Donna was only thirteen, but she knew some things about the world. She knew how to fight and how to bind a wound. She knew how to fly.
She didn’t know people very well, she thought. Paradise Island was full of interesting women, but they were so much older than her, and so busy with their important lives; they taught her, but they didn’t share with her. And everything before the island was just blank, a blur, a hole in her mind.
So Donna didn’t know people very well, but she was curious about them. Why did they hurry along sidewalks with their heads down? Why did they have “walk” and “don’t walk” signs if people didn’t pay any attention to them? Why did boys do anything they did?
Donna had no memory of ever meeting a boy in her entire life, and now she was working with four of them, and she found them fascinating. And frustrating. And fun. And there was one of them, in particular, that she was very curious about.
Robin had a bruised jaw and an intense look on his face as he reviewed case files in the corner of the Teen Titans’ brand new headquarters. Aqualad had been splashing in a pool in the corner while Kid Flash zipped around the room, seeing how far he could run up the walls, but they were both gone now, and it was just Donna and Robin left. Robin with his files, and Donna watching. Just watching.
She wandered over to Robin, as casually as she could. “Whatcha got there?”
Donna had been hoping to startle him a little, but Robin just looked up, cool and calm. “String of bank robberies that might have metahuman involvement.”
“Someone turned the vaults to gingerbread. Candy for handles. You know, like Hansel and Gretel.”
Donna grabbed the file from him, hoping for pictures. She was not disappointed. “Who are Hansel and Gretel?”
“You don’t know Hansel and Gretel?”
“Why, are they supervillains?”
Robin laughed, which was very rude of him, Donna thought. “No, it’s a fairy tale.”
And then he told her the story. He was great at storytelling, almost as good as Diana; he had voices for all the characters, and when it got to the good parts, he leaped out of his chair and started acting them out. When he was done, Donna applauded.
“So, are the Titans going to take the case?” she asked.
“Do you think we should?”
“Absolutely. I want some of that candy.”
Robin’s face took on a conspiratorial look behind his mask. (Donna didn’t understand the need for the mask. They were all superheroes, weren’t they?) “Can I tell you something? But you have to promise not to tell the others.”
She held a hand to her heart. “I swear.”
He opened a drawer on the desk. Inside, office supplies were stacked in neat piles: staples and rubber bands and paper clips. Robin reached up into the depths of the drawer and pressed on a panel. Another, smaller drawer shot out from the side, covering the office supplies with…
Candy. Boxes of chocolates, bags of gummies, something called Skittles. Donna had never seen so much candy in her life.
“Want some?” Robin said.
They scooped an armful of candy out of the drawer. Robin also took a handful of rubber bands, for reasons he would not reveal to Donna. They settled down on the couch with their haul and a stack of case files each.
Halfway through her first file (someone had reversed gravity in one of Gotham’s parks, Hera only knew why) she glanced over at Robin. He was chewing on a Twizzler as he highlighted a file. From this angle, both the intensity and the bruise were even more obvious.
“How bad did Batman feel?”
Robin looked up, the Twizzler dangling from his mouth. “Huh?”
“About…” Donna gestured at her face. “Diana was so guilty, she took me to a Flips concert.”
“Why should she feel guilty? It’s not like they were in control.”
Donna shrugged. “I think she was just trying to make up for it.”
“Batman’s more logical than that.”
“If you say so.” Donna popped five different kinds of Skittles into her mouth at once. It tasted colorful. “I think we should take this gravity case.”
“I want to fly.”
Behind his mask, Robin quirked an eyebrow. “You can already fly.”
Donna made a tuh sound. “You can never have too many kinds of flying.”
Robin stared at her for a moment, and then grinned wide, wide, wide, as big a smile as Donna had ever seen. He grabbed one of his rubber bands and shot it at Donna. It hit her in the shoulder.
“What are you gonna do about it?”
Donna swiped a rubber band of her own. It was on.
His involuntary break hadn’t been so long that he should’ve been this weak. It had something to do with the mind control, he was pretty sure.
Dick’s arms started to shake. He held on for one, two, three more seconds, then dropped straight to the ground. No fancy dismounts today.
Fuck Brother Blood.
“How long have you been at that?”
Dick whipped around. Donna was in the doorway of the gym, leaned against the frame.
“Checking up on me?” Dick said. He tried to make it casual, but a little bitterness slipped through.
Donna rolled her eyes and stepped into the gym. She picked Dick’s water bottle up off the bench along the back wall and tossed it to him.
“Yeah, how dare I ask how my best friend is doing? I’m a monster.”
“I’m fine,” Dick said, popping open the water bottle and gulping down half of it in one go. “Honestly. But thank you for checking.”
“Your L-sit’s a little weak.”
“It’s all a little weak. That’s why I’m in the gym.”
Donna hopped onto the high bar of the unevens, spun herself around it once, and did a simple layout dismount. She wasn’t anything like the gymnast that Dick was—when he wasn’t recovering from deep mind control, anyway—but the Amazons’ purple ray was no joke, and she’d been playing around with Dick in the gym since she was thirteen. Watching the girl do a dismount was no chore.
“Have you been practicing that?” he asked. “It seems smoother than it used to be.”
“Just now and then. Hey, can you show me how to do a… oh, what’s it called? When your feet and hands are on the bar before you dismount?”
“Depends. Can you do a handstand on the bars?”
