Chapter 1: Cross My Heart
Track 1: Cross My Heart
It was a calm evening when Dick dismounted from his bike with holocomp pulled up, and entered the cave. The mission had gone without fault (something, Dick realized with a grimace, that was rare these days.) As team leader, it was his job to research the findings and bring them closer to eliminating the krolotean issue.
So, he sighed as he rolled a cramp out of his shoulder, this was going to be one of those tedious, underwhelming nights.
Bart stood on the blue platform, dressed nicely in a new set of clothes and greeted Nightwing when he entered. He wore a green button-up, which Dick unconsciously noted went well with Bart’s eyes and a pair of khaki shorts. Out of place was a pair of neon yellow and red adidas, which clashed with a bouquet of flowers that were suspiciously the same shade as Dick’s suit.
With a placid smile the tiny speedster kept himself entertained by counting stalactites growing from the ceiling and rocking back and forth on his feet—for once, in the few weeks since his arrival, still. He brightened when he saw Dick. “Hi!”
“Impulse,” Dick acknowledged. “What are you doing here?”
Everyone else had gone home from the mission hours ago. He’d passed La’gaan, Megan, and Gar settled on the couch watching Princess and the Frog and just finished getting off the phone with Tim. It was even shocking when Wonder Girl pulled puppy dog eyes and convinced Conner, Babs, and Karen to go out for mani-pedis.
“You can call me Bart,” chirped the speedster enthusiastically. Instantly he blurred around Dick, who waited. When he looked down, the bouquet of flowers were in his hand. Bart grinned again. “You like them? They’re called Asters. Blue Asters! Man, you have no idea how hard it was to find some flowers the same color as your bird, but—hey! Here they are, and tada, perfect color! You wouldn’t believe the meat I had to fight to get these.”
Um. “Thank you?”
“You look confused. Or a little flustered—I could never tell with that mask. Hey,” in a matter of seconds, Bart was standing toe-to-toe with Dick, eager eyes looking up to the older teen curiously. A smile accompanied his gaze, eyebrow arched. “How do you keep the mask on? I’ve got my goggles and—grife, you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to keep them on—”
“Impulse,” Dick said again. This time, he clicked his tongue. Bart responded obediently.
“Yes? And it’s Bart, by the way. Or Bart Allen, or Bart Impulse Allen—”
“Why did you bring me flowers?”
“Why did I bring you flowers? Oh yeah.” Suddenly the flowers were snatched out of Dick’s hands and Bart backed away, expression still unwavering. There was a twinkle in his eye that always spoke more harm than good. “I’m propositioning you.”
Which was where Dick pushed aside his favored train of thought and found himself very, very confused. With his team mates he could almost always calculate their next plan of action, otherwise he would tell them to abort for a better plan. With Bart, who was relatively new and undaunted by anything around him, Dick had been unsure what would throw the kid off or float his boat—
“You know, we can take it slow. I gave you flowers already—which is kind of retro, but I guess that’s okay. We can go out for a movie or something to get comfy and then eat—I like to eat, hello hyper accelerated-metabolism—”
“You mean,” Dick mused, “you want to go out on a date. With me.” Something he didn’t have time for.
“Nope! Propositioning you.” Bart crossed his arms and grinned giddily. “Unless that’s what you call foreplay in this decade, then yes. Dating. Lots and lots of dating.”
The next minute passed with Nightwing unconsciously leering at the shorter teenager in front of him, who had no shame. Bart exuded patience Wally previously lacked, and simply spent the time circling Young Justice’s leader.
Green eyes looked to the domino mask curiously and cheerfully. “Well?”
Dick coughed. “You know I’m an adult, right?”
“Wally’s twenty-one, which makes you eighteen. Barely legal,” Bart enthusiastically informed. “I’m fifteen. It could totally work. Plus, who am I gonna tell? I’d be hooking up with the Dick Grayson, that’s worth a secret.”
“Bart. Not everyone knows—”
“Which is why after I leave you’re gonna tell the computer to wipe out all security footage of this exact moment. Like you did when I said it the first time, right?” Smirking, the speedster ran another circle around the elder teen and raised his head cheerfully. “You are such a Dick Grayson!”
Dick decided best to keep his mouth shut. There was more in that gaze indicating Bart knew even more than he should let on. He shivered—it was a clear invasion of privacy.
“So? I didn’t get the flowers for nothing. In fact, I used my allowance for this week—did you know the Garricks are giving me an allowance? I have to behave, I even got a job as a newspaper boy. I’m such an awesome boy that the mother next door hit on me.” Bart wiggled his eyebrows and waved the flowers in Dick’s face. His frowned. “I think she hit on me. Is it flirting if she drops her robe?”
The older teen made a noise. He placed a hand on his temple, deciding best to take a breather. Now he understood why Artemis and Wally used to roll their eyes with exasperation, or Kaldur smiled sheepishly when Dick acted out. Taking in a breath and deciding to remain calm, Dick’s lips edged upward.
“I know a great burger joint in Happy Harbor. I suppose even I can use a break.” Dick nudged his head toward the quarters. “Let me change.”
Bart nodded with agreement. “Great! I’ve got the condoms if you’ve got the bat-lube.”
This, Dick decided as he bit the inside of his mouth, would be a test of sheer will-power.
The bike ride to the diner would have been awkward and odd, had Bart not seemed comfortable. Forty years in the future, Dick calculated, he’d be close to sixty years old. He faintly wondered if that was why the speedster was comfortable around him or if it was just the fact Bart was a people pleaser.
There was a glow in Bart’s eye whenever he was able to talk to someone. He seemed to need the security of contact, hand occasionally placed on Jaime’s or Tim’s shoulder when they spoke to him.
“You know, if you wanted to hang out, all you had to do was ask,” Dick said when there was finally a hitch in Bart’s speech. They sat in a booth next to the juke box of a tiny diner Conner had introduced him to years ago. Through black lenses, Dick stared down the brunet as he skimmed through the list of edibles, and caught a foot currently rubbing against his calf. “Without the…proposition. I like hanging out with my teammates. And…”
Green eyes looked up from the menu, glinting mischievously as Bart rotated his foot.
“And any relative of Wally’s is a friend of mine.” Dick’s hand tapered off Bart’s adidas and he pulled on the sleeve of his jacket. How long had it been since he was in civvies? At…a restaurant and not rationing food? He couldn’t remember.
“But I don’t want to just be your friend. I want to be more than your friend. You know,” Bart wiggled his eyebrows. “A special friend.”
Dick pretended not to notice when a husband and a wife looked over, mortified. He felt himself turn pink and coughed in poor effort to keep the speedster quiet. “Bart. There’s something about subtlety in public.”
“Right. Right, that still exists, doesn’t it? I was never the best at that; I told Gramma that she was having twins. Grandpa was surprised—‘course, he didn’t know she was pregnant.” Something about Bart’s demeanor lit up, and he pushed the menu aside before kicking his feet to the cushion beside Dick’s lap. “You see, back where I live, I would just go streaking. That was gonna be my name—Streak, like the Flash.”
For a moment, Dick only stared.
Until in return a giggle left Bart’s lips. “Kidding, Nightwing. Grayson? Dick? Dick Grayson.” Brown eyebrows wiggled again and he padded Dick’s hipbone with his heel. The older teenager inched away carefully and caught green eyes staring at him fully. “See? I know how to make jokes—I’m not a complete weirdo. In fact, you guys are the weirdoes.”
“And why is that?’ To that, Dick actually had to laugh.
There were slight quirks to Bart, he realized, were very much like Wally, but still many that were simply Bart’s. He would raise his eyebrow mischievously, look at something as a practical joke, or snigger when something he found silly was said. But at the same time, half the stuff Bart pulled, Wally would never do. It’d been obvious since the first day that Impulse was genuine. Even now, when he spoke fondly about his grandparents.
“This morning some kid told me plaid and stripes don’t go together. I for one look amazing in both.” Bart relaxed, sitting back in his chair and putting both arms behind his head. An eager smile fell across his lips. “But I look best in green. It makes my eyes pop. See?”
“Popping,” Dick agreed, though wryly. If it was only one thing Bart and Wally had in common, it was a natural tendency toward narcissism.
In that moment their waitress introduced herself. She smiled cheerfully to the both of them, laughed as Dick charmed her into giving them free refills, and gave them an odd look as she left. Dick, with what little dignity he had left, stopped the foot that was trying to get between his legs.
“You don’t know a lot about boundaries, do you?” Dick tried hard to keep his voice quiet. A little bewildered, he curled his fingers into the silverware and hoped his ears weren’t as red as they felt.
“You could tell me to stop—”
“—but why didn’t you do that twenty minutes ago? When I was toootally gonna give you a hand job? Or, well, a footjob? I bet foot jobs are a lot kinkier—other than the smell, but hey. At least you know they’re in your shoes all day, you never know where your hands might have been.” Bart, for the lack of a better word, stopped talking for a good second, then smiled…seductively? “You’re into me, I just know it.”
Dick tried to suppress a grimace and bit back a comment. Wally had never been this tactless. “You and I must have a very interesting relationship in the future.”
There was a flash in Bart’s eyes. One so quick that unless you knew how to read a speedster, you would have missed it. In an instant the younger teen had gone from enthusiastic to perturb to happy again.
Changing the subject, Bart’s gaze narrowed mischievously. “I saw the way you ogled my cousin earlier.”
Still need to figure out why the kroloteans are so scattered around the—what? Under his shades, Dick’s own gaze dissipated. For once, he realized, his face said everything. Shock, confusion—hopefully a little denial.
“Please. Wally spent a good five minutes chasing me down to see Grandma Iris. He didn’t like our game of tag, but I guess that’s okay—she wanted us to go pick out wallpaper samples for Dad and Aunt Dawn’s room.” Resting his head in his hand, Bart looked at the older teen with…eyes that Dick couldn’t remember having. Not at Bart’s age, sheesh. “But that look you gave Wally when you tripped me? I could hear the tragic romance soundtrack spinning in the background—you were so moded when he mentioned going off with his girlfriend.”
“That’s…not…” Dick grimaced. “That’s not your business.” What? How? How…did Bart come up with that kind of answer?
“But you like him, don’t you?” Green eyes looked up and Dick froze. They already seemed to know the answer. “You love my cousin?”
Before Dick said a word, Bart beat him to it.
“It’s not the route you want to go. Trust me.” There was a difference in Bart’s tone. Calmer, more calculated. Later Dick would ask himself if that were a sign of what was to come; with the evenness of Bart’s tone and the careful way his eyebrows knit together.
“You…came to tell me that in the future I have no hope of ever getting together with my best friend?” A tight smile fell across Dick’s lips, something he usually never struggled with. Yet, here and now, he was staring at one tiny guru that seemed to have most, if not all the answers.
Forty years down the road Dick had a feeling Bart had a close relationship with his first cousin. The Garricks would be the easiest example of how long a friendship could last—and maybe this meant Wally and he were still friends later on in life. Just friends.
And, Dick realized, getting back to the matter at hand, Bart had just called him out on something. Something big that he’d been keeping a secret for years. Conner had only nodded, pity in his eyes when he noticed. Once, Megan gave him a look of sympathy, indicating this problem was so blaringly obvious she didn’t even need to read his mind. That had been embarrassing.
The sound of screams and the security alarms down the street snapped Dick out of his thoughts.
“Whoop,” Bart jibed, kicking his feet off the seat and stood beside his leader. He pointed across the street and grinned. “Looks like it’s hero time. Guess that’s rain check for our first date, huh?”
Quickly there was a peck to Dick’s lips, firm, thorough and quick (he was almost positive there was some tongue), a tiny whirlwind no one seemed to notice as it spiraled out the door, and the faintest hint of…sparkles?
Impulse grinned through his goggles from the window. “Just think about it, boss! You and I would be a hot couple.”
“Was that glitter?” Dick blinked.
“Duh. All heroic transformation sequences need to have some epic bling to them.” Wiggling his eyebrows, the speedster hilariously circled the lamppost, obviously waiting for Nightwing to come with him. Green eyes stared at him curiously. “You ever watch this old vintage show called Sailor Moon? It is so crash.”
Dick snorted. He reached for his comm., where he was pretty sure Mal was already contacting him. Looking to the younger speedster who waved like an idiot on the other side of the window, he hesitated. While Bart’s methods weren’t the…best, he had a point. And Dick had been locked up doting on the team far too long.
“C’mon, Tuxedo Mask,” Bart hummed, “in the name of the moon, you coming or what?”
“You hanging out with my cousin?” was the sentence that greeted Dick later that night when he answered the phone. Wally’s tone bordered between irritation and concern. No amusement there; maybe a little accusation.
“We went out for burgers and ended up stopping a jewelry store heist,” Dick explained as he looked through papers. He grimaced listening to the deadpan in Wally’s tone, almost missing Bart’s mirth. There was a silence on the other end. Straight Up Speedster Judging. “He’s on the team now. Someone’s got to make sure he’s adjusting, man.”
“He came over and asked Artemis this morning what kind of movies you like,” Wally said flatly. “Then he took the first two seasons of Sailor Moon with him.”
Dick couldn’t help the smile that quirked across his face as he went over paperwork. It may have been a bad idea to quote the show with a certain speedster. “Sorry.”
“Yeah, well—” Wally stopped, apparently unsure of what else to say. “Don’t indulge him too much. It’s just a phase—he’ll be out of your hair by the end of the week. Promise.”
The next time Dick met Bart, he was asked by the Flash to drop off a parcel at the West-Allen residence. Being a friend of the family for years, along with the fact his best friend was the Flash’s nephew, he actually thought it…rude if he didn’t dress casually. So, in March weather with the package tucked beneath his arm, he knocked on the door once—
“Dick! Wow you came, you look really cool—is that for me? Aw, you shouldn’t have—wait, does this mean you concede?”
—and literally a second later, the door opened with a dark-haired speedster beaming at the older teen. Red, yellow, and purple yarn tangled through brown hair, and on instinct, Dick quirked a tiny smile.
“I can’t concede if we’re not playing chess, Bart.”
“Then you can agree. Tim’s been teaching me to play chess—I beat him in a game once; convinced him to eat my cooking. I make a mean omelet.” The teen stood at the tip of his toes, forcing Dick to take a step back to keep from being smothered. Green eyes stared at him inquisitively. “So, really. You. Me. Fondue?”
“What? Don’t understand that movie reference? Grife, we could go to the movies, dark enough there. Don’t you have some super bat nightvision too? Hey! Your name’s Nightwing!” Bart plucked bits of yarn from his hair and leaned against the doorframe; an interesting attempt to look as smooth and suave as a 40’s movie. All he needed was a toothpick.
Dick sighed, again feeling the need to rub his temples, or run a hand through his hair or…pinch the bridge of his nose. “Subtlety, Bart. And…while we’re on the subject…don’t you think you should be going out with kids your age?”
“You’re in my age range.” The speedster quirked a wry brow and crossed his arms. The oversized t-shirt—one that was blatantly too big for him, tapered off his collar bone.
“Well…Tim is…” Actually, when Dick innocently asked the poor guy if he had a girlfriend (then boyfriend, when Tim said no), Robin turned as red as his suit and desperately asked to drop the subject. “You and I can’t…”
Wow, this was a lot harder than it looked. Suddenly the package was getting very heavy in his hands.
“Dick?” Oh, shit. Artemis peered out of the hallway, a look amusement and confusion across her features. “You’re finally here.”
“Hey Artie!” Bart turned around and managed to grab hold of the older teen’s wrist. A grin spread across his lips. “Just showing him in! He’s got the package right there.”
“Great,” mused the blonde. She smiled at the speedster, obviously not as perturbed as Dick felt. He wondered just how red his face was. “Wally was about to have a cow.”
To that, Dick sighed with relief. “Wally’s here?”
“In the other room struggling to sew the lightning bolt on a booty.” Sniggering a little, the ex-archer gestured that direction. “C’mon. Bart can show you where to put that.”
“Yeah...thanks.” Wally and Artemis in the same room. Together. Holding back the urge to frown, Dick supposed it was obvious. If Artemis was going to be at the West-Allen Residence, then so would Wally. He could speak to either one, but normally all three of them in the room together caused a little chaos.
Turning his head, Dick decided to focus on Bart instead, who…if possible, looked happier than usual.
“So you’re making booties?” the elder teen asked.
Green eyes peered up to him curiously and were accompanied by a smile. Bart yanked Dick toward the doorframe and stopped altogether. “Yup. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I never thought that I’d actually go in the past and actually, maybe see my parents born. A bit ironic too—uh, ‘cause, you know.” The younger teen let go of his hand, flapping the tail of his oversized shirt against his leg. “Mom was…telling me to clean my room when I was at home. And Dad uh, was on the couch watching some retro shows from the 2030’s—so lame. Their wedding anniversary was coming up and they were trying to figure out what to do. Now—”
Bart hitched, but only for a second. Dick decided not to interrupt him—there was something about that look; something serious, something void, something wistful.
“Now I get to see my dad born. Maybe.” A small smile spread across the teen’s lips and he almost looked…misty-eyed. “Maybe Mom’s somewhere already born or something. That’d be cool, don’t you think?”
“Mildly creepy.” Dick smiled back, a little relieved that the deepness of Bart’s voice disappeared. “But…yeah.” If Dick had a chance to see his parents again, then he would take it, hands down.
“The Garricks were telling me how happy they were that I was here. It’s like having a second set of grandparents—literally. Or third.” Speeding around the living room, the parcel was taken from Dick’s hand and set on the table. Emerald orbs looked at him proudly. “They can’t have children of their own, so Jay and Joan were excited to have me. Like I was their kid. Isn’t that crash?”
“Very.” It took a moment for Dick to examine the speedster’s reaction. It was unlike a month ago when Bart first kicked the door open of his time machine, hopped out, and began chaos. Wally pulled Dick aside later that day and said with much deadpan, Sorry you’ve got to deal with him.
Truthfully, Dick had no problem with the little guy. Other than the occasional need to keep him on track, Bart legitimately wanted to help.
Bart was that kid who could speak a mile a minute, talking about pie at the beginning of a sentence and end with medieval hierarchy. He made irrelevant comments, rushed off before anyone else, and, despite not having the proper training, managed to make it out okay. He was tactless the way he spoke and flighty when he did something.
At the same time, the kid always seemed to know what was going on in the situation. He drew away from the issue and onto himself, if only to soothe the tension in the room. The speedy thrill that danced in the young speedster’s voice would disappear and become solemn. It was only a second—but when you were around speedsters as long as Dick was, it was always easy to catch.
Plus, Dick knew that act. It’d been his trump card for far too many years when he was Robin.
Right now, he had a feeling he was seeing pure, unadulterated Bart. It’d only happened once, when Dick first saw Bart’s face light up when Flash praised him.
“So the way you’re staring at me, is that code for do-me-now, or Bart, you’re an idiot?” Green eyes looked to him now, the sudden luster gone. Bart placed hands on his hips, lips forming a whimsical grin. “’Cause I get those a lot. Along with the occasional smacks on the head by Wally—well. When he’s fast enough to catch me, that is.”
Well then. There went the moment.
Dick bit back a laugh and shook his head. He placed a hand on the younger teen’s shoulder and looked into those orbs. “Better you keep your day job, Imp. I…should be going back now. Lots of files to uncover.”
“What, you’re not gonna join in on the booties fun? Wally can’t knit to save his life.” Immediately Bart zipped toward the door, the slightest crease between his eyebrows. His smile was eager and crooked, and a piece of purple yarn dangled over his eye. Dick resisted the urge to take it out.
“I only came to drop off the package.” Smiling with amusement, he crossed his arms and stood parallel to the speedster. Bart leaned against the exit and grinned. “Bart, seriously. I need to leave.”
“How about a fondle goodbye?” Unblinking green eyes. Now, a cute little pout. “Please, Tuxedo Mask?”
“Maybe a kiss.”
“On the mouth?”
“How about the cheek?”
“Hmph. I’ll take what I can get.” Crossing his arms, Bart repositioned himself over the door and gave the elder teen a playful stink eye. “But I want tongue!”
“Haha. You’ll take what I can give you.” With much hesitation, Dick split into a wry grin and reached over, pushing a lock of brown hair behind Bart’s ear. He looked down to emerald eyes, heart tapping, plucked bits of yarn from Bart’s hair, and pecked him lightly on the cheek. “Goodbye, Bart.”
He shouldn’t have been so surprised when red dusted across Bart’s cheeks, but he was. The speedster rocked on his heels and grinned. “Crash.”
Bart zipped off before Dick could regret what he just did.
“Artemis said you dropped by today.”
Nightwing switched the phone to his other shoulder and swerved when a trashcan lid was tossed his way. He maneuvered around the bandit, grinned as he heard a sound of defeat to his right (Babs was a badass, really—), and whipped out a batarang. “Yeah.”
“To your left!” he heard Batgirl say. Dick dodged.
“You could have said hi.” Aw. Wally was sulking on the phone. “Seriously. She said you and the kid looked like you were having a serious conversation before you left.”
“It’s nothing, really—” Your cousin just knows I’ve had a crush on you since I was his age and wants to do me—he didn’t say, “—and his name’s Bart. You’re gonna have to accept the fact he’s your cousin.” Especially since half the faces and quips Bart made felt like they came from Wally’s personal joke book.
“Yeah?” Wally asked, at edge.
Dick threw another batarang and grinned whenever the perp fell to the ground, legs bound. He moved the phone once more. “He’s really not that bad.” Please, Grayson. The shame on your face for kissing your best friend’s baby cousin is showing. Batgirl rolled her eyes as she hogtied the crook.
His best friend sighed against the receiver. “Hearing it from you is what scares me.”
It wasn’t planned, to say the least.
“That…shouldn’t have gone as far as it did.”
“Huh. Well, it did, DeeGee. And it was pretty cool too—don’t you think? Can’t take it back now—trust me! My time machine’s broken; I’ve got the scraps to prove it.”
Hours earlier it was the first time in days since the team had seen Bart. Because of preparation for the new baby, the Flash…family had been busy with things. Artemis explained over the phone that Barry was running back and forth between filling in for the League and becoming an expecting father, while Jay and Joan seemed to visit every day. Wally and she made frequent visits to Central City when the Flash was away with what was left of the league.
