Joey's life gets infinitely more interesting on Tuesday.
It starts with Lissa posing for him in front of a lilac tarp. A tarp that Joey might have stolen during one of his jaunts with the Titans. Okay, no, stolen isn’t the right word. Salvaged. He salvaged the tarp after spotting it all jumbled up inside an overturned box while he was possessing a security guard's body. Some part of him had thought, hey, I can do something with that hunk of junk, and so he did.
He should really pat his past self on the back for having the foresight to snag it. Now that all the wrinkles are ironed out of it and the small stains on the edges have been made nearly invisible, it looks beautiful paired with Lissa's dark hair and white dress. It doesn't look half bad painted on his canvas either.
He's been at it long enough that a motley of colors have accumulated on his paint palette. His fingers aren't looking too hot either. It's like a kaleidoscope vomited on them, which isn't an uncommon state for them, really. If they're not covered in paint, they're usually indented with lines from his guitar strings. On his bad days, he sometimes gets a little blood on them when he's with the Titans.
"You need a break, Jojo?" Lissa asks.
Joey looks away from his hands to face her properly. He catches her arching backward with her palms pushing against the small of her back to deepen the arch. Pop, pop, pop goes her spine.
Seeing her stretch out of the form she's been sitting in for the last hour makes him take notice of how sore his ass is from perching at the end of his stool. He flexes his fingers, feeling how stiff they are from gripping his brush and palette for so long. Sometimes he gets so focused on his art that he forgets to do simple things like: eat his overpriced guacamole, go to the bathroom, glare at his curls for not drying how he wants them to, or in this case, stretch before his limbs crystallize.
At least this time he's got Lissa here to remind him that he's not a machine that can run all day. He has a feeling she probably said something more for her own benefit than his own which is just as well since he always feels bad when the girls who pose for him are too shy to let him know they need a break.
Knees smarting a little, he rocks to his feet and sets his art supplies down on his work table.
"Your doohickey is flashing," Lissa says, pointing at the floor where Joey's communicator is nestled in the carpet's fluff—and hey. How did that get there?
He scoops down to grab it. As soon as he flips it open, he sees a message floating in the middle of the screen.
1 Missed Call
1:12 PM TUES 9 MAY
A fond smile spreads over his face. He remembers Dick writing that as his own contact name in Joey's communicator the first time he and Joey exchanged numbers. Joey knows it's an action influenced by paranoia rather than something meant as an inside joke between friends, but he likes to think of it as a mixture of both.
"Who are you mooning over?"
Lissa crosses her arms over her chest and cuts across the room to get closer to him. Joey tries not to instinctually jerk his communicator closer to his chest as she peers down at it with a curious glint in her eye.
"Frank Hardy," Joey spells out with his fingers. "He's a friend of mine."
Her brow furrows. "Frank? Have I met him?"
Joey shakes his head.
"What do you think he was calling for?"
Hopefully not to tell me that the world is on its way to ending, Joey thinks, worrying at his lip.
"Not sure," Joey signs. His thumb hovers over the call-back button. "I guess I'm about to find out."
Joey regrets parking in the busiest section of the hospital’s parking garage. People are constantly coming in and out of the hospital doors, and Joey jerks his head up every single time he hears them creaking, thinking Dick is finally going to walk out. The constant disappointment isn’t doing any favors for his boredom or sanity.
It’s only when he’s seconds away from leaving the car to go possess a doctor that Dick finally comes swinging out the doors on crutches. Joey feels like singing at the sight of him. He probably would have if his throat hadn’t gotten sliced like salami years ago.
The parking garage is dark and the shadows that are cast over Dick from the overhead lights make it hard to see the details of his face. Joey's attention is mostly drawn towards the black medical boot that covers Dick's right foot and extends up to the lower half of his calf. It looks out of place paired with Dick’s white t-shirt, light wash jeans, and the single white shoe on his left foot.
Dick's head subtly shifts from left to right as he glances around at the rows of cars. Joey takes that as his cue to make an appearance. He hops out of the car and rounds to the front bumper where Dick can see him.
