Some people take in stray cats or dogs, but I must be involved with the only man who takes in children, Dick, adorned in his Robin costume, thought to himself as he regarded Wally, who was also sporting his uniform.
It was raining out, and both of them were taking shelter under a wrecked overhang attached to an abandoned thrift store. Though their costumes were, for the most part, water resistant, Wally still gave off the impression of a drowned rat. He was clutching a small bundle in his arms – a baby.
"I found her on the way to meet you," he explained, sounding lost.
Not for the first time, Dick wished Gotham City could surprise him like this, but the sad fact was it hadn't for a long time. That didn't mean he hurt less when this sort of cruelty surfaced, or when Wally used that tired and broken tone of voice. It was rare the times he did, and that made the moments all the more painful.
"She…she needs a hero, you know? I can't turn my back on an infant, Robin, and…"
"Here," Dick said, undoing his cape and offering the dry and insulated material to replace the worn one currently serving as 'protection'.
Wally hurried to move her, each stunted maneuver bellying how awkward he must be feeling. He tried to give her completely over to Dick, but he held her out until Wally took the baby back into his shaking arms. If Dick asked, he'd be given the answer that it was due to the cold or his shock that someone could abandon a helpless child. Maybe it was, but Dick figured there might be a third factor.
"Come on, I know a place where she'll be safe," he said and led him to the Batcave. His mentor would lecture him forever about it, but hopefully he'd stave him off until the baby wasn't present.
Alfred led Wally upstairs, still holding the infant close to him for warmth. They were going to find clean linens and other supplies, and Dick didn't doubt his decision for a moment. He was also correct about Batman – he did at least wait until Wally and his charge were out of earshot before letting him have it.
"I haven't said anything yet."
Bruce leaned back in his seat and placed both hands together in front of his face, only the fingertips touching as he regarded Dick with a calculating stare through his cowl.
"Kid Flash turned twenty-one three and a half weeks ago. You are only nineteen. Neither of you have a stable lifestyle or a means to support an infant. Child rearing is a serious responsibility that is not an option at this time."
Dick pursed his lips and prepared to argue; Bruce motioned for him to wait, but he didn't heed it.
"I'm your ward and I've turned out…" he trailed off, trying to think of a good adjective that wasn't necessarily 'well-adjusted' or 'normal', because crime fighting since boyhood was by no means a catalyst to either of those. Batman's jaw twitched, indicating a raised eyebrow, and he scowled. "Give us a chance, all right? You didn't witness Wally's face when he-"
"My answer still stands."
"Then you tell him," and he whipped his arm out, pointer finger directed at the stairs leading up toward the mansion, the same direction Alfred had taken their guests minutes ago, "that she has to be put into child services!"
Batman steeled his jaw, but nodded and accepted the duty. He rose from his chair and they both trekked upstairs in stony silence. When they reached the kitchen, however, they stopped just outside the entrance to observe.
A list of supplies was left half finished on the countertop as both Wally and Alfred fuss over the child, the older man instructing Wally on the proper ways to hold her as she was dried. They must have given her a quick bath in the sink, if the suds still coating the rim and countertop were any indication, and they were swaddling her in soft towels. Wally had that serious look about him again, the one that's one part comical because it's so opposite of his usual personality to be considered laughable – if the situation weren't so solemn – and two parts heartbreaking because he's trying so hard.
He's listening to every word Alfred said, minding her head and cradling her against his torso. The baby's fussing ceased as he seemed to get things right. Wally smiled, the edges quivering as he unsurely transferred the grin from the infant to his makeshift teacher for approval.
Dick inclined his head to Bruce and softly, but expectedly, demanded, "Well?"
His mentor said nothing as he continued to take in the sight, then finally he turned to regard him.
"A trial period," he conceded tersely. "Three months. No more."
Smirking, and pushing his luck, Dick placed a hand on the man's shoulder. "Then congratulations, you're a batgrandfather."
Dick woke up to Wally assembling an entire nursery set, the front parlor littered with toys and clothes mixed in with the various parts and tools. Wally was mumbling something about needing 'a stupid Masters in Engineering to understand the instructions' as he fiddled with the individual pieces of a crib.
Alfred was waiting for him by the foot of the stairs, two cups of decaf coffee at the ready on a silver tray. He offered Dick a mug, which he accepted.