Donna eyed the bars skeptically. “I can do a handstand on the ground.”
Dick laughed. “How about a cast straddle?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
Dick pulled himself up onto the low bar, rested his thighs against it, then heaved his feet out and up to meet his hands. He hung for a moment at the top of the bar, then flipped over and let himself drop to the ground again.
“Ooh, yeah, I bet I could do that. Can you show me again?”
“Uh.” Dick shook out his arms. “Ask me again in fifteen minutes?”
You didn’t have to be Raven to read the concern in Donna’s eyes. “That bad?”
But Donna was already at his side, slinging her arms around his neck, her chin on his shoulder. “You know what the worst part of you being mind-controlled was?”
Dick wanted to slip out from Donna’s arms—he was sweaty, and he didn’t want to get any on her—but Donna knew full well how sweaty he was, and had chosen to hug him anyway. “The part where I kept selling you out and attacking you?”
“The part where you stopped talking to me.”
Dick turned his head to look at Donna. Her face was less than an inch from his, which weirdly made it hard to interpret her expression. But Dick thought he could imagine it well enough: Sincere, pleading, pointed.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“You know I wasn’t asking for an apology.”
He leaned his head against hers. It was nice. Dick had always loved how casually he and Donna could touch, how completely un-fraught it was. He didn’t have that with anyone else. Not Bruce, certainly, not Alfred, and even with Kory, there was always a level of worrying about their relationship, about how they felt about each other this week, about the sexuality of it all. But he and Donna just understood each other in this way.
“I don’t really know what to say about it,” Dick said. “It’s not that I don’t want to talk, I just… God, I barely know how I feel.”
“Hm,” Donna said. Her breath tickled Dick’s ear. “You remember that time, before Terry and I got married, when we visited Paradise Island with Gar?”
“You mean when you visited. I wasn’t along for that ride.”
“I know.” Donna sat down on the mat, pulling Dick down with her by his hand. They settled cross-legged across from each other, knees touching. “You remember when I came back, and you asked me what was wrong?”
“You said maybe you’d tell me later.” Dick frowned. “Is this later?”
“Well, it certainly isn’t earlier.” Donna grinned, and Dick grinned back. “We met a Titan, while we were there. A real Titan. Hyperion. And he made me believe I was in love with him.”
“He did what?” Dick said, switching from his easy grin to attack mode in an instant. But Donna held up a placating hand.
“Nothing happened,” she said. “I mean, a lot happened, but all we ever did was kiss. But I felt that love for him. I sided with him against the Amazons. Against Kory and Raven. I would’ve done anything for him, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.”
There was a lump in Dick’s throat. He swallowed; the lump stayed put.
“I can’t imagine feeling like that for over a year,” Donna said. “I can’t imagine coming out of it after all that time. But I know that feeling it for a day, and then realizing the lie I’d felt, was bad enough.”
Dick wanted to fiddle with something, but there was nothing to fiddle with. Even his water bottle lay abandoned several yards away. So he picked up Donna’s hand and started to spin the bangles she was wearing around her wrist.
“I haven’t really talked to Raven about it,” he said. “Even though we went through a lot of it together, I feel like she felt it differently. Like for her, so much of it is wrapped up in the idea of being able to feel anything at all. But it’s disorienting, isn’t it? We talked about that a little bit. It’s so strange, going from feeling what someone wants you to feel, to feeling what’s real, in an instant.”
“Yes. It’s disorienting.”
Dick let Donna’s bangles fall out of his fingers, and just held her hand. It only took a moment for her to start holding back.
“Plus,” he said, “the thing Raven wouldn’t be able to get, I guess, is how long it was. Two years, almost. And for most of that time, I didn’t worship Blood, but he was still in my head. And I don’t know which parts of those years were me, and which parts were him.”
“I have some guesses,” Donna said.
“So do I. But they’re just guesses. And I mean… I left home, during that time. Jesus, Bruce fired me, and then I just left. I haven’t spoken to him in over a year. Was that even me?”
“Do you want to talk to him now?”
Yes. No. Always. “I’ve wanted to talk to him the whole time. But I’m… I’m angry, and I don’t know what to say. And I don’t know if I want to hear what he’d say.”
“Well that’s what matters, isn’t it? How you feel now. What you do now.”
“It matters to me, though,” Dick said. “It matters to who I am. How I feel about myself.”
Dick looked up. Donna was smiling at him, with that way she had that made you understand that she had been raised in the same place that Wonder Woman had been.
“Yeah, Wonder Girl?”
“Even if every single thing you did in the past two years was you, and I mean every single thing… I would still love you.”
She pulled his hand to her lips and kissed his knuckles. And for a moment, for the first time in a while, Dick felt like himself.
Donna had changed a lot about her appearance in the last two days, but she thought it was for the best. She felt like she was marking a major occasion, becoming more like herself. And she was ready to share her new self with her teammates.
But when she got to the Tower, the only one there was Dick. Of course, she was an hour early for the meeting, and Dick was the one who’d called it in the first place, so she didn’t know what she’d expected.
He was bent over one of the computer monitors, his face washed in blue to match his uniform. If Donna hadn’t known better, she would’ve thought he hadn’t heard her come in; he didn’t look up.
“Hey,” she said, leaning against the table.
“Hey, Donna.” Dick finally looked up, and his eyebrows shot through the roof. “Donna!”
She spread out her arms to give him the full view of her new costume. “You like it?”