Someone, according to Wally, has to make sure the little brat doesn’t screw Central City over. Thus, Kid Flash made his ‘forced’ comeback and hovered over Bart as they fought crime. The original Flash (Jay Garrick) technically wasn’t an official hero again; he was supposed to be one of Bart’s mentors.
Kid Flash’s return wasn’t official either, Artemis explained, a bit of amusement in her voice. Bart apparently made a crack that Kid Flash wasn’t much of a Kid anymore.
It was that afternoon Impulse entered the cave, the first frown on his face since anyone had met him, and a storm worked up in his eyes. He faked a smile when Cassie greeted him.
“You’re not scheduled today,” she commented, lightly punching the other teen in the arm.
“Yeah, I just—” he twitched a little bit, pulling the goggles over his face. Bart placed hands on his hips and consciously grinned when he felt Nightwing’s eyes on him. “There was some baby that needed to be saving and so I caught her and gave her back to her mother and she was all happy again, so I thought, hey! Happy Harbor! I bet the guys are doing something crash today!”
“Been a while since we had a speedster on the team anyway.” Conner looked to the tiny speedster and nodded toward Nightwing. “Looks like you need to factor one in.”
“Gonna have to if Wally isn’t going to admit he likes being Kid Flash again.” Dick smirked wryly and hid a frown when he saw Bart roll his eyes.
“I like this one.” Superboy petted Bart fondly on the head. They’d had a strange bond since they met; like long-lost brothers. Usually the Superboy Seal of Approval was the hardest thing to get when joining the team.
The tiny brunet split into a grin, holding Superboy’s arm between both hands. “Thanks, big guy.”
Dick continued briefing Alpha, Beta, and Gamma on the current mission: the rumor of smuggled alien tech in three different locations. Through the entire conversation, he noticed Bart rocking on his heels, looking to the ground, to the ceiling—any place but the actual mission specs. He looked uninterested rather than distracted, and wasn’t as excited per usual. Normally his enthusiasm about a mission matched Wonder Girl’s.
So, after he made the call, “Beast Boy, Miss Martian, and Batgirl: Team Alpha. Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl: Team Beta. Blue Beetle, Wolf, and Lagoon Boy will be Gamma—” He watched Bart cock his head in confusion and waited for the teams to disperse (after giving weird looks, of course.)
The room emptied out, leaving Impulse and Nightwing on the glowing blue platform.
Bart frowned, looking even more upset than when he came in. “Why’d you take me off the mission? I can run circles to the rest of them.”
Apparently competency was part of why the poor kid was upset. Dick gestured to the second hall and placed a hand on Bart’s shoulder. “Come on. I’ll buy you dinner.”
Green eyes widened in awe, clearly deterred. “What?”
“The team can handle the mission by themselves. Right now, you need someone to talk to.” Nodding his head, Dick took a step toward the living quarters, where he usually crashed when he went days without sleeping. “C’mon. Dinner.”
Bart’s behavior was a complete 360 from what they were all used to. He looked skeptical, demeanor withdrawn even when Dick offered a hand, and refused to move from the spot. With a mock-sigh, Dick yanked the kid by his arm and guided him through the hall into his room.
Over the years, Dick tended to pile everything into this room. While he was officially located in Bludhaven, he usually went back and forth between that and Gotham City. Currently he tended to crash at the cave, either when Miss M telekinetically forced him into bed or Superboy hauled him into the room and told the computer to go on twenty-four hour lockdown. Usually staying up for a week straight wasn’t on purpose; but it tended to happen a lot.
He heard a quick zip! and turned his head to see Bart sitting on his bed, dressed in civvies and clearly sulking.
Dick undid the latches on his gloves and looked at the brunet quietly. He’d always assumed there was a hidden layer beneath the two personalities Bart let shine, but he never thought he’d see it in full force. Not like right now.
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?” he offered softly.
Bart snapped out of his thoughts, eyes wide with surprise. A faint blush fell across the teen’s cheeks as he examined the elder teenager, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Itsnothingyouneedtoworryabout.”
It’s…nothing…worry about. Which was all Dick caught. Changing into a set of civvies, he ran through a quick list of things he used to do to cheer Wally up. It’d been a long time since the two of them sat in the living room arguing over videogames or had popcorn fights with movies. Wally was usually too busy with college and Dick, according to Babs, was working on becoming the second Batman.
Shivering at the thought he decided to stick to food for now. Speedsters couldn’t resist food.
“C’mon. We can take my bike. You can race it if you want.” That used to perk Wally up when he was sulking like a little kid. Right now Bart looked more like a kicked puppy.
The kid said nothing. Instead, bright emerald orbs looked up, grateful smile spread across his lips.
Reaching for the keys to his bike, Dick couldn’t help but smile back.
Bart didn’t race Dick. He sat at the edge of the seat, arms wrapped tightly around the elder teen’s torso and face buried in the back of Dick’s jacket like a child that had gone too long without human touch. When Dick tried to strike a (awkward) conversation with the poor speedster, Bart replied, ‘Mmmnghhhffgrgh.’
At the restaurant even less happened. Bart was still on his first plate of All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Food and languidly jabbing his chopsticks into a poor dumpling. This happened for a good five minutes before he sighed and stuffed it in his mouth.
Emerald green eyes looked to Dick awkwardly. Bart fiddled with the sleeve of his jacket and twitched. “Any reason why you’re staring at me like I’m meat at a school cafeteria?”
“Just trying to figure you out,” Dick admitted. He smiled at the bewilderment he got in return. “When Wally was Kid Flash, he’d turn to comfort food when he was upset. But you’re not like that, are you?”
Bart lost his appetite when he didn’t want to talk.
The teen looked everywhere but Dick’s face and adopted a frown. “Yeah, well. I’m not exactly Kid Flash.”
Smooth move, Grayson, assuming Impulse and your best friend were exactly the same.
Dick winced. It was rare anyone ever got upset with Wally; any argument they’d ever had was made up after a few hours. Yet it was also no secret that Wally had a few issues with his cousin—Bart even poked fun at it.
Despite everything, here sat Bart, who glared at his stir-fry noodles. Flashes were notorious as lighthearted and cheering people up. So…why was he angry?
“What happened?” Dick bit the inside of his mouth.
The speedster groaned, burying hands in his hair with frustration. “It’snothingseriously.”
Of course it wasn’t. Dick snorted, watching as his new friend continued twitching and making squeaky sounds with his chair. He grimaced; watching Bart this upset was heartbreaking.
Bart muttered something under his breath.
“IknowImadetherightdecision,” Bart said, much louder. Through brown tufts of hair, the teen peeked through his hair. “I know I did.”
There came the kicked-puppy look again. As he slumped against his chair, Bart looked like he wanted to die.
“What do you mean?” The elder teen and leader frowned. Finally, a breakthrough. He hoped.
“I just—Idon’tknowwhatshouldIknow?” Bart looked to Dick, eyebrows knit together tightly, like he was wondering if he could trust the elder teen. Reluctantly, he asked, “How do you know what’s the right decision and what’s the wrong decision?”
“You don’t always know.” No matter how easily the kid talked with everyone, told jokes and playful quips, he was still someone who wondered if he was doing the right thing. Dick had this conversation with plenty rookie heroes over the years and Bart was no different.
He reached over and placed a hand on Bart’s when there was no response.
“It’s true, Imp. Every hero questions it. It’s when you start doing that and realizing you’ve got to make decisions that it stops being a game.” When you stop laughing and joking and step up to the plate.
“But what if it was never a game?” A frown spread across the teen’s face and his hands coiled into fists. He was…trembling, Dick realized. Nervously vibrating, with his knee still pressed to Dick’s. “What if…you know what the outcome is now and it’s so mode and you want to change it anditjustdoesn’tandand—what if you knew all along it wasn’t a game and you need to fix it but you may end up screwing up anyway—”
“Bart.” Dick had to stop him. Otherwise, Bart would be vibrating out of his seat and probably into the sewers, given how nervous he was. Green eyes looked to him, pure fear in his irises. Not even the first Robin could contain his bemusement. “Is…something wrong? In the future?” He hadn’t expected such intensity to come out of a response.
“No!” Bart exclaimed, and he stood up from his chair. As people looked his way, Bart sank back in his seat and looked to Dick, scared. “No. That’s not it. Everything’s crash, I-I swear.”
“Then what is it?” He needed to stop beating around the bush. Bart was this much of a mess and Dick hadn’t a clue what to say. He took Bart’s hand, coiling their fingers together, and squeezed it tightly. Under his solid grip he could still feel Bart shaking like a time bomb.
Whatever happened, Bart was nearing a panic attack. Fortunately, Dick wasn’t gonna let that happen.
“Hey,” he muttered, and he leaned over the table, forearm pressed against marble. The hand between his was so tiny, so shaky, and Bart was too out of it to care. “Hey—Hey, Imp. Just look at me. Everything’s going to be okay, you said so yourself. Look at me, okay?”
Emerald green orbs looked up and Dick felt relief flood through him.
When he was certain Bart’s attention was unwavered, Dick continued. “You don’t have to put on such a brave face for everyone, Bart.”
Vibrating trembles. Averting his eyes, Bart tried to yank his hand away. Dick wouldn’t let him.
“I’m serious, Imp. I get it. We all get it: you’re from the future, and…from the looks of it, you don’t know what’s going on or what you’re doing anymore.” Right now, Dick was almost certain their tourist wasn’t actually a tourist. And being stranded in the past probably wasn’t part of the plan—Bart was having trouble finding where to go from there. “You have doubts whether or not you can make it as a hero, don’t you?”
Bart fidgeted. It was cute.
“Don’t. You’re great, Imp. You don’t…need to carry the weight on your shoulders, whether or not you’re doing the right thing. Right now…you have to trust your instincts. Or, impulse in this case.” Lips twitching, Dick almost smiled when those big green eyes looked back to him, doubtful and hesitant. “You’re part of a team now. Whether or not you were in the future, you have us now. You have me.”
He didn’t let go of Bart’s hand. His gaze did not waver, nor did his speech hitch. Instead, Dick realized, Bart needed someone to open up to. Someone for a very, very long time.
“If…it’s Wally that’s bothering you—” Dick’s heart skipped a beat in his chest. “—tell me. And it will stay between the both of us. Anything, Bart. If you ever need a shoulder, you can find me.”
The look on Bart’s face clung to every word. The trembling in Bart’s hands finally stopped and he looked to Dick, expression tight.
“You mean that?” he asked aloud, evidently lost in his head. “If I ever need you, you’ll be there?”
“I’ll bring Luna-P just to fix it.” Amusement graced Dick’s smile, and he bit back a sigh of relief when Bart visibly brightened. The tiny speedster fidgeted and twitched, but Dick could feel him relax under his grip.
He wasn’t sure what changed, but Bart was okay now. More sure of himself.
In a matter of seconds, the elder teen was in a bone-crushing hug, Bart’s face buried in his stomach. He looked down, startled, but Bart went undeterred, hugging tightly and never letting go.
“Thank you,” Bart whispered, voice sober. “You are so crash, DG. And I hope I can tell you. Some day.”
“You’re welcome.” Running a hand through the small teen’s hair, Dick held him closer. He said nothing else; he only wished that one day, Bart could tell him too.
After the pep talk, Bart was more willing to move around. With a goofy smile and pink from the bridge of his nose to cheek-to-cheek, he ate four bowls of egg drop soup, seven dishes of lo mein, eight sticks of teriyaki chicken, and two dumplings. After enough time, the manager meekly told them to leave before Bart ate out the entire restaurant.
That reaction with a speedster, Dick mused, was something he was used to.
“Sorry,” Bart said with embarrassment in his voice. He scratched his head, pout on his lips. “I don’t have much of an appetite when I’m all moded and stuff but when I get my head out of there I’m like, boom! Food!”
“Can’t say it’s the first time I got kicked out of a restaurant.” The team leader smirked, rubbing circles in Bart’s knuckle as they walked. It’d been sudden, but the moment they left Dick felt the need to hold Bart’s hand. To make sure he was secure.
Suddenly Bart stopped, and the discomfort reappeared in his face. Brows knitting together, he looked to his feet and let a frown overcome his features.
Oops. Pretty obvious which super-powered friend would get you kicked out of a restaurant, Grayson.
Without even thinking, Dick reached over and kissed Bart on his nose. A smile graced his lips as he watched sanguine burn across Bart’s cheeks.
“Just you and me, Imp. No one else.” He squeezed Bart’s hand for emphasis. “You can tell me anything, okay?”
“Oh. Uh. Huh. Well then—” Bart buzzed; twitching and fidgeting nervously but—good, nervously. A lopsided smile spread across his lips and he yanked Dick to the side of the road. “This is turning out splendidly, don’t you think? Hey, you like Splenda? I think it’s kind of lame, really, people are totally lying when they say it tastes the same as pure sugar—I like pure sugar—you ever try it with bread? Condensed milk tastes good with bread, I showed my neighbor once—she dropped her towel again.”
“I take it you’re in a better mood?” Dick mused.
“I take it I should be moded if a mom is hitting on me.” Bart rubbed his chin and hummed, curious expression across his face. “Hmmm, you think I should tell the Garricks?”
“I think…you should probably leave it alone.” Though, mildly creeped out, was at the tip of Dick’s tongue. He mounted his bike, hand still intertwined with Bart’s, and drew curiosity when the younger teen didn’t follow in suit.
Bart held a thoughtful expression, then rocked on his heels. “Can we go to the beach and hang?”
“At midnight?” In the middle of April?
The speedster shrugged, grinning a little. “You ever try skinnydipping? And roasting marshmallows? I could go for marshmallows, only not the colored kind because those don’t make sense and I don’t understand why you would need a flavor for marshmallows because that just ruins everything, and stargazing—stargazing! I like stargazing.”
“You like stargazing?” Wally would never—
Dick stopped himself—he needed to stop comparing Bart to Wally. Bart was not Wally, and Wally was not Bart.
There was that grin again: the truthful one Bart held whenever he spoke of the Flash or his grandmother or the Garricks and a petite blush that accentuated his cheeks. Pure, authentic Bart. “I love it.” Wow.
Feeling his heart thrum, Dick almost lost grip of his bike. He looked to Bart, who was none the wiser—only more bashful and excited. The center of his palm tingled against Bart’s, and he held his breath before making room on the seat. “Then let’s go.”
With much enthusiasm the speedster obliged, and they took the road back to Mount Justice.
Swimming at night without having to worry if Riddler buried a well-concealed bomb in the middle of the ocean was different. Ignoring the idea that the Joker would appear and make a stand-off was at the back of Dick’s mind when Bart suggested they spent time on the beach. The first summer the gang and he ever had a beach party on the coast of Happy Harbor was fresh on his mind—and it was only moments later he realized they’d stopped having beach parties a long time ago.
Now, Dick spent his time collecting intel and worrying about the team’s performance. Kaldur was no longer with them, instead part of a stressful plan they concocted years ago. Megan and Superboy were regrettably, hardly stable after their breakup, and neither refused to speak about it. Wally and Artemis—two of his best friends, and one he held very, very dear, quit the superhero business.
So it left Dick by himself. And here he was now, hunting Bart down in the water—
—and winning. Bart squealed and squirmed under Dick’s grip, arms caught between the older teen’s biceps and feet kicking in the water. Green eyes peered to Dick and he sighed dramatically. “I’d win if we were naked.”
“And why would that be?” the scent of sea water and Herbal Essences conditioner wafted through Dick’s nostrils. He couldn’t help his laugh.
“I’ve been told I have a cute butt,” Bart declared, “it’s a very, very crash butt.”
“By the lady next door?”
“By the lady next door,” the speedster reaffirmed. “I was distracted by your butt, that’s why I didn’t win! We could be buttbuddies!”
Dick made a noise and involuntarily dropped Bart in the water. Rather than protesting and complaining, the speedster whooped and kicked his feet until Dick could faintly make out a figure swimming back to shore.
He followed at a slower pace and found Bart sprawled on his back, gaze fixated at the sky above them.
Right, Dick reminded himself. Stargazing. He kept his thoughts steady as emerald orbs looked his way, fond smile across those lips as Bart patted the space beside him. Without question, Dick plopped down next to him, hunched over and shaking saltwater out of his hair.
Bart sat up immediately and frowned. “You’re totally doing it wrong, DG.”
The end of Dick’s lips quirked and his eyes narrowed, blue and unsheathed. “Am I?”
“You gotta lay down. Crash the mode. Like this!” Bart propped his feet in the sand and laid down to prove his point. He looked to his team leader, exhibiting a pleading puppy dog pout.
“Hah. Okay, you win.” There wasn’t any harm in it. Imitating Bart, he laid down onshore, sand sticking to his wet back and elbows. With nothing to disturb him (not even Bart, who true to his word was mesmerized with the landscape), he breathed in the scent of the beach and…felt relaxed. No tension, no need to contact the team because he knew they would deliver as they always did.
Waves danced across the shoreline, undulating and whispering under the moonlight. They’d started a fire and roasted marshmallows earlier on in the evening—Dick would have guessed by now that it was around two in the morning.
It crackled, the hues of red and orange melding with the million points of light above them. The dead of night met energy; the life of flames.
“My parents were kind of hippies,” Bart said quietly, interrupting their silence. “Uncle Damian told me he’d have to kick them out of the Watchtower because it wasn’t safe for kids. Dad promised he’d build me a planetarium if I ever cleaned my room.”
“You could build them one,” Dick pointed out. “You’ve got nine months and I’m pretty sure their room’s clean.”
“So clean that it’s not even made yet. Man.” A chuckle left Bart’s lips and he sat up, chin resting on his knees as he looked to the sky wistfully. “We lived in this house on top of this hill in Manchester, and they gave me the room with the balcony. It was so…”
“Crash?” Dick supplied, still propped in the sand. He didn’t realize he was smiling.
“Beautiful,” Bart frowned, arms around himself. “I’d never know if Max didn’t tell me. And when I moved in with him he gave me the room next to the biggest window in the house—even if I did sneak out on occasion.”
Dick blinked, the question, why did you move in with someone besides your parents? At the tip of his tongue. He’d already promised Imp that whenever the little guy was ready, Bart could run to him. It’d ruin the scene now if he asked questions.
“You really don’t know what to appreciate until someone points it out to you.” Dick smiled up to curious green orbs and chuckled when he saw the faintest hint of red. Sitting up, Dick touched his knee to Bart’s. “The gang and I used to come out on the beach to celebrate a successful mission. We’d have sleepovers at the cave, pretend that it was the Watchtower, and be…unstoppable. We were a family.”
“July 4th, 2010. I remember reading about that.” Bart turned around, arms resting on his knees. He grinned. “What happened?”
“We…grew up. I grew up.” The words were bitter on Dick’s tongue. They were harder to choke out than he thought they would be, and the hollowness he felt suddenly spread through his entire body. There he sat, crisp blue eyes leering off into cold water.
Ever since the death of his parents and becoming Batman’s partner, he’d never had a normal childhood. Despite all the fun they had as a squad for the Justice League, fun and games ended quickly. What mattered to kids their age was only miniscule to now—to the controversy of even having heroes.
He was so busy growing up he forgot he was just a kid. Most eighteen-year-olds were worried about college classes. He was worried about the safety of the world.
A hand on his knee was what drew Dick away from darker thoughts. Emerald green eyes, heavy and deep, with a sadness Dick had never seen. Like in one look, Bart knew everything. The smaller teenager palmed Dick’s knee, fingers running smoothly across his leader’s bare thigh.
Without any hesitation, he leaned over, tapped noses, and pressed a kiss to Dick’s lips.
It was different from the other two: not spontaneous, like the time Bart and he had gone to the diner. Not joking, not playful whenever he visited the West-Allen house. Instead this was heated—needy and longing and…just what Dick needed.
He felt Bart move, bare hands touching his biceps, searching for that same heat skin-on-skin, and maneuvered Bart onto his lap. A pleasant sound hummed in his ears, and the pads of his fingers grazed across wet, bare skin crusted with a layer of sand. He could feel Bart’s flush travel down his torso, and Dick’s own tingling as Bart tried to bring them closer.
Nibbling at the speedster’s bottom lip, he felt the jolt of pleasure run through him as Bart gasped, fingers skillfully thumbing his chest. He whimpered, rocking and thrusting against Dick erratically. The space in his trunks was becoming unbearably tight, and he could feel the full-force Speedster Erection pressed against his thigh.
Dick took Bart’s pause to his advantage, squeezing Bart’s legs over his and pressing a kiss to the other teen’s neck.
Bart took it a step further, panting against Dick’s ear, rubbing against him, and making raspy moans. Buzzing against the taller teen, he placed a hand to the well-toned ridges of Dick’s skin, grazing his leader’s stomach and the tips of his fingers inching beneath the hem of Dick’s trunks.
With a buck, Dick moaned against Bart’s skin as he felt the kid clutch his cock. The wetness of ocean water had turned into concentrated beads of sweat on his forehead. He rolled his hips, savoring Bart’s mewls as he grinded against him.
Catching his breath, Dick choked on another guttural sound as Bart moved against him. The little guy pressed against the other teen, hair soaked with sea water and sweat, and he gasped as Dick caught his lips with his own.
The way Bart moved, heated but dry, pleasurable and amazing—vibrating—
With a choked gasp, his entire body convulsed and Dick let out a moan—low and absolutely stunned by the power. Stars clouded his vision and soon, he felt the semen drip down the side of his leg, followed by the sickening squelch Bart’s hand made as he removed it.
Green eyes looked to him, bright against the fire and accompanied with a toothy grin that were still swollen from when they kissed. A red-apple blush still glowed in tanned cheeks. “Wow.”
Um. Yeah. Wow.
When he saw the wetness of Bart’s hand flickering in the moonlight, Dick maneuvered them, pinning the boy beneath him by pure instinct. His eyes scanned skin, watching the red at the tips of Bart’s cheeks and the bigness of Bart’s smile.
Without even thinking, he licked his lips. Then, ducked his head in shame.
