The sound of an alarm wakes him up.
It’s Wally’s, he registers dimly. His head feels a little fuzzy, and the tinny phone tune signalling they need to wake up seems more piercing than usual. He registers a dull headache and a dryness in his mouth before his eyes lock on the ceiling and he registers where he is properly.
That’s right. The circus.
His mind nearly provides ‘home’, but he puts that down to drowsiness. It hasn’t been home in years; there’s nothing positive to be gained from that train of thought. Speaking of trains…the slight movement under his feet makes him uneasy as he pulls on his day-clothes and shifts to rouse the speedster.
Wally sleeps like the dead. It’s not a mental image Dick wants to over-analyse right now.
‘G’toff, m’awake…’ the older boy mumbles, pulling the thin blanket up to his face. Dick can’t suppress a grin. Wally’s hair is sleep-tousled, sticking up in more directions than normal. There’s some drool on his pillow, joining his mouth to the fabric. He resists the urge to snap a picture for blackmail, reminding himself where they are, and how much Batman is counting on him to complete this mission like an adult.
He’s dressed and showered when Wally’s eyes fix on his, and the redhead finally drags himself into a sitting position. He grins in Dick’s direction, instantly cheerful.
‘What did I miss?’ There’s a pause, and Wally sounds worried. ‘I didn’t miss…uh, breakfast, did I, bro?’
Dick finds laughter bubbling in his throat as he pulls on his boots and straightens the bedclothes. Said throat is a bit scratchy, and he has to clear it before he speaks.
‘No worries. Pretty sure we’re early, actually, thanks to that Avengers ringtone.’
He flicks a lock of dark hair out of his eyes, and tries not to think about how much he sees his parent’s expressions mirrored in his own in the reflection he uses to tidy himself. Forget it, he tells himself sternly. You have a job to do here, and dwelling on the past doesn’t change who you are now.
‘That reminds me…’
He tosses a candy-bar from his belt in Wally’s direction. It’s peanut brittle. He’d been saving it, but despite his normal attitude towards huge breakfasts (Alfred’s fault), he’s not feeling so hungry right now.
Wally looks like he’s going to burst with enthusiasm. He’s eaten half of the bar before Dick can blink, almost without removing the wrapper.
‘Than’s, man. Y’know…’ he swallows… ‘It’s a lo’time…’til breakfasht…’
Dick resolves himself to spend the rest of the day with Wally. Wally makes him smile without even trying. That’s something he’d much prefer doing over dealing with his proximity to constant memory triggers the way his mind wants him to.
Right now, he’d much rather forget.
He’s always younger in his dreams. He tries not to overthink it when he wakes; even Bruce has nightmares from time to time.
Last night had been pretty bad. He’s chalking it up to the place he’s in - the circus is chillingly familiar and still achingly far from what he knows to be home.
It’s not home without mom and dad, and they can’t come back.
It’s about midday - and halfway through downtime with Wally - when he manages to get the thoughts of nightmares out of his head. The other guy is constantly animated, re-enacting some of the scenes he’s seen with The Flash, recounting family stories and past exploits with exaggerated fight scenes to make Dick grin as he pours over mission reports and compiles intel notes for Batman.
He can’t shake the uneasy feeling, though. It doesn’t help that his breakfast had settled in his stomach like lead, and his temples pound in sync with its churning, leaving him feeling weak and nauseated.
‘You okay, man?’ Wally throws over as he zips around the map in their quarters, pinpointing key villain locations and potential information spots for the current mission. The speed doesn’t help Dick’s nausea. He swallows a mouthful of metallic tasting saliva, looking at him.
‘Only, you’re looking a little pale under your constant ‘glow of the monitors’ tan there. And, y’know, as a redhead? I’m the king of pale, so I should know about these things…’
Dick grimaces. ‘I’m alright,’ he manages, frowning harder over the report he’s writing. His vision blurs a little, and he rubs at his temples before he thinks about what he’s doing.
Wally frowns, hands on his hips. He’s doing his best Batman-serious-face. It’s not working much, but the concern shining from those green eyes is clear enough.
Dick grits his teeth. Now is not the time to let the sympathy of others - their concern for his wellbeing - compromise the mission. Him being ill is one thing; others caring about it is so far from necessary, it’s in the Fortress of Solitude.
‘Maybe I have that thing the jugglers were down with,’ he concedes, hoping the bait will give his friend enough info to keep him shut up. His stomach makes an audible, unhappy gurgling in response. It’s like his body’s /trying/ to betray him.
Wally looks at him, stern and serious for once. His own metabolism protects him from most things, Dick reasons, so worrying about germs isn’t something he has to do on a regular basis. Then again, he’s a science guy. He’s probably read advanced virology alongside his molecular physics. For a second, he ponders whether it would have been better to team up with Artemis, but it’s a quick thought. He and Wally work well together; Artemis is much better suited to the sort of quick fire strategy that only Red Arrow can provide. Maybe Miss M, then...
‘If you’re sick, you should should…’ Wally’s saying. His voice is echoing, though, distant. It’s like the word ‘sick’ triggers something in him, some primordial need he’s been surpressing but didn’t know.
He’s rising and heading to the bathroom before he’s even heard the rest of the sentence. Dick’s vision swims, guts cramping painfully. On his knees, he’s only a moment’s respite before the swimming of his vision and the horrible sour taste in his mouth makes sure the rest of the hallway hears him puking up more than he thinks he’s ever eaten.
Wally’s there, and he wants him to go, because…really, this is pretty gross, even by Wally’s standards. He’s embarrassed - it’s less the puking and more the vulnerability.
But he’s weak, and the last round of vomiting seems to have taken it out of him. It's got to the point where it’s all he can manage to wipe his face on the towel Wally offers him and accept the steadying hand between his shoulder blades as he dry heaves a final few times.