“It’s amazing! You look… God, you look like a real grown-up.”
“What, the marriage vows weren’t enough to make that real?”
“You know what I mean. You look different.”
Donna sat down on the table. She and Dick were of a height (at least, when she wore heels) and it was funny to look down on him. He’d picked up a nasty bruise somewhere since she’d seen him two days ago.
“I feel different,” she said. “I feel new. Like when you found the Evans for me. There were all these pieces of my past that went into making me who I am, and for a long time, I hardly knew any of them. And now it’s like I can finally see myself.”
“That’s amazing, Donna.”
Donna kicked her heels back and forth in the air, which maybe worked against the whole “grown up” thing, but was very fun to do. If anyone would understand that, it was Dick. “I’m taking a new name, too. Troia.”
“Congratulations,” Dick said, with an aching sincerity that made Donna want to smush his face between her palms. “You deserve a name that’s all yours.”
“Well, I learned from the best,” Donna said, stretching out her toes to lightly kick the arm of Dick’s chair.
Dick smiled with half his face. That bruise really must be painful. “Nightwing and Troia. Not a bad team-up.”
“If I were a bad guy, I’d fear us.”
Dick’s smile stretched to the rest of his face, bruise be damned. He always did insist on pushing past the pain.
“Hey,” Donna said. “You been taking down villains without me?”
“You’ve got a bruise the size of New Jersey on your jaw. Did you have a date with Deathstroke this weekend?”
The smile slipped from Dick’s face, as he automatically reached up to touch his jaw. “Ah. No, that was…”
He only paused for a second, but it was long enough for Donna to know that he was getting ready to lie. “Dick.”
“Do I need to ask Kory?”
Dick swiveled back to face the computer, hiding the bruise from her sight. He sighed. “It was Batman.”
“Sparring?” But if it had been sparring, he would’ve just told her that, wouldn’t he?
“You could call it that.”
There had been times in Donna’s life when she had been less than thrilled about being a superhero. When she was 13 and alone in a world she couldn’t remember; when she was 15 and intimidating to every boy she met; when she was 18 and questioning her identity. But throughout it all, she never lost her appreciation for having both the will and the power to right wrongs. That she could see someone causing harm and stop them was nothing less than a gift.
It was a gift she was particularly grateful for right now.
“I’ll kill him,” she said.
“Give me one good reason I shouldn’t kill him.”
Dick ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. “He’s grieving, Donna.”
“What, and you’re not?”
“It’s just a bruise. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
They were all, of course, always bruised somewhere—the only people in the superhero community who weren’t were Superman and the poor sods who had been cursed and blessed with a healing factor. Even Donna, with her accelerated healing, was nursing a big old contusion on her left ribs, right this very second. But for a second, Donna thought that Dick was talking, not about all the bruises he’d had in general, but about all the other bruises that Batman had left.
And then, after another second, she wasn’t so sure she’d been wrong in the first place.
“When are you going to stop making excuses for him?”
“I don’t make excuses for him.”
“You always make excuses for him. Since the day I met you.”
Dick swung back around to face her. Oh, joy. She’d made him angry. “That’s not fair. That wasn’t him, and you know it.”
Donna—she wasn’t proud of this—rolled her eyes.
“He was being mind controlled,” said Dick.
“So was Diana, but she never hit me.”
“Didn’t she attack an entire city block?”
“And she still never hit me.”
Dick sprang to his feet, sending the desk chair rolling away behind him. “Why are we talking about this? It was years ago!”
“Because it didn’t stop years ago!” Donna stood up to meet Dick on his level. “I’m tired of watching him hurt you.”
He pinched his nose, which was so textbook Batman it made Donna want to throw something. “He’s my… He raised me. He’s the reason I am who I am. That matters.”
Yes, Donna thought, looking down at the stars of her new costume, the ones given to her by the Titans who had raised her. It mattered.
“Fine,” she said, sighing. “I won’t kill him.”
They eyed each other for another long moment before Dick dropped back into his chair. "Can you convince Kory of that?"
"Don't push your luck, Boy Wonder."
"Hey, I just realized—neither of us has Wonder in their name anymore." It was amazing. Dick had gone from furious to pouting in under thirty seconds.
This, at least, Donna could fix. "Don't worry. I'll always be your Wonder Twin."
Not that Dick could blame her.
He stepped out onto the balcony, letting his footsteps fall a little heavy so she could hear him. She opened her eyes, and smiled when she saw it was him.
"So," he said.
"Fucking time travelers."
Donna laughed, and immediately looked fifty percent less tired. "Fucking time travelers."
Dick leaned against the railing. On another day he might have hopped on top of it and done a little balance beam act, just for the fun of it, but he didn't have the energy to burn off right now. Donna wasn't the only one who'd had a long few days.
"How is he?" he asked, nodding at Robert.
"How are you?"
Donna smiled. It filled up her face and lit up her eyes. “I’m perfect too.”
Dick couldn’t help but smile back, in the face of such tangible joy. But that didn’t mean he stopped worrying. “You look tired.”
“Well, in the past three days I discovered my baby was growing at superspeed, gave birth, and turned into a fifty-foot goddess to get him back from his evil alternate future self. You’d need a nap too.”
He did, at that. “And your powers?”
Donna’s face changed—not unhappily, but into something quieter. Contemplative. “I needed a break.”