Out of habit, he signs Dick's ASL name—the letter G mixed with the sign for "fly." The movement is enough to capture Dick's attention, and a smile of relief washes over his face when their eyes lock. Dick makes a nodding motion at him, and after looking both ways for oncoming cars, he swiftly maneuvers his way across the lot. His movements are a little stiff but not clumsy, and Joey is suddenly hit by the memory of Dick limping around on a walking stick after that time he hurt his leg on New Chronos.
"Sorry," Joey signs when Dick swings next to him, "I should have pulled the car up."
"Don't worry about it," Dick says, and he sounds calm and steady even though he looks a little bit like death warmed over with his glazed eyes and tired smile. "Thanks for the lift. I thought I was going to have to call Clark to Lois Lane me back home.”
Joey frowns. "Vic couldn't stay after he dropped you off?"
"He had to go into the lab to get some work done on his arm. Last night was... well. You know."
What Joey knows is actually pretty limited. Before Joey had gotten to the hospital, Dick had told him over video chat that he and Vic had stumbled upon Tumblerock last night. On a normal day when all the Titans are together, Tumblerock isn't too much of an issue. Alone, he isn’t someone you want to brawl with unless you have super strength to smack his stony body around like a ball in a pinball machine. Possessing him works pretty well too.
Joey remembers how massive he had felt when he possessed Tumblerock’s body last winter. The fear of accidentally hurting someone had made him feel like ducking away in a corner to make himself as little of a hazard as possible. He never understood how Dan Lacey—the man under the rock—could intentionally use that kind of mass to bulldoze people over, but Joey’s seen enough corruption over the years to know that some people get off on making other people feel small and helpless.
“He caught my foot in one of his gravel mitts,” Dick huffs, gesturing down at his boot. “Broke my fifth metatarsal.”
Joey winces. “How long are you going to have the boot and crutches?”
“At least six weeks,” Dick sighs, and Joey feels for him. The recovery period of any injury is annoying to wait out, especially for a workaholic like Dick. “I’m hoping it’ll heal up fast after some rounds of physical therapy.”
“Getting you off your feet will probably speed the process along,” Joey signs, stepping to the side to give Dick enough room to get inside the car.
“You might be onto something, Dr. Wilson.”
The gentle teasing is enough to make Joey’s traitorous heart speed up. He tries to ignore it as he helps Dick get settled in the car. The crutches come next and they’re surprisingly difficult to wrangle into the back seat when he has to maneuver them around a mountain of canvasses and art supplies. Luckily he finds a little cranny to shove them into.
"What's this on the floor?" Dick asks as soon as Joey settles behind the wheel. Joey looks over and sees Dick picking up a Tupperware container.
"It's for you. I thought you'd be hungry."
"You didn't have to do that," Dick says, looking secretly pleased.
I did if it means you keep looking at me like that, Joey thinks.
"Did you make it?"
Joey nods. His cheeks feel like an oven burner on low.
"It's a chicken panini. Sorry if it's a little cold.”
“If it is then that’ll make it the best coldnini I’ve ever had.” Dick’s grin is almost enough to keep Joey from rolling his eyes. Almost.
“Dr. Wilson recommends laying off the lame puns for at least three months,” he signs.
Dick huffs out a laugh. “Doctor’s orders, huh?”
“Doctor’s orders,” Joey confirms.
“I have it on record that I’m not too good at following those.”
“And you wonder why Kory put you in time-out after fighting the Fearsome Five.”
Dick looks unrepentant as he pulls out half a panini. “What can I say? I have a habit of making sure the people I’m leading don’t die.” He leans over the middle console and holds the panini in front of Joey’s face. “Here, take a bite.”
How is he supposed to stay cool when Dick is this close to him and trying to feed him? Trick question. He can’t. The only thing he can manage is subtly rubbing his sweaty hands against his jeans and avoiding Dick’s pretty blue eyes. It feels safer to focus on the panini instead.
“Is this your way of telling me you don’t want it?” Joey jokes.
“This is my way of telling you that I can hear your stomach growling.”
Joey looks down at his stomach and frowns. Great. Now he has a traitorous heart and stomach.
