

Chapter Text

i give you my word. i won’t stop you. 

 

the night air was freezing. the wind, relentless. 

 

i won’t take you back down against your will, he had said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Hey.”

 

Leah looks up from her book. The response fuck off already rising in her throat, but she can’t find it in her to voice it out. She blinks. After several silent seconds in which she makes sure that her fucked up head isn’t playing tricks on her, she finally finds her voice. “What.”

 

“Is this seat taken?” Dick — Dick Wayne? Wait, no. Something with a G, she thinks — Something With a G says. For a moment, Leah isn’t sure if this was some kind of sick, rich kid joke. 

 

“Is this a joke?” she says, cutting to the chase.

 

Dick Something With a G blinks at her, seemingly bewildered, incongruously non-plussed by her accusation, rather than offended. “No,” he tells her, his voice clear with an undertone of an accent that she can’t put her fingers on. He isn’t lying, she thinks. She usually can tell. Either that, or Dick Something With a G is a really good actor.

 

“Because if this is a joke,” she says anyway, and she takes a deep breath. “I’ll kick you in the nuts.”

 

He raises one dark, perfect eyebrow. He has one of those faces that is just — pleasant. Warm, or something, like a face out of an insurance advertisement. Too pleasant and too warm to not be faked. “It’s not,” he says, and his voice has a clear, genuine quality to it. “If you don’t want me to, though, I’ll, uh.” He squirms where he stands, glancing around. The cafeteria is pretty packed. Not that Leah gives a shit. He is — one of those popular kids, or whatever. He’ll manage. “I’ll find someplace else?”

 

She looks at him. He looks back. She looks away. “Suit yourself,” she says, making sure her voice sounds disagreeable enough.

 

“Okay,” Something With a G says, and sits right in front of her. 

 

She doesn’t know what she expected. 

 

“Not a fan of cafeteria’s food?” he asks, conversationally. Friendly. Neutral. 

 

“No,” she says, flipping a page. 

 

“A fan of — “ he squints. “Emily … Dickinson?”

 

“Pretty much.” A little. Dickinson is — great. Leah likes her well enough, she guesses. 

 

“‘The heart asks pleasure first,’” Something With a G says, and something about his voice is almost reverent. Leah looks at him with some surprise. “‘And then, excuse from pain.’”

 

This time, Leah raises an eyebrow. She doesn’t know what she expected, but not that. “You use that to pick up girls?”

 

He startles her with a laugh. “Dickinson isn’t much of a turn on, in my experience, so — no,” he says, that pleasant, friendly smile fixed on his face. “My little brother loves her, though.”

 

“Sounds like a nerd,” she says, not in a pleasant way. But Dick meets this with another blinding smile. He is either oblivious to her standoffish response, or is just very thick skinned. 

 

“He is,” he confirms, grinning fondly, and then he adds, “doesn’t that make you a nerd, though?”

 

Huh.

 

I wasn’t the one who quoted Emily Dickinson on a stranger,” she says, and she is surprised to hear herself sounds something akin to amiable, for once. She is even more surprised to find the corner of her lips quirking into somewhat — a smile. 

 

“You got me there,” Dick sighs melodramatically. “‘The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.’”

 

She looks away. Her somewhat smile has morphed into an actual smile, for a second. It feels weird. Smiling, that is. It makes her face ache. 

 

She turns another page. He continues eating — sandwich and muffin — and does not pursue another conversation. It’s not awkward, not really, but she finds herself — anxious. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

“Oh!” he says suddenly, and then he laughs, rubbing a hand to the back of his neck a little sheepishly. “Oh, sorry — I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Dick. Dick Grayson.”

 

She stares. Something tightens in her chest. 

 

“So what is it,” she says finally, unable to handle the wait. “Did you lose a bet?”

 

He shuts his mouth, and when he looks at her — God, is he really that good an actor? — he just looks confused, again with that same annoying honesty on his face. “What do you mean?”

 

She frowns. Something distantly twists in her chest. She is too tired to acknowledge it, too tired to deal with whatever the hell this is. “You know what I mean.” He must so. Dick — Grayson, apparently — is a freshman. Not in her faculty, at that, she never passes him anywhere in the hall, but everyone knows about her. Everyone knows about Leah Langley. 

 

Everyone also knows that no one sits with Leah Langley. Not if they can help it. 

 

But he just stares at her, with a look of utter perplexity.

 

And for a second — for a short second — she almost punches him. Kicks him in the face, maybe. Almost throws his stupid sandwich right at that handsome, oblivious face and screams at him, I know what you’re doing. Stop it. Please. 

 

“No,” he says, a little tentative, unsure of himself. “I don’t.”

 

She swallows. She picks up her book, flips another page. “Alright,” she says. 

 

“Alright,” he says in return, and he returns to his sandwich. “So, uh.”

 

She flips another page. Aggressively. “Leah Langley,” she says, ignoring the hoarseness of her voice. Her shoulders tighten, bracing herself for what comes next, for Dick Grayson to recognize her name and sneer, laugh. Walk away. Do something. 

 

But he doesn’t. “Nice to meet you,” he says instead, unerringly affable. And then he continues eating. Her grip tightens on the book, and then she lets out a small sigh — a small, too-relieved sigh. And then they fall into silence.

 

This time, the silence is a little awkward, and yet — she doesn’t ... she doesn’t exactly mind.

 

Leah is the one who leaves first. She gathers up her stuff. “You going?” he says. Out of politeness, maybe. 

 

She spares him a look before busying herself with her bag. “Yes,” she mutters belatedly, and leaves before Grayson can say anything else. He does say something, she thinks, maybe something trivial like have a nice day or see you later or some shit. He looks like the kind of guy to say stuff like that.

 

She forces herself not to listen, though. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i understand. 

 

i don’t approve, but i understand.

 

(she thinks about it sometimes. about that night.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Oof — “

 

She jerks away involuntarily. The guy who bumped into her doesn’t seem to notice her (a little) overt response, though — he loses hold of his files, and they drop to the floor, scrambled away in a mess of papers and maps. “Sorry, sorry,” he says distressedly, and she almost leaves right away, maybe says something like use your fucking eyes, but then she realizes it’s the weird, handsome freshman. Dick Grayson. First ward of Bruce Wayne's.

 

Somehow, she can’t find it in her to walk away. The papers are everywhere, anyway, and he makes a pitiful sight on the floor. She kneels down. 

 

The papers are filled with pictures of chemical compounds. She feels mildly surprised. She had assumed he’d taken something like management, or economy, and then he would take over Wayne Enterprise or something. “Thanks,” he says, a little breathless, when she hands him the last papers. “Sorry, I was — oh, it’s you. Leah, right?”

 

“Right,” she says curtly. “Use your eyes next time.” 

 

He laughs. Oblivious? Thick skinned? She has no idea. 

 

It’s a little off-putting. There is not many people that she can’t read.

 

“Sorry about that. You heading to the East Wing?”

 

“Yeah,” she finds herself saying. “Lit major.”

 

Ahh,” Dick says, nodding. “The Dickinson makes sense, now.”

 

She almost — almost — smiles. Dick’s smile gets bigger. “What’s your excuse?” she quips, before she can stop herself.

 

Again with that bright, sunny laugh. “Like I said,” he says after, smiling. “My little brother is a nerd. He’d go for lit major, definitely,” he adds, with a conspirational tone, as if he is telling her a secret. “Me, I’m a different kind of nerd,” he sighs helplessly at the heaps of paper in his am. It is a huge ass bundle of documents. “It’s ruining my life, actually.”

 

She isn’t sure what to say. “What are you majoring in?” she tries.

 

“Forensics.”

 

She — she shouldn’t be surprised, after seeing the contents of those papers, but somehow she is. “Huh.”

 

“Yeah,” Dick smiles knowingly, “people don’t usually expect that. What did you think I major in, management?” he shakes his head solemnly. “God forbid. I’d die on the first week.”

 

She smiles. Quick, but it’s there. She looks away. “Weren’t you in a hurry?”

 

He stares at her. “Oh shit,” he says, and then he sprints, but not before he turns his head a little and yell “see you, Leah!” hurriedly at her.

 

She doesn’t say it back. He wouldn’t hear it anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

if you honestly believe, in your heart of hearts —

 

(a lot. she thinks about it a lot. the rooftop. the hospital.)