“Well,” he muttered when he found his voice, “that…shouldn’t have gone as far as it did.”
Unashamed, unabashed, and undeterred, Bart grinned up to him in a fit of laughter. “Huh. Well, it did, DG. And it was pretty cool too—don’t you think? Can’t take it back now. Trust me! My time machine’s broken; I’ve got the scraps to prove it.”
There was a hickey right above Bart’s collar bone. Dick swallowed hard, trying to recall everything that happened in the last few minutes. All that came to mind was kisskissmoanpleasure.
Before the pure shame of getting off with his best friend’s cousin could settle in his brain, Bart leaned up to kiss him. Pure, chaste, and very sweet. Blue eyes looked down, unsure how to react.
He watched the tired smile over the speedster’s face, satisfied and…happy. Bart was happy.
“Don’t forget,” the speedster murmured, low and crooning, “you liked it too.”
“You gonna be okay?” Dick scrutinized the boy once more, examining everything he could. Nothing changed. This was still Bart, Bart was still a mystery and—despite everything, Bart was right. Dick had liked it. He loved it.
Brown eyebrows knitted together. Green orbs shimmered under moonlight, taking in the words intensely, before Bart’s chest lowered, heavy breath leaving his lips.
“I’m alive. Everything’s okay,” he whispered, voice as fragile as a child’s. “I’m alive. And that means that…everything is okay.”
In return, Dick didn’t respond. He knew when a person needed to keep to himself, and only watched as Bart fought through his inner demons. Shivering, he knew all he could do now was plant a kiss to Bart’s lips and pull the teen in his arms. “C’mon, Imp. Let’s get cleaned up.”
The feeling of dry cum was not a pleasant one.
“All yours, DeeGee.”
“Haha. You are such a geek.”
“What happened?” This time it was Nightwing who called Wally first. He looked to the couch where Bart sat, carrying an animated conversation about the Sailor Scouts with Gar and Conner. Going down the corridor with phone in hand, his chest tightened when Wally sighed.
“So you heard? Wait—he’s at the cave? Oh thank god.”
“I took him out to dinner to cheer him up. He was out of it, Wally. He wasn’t himself and whatever you said to him—”
“What makes you think I said something to him?”
“No. Yes—I mean.” A long drawn out sigh was heard in the earphone. “Artemis already gave me an earful about it, man. I’ve been trying to find Bart since he stormed off.”
“What happened, Wally?” He hadn’t meant to let the anger slip in his voice, but it did. “Bart was a mess. It took everything to cheer him up.”
“I…well…I yelled at him.” There was hesitation in Wally’s voice as he continued. “It wasn’t intentional. There were two fires happening at once, both too big. The fire department couldn’t get to both at the same time, so Impulse and I handled one. There were civilians in too many rooms—a ton of them. I told Bart to take one side and I would take the other, but when I turned around, he was gone.
“One of the support beams had collapsed and the ceiling was about to give way. I shouted for him, but he was gone. So I grabbed people, two-by-two. If the Flash hadn’t showed up, there would have been plenty of people who wouldn’t make it out of the fire, Dick.
“So, I…I yelled at the kid when I found him with Aunt Iris. I mean, where was he when there were so many people in danger? How did he expect to live up to Barry Allen if he couldn’t even sort his priorities? Just because he’s a blood relative doesn’t mean that he’s…cut out for the hero business.” Wally was hesitant with every word he coughed up. There was another hitch in conversation, and Dick could imagine the redhead pinching the bridge of his nose with frustration. “It turns out that there may have been something wrong with the pregnancy.
“Uncle Barry wasn’t supposed to be back until next week and she had no idea I was in town. Bart was Aunt Iris’s best bet to get to get to the hospital. But I didn’t know that until after he stormed off. We got into an argument and he was too fast, even for Barry, to chase. We’ve been looking for him ever since.”
“Dick. I’m sorry.” Guilt flooded through Wally’s voice, strained and helpless.
Dick twitched when he heard a crowd of laughter radiate from the living area. He caught a glimpse of Bart, who quickly locked eyes in the distance and waved.
Forcing the frustration down in the pit of his stomach, Dick turned back to the conversation.
“Don’t apologize to me,” he said. “Apologize to Impulse.”
Chapter 2: Crush'd
“Justthinkaboutit,” Bart chirped when he didn’t get a soon enough reply. He rocked on the balls of his heels again and held a grin as Wolf started digging. “I’ll even wear green to make my eyes pop, and you can stare at them the entire time. Or we could skip to the other stuff—the good stuff. You ever try parasailing? I wanna try it—is it possible to go faster? We could go hang-gliding! Oh, crash, we could so go.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Track 2: Crush’d
“I saw that.”
Dick blinked, shoving the cell phone back into his utility belt. His eyes narrowed beneath the mask, keen on Batgirl, who only looked to him with slyness and mischief. Even he had to shudder at this one. Babs knew more about him sometimes than a normal person should.
Still, having so many thats his other best friend could have seen, Nightwing couldn’t help the confusion in his voice. “Uh. What?”
The redhead jabbed a finger down the hall, where the rest of the team sat eating late-night pizza to celebrate a successful mission. The debriefing had gone flawlessly and Nightwing now had new information to decipher. “You. And the new kid—Impulse.”
Wait. Wait, wait, wait—
“What?” Dick felt his voice jump an octave, and was grateful the movie in the living room was playing too loud for anyone to hear. Heat fluttered in the teen’s cheeks, and he looked to his partner-in-crime in horror.
“Please. Like I don’t know when my best friend’s got a massive crush when I see it. Cute one, Flash’s grandkid.”
“It’s not—” Not like it was…planned.
“So you’re not denying it.”
“Well, I—” Dick knew it was true. Bart was growing on him. From the little quirks to the way Bart lit up—he was getting attached. Otherwise, he would be the one Wally called and ranted to about Bart. Wally had done it before; grumbling about how ‘irresponsible’ Bart was until Dick requested his best friend stop.
Otherwise, he wouldn’t have totally lectured Wally on the phone just now.
“Don’t act like it’s a bad thing.” Continuing the conversation without her best friend’s responses, Babs only chuckled at his reaction. She crossed her arms, looking to the taller teen with amusement. “He’s cute. And, it may weird Robin out a little, but you know he’ll accept that, too.”
“Babs…” Dick groaned. This was one of those intervention-without-the-team kind of thing again. The last time it happened, Wolf was built a doghouse.
“Nuh-uh, Dick. Don’t you dare try to convince me otherwise.” Raising her head high, Batgirl turned around and started a trail back to the living room. Three steps away she looked over her shoulder and smirked. “Even you need to be happy, Boy Wonder.”
When there weren’t missions, there were training sessions. Only on occasion would it happen, and usually it was hard to train with so many people on the team now. Sparring happened before or after missions, or whoever happened to be in the cave at the time. Right now they were in the middle of what Nightwing called “stealth and terrain.” Babs made fun of him and called it Super-Hero Hide-and-Seek plus Paint Ball Guns. Anything went.
There were three teams separated, led by one captain and occasionally two. You get hit, you were out of the gams. May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor, giggled an enthusiastic Wonder Girl, who’d been chosen as Captain #2. Tim was Captain #1, and Nightwing was #3.
When the Bats dispersed, they all knew this was going to be a challenging game—er, session. Stealth and Terrain tested your ability in craftiness, and then the ability to use your team’s best assets. Dick had been perched in a tree for a good hour scouting out harder targets. Looking for the bent light in Megan’s camo-mode or finding Batgirl’s motion sensors took skill. The latter was so skillful with tech that Wally once asked if Babs had been a robot in a past life.
Blue Beetle, Bumble Bee, and Superboy were on his team. Even for Dick, Bumblebee was hard to find unless he was paying attention to detail, and Superboy was a lot stealthier than many gave credit for. Jaime had been eliminated within the first ten minutes of their battle (due to excessive mutterings, according to Mal, who monitored things from the cave) and La’gaan five minutes later, who everyone predicted would be crawling around the water.
“Karen’s been hit,” Mal reported, a bit of solemnity in his voice.
“Sorry, Mal,” Dick muttered, and he kept the gun close to his body. Usually the game ended with a standoff with Dick and whoever else decided to find him last. Fortunately for the team it wasn’t always about who won the game, but how long they lasted—
“Alright, yip-yip! Heheh, Tim, this is so cool.”
“Bart, I don’t think Superboy would like it if you painted arrows on Wolf’s head and—please, stop calling me Tim.”
“Alright, Red. Wait—whoops. Spoilers.”
If Nightwing wasn’t a professional at his job he would have laughed. In the middle of a clearing, only feet below him, Bart was settled on a tired Wolf’s back, who grunted when the speedster kicked his sides. Behind him, Robin had been convinced to ride Wolf too, red bright in his cheeks.
“What is it boy?” Bart grinned, and he affectionately petted Wolf’s head. “You smell something?”
“Well!” exclaimed the loud, boisterous voice of Wonder Girl. She floated feet above the hair, paint-gun in hand and smug expression across her face. At the floor, Batgirl, Superboy, and Beast Boy held their guns precisely, all aimed at Team 1.
“Huh. Well, that explains a lot,” Bart chirped.
Dick sat up from the next he created, fully prepared to intervene. Then…decided maybe this would play out interestingly. He sat back in his perch and wished he had popcorn.
“Don’t worry, Robbie, if Aang can navigate a sky bison, then I can too!”
“Impulse, Wolf is a wolf.”
“You’ve got two choices!” Cassie exclaimed from aerial. She grinned, gun loaded and kicking her feet like a child. “You can either come with us willingly or—” POOT. A splatter of bright orange stained her shirt and sent Wonder Girl tumbling back, courtesy of a smirking Superboy. “Aww, what?!”
“Wonder Girl is down,” Mal informed. “You gonna tell them you’re hanging in a tree, Nightwing?”
“What would fun would that be?” Grinning, Nightwing stood up from his position and watched as Batgirl immediately recoiled against Superboy. She shot a ball of purple and he punched the ground, a cluster of dirt large enough to block the attack.
Taking a leap in the air, Superboy dodged an array of-paintballs with ease. Tim took the vantage point to fire at Batgirl, who twisted and maneuvered with grace.
“Impulse, can you see which way they’re going?” Tim called over the sound of fire.
“Totally! It’s like dodge ball, only crasher!” Whatever that meant.
Using the distraction to his benefit, Dick fired his gun, a storm of orange paint splattering the arena as he moved. Unfortunately, Wolf heard it just in time and leapt into the air, airborne and dodging everything Dick shot. From the corner of his eye he could see Babs hit with orange and pouting, while Superboy himself had been shot with purple.
“Where are those coming from?” Tim hollered. “Dammit, Nightwing—”
“Better watch yourself, Robin.” Climbing and jumping trees like a monkey, Dick grinned from his point. They were far enough away that Bart and Tim couldn’t see him, and Wolf was too busy dodging paintballs to sniff him out. Team 3’s leader grinned wider when he heard Tim groan, hit in the cape with a splash of orange.
The last thing he expected was for a pair for a pair of green eyes to follow his line of fire—
“IGOTHIM—” Impulse lunged from Wolf, gun in hand, and blurred through the forest. Nightwing took to higher ground, climbing the tree higher than before. The vague image of Bart ping-ponging from tree to tree appeared as a red-and-white blur.
A storm of bright green paint balls exploded from ground-level, all recklessly aimed into the trees with no thought. Dick swiveled, explosive batarang in hand to negate Bart’s path. He flung it close to the speedster’s feet and barely made out Bart as he hopped over it.
Instantaneously the batarang exploded. Nightwing heard a cry of surprise and landed on his feet. Holding the paintball gun close, he scanned the area and—
“No you don’t.”
Through the smoke and ashes that gathered from the explosion, Bart burst through a path, twigs in his hair and soot patched over his suit. As he raised his gun to fire, Nightwing elbowed him in the chest and pinned the speedster to the ground. He straddled Impulse’s body and smirked, paintball gun pressed to the teen’s jugular. “Told you.”
A groan tumbled out of the poor speedster’s lips. He arched his back, choking on a breath as green eyes opened and took in their surroundings. Bart blinked—once, twice, then too fast for Dick to see under gold goggles. He grinned. “I like the view from here.”
Nightwing snorted. “I bet you do.”
“You’d win that bet.” Beneath the goggles, Bart wiggled his eyebrows and angled his gun at Nightwing’s elbow before giggling. No lie—he giggled. “Anyone ever tell you, you look crash in blue?” As if there was any better place Dick could be right now.
He rolled his hips (later realizing how odd that gesture may have been) and his smirk widened. “About as good as you look in red, Imp.”
Bart wriggled. “We should make purple. Purple’s a nice color—it’s a nice color, don’t you think? Purple nurples, purple orgasms—you ever have a purple orgasm? They are delicious—”
And part two, of being interrupted in a potentially awkward situation. Dick looked up, Tim’s voice registering in his head as the third Robin stood at the edge of the first’s feet (as awkward as Babs promised) and very, very confused. He was doused head-to-toe in purple paint (meaning Cassie may have gone trigger-happy with the paint-gun.)
Regaining composure, Robin only frowned, bemused and wary. (Cripes, he was getting the hang of calling Dick out on his crap.) “Miss Martian and Wolf are about to have the final showdown. Then you’re gonna evaluate, right?”
“Uh. Right.” Pulling Bart from the ground, Dick strapped the paint-ball gun to his belt and ignored the way Tim scrutinized him later. He felt a yank to his arm and blinked behind his mask.
Bart grinned. “You. Me. Purple orgasms!” Zip! He left.
Which left Dick and Tim by themselves standing parallel in the forest, one confused and the other counting the number of lines he had in his glove.
Dick cleared his throat. “You have any idea what a purple orgasm is?”
“It’s a drink.” Tim turned a bright shade of pink, staring his mentor down expectantly. “He showed me.”
“Like. Showed…?” Judging by the shade of red and frown twisting across Tim’s face, Dick decided, ‘no,’ Bart did not ‘show’ Robin what a purple orgasm was. Not sexually, anyway. Still, the third Robin looked skeptical of what he walked into. Dick coughed. Trust a Robin to make another one feel odd about himself.
“Do you…” Tim’s face twisted beneath the mask. “Like him?”
“No! I—well.” Dick’s eyes narrowed. “Why, do you?”
Generally whenever he did something that was outside Robin’s comfort zone, the kid didn’t question it. Instead Tim kept the tone steady in his voice, wrinkled his nose a little, turned the slightest shade of pink and disappeared. At the moment, he flushed and tried to shrug it off.
“But you are so—”
“We’re just good friends.” Making another sound, Tim started the trek back to the others. “Plus, it’s weird. Wally’s not going to be happy when he finds out about this.”
“Which is why he won’t,” Dick said immediately, then froze. “Not…that there’s something to figure…”
“C’mon,” Robin said, cutting off his predecessor completely, “Let’s go see what happens.”
Just as Tim said, the epic showdown commenced with even Mal appearing from HQ. All team members, splattered in defeat, watched as the tired Wolf and Miss Martian circled each other, one grinning and the other yawning. Lagoon Boy cheered for his girlfriend, Blue Beetle cheered for Superboy’s companion. Cassie nudged Superboy playfully in the arm, apparently forgetting how she’d easily lost, and Babs and Karen exchanged small talk.
This, Dick mused as Gar looked between both La’gaan and Jaime with confusion, was his new family. Their family.
He didn’t realize Tim and he took different sides of Bart until the speedster spoke. “My money’s on Miss Martian!”
“Don’t count Wolf out,” said the new Boy Wonder wryly, “Just because he doesn’t have opposable thumbs doesn’t mean he can’t work a paintball gun.”
“Right. So, how’s he holding it again?”
At the standoff Nightwing called out, ‘Go!’ and caught a laugh from a giggling Bart, who rambled on something about a cartoon. Five minutes into the showdown, Team 3’s leader felt a hand yank his and looked down to bright green eyes, which only brightened in his presence. “Yes?”
A cute, apple-red blush painted across the speedster’s eager face and he grinned goofily as he rocked on his heels. “We should go out sometime. On a real, crash date.”
Dick almost laughed. Instead, he looked at the shorter teen with amusement, watching the eagerness in his eyes and could practically see a tag wagging at that…really…cute…butt. He did a quick scan, looking to Batgirl who watched his every move with a smile, then to Robin, who eyed him occasionally but said nothing.
Bart tugged on his hand again, expectant. He smiled bashfully, and it was…a mix. Not serious, weight-on-my-shoulders Bart, and not the I’m-Flash’s-totally-awesome-grandson Bart either. A good middle—someone who was edging on his next response.
Don’t act like it’s a bad thing, Babs had said. And Tim may be a little weird, but—
“Justthinkaboutit,” Bart chirped when he didn’t get a soon enough reply. He rocked on the balls of his heels again and held a grin as Wolf started digging. “I’ll even wear green to make my eyes pop, and you can stare at them the entire time. Or we could skip to the other stuff—the good stuff. You ever try parasailing? I wanna try it—is it possible to go faster? We could go hang-gliding! Oh, crash, we could so go.”
Dick hummed. They’d come quite a way since Bart’s arrival, and he knew now that despite some similarities, Bart and Wally were two separate people. He liked that a lot, too.
“If you wear green,” he said, half-joking, “I’ll wear blue.”
The crowed exploded into cheers when Miss Martian fell to the ground, a loud, overdramatic ‘Noooo!’ leaving her lips when Wolf won.
“Okay. Okay, fine, he’s growing on me.” Wally grumbled obscene things on the phone later that day. “And…I apologized. He looked like he’d been given a shiny red truck and latched onto me for about an hour. Did you know the kid loves hugs?”
“Glad you two are bonding,” Dick said flatly as he snuck into the kitchen. Later that night they’d decided to end with a movie. Cassie, Conner, and Jaime decided to retire early, which left La’gaan and Megan, snuggling and knocked out on the loveseat and Gar sprawled out on the couch, occasionally shapeshifting through three species of monkeys in his sleep. Everyone else had decided to go home.
Wally let out a sharp sigh. “I should give him another chance, shouldn’t I?”
“I’m not here to play the middle-man whenever you argue with your little brother, KF.” There were so many types of wrong in that sentence. Feeling a blush glow in his cheeks, Dick searched for a quick snack and settled on goldfish.
His best friend made a sound. “He’s not my little brother and—don’t…call me that.”
“He basically is.” Smothering a few goldfish in his hands, Dick made it to the main computing room and grimaced at the spots of paint he found on his elbows. “You’re gonna get overprotective of him at some point. He is family.”
“Oh, god,” said his best friend, and the edgy panic showed itself. Dick imagined the redhead yanking at his hair. “Could you imagine him latching onto a girl like that? He can’t date, he’s like, fifteen!”
Um. Bart’s…proposal ran through Dick’s mind again earlier that day. “Have you met yourself? On a side note, told you—big brother mode.”
“Yeah? Well—” Wally’s sentence stopped. “Anyone who breaks his heart gets a hand vibrating through theirs.”
Dick said nothing. He finished eating his goldfish and hoped to call it a night.
Bart and Tim were very good friends, true to Robin’s word. It was almost himself and Wally again—only, not. Only very, very different, and Dick had the bruise to prove it when he asked Tim that one night.
Later that week, fresh from the zeta-beam tube dressed in a comfortable set of civves (a navy sweater Megan had given him that Christmas and a pair of pants that would hopefully withstand his next growthspurt), Dick stood outside the front door of his best friends’ apartment in Palo Alto, waiting to go see a movie.
It’d been a spur-of-the-moment kind of idea (and Artemis’s spur-of-the-moment ideas meant, ‘I don’t care if you’re defending the world from giant dinosaurs, you’re gonna take a break and hang out!’), but Avengers 2 came out and Wally was too busy to see it.
Naturally, the solution was for Wally’s two best friends to go see instead and rub it in his face later.
Dick cracked into a grin when Artemis opened the door, dressed in an apron that was covered with flour. “Ready?”
“Give it a minute,” she opened the door wider to let the teen in. Artemis walked across the living room, wiping food-covered hands in her apron. “Sorry I didn’t answer your phone call, I would have, but Bart and I were making cookies.”
The teen paused against the island counter, mid-transition to pick up a cookie. “Bart’s here? You two get along?”
“Yes and yes.” Artemis moved to the sink to wash dirty cookie trays and laughed when she saw the look of bemusement across Dick’s face. With a smirk she turned around, leaning against wet dishes to get a better look at Young Justice’s leader. “Is something wrong, Dick?”
“No,” Dick said earnestly, though it took him a minute to find his voice. “I just…does Wally have a problem with it?” The last time he checked, Wally was still be-grudgingly accepting the fact Bart was Barry’s grandson and his, ‘first cousin once-removed.’ The first week Bart was with Young Justice, Dick reassured Wally that Bart would not replace him as his best friend.
As…something else, Dick wasn’t sure just yet. Tim still gave him odd looks whenever Bart and he talked, and Babs had that knowing glint in her eyes that reeked of trouble.
“If Wally thinks he can forbid me from doing something, then I’ve been dating the wrong person for the past five years.” Please, they were practically married. Case in point when Artemis emptied the dishwasher. “Bart’s a good kid. Besides. He didn’t rant for a month about not having his fanboy-crush on the team when we first met.”
“Hahaha.” Dick laughed loudly, matching the mirth that radiated in the ex-archer’s tone. Grinning at her from his position, he cocked his head when the front door opened on its own.
“—bye, Cissie! See you next time!” The tiny speedster hobbled in, silly grin across his lips and stopped in the living room when he saw the pair. “Hey, Artemis. Hi, DG!”
“You talking to Cissie again?” Artemis smirked.
“Yeah!” The teenager zipped to their sides, an apple in one hand and three cookies in the other. What threw Dick off at first was—
“Is that an arrow?” Dick blinked, tapping the point carefully.
“Yeah! I had it between my knees and she hit it. She is so crash.” Grinning, he plopped onto a stool and took a bite out of the apple. He failed to notice the odd, very confused look that came from his team leader, and Artemis only laughed.