It seems like he’s not the only one with an internal Judas judging by the way Dick’s gaze travels from Joey’s stomach and stops at his lips. Joey’s not sure what to do with this kind of attention. Some irrational part of him worries that his lips are chapped even though he put some ChapStick on them earlier. His nervousness gets the better of him and he ends up licking them instinctually.
Dick’s eyes darken. He shifts in his seat, moving closer into Joey’s space, and Joey’s suddenly overwhelmed by the familiar scent of Dick’s macchiato candle clinging to his shirt.
Eyes now firmly locked on Dick’s own, he slowly leans forward and takes a bite of the panini, making the bread crunch between his teeth.
“How is it? Dick asks, and Joey swears that he’s blushing.
“Really good,” Joey signs.
Dick takes a bite for himself and hums. “That’s because everything you make is good.”
Joey ducks his head to hide his smile.
He starts the engine.
It takes two days before Joey hears anything from Dick.
Two whole days of wondering if he should drop by Dick’s apartment to see how he’s doing. Maybe see if he needs a ride anywhere since he can’t drive his car or motorcycle. It’s got to be driving him crazy not to have any wheels to use. He’s a constant moving force that doesn’t stay in one place for too long, and if he wants to get around, he’s going to have to hitch a ride with someone. As far as Joey knows, he’s not going to have too many options to choose from.
Donna and Kory aren’t here to fly him around because they’re traveling to LA for a photoshoot. Joey hasn’t seen Raven in over a week ever since she mentioned she’s been meditating at her apartment more frequently. Vic’s apparently got issues with his arm and will have to get it fixed. Joey gave him a ring earlier to check on him and found out he’s going to be staying with Sarah for a few days. Gar’s not hanging around either since he’s focusing on his schoolwork to pull his grades back up.
That mostly just leaves Joey and maybe a few other people in the city that Dick’s made friends with. He guesses there’s always a minuscule possibility of Dick calling up Wayne Manor for help. Not that Joey thinks Dick ever would, especially not after the last time Dick had gone home with an injury and came back to the Tower looking hollowed out like someone had pulled the rug out from under him.
Joey frowns. He doesn’t want Dick to have to resort to that. Mind made up, he sets his tomato slices on his cutting board and wipes his knife off with a rag. He gives his hands a quick rinse and then wrangles his communicator out of his pocket. He needs to find something to lean the communicator against so he can use his hands to talk. After glancing around, the jar of sugar catches his eye. It seems like it’ll make a decent perch. Joey shrugs and sets it up before dialing Dick’s number.
“Hey,” Dick says as soon as he accepts Joey’s video call. Joey’s eyes are immediately drawn to the damp strands of hair that fall over the sides of Dick’s face. It’s one of the mysteries of the world that Dick can look so good without a hint of product in his hair. Without product, Joey just looks like he’s got a pack of cooked ramen dangling down his neck.
“Hey,” Joey signs. He looks in the background of Dick’s video to try and figure out where he is. The computer behind him looks an awful lot like... “You’re at the Tower?” Dick’s forehead scrunches and Joey realizes he’s probably signing pretty fast. He can’t make himself slow down as he asks, “How did you get there? Did someone drive you?”
“Kind of,” Dick says, speaking and signing at the same time. Joey’s noticed it’s something he seems to do intentionally when he’s focused enough. “Wally’s basically half vehicle.”
“How did you talk him into carrying you?”
“Spoke the love language of bottomless pits.”
Dick nods. “You know, we’d be in trouble if the villains learned that a burger a day can keep the Flash away.”
“Not as much trouble as you’re going to be in once Donna and Kory hear about your little trip.”
“Think I can convince them not to leave me stranded on top of another building?”
“If they don’t then I will,” Joey signs, and this time he’s not really joking around anymore.
Dick’s features smooth out. “I’m doing okay, Joe. I’d say you don’t have to worry, but knowing you, you’re going to anyway.”
“I’d be less worried if you let me help you.”
“With what? Driving?”
“And other things like getting groceries,” Joey insists. “Are you going to stay at the Tower until you can get off the crutches?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Then I’ll come stay with you until the others are around more to help,” Joey signs.
