Track 3: Beside You
It’d been a steady night in Gotham City. Nightwing stopped three robberies, two purse-stealers, and three muggers who roamed the streets. Despite the fact Batman was still interstellar with the other five leaguers (and the fact Bruce Wayne’s adoptive son was suddenly covering for him while Mister Wayne was on a…business-trip to <insert_random_city> generator via the Batcave), he had not been bogged down with Gotham’s criminals. Joker, the Riddler, and many others still remained at large, but Batgirl, Robin, and he split the trouble easily.
At the moment, Nightwing sat behind the glowing neon sign of a Dunkin’ Donuts, binoculars in one hand and a bagel in the other.
“I heard you two went on a date,” said his comm.-link. Batgirl was entertained.
“Not exactly,” Dick mused. He chewed on his bagel and fell into a perch, eyes trailing the boardwalk only yards away. Drug dealing—typical way to spend his Wednesday night. “We stopped a giant flubber monster from destroying Palo Alto.”
“Sure,” Nightwing said. He grinned—best not to delve into details of what happened later that night; Artemis took to making fun of him when she could.
“You’re really going to go through with this.” Robin’s voice. “You and…”
“Only if you’re okay with it.” Instantly the eldest teen sobered, and he straightened up. “I mean…if you and he—”
“Dick,” said the teen sharply before Nightwing could finish the sentence. He sighed. “Impulse and I are not—”
“Hold on,” Nightwing sat higher in his perch, eyes narrowed behind his binoculars. A red blur caught his attention as it trailed across the boardwalk. Those sitting in the pier overlooked its presence and—“Oof!”
Before Dick could get a moment to uncover what it was, it nearly tackled him to the ground. The binoculars fell out of Dick’s hand and hit his foot, and a pair of gangly, speedster arms wrapped around him—just like the pair of speedster legs.
Nightwing blinked under his mask, and a bright yellow visor greeted him. Green eyes beamed with excitement.
“Uh,” was all Dick managed.
Impulse—actually, Bart, who currently wore his visor, a pair of fuzzy pink bunny slippers, and a shirt reading My Neighbor Totoro—wriggled and grinned cheerily. “Hi!”
So much, that Dick couldn’t help but smile back. “Hi—”
“Can I kiss you?” blabbed the speedster before he could say anything else. Huh. Bart looked at him, curiosity sincere and eyebrows arched behind his visor. A certain silliness reigned in his voice, and his hands found a more comfortable hold. His cheeks stained pink, eyes eager.
Dick grinned. He kissed the younger teen on the nose and had to laugh at the reaction—Bart turned redder, smile goofier. “Of course.”
“Cool.” Taking advantage, Bart pecked Dick on the lips and grinned. “So, there’s this thing. With the family.”
“Uhuh?” The Monthly Flash-Family get-together.
“The Garricks, Wests, and Wally and Artemis are gonna come over to the grandparents’ house for a nice family dinner. They do it every month.” Bart turned a bashful red, eyes teeming with excitement. “But not last month. This month—it’ll be the first time everyone’s together since I came from the future, and my first Flash Family Get Together. Uh—you know, retro-style. Isn’t that cool?”
“Very cool,” Dick agreed.
“Anyway, you’re invited. It’s next week and instead of telling you next week I thought I’d tell you now, since—you know, you’re a family friend.” Bart’s smile widened (if possible) and a moment later he was getting a second mini-speedster kiss. “You’re coming, right?”
“Um…” Because of how close Wally and he were, Dick had gone over to the West-Allen household for years. After Artemis and Wally had gotten together, though, the visits occurred less often. There was something about being the third wheel to a couple whom you were half-in love with that threw him off.
But, this was Bart. And Bart was looking at him with all the stars in his eyes.
Catching his breath, the elder teen only sighed and smiled, meeting foreheads with the brunet. “Alright. Why not?”
Later that week, the team was needed for a special mission.
“Three days ago Mister Terrific entered a zeta-beam teleporter tube and appeared in a bunker beneath Ruston, Louisiana infested with Kroloteans. He escaped. The same instance happened again to both Zatanna and Black Canary, which means the Kroloteans have found a way to hack into the League’s security system.
“Adam Strange is working to block this problem, but before he fixes it altogether, we can use this to our advantage. There is reason to believe the tech that was recovered on the last mission is vital to hacking the zeta shield that protects the earth from further alien invasions. So vital, that the kroloteans are risking hacking into our zeta technology to recover it.
“The league and the team will split up into squads and enter every available zeta beam tube by chance the kroloteans hack the system and lead us to their bases. The real tech has been disassembled into two packages that both Flash and Impulse are expected to deliver to Adam Strange in Star City, where he hopes to reverse-engineer the device and possibly teleport the Kroloteans back home.”
“Last one there has to buy Krispy Kreme Donuts for the league and team,” Bart snickered as the large backpack was strapped onto him. He looked between Superboy and Robin with a grin, then smirked as his gaze met his grandfather’s.
Flash smirked back, ruffling his new partner’s hair. “Krispy Kreme Donuts, and IHOP in the morning, Mini-Bee.”
“Deal, Grandpa-Bee!” They shook hands, high-fived, low-fived, took a step and slapped one-another’s heel.
“Am I the only one that thinks they’re loco?” Blue Beetle muttered to Cassie. Then—“No, they’re not threats! Stop pulling up data! No, I’m not reckless! I’m not!”
Nightwing smiled firmly to his teammates (particularly Superboy and Robin, who were on his squad for this mission) then turned his attention to the Allens, who stood in identical poses. Flash greeted him with a wave.
“Bart here says you’re coming to our family dinner next week, Nightwing.” Barry placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it firmly. “Gotta say, we’re looking forward to it. It’s been a while since you’ve visited. What made you change your mind?”
“Bart, of course.” He didn’t miss the way green eyes looked up beneath that gold visor, taken aback. Nightwing only smiled, reaching out to touch Bart’s arm. “I don’t think I could have said no even if I wanted to.”