“No!” Robert fussed at the outburst, and Donna lowered her voice to a whisper. “Not from you. Never from you. Just from the constant fighting. The constant danger. Call it maternity leave.”
“I thought you loved what we do.”
“I did. I do. It’s just… it never stops, does it? Sometimes it feels like we’re not changing anything at all. And I want to figure out who I am outside of that.”
Embarrassingly, Dick could feel tears burning in the corners of his eyes. He swallowed them down, but all it did was make his next words thick. “I’m going to miss you.”
“You don’t have to miss me. You’re welcome at the ranch any time, for any reason. You know that.”
Dick nodded, because he did know that. He also knew that it wasn’t the same, but he didn’t think he had to tell Donna that.
“You know you’re always welcome on this team,” he said. “Powers or not.”
“I know.” Donna gazed out over the balcony. There was something different about her, since everything had gone down with Lord Chaos. Not just tired, but different. Dick didn’t know if it was good or bad, and he wanted to drill down until he solved the mystery. But maybe it was just what Donna had said already. Maybe she was just ready for something new.
“Everything’s changing,” Dick said. “Wally left, and Vic and Raven, and now you.”
“Garth,” Donna said. “Roy.”
“Teams change.” Donna kissed Robert’s head. “That’s life.”
“I wish they wouldn’t.”
“That why you chopped half your hair off and made a new suit?”
Dick ran his hand awkwardly through the cropped front half of his hair. “That was, uh. I guess it was Mirage’s idea, really.”
“Ah.” Donna’s lips pursed. “How’s Kory?”
“Pissed, but fine.” He paused, trying to determine how best to proceed. “Has she talked to you about it?”
“Nope. Just heard from Gar that she’d been captured for a while, and that’s how Mirage got into the delivery room.”
That was a relief. Although knowing the Titans, it was only a matter of time before someone filled Donna in on the true level of drama that had gone down between him, Mirage, and Kory over the last few days. Probably, Dick should tell her before someone else did. But right now, they were tired, and the night was peaceful, and he just didn’t feel like talking about it.
“Well, you know Kory,” he said. “She broke herself right out.”
Before Donna could answer, Robert woke up fully, letting out a coo that bordered dangerously on a cry. She rocked him back and forth until he settled.
“Do you want to hold him?” she asked.
Donna held Robert out carefully, and Dick took him into his arms. This little child was half Donna. How incredible was that? Dick loved him already.
“Let his head rest on…” Donna started, but then saw that Dick had it covered. “Oh.”
“I have held a baby before,” Dick said wryly.
“Wilhelm’s daughter, Samson’s son. I used to look after them sometimes when our parents were busy.” He nuzzled his nose into Robert’s soft head. It smelled sweet, just like he remembered, and brought with it a rush of sense memory: striped canvas, hard packed dirt, cotton candy sticky on his fingers after he sneaked some from the vendor.
When he looked up, Donna was staring at him fondly.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I forget that you didn’t spring fully formed from Batman’s forehead.”
Dick stuck out his tongue at her. He had a vague sense that he might have snapped at someone else who’d said that, but this was Donna. She hadn’t forgotten where he came from.
“He really is perfect, Donna,” he said, instead.
“See? Change isn’t always bad.”
Dick kissed Robert’s head, and rocked him back to sleep under the night sky.
Dick knocked on the closed apartment door for the second time.
He beat his fist against the wood. The peephole stared implacably back at him.
“I know you’re in there, Donna!”
Fine. If Donna was pretending not to be there, Dick had his own ways of getting in. He was dressed in civvies, but no self-respecting vigilante raised by Batman went anywhere without the tools to pick a lock. He pulled a lockpick from its hiding place in the lining of his left shoe and got to work.
The apartment was dark when he got the door open, but that didn’t mean anything. If Dick had been in Donna’s position, he was sure he’d have been sitting alone in the dark, too.
“Donna?” He crept through the kitchen, peering into the living room as he went. She wasn’t there. “Donna, I’m here.”
He found her in the bedroom. She was curled up on top of the covers, knees to her chin, back to the door. The lights were off.
“Donna,” he said.
“Go away.” She didn’t move at all.
“The Titans told me what happened.”
“Go away, Dick.”
He crept softly into the room, and sat down on the bed beside her. “How long have you been in here?”
“I don’t know.”
Donna’s hair was getting long again. Dick ran his hand over it soothingly, like stroking Zitka when she got nervous. It was greasy and a little tangled.
“Will you let me make you something to eat?” he asked.
“I don’t want to eat.”
“How about hot chocolate?”
Donna didn’t say anything to that, so Dick went to the kitchen to start putting the cocoa together.
There was an old box of Swiss Miss in one of the cupboards, and half a gallon of milk in the fridge that was just inside its expiration date. Donna must’ve bought it before Robbie died.
He heated the milk on the stove because that was the way Alfred had taught him, and because he hoped that the time and the smell might rouse Donna from bed. Sure enough, just as he was mixing the cocoa into two mugs, she staggered into the kitchen, blinking in the light.
“I can’t believe you think cocoa’s going to help,” she said, thunking down into a chair and accepting her mug from Dick.
“You know I don’t,” Dick said. He sat down across from her and took a sip from his own mug. “But if you need to be angry with me, that’s okay.”
“Why would I be angry with you just because you broke into my apartment?”
If Dick hadn't been prepared for it, he'd have flinched at her tone. Donna and sarcasm went together like Batman and Robin, but usually there was a warmth to her quips, no matter how pointed. Today, she was just flat.