"Good morning, young Master," Alfred greeted him, and Dick wanted to gag on his drink. He hated when Alfred had to resort to such titles, but Batman refused to drop the secret identities. It felt weird to wear his sunglasses in his own home, never be referred to by name or use the cave entrance instead of the front door every time. To argue further was asking for trouble, so Dick put up with the ruse – it wasn't as if he hadn't had practice before.
"Has he even been to sleep?" Dick queried, once he'd had a good portion of his drink.
"Master Wallace and Master Bartholomew arrived back from their errands promptly at eight A.M. and have yet to cease in his endeavors, I'm afraid. He is most insistent on completing his tasks before he may rest."
Robin glanced around, but didn't see the presence of Wally's own mentor, the Flash. Sensing his confusion, Alfred said, "Master Bartholomew was not permitted beyond the underground threshold and was called to handle a 'special errand' in Central City."
Dick finished his coffee and placed the cup back on the tray, grabbing the other to present to Wally. The bags under his eyes spoke volumes on how much he'd need this and an entire pot more.
"I shall return with more, young Master," Alfred said, predicting Dick's exact thoughts in that impressive way of his. "Will you need anything else?"
"Nah, the coffee should do us. Thanks, Alfred."
He walked over to Wally, handing him the mug. It was empty long before Robin finished his 'hello' and sat down next to him. Wally offered him a grin in appreciation, and then accidentally pinched his thumb between two slabs of wood.
"Yeesh, that's the fifth time I've done that!" he complained.
Dick grabbed his hand and examined it, noticing other bruises before Wally shook their hands free. There was a slight coloration to the digit, suggesting that number four hadn't been too long ago if his heightened healing ability hadn't dealt with the wound yet.
"Maybe this is an indication that you should sleep," he reprimanded.
"I'm almost done," Wally said, and as they both turned to examine his handy work, he amended, "Emphasis on almost."
"What is all this, anyway? We already have the old crib upstairs, and I could more than afford most of this myself. You didn't have to go out of your way like this."
Wally shrugged, partially hiding his face with the act and returned to work. He wasn't as intense about the entire ordeal as he was before.
"I know, but…I needed to. I feel guilty borrowing your place as is; you've already risked enough for me. I mean, this is not how I envisioned you introducing me to Bat's and your secret lair, much less seeing where the Dynamic Duo live!"
"What were you expecting – me to carry you across the threshold?"
Wally laughed and nudged him in the shoulder, playful, and Robin returned the gesture. But his boyfriend sobered in an instant, and continued with, "My flat isn't very big-"
More like abysmally microscopic. Dick had visited it a couple times, the space no larger than a bread box. The bedroom was practically residing in the kitchen, but it was the most Wally could afford with superhero-ing a priority. Dick wanted to reassure him that there wasn't any shame in that because there wasn't a reason to be, but Wally sped ahead in his explanation.
"And Uncle Barry offered a place in the house he shares with his wife, but I couldn't do that to them. They're family and already do so much for me. I…I just have to do my part in all this, all right? My parents gave me some money that I've been hoarding in savings – this is no big deal."
"Why Wallace, I think that's the most mature statement I've ever heard you say. You're all grown up," Robin joked and reflexively dodged an agitated swat for his comment. He chuckled and made up for it by placing a kiss on Wally's temple; the short, ginger hairs there tickling his nose. "I guess there's no fighting that logic. Can I at least help you build what's here, or should I leave you to do your macho thing?"
"Oh-em-gee, yes. I've about given up on this manufactured nightmare," Wally said, and tossed him the manual.
"I will never understand how someone can recreate the entire experiment that granted Flash his powers, but not comprehend pictographic diagrams."
"I swear these are missing steps!" he said defensively, just as Alfred returned with enough coffee to fuel an entire army.
A wail from upstairs alerted the three of them to the baby's need for attention. Wally, in particular, jumped at the shrill cry and spilled his drink. His entire body grew taut and he was kneeling when seconds ago he'd been lounging on the floor. Robin had picked up the sound right away, as had Alfred. He suspected that anyone who had raised someone like Bruce Wayne must have developed a sixth sense about these things.
Wally gave a sheepish smile and eased down to the ground, giving them an imploring glance.