Flash turned his head and acknowledged his grandson once again. He ruffled a hand through brown hair and grinned. “You that convincing?”
“Duh. Nothing less!” Bart grabbed the hand and laughed when the man gave him another noogie. In his eyes, bright and green, there was a silent ‘thank you’ that glowed, along with a sweet flush in Bart’s cheeks.
Smiling back, Nightwing gestured to the exit of the cave and stood taller. He was almost the same height as Flash. “We should get going.”
With great respect, the pair stopped horsing around and nodded in agreement. They perched at the exit of Mt. Justice and waited.
“Mal is working ops if something goes wrong,” Nightwing explained. “Impulse goes north, Flash goes south. If you run into a problem, you tell us immediately.”
“Ready to eat my dust?” Imp jibed, playful smirk on his face.
“We’ll see.” Flash saluted the smaller speedster and laughed.
“Ready,” Dick announced, “set. Go.”
The plan had worked.
“Locate the nearest exit. Search for hostages, stolen tech, and take note of anything that looks suspicious. This is reconnaissance. But—don’t be afraid to kick butt if you need to. Be careful.”
The escrima sticks were warm in Nightwing’s holster as he placed a hand over them. Taking a heavy breath, he scanned the area where every Krolotean had eyes on them. There was high-pitched murmuring, a sound so inhuman like knives scraping a blackboard, and then fear. Mass hysteria, as Kroloteans ran from one end of the room to the other and evaded the three humans.
Without hesitation, both Superboy and Robin dispersed from his sides and took opposite ends of the room. Kroloteans scattered, screamed, and a mass of them climbed Nightwing’s body. He kicked his legs, fending off one cluster of Kroloteans on his left and maneuvering through Kroloteans to his right.
Mal informed him they were at the base Tornado landed in—Ruston, Louisiana. Accordingly Green Arrow and Black Canary appeared in a warehouse somewhere in France, Batgirl, Wonder Girl, and Bumble Bee were in Ohio and—that was it. Two other Krolotean bases they were not aware of, and hopefully if they played their cards right, would destroy.
The key was to look for the Krolotean that was still at a computer, dialing away and ignoring the frenzy around it. If (when) they would spot the odd-one-out, he explained back at the cave, stop them. Shut them down, then excavate anything unusual.
“Nightwing!” Robin called. “Over there!” From the corner of his eye, Dick saw Tim maneuver around a sea of Kroloteans. He stopped, then jabbed a hand in the direction of a lone krolotean, who stood on a platform nearly twenty feet in the air and dialed away at a gargantuan machine that hummed loudly. That was their ship.
Nightwing pushed through kroloteans, a grunt in his throat as he was kicked in the shin. He whipped out his grappler gun, gripped it in a fist, and went flying. Unfortunately he was caught in the krolotean’s scope, who immediately yelled and screeched (no doubt shouting swear words at him—Nightwing swallowed a laugh) before dialing another code sequence.
He threw a batarang at the krolotean’s foot before landing, and watched the being become consumed in polyurethane foam.
The next step, Nightwing thought with a deep breath, was to import as many data files from the kroloteans as possible. “Nightwing to Cave—are you getting the visual, Mal?”
“Recording data files as we speak, Nightwing,” Mal informed. “The encrypted files will be copied and pasted for later translation.”
“I don’t suppose you could link me to a USB port,” the teen joked good-naturedly. Still, the blood was pumping in his veins. While the league had its computers to store all the data, he rarely took anything less than the Batcave. Then again, not having that data on his holocomp was usually when Batgirl started calling him a control freak.
He cocked his head when he realized Mal hadn’t given him a response.
To his left off the scenery Dick spotted Robin throw kroloteans to the ground while Superboy dismantled heavy machinery. Robotic suits, Nightwing could barely make out, were shaped like humanoids on a lower floor. Suddenly, both boys looked to their leader and landed at his feet—one taking a great leap, the other by grappling gun.
Superboy took a heavy step that caused the bridge to quake, eyes narrowed at Robin. “What’s up?”
“That’s it,” Tim said, panting greatly. He wasn’t used to dealing with a flock like this—not yet. Still, he jabbed a finger to the ceiling. “We need to go up.”
“What do you mean?” Nightwing turned back to the computer screen, escrima sticks ready in one hand and fingers of the other pressed to the comm.-link in his ear. “Mal, are you getting all of this? Nightwing to Cave—”
“Impulse just ran halfway through a minefield.” Robin raised his head until eyes were planted on the ceiling and choked on his next breath. “And he’s not alone.” Sweat soaked his forehead, dampened his hair, and Nightwing himself felt his blood run cold. Conner’s body tightened.
Without warning, Nightwing shut off the mini-cam in his mask. He heard Mal speak, but immediately cut the man off. “Mal, patch me into Impulse’s comm.”
“But you need—”
“Now.” Tim knew the limits of everyone on the team almost, if not better than Dick himself. Robin was more interwoven with the younger/newer team members, and if he was pale of Bart’s situation, then Dick had every reason to worry. There was a shift in the hum of his comm.-link before he could hear the heavy padding of feet. “Nightwing to Impulse—do you copy?”
There was a blood-curdling explosion that could be heard in the background, along with the ragged breaths of Bart running.
“DeeGee!” exclaimed the speedster. “Hey! How are you? I’m kinda running through Louisiana now—kinda busy, dodging landmines, think someone’s chasing me, pret-ty sure that these were specifically set out—for me—”
“What condition are you in?” Dick interrupted, quick to cut to the chase. He turned to Tim (so sudden he made the kid flinch) and felt his fingers tighten over the infernal device. “What condition is he in?”
“Last I’d heard,” Tim seethed, “he was almost caught up in an explosion.”
That was not okay.
Superboy interrupted their conversation, suddenly on his own comm-link. Dick heard the speedster struggle for calmness in his voice, and felt his chest tighten. “What’s your ETA from us—”
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. The entire bunker rumbled, cement and plaster collapsing from above.
“AGHHHHHH—” The transmission cut off.