 

that you will never, ever, have another happy day

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cafeteria, as usual, is packed. This time, though; it's an actual sea of people. Leah grimaces, feeling a little sick. She takes a step back, and has half the mind to finish her lunch — and why, of all days, does it have to be today? Just when she decides to actually eat — in the toilet. 

 

“Leah!”

 

She freezes. It’s a guy, and that’s — a guy calling her name is never a good thing. Usually accompanied with shit like, how’d Bob’s dick tasted like? and some variances of sick crazy bitch.

 

She has to get out of here, she thinks, and then she hears it again — “Leah!” — and she recognizes this voice, she realizes, and she — against her better judgement, she turns to look. 

 

It’s Dick. 

 

He is at a table, one earphone plugged in his right ear, hand waving enthusiastically at her. It’s a table for two.

 

It’s too much of a coincidence. Too deliberate. 

 

Leah isn’t stupid. But she — she takes a deep breath, and she walks towards him anyway. 

 

“Can I sit here,” she says. 

 

“Suit yourself,” he grins at her. 

 

She does. She eats, and she even manages to finish half a bread — and when she pulls out her meds and takes her prescription pills, Dick doesn’t say anything. Nothing concerning it, anyway — he talks the whole time, about a whole lot of shit, to which Leah just responds with non-committal humming and some god, can’t you shut up? 

 

Dick just laughs. And then talks some more.

 

 

 

 

The day after the next, Dick finds her again.

 

“Hey,” he says, “this seat taken?”

 

She looks at him. “You know,” Leah says. “If you — if you keep sitting with me, people are going to talk.”

 

“So,” Dick says, pleasant as ever, all sunshine. “Is this seat taken?”

 

“You’ve heard of me,” Leah says. “You know — you know what happened. Everyone does, and if you — “

 

Dick is still looking at her, hand on the back of the chair, eyes steady. 

 

She almost yells, right there. Can’t he see it? Doesn’t he get it?

 

“Don’t you get it,” she says, and it’s a hiss, her voice rising into something ugly. “I’m fucked up. I’m crazy.

 

And she expects him to leave, to yell back, to say what the fuck is wrong with you or even to say, noyou are not crazy. 

 

“Unless you’re secretly the Joker, I think we’re good,” Dick says instead, and that — that startles a laugh out of Leah. 

 

A laugh. A real, honest to god laugh — and it feels — foreign. Strange. Good. Familiar, like an old friend. 

 

She looks up, and Dick is smiling, and she smiles back. She allows it to last for three seconds. “Suit yourself,” she says.

 

 

 

 

 

It becomes a routine. 

 

“This seat taken?” Dick would say, every time, even though no one ever sits with Leah.

 

“Suit yourself,” she’d tell him. 

 

“Okay,” he’d say, and sit. 

 

And at other times, Leah would find Dick in a table for two, waving at her vigorously. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

then step out into the air. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leah isn’t stupid. Maybe screwed up some in the head, but not stupid. Never. 

 

It’s on purpose. It has to be. 

 

Whenever she sees Dick anywhere else, he is surrounded. By friends, she presumes, or just people who wishes to be his friends. Pretty people, rich people, all vying for his attention. He is always smiling, listening, talking, moving, never alone — never. People are attracted to Dick Grayson, like moths to light.

 

It’s not coincidence that everytime their breaks intersect, Dick would be by himself, and then proceed to eat his lunch with Leah. 

 

Too deliberate. 

 

She says nothing. She lets him talk. Sometimes she would even talk back.

 

 

 

 

 

He squints at her book. “Plath?”

 

“‘Dying is an art, like everything else,’” Leah quotes, flipping a page. “‘I do it exceptionally well.’”

 

“You use that to pick up girls?” Dick says, smirking at her.

 

Leah raises an eyebrow. “Girls love Plath. So yes.”

 

“They do love Plath, yeah.”

 

“Your brother reads Plath?”

 

“Oh, he’s precocious, that little bastard,” Dick chews on his sandwich. His other hand is holding open some science-y book that Leah wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. “He reads everything. He doesn’t like Plath, though. I quote, ’Why is she using anti-semitism as a metaphor for her depression,'” Dick says indignantly, his accent morphing into that of Gotham street’s, mimicking his brother.

 

“A very good point.” It really is. She has been planning to write an essay about that for some time, now.

 

“Exactly. I don’t like her either, I don’t think,” Dick says thoughtfully, eyes not leaving his book. “But I understand her appeal.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“’Daddy, I have had to kill you,’” Dick begins, his voice almost reverent, and Leah is — once again — taken back by surprise. “‘You died before I had time.’”

 

It makes her pause. Something clicks in her head, an old news from years ago. Nine years ago. Dick isn’t looking at her, still at his book, thumbing the spine of it. “‘Bit my pretty red heart in two,’” he continues. “I was ten when they buried you.’” He smiles, distant, and a little blank. He looks at her then, eyes crinkling, voice blithe. “Very morbidly charming, don't you think?” he says, dryly.

 

Even now, she still can’t read him all that well. Better, but — but not really. 

 

“I used to like her,” she says, abruptly, sudden, like a confession. 

 

It’s true. She used to. She glares at her copy of The Bell Jar. “I think,” Leah says, slowly, through gritted teeth, “a part of me still do. Still — still intoxicated with all the sadness.”

 

She looks up, feeling dumb, half expecting Dick to look at her funnily or judgingly or whatever. But Dick doesn’t. He’s listening, intently, holding the corner of a page in place, eyes returning her gaze right back.

 

“I understand,” he says, then. And as usual — Leah isn't sure if Dick does understand, if anyone does, but — Dick doesn’t seem to be lying. Dick never seems to be lying with her. 

 

She shifts in her seat. Her fingers grip the pages a little more firmer, until they crease. 

 

“Yeah, I,” she pauses. Looking for the right word. “ But she’s — I’m — “ Leah takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to be her. Not anymore.”

 

He looks at her. And then he smiles, a soft thing. Almost reverent. “I understand,” he says again. 

 

She smiles back. A quick thing, but Dick’s smile gets bigger anyway.  

 

 

 

 

 

“Why am I doing this to myself,” Dick says, mournfully. “I should’ve gotten into management.”

 

“You don’t mean that,” Leah tells him, taking the last slice of pizza, holding her phone with her other hand. There are pizza boxes strewn on the floor. Dick is face down on the couch, legs askew and careless, stacks of paper everywhere around him. Leah is going to make him clean all of it up; she isn't going to let him make a mess of her apartment.

 

“Yeah, I don’t,” Dick admits immediately. “Maybe I should’ve become a lit major. Jason was right all along.”

 

Leah rolls her eyes. “If you had just manage your time properly, you wouldn’t be having this kinda shit. What the fuck have you been doing, anyway?" she chides. "What do you do every night, sleep?”

 

“Exactly,” Dick says, pointing a roll of paper at her. “Sleep. That’s what you’re supposed to do at night. Sleep, dammit. Not cramming one semester worth of — ” Dick gestures to his laptop vaguely. “This.”

 

“Uhuh,” she says a little distractedly, eyeing her phone screen. 

 

“She’ll text you back,” Dick tells her. 

 

“..maybe.”

 

“She will,” Dick assures her. He reaches for the remote and turns on the TV, shifting between channels. “She’d be insane not to.” 

 

Leah sighs. She isn’t going to argue — if she does, Dick would just keep insisting what a great catch Leah is for the next four hours. “Maybe,” she says again. And then her phone pings. 

 

“See,” Dick says, still switching channels, when Leah makes an embarrassingly happy noise. “I told you so.”

 

“Wait,” Leah says, when her focus has returned to her surrounding and not her phone. “Wait, switch back.”

 

“The news?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

The screen flicks to a reporter in Blüdhaven, an obscured picture of Nightwing at the corner of the scene. Like all the Bat vigilantes, it’s suspiciously difficult to get a decent picture of Nightwing — they are either very low quality, or taken off the internet five minutes after they are uploaded. “—ever descends into chaos. The question is, are the benefits of having this masked vigilante, completely outside the law —“

 

“I met him, once,” Leah says, suddenly. 

 

“Who?” 

 

“Nightwing.”

 

He looks at her, then. “For real? Like, the Nightwing?”

 

“That one,” Leah confirms. “Yeah. In the — the few months when he first showed up. A year ago, I think.”

 

“Huh,” Dick says. “Sick. What was he like?”