“Cissie,” she explained, “is my neighbor and she’s Bart’s age. She’s training to someday compete in the Archery division of the Olympics. Bart visits her every time he comes up here—which reminds me. Bart, you and I have a good relationship, right?”
The speedster munched away at his apple until all that was left was the core. He grinned, apple seeds stuck in his teeth. “I’d like to think so. Hey, you know who has a good relationship? The Rugrats! They were friends since they were babies—you ever seen that? Always thought Tommy Pickles and Kimi Finster would end up together—pickles, do you like pickles? I like cucumbers better but, hey—beggars can’t be choosers—”
“See?” Artemis interrupted, amusement in her voice. “You can get along with him if you can understand his rambling.”
“Pshh, even then, Wally still acts like I’m the wart on the back of his heel,” Bart exclaimed. He spun around the stool three times and smiled lopsidedly. “Pretty sure he’s still mad that I took the last burrito in the fridge.” Extending a hand, Bart picked up two more cookies and ate them cheerfully. “
Dick smirked, passing a knowing glance to Artemis, who only laughed. “That’s because you told Cissie to shoot it off your head.”
“Yeah! Crash!” Bart turned to his team-leader and smiled eagerly, the memory still evidently fresh in his eyes. They teemed with excitement, and once they caught Dick’s own gaze, Bart calmed down. He stopped spinning, eyes fixated on Dick’s own and a goofy smile stretched on his lips. “Very crash.”
“Really now?” The way Bart looked at him, big green eyes fixated on his presence and a smile that could build cities made Dick smile too. The sensation was so tight again that he leaned closer so he and Bart were nothing but at eye level.
The speedster twitched, a firmness to his smile and one eyebrow peaked. He tugged on a bang and laughed, quiet and sweet. The shyness from only days ago reappeared in his irises, and Bart tittered. “Really.”
“Good to know you like an arrow between your legs,” the older teen teased, and he moved for the roll of paper towels, ripping a piece to get the seeds out of Bart’s teeth.
“Hah!” The younger teen exclaimed, and he tilted his head up, mischievousness teeming in his demeanor. “Jealous?”
“Only for you.”
“Crash.” Beaming to the other teen, Bart spun until he faced Artemis and welcomed himself to another cookie. Between chews he asked, “So where are you two going again?”
Note to self: Bart was a messy eater. Cookie crumbs accompanied apple scraps in brown hair, and the speedster failed to notice. Pulling attention away from the bits of food from Bart’s hair (after nonchalantly brushing them out), Dick looked to the ex-archer, who had been curiously quiet during the entire exchange.
Now, Artemis was staring at them, much more obvious than Tim had been and mouth parted. She looked to the eldest teen warily, then to her boyfriend’s cousin, and said carefully, “Avengers 2. Wally’s been freaking out about it since he saw the previews.”
“The second Avengers?” Bart perked, standing up from his stool and looking to his practically-cousin-in-law like he’d just gotten a new puppy. “That movie was so crash! Retro special effects, smooth-talking assassins—crash actors. Man!”
“You can come if you want to.” A laugh left Dick’s lips and he stood taller, looking to the younger teen with mirth.
Bart hmmed, literally twirling around and stroking his chin. “I already saw it with Grandma and Grandpa. And the Garricks. And Tim—Tim and I saw it in 3D.”
Oh. Tim hadn’t mentioned anything about going to the movies with Bart. Dick felt the gears turn in his head, and while he had no problem with Tim, the fact Bart and he hung out still deterred the other teen. They’d been dancing around the “Bart Allen” subject on patrol nights since the Stealth and Terrain test, and Dick would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little…bothered.
Bart apparently noticed. He zipped around the island counter, grinning, and grabbed hold of Dick’s hand. “Of course, lemme ask Joan. She’s making pot roast tonight.”
“You’ve got time,” Artemis said, arching an eyebrow.
“Don’t wanna be running late.” Tittering again, the teen rushed out of the house, leaving Artemis and Dick by themselves in the kitchen.
Instead of teasing him senselessly or give him the third degree like Babs and Tim respectfully, Artemis looked to him, eyes narrowed, amusement on her lips, and smirked, pulling the apron off her body. “Do you have a C-R-U-S-H?”
Dick turned pink. “M-A-Y-B-E.”
Half an hour later found the trio at the local movie theatre. Artemis sat in the driver’s seat, making sure she had her money and car keys while Dick and Bart carried on an interesting conversation about stilettos.
“You think I’d look good in stilettos?” Bart flipped a page in his Sailor Moon book and hummed, eyes scanning the page. Speed-reading—before his eyes reached the end of one page, he was already on the next. It’d been a very good idea to give it to him before they left the house.
The elder two only laughed. Dick looked over his shoulder. “I think you’d still be shorter than me.”
“Not complaining about the view.” Wiggling with no shame, Bart hopped out of the car and flipped another page. Green eyes looked to him through the window, bright, impish, and almost halfway done with the book. As Dick got out of the car (and ignored the look Artemis was giving him), Bart stood at his side with much enthusiasm. “Skirts are fun, all nice and breezy.”
“I take it you wore one once?”
“Of course! Covert mission with Robin! Of course—” Bart rubbed his chin, eyebrows knitted together carefully. “Though, we couldn’t figure out how to keep my boxers from showing underneath the skirt—”
Oh, god. Artemis choked on a laugh—she was having way too much fun with this.
In the blink of an eye Bart was out of the parking lot and through the front door of the theatre like a five-year-old at Chuck E. Cheese. Again, Dick was left alone with one of his oldest friends, a breathy sigh at his lips and an odd smile.
“You know Wally’s going to have a cow when he finds out about this,” Artemis pointed out. “He’ll flip shit.”
“So I’ve been told.” Running a hand through his hair, a coy smile came across his features and he shrugged. “But I figure I’m his best friend and Bart’s his little cousin. We’ll get a twenty minute head start: ten so he can make heads-or-tails of the situation, and another ten so he’ll figure out who he’s angrier at.”
“I didn’t know you were interested.” She arched an eyebrow, half a smile across her face as they followed Bart’s trail inside.
“I wasn’t.” He turned pink again. “But he’s like a…little, hyperactive ladybug on a sugar high. Once it lands on you, you don’t have the heart to flick it away. Only, you know. Cuter.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, boss,” Artemis chuckled, clearly more than approving. The ex-archer made her way toward the ticket booth and looked to Dick. “You go find your little boyfriend and I’ll get the tickets and popcorn. Alright?”
“Alright.” He trekked across the movie theatre. The team—before everyone had quit and gone different ways—had been here once. It was years ago when Dick was fifteen and—and, he thought wryly, awkwardly adjusting his sweater, could go a day wearing civvies without Robin-ing up the place. (Sometimes he’d have to remind himself he wasn’t Nightwing.)
He found Bart in the back of the ‘Game Corner’ behind four models of Mr. Claw’s Toy Shoppe with an old set of arcade games from the 90’s. Two blue-and-green Adidas were hiked against the front of one particular machine, and green eyes were at least a centimeter away from the screen.
Dick looked over the younger teen’s shoulder and squinted. “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon?”
“The arcade game!” Bart stuck his tongue out, bouncing with each automated sound and jerking with each kick Sailor Jupiter delivered.
The elder teen looked at the current high score compared to Bart’s and—huh. “You’re pretty good at this. You’re about to beat Wally’s high—and, there you go.”
“’Course I’m good at this,” chirped the speedster. He looked over his shoulder, eyes darting from Dick and to the screen so fast they looked like green ping-pong balls. “Video games were my life growing up. Literally.” Bart grinned when he beat the final boss and typed in his name above Wally’s.
Dick eyed him curiously. “What do you mean?”
Once more, Bart looked at him, this time more surprised like he made a slip. A sheepish smile came to his lips and he tugged his hair before hiking to top of the game system.
“The speedster…gene was passed down to me, so I’ve got all the powers the Flash. But…my mom’s side of the family came from speedsters too.” He tapped his head. “Eidetic memory and speed reading. When I was five, I read the entire kids section at the San Francisco Library just to see if I could do it. Took me ten minutes. I used to get into episodes where everything would be in relative time and…too slow. Mom built me a VR-chamber designed to pace me until I came down from Speedster Reality.”
“So,” Dick said carefully, and he took a step closer, scrutinizing the nonchalant Bart as he waved his legs. “You get into…speed episodes?”
“The worst,” Bart nodded, and he rolled his eyes with frustration. “When that happens, you’re just all moded. Ever try to sit through a movie that’s going frame-by-frame? Sheesh. But yeah—I’m normally a boss when it comes to these retro bad boys.” He grinned cheerfully, shaking against the buttons and—
BLOOP BLOOP BLOOP. GAME OVER.
“Oh.” Glaring at the game, Bart pouted and rummaged through pockets. He came up empty. “Grife! That was my last quarter!”
“Hahaha.” Without even thinking, Dick dipped his head back and laughed. Hard. He couldn’t help it, watching the bashful glow in Bart’s cheeks. “I can’t fathom why you like this series so much.”
“What’s not to like?” The younger teen scoffed, disbelief written on his face as he kicked his legs once more and pulled out the volume of Sailor Moon he’d been reading in the car. Green eyes brightened happily. “Cats, frilly skirts, and heroes kicking the villain of the week’s butt. This stuff writes itself! Plus, they’re pretty!”
“Is that all?” Dick mused.
“The hero always wins, no matter how bad it is.” Bart flipped to the end of the book, gesturing to the black-and-white inked artwork that was decorated in glitter and big eyes. He crossed his legs, knee against the joystick and fascination returning to his manga. “Always.”
There was a flicker, back to when Bart and he had gone to the restaurant over a week ago. Blue orbs narrowed to the tiny teen in front of him and Dick bit the inside of his mouth, suddenly consumed by that expression. The slightest wrinkle in Bart’s brow, the way he chewed on his lip and seemed to go into a different world. To another time.
He tugged on Bart’s free hand and yanked the book out of the other. Green eyes looked to him, wistfulness fading into confusion. Dick laughed. “Sailor Moon has Tuxedo Mask to save her whenever she gets into trouble.”
“I’d get into trouble too if that meant I could get a rose in the middle of a fight,” the teen quipped. His lips twisted into a grin. “Seriously. Those things must be deadly.”
“Okay,” Dick said.
“Nothing,” he said once more, smiling as he scooted Bart off the arcade game and locked hands firmly. “Just, okay.”
“Uh, okay.” Bart turned pink.
Artemis waited outside the Game Corner with two separate Jumbo Sized Popcorns, three drinks, and a bag of twizzlers. Her eyes fell to the interlocked hands, up to the flustered speedster, then to Dick. Both boys had the goofiest smile she’d ever seen.
“Well,” she noted, looking between them, then to her old teammate, “You got him to shut up.” She grinned as Bart made a face.
“Is that what people say when you get Wally to be quiet?” the brunet asked.
“That’s what I say when he gets Wally that quiet.” She snickered and pointed to Dick, playfully punching the younger teen in the arm before handing off the Jumbo Popcorn and drink, then made her way toward the theatre. “C’mon, I want good seats.”
Laughing, Dick watched her walk and shook his arm to get Bart’s attention. “She’s fantastic.”
“Yeah!” Bart agreed. “Just wait until you see Arrowette and her take down Lobo the Bounty Hunter!”
“Oops, heheh. Spoilers.”
They’d gotten the last three seats in the row. Artemis made it obvious, taking the farthest right and leaving both teenagers to sit together.
Halfway through the previews, a giant green goop monster melted the projector screen.
“Sorry we destroyed your movie theater, Artemis.” Nightwing scratched his head.
“On the bright side, the managers now have this crash ice sculpture in the shape of Flubber,” Impulse grinned. He shook what he could of green goop out of his hair and pushed it back. Grossly through green slime, it stayed. “You know, for about another hour until the Justice League gets that voicemail and shows up.”
Artemis chuckled and raised her hand to pet him—then stopped, realizing the state he was in. Out of the three of them, she hadn’t been doused with the green goop. “No problem. Sorry that the both of you had to walk back here.”
“Not a problem,” Dick smiled that turned into a grin when Bart nudged his arm. “It was…interesting.” Meaning, a happy speedster who happened to find four volumes he didn’t have at the nearby bookstore. (Unfortunately the cashier refused to let them in due to the slime.)
She arched a playful eyebrow and unlocked the front door. Bart tittered. “Have fun with your sweet goodbye kiss on the porch. I’ll be in here if you need me.”
Uh. Nightwing turned to his comrade, who had been doused with the same amount of Flubber-sludge as he did. Green glob clumped Bart’s hair together, stained the outside of his goggles, stuck to his cheeks, and still slid down his body like loose grime.
Nightwing looked down to his own torso, where the bright blue emblem of his uniform could barely be seen. Ugh, the stuff was crusting over.
Red gloves suddenly palmed his chest, scraping off what it could until the wings could be seen.
“When I said I’d wear green for our first date,” said a cheerful speedster, “this isn’t what I meant.” He looked to Dick with bright eyes, mirth in his voice and tone.
Dick watched as the substance fell off like green mold. “First date?”
“It was, wasn’t it?” The younger teen looked up, matching Dick’s expression. Eyebrows disappeared under his brown hairline and he took a step back, red blooming his cheeks. “Uh, I mean, not that Artemis was third-wheeling or anything. Or maybe you weren’t being literal when we both said green and blue—yikes, that would be embarrassing. I’m not good with signals—seriously, if I was, I wouldn’t be running red lights, y’know? ‘Cause—”
“C’mere.” Dick tugged the teen close until he could properly place his palm on the small of Bart’s back. He pushed red and yellow goggles above Bart’s head, grinning as the color of Bart’s cheeks matched his suit, and kissed him.
Bart made a noise—surprised, then pleasant. There was a tingling against the other teen and Dick realized Bart’s entire body was buzzing.
Funny, he thought, bringing Bart closer as Bart kissed back, the goop was vibrating off. Both of them, actually.
When they parted, Bart’s lips glistened under the moonlight, swollen and red. Green eyes looked to Dick, dreamy and faraway. They blinked—once, twice, and three times before regaining their natural sheen. “Okay. How many volumes of Sailor Moon do I have to trade to get one of those again?”
“A Sailor Saturn for a Pluto.” Dick grinned.
“Why is there goop on my welcome mat?” Wally’s voice.
Turning their heads, both teens caught sight of cousin-slash-best friend at the bottom of the steps, a box of pizza in one hand and text books in the other. These green eyes scanned the pair, Wally’s lips in a tight line and one red eyebrow raised.
Fortunately he wasn’t giving them the third degree.
“Is my girlfriend okay?” the eldest boy asked, frown fluttering across his features.
“She’s the only one that didn’t get attacked with goop.” A grin split across Bart’s face and he leaned over. At the angle they stood, Wally didn’t see Bart grab hold of Nightwing’s arm. “That’s what you get for not seeing Avengers 2, ‘cuz.”
A comment like that with Bart’s tone would have earned a smack upside the head. Dick bit back a laugh, looking down to his companion curiously. “You sure that’s a good idea?”
Bart shrugged. “I’ll get a ten minute head-start if he freaks out.”
Freak out, Wally did. But not in the sense either teen thought he would—“Wait, what?! You and Artemis went to see the movie without me?!”
“You saw. Avengers 2. Without me.”
“How long are you going to pout?” Dick stepped out of the shower, inside his apartment for the first time in weeks. He wiped the steam off his mirror and was met with a smile. His own smile. Since leaving Bart that night, he could not stop smiling.
“I don’t pout.”
“You’re right. Bart pouts.” Dick ran a towel through his hair and made it to his bedroom. He found the Nightwing uniform clean and laid out for him. Quietly thanking Alfred, he began to dress. “You just sulk.”
“You’re comparing me to my cousin?”
“He gets offended when I do that too,” Dick said flatly. Reaching for his domino mask, the teen switched the phone on his ear and smiled out the window, where he caught a flash of long red hair on the fire-escape of the building across the street from his. “You free next week? Artemis wants to try a new yogurt shop.”
Wally snorted in the phone, amusement teeming in his voice. “A mini-date with my girlfriend?”
“Maybe,” Dick said, nonchalant as ever. He slid both boots on and opened his window.
“Pfft. If you weren’t my best friend, I’d almost think you were my girlfriend’s other boyfriend.”
1. A Purple Orgasm is a drink at Sonic.
Chapter 3: Beside You
“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.”
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.
Chapter 4: Just So You Know
“You? How could I hate you?” Wally looked genuinely appalled. He scowled and bared his teeth before jabbing a hand in Bart’s direction. “This kid right here? He’s a speedster. He can go faster than the speed of sound. He’s got a fucking time machine, he’s the Flash’s—the guy who was my fucking role model since I was five years old—grandson, and now? He’s your BOYFRIEND. I thought of all the people he’d ever talk to, you were the one person that would never replace me! I hate him!”
Track 4: Just So You Know
—went the door as Wally forcefully shut it. He left the two boys—his best friend and his cousin—against the sink, with two slim speedster hands coiled in Dick’s green sweater, and the elder teen’s own palms pressing against smooth flesh.
Of course, the moment Wally showed up, Dick had recoiled, face blue and all actions forgotten. Bart’s gaze turned into a side-glance, green eyes in twin slits and mouth ajar. Identical eyebrows peaked under a brown hairline, clearly just as taken off guard as Dick himself.
It was Bart who appeared most frazzled, hands clawing the side of Dick’s sweater and complexion paling to a ghost white.
In fact, he looked like he’d seen a ghost.
Without further thought, Dick forgot about his own fears. He had to; Bart and he were together now, and he’d vowed stay with him. Shoving the shock aside, he pulled his boyfriend into his arms, feeling the heavy pressure as Bart’s cast hit his leg.
“So,” he said in good conversation, padding the brunet’s jaw line with his fingers, “you think he saw?”
Pouty, adorable green eyes narrowed to him, a heated flush coming to Bart’s cheeks. Never, had Dick seen the speedster so flustered. “Of course he saw! Duh. Speedster eyes!”
That was it; nothing more, nothing less. The tone of Bart’s voice was incredibly heavy and edgy. So apparently, their little moment three minutes ago before Wally burst through the door hadn’t happened. Dick drew a breath, then pulled away. A look of disdain and confusion crossed the shorter teen’s face immediately.
“This isn’t how I imagined the dinner going,” Dick commented. He imagined stealing kisses, footsies, and swatting Bart’s hand away from his pants zipper. The thought of Wally never finding out about…this crossed his mind a few times, too.
“Yeah? Well…” That look of insecurity crossed Bart’s demeanor once again, and Dick felt his chest tighten. Emerald green orbs looked everywhere but his face, and Dick now knew better than to let Bart sink in it.
Fortunately it helped he could read the teen like a book. Dick looked to the bathroom door, this time fully making sure it was locked, then lowered his head so all that captivated blue eyes were green orbs.
“I’m crazy about you.” To prove his point, the older teen tilted his speedster’s head and kissed him fully on the lips. Bart, motivation renewed, hummed and buzzed into the embrace, hands once again at Dick’s sides. With much enthusiasm, large hands found themselves touching solid Bart Allen skin, thumbing the speedster’s stomach and leaving his print on every inch of skin he could.
Bart enthusiastically bucked against him, arms curling around Dick’s neck. A hand fisted in ebony hair, and the older teen propped his boyfriend against the sink. Little (loud) noises came from Bart’s lips, and Dick’s own pressed beneath Bart’s jaw, right below his ear.
The speedster twitched, squirmed, and gasped, feeling feathery fingers flatten on his chest and rub a nipple.
“Um,” he sputtered, face hot and wet, “we sh…should—dinner party—oh my god just sex me.”
“Sex you?” In an instant, despite how much fun Dick was having (to see how far down that red blush traveled), he pulled away to admire his handiwork. The neck of Bart’s sweater had been stretched out, a bright red circle adorning his collarbone, and sweat matted his brow. Bart shivered as a low chuckle left Dick’s lips, and squirmed again. “Is that the same as crash or mode?”
“That…is…uh…um…” Wow—he was getting good at rendering the other teen speechless.
Dick couldn’t help it; he laughed.
The laughter would have continued had not Bart suddenly tugged on his hair. The flushed look—so sweet and adorable and goofy—twisted Bart’s expression, accented with the sweetest hue of red and a smile.
“Um.” Bart tittered and slid off the sink. He tangled fingers with Dick’s, suddenly shy of their situation while sweet emerald orbs looked up to the older teenager. He took a deep breath. “Okay, so I was totally debating this over the past minute, and it totally wouldn’t change anything and like, my grandparents love me, Jay and Joan love me and, hey, I am lovable unless you’re Wally because he totally just stormed out but, um—”
“Do you want to tell people?” Dick leaned against the door. “Other than the team, I mean?” After all, the team had been first to badger them with questions after Dick…approved their coming in the second time the morning after Bart and he agreed to become a couple.
The team was tame, despite walking in on the pair earlier that morning. Aside from Blue Beetle loudly having a debate with himself about homosexuality, they’d accepted the news well. (It only got weird when Dick found empty tin cans tied to the back of his bike, and suddenly Impulse’s uniform read, ‘JUST MARRIED’ in a hot pink sharpie.)
Surprisingly, Bart was silent. He turned red, then cutely wiggled his head up and down.
This would be different; the last time he was in a long-term relationship with someone, Zee had broken up with him over insecurities with her father’s (Doctor Fate’s) lack of concern.
But, Dick thought without hesitation, watching as Bart wiggled his toes under the cast with amusing fascination, he wanted this relationship to last as long as possible.
“Okay,” he said as an afterthought. Dick kissed Bart’s hair. “Let’s do it.”
The teen only looked up, eyes wide and brow beneath brown locks.
With great determination, Bart nodded enthusiastically and opened the Allen Family’s bathroom door. “Crash! Okay, then cool sexing later.”
A light chuckle came from the back of Dick’s throat, and he welcomed the tiny kiss to the corner of his lip. This time, as they exited out of the bathroom, the crutches were left near the sink. Bart leaned his full weight onto the taller teen, a large hand wrapped around his waist, and Dick helped his boyfriend down the hall.
The scene that awaited them was the least expected reaction they’d had thus far.