"Alfred, if you please, Master Wallace."
"R-right. Alfred, could you possibly…? I'm…" he trailed off, motioning to the disarray that was supposed to be a crib.
"Of course, Master Wallace."
Alfred had the presence of mind to leave the coffee as he bowed out to attend to the baby.
The library was a disaster area. Books were piled in haphazard stacks strewn across the floor, furniture and whatever flat surface was available. There were some that appeared new – sporting flimsy or shiny covers – but most were hard-bound novels. Dick picked one up to examine the cover, discovering that it was a self-help book for first time parents. He saw others like it or involving the similar subject of child rearing, ranging from early childhood to young adults
He glanced up from his perusal of books to the blur coming and going, floor to bottom and back again, that had to be Wally. The sound of entire volumes being flipped through filled the expansive space.
"Oh, hi!" the redhead said, pausing the sliding ladder he'd pushed from one side to the other. "I didn't know you were still awake."
"It's three in the morning. We don't have an assignment. Go to bed."
"Tried – couldn't sleep. I decided to do some light reading, instead."
"Light? You must have gone through the entire collection twice by now."
"Seven," Wally corrected. "I wanted to be positive I found all that was available. Nice encyclopedia set, by the by."
Sensing an underlying current to Wally not going to bed, Dick cleared a spot on a leather loveseat and sat down. He motioned for Wally to join him, and he did so.
"What's got you so worked up, man? This isn't like you."
Wally fidgeted and shot him a quick glance, the gesture over too fast for Dick to decipher the fundamental emotion behind it, but he didn't have to wait long.
"Have you found any records on the baby yet?"
"Not exactly," Dick said. Wally slumped, disappointed at the news, and he offered him a consoling hand on his shoulder. "Hey, it's all right. We can give her a new identity. It's not as if we're running on shortages around here, and you're dating the tech genius of the century."
Wally nodded and offered a tentative smile when Dick offered his own.
"That might not be such a bad idea. Do you have a suggestion for a name?"
Dick did, and his heart constricted as he answered with, "Marie." His voice choked, so he tried again, a little bit stronger and a little bit clearer, but voice still thick. "I think her name should be Marie. We can call her Mary for short."
He didn't stare at Wally as he said it, not that he could tell with the sunglasses, but he avoided eye contact all the same. Wally's voice brought his attention back in an instant.
"I like it."
His gaze transferred from the carpet to the man sitting next to him, gauging his sincerity and found it – unsurprisingly – genuine.
"No, really, that's an epic name for a girl. It'll suit her," Wally reaffirmed, smile widening and green eyes shining, and Dick wanted to hug him.
The opportunity to do so was lost as, with before, a cry from the infant in question – Marie – interrupted the moment with an ill-timed wail. Wally was bolting up like a shot, tripping over books in the process, and Dick snicker-snorted at the spectacle.
"Yeah, yeah, I got her this time."
A situation in California called them away from Wayne Manor, and consequently Mary's side. It was the first mission they'd been given since the impromptu adoption and Wally was a nervous wreck. Dick instructed him to calm down, lest the assignment negatively be affected by his distracted performance.
"I can't help it," Wally whispered, wanting to avoid being overheard by their teammates, and shifted from foot to foot. "We've been gone too long!"
"It's been five minutes and forty-seven seconds. Chillax!"
"Are you sure your clock is synchronized? How accurate is it?"
"Yes, my wrist computer is synchronized, and it's accurate to zero-point-two seconds," Dick said, exasperated. "Seriously, dude, she'll be fine. So focus! The faster we get this over with the sooner we get to go home."
Dick wouldn't realize the repercussions of his words until the team landed in the middle of an all out brawl between two corrupt political factions that decided to get physical. Kaldur's Water Bearers and Artemis' arrows struck thin air as Wally finished with his foes and dealt with theirs in record speed. The entire conflict was settled in under ten minutes flat.
"Can we go?" Wally demanded, tying the last group of mafia-affiliated members with a curt tug at their bindings. He righted himself and bounced on the soles of his shoes. "We were only instructed to interfere if necessary and leave, right?"
"What, you're not going to stick around and conduct peace talks, too? I'm sure you could have them shaking hands in no time if you reacted this efficiently all the time," Artemis said, perhaps a little bitter that the fight was over before it began.