 

Leah thinks for a moment. “Shorter than you’d think,” she says, and Dick snorts. 

 

Leah thinks of that night, just like how she does, often. How the night air was unforgivingly freezing. The wind, relentless, slapping her hair on to her cheeks like whips. Underneath her bare feet, the concrete was cold, like a block of ice. 

 

Hey. That gloved hand, outstretched to her. May I sit with you?  She had looked at him. He had looked back, maybe. She couldn’t have told, not with the mask and those white lenses in the way. 

 

Below, a myriad of people. Sirenes blaring, lights flashing. 

 

Suit yourself, she had said. Just tell them to turn off the lights. They hurt my fucking eyes.

 

Alright, he had done what she had asked, and then he had sat with her. Not too close, but not too far either. A perfect, consciously calculated distance. A stranger and a stranger, one in a skin-tight costume, one in a hospital gown. Sitting on a rooftop. On the edge of a thirty five story fall.

 

I’ll keep my promise, he had told her. I won’t stop you. But —

 

 

 

 

 

He was kind,” Leah says. “Nightwing. He was — he was kind.”

 

 

 

 

 

— If you think there is a chance, no matter how small, that there might be just one happy day out there —

 

 

 

 

 

“Was he,” Dick says. Not quite a question. He is looking at the TV. The reporter is still talking, something about jurisdictions and unsupervised violence. 

 

“He was,” Leah answers anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

— then take my hand. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Listen,” Dick says. “I’m growing it out, okay.”

 

“You are growing a mullet,” Anita says. “A mullet, Dick.” 

 

“I’m growing it out,” Dick corrects her. “Just give it a month.” 

 

“Then I solemnly inform you that you can’t walk with us for a month.”

 

Dick pouts. Andri snorts very unaesthetically to his coke. 

 

“Wait until it’s long enough and I can finally put it in a manbun,” Dick stabs at her with a licorice. “You’ll be very sorry. This is a sacrifice needed for the greater good.

 

“The greater good of seeing you in a manbun?” Anita deadpans. 

 

“Yes,” Dick says. 

 

“Listen, Dick,” Thomas says. “Dickieboy. My man. My Dickly Boy.”

 

“Stop,” Dick tells him.

 

“My Phallic Friend. You look like Fabio.”

 

“Oh my God,” Andri says. 

 

“I just don’t understand why you’re sabotaging yourself like this, Dick,” Anita says. “We all care about you. We can’t let you outside the house looking like David Bowie.”

 

“How is that an insult?” Dick argues.

 

“Dicker,” Thomas says, and Dick side eyes him hard. “Dicker, my dude, it looks like a rat’s nest. It looks like white people’s cultural invasion.” Andri chokes on his own spit.

 

“Reconsider your life decisions, Dick. Iran banned mullets in 2010. You’re wearing a hairstyle banned by an entire country.

 

“Fuck you guys,” Dick says. “Andri said they look good!”

 

“What?” Andri says defensively when they look at him. “I’m a chronic people pleaser. You can wear a discowing and I’d still tell you you look good.” But it wouldn’t be a lie, he doesn’t say. Dick would probably look fucking amazing in a discowing.

 

“Discowings are good,” Dick says, which is a very disturbing moment, but not the point nevertheless. 

 

“No one looks good with a mullet, Dick!” Anita says. “Not even Brad Pitt. Not even Superman.”

 

“Hey!”

 

“Objection,” Thomas raises his hand. 

 

“Tell her, Thomas!” Dick says. To Anita, he says seethingly, “you can’t insult Superman like that in front of my face and —“

 

“No, actually,” Thomas clears his throat. “I was about to say that Dick actually. Um. Still looks good.” They turn to look at him. “What? I’m masculinely secure enough to say that.” 

 

“Shoot your shot,” Anita coughs, and Andri snickers.

 

“Oh,” Dick says, pauses, and smiles as if he just got a pleasant surprise, like he doesn’t know he looks good. “Thanks, man.”

 

Thomas clears his throat again. “No problemo.”

 

Thomas isn’t wrong. But it’s just — it’s a mullet, damn it. Anita rolls her eyes. “Listen, it doesn’t matter how perfect his bone structure is. No one is gonna look at a dude with a mullet and think, oh, that mullet makes me all hot and bothered!”

 

“Come on,” Dick says, while Thomas and Andri wheeze to each other.

 

Andri’s phone pings. “Wait, Krishna and Sheila’s here.”

 

“Tell them to come in, door’s unlocked,” Thomas says.

 

“What?” Anita turns on him, incredulous. “Thomas, you don’t lock your door?”

 

“This is West Gotham,” Thomas says, as if it's an excuse. “What? Everyone’s rich here! No one’s gonna rob anyone.”

 

“Dude. That is,” Andri shakes his head, “incredibly stupid.”

 

“Hello,” Krishna says, sashaying in to the room. She twirls around, the rainbow dress twirling together with her, making a rainbow circle around her. “How do I look, peasants?”

 

“Like a traffic light,” Thomas says, and he receives a thrown slipper at his face.

 

“You look amazing,” Dick says, and he receives a full on blush on Krishna’s face. 

 

“You really went all out, huh?”

 

“Of course, of course!”

 

“She spent three hours on her make up,” Sheila complains, coming from the door. She’s wearing rainbow splashed tank top, and she’s painted the flags on her cheeks. 

 

“Darn,” Anita says, looking down at her clothes. “I feel like I’m not festive enough, now.”

 

“Alphonse has a set of markers somewhere,” Alphonse is Thomas five year old half-brother. “We can draw some rainbows on our forehead or something.”

 

“Markers are toxic on the skin,” Dick informs him. 

 

“So? I’m not a pussy.”

 

“Sasha and Leiah are already there,” Anita announces, looking up from the phone. “So are Reiland and Tasya. Let’s go, slowpokes.”

 

“Dick, are you,” Sheila pauses, stares at him with a funny look on her face. “Going to, um, cut your hair anytime soon?”

 

Thomas guffaws. “No,” Dick grumbles, pouting a little, even. Which makes him look cute. Even with a mullet.

 

“We’ve been trying to get him to cut it. Tell him he looks like a jackass.”

 

“Hey!” Dick rams his shoulder into Thomas, which makes Thomas almost falls to the floor because Dick's shoulders are of an olympic athlete's or whatever.

 

“It does make you look kind of like a jackass,” Krishna agrees, with an apologetic shrug. “Like a hipster fuckboy who quotes Shakespeare to impress chicks and showers two times a week.”

 

“That’s,” Thomas pauses. “That’s weirdly specific.”

 

“I have a grudge.”

 

“You look like white people’s cultural invasion,” Sheila says again.

 

Thomas snaps his fingers. “That’s what I said!”

 

“Okay, stop,” Dick says, full-force pouting now. It’s actually adorable. Maybe that pout alone is the sole reason they keep teasing him on his hair. Maybe. “Fuck you guys, alright? Leave me and my mullet alone.

 

“So it is a mullet —“

 

“As much as I love shitting on mullets,” Anita states over them, “the parade starts at 12. The street’s gonna close off, we gotta hurry.”

 

“Yes, Ma’am.”

 

“Hey,” Dick nudges Andri, when they sit inside the car. Krishna calls Shotgun, Anita and Thomas are arguing which of them should drive. “You’ve been awfully quiet. Nervous?”

 

Andri shrugs, though his face heats up a little from that kind of attention. “A little,” he admits. He sighs. “A lot. I think I’m gonna puke.”

 

“Damn, I picked the wrong seat, didn’t I?”

 

Andri laughs. “Ass.” He wipes his hands on his jeans. They’re all sweaty and clammy. “I don’t know. I’ve — I’ve always wanted to go, you know?” The car starts. He looks and Dick, and Dick is looking at him, listening without a word. It kind of grounds him, somehow. He continues. “I always … this is stupid. I always imagined how it’d be like. Surrounded by people like me. People who — accept me, I guess.” He shrugs again. “But now that I’m actually — going to do it, I feel —“ he shakes his head. “It’s dumb,” he says, suddenly ashamed of his outburst. “I’m sorry, forget it.”

 

“It’s not dumb,” Dick says, putting a warm hand on his shoulder. He used to sputter, when Dick touches him casually like that. But now, it’s just a comfort. A presence of a friend. Dick adds, softly, “Dumbass.” 