“You will, will you?” Dick runs his hand through his hair and Joey’s eyes are immediately drawn to his bicep. “Slumber party in my room?”
Joey’s shoulders shake with laughter. “Only if we can have a pillow fight.”
“I’m down,” Dick says, and Joey finds himself smiling like an idiot.
The funny thing about living in the Tower with Dick is that they somehow barely see each other until late afternoon. Dick usually splits his time between working on leads for Titans cases and checking in with the people he works with at Haly’s Circus. Joey will hear him mutter over the phone about how the season’s schedule is going and whether or not they’re meeting their expected weekly sales margin.
Dick also talks to Joey about ways to boost the Titans’s finances. Joey does his best to listen and to offer his input when Dick asks for it. He’s not sure if it’s good input, but Dick listens to him carefully either way.
They throw ideas back and forth. Dick suggests making more bobbleheads like the ones they sold before. Joey suggests they sell t-shirts and upcharge for autographed ones.
They’re both tired and rubbing at their eyes by the time Dick gets the idea to make an action figure of each Titan.
“We can sell them as individuals or as a bundle,” Dick says, scribbling his idea down on a ripped envelope. “We can make a few animal ones as a complete Gar set too.”
Joey yawns. “Works for me as long as they don’t turn out ugly.”
“I was thinking about that,” Dick says. He tucks his pen behind his ear. “Would you want to design them? I think you’d make them look great.”
If there’s one thing Joey secretly loves about Dick, it’s that Dick looks at Joey’s art and really appreciates it. He always stops to analyze each canvas, and he looks at the drawings with a look of awe and wonder that makes Joey feel good about himself. It makes him feel like his art can really affect more people than just him, and it’s a feeling Joey never gets tired of. Every praise that falls from Dick’s lips is like nectar that Joey greedily eats up.
Of course he tells Dick yes.
After calling the other Titans to get their approval, Joey works on the designs the next day in the library. He keeps a picture of each Titan close by and tapes the one he’s working on against the wall to use as a reference.
Kory is fun to draw with her long legs, curly hair, and stunning eyes. Other people like Vic prove to be a little bit more challenging because of the non-human features that Joey’s never really practiced drawing before.
And then there’s Dick. Dick who looks so good in real life that Joey has a hard time capturing just how pretty he is. It’s the soft curls in his hair, the strong set of his shoulders, and the charming smile that Joey really has a hard time depicting just right. By the time he’s done with it, he’s still not 100% happy with the outcome of his design, but he thinks it’s good enough for a mold to be made of. He decides to sit on it for a few days before trying to get Dick’s approval on it.
He stretches his arms above his head and listens to the pop of his stiff joints. Outside, the sky is black and the library is dark save for the overhead lamp. If that’s not a sign that he’s been sitting in the same place for too long, he doesn’t know what is. Okay, well, the hunger pains in his stomach are pretty good signs too. They’re what motivates him to go downstairs to get something to eat.
The makeshift kitchen along the far wall in the rec room is what Joey would describe as hodgepodge. It’s got a mixture of appliances that are all different brands and colors. Joey’s pretty sure Gar’s the one who paid for everything which explains the odd combination but also doesn’t. How could the same Gar who planned an entire wedding for Donna end up creating a kitchen that looks like it belongs in a secondhand store?
On the bright side, at least this rebuilt version of the Tower has a kitchen unlike the last one. Joey makes full use of it by pulling out the food and skillet he needs for his grilled cheese. It takes him longer than usual to get going. His eyes feel strained after drawing for hours, and if that isn’t enough, he used up a lot of his energy helping Dick work out on the rowing machine earlier that morning. Between those two things and Joey’s own afternoon exercise routine, he feels like he wants to curl up in a ball on the couch and fall asleep until flying pigs become a thing.
Right now the only thing that’s flying is the grease in his skillet. He checks to make sure the cheese is melting evenly before he covers the skillet with a top. He’s so used to the sound of sizzling bread that it takes him a second longer than usual to register the sound of the elevator opening.
Joey glances over his shoulder and sees Dick appear with his crutches under his arms. A small part of him wants to die when he realizes that Dick is wearing a flowy shirt that has a few buttons undone. He has to force himself to stare at Dick’s eyes instead of his collarbone.