They should have realized something was off when they hobbled halfway through the hallway and heard silence. When they entered the dining room, the eyes of every Flash Family member fell onto them, and a cluster of both smiles and confusion greeted the couple.
Later, Dick would realize there was one set of eyes that refused to look up from his food. At present time, Bart tightened his grip over his leader’s back and turned bright red. Without even thinking, Dick let most of Bart’s weight fall onto him, and tucked the brunet’s head in his arm.
Jay and Joan were smiling. Iris, Mary West, and even Rudy West were smiling. Barry was bewildered, and in her seat, a smug smirk graced Artemis’s lips.
Bart cleared his throat. “So um, we’re a couple!” The moment the words fumbled out of his mouth, he dragged Dick back to the dinner table and plopped next to Joan, face a darker red than Dick could even imagine; the poor speedster’s head looked ready to explode.
All eyes suddenly fell to Dick, who couldn’t remember the last time he felt self-conscious in the Flash Family household. He decided to pick up his spoon and scrape extra spaghetti onto Bart’s plate, who looked as though his brain had fried.
The silence was broken when Artemis spoke up. “Iris, can I have some more mashed potatoes?”
Without hitch, the expecting woman smiled and nodded kindly. “You certainly may, honey.” She picked up the bowl and scraped three spoonfuls of mashed potatoes onto the ex-archer’s plate. Chatter resumed in the household only seconds later.
Dick matched Bart’s sigh of relief quietly and grinned when he felt a hand nudge his own under the dinner table.
“So, Bart, sweetheart,” Joan chimed cheerfully. The couple looked to the sweet old woman with curiosity. “Do you plan on keeping the cast after your leg’s done healing?”
“I wouldn’t advise it,” grunted Rudy West. He wiped his mouth quickly with a napkin and grimaced. “They can get rather smelly. You should sterilize it before you bring it home.”
“You can sterilize casts now?” Jay’s eyebrows rose incredulously. He hmm’d and stuffed part of a chicken in his mouth. “Who knew.”
“Well,” Bart said thoughtfully, “I’m really not that big a fan of souvenirs—”
“Wait. Waitwaitwait.” Barry was the one to interrupt the conversation, the same bewildered, deer-caught-in-headlights look still on his face. He looked back and forth down the table in confusion. “Am I the only one that didn’t know they were in a relationship? Dick? Bart?” The blonde man looked to the pair and scratched his head.
Certainly, it wasn’t an act. The Flash Family was one to take any news with much optimism and rarely blew up over the decisions. That was why Dick calmed down with Bart whenever the family conversation resumed.
Still, he felt a little bad for the expecting grandfather. Barry was one you rarely rendered speechless—well, unless you were Bart.
“Uh,” the elder teen decided to mention quietly, eyes suddenly narrowing to the redhead sitting next to him, “Wally didn’t know either.”
Wally hadn’t said a word since they re-entered the dining room. He glared at his food and gave long, rough stabs. Beneath the table, Dick felt Bart’s hand tighten just the slightest bit.
“Oh, babe,” Iris said, a sympathetic look crossing her face, “the signs were all there, even before Artemis said anything.”
At the mention of the ex-archer, Dick raised an eyebrow to his blonde best friend. (Right now, he was a little too wary of asking Wally of anything.) Artemis shrugged, the smug little smile spreading wider across her face before she rested a hand to her cheek.
“Wally asked why I sent you to go after Bart, even though Bart only said he was going to the restroom,” she explained helpfully. Mirth decorated her voice and shimmered in her eyes as she bit into some chicken. “Then Barry got curious because he thought you two were holding hands when you came in. I told them it was because you two were a couple.”
“Wait!” Bart dropped his fork, looking to all his relatives in childish horror. “Holy plot twist! You all knew we were together?”
“You only talk about him every time you get home from a mission, son.” Jay chuckled and affectionately reached over to ruffle his charge’s hair. He looked to the teen speedster wondrously, who turned red under the scrutiny. “There’s this way you light up whenever you mention his name. It’s…sweet.”
“What’s the matter, son?” Rudy chortled across the table, a hearty laugh leaving his lips. Surprisingly, Wally’s parents had taken a very affectionate liking to Bart’s presence—probably because their own speedster lived all the way in Palo Alto. “Cat got your tongue? Really?”
“Clearly you’ve never seen the way both of them act when they’re alone.” Artemis smirked. Suddenly, Dick was very glad that he’d grown up in the Batcave without an overbearing, annoying older sister. “All Dick has to do is look at him and Bart’s a mess. I mean—look at that body.”
To that compliment, Dick couldn’t help but blushing too. “Uh, that’s really—”
“Oh, how precious!” Joan squealed. “Oh, Iris, we need to get the camera, we have to take pictures.”
“So?” It surprised them all when Wally was the one to speak. His voice tore through the family’s in a harrumph, and he crossed his arms over his chest before directing a glare at his food. Wally never glared at his food. “Wing looks at me all the time—that doesn’t mean anything.”
Silence. Dick felt a comment swell in the back of his throat, but refused a rebuttal. Instead, he felt Bart’s hand coil tightly in his and held his tongue.
Artemis must have noticed too. In all the years they’d known each other, Dick was able to read her expressions well. A glint appeared in her eye, subtle annoyance against what Wally had just said, but she, too, held her tongue.
“You’re just mad,” she said flatly, slapping her boyfriend lightly in the arm, “that you were the last one to figure it out.”
“Oh,” Wally snorted, even glaring at his girlfriend. His tone was steady as he spoke, “don’t just pin it on me, too. Uncle B, you’re a little frustrated they kept this secret from you too, aren’t you?”
“We’ve only been dating for a week,” Dick said quickly. He couldn’t help but tense again, gaze wary as he looked to the redhead. Wally took in a breath, holding his tongue before he began tapping his fingers on the table. “Not everyone knows—Batman doesn’t know yet either. Er.”
Bart gulped, looking between the two of them before settling onto his grandfather. “Uh, Grandpa?”
Looking less shocked than before, Barry blinked and scratched his head kindly. “Well…” he smiled sheepishly. “It’s not like you were keeping it from us, exactly. And…well, Dick’s a good kid, I’ve known him for years…are you happy, Bart?”
Dick held his breath. Cheeks stained with red, Bart nodded eagerly. “Yeah.”
“Then…I’m happy for you.” Barry lifted his fork at Dick, half threatening. “But don’t think for one second—if you hurt him, I’m coming after you. I know all the passwords to the Batcave!”
The teen withdrew the breath and laughed quietly. “Noted.”
The table twitched with vibrations. Plates clattered and sounded, and the source of the noise stood up, anger boiling under red hair. Wally made a noise. “Are you serious? Really?!”
Silence drowned the room once more, and the stun was visible on all faces.
“Wally!” Mary West exclaimed. She glared. “That is no way to talk to your uncle!”
A frown decorated Barry’s face, small, firm, and tiny, but he decided to keep calm despite his nephew’s outburst. He scratched his head and crossed his arms. “Yeah, well…there’s nothing wrong with this. I see no problem with this. Do you?”
“There are plenty problems with this.” A dry, bitter laugh escaped Wally’s lips and he glared vehemently at the man. “I mean—really? My best friend is dating my cousin from the future! What,” he glared at Bart, who twitched from his seat, “it wasn’t enough to have him as your leader, now you need him as your fuckbuddy?!”
“Wally!” Whoever called Wally’s name next had exclaimed it shrewdly. Whether it was Iris, Joan, Artemis, or Mary, Dick didn’t bother to take notice of.
“No, that’s when your problem is with me.” He stood abruptly from the seat, tearing Wally’s glare at his boyfriend to himself, and scowled. “You don’t call him that, West. That’s low.”
“No.” Green eyes narrowed, enraged and venomous. “That’s what I called you.” Wally gestured to his cousin again, who sat silent, eyes looking back and forth between the best friends with fear. “Really, Dick? Really? You chose him over me?”
“Who says I’m choosing anything?” Dick’s jaw tightened. “Wally, if you choose anyone to hate in this situation, then it should be me.”
“You? How could I hate you?” Wally looked genuinely appalled. He scowled and bared his teeth before jabbing a hand in Bart’s direction. “This kid right here? He’s a speedster. He can go faster than the speed of sound. He’s got a fucking time machine, he’s the Flash’s—the guy who was my fucking role model since I was five years old—grandson, and now? He’s your BOYFRIEND. I thought of all the people he’d ever talk to, you were the one person that would never replace me! I hate him!”
Silence. The full statement echoed through the room, which now drowned in irreversible tension. Dick’s hands curled into fists, and for the first time ever, he was ready to raise a hand at his very best friend.
Every soul in the room flinched when Bart’s chair scraped against the wooden floor. He stood up, unsteady without his crutches, food picked and prodded but never eaten, and staggered between the two.
Dick snapped out of his thoughts and reached out for the poor teen. “Bart—”
Bart shrugged his hand away, shoulders slumped beside him. He glanced in Dick’s direction, and the moment their eyes met, the taller teenager felt his heart drop to his stomach. Bart’s brow wrinkled together and a crooked, uncomfortable smile trembled across his face.
“Um, could you h-help me to the spare bedroom?” he turned his head to Artemis.
“Sure.” She spoke softly before immediately standing from her chair and pulled Bart’s weight toward her. A glare marred her gaze and she scowled at the brooding Wally. “Enough damage has been done here.”
Once they were well down the hallway, Dick returned his attention to his best friend. He growled. “Take that back.”
Wally glared back. “Take what back?”
“That’s enough. Both of you. Wally?” Barry stood up from his seat, and with a woosh, appeared between both boys. His eyes darted back and forth, the shock and irritation written on his face. He should have intervened before the argument had gotten out of hand. Now, it was clear that even the Flash himself was flaring with anger. “What has gotten into you?”
Wally ignored his uncle, eyes remaining on Batman’s protégé. He raised his head. “It’s either me or that kid, Dick. You’re not getting both.”
Bart, was the automatic thought in Dick’s head. His nails dug into flesh, curling into two, unmistakable fists, and Dick himself looked away.
Suddenly that anger boiled into stun. “Wait…you can’t be serious. Dick—I’m your best friend! We’re bros.”
“My brother would never lash out at family.”
Wally’s eyes widened in absolute shock.
Dick’s jaw tightened. “Consider our friendship nullified.”
It was a nerve-racking surprise after Wally stormed out of the house, when Dick wasn’t kicked out. He’d apologized immediately in the following events, and Barry and Jay with all the patience in the world, shrugged it off. Mary West, Joan Garrick, and Iris West-Allen, the enthusiastic women that they were, immediately pushed him down the opposing hall toward the spare bedroom.
Bart had mentioned respectfully living with the Garricks as their sort-of grandson, but with his superspeed between three Flash Family houses in Central City, it was apparently like living in the crashest big house ever with an even bigger back yard.
The leader wasn’t at all surprised, when hefound Sailor Moon and other dorky posters taped to the wall when he opened the door.
Which…he’d done without knocking. Two sets of eyes looked up to him from the tiny twin bed. He grimaced. “Uh…knock, knock?”
“Hey.” Artemis pulled away from Bart, a tiny smile on her face. She appeared against the door beside Dick, and the expression morphed into a straight-lipped frown. “What happened? I saw a speedster blur out of town.”
“That’s…exactly what happened. Unfortunately.” Heavy on the un. Dick ran a hand through hair and took in a breath.
“Oh, that idiot. He had no right to say what he said!” She scowled, hands tensing into claws. Glaring at the window as though it was her boyfriend, Artemis huffed. “Just wait until I give him a piece of my mind.”
“Yeah…well…” Looking past his blond best friend, Dick raised his head and caught two emerald green eyes as they glanced his way. Suddenly his throat went dry and his heart skipped a beat. Dick’s hands curled against his sweater.
From the corner of his vision he saw Arty’s attention dart between the pair. She coughed, indicating she was still present, then turned the doorknob. “I’m…going to go do that. Right now. You kids have some f-u-n. I hope.”
When the door slammed, Dick felt his cheeks grow hot. He looked to Bart, who was perched comfortably on the tiny bed, eyes big and now looked at him with much fear. They blinked—once, twice, and Bart looked away, fingers tinkering with the large cast on his leg.
He said nothing. Bart remained silent without even the smallest inkling of a sound. All that could comfort Dick’s ears was the subtle squeak of the mattress when the speedster readjusted himself.
It was…the heroing problem all over again. Dick took a hesitant step forward, then crawled onto the bed. “We don’t have to go out for some half-baked Chinese food again, do we?”
Like a small child, Bart shrugged, shoulders meeting his ears. He still refused to look Dick in the eye. Great.
“He…gave me an ultimatum. I’m sure you heard—all of Kansas probably heard by now,” Dick murmured. He scooted closer to the other teen and nudged Bart with his knee. Closing his eyes, Dick took in a breath and curled his hands into the duvet. “I chose you. No second-guessing.”
What got Dick was the fact it was not a hard choice. He felt his chest clench each time Wally dared to open his mouth, and plenty of the things he said struck a nerve. Following Wally after all of these years, swallowing his feelings when Wally admitted years ago that he wanted a simple life had been heartbreaking, but he did it.
For Wally to overreact, Dick felt his temper flare even more. That was not the Wally he’d fallen for years ago.
“I won’t say I didn’t expect him to freak when he’d find out,” Dick murmured under his breath. He’d shoved the confrontation in the furthest part of his mind far before Babs ever pointed out the attraction. It took weeks of reassuring an edgy Wally they were still best friends. “I’m sorry it had to be toward you.”
Wrapping an arm around his boyfriend, Dick brought him as close as he could and sighed into Bart’s hair. The poor guy was shaking in the embrace.
“No—i-it’s fine. Crash. All of that good stuff,” whispered the other teen. He jerked out of Dick’s grip and curled further into himself. “I mean—”
“He’s not like that in the future with you, is he?” Suddenly Dick frowned. “Bart, look at me.”
“He’s not like that in the future. Trust me.” The younger teenager snorted, which brought some sense of relief flooding through Dick. Bart rocked against the mattress, tucked his good leg against his chest, and glared at his knee. “I mean, he doesn’t grow much more in the future, he sort of loses a couple more freckles which I never understood, y’know? How do freckles disappear in future, and if they disappear, do they show up on newborn babies or something? That’d probably be how Irey and Jai have these cute little spots on their face…or something.”
Dick smiled wryly. “I’m glad you’re starting to feel better.” If Bart was babbling, it had to be a good thing. There was still the matter of eye contact though. He reached forward, fingers bristling against Bart’s jawline—
Which, was where Bart jerked and turned his head. He bit his lip and twitched. Green eyes looked to blue; cautious, alarmed, and every bit spastic as Dick remembered them.
Catching the speedster’s face between his palms, Dick dipped down and kissed him. Bart responded, raising his head to kiss back before parting again. “Um.”
Dick blinked. Clearly, this was a bigger problem than he anticipated. “Do…you wanna talk about it? About Wally?”
It was amazing how even as stressed as Bart looked, he was still the scatter-brain that was fidgeting and moving about without a care. Large eyes darted back and forth in their eye sockets, and a flurry of brown hair hit Dick in the face as Bart adjusted himself on the bed. He took deep, calm breaths and touched Dick’s hand with his own.
He stared at Dick. Then yelled.
“AGHH! Whyisthissohard?” Uh. Dick found himself at the edge of the bed as Bart twitched once again and took deep breaths. Bart stared at him once again.
“Imp,” Dick mused lightly. “Are you—?”
“Speedepisode. Takingdeepbreaths help.” Bart inhaled once again and remained in his perch, looking his boyfriend in the eye once again. This time, Dick did laugh. Red fluttered across Bart’s cheeks and his ears found his shoulders once again. The smaller teenager bit his lip as he examined Dick.
In all that time, Dick patiently waited. This…was something he’d never experienced with Wally, but it was clear that Bart’s little ‘episode’ was killing him.
“It…only happens whenever I’m really frustrated or anxious,” murmured the brunet under his breath. He continued his scrutiny, jerking slightly. “Um. I’m gonna try and explain this with as little words as possible, okay? Which kinda sounds rude, but apparently I’m prone to babbling—not that babbling’s a bad thing because when you babble, it’s really cute and stuff, and—and I like it when you babble and stuff. But it’s important and after all of this Ihavesomethingimportanttosaytoyou—”
Dick cut the boy off with a peck on the cheek. His chest still hurt from the fight, but a tender smile graced his lips. He couldn’t help it; only for Bart.
Fortunately that same peck shut Bart up. He looked to Dick, eyes large and wide, then back to the bed. His fingers fumbled with his cast, and the speedster let out another shaky sigh. When Dick reached to squeeze Bart’s hand, he received another squeeze in return.
“Wally…Uncle Wally back in my world was an old man with two kids around my age.” Bart scratched his head and traced the signatures on his cast. “Um, he was my mentor for a while, since he was the Flash and all. Taught me a lot of moves that he learned from Gramps. And, you know, some pranks, too.”
That much Dick could see. He nodded understandingly and waited for Bart to continue.
“He was a good mentor. I…I learned everything about Grandpa from him.” Bart smiled tightly, the look in his eye suddenly becoming distant, then lowered his head. “Grandma Iris would always tell me stories about Grandpa, but here he was. He was the first pupil, the first Flash sidekick that trained under the wing of grandpa himself. And he accepted me, too, when I told him I wanted to be a hero too. He’s…the reason why I have the time machine. Sort of.”
“I’m sorry that he said those things to you. More than before then.” Dick’s eyebrows furrowed together. Bart and Wally held a strange, somewhat brotherly relationship when the younger speedster first arrived. Bart had been genuine, even though Wally was bitter. It had to be heartbreaking.
“Oh, no.” Bart shook his head. “I have fun messing him—not every day you see Uncle Wally that grumpy.”
“But,” said the brunet, and this time the confidence in his voice tapered off. He scratched his head in the very same way Barry would, then looked down again. To the rose that Dick had drawn only a week ago, along with the writing, I’ll save you any day. “There…was this one thing. Wally and I were close back then, and…he’d always have this look of regret in his eye when he heard news about Batman. He…told me that years ago, for the brief time he was single and emotionally vulnerable and before he met his wife, he’d…been confessed to. By his best friend.”
Dick’s heart stopped.
Green eyes looked to him now, eyebrows knitted tightly together and fingers coiled in his lap. Bart bit the inside of his mouth. “He told me that Richard Grayson was his very best friend once upon a time, and that after he learned about those feelings…they just…couldn’t look each other in the eye anymore. They stopped being friends, and it was the one thing Uncle Wally both regretted and hated by the time I was—well, this age.
“Y…you two had an argument that kept you from ever recovering. After enough years, you weren’t even invited to his wedding. Conner was his best man.
“Wally means a lot to me as my cousin.” Bart pulled his hand away from the other teen’s. He held it close, cradling it against his chest. “When…I came back here, I wanted to make sure he never lost his best friend. That’s kind of why I hit on you all those weeks ago. I-it wasn’t supposed to go that way, but, well—I’m impulsive, right?”
“Wait—” Dick frowned.
“I...I don’t want to be the reason why you and Wally aren’t friends anymore. You need each other—maybe that’s what I really needed to do, to make sure everything turns out okay.” Bart’s gulp was loud enough for even Dick to hear. He reached for his crutches, which sat beside the nightstand, and hobbled away until there was a noticeable distance between them.
Dick’s jaw slackened, words caught in his throat. He looked to Bart, knowing exactly what would happen next.
Green eyes simply looked back, eyebrows wrinkled tightly together and all hope lost in fear. “Pleaselet’sbreakupokay?”
Hypothetically, since Batman was currently outer-wordly and not present, one needed to keep tabs as his children pranced around—whether it be through the city, across the country, or hopping from continent-to-continent.
So, if one was keeping tabs (hypothetically, of course), they would have remembered the incident at the Flash Family Dinner down to even the shade of lipstick Iris West-Allen wore that night.
Two weeks had passed since the Flash Family dinner. Dick had chosen to lock himself up in the Batcave for several days, delving into work until even Tim, the infamous workaholic of their trio, told him he needed to stretch his legs. Kroloteans, Tim said warily, could wait until after they stopped the Riddler from giving headaches.
After a rough night at the West-Allen’s, he hadn’t seen much of a choice than to abide to Bart’s wishes.
In his head, catching Wally and telling the guy his sincerest feelings felt absurd. Despite what Bart said and the past actions, Dick knew Wally was fully committed to his relationship with Artemis. It stopped hurting to see them happy a long time ago.
Yet, there was Bart, claiming he told Wally, and also inadvertently ended their friendship.
Which Bart wanted to save.
Which was why this whole relationship started.
And, why it ended.
Dick protested to the decision, confused and feeling like someone had punched him in the stomach, but Bart held his ground. The look in his eye, fearful and frustrated, showed Bart had put some thought in his choice. That had been why he experienced a speed episode, and why he refused to keep his gaze locked with Dick’s.
So here he was now, standing on the blue platform inside Mt. Justice retrieving data to decrypt from the team’s last mission. Adam Strange assured him that the abrupt attacks on each hidden Krolotean bases were pushing their invaders off the zeta-beam system. That meant finding the infiltrators would be harder, but it was also less.
Babs’ job from there on out would be to assist Adam Strange. If they could somehow hack into the Krolotean security system, they could hack into those tubes and send the aliens in space. It was the safest way, agreed the team, to get rid of their problem without violence.
“Recognized: Robin, Bee-Twenty. Impulse, Bee-Twenty-One.”
“I’m glad you can walk again, Bart.”
“You kidding me? The moment they cracked that cast off, I was already halfway to Hawaii.” Snicker, laugh. “Well, you know—until I remembered Gotham City was on the other side of the map. Geography’s not my subject, I like shiny metal stuff!”
Another laugh. That was new—Tim wasn’t an easy person to crack a laugh. He took the role of Robin very seriously. Footsteps sounded on the far end of the platform, signaling both teenagers had come to greet him. “Hi, Nightwing.”
“Hey,” Dick muttered, only half-listening. He pushed the holoscreen away, and automatically his attention turned to Bart, who had a soccer ball tucked under his arm. A lopsided smile accompanied the brunet’s face and, though awkward, emerald green eyes looked to him graciously beneath the yellow visor. Without thinking, Dick mentioned, “I was beginning to miss you in that uniform.”