There are strong arms supporting him, lifting him up, but he relaxes, finally letting Wally take over. Maybe Batman won’t mind him giving up if it’s only for a little while, he rationalises.
‘You need to drink something,’ his friend says, decisively. ‘…And then, you need to sleep.’
Dick’s not sure he’s heard a better idea from Wally in the whole time he’s known him.
Dick dreams about flying.
Sometimes when he does that it’s wonderful; the currents of air support his wings and the night breeze is just crisp enough to tickle his skin without freezing him as he soars ever higher.
It’s different this time. Worse. Terrifying.
Bruce told him once, before, but now he’s no choice but to listen.
Flying is just falling gracefully.
Quickly, his own falling changes into his startling, terrible viewing of his parents as they plummet to their deaths. His mouth’s open, but he can’t make his screams heard over the din of the crowd, their collective shout of disbelief. They believe it’s all part of the trick; their surroundings and the music that still plays luring them into the falsehood of safety.
Dick knows better. The height of the drop, the flash of fear in his mother’s eyes as fingertips had slipped, fail-safes disappeared.
It’s the same thought, every time. His father, arms spread as he drops. Dick remembers nights nestled in those arms, protected from the fear of thunder and lightening, the cruel words of taunting children who didn’t understand his life.
With his arms spread, his father looks as if he’s about to embrace the ground.
In a week, Dick knows, he’ll be six feet under it.
He wakes up screaming.
‘Sssh, bro…it’s alright…Robin, c’mon, shh….Dick! Dick, it’s alright, it’s just a dream…’
Wally’s voice is desperate. Dick recognises it before he’s stopped yelling. He thrashes, fighting off the -
(well meaning adults, paramedics, doctors - ‘the lad’s in shock - leave him be…let him grieve…’)
- embrace of his best friend, until his eyes snap open and he feels the warm arms around him for the first time for what they really are. Safety. Security. Something to hold onto in the rush of the tide, like a rock in stormy waters.
The redhead’s hands are cool on his forehead. He leans into that touch, and accepts the proffered glass of water. It’s just as soothing on his throat as the fingertips on his skin, the arm around his shoulder supporting him.
‘What…Batman…the mission…’ he mutters, quietly… ‘Our cover story…’
Wally shakes his head.
‘Told him, the mission is fine. You need to relax and feel better. Apparently, most people get over this in 24 hours with some TLC. Or should I say WLC. Y’know, I always wondered about how I’d be as something medical, since that mission earlier…y’know, where I had to run to the hospital?’
Dick manages to grin. His mouth is still cotton dry, and his head aches, but the pills Wally offers him help his stomach, and he’s informed his temperature is going down. Good old Bat-telegram for supplies.
‘You have a terrible bedside manner,’ he manages to croak out.
Wally looks mock-offended. ‘Oh, so that’s all the thanks you give me for scooping you up from the bathroom and waiting on you hand and foot? Let me remind you, Rob, that I never get this sort of stellar service. Speedsters don’t get man-flu,’
He tries to protest, weakly, but Wally stops him with a ‘shhing’ finger, his expression turning serious.
‘You need to sleep, but…that seemed like a pretty bad dream.’
There’s a pause, and Dick’s eyes meet green ones. He knows what’s coming next.
He doesn’t bother shaking his head, but he does stay silent. There aren’t words in this situation, even for someone like Wally.
The older boy inclines his head a bit, finally managing…
Dick nods, solemnly. ‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘It’s just being here, and…y’know,’ he swallows, feeling the prickle of heat behind his eyes. It’s gone before he can process it. He /doesn’t/ cry, even when pathetic and weak and utterly dependent on his friend for even the most basic things. It drudges up yet more memories, and he misses what Wally says next in the torrent of their flood.
When he’d been sick as a kid, his dad had tucked him up in his bunk, and regaled him with endless tales, both tall and true. They’d been amazing. Strongmen who’d fallen in love with bearded ladies. Dragons, and princesses, and evil step-parents. How the flap of a butterfly’s wing far, far away could change the course of history. Then, with a smile, the story of how his father had met his mother. His father had always kept that one for last, and it was the one he’d liked that one best.
He blinks, catching the end of something the older boy had been recounting. Frowning, he manages to focus, asking him to repeat it. Wally just shakes his head.
‘Forget it,’ he says. ‘I was just kidding. Saying…y’know, how bedtime stories as a kid always made me feel better…it was a dumb idea, just…’
He thinks he detects a hint of a blush over Wally’s face, but maybe it’s the lighting. In any case, despite the slight pang that runs through him, he nods.
‘Nah, that sounds…pretty astrous, actually,’ he says softly. ‘Don’t think I have the energy for video games, anyway,’ he finishes.
He decides that the beam on Wally’s face is worth the pain of the memories it drags up. The older boy settles alongside him, and frowns, thinking.
At last, he clears his throat.
‘Hey, did I tell you about that Civil War fanfiction I was writing last June? About how Cap finally reconciled things with Iron Man?’
Dick shakes his head. His memory of last year is murky; he just about remembers Wally typing away furious and one-handed on a laptop after breaking his arm, muttering something about writer’s block and Big Bang deadlines.
‘Nah, remind me,’ he offers, he leans back on the pillows.
‘Okay, so, Tony’s right in the middle of this huge battle, and…’
It’s a few hours later when Dick rouses himself a little to find the speedster snoring beside him, curled up at the side of the bed closest to the carriage exit. He settles back down, endlessly comforted by that for some reason. It’s reassuring to know his friend is close. He notices he’s got an extra blanket, and appreciates the thought as his eyelids droop again with the sound of the rhythm of Wally’s breathing.
Dick dreams, peacefully.
When he wakes, he’ll be stronger, in more ways than one.