"Less snarking, more leaving," Wally said, and ushered them toward M'gann's organic aircraft.
"What is the hurry?" Kaldur asked, refusing to budge so readily, as did Superboy. The dark-haired man was giving Wally one of his peculiar 'blank' stares, the one reserved for whenever he didn't understand what Wally's deal in any given instance was.
"I've got things to do and people to see – now move."
"You are acting strange tonight," M'gann observed, but floated up to her bioship as requested. Dick followed her, and the rest began to file in reluctantly – Wally's continuous prodding aiding in their decision.
"Strange? I'm not acting strange. Don't be silly! Nothing strange going on here."
"Seriously, what is your deal?" Artemis demanded as they finished ascending the ramp to the spacecraft and took their seats, M'gann commanding her aircraft into flight.
"Artemis," Kaldur reprimanded, trying to control the situation. She sneered, but complied. He then transferred his attention to Wally, who winced in preparation of what was sure to come. "Wally, what is troubling you so? While we are not opposed to your improved performance, we are concerned about such anxious behavior."
Wally's gaze flickered toward Dick and they exchanged a look, the speedster wordlessly asking for permission.
"Our teammates do deserve to know," Dick pointed out after some thought. "Maybe this way we can get future babysitting opportunities."
"Babysitting?" Artemis inquired, incredulous. "Excuse me, but what about babysitting?"
Wally nodded and explained the situation to them. There was a thick silence in the cockpit afterwards, each member coming to terms with the information in their own way. The ship rocked suddenly as M'gann came to her conclusion.
"You two have a baby? A real baby? With a cute button nose and twinkling eyes and laughter that resembles sunshine?"
"…Sure?" Wally said, uncertain. Dick wondered what Earth television programs or novels she'd been experiencing, and whether or not it was worth finding the Martian a new hobby to replace them.
She squealed in delight, accidentally shifting the bioship off course a second time as she lost her concentration.
"M'gann, please," Kaldur advised, clinging to his seat as the motions continued.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, and rapidly returned to the topic at hand. "Can you bring her to Mount Justice? I've never seen an actual baby before! I wish to hold and speak non-symbolic words to her, if I may."
"If you get us back to base safely, I'll bring you all the babies you want," Artemis muttered, countenance coming off as queasy from all the rapid motions the organic aircraft made.
"We'll think about it," Dick and Wally added in unison.
They'd been dating for five years, but Bruce still wouldn't allow them to sleep in the same bed together. At least, that's what the unspoken rule was – Dick understood the message, but he chose to ignore it.
He headed straight to Wally's room after training, pleasantly sore from a difficult workout and a shower. Wally was asleep on his side, back directed at the door, and didn't stir as Dick took extra care to be silent. In the long run it probably didn't matter, since Bruce no doubt knew he was here, but acted like Dick didn't know he knew. He crept into bed. Wally was not disturbed in the slightest as he slid across the mattress until their bodies were flush. He wrapped an arm around Wally's middle, eliciting a sort of rumble from him as he roused.
"Go back to sleep, it's only me," Dick murmured into his neck.
Wally complied, until a howl pierced the air. He bolted upright in bed, dislodging Dick in the process, and was halfway out of bed by the time he collected his wits. With a sigh, Dick slumped from the holding position he'd still been in when Wally had sprung away so fast. Bewildered in his own right, Wally looked back and forth, noticing that he wasn't alone and eying Dick tiredly.
"When did you get in?"
"Yeah, I gathered that much," he said and gave the clock on the bedside table a pointed look. Dick was unapologetic and nudged him with his foot toward the door.
"Go on, our young lady awaits."
"No way; it's your turn!"
"Aw, come on," Wally wheedled, but earned himself a second kick – harder this time – and he stumbled off the bed.
"I just spent four hours weight training with Batman. You can spend a couple minutes with our daughter."
Wally faltered, but relented with a shaky nod and left without another complaint. A 'couple minutes' turned into half an hour, though. Dick had dozed in that time, realizing with a start that the other side of the bed was empty of a particular redhead and cold to the touch, meaning Wally hadn't returned.