Dick felt his jaw slacken, mouth agape, and brain pound in his head. “Mal, I need visual on the situation!”
“The smoke’s too thick, Nightwing, I can’t—”
Before their co-op could finish his sentence, Dick was clutching his grappler gun. A hole had opened above from the explosion—he cursed, explosions—and Nightwing swung through the gap as fast as possible. Forget the files. Forget the kroloteans, forget Adam Strange—landmines were involved, Bart was involved—
If Impulse had contacted him sooner about the landmines, maybe—maybe Nightwing’s heart wouldn’t be beating so fast, and he wouldn’t be out of his mind like he was right now. Robin and Superboy wouldn’t be yelling in the background, telling him to slow down.
He wasn’t supposed to be the irrational one. He needed a clear head, and to figure out just what was happening.
The terrain he found himself in was murky. The gas-mask was immediately put over his face, clean air filtering through as he scanned the area. Crickets, tall grass, and the sound of a distant train could be heard in the background. Stars peeked through the dark sky with fireflies scurrying for an escape.
Nightwing took a breath, then a step forward—
“Hold it.” Superboy plucked him from the ground without effort and looked to him, blue eyes wary and frown across his features. “Are you crazy—?”
“Yes.” Nightwing elbowed him harshly. “We need to find Bart.”
“This entire field is bugged with motion sensors and landmines—Mal is sending me the visual right now,” Robin announced. He looked to the older teen and flinched—in his was reluctance and unease with Nightwing’s sudden haphazard behavior.
But again, Nightwing thought. They couldn’t get in contact with Bart, and he could already see that conversation with Barry Allen—looks like you’ll have to buy those Krispy Kreme Donuts, Flash. We heard Imp’s murderous screams, and he died too fast for us to save him—
“Wing,” Superboy said loudly, and he shook the teen. A glare was settled on his demeanor and he scowled with irritation toward his leader. “Your heart-rate just spiked. Calm down—worrying is only going to make it worse.”
Right. The grip on Nightwing’s bicep was tight enough to numb his arm. Dick took a breath, accepting Conner’s glare despite the trembling in his arm. Right. If it were any other teammate, the priority would be to find them, not freak out. With a ragged breath, Dick nodded and turned back to the third Robin.
“Please,” he begged, desperation tight in his voice.
Robin looked to him, reluctant and no doubt a bit fearful. Finally, he nodded back, tapping the R on his chest for the holocomp to appear. “Follow me.”
The path he took was random and zig-zagged. Nearly five yards away, Conner turned to Dick, the iciness factor in his glare kicked up three notches. “Quit it. You’re acting like how Mal acts whenever Bumblebee puts herself in danger.”
Dick scowled. “Can we discuss the state of Bart and my relationship after we figure out if he’s dead or alive?”
He remembered the trail flawlessly as they ran. Blood pounded between Dick’s ears, and with each step the worry in his chest only increased. Beside him, Conner gave a wary glance, ebony eyebrows knitted together and frown firm against his lips.
“I hear two heartbeats,” Superboy muttered, “don’t worry. We’re heroes, and that kid’s got a good luck streak. I’m sure he’s fine.”
There was something about Conner being the calm one in a situation that let Dick know freaking out was not okay. He let out a ragged breath, struggling for a thankful smile before running faster. The entire way, he ignored Conner’s wary and confused look.
“Cave to Alpha. I’ve got visual on the situation—Impulse is alright. The Flash has been contacted.”
“If Flash has been contacted, then that doesn’t mean he’s alright,” Conner responded sharply. He looked to Nightwing for a command.
“Mal,” Dick said loudly, “ETA on Flash’s arrival?”
“Don’t know. But Bart isn’t the only one out there.”
The ground had exploded. Everything on the surface now lay in heaps of dirt, soot, and burnt grass. The clouds of ash and debris was enough to choke a person once they entered, and made Dick’s eyes water as they stepped foot in the fog. They found Bart and—
“Did you say you heard two heartbeats?” Behind heat-sensors, Dick saw a form that was obviously Bart, and then a giant that was three times the young speedster’s size. His heart stopped.
“The minefield ends here!” Tim called. He forced the gas-mask over his face, bo stick in hand.
The form of the other person was twice Superboy’s width and twice Nightwing’s height. Lobo the Bounty Hunter had a humanoid form that was a terrible knock-off of KISS, with black, ferocious eyes and a long beard.
More importantly, his shadow covered Bart, and he unsheathed a sharp smile, stalking the teen who was…on the ground. Green eyes peeled from the ground, one bigger than the other, and blearily acknowledged the giant that stomped his way. Impulse was sprawled across the ground, hands fisting into grass as he attempted to crawl away.
Lobo lifted a foot in the air, a loud rumble coming from his lips—
“Oh, no you don’t!”
The trio was quick to jump into action. Nightwing equipped three batarangs between his fingers and shot Lobo in the arm. Quickly, the otherworldly criminal cocked his head, face wrinkling into a retched scowl. He shouted in his native language just as the high-pitched hum of the explosive batarangs deafened their current arena.
To the left of him, Conner snarled and leaped in the air before delivering a hard punch to the crook’s jaw.
Lobo punched back, attention immediately diverted. He growled, animalistic and barbaric, and grabbed Superboy by the shirt before throwing the teen into a cluster of withered trees. A loud rumble came from the back of his throat and suddenly, he spoke. “Do you really think you can defeat me?”
“Hey, ugly!” Nightwing flung another batarang in Lobo’s way. It exploded as the giant tried swatting it like a bug and brought Lobo three steps back, ash in his eyes. From the corner of his vision, Nightwing could barely make out Robin rolling Impulse on his back. Good.
Lobo chortled. “What a pity; to think the League had to resort to such petty people. I get a free punching bag and all the jewels the Kroloteans have to offer. This is more of a workout than a job.”
“Yeah?” The vein on the side of Superboy’s neck was throbbing. He looked to Lobo, then the state of their teammate, and sneered before jabbing a finger Lobo’s way. “You’re looking at two fighters who trained at Batman’s side, and the clone of Superman. Just wait till you see how your job goes.”