 

Andri hits him (still feels like hitting a brick wall). Dick hits back, with much less force. It’s kind of mildly infuriating, and endearing. “I don’t know,” Andri says again, voice low so that the others can't hear them. Sheila and Thomas are arguing over which one would be more gay appropriate, Beyonce or Lady Gaga. Anita insists on playing Panic! At The Disco. “I guess I’m scared.”

 

Andri has never been ashamed. Never tries to hide. But somehow, it’s daunting, to actually be a part of it. Marching down the streets. Waving his colors all over the place. Being a part of something bigger than him. 

 

“Me too.”

 

Andri looks at him. Dick shrugs, pulls up one corner of his mouth into a bright grin. The corners of his eyes crinkle. The dark circles under them are ever so present, something that Andri wouldn’t notice if he didn’t talk to him as much as he did. Dick looks exhausted, sometimes, only when he thinks no one is looking. “I guess we’ll be scared together. That sounds good to you?”

 

Andri throws his head back, laughs. Single Ladies is blaring from the stereo, along with Thomas’ terrible falsetto. “Yeah. That sounds good to me.”

 

“Alright. Don’t throw up, though.”

 

Andri hits him. Dick hits back, still with that exasperating gentleness.

 

“But you know,” Dick says, after a while. “You are here anyway.” He shrugs. “That’s courage. You’re brave.”

 

Andri snorts, ignores yet another blush blooming on his cheeks. “How cheesy can you get?” He murmurs, though fondly.

 

“I’m old-fashioned.”

 

“Yeah,” Andri pointedly looks at his hair. “I can tell.

 

Dick hits him, but he’s smiling. “What’s that supposed to mean, huh?” 

 

Andri hits back, but he’s smiling too. His hands don’t feel as cold, now. “Nothing,” he says. And then, “We are brave.” Dick’s smile gets bigger, and there are things Andri wants to say. Things like, I’m glad we became friends. I have a two year old crush on you but I don’t want to make it weird. And things he wants to ask, like, why are you so amazing? Why are you so tired all the time? 

 

Instead, he says nothing, listening to Dick singing along to Bad Romance (Thomas and Krishna decide to compromise, Anita is sulking), his voice annoyingly decent and sweet. Maybe he isn't that brave, after all. Not yet.

 

At the parade, Dick carries them on his shoulders at turns. Andri is first, waving the Pride flag like the world is going to end, his friends’ laughter high and ringing in his ears. Dick’s hands on his knees are a steady presence, grounding and warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anita opens the door to find Dick standing on her porch soaked to the bone.

 

“Um, hi,” Dick says. She stares for a few seconds before her brain kicks in — that does seem to happen a lot when Dick Grayson is in the equation — and she unlocks the chain link. 

 

“Wait,” she tells him, and sprints to the bathroom. She grabs a somewhat clean towel. 

 

When she’s back at the living room, Dick is still standing obediently on the WELCOME carpet, dripping water everywhere. He's still wearing his uniform. She hands him the towel, and that’s when she notices a bundle of something Dick is holding in his hands. It takes her a second to recognize the school blazer. 

 

Noticing her attention, he unwraps a part of the fabric a little and a black, furry thing peeks out. 

 

“A cat,” she says, needlessly.

 

“A cat,” he confirms, needlessly. 

 

“Dick,” she says, staring the cat wrapped like a burrito. “You cryptically texted me ‘I’m outside’ with no context at — “ she glances at the croaky grandfather clock she hates in the hall “ — eleven thirty-five pm and show up with a cat?”

 

“Yeah,” he says, a little helplessly. She sighs.

 

“Dry yourself. You look like a drowned cat.“ 

 

“Hey,” Dick chastises her with disdain. “Don’t say that in front of Ulysses.” 

 

“What?”

 

“Ulysses,” Dick says, like it’s obvious. “The cat.”

 

Of course. The goddamn cat. He named the cat Ulysses. What a freak. She is torn between irritation and fondness. “Seriously, dry yourself,” Anita says, moving to the cat. It appears to be sleeping, shivering in Dick’s arms. “I’ll take the —“

 

“No,” Dick says, and there is this slight movement where he holds the cat even closer to him, a protective gesture. That’s when Anita notices the amount of scratches on his forearms— there’s got to be at least ten on one arm alone. Dick, seemingly noticing Anita’s eyes on the fresh scars, adds, “Ulysses is quite hostile.” 

 

Anita stares. Isn’t really sure of what to make of this situation. “You come to my house with a feral cat half an hour before midnight.”

 

Dick has the gal to grin, if a little sheepishly. “Your house is the nearest, and I wanted it to get out of the rain ASAP, so..” 

 

Anita sighs. She goes to the kitchen and shows up with a chair and an extra towel. “Sit,” she tells him. He obeys, and she … puts a towel on his head, which he peeks from underneath, looking up at her with those big ass blue eyes. She looks away immediately and goes back inside to get a set of dry clothes from her brother’s closet.

 

It’s just a teeny, tiny stupid crush. At least she had thought it was, but as months progress, and then a year, she realizes that it’s not really a crush. She thinks she just can’t take that amount of sincerity to her face for an extended period of time.

 

When she returns, Dick is tending to the cat. He wipes it with the extra towel, so soft and so gently he seems to be moving in slow motion. The cat has stopped shivering, twitching every once in a while. It’s malnourished — extremely so. She can count its ribs. It has one eye, and its right front foot is disfigured. 

 

Several droplets of water fall from Dick’s bangs and hit its fur. It twitches, and purrs dissatisfiedly. “Sorry, big guy,” Dick whispers and then takes the towel around his neck to somewhat dry his hair, taking care as to not bother the cat on his lap. He’s talking to the cat and it looks ridiculous and it makes Anita smile. Just a teeny, tiny smile. She clears her throat, not so loudly. “Change your clothes first,” she points her thumb at the t-shirt and some ugly khaki shorts on the small coffee table. “Big guy.”

 

Dick gives her a small smile. “Thanks.” 

 

He takes the cat, still wrapped in his blazer, from his lap. It doesn’t budge. He sets it gently on the sofa. “Bathroom is on the left, first door,” she tells him. She inches closer to the cat. Its fur is dirty, matted from the rain. There are bald patches on its body. Some pus, she’s sure, if she were to examine further. Feral. She thinks about the scratches on Dick. It’s still sleeping, probably due to exhaustion. Feral cats wouldn’t sleep around strangers they don’t trust. It’s full of fleas and germs and whatnot, indubitably, but. She doesn’t really have the heart to throw it outside, even if Dick isn’t in the picture.

 

Her dad would freak if he saw it on his couch. 

 

Whatever. Her dad is an asshole.

 

She is setting up the first aid kit when Dick returns. The clothes prove to be a tad too small on Dick, especially on the — and she tries her best not to stare at them too long — pectorals, and the khaki shorts are terrible. It’s a refreshing change to see Dick wearing clothes that look bad. Though mostly it’s like seeing a supermodel in a questionable wardrobe choices. But whatever. 

 

He looks at the first aid kit. “I did check for wounds, but it’s mostly infested rashes, and I was thinking of doing some alcohol cleansing but it could be allergic, it’s better if I checked it to the vet first —“

 

Anita doesn’t know what it is about it that’s ridiculous, frustrating and endearing at the same time. “It’s for you, dumbass.” 

 

Dick looks at him like a deer at a headlight. “Oh,” he says, like his arms aren’t bleeding all over and are possibly half infected by now. 

 

“Is that a bruise?” She points at his forehead, where a half-healing bruise peeks out from underneath the bangs. It’s green-ish, and quite big. At least the size of a tennis ball.  “That wasn’t there this morning.”

 

“It’s — I — “ Dick pauses. It’s an odd sight, seeing him looking uncomposed, like a kid caught in a lie.

 

Realization dawns on her. “You’d covered it with make up.” And the rain had washed it away.

 

Dick looks at her in the eye, a little blankly. In the low light of Anita’s shitty living room, his cheekbones look more prominent, the gaunt of the dark circles under the startling blue eyes darker than ever. For an odd, surreal second, he looks like a different person. “Bumped my head during practice,” Dick says finally, not denying her. He shrugs. “I didn’t want questions.”

 

“Okay,” Anita says. She doesn't think it's a good idea to push, even if she thinks it's a lie. “I’ll clean those up for you.”

 

“Oh, I’m fine,” Dick says immediately. “You don’t need — “

 

Anita rolls her eyes. “Don’t be stupid. Sit.”

