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Strangers Meet and Friendship Blooms

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“Well hello Beautiful, what’s a pretty little thing like you doing in a place like this filled with men like me?” he asked lecherously as he tried and failed to keep his eyes away from her full bosom.

The red head gave him an assessing once over before a smirk dragged itself onto her face and she replied in kind; “Says the devilishly handsome stranger with a debonair smile, you sure you’re not the one in the wrong place Ric?”

“What?” he asked sharply as suspicion burned through his veins and he looked at the woman a lot more closely.

Calloused hands, scarring and an air of unknown danger about her only heightened by the fact she had at least six knives concealed on her and possibly a gun. It was obvious really once you actually looked.

“you’re a Bat.”

The words were spoken flatly but he could already feel the rage building. Why in god's name couldn’t they just-

“No actually.”

What?

“Got kicked out a while back.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because I heard about what happened and wanted to see if it was true.” She stated just as flatly as he had. 

No games or illusions, simple curiosity.

That was better than the desperate hope to trigger something, anything that the Bats all seemed to share, so why did it leave such a bitter taste in his mouth? Was that really all he was worth, the person he used to be and some random birds’ curiosity?

Taking a long drag from his drink he turned back and was honestly surprised to see her still standing there.

 “Well?” he all but snarled; “you’ve seen it’s true so why don’t you just leave.”

The Woman flinched back and away, fear flashing in her eyes in response to his anger and judging by the look on her face he wasn’t the only one surprised at the reaction she’d just displayed.

Before he could do anything though she plastered on a confident smile that he could only tell was fake by how fast she’d erected it and said: “I also came to meet you. And get to know you if you’re willing.”

“And that’s it?”

“Yes?”

“You know what Fuck it, fine.”

The grin that flitted across her face lasted barely a moment but it lit up her features and made her look half a decade younger than he’d placed her as.

It left him with a slightly dazed, warm and fuzzy feeling and the impression that he’d just scene something valuable.

Shoving the deductions or whatever that he’d instinctively made into a dark corner to address never, he gently guided the woman, girl? Over to the chair next to him and ordered her a drink. Bea frowned at him but did as he asked. It’s not like she couldn’t id the girl herself. Though admittedly she was probably carrying half a dozen fakes on her right now so that didn’t necessarily mean she was legal.

Whatever. Wasn’t like it was his problem.

Besides, a little underaged drinking never did anyone harm.

Sliding into the chair with a grace that didn’t fit the bar they currently sat at but a grin that did, the foxy redhead drew out a business card and slid it across the bar to him.

The paper blank save for a red splotch in the centre and a phone number.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?” he asked harshly as he gingerly picked up the card.

“Nothing. Everything. Anything. Keep it on your person or throw it away the moment I leave.” she stated easily. “I’m not here to get something from you Ric, I just wanted to meet you. What happens from here is up to you.”

Unable to find anything in her statement that seemed disingenuous he grudgingly stuffed the card in his pocket and took a long drag from his drink before dumping his bottle on the bar again. He planned to bang in in the hopes of setting her on edge but at the last second jolted it so it wouldn’t make a noise and splashed his drink in the process.

Not that it mattered. All that he could think of was the moment where she’d flinched away from his anger.

Ric was an asshole but not that much of an asshole.

“Thank you” she muttered so softly that he barely heard her.

So she’d noticed.

Of course she had.

Looking away in discomfort he made an abortive move to push a hand through his non-existent hair before stopping sharply. Thankfully she didn’t make a comment about how Dick did the same thing when he was uncomfortable like everyone else.

“So” she started looking just as awkward as he felt. “How have you been?”

“Do you really care?” he asked flatly.

“Yes? Or at least I’d like to. As of a few months ago I know nothing about you and by your own insistence you are not the same person as Dick Grayson. Is it so wrong to want to know the person you’ve become?”

“You’d be the first.”

He can’t help but hate the bitterness that leaks into his voice but he’s so sick and tired of people telling him who he’s supposed to be or how he should behave.