Another mock-laugh. “Very well then, you puny Kryptonian.”
Even with the two of them, Lobo was a worse opponent than they anticipated. With Nightwing in front of him and Superboy behind, Lobo dislodged a tree (like plucking a flower) and rammed it into the SuperClone. Nightwing leaped into the air, elbowed the goliath in the jugular, and was slammed into the ground, neck coiled in one giant fist.
Superboy pounced Lobo from behind, forearm lodged under Lobo’s chin and tightening around the crook until he released his grip.
At the end of their battle, both team veterans had pinned an unconscious Lobo to a tree, handcuffed and unmoving. There was a bump on the back of the man’s head where Superboy had hit him, which was nowhere close to being healed. Sweat soaked Dick’s brow, breaths coming in ragged synchronization with Conner’s as they eyed their handiwork. Then—
“Where is he?” demanded the frantic voice of the Flash.
“Is he alright?” the other Flash. The first one. Nightwing and Superboy both turned around at the voice of the two speedsters, and immediately Dick felt his heart stop.
Kid Flash. Wally West, in the flesh as though he had no time to change out of civilian clothing or, for that matter, into shoes. He hovered at the feet of a trembling Impulse, eyes alert and shaken just like the rest of the Flash men. “What happened?”
Now, clear from his panic and sudden rage against Lobo, Nightwing got a better look at Bart. Laying only feet away, green eyes were tight crescents under cracked goggles. Blood caked the side of Impulse’s face, where one ear-wing plugged the rest of red liquid from oozing out. The uniform was tattered, covered in soot, sweat, and grime, and Bart trembled so violently Dick almost mistook it for speedster-hums. Bits and pieces of Krolotean-tech from Bart’s backpack littered the ground, all in scraps.
The worst of all Bart’s injuries came in the form of his calf, which bent inhumanly and pointed toes toward Tim.
“My leg,” whimpered the teen, “Ican’tfeelmyleg—”
“The impact of the first explosion must have dislocated it.” Robin cringed, inspecting the damage for himself. He looked sick to his stomach.
“He’s a speedster and an Allen,” Flash said immediately. Anger descended across his face and he scowled. Flash and scowling didn’t go together. “It’s healing already—incorrectly—”
“Grandpaith-hurts—AGH!” Bart screeched. “Fixitfixitfffffixit—”
A lump swelled in Nightwing’s throat, preventing him from saying a word. Only hours ago, the teen in front of him was laughing and giggling about donuts of all things. Now, after getting caught in such a dangerous mission, he… Dick swallowed. He knelt down before Bart, causing all three speedsters to disperse and leaving Dick to his thoughts.
With a black-gloved hand, he grazed Bart’s crooked leg and straightened it to the ground. Everyone winced as Bart screamed.
“Bart,” Nightwing started calmly, “Imp, it’s…me. Nightwing. DG.”
Green eyes peered at him, thin and glistening with tears. Cold sweat mixed with dirty blood, and every ounce of Impulse trembled with fear. Emerald orbs shut tightly under long, tearful brown lashes, and Bart shook his head. “It h-hurts. Ithurtssomuch—”
“I’m going to pop it back in place.” Five sets of eyes looked to Young Justice’s leader like he was a madman. Nightwing palmed Bart’s knee under a black glove, the lump in his throat unbearably tight. Dick leaned forward, so close he could feel Bart’s quivering breath against his face. “It’s going to re-tear the ligaments around your knee, and restart the healing process properly. If we don’t do it, we may have to amputate your leg.”
There was no reaction. Bart was in too much pain to weigh the consequences against him, and he bit his lip harsh enough to turn white. He choked on a breath as tears squeezed through his eyelids.
One palm on knee, the other palm on hand. “Do you trust me?”
Tiny fingers squeezed Dick’s biceps, nails digging into dark Kevlar. Impulse gritted his teeth, heavy breath in a tight throat as he nodded. “Y…yeah.”
All teammates and Flash men leaned in when Nightwing’s eyes fell to the knee. They remained glued to Dick’s form, causing the nervous sweat on the back of his neck to double. With a bated breath, Nightwing put full force on the knee.
The moment a symphony of cracks filled Nightwing’s ears, he reached into his utility belt, ripped medical tape and both escrima sticks from his side, and bounded Bart’s leg. His heart leaped, and he secured the wound as fast as possible before pulling Bart in his arms and handing him to Barry.
Despite Bart’s obvious pain, Dick reverted to leader-mode, eyes back to his teammates.
“Get him to the infirmary as fast as possible—” Nightwing yanked the broken bag of tech pieces from Bart’s form and threw it in a bewildered Wally’s arms. “Run this to Star City, to Adam Strange’s lab before anything else intervenes. Robin, Superboy—we need to contact the league and bring Lobo in.”
His teammates (plus a confused Wally) nodded, and for a moment Nightwing did not recognize the curl of both Flashes lips as smiles. His chest pounded, mind still trying to grasp the delicate situation.
Bart’s head dipped back in Barry Allen’s arms, eyes glazed over with numbness. The grip that gaze had on Nightwing’s heart was suffocating, with the deadness of the tiny speedster’s demeanor freshly printed in his mind.
When Flash and Impulse left, there was a distinct conversation:
“Guess…this means I’m buying Krispy Kreme donuts for the whole league, huh, grandpa?”
Laugh. “Little B, tomorrow I’m buying you the entire store.”
Before they all parted ways, Wally placed a hand on his best friend’s shoulder. His grip was taut, gaze intense. “Dude…you just saved my cousin.”
It took ages to decipher what Wally just said. Dick’s gaze was fixated on the trail Flash had taken, northeast.
“Yeah,” he replied quietly. “I did.”
There were successes and failures to the mission. Hitting multiple bases at once only raised more questions; the bunker Alpha infiltrated was empty in a matter of hours (the blame, Nightwing solemnly took himself for getting so distracted) and a pod of Kroloteans had been captured for further investigation. The team was informed Miss Martian would try her best to translate and interrogate the criminals (something, Nightwing tiredly noted during debriefing, that Conner scowled at.)