Bart made an unmanly sound. “Really?” The overbearing cast on his leg had been long removed. According to Tim, after three painful days of physical therapy, Impulse was back on his feet. Barry was cautious to let his new partner take on bigger bad guys since the last incident, but Bart was insistent. He tittered quietly. “I think my butt looks good in this.”
“I think Cassie and Megan made cookies, Bart.” Before Dick could conjure a proper response, Tim grabbed his best friend by the arm and pushed him in the hall toward their living area.
Green eyes looked up, confused, but Bart shrugged. “Okay then. Bye, DeeGee!”
“Bye, Imp,” Dick called after him.
When the speedster zipped down the hall and out of hearing, Nightwing found him under the scrutiny of a very wary Robin. Tim looked to him, arms crossed over his chest and a frown twisted across his lips. He arched an eyebrow beneath his domino mask just as Dick brought the holoscreen back to view.
“I thought when most couples broke up, they couldn’t stand the sight of each other.”
“Yeah, Timmy, you’d know a little better if you ever got around to asking Steph on a date.” Dick hid a quiet smile in his work as red dusted over Tim’s cheeks. Finally, he knew why Tim sputtered whenever romance, boyfriends and girlfriends were ever mentioned around him.
Instead of falling for the bait and changing the subject, Tim pushed the holoscreen aside and looked the older teen in the eye. A frown stretched his lips.
With a sigh, Dick took the bait.
“He’s not normally that enthusiastic whenever he sees me. Mostly he just blushes and refuses to look me in the eye.” Dick crossed his arms, matching Tim’s stance. A tiny smile spread across his face. “Imp looks excited to get back on the field.”
Tim looked doubtful. He looked down the hall and then unfolded his arms. “Flash wasn’t going to let him come out for another few days. He heard you had another delivery mission and insisted Barry let him come down for it.”
Dick blinked. That mission as originally meant for the Flash himself.
“He’s mad at himself,” Tim explained, “for being reckless on the last mission, and for almost compromising the request. He told me that he doesn’t want to fail you.”
“He didn’t,” Dick responded in surprise. If anyone was at fault for that mission, it was him for losing his cool. Had Bart not been in such a tight spot, Dick would have strangled Lobo with his own two ands.
“For a couple that’s broken up, you two are the epitome of awkward.”
Ouch. If Robin was giving him that title, then he must have looked pretty darn pitiful. Nightwing blinked, looking to the teenager with his own bewilderment, then sighed. Clearly, Robin had his lecture lenses on. There was no way to getting out of it.
“So what’s he said about me?” he asked, voice tepid. It was ridiculous how emotionally-invested their team was in their relationship. Bart and he were still the biggest piece of gossip around the cave since the last couple to get together was Lagoon Boy and Miss Martian.
Tim at this point was the all-knowing guru, who Bart confided everything to. Little brothers, best friends, and best friends’ girlfriends currently withheld, the next confidant on Dick’s list was Babs. Who liked to gossip with Karen. Who liked to gossip with Megan. Who liked to gossip with everyone else and—well, that was how their relationship once again stirred up the team.
An extra pair of eyes always followed them whenever they spoke. Nightwing wasn’t surprised to find he had more stalkers than usual (of the green and furry kind), and no matter how civilized Bart and he acted, it managed to blow out of proportion with the rookies.
Robin rolled on his feet, looking at his older-brother with a thoughtful expression. He bit the inside of his mouth, raised his head, and then shrugged in Bart’s direction.
“Not much,” he admitted. Double ouch. “But you two have this way of looking at each other like you’re going to do each other any second, when you think the other isn’t looking.”
Tim turned the brightest shade of red and coughed. “Cassie’s words, not mine.”
“Oh. Well,” Dick’s sentence hitched. He turned around, minimized the holoscreen, then hesitated. A grimace twisted across his face, but Tim’s expectant look said no less. With a ragged sigh, the elder teenager’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “I wasn’t going to continue a relationship where he was scared for his life, Tim.”
“You’re kidding, right? He’s crazy about you.” Tim snorted. When he thought he’d overstepped a boundary, his shoulders dipped. “The first time I asked him if he liked you was the first time he stopped talking. He looked at me like I’d grown a second head. After that, he got all quiet and asked everything about you.”
“I thought you were weirded out I liked your best friend.”
“I thought we settled this dispute.”
“So did I until you told him Megan made cookies.” Dick arched an eyebrow.
Tim’s jaw tightened. He sighed, rubbing the back of his head before backing down against the other teenager.
“All I’m saying is,” muttered the younger teen, “you should have fought harder for him. We all know you’re both crazy about each other. It’s been a long time since you’ve looked that happy, Dick.”
That being said, he left the old Robin to his thoughts.
Later after a good old-fashioned movie night, Dick found himself and Bart the only ones awake. Bart zipped through the room, covering every one of their teammates with a spare blanket, then appeared in the corner of the room next to a dozing Tim. He stood in a pair of Sailor Saturn PJ bottoms and an oversized t-shirt, then laid down next to his best friend, his usual olive green jacket folded up neatly beside him.
The younger members had fallen asleep in awkward positions, Conner knocked out against the wall with a tiny monkey Gar nestled on his shoulder, Cassie strewn out on the floor using Babs’ hand as her pillow, La’gaan and Megan cuddled together on the couch and Mal and Karen, who had returned to their quarters for some cuddling time of their own.
Dick stood up, dusted off the blanket of popcorn he’d gathered during the Avengers, them carefully climbed his way out of the pretzel on the floor. He felt emerald green eyes watch him the entire time.
Feeling self-conscious and unsure of what to say, Dick rubbed his arm. “Good movie, huh?”
“Jeremy Renner has a hot butt.” Bart offered an awkward, toothy grin.
The elder teen chuckled softly. “You’d know that, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, I wouldn’t insult my taste in butts, no.” Tittering, Bart built a cocoon around himself with the blanket and smiled nervously through the peephole. Dick only laughed again.
Silence. Awkward silence with awkward smiling and a lack of sureness of what to say.
“Have you and Wally made up yet?” The question came so quietly Dick almost didn’t hear it.
Shaking his head, Dick looked Bart fully in the eye. “Have you?”
Bart shook his head too.
Silence came once again, bringing more tension to the situation at hand. Dick couldn’t remember the last time he wondered what the right thing to say in a conversation like this. He’d never had this awkwardness with Zatanna when they broke up.
He snapped out of his thoughts when Bart cleared his throat. “You two should make up. Y’know, being best friends and all—you’ve known each other for like, seven years. Forty-seven in my time.” He smiled through his babbling and rocked back and forth in anticipation. “You don’t need a history book to know that one.”
There was an insistent in Bart’s eyes, almost begging something be done. Dick swallowed the hard lump in his throat. He walked over to Bart’s side, crouched, and looked the other teen straight in the eye. “If we make up, will you and I be together again?”
The smile faded away from Bart’s face. His fingers curled in the material of his blanket, and he brought it closer to his body. “I don’t think it works that way, DG.”
Without waiting for his answer, Dick brushed brown bangs out of the other teenager’s face. He pressed a kiss to Bart’s forehead and stood up. “Good night, Imp.”
A few moments later as he exited the room, he heard, “Good night.”
The following week had consisted of several more peptalks from fellow teammates. Cassie passionately told him homosexuality was not something to be ashamed of and repeated some disturbing tales that apparently happened on Themyscira. Gar spent an hour asking, So did Impulse break up with Dick Grayson, Richard Grayson, or Nightwing?, Jaime broke out into an argument with himself about highly debatable shipping wars in the comic book world and La’gaan attempted a story about the Ugly Sea Guppy.
Eventually even the older kids took interest in his personal life. Karen invited him to what the Girls apparently called ‘Emotional Tuesdays’ where they talked about their feelings, Megan (for some disturbing reason) offered to erase all thoughts and emotional ties to Bart if it was needed and Conner—well, Conner offered hugs and Oreos. They were the best therapy with the least judgment, according to him.
It was a calm evening when Dick dismounted from his bike with holocomp pulled up and entered the cave. His thoughts traced back to the last mission, how many Krolotean bases were now infiltrated, and the close arrival for the six members of the Justice League to come back from their interstellar mission.
Rolling the cramp out of his shoulder, Dick knew he would be the one to make arrangements for Bruce’s return to the Batcave. It was almost three months they were gone, and the Batcave was bustling with less brooding than usual. There would be more brooding—if Batgirl didn’t demand he stop moping around.
The speedster who stood at the center of the blue platform made Dick halt and do a double take.
He was haggardly dressed, green eyes focused on Nightwing’s form, and his lips were held tightly together. He stood legs apart, a bouquet of white tulips behind his back and head raised to meet his best friend’s skeptical gaze.
Dick stared at the flowers, musing at the almost-familiarity in the situation, then said, “Been a while since I’ve seen you in that uniform.”
Wally made a face, red gloves tightening over the bouquet. “Yeah, well…can’t help that it doesn’t fit anymore. Here—these are for you.” He revealed the tulips and extended them at arms’ length.
Hesitantly, Dick grabbed the flowers and stared at them. He arched an eyebrow. “I don’t suppose you’re going to proposition me now, are you?”
“What? No. Dude, trust me—I am one-hundred percent straight. Though,” Wally made another face under the Kid Flash cowl and scratched his head. “If I ever went for the other team, I’m sure you’d be the first person I’d go to. Y’know—you and me being bros and all.”
That would’ve made my life ten times easier, Dick didn’t say. He took the flowers—the…odd pact of a presumed apology, and looked the redhead in the eye. They hadn’t talked in three weeks. He received frequent calls from Artemis, begging and demanding he made up with Bart (then again, who wasn’t on the Impulse-Likes-Nightwing Ship these days?) and was the reason why Wally hadn’t been kicked out of his apartment quite yet. You needed to know how to keep the ex-archer from making neurotic decisions.
“So,” Wally said awkwardly when nothing else was said. His voice bounced off the cave’s walls and down the walls; evidence that everyone else was out for the afternoon. “Artemis won’t talk to me. Barry and Iris don’t know what to do with me. My parents threatened to have a hunger strike and—oddly enough, the kid—”
“Bart,” Dick corrected.
“Bart still talks to me like nothing happened. But you and I haven’t talked at all.” Red eyebrows knitted together, the pain surfacing in his eyes. “Normally when you and I fight, it doesn’t last more than like, five seconds. But what happens…hurt, man. I…heard about what happened. You and Bart breaking up, I mean.”
Young Justice’s leader froze. Nightwing looked to his best friend, cautious and tense.
Wally drew a breath and pushed the bouquet closer to his best friend’s chest. Green eyes looked to him, furtive and nervous. “Look, I—I know that it was a hard decision. Not a lot of people are happy right now…or really understand the situation. But I’m flattered you chose me. I’m ecstatic.”
“Who told you?” Dick asked. His eyes fell down to the bouquet and he frowned. He hadn’t chosen anyone; he’d chosen to avoid it.
“Bart did, only a few days ago.” Wally rocked on his heels and looked to his best friend. “He came up to me after Artie and I had another fight and said everything was okay. He apologized and everything, saying he didn’t want to be the reason why our friendship went down the drain, then practically begged me to come see you.”
Chapter 5: Good to You
Blink. “But I never—” He lost that argument there when Robin’s expression remained stiff and only somewhat amused. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, Dick rubbed his neck and looked in a different direction, deciding that the bird perched on the school’s Old Time bell was a lot more interesting than this conversation. It wasn’t his fault that the lacey pantyhose were complimentary to Bart’s ass…ets. “Oh-kay. Awkward Robin-to-Robin bonding is over.”
Track 5: Good To You
Consequently, what Artemis won’t talk to me truly meant was that Wally was kicked out for the night. If it was anything Nightwing knew, it was that Artemis’s temper tantrums were not a laughing matter, especially when it came to any arguments she and Wally had. The path to becoming a practically-married couple was a very hard one over the years. There used to be constant shouts of, ‘SEXIST PIG’ and ‘KNOW-IT-ALL’ tossed through the cave, which dissolved into a fight that could literally last over a course of weeks.
He’d never told them this when they were younger, but date night was usually something Zee and he tried to avoid when it came to the other couple. It wasn’t that he didn’t love having Wally or Artemis around—it was when he had Artemis and Wally that he would sometimes worry.
As they got older, what Dick dealt with instead was Wally denying requests for one of them to join the team on a mission no matter how dire. There were incidences that drove Wally to the point where any time the word ‘mission’ or ‘duty’ was mentioned, he would glare and scowl.
Bart had been the one to change that.
With this fifteen-year-old speedster zipping across the states without a care in the world, enjoying everything that had to do with having a set of grandparents (two in this world), a group of friends, and being able to run kilometers without worry, Wally’s envy could be seen across the country. Dick had been the one constantly reassuring the elder speedster he was not replaced—but of course, Kid Flash reared his head only minutes later.
When Dick asked, Artemis admitted she didn’t mind. Wally looked…happy, for the first time in years. For the first time since quitting being Kid Flash.
“You won’t even know I’m here,” the redhead assured as he dropped his duffle bag onto the couch. “I have to study for finals anyway.”
“I’ll be at the Batcave,” Dick admitted. His living space was in the middle of being packed for his move to Bludhaven in a few short weeks. He’d meant to months ago before Batman and the other five leaguers unexpectedly went on the big mission, but Gotham felt safer with the teen trio here.
“Bats is coming back today, right?” Wally grinned broadly, despite himself and the situation. “Conner’s been buzzing about it to me. Well—you know, in the only way he can.”
“Conner’s speaking to you?” Dick held his breath at that mention. He hadn’t meant for it to come off as bitter as it sounded.
“Well—yeah.” A red eyebrow darted in the air as the ex-speedster dug for his textbooks. “I mean, he’s like you. He knows when a bro comes before family.”
Dick decided best not to mention how close Conner and Bart really were. After they’d broken up, Conner sported a bigger frown around the cave than he usually did. His best friend and his little-brother figure weren’t happy anymore.
Unfortunately, Wally didn’t share those same views.
This was where they were now, with Dick convinced his refrigerator would be empty by the end of the night and that Wally wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.
“Dude, you okay?” the voice broke through his thoughts before he had the chance to catch them. For the first time all night, Wally’s face contorted into concern instead of excitement. Green eyes looked to his younger best friend, careful and…oddly, a little more like himself.
Dick hated the way his heart suddenly folded. “Yeah, man. I’m—I’m crash.”
Despite his word, the next place Nightwing found himself was on the fire escape with a cell phone in hand. He perched against the ladder, gloves covered in grime and grease. At the angle he sat, red hair was easily in the corner of his eye. Wally busied himself on the couch, the more-than-perky enthusiasm replaced with seriousness as he delved into his books.
Dick waited one ring. Two rings, then the person on the other end finally picked up. “So he’s with you?”
“Glad to know you’re on top of things,” Dick murmured hoarsely. He made his descent, leaping onto another building when he was sure green eyes were watching him, then stood on the roof of Flo’s Diner and Eatery.
Artemis laughed quietly—sweet but tired, and naturally Dick gave into his need to smile. Only slightly, though.
They had a sweet relationship; she and him. It had something to do with the only two teen heroes lacking in superpowers when they started out, and morphed into a tight brother-sister bond. After enough time, Artemis’s presence simply felt like another layer; another entity to Dick he would rather die than risk losing instead of just a comrade.
“I’m sorry,” was not what Dick expected to hear, but the apology was sincere in the blonde’s tone.
“What happened?” Dick asked. He stood tall and looked into the outskirts until he saw WayneTech. Blood pulsed through his cheeks. “He showed up at the cave dressed like Kid Flash and was holding a bouquet of flowers.”
“He must have eaten the chocolates,” she quipped.
“Nothing. Relax, we’re fine. I…” Artemis held her breath. “We had a fight. I mean, I hopped onto the ImpWing love boat like the rest of the world. Then your little boyfriend—”
“He’s,” Dick held his breath, “not my boyfriend—”
“Then your little boyfriend tried to break the fight up and said he straightened everything out. I know you, I know Wally, I know Barry. I know when the kid is lying his ass off.” Artemis snorted. “Anyway, he convinced Wally everything was tight, that you ‘chose Wally over him’ and said you’d accept him at any time.”
“That’s—” Dick’s breath hitched. “I…”
“Face it,” Artemis cut him off flatly, “that’s just how much the kid likes you.”
Later that night, left only to his thoughts, Nightwing found himself swinging from rooftop-to-rooftop in order to keep himself busy. He almost fell on an old lady, who smiled wearily in his presence and poked him with her crooked umbrella.
Dwelling had been something he tried desperately to avoid since he was a kid. At eighteen, after almost a decade of work at Batman’s side, he knew how hard it could be. How…Bruce and he would still entered the Batcave with a foul taste in their mouths thinking of the death in their family, and how they promised themselves to look at Tim as a new light.
Trying to separate work and emotions was a notion he hated.
But in this situation, Nightwing mused as he landed on the rooftop of a Dunkin’ Donuts, there was not an official mission involved. And—he shivered. Yeah. There were things Bart worried about, the way his eyes shuddered and expression dulled with fear at the mention of certain things, but that wasn’t what attracted him to Bart.
Really—no matter what façade and the front Bart put up, there was no denying the joy in his face for being in this decade. His eyes brimmed with happiness, even when he knew Wally wanted to hit him over the head, and his lips curled into a mischievous grin. His infectious laughter made Dick’s chest swell with giddiness.
He tried not to dwell. Didn’t, whenever Zatanna and he broke up. Forced himself not to, when he realized those feelings for Wally and knew that he never made a move.
Splaying his hand against the plaster beneath him, Dick inhaled the scent of dust, burning neon lights, and a faint smell of musty coffee. To his surprise on a night like this, not very many criminals decided to do something stupid. He would even guess that plenty crooks were growing bored without the pee-your-pants Dark Knight looming over the city. Half the creeps in Gotham would get some sick joy out of screwing with Batman.
Shuddering, he decided not to delve in those thoughts. Besides—the knot in his stomach made it hard to breathe. Between controlling Wally and understanding Bart, Dick wasn’t sure where he stood. He was tired of looking at a teammate with hollow eyes and an empty smile. And…not looking forward to come home that night and see the eagerness in another set of green eyes over a sickeningly pleasant grin.
Dick stood there for ages, mounted to the edge of Dunkin’ Donuts roof and staring off to the building of Gotham Academy.
He really must have been feeling the mode. The next thing the poor acrobat found himself doing was reminiscing on his times there. Artemis had give him a hard punch in the nose when she found out he’d been the dorky kid trailing her at school for so long. She was also the final reason for Babs to pick up on crime-fighting—which was also a good punch in the arm. They punched him often. Still punched him often.
Still, memories like that felt like they’d happened ages ago. It’d only been a year since he graduated from Gotham Academy and the feeling of joy that used to captivate his entire world…felt small. Too small to see. Too small to remember that it was once there and very much concrete.
That was the feeling of growing up too soon. He wondered what age Bart was, when that happened to him, too.
“I could really use a good dose of aster right now.” With a heavy sigh, Dick fell back onto the rooftop and allowed his sight to be given up to the stars.
“Master Richard?” Alfred’s voice echoed with a hint of mechanism.
Against his comm..-link, Dick pressed an infinitesimal smile. “Yeah, Alfy?”
“If you are done brooding, I would like to tell you that Robin and Impulse require your assistance at Gotham Academy.” Hm. Go figure.
“You’ve got it, buddy.”
Dick recalled a few days ago Robin volunteering for a mission involving Gotham Academy and the mysterious illnesses of students. He was about to volunteer an assist, but the scheming look in Tim’s eyes told him to do otherwise. Tim had a brilliantly meticulous way to do things with stunning execution. Whatever he’d concocted for the night, Dick was wholeheartedly willing to find out.
Anyone who could find out the identity of the original Batman and Robin, have the balls to put on that suit, and could hold up his own in a paintball fight was good on Dick’s list. Plus, he didn’t eat out Dick’s fridge like Wally did.
Creeping along the walls didn’t last long. Once Nightwing got within a hundred yards of the campus, he noticed the sparkly gold banner hanging outside the main building that clearly said: GOTHAM ACADEMY PROM, 2016.
The pavement quaked and trembled from something sounding distinctly like the Cupid Shuffle. Nightwing would have amused himself with the thought of Robin actually dancing, but never had the chance. Teenagers streamed out of the gymnasium in mass hysteria, adorning classy tuxedos, some slacks, and all assortments of ball gowns that made Dick cringe.
“Robin,” he said into his comm.-link. “I am at your location. Where are yo—?”
A corner of the gymnasium rooftop exploded—probably from a grenade. That would be where.
Instead of fretting about stealth and sneaking into the situation, Nightwing launched himself into a full-out run. He grabbed his grappling gun and climbed the side of the gymnasium. Through the gaping hole, he could see tables and chairs that had been flipped over through panicked partygoers. The three disco balls the school would set up were now reduced to one and a half, with the third one rolling about on the other side of the gymnasium.
Robin stood in the middle at a stand-off with Scarescrow.
Before even twitching, Dick had his eyes glued onto the situation. The first rule of being a bat meant standing aside in case the second bat already had a plan. Second rule—always have a plan. And right now, even with the newest member of their family, Nightwing knew better than to overlook the circumstance. Tim’s stance was tense, but from what he could tell, they were talking.
From behind Scarecrow, a blur had picked up around the obnoxious ornament, which suddenly hovered three feet above the air in a tiny tornado. That had to be Bart.
With the music so loud he doubted Scarecrow could hear. Impulse skidded to a stop, and the disco ball torpedoed in the crook’s direction. (There was something off in the way Bart held himself together, but Nightwing’s attention remained on the situation, his stomach clenching in uneasiness.)
Scarecrow howled, being hit over the head by a disco ball going 300mps, and it gave Robin time to butt the man with his bo stick. A hit to the jaw and Scarecrow doubled back, tripped over Bart’s high heel, then falling to the ground with a groan.
Nightwing’s heart padded gently in his chest. He took in the sight, examining every aspect of the gym with careful detail. It wasn’t until a minute passed that his stomach finally settled in the right place, relieved.