“I hope that isn’t true but if so I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to be in your shoes and believe me I get it.”

“Oh yeah? You’ve been an amnesiac?” he asks not bothering to hide his disbelief as he takes a sip from his beer bottle

“Yeah actually. I’ve done the amnesia stint however briefly, I get wanting to run and never look back at the crazy bastards trying to tell you who you are, but that wasn’t what I was referring to.”

“What were you then?” he asks with grudging interest as he finally turns to look at her again.

“I died when I was 15.”

He’d call her out, say that’s bullshit but he’d read up on the bat freaks and superheroes once he’d got out of the hospital and he knows at least a few of them have been thought dead only to turn up alive later on. There were even a few televised funerals to watch and everything.

Besides, even if that wasn't enough, the look in her eye’s…

“No one knows how I came back, least of all me. But I came back damaged. Fucked up 6 ways to sunday and with so many screws loose I was basically a walking coma patient. A woman found me. Put me back together when no one else would or could. But even after everything there are still pieces missing and the methods she used… Well, B definitely didn’t approve when he found out. I came back to life but I wasn’t the kid they lost. She died in a warehouse in Ethiopia but most of them won't accept that. They either try to fix me or write me off as too damaged. So I know Ric. I know what it’s like to change on a fundamental level and have no one except it.”

There's silence between them for a few moments before finally it grows too much and he just has to break it.

“Okay.”

“What?”

“I said okay. Now do you wanna play 2 truths and a lie or 21 questions?”

“What?” she splutters again, clearly not processing.

With a sigh, he goes to repeat himself but she cuts him off.

“No, I heard what you said I just- you know what? it doesn’t matter. How about Uno instead? I feel like if we play the other two I’m going to ruin this somehow like always.” she mutters the last part so quietly he doubts he’s meant to hear it.

It triggers something close to pitying in him but he ignores it. He may not have known her long but he can tell Red wont take kindly to it.

They play for a while. Trading barbs and idle chitchat but throughout it all Ric can’t help the nagging paranoia that she must want something, anything to be here sitting with him now.

Unable to stand it any longer he finally asks the question that's been burning through him for the last hour; “What do you want”

A look of understanding crosses her face as if she almost expected his question and she sighs softly before shifting to clear away the Uno cards.

Distraction over with she turns back to face him and looks directly in his eyes with a gaze that freezes him in place.

“I don’t want anything from you Ric. The only thing that matters to me is that you’re happy. And you are, I can see it. You’re broke, living in your car and getting drunk off your ass every other night,” she stated derisively; “But you’re happy in a way I never saw Dick.”

“Oi!” he couldn’t help but respond with an easy grin to her half hearted disparagements; “it's every night, not every other! I worked hard to build up that idiot’s shitty tolerance to what it is now!”

“Oh I know,” she grinned impishly “I had to drag that idiot back to one of his safe houses on several occasions after he went out for a drink with the titans” 

They spent the next few moments drinking and trading light-hearted Barbs. It was nice. Easy.

Honestly, he would have preferred that it stayed that way but something about what she’d said bothered him.

“What did you mean when you said you’d never seen Dick Happy?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“But it’s what you meant isn’t it?” he counted sharply as an alien sense of surety filled him. He didn’t know how, didn’t remember, but he knew that was what she had meant.

That was what had bothered him so much.

“Which is it? cause everyone else acts like I was a ball of living sunshine before I got shot yet you’re acting like I was barely holding it together.”

For a moment it seemed like she was going to ignore the question, but then she looked at him searchingly, as if trying to find… something. Dick probably would have known what, he couldn’t help but think bitterly. 

Or, maybe not. 

She had said they weren’t close after all.

Whatever the case, she clearly found it as she answered; “Dick Grayson was only happy so long as there were people he cared about around to see it. He was a performer. The smile he wore was a good one, I'll give him that, but I grew up in Crime alley. I saw enough people smile through the pain to recognise it on him.”