 

Dick opens his mouth like he wants to argue, but then closes it again, and he says, “let me make sure Ulysses is warm enough first.” Probably knowing that Anita wouldn’t let him out of the house if he keeps pressing on it.

 

Anita rolls her eyes, again. “Fine.” 

 

Anita pulls out some medical cottons, ailments. Dick seems to be satisfied with Ulysses’ insulation. He sits back down, looking suddenly awkward and stiff. Anita raises a brow, and then Dick sighs, giving her his arm. 

 

Anita knows he must work out, regularly, but it’s still a surprise to actually see the muscles cording under his skin like snakes. Not something you’d expect from a high schooler, even if they’re a jock. And Dick is not even a jock. 

 

She examines the cat scratches crisscrossing with, to her surprise, several fading scars on Dick’s arms. Scars that she never really noticed.

 

Does he put make up on those, too?

 

“Okay,” Anita says, looks up to Dick’s eyes. She takes a deep breath. “I have to ask.”

 

Dick sighs, too. “I know what you’re thinking. You aren’t the first to ask.”

 

“What?”

 

“I don’t cut myself,” Dick says. He doesn’t seem to be lying. But that’s the thing — he’s too believable.

 

“Okay,” Anita starts doing her job, pouring the alcohol to cotton swabs. It’s not really her business, anyway. They’re friends, but not pouring-your-whole-heart-to-each-other friends. 

 

“You don’t believe me,” Dick states, not in disdain, or anything. Just a remark of an observation.

 

It’s not like she doesn’t believe him. He doesn’t — he doesn’t seem depressed, but again, no one usually does. You can’t really tell, with this stuff. And Dick has always looked too perfect. But sometimes, when he thinks no one is looking … especially lately..

 

He just always looks so tired, these days.

 

“I do,” she says, a little rushed, feeling suddenly ashamed of her assumption. “Sorry, it’s really — I shouldn’t have asked that.”

 

“It’s fine,” he says. Grayson, always quick to placate. “Don’t worry about it.”

 

She swabs the wounds, and it must burn, but Dick doesn’t even flinch. They fall into a somewhat comfortable silence, save for the constant ticking from the clock. 

 

She has Dick Grayson in her living room on Friday night. It’s a little off-putting. An odd scenario, but. She thinks she’s gotten used to it. 

 

The first time Dick had gone into her house, they hadn’t known each other for long. For two, three months, maybe, after Andri brought him in to their circle of losers. They were doing a project together for Literature. She had expected Dick to make a commentary about her place, as the guy who literally lived in a manor. To make some snide remarks, give backhanded compliments. Or to at least look miffed by the poor condition. 

 

He didn’t. He ate all Anita’s mom’s cookies and gushed over her brother’s Superman merchandise. There weren’t even that much merchandise — they don’t have that kind of money — most are homemade with her mother’s amateur workmanship. But Dick had loved it like it was a limited edition collection.

 

“You know,” Anita says, making sure her volume is quiet enough as not to startle the cat. “I think this is, like, the third time I’ve ever seen you past eleven.”

 

Dick laughs. “You make me sound like a kid with curfew.”

 

Anita raises her eyebrows. “I mean..”

 

They’ve had this conversation before. “Bruce doesn’t give me curfews.”

 

“Sure he doesn’t.” Dick almost never stays past eleven. On the rare occasions where he agrees on going to parties with them, he goes home like Cinderella, except for when things go awry — aka all of them too inebriated to be thinking properly, let alone to drive. Which then, Dick would be the designated driver. Dick never gets drunk.

 

But those are very, very rare occasions. He usually just says no with an apology and a smile. If it were anyone else, Anita would call them arrogant. Stuck up. But Dick, as she has come to know, isn’t like that.

 

Really isn’t like that. 

 

Doesn’t,” Dick retorts indignantly, though he’s still smiling. “I’m not a loser, I don’t have curfews.” Anita snorts. 

 

“Yeah, you’re busy, Wayne Enterprise, girlfriends, homeworks, blah blah blah, you straight As asshole,” Anita says, as if she isn’t herself a straight As asshole. At the first few times that they ask and Dick doesn’t come, they consider to stop asking. Maybe Dick actually doesn’t want to hang out with them, which is — fine. But then Andri insists. And then they actually like Dick — it didn’t even take them long to do so — so. Here they are. 

 

So that’s maybe why Anita decides to bring something up, something that’s been bothering her in the past few months. “Dick,” she starts, then hesitates. “Lately, you’ve been … you seem … down,” she finishes lamely. She isn’t really sure where she’s going with this. Isn’t sure if this crosses her boundary, because there is some kind of boundary, between Dick and her. Or Dick and everyone. That's an entirely different thing, but. He does seem off, lately, he — he doesn’t hang out with them as much as he used to. Or should it be said, he hangs out with them even less, now, and even though they know Dick well enough to know that he doesn’t mean it like that — it doesn’t really help the gap that’s starting to grow between them. The boundary that has always been there, sitting without words, something that they pretend not to see. That chasm is getting bigger.

 

And lately, those dark circles under his eyes are getting darker. 

 

“Really?” Dick murmurs, and if the question bothers him, it doesn’t show. “I guess I’ve been pretty worn out, lately. Exams and all.”

 

Yeah, right. “Oh.” She pushes the disappointment to the back of her mind. “Cats and all, too, hm?”

 

He grins like he’s embarrassed. “Um, about that. Yeah. Sorry.”

 

She shakes her head, can’t help but smile a little. “How many cats have you found in the rain, huh?” Andri did say something about that a few times.

 

“Technically, it wasn’t raining when I found Ulysses.”

 

Anita raises an eyebrow. “What?” she says. It’s been raining since noon. “Did you spent the whole day trying to catch a cat?”

 

She means it as a joke, but Dick bites his lips diffidently, and, “well..”

 

She gives him an incredulous look. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He can’t be serious. 

 

Abused animals are very distrustful,” he says, matter-of-factly, like it’s an excuse.

 

She doesn’t know what to say. She realizes her hands are pausing at their job, hovering above the seventh scratch on Dick’s left arm. “So what, you stood at an alley for eight hours straight with a can of tuna?” In the rain? In March? She doesn’t add. Are you stupid?

 

“No,” he says, elongating the o. “I did take a break and bought a hotdog. That one stand near the docks is incredible, did you know?”

 

She did know. “Dick,” she starts. “That’s —“ ridiculous. Stupid. Kind. She doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know why it makes her feel irrationally exasperated, and full. “What were you thinking?” The list of reasons go on: he could've caught a cold. Could've gotten mugged. Et fucking cetera, but she doesn't see any merit in listing them. 

 

Dick tilts his head to the side, actually thinking for an answer. “That it’d die? I guess. It hardly weighs six pounds. Gave a nasty fight, though,” he shrugs, as if it’s nothing. “I did what I could.”

 

The mental image of Dick, sitting on the sidewalk throwing bits of tuna to an angry cat in the rain is — something. She doesn’t know what it is about it that makes her feel — 

 

“Why?” She says, and it’s not hostile, not really. Just an honest question. 

 

He blinks at her. “Sorry?”

 

“What you did is —“ good, she doesn’t say. If anything, Anita is a realist. “— infinitesimal,” she finishes, looking at him, trying to find something in that pretty face, some kind of answer. “You can’t save every single stray you happen to stumble upon in the street.”

 

She looks. She finds none. “You’re right,” Dick says, and it’s not defensive, or angry, or whatever, even though what Anita said was insensitive, pessimistic. Needlessly cruel. His voice is matter-of-factly, as always. Honest. “I can’t. But I can try.”

 

If this were anyone else, Anita would call them naive. Idealistic. Foolish. But this were Dick Grayson. They’ve been known each other for a full year and a half, now, since that day on the cafeteria — they are friends. And he is anything but stupid. She knows. And yet, she can’t understand him. Not really. Sometimes she wonders if she really ever knows him at all. It’s a weird feeling, an odd thing that shows up in her face once in a while. 

 

Maybe it’s because he’s crazy rich, or stupidly kind. Maybe because he held Andri’s hand or because he scared the shit out of David Hower. Maybe because he picked Sheila up from a club’s bathroom three in the fucking morning when no one else answered her call — twice. Maybe because sometimes there is a look on Dick’s face, when he isn’t smiling. A look so detached that makes him look like an entirely different person, like a stranger. Maybe because Dick sat on the sidewalk throwing bits of tuna to an angry cat for eight hours, five of those in the rain, because he couldn’t let it die.