"Drink your cocoa," he said.
Donna just stared at him, empty-eyed.
"Has Diana been by? Kyle?"
"Do you want marshmallows?"
"Shut up, Dick, just shut up!"
"Okay." Dick took another sip of cocoa.
"You can't fix this, you can't clean it up, you can't just come in here with your Robin charm and make me feel better!"
Dick got up and ripped a paper towel off the roll on the counter. He sat back down, wiping his mouth.
“Stop acting all calm and centered! You’re not wise, Dick, you’re younger than me and you have no idea how this feels!”
Dick would be the first to admit that he wasn’t wise, but he’d been through the Batman school of getting people to lash out at you. He was an expert. “How does it feel?”
The look on Donna’s face… well, Dick wasn’t completely unfamiliar with it, but it should never have been within a mile of Donna Troy. She pushed her cocoa into the center of the table.
“It feels like I’m dying,” she said, in a small voice. “It feels like this is… this is something I don’t survive.”
The tears started then, and Donna didn’t bother to wipe them away. “He was so small,” she said. “He was so small, and it was my job to protect him. That was my only job, and—” She gasped, as a sob swallowed the rest of her sentence.
Dick was at her side in an instant. He knelt down and threw his arms around her, putting all the strength he had into it. Donna could take it.
She slid to the floor, and they stayed there for a long time, Donna sobbing, Dick holding her, not saying anything.
“I’m not a mother anymore,” she said. Over and over again, with horror that wasn’t diminished by repetition. “I’m not a mother anymore.”
After a long time, her sobs quieted down, and she was just breathing in Dick’s arms. He carried her into the living room and settled her on the couch, laying a throw over her shoulders. He put Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the TV—an old favorite of both of theirs.
The kitchen was mostly bare of food, and what there was had mostly rotted or gone stale. Dick cleaned out the refrigerator and took out the trash. Then he walked down the street to the grocery store. He bought easy food: cereal, mac and cheese, ramen, orange juice.
When he got back to the apartment, Ferris was dancing in the parade. Dick put away the groceries, poured a glass of orange juice, and took it and a sleeve of saltines out to Donna. He watched the rest of the movie with her. When it was over, Donna had only eaten three saltines, but the juice was gone.
Dick put on Clueless. As “Kids in America” started playing, he kissed Donna on the temple.
“You’ll always be a mother,” he whispered.
Donna grabbed his hand and held it tight.
It was cold. It was cavernous. There were bats.
There was also Batman. Bruce Wayne was a very respected hero—Justice League cofounder, staunch defender of morals in a decaying world, savior of innocent civilians, blah blah blah, like Wonder Woman didn’t do everything he did in bright colors and with a better attitude. But it was impossible to grow up alongside Dick Grayson and not hate Batman at least a little. Donna did, Wally did, god knew Roy did.
Dick liked to act as though the coldness between Batman and the Titans was just a vestige of their rebellious teenage years, when all adults were the enemy, but that wasn’t it, and Donna was pretty sure he knew it. The Titans simply didn’t trust Batman. You could count on him in a fight, sure, but to treat his children well? No.
And Batman, for all that everyone made a big deal about how emotionally incompetent he was, was perfectly aware of how the Titans felt about him. So they were frostily polite to him, and he was frostily impolite back. (Well, Roy was often hotly impolite, but what else was new?)
They were all professionals, and perfectly capable of working together when they had to, so it mostly didn’t matter, until Dick was recovering from third-degree burns in a billionaire’s overfunded man cave, and you had to get past Batman to see him.
When Donna saw Bruce Wayne in the ostentatious entry hall of his mansion, memories of a thousand different iterations of the man passed through her head. Good versions, evil versions, dead versions. But mostly, she remembered that there were worlds in which he was so much better to Dick. It didn’t have to be this way.
She thought about telling Dick that in another life, he’d stopped being Robin on his own terms. He’d made Nightwing out of maturity, not necessity. But she didn’t know if that would help or hurt.
All the memories stopped her in her tracks, and she could tell that Bruce knew she was off. Luckily, Alfred had been there when Donna arrived, and headed off a confrontation at the pass by genteel-ly escorting her through the grandfather clock, under Bruce’s implacable gaze.
“Knock, knock,” she called as she descended the stairs, letting her voice echo through the space. Half a flock of bats fluttered off their perches at the sudden noise.
Truly, an awful, awful place.
She stepped off the stairs and rounded a corner to find Dick, lying in a bed in the corner of the cave that had been designated the infirmary. He was dressed in a sweatshirt that covered most of what was surely extensive bandaging, and his left arm was hooked up to an IV, probably for painkillers. There was an open book on his lap—it looked like a textbook, though Donna wasn’t sure of the subject.
“Taking it easy, I see.” She dropped into the chair next to his bed.
“What else am I supposed to do all day? Watch my wounds heal?”
“I hear Days of Our Lives is good.”
Dick snorted. “I thought you were on New Cronus.”
“I was, but I came back when I heard you almost died.”
“I’m fine now,” Dick said. “You didn’t have to come all this way for me.” But he couldn’t hide the pleased warmth in his eyes. Not from Donna.
“We barely got a chance to talk the last time we saw each other. I want to know how you’ve been. What did you get up to while I was gone?”
Dick struggled to sit up straighter, wincing a little. “How I’ve been? You died, how do you think I’ve been?”