“That smells good,” Dick says, swinging himself next to Joey. “Leave out the bread and cheese. I’m going to make one for myself when you’re done.”
“I can make one for you,” Joey insists.
He’s trained too well to jump when Dick settles a warm hand on his shoulder, but that doesn’t stop his heart from pounding away in his chest.
“You look tired,” Dick observes, and the way his eyes roam over Joey’s face in concern makes Joey want to kiss him. “Don’t worry about making me one, I’ve got it.”
Joey wants to protest that he doesn’t mind making one even if he is tired. He bites his tongue before he says anything. If there’s one thing he knows Dick can’t stand, it’s being treated like he’s not competent enough to handle something by himself. With his foot being broken, the last thing he probably needs right now is to have to rely on Joey for one more thing he’s used to doing on his own.
He nods, and after checking to make sure that his bread has the perfect amount of crunch to it, he takes his sandwich and a drink over to the coffee table in front of the couch. He sets the TV on a rerun of M*A*S*H and tries to get invested in it. It’s a little hard when his attention keeps drifting back to the fact that Dick is moving around behind him. Maybe Joey would be able to pay attention to the TV if any of the characters on it had a collarbone as nice as Dick’s.
His fixation for said collarbone doesn’t stop him from guzzling down his food. He’s only got half a sandwich left by the time Dick sits beside him with his own plate, and by the time Dick’s done eating, they’re both leaning back against the couch and staring up at the TV with glazed eyes and stuffed bellies. Dick looks like he’s trying to keep his eyes open when Joey glances at him out of the corner of his eye.
“Do you want to lie down?” Joey asks after getting Dick’s attention. Dick blinks slowly at Joey’s hand movements. “You should keep your leg elevated.”
The corner of Dick’s mouth turns up. “Doctor’s orders?” he signs back, and even the way he signs looks lethargic like his arms are being held down by weights.
“Doctor’s orders,” Joey nods. Then he does something he’ll freak out about later when he’s alone in his room.
He pats his thigh in invitation.
Why did you do that? he thinks in horror. Now he feels all hot and flustered, and Dick’s staring at him with wide eyes, and oh man what if Dick thinks it’s weird? Joey shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have—
“If the doctor insists,” Dick signs, and oh my god this is actually happening.
It takes no time at all for Dick to plop two of the throw pillows on top of each other at the left end of the couch. He swings his legs up on top of them and then lowers himself down until he’s resting the back of his head in Joey’s lap.
Joey’s breath catches in his throat when Dick looks up at him with sleepy eyes, and he belatedly realizes that he must look like an idiot with his hands hovering in the air, unsure of where to put them. Should he cross them over his chest? Rest one on the arm of the couch and put the other on Dick’s chest?
This shouldn’t be so difficult, especially since he knows deep down that Dick isn’t going to care. His head is in Joey’s lap for crying out loud. The typical rules of personal space clearly don’t apply here. If Joey didn’t like Dick so much then this worry about overstepping and making things weird between them wouldn’t even be an issue.
While he’s having an internal debate with himself, he notices a strand of hair at the corner of Dick’s eye. Without thinking about it, he smooths the soft strand away from Dick’s face. Dick visibly shivers at the touch, nuzzling the side of his head into Joey’s stomach. Joey’s heart leaps in his chest at the silent insistence for more.
He’s not even sure he’s breathing as he gently continues to push back the strands of hair that frame Dick’s face, watching closely for any signs of annoyance. There are none. It’s only Dick’s eyes fluttering at half-mast, drooping even further closed the more Joey starts to comb his fingers through Dick’s thick hair. Joey can’t believe this is happening. He can’t believe Dick is letting this happen.
Having him so close feels nice. It would feel better to actually hold Dick in his arms. Feel the heat of his skin pressed against Joey’s chest. Feel his wandering hands trickling across Joey’s back. Feel his breath caressing Joey’s ear with whispers.