Impulse was okay.
Suspiciously, those were the first words out of Mal’s mouth hours later after Strange collected all the pieces that remained of the alien tech. Many complicated parts had been dismantled by an arrogant Lobo, who was to be shipped to Alcatraz first thing in the morning.
The look in Mal’s eyes was different from the others. Not amused, confused, nor irritated like Superboy that night. Instead, Mal scanned Nightwing that night without effort and said nothing.
He didn’t feel the need to point it out. And of course, Nightwing realized with a red face, there were ten cameras too many that caught all the odd things Bart and he did when they ignored invisible eyes.
Finally, walking down the empty corridors of Mt. Justice, Dick felt his heart come to a calming standstill. It would be Strange’s job to handle reverse-engineering the tech and figuring out what to do with random scraps, but without question, Nightwing was designated, research-the-foreign-alien-code-that-may-kill-us guy.
A month ago, that would have been his main priority.
At present time, Dick was found walking to the east wing of the cave, Kroloteans at the back of his mind. Pair-by-pair, the team had gone to visit Bart, who would be staying in the League’s very own ICU at the cave. He would be monitored all night not only by Megan and Gar, but Red Tornado and Black Canary.
Sounds came from Bart’s room. Loud and cheerful against tamed and tepid. The door opened with a swoosh, and Robin—
Well, Robin was standing in front of him, eyes wide beneath black shades and pink on his cheekbones.
Not to worry though—at this point with Tim, Dick turned to blushing too. “Tim—”
Silence. Staredown. At the moment, Robin was civvies-Robin, more-or-less in a set of PJs, pitch-black sunglasses with a pillow tucked under his arm. Dick bit his lip—
“Before you say anything,” the younger teen said, voice full of deadpan as he shut the door behind him, “The gang and I decided to crash in the room next door; Black Canary and Red Tornado already approved it. Bart has to be monitored for the next night before Flash can take him home.”
Nightwing opened his mouth—
“We,” Tim continued, exasperation clear in his tone, “are not dating, not sleeping together, and he likes you. A lot.”
Dick blinked. “But—”
“Trust me. As…weird as this is, you two are good for each other. Bart likes you and you like him.” Reaching over, the younger teen (and Dick’s successor) placed a hand on his leader’s shoulder. An odd, but earnest smile laced across his lips. “I’ll adjust and the team will adjust for you, Dick. Just…”
He sighed, as though finally getting to his point.
“Don’t hurt him, okay? The guy’s got a lot on his shoulders.” The strain in Tim’s voice became visible. Beneath the shades, Dick felt a hard, wary look. The Best-Friend, bro-tonic, unbreakable bond look that Wally and he would give to the girls the other had dated over the years when they knew things were series. (Of course, two of the three girls Dick had dated over the past five years could easily beat Wally up, and Artemis, to this day…scared him a little.)
Dick took the cue without complaint. “You really think he likes me?”
An ebony eyebrow raised in the air. “Is Beast Boy green?”
“Point taken.” The elder teen dipped his head and allowed himself to laugh. As Tim casually took a step to his left, Dick reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey. You know this was never about me being jealous of you, right?”
Tim gave him a look. One that said in big, capital letters, Really?
“I just.” Dick sighed. “You’re like a brother to me, Tim. And…it may have driven me crazy, but I would have—”
“You don’t have to,” Tim interrupted once again. This time, he smiled. “Go watch Sailor Moon with your boyfriend.”
Without further delay, Tim disappeared. The faint sound of high-pitched Japanese voices echoed from behind the door, and Dick let himself in. On the wall was a projector screen that took most of the space (where, as Tim commented, Sailor Mars was completing her transformation). Bart sat on the other end of the room, a drowsy look in his eyes and a lackadaisical smile across his lips.
Stripped of everything Impulse, he lay against the medical bed in a hospital gown. Bandages tangled through his hair, securing the padding for his damaged ear, and his leg was propped to the edge of the bed in a cast beginning on his inner thigh down to his ankle. Various signatures in multiple colors were signed—from Robin’s neat handwriting and Superboy’s chicken scratch to Wonder Girl’s long and winded note right where Bart’s ankle should be.
Bart’s smile only brightened when he saw Dick. He reached the overbed table (or tried—it was out of arm’s distance) for the basket of markers undoubtedly given by the girls. Dick reached for it and put them on the speedster’s lap.
“Thanks,” Bart chirped. He pushed the basket to Dick and gestured to a large empty block on the inside of his leg. “Pretty awesome, huh?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t ask for green.” Amusement tingled in Dick’s voice. Instantly, looking to the speedster he couldn’t help the smile across his face. The corners of his lips shrank as he pushed brown locks out of Bart’s field of vision and touched the medical tape. Dark bruises on Bart’s face and body were now light, almost gone, and the cast—there wasn’t a part of Bart Dick could examine without being drawn to that leg.
Without even thinking, Dick’s fingers crowned Bart’s kneecap and molded against its shape. He didn’t miss the way Bart shivered.
Two hands tangled around his one, and the tiny teen brought it close to him, goofy smile and all. Emerald green orbs looked up, grateful, happy, and not filled with pained tears.
Dick bit his lip. Using his free hand, he traced the indent of Bart’s jaw, studied that sweet expression, and felt the words clump in his throat. They touched foreheads, locks of hair meshing together. Both teens, awkward and sweet, closed their eyes and felt the breath of the other as it grazed their skin.
No words. No debriefings, no uniforms, no Impulse, no Nightwing. Just two goofy teenage boys that were head-over-heels for each other; it was all they wanted. Needed.
“The doctor told me the normal healing time for a dislocated knee is three to five weeks,” Bart whispered. He reached up, pressing a tiny kiss to the corner of Dick’s lip before pulling away and looking to the older teen with a set of beautiful green orbs. “Then like, three to five months of physical therapy. I give it a month, tops, for all of it.”