The little whirlwind of warmth, frustration, and understanding that sparked in Donna’s chest was pure Dick Grayson. “I know,” she said. “Of course I know. But you didn’t just sit around mourning me that whole time, did you?”
“For a while, I kind of did.”
Donna didn’t think a hug was a good idea right now, medically speaking, so she laid her hand on Dick’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you. It’s almost a little silly, because I didn’t even know who you were when I was gone, but I’ve missed you so much. There’s a year of your life I wasn’t there for. What did I miss?”
Dick stared blankly at the textbook in his lap. “Honestly? A lot of fuck-ups.”
And that, of course, was the other reason Donna had traveled several thousand lightyears to see him. “I heard about Blüdhaven. Dick, I’m so sorry. But please, please trust me when I say that’s not on you.”
“Deathstroke destroyed it to spite me. I was trying to… god, I don’t know, make up for the last year? Pull some good out of all the mistakes I made? I thought I could outwit Slade Wilson, and Blüdhaven paid the price.”
“Sometimes you try your best and the bad guy still wins. That doesn’t make it your fault when they blow up a city.”
It was a hard-won piece of wisdom, and Donna had to believe that Dick knew it too, on some level. You couldn’t stay in the superhero game for 15 years if you truly believed that every failure fell on your shoulders. You’d be crushed to death under the weight.
But Dick was shaking his head. “You don’t know how bad it got. You don’t know what I did.”
“Dick.” She squeezed his shoulder. “Dick, look at me.”
Slowly, as if he were pushing against a terrible force, he lifted his head.
“I have known you since I was thirteen years old, and I have known you in a dozen other lifetimes, so I need you to believe me when I say that there is nothing you could do that would make me stop loving you.”
Dick held her gaze. He looked like he was searching for something in her eyes, so Donna held still and hoped he found it.
“Did you really know me in other lives?” he asked.
“I’ve killed you in other lives. I’ve been your best friend, I’ve been your enemy, I’ve been a random civilian you saved on the street.”
“How do you hold all that inside you?”
Of course, Dick would hit on the crux of the matter.
“I almost can’t,” she said. “It’s terrifying. I have so much power now, so much knowledge—even more than after Robbie was born. And the memories are… I can’t even explain it. I used to think I didn’t know who I was because I didn’t know my history, but now I know all of my history, and it’s like having a thousand people in my head at once. And sometimes it’s hard to find myself, in all of that.”
Dick put a hand over the hand Donna had on his shoulder, and pressed down. Not as firmly as he ordinarily would’ve been able to, but hard enough. “If you ever need to know who you are,” he said, “just come to me. I’ll tell you.”
“I know,” Donna said. “I will.”
They just sat there like that for a while. Dick let his eyes wander back down to the textbook—forensic accounting, Donna could see now—but his eyes weren’t tracking, so he wasn’t reading. Donna kept her hand on his shoulder and ran her gaze up and down him, looking for damage. But it was all hidden.
“I kind of know the feeling,” Dick said, a long time later, when Donna had long since decided he probably wasn’t going to talk. “The last six months feel like too much happened to even fit in my head.”
And then, haltingly, he started to tell her about it. Going after Blockbuster, having his identity compromised, the loss of Haly’s and his apartment building, the confrontation in the hotel that led to Blockbuster’s death, and then going off the rails afterward, giving up Nightwing and joining the mob, then Deathstroke.
He’d only given her a very abridged version of events, but Donna could see through the gaps in the story, could read the meaning around it.
"Why do you always do this?" she asked, although it was an unfair question. She knew why. They were sitting in the reason why's stupid cave.
"Take responsibility for every bad thing that happens in a five mile radius."
"Under what reading of the situation am I not responsible for this one?"
"For joining the mob, sure. You've made better decisions. But you're not responsible for Blüdhaven, and unless you left out something big, you didn't kill Blockbuster."
"I might as well have. I failed Bruce."
"Oh, fuck Bruce," said Donna, and then immediately regretted losing her cool. Insulting Bruce was never effective with Dick.
But Dick just kept going like he hadn't even heard her. "I failed Catalina."
"How? How did you fail Catalina?"
"I let her murder someone."
Donna had to pull her hand back before she started digging her nails into Dick's shoulder in anger. "I'm sorry, are you this girl's father? Are you her school principal? How old is she?"
Dick blinked, as though this were a completely unforeseeable tangent. "She's 27?"
"She's a grown woman, then. How are you responsible for her actions?"
"She'd only been a vigilante for a few months. She… She liked me. And I worked with her, even after I knew she was a killer. I should've shown her better. Instead I just led her further down the wrong path."
"She was already a killer? Dick!"
"She could've gone the other way. I think she could've."
“But she chose not to, and that’s not on you.”
“I could’ve stopped her. I could’ve been a better role model.”
Donna buried her face in her hands. She hated this side of Dick, always had, and this was the worst she’d ever seen him.
“Dick,” she said, bracing her hands on the flimsy railing that lined the bed, “listen to me. Was not saving Blockbuster the right choice? Probably not. But that’s all you did. You didn’t kill him, you just didn’t save him. And asking somebody to save someone who’s personally targeted them the way Blockbuster did you… It’s just too much. It’s not something any of us should be expected to do. That’s why we have teams, isn’t it? So that we can back each other up when it gets to be too much. How many times have the Titans stopped each other from going too far? But Catalina wasn’t that kind of teammate.”