 

“We had a lot of animals, back in the circus,” Dick says, suddenly, amidst Anita’s silence. He looks at the skinny cat curling on the sofa. There is something in his face, that she's never seen before. It makes her pause.  “There was this tiger. He was — well, he was treated poorly. They used to … beat him up. To make him listen. We could hear the whipping day and night,” he pauses. “It died, eventually.” 

 

He adds, and the way he says it oh-so-casually with a small, somewhat somber smile, “I still think about it, sometimes.” 

 

I did what I could. She puts the last plaster on his arm. Anita doesn’t say anything, mostly out of surprise. 

 

Dick never really talks like this. His circus days is something that comes up, for one or two sentences, some nostalgic remarks or random facts that are shared once in a while, but — Dick never really talks about himself that much. Not things that really matter, anyway. But this one — this tidbit information of a poor, dead tiger — something tells her that this one matters. And she can’t bring her head to produce anything worth saying. 

 

“There was nothing you could do,” she says, even though she doesn’t know if that’s really the right thing to say. 

 

Dick’s smile twists, for an almost imperceptible moment, to something harsher. “Bruce told me that too,” he says. There is that moment again, that split second where he looks like an entirely different person. And somehow, Anita feels like this isn’t really about the cat or the tiger anymore. She opens her mouth to speak — to say anything — but nothing comes out. “Thank you,” he says, suddenly, smiling a bright Dick Grayson smile as if by a flip of a switch — and that’s it. She knows, somehow, that she’s lost her chance. “I really didn’t mean to intrude, I — “

 

“Dick,” Anita throws a cotton swab at him. “Shut up,” she says, jokingly, but her heart isn’t in it.

 

“Alright, jeez,” Dick raises both hands in mock surrender, laughing, but something about it — for the first time — sounds forced. “Anyway,” Dick stands, softly, as not to disrupt the cat. “The rain’s stopped. I should get going.”

 

“Oh,” Anita doesn’t know what just happened. There was something there, something real, so quick and sudden that she doesn’t know if she imagines it. And now it’s gone. She doesn’t know why, but the pit of her stomach feels like ice.

 

“Ulysses’d freak if it wakes up here.” He pauses. “Well, Ulysses’d freak nonetheless, but I don’t want to destroy your house.”

 

Abused animals are very distrustful. “How did you know it was abused?”

 

“Well,” he says, stares at his wet uniform on the coffee table. “Sorry, can I have — “ Anita passes him a plastic bag. “Thanks,” he throws her another smile, putting them in his backpack. “Well. You see its eye? Yeah, and the foot. They aren’t natural. Manmade. Probably nail gun. It didn’t want to touch the treats I gave for a long time, even though it was starving…” he shrugs, slings his backpack across his back. “It’s just an assumption, anyway. I’ll bring it to the vet first thing in the morning.”

 

He scoops the cat into his arms, hugging it close into his chest as if it were a baby, with a tenderness that makes Anita’s lips curve. Something about it, that she can’t quite place her finger on. “Let’s go home, big guy,” he whispers to it. It shifts, and then snuggles its small, damaged head to the warmth of Dick’s chest.

 

Anita looks away. She opens the door for him. The clock reads fifteen past twelve.

 

“Get a cab,” Anita tells him, opens the door for him. She moved from East Gotham in two years ago, but this area isn’t exactly safe either. “Don’t walk.”

 

“Thanks,” Dick says. “For letting me in your house until twelve in the morning.”

 

Anita shrugs. “It’s nothing.” A little weird, but yeah. Nothing compared to what Dick has done for her, and her friends. Dick flashes him a bright smile, putting on his shoes, starts to leave.

 

The urge to say something is still there. She has to say something, but she doesn’t know what. “Hey, Dick,” she calls anyway. Dick turns. 

 

They look at each other. Somewhere in the distance, a siren is howling. She can hear people chattering, laughing, crying. Yelling. Gotham noises. Stereo blaring somewhere, and at another place, someone playing a piano badly. Maybe a gunshot or two. Dick’s face looks like a marble statue, precariously angled and silent, cold. 

 

She doesn’t know what it is. Why she even cares that much, why it pops in her brain every once in a while, even if they don’t really see each other routinely anymore. Those scars on his arms. That blank look on his face. The growing gap.

 

Sometimes she sees Dick, in class, two rows in front of her, staring into the distance. Looking so weary like he has the whole world on his shoulders. She doesn't know why it looks so fucking lonely. She’d like to think it’s just her imagination. But if anything, Anita is a realist. It is not a crush, not some dumb form of romanticization.

 

“You know, about what we talked about earlier,” she says. “The strays. You said that you could try. But you don’t have to. It’s — it’s none of your business. You can just — walk away.”

 

It’s not really about the cat or the tiger anymore. Dick looks at her. The light flickers — she should change that bulb. Something in his face softens, and it makes him look more human, less statuesque. More like a boy. “No,” he answers like it’s the easiest question in the world, like it's the only thing he's ever sure of. “I can’t.” And then he walks away.

 

Anita watches his figure gets smaller and smaller as he does. She doesn’t close the door until Dick disappears out of sight.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

This isn’t — not really? — the weirdest thing that has happened to her.

 

“Can I have that Oreo McFlurry thing?”

 

“Machine broke,” says the guy behind the counter, in between chewing his gum. She’s pretty sure that’s not allowed — she has a part time job at Subway, and her manager would kill her if she eats on her shift — but it’s like, three in the morning. So.

 

“Dammit. What do you want, kid?”

 

“Um,” she says. And there are a lot of things running through her head, like, what the fuck, or like, what the fuck am i doing? But she says: “double cheeseburger. Um, no pickles. Please.”

 

“That,” money exchanged. “And make it two. With pickles.”

 

They sit. She unwraps the one without pickles written with a marker on it. The McDonalds joint is relatively empty. She sees no other person than the gum chewing guy. And there is a very tired looking lady on her mac at the back.

 

And them.

 

It’s not the weirdest thing, really? But definitely the most awkward burger eating she ever had.

 

“I have no money,” she blurts out after the third bite. “I lost —“

 

“Your wallet,” he grunts. He wipes sauce at the corner of his lips. His knuckles, she notes, are bleeding. “You said that already. Did I make you pay?”

 

“...no.”

 

“Well, are you hungry?”

 

“...yes.”

 

He raises an imperious eyebrow like it explains everything. He takes another bite.

 

She follows.

 

It’s still fairly awkward.

 

But. He doesn’t seem like he’s gonna — kill her or anything. Probably. Maniacs don’t buy their victims burgers before peeling their skins off, right?

 

Right.

 

“What’s —“ her voice cracks. She blushes. She clears her throat. “What’s your name,” she tries again.

 

The guy chews for a second, and frowns a little, like he’s thinking about it. “Richard,” he says decidedly. He swallows.

 

Richard. Okay. Somehow it sounds like he just picked a name randomly. She isn’t sure if he’s — well, that’s a generic caucasian name, right? — he looks ambiguous enough.

 

He looks like. A bit like a junkie, if she’s honest; and a lot like a homeless guy. Mid-twenties? Or early twenties. Probably lives in his cab. He smells, his cab smells, and that jacket looks chewable. A half healing bruise on his left cheekbone. And his forearms are littered with bandaids. There is that tired, black ringed look under his eyes — and they look a little bloodshot — but there is a clarity there, that you don’t see in addicts. But she can’t be too sure.

 

He looks like if a model got thrown in the streets and got on crack.

 

“What’s your name,” Richard says, and if he notices her staring, he doesn’t seem to mind.

 

“Bhairavi,” she says, and there it goes — she is now eating burgers at McDonalds three in the morning with a stranger, namely Richard, whom is her probably-junkie cab driver, who now knows her name. Very smart of her.

 

He makes a hn sound. “Durga. Cool name,” he says, with what sounds like genuine appreciation.

 

“Thanks,” she says, with pleasant surprise. Most of her friends call her B because they can’t pronounce it. “I, uh, picked it myself.” Instant regret. Should’ve kept her mouth shut. Shit.

 

“Good taste.”

 

Oh. She holds a smile. She clears her throat. “Are you, um, Tamil?”