She tried to keep her voice civil but a slight undertone of disgust and something else… something more volatile bled through.

“Did you hate him for that?”

He cursed his uncertainty, or the fact he seemed to care but she was the first person from his old life to treat him as an actual person and dammit but her opinion had started to matter to Ric.

“No. I think it takes a special type of monster to hate someone like Dick. That or a very personal grudge. I don’t have the later and I like to believe that I'm not the former.”

Seeing that he wasn’t satisfied by the none-answer she picked up her untouched glass and swirled the amber liquid in it. she didn’t look at him, focusing instead on the alcohol before her as her eyes sharpened like shards and her shoulders became hunched.

“In the end Dick’s smile was just another lie, and not seeing through it for what it was, that was a choice. A choice that the people who were supposed to care about him made. Every. Single. Day.” She spat out through gritted teeth.

“that isn’t love, or if it is then I don’t want it. it’s selfish. I know people don’t seem to think I’m right in the head. Too much trauma. But I look after the people I care about and I couldn’t-”

She cut off sharply and it was only then that he realised she had started crying. When had she- it didn’t matter. Ric was reasonably good with people. or so he’d been told but crying strangers -crying strangers that were women to boot- were a whole other ball game.

Luckily Bea, the Angel that she is, knows exactly what to do and chooses then to finally step in and stop pretending like she hadn’t been listening in on their whole conversation from behind the bar.

“You couldn’t care for him, could you? Not the way he needed.”

She lets out a shattered sob that devolves into hysterical laughter as she finally looks up at them again.

He flinched.

Couldn’t have helped it if he tried.

People weren’t supposed to look that broken, though at least now it made sense.

She didn’t hate Dick.

“he wouldn’t let me. We didn’t get on, not really. Not before I died and certainly not after. He couldn’t stand my methods any more than B could and I wasn’t- it wasn’t like- he had reasons not to trust me. Good ones. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of but even after I got my act together and tried to apologise, tried to be better! He wouldn’t let me help him directly. Didn’t trust me enough to expose what he thought of as a weakness. After the sixth time things turned violent I stopped trying and simply did what I could from a distance.”

She hated herself.

He’d played witness to a lot of the so-called bat’s break down over the last few weeks but none of them had really affected him. Not like this.

He couldn’t understand what was so different this time from all the others. None of them had managed to make him feel this guilt- oh. 

That was it. 

All the others, no matter how well meaning, had wanted something from him. They’d wanted his guilt, had on some level hoped that it would push him to return. They’d come to speak to him for Dick, but also for themselves.

He’d been fine with their reactions because it had ultimately been about them, Red had no expectation. She didn’t want anything. She just wanted to help.

Fuck. He really didn’t want to care, but she was making it difficult. That she likely didn’t even realise only made it worse.

When she’d finally got herself under control and Bea judged her stable enough to go back to her work, he opened his mouth to speak and stopped. Ric had absolutely no idea how to handle this.

Evidently he was the only one who’d been rendered mute though as Red took a fortifying breath and began to gather her things as she spoke; “’I don’t think I ever saw Dick smile for himself for the entire time that I knew him. With or without your memories, at your core you’re both Richard Grayson and if you’re happy as Ric? Then nothing else but keeping you this way really matters to me. You have my number, call or don’t it’s up to you Ric. But know that just because you don’t see me, doesn’t mean I won't be checking in from time to time.”

“Why? Why do you care? I'm not Dick, I’m not the guy you lost so what do you get from this?”

“Your family. That should be enough. Whether any of us like your decisions is irrelevant, so long as you aren’t hurting yourself and are happy, I’ll support you.”

Clearly seeing that he was overwhelmed, Red finally left.

He hadn't even gotten her name.

*

The card with her number burned a hole in his pocket for the rest of the night and when he woke up the next morning, he couldn’t help but add it to his contacts.

It’s not like he ever had to call it, and it’s not like anyone had to know.