Joey closes his eyes with a yawn and imagines a life where he wakes up and Dick is right there next to him with bedhead and pillow creases etched into his cheeks. He imagines trailing kisses over Dick’s body from his inner thigh to the hollow of his throat. He imagines Dick guiding Joey’s lips to his own and kissing him just how Joey likes it, deep and passionate. He imagines… he imagines...
He falls asleep before he can imagine anything more.
Blood drips under Joey’s nose, runs past his lips, and trickles past his jaw in one fluid stream. He can taste copper soaking his gums when he grimaces.
The chains wrapped around his body are hot and bite into him like a brand. He’d be screaming if he could. What comes out instead are quick puffs of air.
All he can do is stare out at the barren wasteland that’s covered in carcasses. A ribcage lies next to where he’s kneeling on the ground, and he tells himself that it belongs to an animal and not a human.
He’s good at lying to himself in this world between worlds. This world of Trigon’s making. Trigon’s good at making it necessary.
“You came in the guise of she-who-will-rule-at-my-side,” Trigon bellows from some mysterious place, shaking the ground Joey is kneeling on.
Something primal in Joey cowers at the voice that fills him with dread. His wide eyes dart across the land of nothingness, searching for the threat that makes him tremble.
He has no voice here to respond with. His hands are glued to his sides from the chains that strangle him like a boa constrictor.
A ginormous demon with skin as red as blood and eyes as sickly green as poison appears before him like a flash of lightning.
Joey reels back in shock, falling on his back. Writhing in panic, he tries to roll back to his knees to gain some sense of control even though some distant part of his mind realizes that the demon could easily crush him with one toe.
The demon holds out his fist, revealing a man clutched in his grip.
Black hair. Blue eyes. Blue collar.
Joey’s scream is silent when he mouths Dick’s name.
“Jericho!” Dick yells back, and his voice is unnaturally shrill. It sends goosebumps down Joey’s arms. “Make contact with him on my go!”
Joey stares at Trigon’s four eyes and frantically shakes his head.
“I can’t,” he mouths, shoulders shaking with silent sobs. “I can’t.”
“Joey—“ something in Dick’s body cracks when Trigon tightens his fist around him.
“STOP!” Joey begs only for nothing to come out. “Don’t hurt him!”
Joey feels like someone is wringing his heart like a rag as fire erupts across Dick’s body, burning him from the inside out. His skin bubbles and blackens, falling from his bones like well-cooked meat. His haunting screams ring in Joey’s ears over and over.
Joey bites his tongue so hard that it bleeds.
“His flesh will slowly burn, but he will not die,” Trigon growls. “His bones will then crumble into ash, but he will not die. He will live forever. In pain forever. In horror forever. And he will still not die.”
“Please stop, please stop, please stop,” Joey begs soundlessly, and his tears mix with the blood on his face.
“He will stay here and rot for eternity, and you will live knowing you caused it,” Trigon says, flashing his sharp canines. “You wish to save your friends but instead you bring them pain and suffering.”
“Joey,” Dick cries, and his voice sounds garbled like he’s choking on his own teeth. “Joey…”
Joey’s tears burn. “I’m sorry,” he wants to say. “I’m so sorry, Dick. I’m so sorry…”
“I’m so sorry…”
Joey wrenches his eyes open with a gasp, lurching forward to brace his hands on his knees. Blood pounds in his ears as he wildly looks around for Trigon and the carcasses and Dick’s burning body.
“Hey, hey, hey. You’re okay, you’re okay,” a voice says to Joey’s left, making him jump.
The sight of Dick sitting next to him looking whole and complete is enough to make Joey want to cry. Instead, he takes deep breaths to calm his racing heart. Dick places both his hands on Joey’s shoulders and gives them a firm, steady squeeze. Joey looks at Dick’s eyes that aren’t filled with tears or pain and something inside of him settles knowing that Dick’s okay. It was just a dream. Just a bad, shitty dream based on real life experiences. Nothing Joey hasn’t dealt with before.
“You with me now?” Dick asks.
Joey nods, pushing his hair out of his face, and, great, now he’s all sweaty and probably looks like an absolute mess. It's not like Dick hasn’t seen him in a bad way before, but Joey feels more off-kilter than usual while he blinks away the last remnants of his night terror.
“Rough dream, huh?” Dick asks knowingly.