She wanted to know how Dick had even ended up working with a woman who had, apparently, already killed once—and worked for Blockbuster?—but if she asked him, he’d think that she was laying blame for that. Not that she thought that teaming up with Catalina had been Dick’s best idea ever, but she was sure it had seemed like the right call, perhaps the only call, at the time.
Then again… Maybe that was what Dick needed. Someone to lay out clearly what had been a mistake and what had been bad luck. If he was going to blame himself, maybe he could at least direct it at something specific, something actionable.
“How did you end up working with her, anyway?” she said.
“John Law was one of my neighbors. He died when Blockbuster blew up the building. After that, Catalina and I both wanted to take him down.”
“What about the Titans? Or…” She swallowed her distaste. “Batman?”
Dick tensed. “Blockbuster was going after people I cared about. I wasn’t about to give him more targets.”
“Dick. When you’re in over your head, call for backup. That’s what friends are for.”
He puffed out a burst of aggravated breath, but he didn’t argue. Which was good, because Donna had been afraid he was going to bring up her death, and she didn’t have a great counter to that prepared.
“I slept with her,” Dick said. His eyes were downturned, one of his hands fiddling with the hem of his blanket.
By Hera, he really had been a mess, hadn’t he? But at least this was comfortingly familiar ground. Dick and Donna had been pouring out their romantic troubles to each other for over a decade. She’d heard an earful about Dick and Kory’s relationship from both parties, and Dick had gotten way more information than he’d ever wanted about her and Roy.
“Were you in love with her?”
He sighed. “No.”
“Was it a Huntress situation?”
Dick glared at her. It was supremely unimpressive. “You know, I don’t appreciate that you’ve catalogued my romantic problems.”
She patted his hand, with every ounce of condescension she could muster. “So was it a Huntress situation or not?”
“No, it was not a Huntress situation.”
“So what was the deal?”
“I don’t know.” Dick flipped the pages of his textbook back and forth, staring at them like maybe there was an answer in there. “Like I said, she liked me.”
Usually, Donna couldn’t get Dick to shut up about the women he was interested in. He fell fast and fell hard, and always wanted Donna to know exactly why. When he’d been getting together with Barbara…
“What happened with Barbara? You guys were getting pretty serious when I, you know. Died.”
“We broke up. She broke up with me. It was complicated.”
He still wasn’t looking at her. This was weird. Dick was acting weird.
Donna was lost, and of late, when Donna had gotten lost, she’d looked to her other lives for guidance.
On Earth-1, Dick had been her best friend. Still afraid of failure, but so much more self-assured than the Dick she knew. On Earth-2, he’d been Robin, and she’d never known him personally, but she was pretty sure he’d been married. On Earth-7, she’d fought him once. She’d been cruel, and he’d been brave. On Earth-25G, they’d been heroes, but rivals, and she’d—
Donna blinked, pulling herself with effort out of the memories. Dick was staring at her with obvious concern. “I’m here.”
“Where’d you go just now?”
“Sorry, I was remembering. Other lives.”
“You looked far away.”
“Like I said, I get lost sometimes.” Donna studied Dick carefully. There was something weird happening. “Dick, what happened with Catalina?”
“I told you. I let her kill Blockbuster, we slept together…”
“Why are you acting so weird about it? I’ve never seen you like this about a girl.”
“It was…” Dick sighed. “It was fucked up, okay? It was about two minutes after we’d killed Blockbuster, and I wasn’t in a great headspace, and I… I still had his blood on me. We were on the rooftop, and his dead body was right below us. It was fucked up.”
“I’m sorry,” said Donna, since, well, what else was there to say?
“It was just sex,” Dick said, as if he hadn’t spent the last minute explaining that it wasn’t actually just sex.
“Sex matters to you. It always has.” Donna remembered Earth-1 Dick, on the verge of going all the way with Kory, pestering Donna endlessly with questions to make sure he didn’t mess anything up. And the Dick of this reality, who’d come back from his time with Liu looking shattered, rehashing the entire affair with Donna on her bedroom floor, trying to pick out the place where he’d screwed it up.
She stopped herself before she could venture too far into the labyrinth of past lives.
“Did Kory ever tell you what happened with Mirage?” Dick said.
Donna blinked. Apparently she hadn’t been the only one making trips down loosely-associated memory lane. “Just that Miri kidnapped her and took her place. Same thing you told me.”
“She didn’t tell you I slept with her?”
“You slept with Mirage?” Donna had always had the vague sense that Dick didn’t like Miriam—she knew Kory had hated her, understandably.
“When she was pretending to be Kory.”
Donna stared at him, appalled. “That’s…”
She was friends with Miriam. She’d been on a team with her. Let her live in her house. “Is that why you stopped coming to visit?”
Because he had. After one trip to see Robbie, and the disastrous wedding, Dick had just stopped showing up. And then he’d started again, after the divorce. When she was in her new apartment.
It was always disorienting, watching your past reassemble itself in your head.
“I guess it is, yeah.”
“I knew she liked you. I mean, I knew she really liked you, but…”
“But you thought she had some sense of boundaries?”
“I thought she was a good person!”
Dick raised an eyebrow. “She did try to kill you.”
“To save her entire future. There’s no excuse for what she did to you.”