“Not gonna milk it?” Dick chuckled, and he reached over, returning the kiss to Bart’s crisp eyebrow.
“Why would I want to milk it?” Serious Bart, with little sprinkles of Dorky Bart. His gaze was impractical, amused, and thankful as it scrutinized the dozens of signatures on his leg. “I’ve got more than a lifetime of people who love me. That’s all I need.”
“I would assume a speedster would want his leg for running.”
“I assume my good looks will convince you to carry me.” Bart wiggled his eyebrows, implying the return of Dorky Bart and the tenderness of Mister Serious. He tangled hands with Dick, who laughed, and grinned.
“Won’t you miss running?”
“I’ll miss it less if I can convince you to give me a blowjob.” The speedster wriggled to prove his point, which only caused his leader to laugh louder. Bart reached over and poked Dick in the bicep. “No worries. Seriously—a month is overkill. My healing factor is much better than Wally’s—by tomorrow, I bet I’ll be making omelets for you and me. I make a mean omelet—I told you that once, I didn’t I? The secret is to add some soy sauce—”
“Bart.” For both of them, Dick decided best to interrupt. Still, he couldn’t help the smile on his face, and the tight hold he had on the speedster’s hand was turning white. His heart skipped a beat in his chest, and…god, those eyes. Were they always that…entrancing? “Today…tonight. On the field—”
“Oh.” Bart’s smile faded into disappointment and horror. He tugged brown hair in his free hand and suddenly ducked his head, ashamed. “Right, the tech. I…I mean, I’m sorry I couldn’t dodge the mines, I should have been fast enough.”
“What? Imp, no.” Dick reached over and placed both hands on the younger teen’s shoulders. His grip was suddenly tight, and his eyebrows knitted together tensely.
“We…I almost lost you today. I lost my cool, almost compromised the team and the mission and…” And almost flipped out because Dick was so sure Bart was a goner. His heart hammered in his chest, words caught in his throat. “When Robin was giving me the play-by-play, I…just wasn’t sure what to believe—”
“Be with me.” Dick finished before the younger teen could start a spastic rambling. He reached over to grab Bart’s hand, hold it tight between his fingers, and capture Bart’s face with his other hand. Eye-to-eye, Dick’s gaze hardened beneath his mask and he felt his stomach tighten.
The look on Bart’s face—a deer caught in headlights—was something Dick knew to expect. It meant Bart didn’t expect to be called out on this…predicament between them, and whatever Tim and he conspired to, it did not equal this.
This kid did not expect the love and affection he deserved, nor the praise. Whatever impulsive little game he played, the inevitable consequences were always…consequences. Bart either did not expect Dick to recuperate this proposition, or expected him to ignore Bart altogether.
Bart was silent for a whole minute. A new record for the Flash family.
Somewhat worried he’d paralyzed the poor teen, Dick chose to reiterate. “You…started this as a proposition because of a secret you uncovered about me. Then…we started talking, you got me out of the cave, opened up to me. We…hold hands, you watch my back. There are the lighthearted moments, but the serious ones, too. Today, watching you on the ground with your knee in your hand, I thought I’d lost you. You’re a good kid, Bart. A great kid…not…a kid. I…” Don’t want to let go of this feeling. Of Bart.
Dick’s hand tightened over the speedster’s and he looked to the brunet wondrously. With each word Bart’s cheeks turned a darker red, and his eyes glowed, astonished by Dick’s tone.
A month ago, Dick would not have expected to find himself in this situation. He would have been in the cave, researching krolotean leads and trying to find an end to this invasion while the six leaguers were out of their galaxy.
A month ago, Bart wasn’t here.
“You drive me crazy,” Dick finished quietly, a sheepish smile gracing his lips. “Be my boyfriend…or my Sailor Moon, or my Princess Serenity. Whatever you want to call it.”
The speedster’s adorable lower lip quivered, eyes misting like he’d just been given the world. Serious Bart. Genuine Bart. Unadulterated, sweet, Bart. He covered Dick’s hand with his own and leaned forward, red permanently staining his cheeks. “Does this mean you like me?”
“Is Beast Boy green?” Dick smiled playfully.
“Okay.” A grin twisted across the speedster’s face. He fumbled with his fingers, sweet laughter in his throat as he reached out for Dick—
“Not so fast.” Dick took both of Bart’s hands and held them tightly.
The younger teen pouted. “Is this your way of foreplay or not?”
If it wasn’t Bart, that comment probably would have ruined the moment. The next smile on Dick’s face was unprovoked. He leaned over the bed, watched the mattress dip, and navigated Bart’s hands to the edge of his black mask. Green eyes narrowed, then blinked in confusion and surprise.
“If we get together, then you have to tell me everything. The real reason you’re here, what would have happened if you didn’t choose the day Neutron attacked to show up—why, for some reason you chose me to proposition.” With a firm smile to his lips, Dick lowered his head and watched Bart’s bewilderment. He reached over and touched Bart’s good ear with the tips of his fingers. “What exactly makes you tick.”
“Guh,” was the only response Dick got—flustered, speechless, and adorably bothered. “You’re cheating—this is foreplay. Really, a good one—”
“Bart,” Dick interrupted. He pulled away until skin contact was not an option. Grasping Bart’s hand into his, he placed a kiss on speedster knuckles and looked to him expectantly.
The hot-and-bothered was still there. But instead of eyes darting everywhere but his leader’s face, Bart bit the inside of his mouth, gaze fixated on Nightwing’s, and breathed. His demeanor sobered and he nodded.
“Okay. Everything. But in small doses.” Brown eyebrows furrowed together, and just like their night at the restaurant, Bart trembled. “Not…all at once. Okay?”
“Okay.” Without other delay, he tilted Bart’s head and kissed him.
Later that night found two boys in the cave, curled up on a hospital bed watching the fourth season of Sailor Moon. (How many seasons did they have anyway?)