Joey shrugs. “Partly a dream, partly a memory.” He looks up at Dick through his lashes. “You were in it.”
Dick gets this closed off look on his face when he asks, “Did I hurt you?”
“No, you were… no.” Joey shakes his head slowly, replaying the scenes he remembers in his head. “I was scared for you.” Admitting it makes him feel like someone just ripped a piece of duct tape off his mouth. At least the worry is reciprocated. Joey can see it swimming in Dick’s eyes.
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Dick assures. His hands slide down to Joey’s biceps, and Joey gets distracted by the callouses on Dick’s palms. They feel rough from their experience in causing and enduring pain, but while they feel firm, they’re capable of being gentle and comforting like they are now.
“I’d rather forget it,” Joey signs, and Dick’s eyes soften in understanding.
“I think we can manage that,” Dick says. He gets to his feet, balancing on one foot while he collects his crutches from where they’re leaning against the back of the couch. “Come on.” Dick beckons Joey over with his chin. “I’ve got something we can do to take your mind off of it.”
Joey feels wobbly when he stands. “Is that an order, Dr. Grayson?”
Dick purses his lips. “More like a recommendation.” He adjusts his grip on his crutches and moves back to give Joey enough room to walk past him. “And speaking of doctors, since when am I yours, Dr. Wilson?”
Joey walks backward towards the elevator to let Dick read his hands. “Even doctors need a doctor of their own to keep them from falling apart.”
"And that doctor is me?”
Joey pokes Dick’s chest. “Your name is Dr. Grayson, isn’t it?”
Dick ducks his head like he’s trying to hide his smile. It’s so soft that Joey wants to capture it forever on his camera. He forces himself to turn away and to shuffle into the elevator to keep himself from saying anything that sounds fond and entirely too embarrassing. Dick crowds in next to him and hits the button for the eighth floor. Joey raises a brow. Why is Dick taking them to Joey’s floor?
“What exactly are you scheming?” he signs with a curious tilt of his head.
“Scheming is a strong word,” Dick huffs out a laugh. “Makes it seem like I’ve got some nefarious plans.”
“Do you?” Joey signs.
“I like to think of it as giving you some much needed TLC.”
“I need TLC?” Joey signs incredulously. He gestures down to Dick’s broken foot. “You need TLC .”
“You’ve been giving me TLC all week,” Dick points out. “Driving me places, helping me clean, helping me exercise, cooking me food—”
“You just cooked a grilled cheese for yourself,” Joey signs.
“—cooking most of my food,” Dick amends easily.
As soon as the elevator comes to a stop, Joey follows Dick out into the cream-colored hallway that has four bedrooms on either side of it. Joey and Raven’s are on the right side while Donna and Kory’s are on the left side. It’s more confusing than surprising when Dick makes a beeline for Joey’s room.
He’s thankful he cleaned up the laundry off his floor and the trash from his desk so that Dick’s not walking into a pigsty. Not that his room is usually all that messy anyways. It’s nothing compared to Dick’s apartment back in the city which is still littered with moving boxes that Dick hasn’t unpacked yet.
“Where do you want me?” Joey asks from where he’s standing in the entryway. Funny how Dick taking charge of the situation makes Joey feel like a stranger in his own room when he’s not sure what he should be doing.
"The bed’s good,” Dick says, setting his crutches against the side of Joey’s desk.
Joey does as directed and sinks down onto his soft mattress. “Hey,” he signs, “whatever you’re doing, don’t hurt your foot for it.”
“Don’t worry, I’m barely putting any weight on it,” Dick says. He then proceeds to bend down into a handstand to walk across the room because of course he does. “See? I’m following the doctor’s orders.”
“No, you found a loophole in the doctor’s orders.”
“These hands were made for walking,” Dick sings under his breath, clearly ignoring Joey’s point, “and that’s just what they’ll do.”