“Yeah, well.” Dick picked at a loose thread on the blanket. Donna wondered how often he had to have picked at it for one of Batman’s blankets to have a loose thread. “That’s the thing. With Catalina.”
“What’s the thing?”
“I didn’t really want to sleep with her.”
Donna sucked in a breath, as the association between Miriam and Catalina became clear.
“Like I said, I was in a bad headspace," Dick said. "I was freaking out, I guess having a panic attack. And she… I mean, I told her not to, but… I guess I just let her.”
Donna remembered coaching Dick through panic attacks after Bruce fired him, and once, late at night, during the aftermath of his time with Brother Blood. The idea of someone having sex with him in that state made her blood boil.
“Am I stupid?” Dick asked. “To be upset about this, with everything else that happened?”
“No. Absolutely not.” A thought occurred to her. The many lives worth of memories she’d lived proving useful, for once. "You know, I wouldn't undo my time with Terry for anything. Not when that's what brought me Robbie." She saw a flash of pained sympathy cross Dick's face that matched the surge of emotion in herself at Robbie's name. "But I didn't understand, really, until I saw all my other lives, how young I was. How young we all were. The ways that I was… disadvantaged, in that relationship. And it feels silly, to even bother thinking about it, after everything that's happened, after Terry died."
"But it's not," Dick said. "That stuff sticks with you."
"And then you wake up thinking, why does it feel this way when nothing that bad happened?"
Dick nodded, the way he did when he and Donna were on a hot streak, working up a plan to take out a bad guy together. "But also, how did you not notice until now? When it felt that way the whole time."
“So you feel bad, and you feel bad for feeling bad, and you feel stupid for all of it.”
“How do you always understand?” Dick said. “Every time I don’t tell you about something, I regret it.”
“Oh, you know. It’s the shared trauma.” They laughed, because that was the point of tension-cutting gallows humor. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Is that not what we’re doing?”
“I mean, do you want to really talk about it.”
Dick pulled her left hand off the railing and laced his fingers through hers. “That depends.”
“On when I’ll get the chance to talk to you again.”
“Anytime you need me. That’s when.”
Instead of talking, they put on Days of Our Lives and fell asleep where they were sitting. When Alfred woke them up by coming down to check on them, they were still holding hands.
Dick looked up from his booth and saw Donna approaching through the fog of the bar. Why did bars always look a little bit smokey? Even these days, when no one was allowed to smoke in them.
Donna slid in across from him, tucking her purse beside her. “I thought you’d be at the bar.”
“No room. Besides, it’s easier to talk here.”
“Do you want me to order—”
Dick slid the cosmopolitan he had waiting across the table. Donna’s face lit up.
“You remembered my drink!”
“As if I could forget.” He raised his own barely-touched beer. “To being 17 and wasted with your friends.”
Donna laughed and clinked her glass against the bottle. “We were idiots, weren’t we?”
“Are you kidding? We were teen role models.”
“And idiots.” Donna nodded at Dick’s bottle. “Does this mean you’re employed again?”
“It means I started a tab that I was hoping you’d close out.”
“Well, I did promise.” Donna sipped her cosmo and then pursed her lips, the way she did when she was either very displeased or very deep in thought. “I hope Garth and I didn’t overwhelm you, when we talked. We weren’t trying to make you hurry up and recover. We were just happy to see you.”
“Most people are,” Dick said. He was trying not to be bitter about it.
“Having reintegration issues?”
Dick traced the rim of his bottle with a fingertip. He kind of wished he had a glass, so he could make it sing. “You remember what you told me after you came back to life? You know, in the…”
“The other life?”
“God, that’s so weird, isn’t it? Yeah. You remember?”
“I think I told you a lot, didn’t I? It was kind of a busy moment.”
“Aren’t they all.” Dick sighed, trying to pull his memories of the time before Flashpoint into focus. It was always a strange feeling, and even stranger these days. “You said it felt like all of your memories were too big for your head. Like you were in danger of losing yourself.”
“Yeah, I remember that.”
“Well, I think I really know how you feel, now. I have all my real memories—of two lives!—and my time as Ric, and the memories the Court put in me, and the Joker. And trying to find myself in all of that is hard.”
Donna nodded. It was funny; Dick could remember her at age 30, with laugh lines starting to soften the edges of her eyes. And now here she was, 25 again, but just as wise. All of those laugh lines still there, just waiting to show themselves again.
“I think I remember,” she said, “you telling me that if I ever needed to know who I was, I could just call you, and you’d remind me.”
“Pretty arrogant, if you think about it.”
It was nice, making Donna throw her head back in laughter. Dick had missed this. Somehow, even when he hadn’t known who Donna was, he’d missed her.
“The thing is, though,” Donna said, when she’d collected herself, “it worked. I’ve lived a thousand lives. But in this one, you know who I’ve always been? I’ve always been someone with you for a best friend.”
She was so beautiful, so earnest in the low light of the bar. How, exactly, had Dick lucked out enough to have Donna Troy for a best friend?
He edged out of his seat and swung himself around to Donna’s side of the table, leaving his beer forgotten.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving you a hug,” Dick said, and then did just that.
It lasted a long time. After a while, Dick let go, and just stayed there, pressed against Donna’s side, his head on her shoulder. Donna sipped her cosmopolitan with one hand, snaking the other around Dick’s shoulders to stroke his hair.
“I don’t think I know myself again yet,” Dick said.
“That’s okay,” said Donna. “I’ll be here until you do.”