 

“I’m Rom,” he says. He wipes his hands with a napkin. “Wait here.”

 

When he returns, he has two water bottles and a plastic bag. And a lot of napkins. “You done?”

 

They got to the parking lot. The second the car door opens, the scent hits her nose; and Bhairavi starts feeling guilty again; she’d almost forgotten about this. He nudges her with a water bottle. “Take care of your, uh, friend,” he tells her, and hands her some napkins.

 

“Do you, um, do you need help with —“

 

He makes a shooing motion and leans down as he begins to clean the vomit all over the cab’s floor with no further comment.

 

Weird guy. She glances at the ID card on the dashboard. Richard Grayson. Richard. Huh. Don’t know why that surprises her; she had a feeling he’d lied for some reason.

 

And anyways. She'd thought he was going to yell at them, or kick them out, even before Taissa projectiled on the highway — cause she came clean and told him she'd lost her wallet. And then Taissa projectiled on the highway. And she was fucking scared shitless, no lie, but then he sighed hard, and he went, are you hungry? And it was probably because her stomach made a sound sometime on the ride, which was embarrassing enough on its own.

 

Real weird guy.

 

“Taissa,” she pokes her cheek, gently. Bhairavi would lie if she said she wasn’t pissed at her, but nevertheless. “Hey, dude. Wake up.”

 

She shifts. They’d left the window open. She’s curling, laying on the seats; Bhairavi tries to get her upright with little success. “Dude. Seriously.”

 

Taissa mumbles something incoherent, but seems to be waking up, whatever — Bhairavi pushes the mouth of the bottle to her lips. She’d put a straw in. “Come on.”

 

Bhiravi wipes her face with the tissues as Taissa indignantly sips slowly. “You owe me so much for this, you idiot,” Bhairavi mumbles, but with no bite. You can’t really get mad at someone who is practically harmless and, in this case, incredibly inebriated. “What was that?”

 

“Where’s he,” Taissa repeats. With great difficulty.

 

“Who?”

 

“Hot guy.”

 

“I’m still not gonna marry you,” Richard says from outside. He’s kneeling on the ground, shoving Taissa’s vomit into plastic bag with makeshift glove tissue.

 

“Oh my god,” Bhairavi mumbles, her face heats in secondhand embarrassment. She is so gonna torture Taissa with her impromptu, drunken marriage proposal to a cabbie for the rest of her life.

 

Taissa starts crying again, like she did when Richard refused her love confession the first time (it was along the lines of “you’re the most — the most beautiful man I’ve ever —” a lot of hiccuping, and then she threw up midcry).

 

“Taissa, get it together, ohmygod.

 

The sky is still pitch black when the car starts again. Her phone — which she miraculously did not lose, unlike her wallet; her mom is going to kill her — reads 03:48. School starts in five hours. She isn't exactly feeling sleepy yet. She's still a bit on edge from adrenaline. She just experienced her whole slew of first times tonight: first time illegal drinking, first time 'clubbing', first time meeting a legit creep and probably almost got into real danger, first time losing her wallet, first time eating burger with her cab driver. Et cetera.

 

She is going to kill Taissa.

 

The car stinks. It stank before, like, a mixed scent of mustard and vomit and pee and vodka, but now the vomit aspect of it overpowers the rest. And a newly added scent of strawberry tequila.

 

“Thanks,” she says. Taissa is sleeping on her lap. “For the burgers. And for, uh.”

 

He glances at her from the rear view. “For punching that creep’s teeth out?”

 

“Um, yeah.” She adds, “that was pretty badass, by the way.” She never saw someone actually knocked out cold from one punch irl before. Or people punching in general. Another first time.

 

She can’t see his mouth, but his eyes crinkle, which, okay — the most beautiful guy ever, huh? — he smiles, for the first time since she got in his car.

 

(Window rolled down, he’d said, “did you order an uber?” she didn't.

 

“Hey,” the creep had said, his fingers tight around Taissa’s left wrist, Bhairavi’s around Taissa’s right. “We’re in the middle of somethin’ here.”)

 

It disappears as soon as it appeared. “You shouldn’t have gone there,” he says gruffly. “Not for another four years. Hell — find a better place, even then.”

 

“We’re twenty-one,” she says dumbly.

 

Twenty-one?” He snorts. “If you’re twenty one then I’m the goddamn Wonder Woman.” A pause. “I know they don’t card there.”

 

So now she’s getting scolded by a cabbie. A cabbie who just bought her breakfast, cleaned her friend’s vomit, and is now taking her home — all for free. Unless if she ended up in a ditch with her skin all peeled off or something.

 

She’ll process all of this later.

 

And in her defense, it wasn’t her idea. It was technically on Taissa. All of it. Damn it, Taissa. She doesn’t know what to say, so she just goes, “um.”

 

Silence. And then, “this is Blüd, kid. And even if it’s not, ‘s not smart, yeah?”

 

She doesn’t know why she starts feeling even guiltier — she doesn’t even know who the hell this guy is, probably a crackhead — but she does, for some unfathomable reason. It feels a little like getting told off by her mom.

 

She would be pissed, in any other situation, with any other stranger. But she doesn’t. For some unfathomable reason.

 

When the car stops, her phone reads exactly 04:00. The sky is still pitch black.

 

“Sorry,” she says, before getting out. “For the vomit,” she pauses awkwardly. “And. Everything.”

 

“You should be,” he says, with no bite. He hands her a scrap of paper. She takes it.

 

It’s the McDonalds receipt. She looks at him puzzledly before turning it — at the blank back is a series of number and the name Ric in blocky handwriting, underlined. “If you need a —” he shrugs, offbeat. “— an emergency ride. Or you can just throw that away. Your choice.”

 

Weird guy. Weird night.

 

Why, she wants to ask. She doesn’t. Later that day, she wishes that she had. “I can pay you back," she tries, because it seems right. "I could call you — "

 

He clicks his tongue. "Just do me a favor, kid," he says, staring at her from the rear view. "Next time some weird dude asks you if you're hungry, say no, and get the hell out of his car."

 

She barks out an unflattering, unexpected snort. "Okay."

 

"And don't go drinking. Just buy some Bud Light from Seven-Eleven or something."

 

Fair enough. "Okay." she pauses. Well, that was really fucking weird. And surreal. "Thank you,” Bhairavi says. What the hell. “For. Everything.”

 

He makes a shooing motion.

 

She puts the number in her phone later, after calling her mom and got scolded for the second time that day.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“So it’s a shoe phone.”

 

“It is not a shoe phone.”

 

“Holy spy gadgets, Batman,” Grayson says. “It’s a goddamn shoe phone.”

 

“Will you,” Tiger pinches his eyes shut. “Shut up. You are compromising the mission.”

 

“Oh please, this is the best day of my life,” Grayson grins; a row of bright teeth in the hot, hot air—and Tiger wondered, for a split second, how long has it since the desert has witnessed a smile like so. “Can I get one? Please let me have one.”

 

Tiger spares him a glare for an answer.

 

“But Santa,” Grayson continues, and Tiger knows—Tiger knows what Grayson is doing. Grating on him like the prick he is. “I’ve been good this year.”

 

Tiger will not entertain Grayson’s attempt on having fun. Having fun by bothering him, that is. He puts on his—not shoe phone—communication device. “Bacha.” To Grayson, carefully wording his words as neutral as possible, “you are on,” perhaps that has come out too spiteful. 

 

Grayson winks. Then gets out of the car.

 

Swagger in his walk. Flannel shirt swaying pitifully to the windless air. Gun strapped blatantly on the hips: 9mm Glock that screams CIA. He had thrown in a pair of sunglasses for good measure. Every inch about him is as American as a Texas fried chicken.

 

“Gentlemen,” CIA Agent says.

 

“Sir.”

 

“What’s the holdup?” Calm, but authoritative. Tiger waits. Glances are exchanged as the American guards seize him up. Numerous on duty—he sees at least two dozens on patrol and two control towers overlooking this entrance. This is the largest military base US has in South Afghanistan; the size of a small town. Tiger waits.

 

“We can’t let him in, Sir. After—”

 

“On whose order?”

 

Doesn’t matter. Tiger waits. CIA agent laughs; a charming, foreign sound. “I don’t think you understand, kid,” he smiles, “this is the King of Kandahar. See?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a small, quiet house 7 km from the highway, placed at the border between Kandahar and Herat. Round the corner is a half-ruined hotel where a man walked last year with a bomb in a duffel bag. His target—a rival gang—had been on the other side of the street, but somehow it blew up. Spyral held a short investigation concerning the coincidence of it regarding an agent’s location but then reached a conclusion that it was simply what it was; a coincidence.