“Good job, Rob.” The words echoed to no one in particular.
Then the trick move happened. Scarecrow’s entire body reanimated, and he struck to his feet, arms elongated to slap around Impulse—a syringe in one claw. Robin shouted something at the top of his lungs, but Nightwing was faster.
He flung a batarang in Scarecrow’s direction, watched from the corny of his eye as it exploded into ice around their foe, and landed at a crouch. Scarecrow cried in agony as the ice climbed his skin, and in a matter of seconds there was nothing left but a sculpture.
“Nightwing!” Impulse shou…ted.
This time, knowing that Scarecrow wasn’t going to surprise attack either of the younger teens, Nightwing was able to get a better look at Impulse—who at this very moment, Dick wasn’t quite sure how he managed to identify the speedster as…Impulse.
Imp wore a dress. Not necessarily a modest one, either. Though…not necessarily the type of sexy that one usually regarded if they decided to use the word…’sexy.’ Dick’s throat went dry, taking in the scene quite numbly. “Um.”
He looked like a fairy. While Dick admittedly was no stranger to crossdressing for a mission, he’d never seen something so…ridiculous. Only Bart would be wearing a sparkly purple dress fit for a fairy princess. His skirt reminded the Young Justice leader of a five-year-old little girl’s—large and abrasive so it was impossible to fit through a door, with sequins and glitter sewn into a dazzling material. The bodice was presumably tight around Bart’s torso, thick and tight over a feminine figure he didn’t actually have, with a sea green sheer around his shoulders.
A brown wig adorned Bart’s head, matching the shade of his natural hair perfectly and tapering down one of the speedster’s shoulders in an ocean of ringlets—green and purple glitter splashed all over it. His makeup was ridiculous—particularly, whether it was outrageously amazing or horrific, Dick wasn’t quite sure. Multi-colored eyeliner adorned his green eyes, with hot-pink eye-lashes, a caked, sanguine blush and ruby red lipstick.
It was a matter of more than a few seconds before the shock wore off on Dick’s face. He wasn’t quite sure what kind of sound was coming from the back of his throat.
Hot pink eyelashes blinked half a dozen times, and ruby red lipsticks spread into a cheerful grin. There was a smudge of lipstick on Bart’s teeth. “Oh, do you like it? Robin let me do it!”
The moment he said that, Dick whirled his head to his successor, mouth still wide and an eyebrow arched.
Unfortunately for him, Tim was doing the same thing, seeming less amused as his current partner in crime. He crossed his arms, and unlike Impulse, was dressed properly in his uniform—save the bowtie. “Scarecrow was feeding the student body and teachers with fear gas in order to drive them insane. He planned to turn Gotham Academy into his new storage facility for his hallucinogen, and release the chemical tonight at the prom.”
Once regaining control over the situation, Nightwing nodded. Well. Not actually in control. “Good work.”
“Until the end,” Robin replied grimly. His lips tightened into a frown and he coiled his hands into fists. “We were careless and thought he was knocked unconscious. Impulse and I would have been goners if you hadn’t shown up.”
Just from the tone of his voice, Dick knew Robin would be dwelling on this for a while. He placed a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Hey. No one is blaming you for it. You did good work just now, and there are three of us that have your back. Me, Batman, and Batgirl.” He was just glad to come before something terrible happened.
Bart tittered, hooking arms enthusiastically with his partner. “Four, if you count me, Robby!”
This was a Kodak moment. Bart, the Speedster Fairy Princess, was going arm-in-arm with the most serious Robin known to mankind. Dick had to stifle his own laughter. Still looking unconvinced, Tim looked to both parties before sighing.
“Okay. You’re right.”
“Naturally,” Nightwing hummed. He steadily walked over and handcuffed Scarecrow before informing Alfred to call the GCPD. All the while, Bart seemed to be babbling and zipping around the place as a hyperactive child given too much caffeine. Dick would have been lying if he said the actions didn’t amuse him. He looked to the teens expectantly, gesturing to the pretty one. “So…do you want to give an explanation for this?”
Tim twitched. “Not. Really.”
Bart grinned and twirled in his dress. A cloud of glitter shimmered in his path. “I wanted to go in the same dress as Princess Serenity, but Tim said it would be too gaudy.”
This time, Dick did laugh. A sweet one that hurt his chest from too much amusement. “Really now?”
“It was for an undercover mission,” Robin defended quickly. “And Bart—Bart…decided he wanted to wear a dress.” That last part disappeared into a mumble.
“He rejected the first ten designs, then promised he’d take the last one so long as I didn’t make him sit through another fashion show.” Bart grinned charmingly. Bits of sparkles stuck to his lips. “Dresses are crash! Why don’t guys wear them all the time here?”
Help, said Tim’s face.
“I don’t know,” Dick mused. He crossed is arms, giving Bart another look-over. He may have been wrong, but in his presence, Bart glowed brighter. He wore lace pantyhose, which matched the color of his hot pink eyelashes with some weird floral design, and something that appeared to be a pair of go-go boots from the eighties. “Did you do your own makeup?”
“Stephanie helped a little bit.” Bart beamed.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Tim interrupted. He pressed a hand to his face, cheeks suddenly becoming redder than his uniform.
“Yeah, she is,” the pair said in unison.
“Hahaha,” Dick snickered—
Police sirens whirred through the campus of the school, sounding and squealing off the walls. Looking to Tim immediately, they both nodded and grabbed their grappling gun. What Nightwing didn’t expect was for Robin to shove Impulse in his direction, sparkles and all.
Scatterbrained, Impulse raised an eyebrow under his curls. “What’s going o—”
“Police are coming,” Dick said immediately. He strapped a hand around Bart’s waist…once he found it, beneath sequins and itchy lacy material. Hiking Bart onto one of his boots, Nightwing tied a hand over his gun and let it fly.
Bart’s hands found themselves tugging on his Kevlar. “But I can just—”
“No time.” Dick made sure to grab Tim’s eyes, a frown on his face. If he thought the Robin didn’t catch his eye, he was wrong.
They rendezvoused on one of the buildings meant for sophomores. Police cars surrounded the campus, focused vitally at the scene of the crime and gathering teenagers that had witness or endured the incident. Usually, Nightwing had no problem speaking with Commissioner Gordon. However, with a disco ball for a boyfri—speedster in one hand, and the propaganda regarding vigilantes as aliens, it was also becoming harder to stay in plain sight and be trusted by the public.
That was where they were now, watching one Commissioner Gordon look to the sky and search for the Bats that gifted him with the villain in question until the man silently mouthed ‘thank you’ beneath the moon. They all watched in silence. Even Bart.
“Is…that Oracle’s dad?” he asked tentatively. The trio had crumbled into a crouching position in order to avoid policemen.
“Batgirl’s,” both Nightwing and Robin mumbled. Judging by the lack of reaction from Robin, Dick had a feeling Tim had gotten used to Imp’s occasional outbursts of the future. From the corner of his eye, he saw a tiny smile quirk across Bart’s lips—simple and happy.
They stood up, dusting off the dirt from the front of their uniform. Impulse snickered.
“You have glitter all over you,” he chirped, then promptly zipped around the teenager. Bart stopped after the third examination, then latched onto Nightwing’s back. “Including your butt.”
“I don’t think you climbing on me helps the situation.” Grinning, Dick jerked and heard a relevant squeal to his left. “You wanna get it off?”
“Is that such a good idea?”
“I thought you were a good judge of butts.”
“I’m a very good judge of butts.”
Another audible laugh tingled in Dick’s throat. This time, he maneuvered them, hands secure on Bart’s legs as the speedster now clung to him from the front. Dick inhaled the terrible scent of too much hairspray and Bath & Body Works’s Japanese Cherry Blossom, and still, couldn’t help his spout of laughter. Somewhere in it, he was pretty sure he snorted.
To his benefit, Bart wasn’t one to be easily stricken down. He joined Dick in a fit of laughter, giggling in his ear. “So, do you like my makeup?”
“I think,” Dick sighed, close to tears, “I like you better with pants.”
He’d walked straight into that one. Green eyes glinted mischievously, looking the slightest bit evil under the moonlight. Bart’s legs tightened around his leader’s hips and a heavy smile fell across his ruby-colored lips. “You so sure about that?”
No, Dick didn’t say. From the corner of his eye, he could see Tim giving him the usual baffled look whenever Impulse was the subject matter. It looked like a mix between wanting to rip the ex-Robin’s head off and wanting to disappear from the face of the planet as soon as possible. For Tim’s sake, and remembering this behavior was probably not suited post-breakup, he let himself ease into reality. The smile faded just slightly, in time with Bart’s as he remembered the uneasiness in their situation too.
Unlike Tim, however, Bart’s gaze was fixated on another corner of the building. Through just his mask alone, Dick could barely make out the blurred black figure that sped around campus and onto the rooftop. Nightwing’s heart sank, and Impulse grew amazingly quiet.
“Hey!” Kid Flash slowed down as he hopped onto the top of the roof. Green eyes scanned the three of them, stopping particularly on Bart. “Is…everyone okay?”
“What are you doing here?” Dick arched an eyebrow.
It shouldn’t have annoyed him as much as it did as KF smiled and pointed thumb to himself. “I got your message asking for Impulse and Robin’s coordinates, then you didn’t say anything again. Called Alfy, and he told me you were at Gotham Academy. Had to scour the whole campus before I finally found you.”
Right. All audio messages relayed through the comm.-link circled back to Dick’s apartment, just in case one of the Bats or even a leaguer was restrained or held captive during one of their missions. Still, that didn’t answer Dick’s main question. “And you just happened to have your uniform on you.”
A red eyebrow cocked in the air, gaze narrowing sequentially to Nightwing. “I was wearing it when you and I met up.” Ah. Another set of green eyes suddenly stared very closely to the dark-haired leader—too close for comfort. “I figured I’d take it with me just in case you got in trouble. You know—speedster back up since I’m crashing at your place.”
“Crash,” Dick repeated. Though the double-meaning in the word let him see the discouraged look on Bart’s face from the corner of his eye.
Bart pulled out of Dick’s arms, standing on his own two feet and gripping Tim by the shoulder. Wally, Bart, and he hadn’t been in the same room together since the night Bart broke up with him. It wasn’t calming his nerves having Tim stand nearby.
“So…” Wally made gestures with his hands, looking at his ridiculously-dressed cousin thrice over, then to Tim, then to Dick again. The way the redhead’s eyebrows contorted, Dick wondered if his irritation about this circumstance between the cousins was finally obvious. “Where…is my cousin, exactly?”
“You’re looking at him,” Tim voiced. He shook his arm—probably to shake his friend off, but Bart wouldn’t budge. Looking at him now, Dick couldn’t decipher the expression on the younger speedster’s face. Sadness? Detachment? Whatever it was, Dick’s chest clenched.
Wally blinked, staring t the ‘girl’ in front of him—from the glittery brown hair to the sparkly sequined bodice, lacey neon pantyhose and go-go boots. “Oh,” he said simply. Then—“Oh! Bart!” Had he not been feeling so sick, Dick would have found the reaction hilarious. Kid Flash’s face twitched back and forth between Robin and his cousin, eyebrows high beneath his hairline and mouth ajar. “Bart?”
“He wanted to wear a dress,” Dick said simply.
“Princess Serenity,” Bart agreed solemnly. “I had the gems for my hair, but Tim said no.”
Dick bit the inside of his mouth to hold back a snigger. Bart must have sensed this—his eyes seemed a little brighter.
“So…this was the alternative?” Kid Flash gestured to his cousin, still blinking wryly and in disbelief. Robin had clearly given up on a proper explanation, simply sighing and staying put. “You two dating or something?” He made gestures between Bart and Tim.
Another blink. Dick felt his jaw slacking, watching the pure folly in Wally’s expression like it was the most casual question in the world. He could tell both Tim and Bart were taking in his expression carefully. Bart answered.
“No. But we were planning on having a movie night.” He tugged on one of his ringlets, green eyes twinkling under the stars. “I say we get another mani-pedi.”
“No,” Tim spoke idly.
“You two already argue like you’re an old married couple.” Wally clicked his tongue, amused, then ran a hand through his hair. His attention turned to the gaping hole in the gymnasium and the firemen and policemen who were rolling out the disco balls and excavating the school for any fear bombs. A laugh tingled in his throat. “Should have figured the distress call would have traced back to this school, man. Always does.”
Despite the swelling frustration and annoyance in Dick’s chest, he allowed himself to relax. Only enough to remember the same things Wally was as he examined the damage. “Yeah. You’re right, aren’t you?”
“Remember when Professor Ivo and Amazo were the ones in the gymnasium?”
“And Superboy demolished half my school?” Dick snorted. Of course he did. It had taken a month before the news stopped talking about it. For some reason, reported the perky news lady, Bruce Wayne offered a generous donation plus a bonus in order to make repairs. Despite the leader’s insistence that it wasn’t a big deal, Superboy still felt bad for contributing to the wreckage of the school.
Wally sniggered, kicking at a rock. “I used to come up every day when I was still in high school to steal your fries.”
“Even then you’d get mad if I didn’t bring a doggy bag back to the cave for you.” Dick’s eyes fell onto Tim and Bart, who stood idly by and were trying their best to go unnoticed. He wasn’t sure why Bart hadn’t simply swept Tim up and left for another crazy Friday night adventure.
Instead, the said speedster rocked on his gogo boots. “So…you’re staying with DeeGee for the time being?”
The redhead blinked. “’DeeGee’?”
“Oh! Uh, yeah.” Rubbing the back of his neck, a sheepish look fell across Wally’s face. The older pair exchanged looks—one strangely calm and the other oddly finicky. Suddenly Wally refused to make eye contact with the other speedster, and found interest in a stain on his boot. “At least until Artemis cools down. She was pretty backwards about the situation—finds it pretty ridiculous that Wing would choose me over…you know, anyone.”
He rolled his eyes for emphasis, clearly trying to make a joke out of the situation. He also didn’t succeed.
It caught both of them off guard when Tim spoke up. “Dick isn’t one to make tough decisions without weighing the consequences. He’d go with the one that he felt made the most sense—or try to delay it.”
“The one that I’d have my heart in,” Dick muttered in agreement. He looked down to the corner of his eye and saw Bart’s eyebrows furrow. They’d yet to talk about the lie Bart told Artemis and Wally in order to force Dick and his best friend together. And by now, Bart should have understood just how strongly the elder teen felt for him. Anyone would. The whole team certainly felt the need to meddle.
Still—Bart tucked his hands behind him and drew a breath. “You should probably talk to her then. Ilikeher.”
This time, those beautiful green eyes refused to look his leader in the face. His hands were fisted tightly into the sides of his dress, like Bart was trying hard not to say the wrong thing. Dick took pity on him—sort of. He placed a firm hand on Bart’s shoulder, a gesture that did not go unnoticed by other parties, and squeezed it tightly. It would have felt more natural to pull Bart into his own weight and place a hand over his hips. “Bart’s right. Make sure she knows that we don’t want to be the reason why you two are arguing.”
“Uh. Right.” Beneath his mask, Wally’s eyes were glued to the quiet gesture Dick had made, a peculiar look on his face. Shaking his head, he looked back to his cousin and straightened up. “Since you’re here though, you and I should talk. Alone.”
The idea made Bart’s eyes widen, bewildered. It looked silly with his hot pink eyelashes and glitter, but then the pair zipped off to the other side of the building, caught up in their mumblings.
The first thing to happen was the sparkly whirlwind Bart surrounded himself in. In a few short seconds, Fairy Princess Impulse had changed into regular Impulse, the gogo boots, wig, and dress hanging neatly on a set of hangers. He looked back to normal, save the hot pink eyelashes and makeup so gaudy that Dick could still see it beneath the speedster’s goggles. Bart and Wally spoke quietly to one another, sometimes nodding and once or twice, even looking back to Nightwing and Robin.
“You really don’t see it, do you?” Tim’s voice snapped Dick out of his thoughts.
Giving his successor his full attention, Dick shrugged half-heartedly. “Apparently I light up whenever I’m around him. We’re miserable without each other.” His throat constricted, voice losing its vigor. “You’ve told me that. So’s Babs…even Alfred, and the team, but…” He wasn’t going to do anything if Bart was this scared.
Bart knew Dick wanted to be with him. And Dick was pretty sure Bart wanted to be with him, too. However, until Bart felt secure enough about their situation, Dick knew nothing was going to come out of it. He’d force himself to be content with their current situation, no matter how much it was killing him.
“When you two talk,” Tim said quietly, “it’s like the rest of the world disappears around you.”
That made Dick’s throat clench. “Oh.”
“You’re crazy, you know. Thinking that letting him do this is okay.”
“And he’s crazy for letting you get away like that,” Tim also said simply. “But he gets upset whenever I mention it.”
A short breath came from the back of Dick’s throat. If he had pockets, he would have hunched his shoulders and stuffed his hands in them like a preteen again. Instead, he smiled quietly and touched shoulders with the new Robin. “Thanks for being so supportive.”
It made him happy to get a smile out of the other teen. Robin rubbed his arm, then arched an eyebrow under his mask. “I also think you’re crazy for thinking he looks sexy in that dress.”
Blink. “But I never—” He lost that argument there when Robin’s expression remained stiff and only somewhat amused. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, Dick rubbed his neck and looked in a different direction, deciding that the bird perched on the school’s Old Time bell was a lot more interesting than this conversation. It wasn’t his fault that the lacey pantyhose were complimentary to Bart’s ass…ets. “Oh-kay. Awkward Robin-to-Robin bonding is over.”
Finally the conversation on the other end of the building came to a close. Bart and Wally finished up before sauntering to the other pair at a human speed. Wally looked to Dick, confirming they were done.
“So what’s up?” Dick crossed his arms.
Wally shrugged. “The boys are gonna grab a movie on the other side of the country. Something about a cooler IMAX theatre or something. I wanted to know how everyone was doing in Central City and…well, that’s it.” He looked between Bart and Dick again, his expression contorting thoughtfully.
Consequently, Bart patted his makeup-covered face, collecting glitter as he did so. “Something on my face? “
Wally made a face. “I’m not going to answer that.”
“Okay then. Bye cousin,” Bart chirped. He turned to Dick, expression tapering faintly. Dick could feel the pain as it hovered in Bart’s eyes. “Bye, DG.”
Gulping, Dick barely regarded the hand on his shoulder, nor Tim’s own awkward salute, as Bart supported Tim’s weight and dashed off. He waited until they were out of seeing distance before he muttered a goodbye of his own.
The hand on his shoulder moved—barely enough to get the teen’s attention. Wally leaned in, concern mixing across his face. “You okay, man?”
No, Dick didn’t say. “Yeah.”
“Good. You…still have glitter all over your ass, dude.”
“Where’s Robin?” Batman asked that night. He was already in the Batcave getting reacquainted with the data the remaining Leaguers and the team had gathered while the Six had been away.
“Welcome back.” It would be like Bruce, Nightwing mused lightly, to know when he entered the cave. He made mental notes to challenge the security system and one day surprise his old mentor. That would be a good challenge for when he was bored. “He’s out with one of the new rookies on the team.”
“Bart Allen. Flash’s grandson from the future. He goes by Impulse.” When the light padding of the keyboard stopped, Nightwing waltzed toward the Dark Knight, who was now pulling up all known files of ‘Bartholomew Henry Allen the Second.’ “You’ve missed a lot.”
“I can see that.” The computer began to pull up a compilation of pictures of Bart—news clippings of a speedster out in Central City and other various places, some family pictures and—and one of Dick and Bart.
He hadn’t even known the picture had been taken. They lay there as a couple in Bart’s hospital bed, an unmasked Dick’s head tucked in Bart’s shoulder and a hand strapped protectively over the brunet’s torso. Bart was content—maybe even drooling a little on Dick’s ear, and had his free leg curled around one of the elder teen’s. Someone (Batgirl) had snuck into the medical wing sometime the day after Bart received his cast to take this picture, then (Babs) had put it in the database.
This time, Batman turned around, his tone of voice reminding Dick dimly of when he was a kid. “Should I ask?”
And just like a kid, Dick hardly shrugged. “I can’t guarantee I’ll answer.”
“Does Barry know?”
That elicited a grunt or two. Bruce simply returned to catching upon data. “Just don’t hurt the kid or let it interfere with your work. Okay?”
He was sure that the World’s Greatest Detective had deduced what happened in the situation. Or…therelackof, considering they were barely together for even a week. Realizing that, Nightwing only nodded, then leaned in to help his mentor. “So, this is what we’ve gathered about the Kroloteans—here, and here…”
The next time he saw Bart hadn’t been very far from the Scarecrow incident. Dick had taken the matters into his own hands—when it came to Artemis and Wally, that was. He called Artemis, who was enjoying a Girl’s Night with the girls from the team and begged that she let the matter between Bart and him be dropped. As expected, Artemis only laughed in his face—and so did a few other girls. Dick realized Dignity was going to be a faraway friend until everyone calmed down on the matter of Bart and him.
After only one night with Wally, he didn’t have the willpower to keep his frustration hidden. He missed Bart. He missed being with Bart, being able to keep his heart in one place and actually get excited to see someone and know they could be together. But he wasn’t going to force Bart into a relationship. For them to be together again, Bart needed to be the one who made that decision.
Hopefully it sounded less gushy whenever he said it over the phone. Nevertheless, the voices at the other end had grown quiet. Artemis didn’t like it, but she agreed for their sake.
After three days, that was. According to Artemis, if Dick was stupid enough to believe he couldn’t get Bart back, then he could spare a few days with Wally—something he didn’t tell the redhead. That being beside the point, Wally was finally back at home and the following Saturday, Dick came over to force the couple to get along.
So far after five minutes, the house was still intact. Dick hovered in the kitchen, assisting Wally as he prepared dinner for the three of them that night, and Artemis sat casually on a kitchen stool doing some homework. As far as everything went, Dick couldn’t see anything wrong. Other than the fact they barely talked to each other.
“You two…agreed to disagree on this…right?” Unsure, the teen looked between both his best friends, a grimace on his face. Artemis looked up, then shrugged.