Bart buried his face in Dick’s bicep, knocked out for the evening with a sigh and happy smile. An arm looped around Dick’s waist, and the elder teen returned the gesture. Reaching over for the basket of markers, Dick rummaged for red and green, then searched for a blank spot on his boyfriend’s (smile) leg.
At the end of the night, when he returned the basket to the overbed table and curled an arm around Bart’s shoulder blades, Dick fell asleep happy with his message:
One whelming drawing of a bright red rose and, I’ll save you any day.
“So, you just…walked in here, and found them like this?”
“Black Canary told me to stay out of the room. I was curious! What if it was something dangerous, like, the Cthulhu or something?”
“Cassie…no offense, but that thing is a myth.”
“Yeah, mmhmm—so are Greek Gods and Themyscira. And Batman—what about you, Mr. Sarcastic? You didn’t seemed too surprised finding your best friend and your brother in bed together.”
“I got out of bed with M’gann for this?”
Which was the point a groan passed through Dick’s lips. He woke up, twisting his head slightly to…see eight pairs of eyes staring back at him, aghast and unsure of what to say. He blinked, watched as Tim pressed a hand to his eyes, and felt his own face for his mask.
“Ohmigod Nightwing is Richard Grayson!” Cassie squealed. Well then—not one of the most conventional ways he thought the team would find out. Conner and Megan, who’d known for a good number of years, only gave looks of pity. On the bright side, he was too old for Bruce to kill him.
“Wait, isn’t his name Dick?” Gar frowned.
“You didn’t see any of this,” Dick said. He reached in his belt (jostling to cradle Bart’s head in his bicep) for an extra domino mask and curled a leg over Bart’s good one before burying his head in the younger teen’s shoulder. “You’re going to close your eyes, leave this room, and forget the last ten minutes. That’s an order.” Maybe they would have taken him more seriously if his voice hadn’t just cracked.
Silence. No moving.
“Now,” he said with what little dignity he had left. Bart sighed in his ear and nuzzled him closely.
“Now is good,” muttered Jaime.
“Guess this means Nightwing and Batgirl aren’t secretly dating, huh?”
“Cassie, don’t even start.”
There was the sound of the door closing, and still two presences in the room Dick expected. He pressed his nose against Bart’s hair and ignored them.
Conner snorted. “So you know that—”
“Wally’s going to kill me when he finds out?” Dick finished for him. “Noted.” He went back to sleep before they could badger him with anymore questions. Miss Martian giggled.
As they left the room, he caught whiff of their last conversation:
“Ten bucks says he goes after Bart first.”
“Twenty says he won’t catch him.”
“Hi. Wow. You’re at my doorstep. Well—not my doorstep, it’s technically Grandma and Grandpa’s—which technically makes it mine, I guess. Except I lived in Manchester, so no, but—okay, I’m babbling. But you’re wearing green. A nice green—wow. Did I mention you’re at my doorstep? Anyone tell you that you’re amazing lately—?”
“You look nice too, Bart.” A smile spread across Dick’s lips and he passed through the doorway with a bouquet of flowers in hand.
“Are those for me?” Bart lit up like a puppy.
“They’re for Iris.” Grinning, the older teen shut the door behind him and leaned forward. “But I’ve got something else for you—”
A moment later found Dick three feet away from his boyfriend, eyes wide and flowers forgotten. He looked to his left, expression twisted as though he’d been caught red-handed.
The following week, after the failed mission, found Dick at the West-Allen Household for their monthly Flash-family dinners, where Bart had just let him in. Usually at this sort of events since Wally and Artemis were joined at the hip, he felt out of place. All that awkwardness had been forgotten when Bart opened the door, bright eyes lighting up the porch and grin across his lips.
Now, that same awkwardness hit Dick full-force, pink accentuating his cheeks as Wally walked up with excitement tingling in his demeanor. The happy redhead extended a hand and high-fived his best friend. “Dude. It’s been weeks since I’ve seen you.”
“You know it,” Dick agreed. In the corner of his eye he saw Bart pout. Before he could do a thing about it, Wally was dragging him in a hug.
“School’s almost over; finally getting a break. Arty’s not the only one that can drag you away from the goddamn cave, you know.” Green eyes looked to him, mischievous and wry, but somehow not as impressionable as Bart’s. His redheaded best friend placed hands on his hips and gestured to Bart. “Sorry you’ve had to look after the kid. I bet he gets annoying.”
Bart frowned, then quickly hid it with a grin. “I’d like to think of it as positive reinforcement.”
Dick laughed, quickly choosing to ruffle a hand through the younger teen’s hair. He let it linger. “He grows on you. All asterous and what not.” The glow in Bart’s eyes was worth it all—
“Aster?” Wally arched an eyebrow, then sniggered. “You haven’t used that since we were kids, man.”
“I vaguely remember you vibrating through walls and bloody noses.” Unable to help the smirk across his face, Dick laughed when the redhead made a face, and made note to tell Bart the story later. It was almost funny how the two cousins eagerly took joy in the other’s humiliation. Like brothers, Dick reminded himself. He’d rag on Wally later.
“Ugh.” Said redhead wrinkled his nose and made a face. “Dinner’ll be ready soon. Gimme, dude. I’ll find a vase for those flowers. For Aunt I, right?”
“Always.” Nodding curtly, Dick handed his best friend the bouquet. They waited until the room was empty.
Bart looked up, arm suddenly looped around Dick’s. A crutch pressed against the older teen’s bicep, and he grinned. “Aster. Like, the opposite of disaster? Without the dis?”
“Crash. I knew there was a reason why I picked you.”
Dinner with the Flash Family was never underwhelming. The atmosphere was heartwarming, full of smiles, and hyperactive speedsters. The first time Artemis attended these very dinners, she looked at a loss of what to do. Dick had been the one to grab her by the hand while Wally was busy and teach her the traditions. Back then, it’d been heartwrenching.
Now, with his hand beneath the table, tangled with Bart’s, Dick had no qualms watching his blond best friend share a joke with Mary West. Occasionally Bart’s cast would rub into his leg, but whether it was an attempt at footsies or a total accident, Dick did not care to acknowledge.