 

A young boy sitting cross-legged on the porch stands as soon as he sees them and opens the door. “Stay,” Tiger tells Dick Grayson.

 

“With you?” a lazy grin. So imbecile. The sun will start to set low in the west soon; the sky is growing blood.

 

“Stay here,” Tiger corrects, and he adds firmly, “do not wander.” He does not know why he even bothers, really. He turns around and leaves, and does not look back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he comes out, Grayson is outside the Masjid. It’s odd because it isn’t odd. Tiger had thought that Grayson would look out of place here, like he had in his faux CIA get-up; too clean, too foreign, too pretty. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. The desert suits him, it seems.

 

“I told you to stay,” Tiger says. But he regrets that he does not sound as stern as he wished. Perhaps he is tired. It’s been a long journey. And it’s been a long time.

 

“What was that?”

 

Tiger looks at him. Grayson does not look back. The sky is true red. Birds fly to the west overhead, little dots of black. Dead moon hangs in the sky. Come night, there will be stars. Tiger has missed the stars. It really has been a long time.

 

“The voice,” Grayson says. “The singing. What was it?”

 

A pause. “Azaan,” Tiger answers. “It’s a prayer.”

 

Azaan,” the word rolls on Grayson’s tongue, tumbling wave, foreign. Grayson looks at afar, to the horizon of the city, tethering warzone. Something—uncharacteristic is not the correct word for it—about him, at this moment. Something about it. Sunset pierces the color of Grayson’s eyes to white light. “It’s beautiful,” Grayson says. Pure white light.

 

Tiger looks away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Assalamualaikum,” Grayson says, gently. His accent is not too bad. The boy eyes him warily, however, as he slides Grayson a glass of water. No one trusts strangers here, and foreigners even less; but that does not seem to discourage Grayson from trying.

 

Waalaikumsalam,” the boy replies mildly.

 

“Did you like the food?” Grayson inquires. Spyral tech translates his sentence into formal Pashto. The boy doesn’t reply. Again, Grayson does not seem discouraged in the least. “Want to see something interesting?”

 

Grayson raises his left hand, the one that isn’t holding his food, and wiggles it to show that it’s empty. And then he does a snap—and magically, produces a coin out of empty air. 5 Afghani magically summoned. “Ta-dah.”

 

The boy is visibly impressed. A tug on the corner of his mouth that almost turns into a smile. Grayson seems satisfied. Tiger watches the moment unfolds, silently.

 

“What’s your name?” Grayson says. A moment of hesitation. But then, softly, “Darman.”

 

“Well, Darman, this is for you. And this. And this. And of course, this,” with each, he plucks a new coin out of the air and presents them with a flourish. Darman laughs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I had a guess, you know,” Grayson says, suddenly, but contemplatively. “Considering its objective as a..” a shrug. “An organization. I really didn’t think Spyral would have any qualms in it. I don’t think I was surprised that this trade is of Spyral’s asset.”

 

He continues, despite Tiger’s silence. “And it makes sense,” Grayson takes the last of his rice to his mouth. He doesn’t seem to have a problem eating with his hands. “With you in the equation.”

 

And despite everything Tiger’s sworn to himself in catering to Grayson’s nonsense, Tiger regards him. Grayson is chewing his food rather loudly, sitting askew—near the door, Tiger notes, like a guard dog—all nonchalantly, like. “Get to your point,” Tiger says. “Conversing with you do not entertain me.”

 

That produces a smile. Tiger wonders if it’s deliberate on Tiger’s part. He regrets it.

 

“I just wonder,” Grayson sucks the grease off his fingers while regarding Tiger right back. And there it is again: the sudden—

 

(It’s not “uncharacteristic” when the character itself is in question.)

 

—detachment. An odd kind of bereft. Tiger is a spy; and this is how he sees that Grayson has what it takes to be a good spy—even when he is not.

 

“Of all the agents available. You picked me.” His curiosity sounds genuine. “I know we have our … ah. Shall we say, differences. It surprised me, I suppose, that your affinity towards me—”

 

“There is no such thing.”

 

“—surpasses that, though.”

 

“Don’t be deluded,” Tiger seethes, basically a spit, teeth grinding harshly.

 

A beat; and then Grayson laughs. It doesn’t sound exactly like it had in the military base. Not as arrogant, maybe. More boyish. Less purposefully charming, and more real. “Alright. Just wondering.”

 

The night is quiet except for animals chirping in the bushes. Neon light flickers overhead. Tiger didn’t have that when he was a child; he had a candle, a match, and the stars. “It is because you are different.”

 

Grayson looks at him as if he really hadn’t thought Tiger would respond at all. Grayson always has a particular irking air of nonchalance and comeuppance, a certain arrogant quality of a man who seems like he is always a step ahead of you. It’s a rarity for Tiger to see him the slightest bit surprised, caught off guard. Tiger felt a small incredulous burst of pleasure and ignores it. “You are a bad spy.”

 

Now Grayson is outright baffled. “You chose me because I’m a bad spy?”

 

Tiger ignores him. He stands, suddenly. “The fence is here.”

 

Grayson grumbles something about being an adequate spy, thank you very much, and goes to the room inside.

 

When Grayson returns, the fence is already there, a middle-aged local man. The boy appears with a glass of water for the man and retreats to the corner of the room quietly. Grayson puts the package on the floor and opens it.

 

The scent is faint, but enough. Grayson closes the case. The man takes the package and leaves without touching the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t you dare.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“That was foolish.”

 

“I know,” Grayson says, “I’m sorry.”

 

Tiger didn’t know what he expected, but apparently not an apology. It takes him to a halt, and he despises it. He hates to be so unprofessional. “You put my operation in jeopardy and I cannot accept that. Irresponsible. You should be ashamed.”

 

Silence. His hand is shaking, and not from pain, but worse. “Will you do it again?” he knows the answer.

 

Grayson looks at him in the eye. “Yes.”

 

It’s quick, and hard, but something that someone of Grayson’s caliber would be able to counter. Grayson lets himself be hit, however; and it angers Tiger even more. Perhaps this was a miscalculation. No, this was a risk, and he knew it; this heroic tendency. Isn’t that the point? Wasn’t that the reason? Something that Tiger has been missing for a long time. Something he hasn’t seen in forever; but that’s the catch.

 

It’s a trigger. A thousand things raging to the surface. Sentimental things begging to be said, old as a boy born in the streets, in the war, in the desert, in the sun. Things that are emotional, and much too intimate, raw as sand; things locked deep down long long ago, words that he had killed a lifetime ago. I cannot let this fail I will die for this. You will never understand even with that city you protect. Everything I have ever done there is nothing I treasure more. There is nothing I treasure more. Everything I have ever done. This is my home even if I never will be...

 

Tiger does not say them. “You want to know why I chose you? I chose you because you do not have the heart to be a spy, Dick Grayson. Spies do not have hearts.”

 

There is something about Dick Grayson; or rather, the lack of something. A void so deliberate, so meticulous, so rehearsed. Something that made Tiger knew, form the very first glance, that one could trust Dick Grayson to be good, maybe, to abide fervently to whatever gallant moral code he adopts; but he could never trust Dick Grayson to be Dick Grayson. He recognizes that nature of multiple facets of identity, for Tiger is a spy, and the best one there is at that.

 

Grayson never shows his card. Always performing. Always an act.

 

But this time. Maybe not this time. Maybe there is an authenticity here. Maybe this is real. Grayson, looking at him like he is doing it for the first time, with sort of a sad surprise, a quiet kind of sorrow; and hard, grave conviction. 

 

And then it’s gone. Grayson grins, blood in his teeth. “Tiger,” he says. “That’s cheesy as hell.”

 

But Tiger knows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Ready?”

 

“That’s my middle name. Along with ‘Hell Yes’, and also ‘Right On, Pardner’.”

 

“In and out, and that’s it. Understood?”

 

“Aye, aye—”

 

“In and out, Grayson. That’s it.

 

“Sir yes sir,” Grayson says. “Though, if I don’t come back in fifteen minutes, please tell my wife I love her,” Grayson winks. Then gets out of the car.