Dick shifts back into an upright position when he gets to the corner of Joey’s room that has a few of his guitars sitting in stands. He examines all of them for a second before grabbing Joey’s two beater acoustics by the necks. One is an Ibanez V310 and the other is an Alvarez AP66SB. Joey remembers picking up the Ibanez from a pawn shop a few years ago, and he traded another guitar for the Alvarez. He likes keeping them at the Tower since they’re the cheapest ones he owns. He figures that if the Tower gets attacked again, he won’t be too broken up about losing them. The ones he cares about most are tucked away safe at his mom’s house.
“Care for a duet?” Dick asks, brandishing the guitars in the air like prizes.
“This is your idea of TLC?” Joey signs.
“I have a backup plan in case you want to do something else,” Dick offers hesitantly. His eyes flicker over Joey’s face like he’s trying to get a read on his mood.
Joey’s pretty sure his heart melts at the sight. “No, I was just going to say that I love it.” He feels shy when he says, “I like that you know how much music means to me.”
“And I like how much it means to you,” Dick says earnestly. It’s such a sweet thing to say that Joey doesn’t know how to respond. Well, he doesn’t until Dick starts hopping back towards the bed on one foot.
“You’re going to give me gray hairs with all your loopholes.”
“Batman used to say the same thing,” Dick says, sinking down beside him on the bed. He passes over the Ibanez to Joey and keeps the Alvarez for himself.
Joey grips the mahogany neck in his hand and strums his fingers across the thick strings to see if they’re in tune. Dick follows his lead, tinkering with the pegs for a better sound.
“Have you got a song in mind?” Joey signs.
“Yup,” Dick says, and his eyes are closed while he plays a few chords. “Just follow my lead.”
Joey’s not sure what he was expecting to hear, but he has to admit that it takes him off guard when the song turns out to be Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” It’s not a song Joey has played a lot before, but it’s easy enough for him to jump into.
There’s a certain energy between them as they play that makes Joey feel light like nothing can touch them. It’s a bubble that’s only for them, their guitars, and the music. Nothing else exists. Not demons or hospitals or any kind of tragedy. This is a place of passion.
For Joey, it includes nostalgia for the voice he once had. The singing voice that people used to compliment him on all the time, telling him he sounded like an angel. And, hey, he was a kid at the time, so maybe all those people were just lying to him, but when Joey looks back at some of the tapes that have his singing voice recorded on them, he can’t help but think that they were telling him the truth.
Now it’s Dick’s voice that fills the void for both of them. His singing voice is a nice tenor. Nothing too edgy or unique but it sounds great paired with an acoustic guitar. This Queen song in particular is a great range for his voice. Joey can’t help but wonder if that’s the reason he chose to sing it. His heart tells him it’s for a different reason entirely, and his mind gets on board with that idea the more Dick leans into Joey’s space, eyes locked on Joey’s own. Joey’s grip on his guitar slips.
There’s no music now and he’s not sure when they stopped playing or when he set his guitar down. All he knows is that Dick is looking at him like he wants to—
“Hey, Joe?” Dick murmurs, and Joey feels like he can’t breathe. He’s never heard his name sound so soft on Dick’s lips before. He makes it sound like something precious. Joey likes it maybe a little too much.
Dick’s eyes drop to the bedspread. He twists the comforter in his fingers for a second before asking, “Did I ever tell you that I like you as much as you like playing music?”
If Joey’s heart was skipping before, it’s pounding like a torrential downpour now. He’s never been more thankful that Dick doesn’t have advanced hearing.
“Not until now,” he signs, and his movements feel awkward and clumsy because his brain is malfunctioning.
“I do you know.” Dick looks into Joey’s eyes when he says it like he wants Joey to believe him. “Like you that much, I mean.”
Joey can’t stop himself from glancing down at Dick’s lips. They’re pink and plush, and the corner of his bottom lip has a small, white scar at the edge that he wants to kiss.
“Do you like me enough to kiss me?” he signs, looking back up into Dick’s heated gaze.
“I like you enough to do more than that,” Dick admits in that soft way of his that makes it feel like he’s revealing a secret.
Joey shifts closer until his knee brushes Dick’s thigh.
“Then show me what you got, Boy Wonder.”
Dick cups Joey’s chin between his fingers. “Doctor’s orders?”
“Doctor’s orders,” Joey smiles.
“I guess I better follow them then,” Dick says.
And he does.