But, while he was stuck on a conversation with Wally, debating whether or not orange skins were healthy, he failed to notice Bart’s pout.
Or the way Bart would only look at his food and wouldn’t eat while Wally happily munched pig-in-a-blankets and talk at the same time.
Or the way Bart’s eyebrows knitted together in hopeless despair.
“Kid?” Barry looked to his grandson and zipped to Bart’s side, quick to place a hand over the teen’s forehead. “You alright? You’ve barely touched your food.”
“Oh, uh—fine. Crash.” Bart smiled nervously. “Just great, Grandpa, just feeling a bit…moded. Y’know. Under the weather—whatever retro expressions you guys still use.”
On one side, Wally continued rambling (something about school) while Artemis narrowed her gaze to Young Justice’s leader. Her lips twisted into a tiny frown, barely noticeable amongst the crowd of smiles, and suddenly Iris was touching Dick’s arm.
“Barry told me Bart was the one to convince you to come,” she said kindly. A sweet expression came to her demeanor and Iris placed a hand on her stomach. “You’ve been a good friend to Wally over the years. I want you to be there for the twins, too.”
Oh. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Iris.” He was flattered. Dick touched her hand just as kindly and chuckled at her words.
“Dude.” Wally nudged Dick in the arm and smirked. “You. Me. We can leave Arty here with the ‘rents and go do something fun.”
“What do you have in mind?” There was something in that evil little grin that signaled something spectacular. Dick couldn’t help smirking.
Through all of the hustle, he almost failed to notice Bart stand up from the table. The warmth in his hand suddenly disappeared as Bart reached for a crutch leaning against the wall. He stood on his good leg, muttered something about the bathroom under his breath, and began his hobble down the hallway.
“You sure you’ll be okay, son?” Jay called from his place at the table.
Bart said something close to a yes.
For a moment, Dick only watched in casual interest as Bart inched toward the bathroom. Then, Artemis kicked him under the table very harshly in the shin.
“Ow.” With a grimace, the teen stood up and stopped before he could rub his throbbing calf. The Flash family looked to him with either amusement or confusion, and he coughed to hide his blush. If…that even made sense. “I’ll go make sure he can…urinate properly.”
Fortunately the chatter resumed after his suggestion.
Dick wandered down familiar halls until he found the bathroom and knocked on the door. “Bart?”
That didn’t sound good. Jiggling the handle, the teen (also the ex-sidekick to one Batman) had no trouble opening the door. He found Bart slumped over the sink, head rested in his hands as he glared at his reflection. Emerald green eyes quickly darted to Dick, then retreated.
It took two seconds, at most, for Dick to figure out why Bart was upset. He almost laughed.
“Are you jealous of—?”
“You know I like you now, right?” This time, Dick did laugh. He felt guilt hammer through him, remembering how this situation came to be weeks ago. How that one conversation at the diner was suddenly irrelevant for their situation now. Heavy on the ir.
When Bart refused to cooperate, Dick had no choice but to prop Bart against the sink. He lifted his boyfriend, who refused to look at him with his adorable face, and sat him comfortably against the hand soaps. Large hands supported a runner’s legs and Dick felt the need to kiss Bart on his ear.
The bandages had been removed from Bart’s ear only three days after the incident. According to him, he recovered most of his hearing (many in this situation would have suffered major hearing loss), and in another week, Bart was expected to be running again. The cast he wore was full of signatures from League members and the team, along with some Dick assumed were schoolmates.
Relief fluttered through him when shy green eyes looked to him, doubtful.
“I’m sorry,” Dick muttered earnestly. He kissed Bart again, this time on the eyebrow, and watched the tiny speedster blush. “Wally and I have known each other for years, and haven’t gotten to hang out in months. Just in phone conversations. I didn’t mean to make it about him and me.”
Immediately, Bart shook his head. He wiggled his free leg, touching Dick before shrugging. The look in his eyes was embarrassed, but understanding. “This evening is about Dad and Aunt Dawn. And Grandma and Grandpa and…” Bart shrugged awkwardly. “I heard you stopped coming to these, and I thought that was stupid. That…you should be able to come without feeling weird against Artemis and Wally.”
“Well, I don’t. I’ve got the bruise on my shin to prove it.” Barely together for a week and Wally was about to drive them apart. Dick smiled, placing his hands on Bart’s sides before kissing him. He’d been in love with Wally for over four years. If Bart’s influence could get him over those unrequited feelings in the short time of his arrival, then it meant something. “I like you. Okay?”
They hadn’t been together long, but since the team found out, they’d been fairly supportive. Room was made on the couch for both of them, space was made so both speedster and leader could stand together, and they all stared whenever Nightwing and Impulse held hands. Part of him wondered if the team thought he was a robot.
Those thoughts were pushed aside when Bart bit his lip and shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. Now stop being an idiot and go eat your food.” Dick placed his hands on the speedster’s waist and kissed him once again.
Bart tittered. “You ever notice that every time you kiss me, I’m sitting against something?”
Mm. “No, not really.”
“Oh, please. I bet you give lapdances this way. And they’re good lapdances too, because you’re hot. Have you seen yourself? Well, you can’t exactly see yourself—or you can. Hey! There’s a mirror behind me—you’re hot. And you’re wearing green. Green’s like, really crash and—you look hot in it.” Dick laughed. Bart clumsily pressed his lips to his boyfriend’s and…giggled. Dick kissed him back. “Crash.”
“Haha. C’mon. Food. Gotta wait on that boom now, right?” He scooted the younger teen off the sink and waited for feet to touch the ground. Dick’s hands found bare skin beneath his boyfriend’s shirt and he leaned in, ready for another—
“What the fuck.”
Both teenagers froze. Suddenly, green eyes looked to blue, glazed with panic and surprise. Dick felt his heart skip a beat and choked on a breath.
In the doorway, Wally stared at best friend and cousin with absolute horror.