Frowning, Dick got out of bed and walked down the hallway to Mary's room and peeked inside. The room was mostly dark, save for a tiny night light, not that that proved to be a problem. He had excellent night vision, which enabled him to spot Wally hunched in a chair, head in his hands, plain as if it were day.
"Wally?" he called and opened the door wider to allow himself through.
He started at the sound of his name, appearing morose, and Dick couldn't stand it. That sort of expression was becoming too commonplace these days. He kneeled in front of him, cupping one side of his face as he searched it for answers.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing – it's really nothing."
"Don't lie to me," Dick said, harsher than he intended, and he amended, "Please, Wally. I'm…concerned, all right?"
Wally held firm at first, stubborn, but a hesitant glance at Mary in her crib sent his composure crumbling. His hand came up to rest on top of the one cradling his face as he said, "I can't do this."
Dick's breath caught. In that instant Wally could have meant one of twenty-billion different, important things. His mind raced frantically and he tried to remain calm as he forced himself to ask, "What can't you do?"
"It's Mary. She deserves the very best – the very best, Rob – and I'm just going to screw this up. She's already come close to catastrophe and I would never forgive myself if I ruined this for her. I…I can't…"
And Dick released the breath he'd been holding, bringing their foreheads close together.
"You are so dumb sometimes," Dick pointed out. "I mean, really. You've given this little girl a second chance at life and treat her like royalty. How can you think for one moment that you've done her wrong?"
"But I've never done something this detrimental before! This is a human life we're talking about – what if I mess up and scar her forever?"
"Only you could spend your time saving civilians day in and day out and hold it to a different standard-"
"Because it is!" Wally interrupted, getting riled up, but he couldn't hold onto the emotion for long. "I want her to be happy, Rob."
"Wally, look at her – I mean, look at her – does she look unhappy to you? Does she act as if she's unloved? That she's lacking attention from the two most awesome dads in the world, or not fed gourmet food by the best butler on the planet, or spoiled rotten by our relatives and closest friends?"
Wally faltered under his hand, shrinking in on himself the more Dick said. Dick hugged him then and Wally clung back like he was fifteen again.
"Well, does she?" he asked, rubbing Wally's back. He shook his head against Dick's shoulder, and if it felt a little watery he didn't voice a protest.
"Then stop doubting yourself, and never stop being the impulsive dweeb I fell in love with. It's worked in your favor so far."
"You're welcome. Now can we please go to bed?"
"You go ahead. I'll join you in a short while," Wally said, disengaging from their embrace. He offered Dick a smile, one reminisce of his usual self. "I want to stay up and find what you were talking about."
"Don't take too long," he said, and got up to leave Wally in peace.
When he was past the door, a shadow darker than the others caught his attention. Dick closed the door behind him before giving Batman his attention. They didn't need to exchange words. His mentor handed him a tiny, silver disc. Dick already had an idea about what was on it. He gave the closed door a sideways glance – as if he could still see Wally standing over the crib, standing watch – before he turned back to Bruce and gave him a purposeful nod.
On the large computer screen stationed in the Batcave, Dick memorized every detail of information provided to him. Some he already knew – the information based on his own earlier finds, but the in-depth details were new. Batman had narrowed down their research and finished the investigation.
Mary's original name, birthday, the clinic she was born – everything was written out for him to see. Her mother and father's data was also listed; from given name, occupation, and personal address. There was nothing he didn't know.
He read every given detail, and when it was committed to memory he paused with his hands over the keyboard. Dick came to a decision and deleted the data from the machine – erasing records and traces that it was discovered and read. He went so far as to destroy the hard copy. He removed the evidence, but Dick did not forget in case Mary someday came to him wondering about her past. He would not deny her the truth, but she was his and Wally's to raise now, and he would treat her like his own because as far as he was concerned she absolutely was.
Wally was doing better, Dick observed a few weeks later. The three month deadline had come and gone, and Bruce neither mentioned nor referenced it in words, but Dick knew that matters were settled. He watched as Wally tried to sing a lullaby and fail horribly at it, resorting to humming the tune when he forgot half the lyrics. He swayed to the self-made music, lulling her into a comforted quiet.
Dick's gaze may have lowered to those swaying hips, but that was one of the few perks to wearing sunglasses – no one had to know where he was looking at any given time.
"How'd the doctor's visit go?" he prompted, approaching as Wally seemed to be winding down from his routine.
"The pediatrician scheduled another check-up in a few weeks just to be sure, but she's reported healthy."
"Told you it'd go well," Dick said, placing one arm around Wally's waist and the other under his hand, the one cradling Mary's head. They gazed down at her together, and she gazed back, reaching up with imploring hands.
Dick leaned in closer to oblige her, nuzzling one of her tiny hands, and she laughed in delight. In her excitement, her other hand knocked his glasses askew, and he hurried to right them. But it was too late to hide them from a speedster, and Wally was giving him a wide-eyed look of wonder.
This wasn't how Dick wanted to do this.
This wasn't how Dick ever predicted he wanted to do this.
"Well, what do you know," Wally murmured. "She's got your eyes."
But, Dick reasoned, that was all right.
Dick hung back from the celebration, watching closely from the skylights in the roof to the proceedings below. He'd distanced himself so as to be sure to spot every detail presented to him, keeping a sharp gaze on Wally and Mary, as they were the center of attention.
M'gann was convinced a baby shower was needed, and it was impossible to deny her a chance to experience such an Earth custom when it was within their power to do so. It was difficult to find a place large enough to accommodate family and both Leagues, but the Hall of Justice did the job. The entire speedster 'clan' had made an appearance, as had most of the Justice League.
Wally was reveling in the attention, excited to show Mary off, and everyone was happy to oblige and shower them with gifts. A couple rooms in the mansion would no doubt be dedicated to housing most of them.
"Hey Supey, you want to hold her?" Wally asked, and the man in question froze like a marble statue as he was addressed. Before he could turn the offer down, Wally had the infant nestled in his arms. He stared down at her with his too-blue eyes and she stared back, the entire room stilling as she giggled and bopped him on the nose.
"She is…tiny?" Superboy said, nose wriggling due to the treatment, and unsure if he was voicing the correct response. The attendees resumed their previous vigor. "Adorable-tiny."
"Yeah, ain't she just?" Wally agreed, and was then distracted by Wonder Woman, who introduced him to the idea of Amazonian warrior training in her future. Superboy continued to hold Mary, seeming unsure what to do with her, but growling at anyone that came too close to the small child.
"You should join them, Robin," Batman suggested as he appeared, gone from the festivities like him. "I'll keep watch."
"Tch, you're supposed to be the mingling expert," Dick said, smirking. He accepted the offer, however, and vanished to reappear in the crowd below, blending in with the partygoers as if he'd always been a part of them. Wally was at his side in an instant, roping an arm around his shoulders.
"Thanks for guarding her, Superboy," Dick said, and accepted her back. Superboy nodded, a mixture of relief and reluctance written across his entire face.
Mr. and Mrs. Garrick approached, Jay's wife cooing and gushing over Mary.
"Aw, Wallace and Robin, honey, she's precious! Isn't she precious, Jay?" she asked her husband, the question rhetorical as she plowed onward without his input. "You both should feel proud of yourselves."
"We are," Wally conceded for the both of them, and meant it.
"So when's the wedding?" Mrs. Garrick inquired, earning a shared look of surprise from both men. "There is going to be a wedding, right? Oh, I never thought I'd see the day when a third generation speedster wedding would be conducted. You boys have grown up so fast."
She offered Wally a heartfelt hug then, and he returned it, giving Jay a bewildered look over her shoulder. They exchanged a silent conversation of mouthed words and hand gestures behind Mrs. Garrick's back. Wally silently questioned what in the world? while Jay held up both arms, simultaneously telling him you're on your own and that no, I have no idea what she's on about now. Dick smirked at seeing Wally so flustered and rocked Mary as she became fussy, until Mrs. Garrick suddenly turned her embrace on him. There was no hope for escape.
"The kid is going to be a handful, and so is Mary," Mrs. Garrick said into his ear. "Someone in the family has to make sure their feet are planted firmly on the ground, so keep being good for them, you hear? Don't think this old bird won't know if you don't."
"Right," Robin agreed, feeling…strange at the mention of family, but not in a bad sense. He hadn't thought about such a term in a long time, his guardian and teammates having filled that void ever since he'd lost both his parents, and now he was making and joining more.
It was a happy thought to come to terms with.