“Sure,” Wally said finally. “Babe, did you get the green onions?”
“The fridge is full for the day,” Artemis confirmed, still invested in her homework. She set her pencil down, rested her head in a hand, then eyed Dick. “You know, the school year is ending soon. You took a year off to focus on crime-fighting. You really sure you’re not gonna try it in the fall?”
“If I do, it won’t be an ultimatum.” Dick smiled at the arched eyebrow given from a redhead, then leaned against the counter. Dick Grayson: Also known as Nightwing—the first Robin, the leader of Young Justice, and the right hand to the Dark Knight. Not to mention part-time college student.
“You invest so much time in the team and being Nightwing, bro. If it weren’t for these visits, I’d think you never had personal life.” Wally stirred the makings of what was starting to look like fried rice and poked it with a pair of chopsticks.
“He did have one.”
“Aw, babe—please don’t start.”
Dick sighed audibly, and luckily that was the end of the conversation. Artemis tutted, then returned to her school work. Wally, he’d understood as the week was coming to the end, was becoming aware just how personally Dick taken the break up. Bart’s name tended to come up like jabbing a wound every time Dick was present. Wally’s face scrunched and he passed a weird look whenever that happened.
Faintly, Dick wondered exactly what Artemis had done to her boyfriend in the few days the couple had reunited. He had a feeling it wasn’t pretty.
“Sorry,” grumbled the very same couple.
Lacking the energy to summon a response, Dick simply leaned back in his position. He was suddenly less hungry than he was a moment ago.
At the next instant, the door burst open with a hyperactive blur zipping around the living room, the island counter—then halted into Bart in front of Artemis. Bart’s lips were graced with a grin, a spoonful of fried rice in one hand and a corsage in another.
“Hey!” Wally scowled.
“Could use a little more soy sauce.” Licking his lips, Bart stuffed the spoon in his mouth and turned to Artemis. “Do I look okay?”
She nodded, pushing her textbook and notebook away with a smile. A look of approval passed over her eyes and she readjusted the front of Bart’s blazer. “You look spiffy, cutie.”
“Spiffy and cute. Spute!” Bart chirped wildly. When Dick caught his eye, the expression wavered, and he turned around to get a better look at his leader. Considering what Dick had seen Bart wear only a week before, he actually chuckled. Nice and prim, Bart wore a black tuxedo fitted to his height along with a bowtie that matched the color of his corsage. The only thing even slightly out of place was the Wizard of Oz button pin on the collar of his dress shirt.
“You look nice,” Dick said before Bart could ask.
The way Bart glowed was worth it. “Of course I do. I’m spute.”
“Decided not to go undercover as the girl this time?” the older teen mused, a smile coiling over his lips. It kind of just happened that way. Any time Bart came close, he just couldn’t help a grin.
“She looked prettier in the dress,” Bart assured. “And…actually, I’m taking Cissie to prom.”
Dick’s smile dropped.
“Wait, what?” Wally broke into the scene, putting both the chopsticks and spatula down in order to get a better ear in the conversation. He blinked multiple times, the amazement unhidden on his face. “Cissie. You mean sweet little Cissie who lives the floor down with her lunatic mother?”
“Cissie’s sixteen,” Artemis pointed out wryly. She eyed Dick, but there was no pity—just a strange mix of amusement and interest then looked back to Bart, who seemed ignorant about the elder teen’s reaction. “She’s perfectly armed and ready to go out on a date with Bart.”
“Armed,” repeated the redhead, deadpanned.
“Armed.” The blonde nodded and admired her boyfriend’s cousin in his tuxedo. “You even combed your hair back. It looks…funny.”
Fumbling into a smile, Bart mussed and shook a hand through his hair until it looked tousled and unruly—like it normally did after the kid ran across the country. He rocked on his feet. “She calls me Scarecrow. Isn’t that funny? Since, you know—we went up against Scarecrow and all, even though there weren’t any crows around him? Hey! Why don’t they make Scaredoves? I bet they poop on as many cars as crows do—?”
“Does she call you Scarecrow,” Wally interrupted warily, “because you don’t have a brain when you talk?”
Bart’s rhythm of speech froze at that point. He arched an eyebrow inquisitively, almost wondering if it were an insult, then he grinned. “Well, it was either that or Toto. I can’t fit inside a basket.” He looked around to all three of them, clearly pleased with himself until those emerald green eyes met blue.
“Armed!” Wally continued. “What do you mean by armed?” He was promptly ignored.
A small smile etched across Dick’s lips, tight and uncomfortable. “Better a Scarecrow than the Tinman, I guess.”
The brunet hummed. “Why?”
“Because you already have too much heart.”
The stun on Bart’s face was worth the line. Replacing the silliness and whim from his demeanor was a look of surprise, brown eyebrows peaked between their hairline. Slowly, a blush painted its way across Bart’s face, and his entire stature slackened. Watching this, Dick only smiled; wry and honest.
Not even Wally said a word to this scene.
“Have a fun time,” Dick murmured. Undeterred, he reached over and kissed Bart sweetly on the cheek.
In return, Bart’s eyes had widened—beautiful, wistful, and very much taken offguard. His body phased in and out as a blur, hand nearly dropping the corsage. When he snapped out of his daze, he stumbled toward the door, nearly tripping over the Crock-West canine. “I um. I…I-I better get going.”
Wally and Artemis quietly said their goodbyes, watching silently as the speedster disappeared through the front door and descended down the stairs.
“If it helps,” Artemis iterated once they were sure Bart wasn’t coming back, “She confessed to Bart once that she used to have a die-hard crush on the first Robin.”
“It helps,” Dick assured.
After monitoring the pair for most of the night, Dick decided to give it a rest. Artemis was a little too emotionally invested with making sure he was okay, and Wally had taken to staring at his popcorn and making sure no kernel went unpopped. Gathering the things he brought, Dick walked over to the door and said goodbye.
“Bye,” Artemis said.
“See you.” Wally waved.
With a half-hearted smile, Dick waved back and exited through the door. To find Bart stargazing by himself.
He stopped for a moment, taking in the scene and wondering if he’d been duped. Dick had already shut the door. Artemis was in the middle of Skyping her mother when he left, and Wally—well, any speedster with food in front of them would be distracted for the next ten minutes.
Bart didn’t seem to notice him.
Hesitating, he stared at the brunet carefully from the back, whose head tilted upward and allowed the stars to blanket him. Then, Dick crept forward and settled quietly next to the speedster. “Hey.”
Green eyes blinked, animating under the moonlight. They focused onto the taller teen, then were accompanied by a weary smile. Bart had the same look on his face that he did all those months ago when they were stargazing on the beach of Mount Justice. “Hey, DeeGee.”
“Fun night?” It was wistful and wondrous—beautiful. Dick leaned back on the steps and emitted a creak beneath him.
“Crash.” Nodding casually, the speedster gestured to the backyard where for the first time, Dick noticed someone was handling a bow and arrow against ten targets. Evidently Cissie, she was built like an agile athlete with blond curls pulled back into a complicated hairdo and wore a sparkly red dress. “Cissie’s a fun date. Shot an arrow at the cake I was eating while we were at the prom.”
“So are you two still hanging out?”
“No.” Bart shook his head and fumbled with his fingers. Pink accentuated his cheeks and he shrugged. “I just like stargazing whenever I’m on top of Artemis and Wally’s staircase. S’why I come here so often.”
That made a lot of sense. Looking to the sky above them, Dick felt his nerves disappear along with Bart’s. “You…like watching them because they haven’t changed very much in forty years. Am I right?”
From the corner of his eye, he could see green looking impressed and sweet. “Yeah,” Bart breathed. His hands curled into his knees and he leaned against the railing. Secretly, Dick wished that Bart would lean against him.
He decided to ask the obvious question.
“You and I…” Dick bit the inside of his mouth, watching Bart tense. “I know it’s been a month since we broke up. And…we didn’t go out very long, but…I kind of had the impression that you liked guys.”
Bart’s expression was suddenly more alert. He blinked—once, twice, three times, four times—“What?!”
“Uh…” Dick wasn’t quite sure how to be any clearer than that.
“Grife, there’s still gender identity in this decade? Sheesh!” Bart threw his hands in the air, suddenly standing to his feet. He crossed his arms, a pout coming to his face before he looked back to Dick, hilariously scowling. “First Tim tells me I’m weird for wearing a dress, even though I go shopping with Grandma Iris all the time for baby clothes for Aunt Dawn-who-isn’t-born yet, and now I can’t like who I want?”
“Bart—Bart.” Dick grabbed Bart by the arm, unsure whether he should be amused or confused. He stared at the teen, blue eyes teeming with perplexity. “Didn’t you…ask Cissie out because you liked her?”
“Huh?” Green eyes blinked so fast that Dick actually lost count. Bart shrugged, waving his hand as though he were swatting a bug. “Oh—well, yeah. Butjustasafriend. I was trying to subtly bring up the fact she could totally go as a crash superhero named Arrowette, only I apparently suck at subtle, so she really just laughed and petted me on the head. What’s with people and petting me on the head? I’m not a cat.”
Other people probably would have gotten lost trying to understand the first ten words that tumbled out of Bart’s mouth. Dick, on the other hand, could have made a living catching every word that Bart said. He studied the younger teen, watching the pout firmly on his face.
Bart caught that. Somewhere between propositions, arcade games, and Chinese food, he managed to remember when he rambled about something completely unorthodox. Looking Dick in the eye, his stance withered and he leaned against the stairs, shoulders hunched.
“I like guys,” Bart confessed. “But I like girls, too. In my time…it doesn’t matter who you love. You have the modest people who are just too shy to admit it and the stupid people who think it’s a ‘cool trend.’ But…” His face fell. “When you spend a lot of time alone…just you and this gambit time machine, you take whatever love you can get. It’s…it’s desperate, but it’s love.”
Dick’s expression tightened. Even if they’d only dated for a short amount of time, he was able to get a few details out of his once-boyfriend. Those details, he hated—and he was glad Bart had come here. He needed it.
To his surprise, Bart hadn’t finished talking. He picked up his expression, a coyness to it as he looked Dick in the eye, and a ghost of a smile against his lips. “Guess that was why I was glad when I found you. Even when I thought I was doing it for different reasons…you were serious. Grounded. You’re a real charmer, DeeGee. It was the best week of my life.”
“It doesn’t have to be just a week.”
“Yes. It did.”
“No. Bart.” This time, he wasn’t going to let Bart get away from him. He didn’t want to stay with Bart, knowing that the fragile teen would be scared of him and what had happened to his family, but he didn’t want Bart to run away without understanding just how hard he would fight for him. It wouldn’t be fair. “You keep talking about how it was just this simple week. I told you. I wanted more. More with you. I wouldn’t have asked to be with you otherwise. Not if I wasn’t so sure.”
He would never start a relationship—not without knowing for sure that he’d fallen in love with that person. Or would fall.
Even broken up, Tim was right—they still acted like a couple. Still exchanged glances, like a couple, and still wanted to be at each other’s side.
He could see Bart’s resolve crumbling in green eyes. They dwindled between guilt and pain before finally closing shut. He spoke in a miniscule voice—so small and so broken. “I just can’t, Dick. I…” His eyes opened, and he looked over the older teen’s shoulder.
Dick turned around.
Wally stood there, bewildered, and holding a bag of trash to take out. Dammit. Bart had taken it as a cue to leave—a gust of wind slapping against Dick, and the teenager had whirred down the staircase and through the streets until he was long gone. Dick cursed.
“Sorry,” was all Wally managed. To his surprise, the redhead didn’t sound the slightest bit angry. Just surprised. “I thought you already left—was gonna take the trash out…before, you know. The house started smelling bad.”
“It’s fine,” muttered the teenager. They both knew it wasn’t. Pressing a hand to his face, Dick looked down to Cissie, who’d stopped momentarily to watch the blur of speedster pass by, unidentified.
“Sorry,” his best friend said again. Silence passed between them, Wally still standing at the foot of the door and Dick leaning against the railing. With a small plop, the trash bag was set aside, door shut with a rickety squeak, and Wally positioned himself closer to his best friend, eyebrows knitting together. “You…really liked him, didn’t you?”
Dick peeked through one of his fingers. What he saw surprised him: an uncertain and twitchy Wally. Debating on a proper response, Dick took in a breath and nodded solidly.
“You…weren’t the one to break up with him either. That was a lie,” Wally speculated. “Bart actually broke up with you.”
“Because of me. Because you and I fought.”
Silence. Dick looked away, turning around so that he could see the route Bart had taken to escape. His chest ached, and he did best to just close his eyes. “He did it because…you and I weren’t friends in the future. And it scared him. Bart thought doing that—doing all of this…would fix our friendship.”
“Oh.” Wally joined Dick, leaning over the stairs and watching the large backyard where Cissie practiced. He laced his hands together, eerily quiet for quite some time. When Dick finally felt calm enough to return home, he started to descend downward, but Wally’s voice stopped him. “I’m an idiot then, aren’t I?”
The teen froze.
He turned around to see his best friend staring at him, a wrinkle between his eyebrows and lips twisted into a grimace. Wally’s eyes focused onto Dick’s and he sighed—heavy, but not angry. “You and he had a thing going, and it was none of my business. It was…never my business, and you didn’t do it to replace me.”
Finally, he got it. Dick’s throat dried and his hands clenched into fists. “This…was never to replace you. You’re my best friend. People kept warning me about how you would feel about this but I fell for him anyway.” Hard.
Wally seemed to take the words to heart. He slumped to the wooden floor next to the trash can and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m a douche.”
Standing there, self-conscious, Dick wasn’t sure what to do. He was terse—still annoyed over his experience with Bart, but right now Wally looked like the one that could use a hug. Which was seriously messed up at the moment. “I’m not going to respond to that.”
Suddenly, Wally jolted up, his entire expression changing into a grin. “Okay. Let’s do it then.”
Dick blinked. “Do…what?”
“Get you two back together.” Excitement teemed across the redhead’s face and he opened the door quickly to stick his head in.
“Artemis! Grab your coat! We’re gonna get Bart and Dick back together!”
Chapter 6: Right Where You Want Me
“Okay,” Wally said again, and he took a swig of his Dr. Pepper. “I get it. You two are together. And I’m happy to see you two idiotically in bliss together—ifyoueverhurtmycousin or mybestfriend, blah blah, I’ll kick your butt. But—” Wally seethed, turning the brightest hue of red. “Whoever is playing footsies with me, can you please stop?”
Track 6: Right Where You Want Me
The cave was bustling when Bart arrived. He was still very much dressed in his tuxedo, with matching shoes, the cool bowtie, and even the little patch of hay Cissie stuffed in his pocket before kissing him on the cheek that night and calling him a goofy little scarecrow. It was nice, Bart decided, having someone outside the world of heroes smile at him, even though he was a little weird. It was nice, watching her light up when he ran them to the beach in California and she taught him how to skip rocks. It was nice, hearing her talk about crazy Bonnie King-Jones, and how she wondered if she was good enough to really be in the hero world.
The tiny voice in the back of Bart’s head—the one that nagged and scratched at his resolve as though it was nothing—told him to forget about Nightwing. Forget about the way he smiled through his frown of disapproval, or the way he would put his hand on the small of Bart’s back and pull him closer until they touched, and pretend he didn’t hear Bart the first time. Forget about his warmth, or the way he managed to get that laugh out of Dick. The one where Dick sort of crooned and cackled, forgetting about all entities in the room because it was like…Dick remembered to be a kid again.
Yes, insisted the tiny little voice in his head, it was just that easy.
Only it wasn’t. Cissie knew his secret, only because he was careless one day and she saw him running. She was smart and pretty and cool. And…one day she would pull another archer aside and be the strength—the right arm that he needed.
Cissie was a reminder that Bart didn’t belong in the past. That, even with Nightwing, he was screwing up everything. The last thing he ever thought he would find in the past was heartbreak.
It felt like it did when he hurt his knee: running, feeling the wind and adrenaline whistle through his ears with no regret, and then…boom. All the pain, all the agony as his heart caved in, asphyxiated from all other emotion except for guilt and fear.
Superboy greeted him on the platform, in the middle of specs and calculations. The silhouette was almost so familiar that Bart could have cried. All that was missing from his hands was a bouquet of flowers and a chirpy comment that dried in his throat. As Conner scanned the boy over, Bart found himself at the end of a brotherly kiss and a hug.
“I hope you realize you’re an idiot,” Conner chided.
“What do you mean?” Bart looked up, eyes tired and brow furrowed.
“Don’t pretend you can endure everything.” A large hand petted the brunet on the head, super blue eyes morphing in concern. “I can hear your heartbeat whenever he’s around.”
Stunned, Bart couldn’t think of a response. He looked to his feet, shoulders to his ears as red bloomed in his cheeks. Only moments later found Bart by himself, sitting in a room where months ago, Wally, Dick, and Superboy had hauled his time machine. The thing had started collecting dust; maybe a few cobwebs.
He would come here in the two months since his stay, to watch the machine. Sometimes he found himself tempted to fix the mechanism; yet many of the parts required to assemble it would not be built for another few decades.
Going back to the future, Bart knew that he would be dead. Irey would scold him. If Jai were still alive, he would ruffle hands through brunet hair and kiss him on the temple, much like Conner had done. He imagined that Uncle Damian, too, would beat him upside the head and then make him go to work, pretending it was a good enough apology.
Yeah, the brunet thought to himself. It would have been amazing.
Clutching the wrench between his hands firmly, Bart only stared at the machine. It took him nearly a year to create it; three months deciphering the chicken scratch from the Flash’s notebooks and lacing it together with the theories of the second Batman. People thought he was crazy. After his mother died—his only family, Irey refused to leave him. Jai, too, but…
Bart bowed his head. Impulse was a better name for him than he would have thought. Past fixing the krolotean issues, making sure grandpa stayed alive, and mending Uncle Wally and Dick Grayson’s friendship, he wasn’t sure where to go. Every head-banging path led him back to the time machine; reassembling parts and disassembling parts. Fixing tubes and unfixing tubes. He couldn’t leave. It would have been just too easy to run away.
Behind him, the door squealed as it was slowly opened. Maybe that was why Bart liked the room so much. It was underdeveloped; slow and rickety. Primitive to even this time period, but crooning doors had been around for ages. Jaime teased him for liking little things like that; Jaime reminded Bart of Jai.
“Should have known that I would have found you here.”
He was so moded that even pretending to joke hurt. Pretending that everything was okay, that he wasn’t even the slightest bit angry at Uncle Wally, that maybe…just maybe he wasn’t in love with Dick Grasyon. He’d felt the ranges of anger, frustration, and sadness forty years from now. But heartbreak…heart break was a new concept for him.
“I could have gone to other places,” Bart murmured quietly. He flicked his wrist, allowing the wrench to catch the light of the lanterns above, then closed his eyes. He didn’t expect Wally to meander across the room and sit beside him.
The seconds passed between them as water dripped from stalactites. Even now, Bart never understood the relationship between him and his Uncle Wally. He was treated like a third child; embraced and protected, but treated like a delicate thing because the Allen Family was dead.
“It’s a nice room, isn’t it?” Wally mused, and he joined his cousin in scrutinizing the machine. “I used to come here a lot. Did my best thinking here.”
“It used to be my souvenir room. Was pretty mad when Nightwing thought it was the best place to keep your machine.” Wally bumped shoulders with him, a tiny smile on his face. When it wilted, discouraged, Bart couldn’t help but feel a bit of satisfaction.
This time, though, he turned to meet Wally’s eye.
Guilt shimmered in his cousin’s gaze. Beneath the hue of green, furrowed beneath red eyebrows, there was a way the redhead analyzed him that was different from the others. For the first time, Bart saw…substance. He saw Wally looking over not as a foe, but as a family member. Like how in forty years, his uncle would gaze at him—which, in retrospect, was kind of eerie and creepy. And after a long, long time, Bart had gotten pretty used to creepy, especially after watching his uncle’s son flirt with the ‘goddamn Batman.’
Swallowing a breath, Bart raised his head a little higher, inhibiting anymore solemnity to rake at his insides. Without forewarning, he announced, “I’m listening.”
“How close were you and I in the future?” Wally questioned. His eyes narrowed wryly, lips curled into a frown.
At first, Bart hesitated. He’d formulated a fake family life to explain whenever he came to the current time. Tim immediately called him out on his shit, and every time Bart even said anything to Conner, all he got was a pat on the head and a look of brotherly pity. Nightwing took an even deeper interest, analyzing everything he said. Something told Bart that his ex-boyfriend’s best friend—his family would not take kindly being lied to. Nor did he have the strength to remember what he said.
“In the future,” Bart started, “My…my parents are gone. My dad when I was six and my mom when I was eight. You—” The brunet made a point of meddling with the wrench in his hands. “—made a point to have Max Mercury to take care of me. Until…”
Until he got lost in a speed entity—something called the Speed Force that his generation had little information to go about. One Wally West and his wife would dedicate their lives trying to dissect this, but not for a very long time. Bart tossed the wrench between his knees and hugged himself.
“Something happened,” he muttered quietly. “To all of them. And…and I was mad at you for a while.” For the first ten years of his life, this Wally West had been in charge of him, but even Bart only got glimpses of the man as a blur or a camera goof on the eNews and something less retro than what current city-goers called ‘televisions.’ “You…I grew up knowing the history of the Flash family. Of knowing what my grandfather was like, and how much my grandma loved him until everything went sour. About his partner, Kid Flash.
“You...you weren’t there. Not at first, and I didn’t know why. But…a-after Max disappeared, literally the hour after he was no longer on our planet, you showed up and took me in.” Bart swallowed hard, staring at the time machine at the edge of his feet. It was one sheet of metal, a particular alloy made specifically for this machine—and engraved on the side of the machine, no bigger than one of Bart’s fingers, was the name Wally West. “I thought you hated me.
“I thought that all these years, you were too busy being Flash and just thought you were too good to give your aunt and uncle’s grandson a chance. You had your own family and all, a…and no one really looked at the Allen Family after Grandpa Barry died. That’s what Mom told me.
“When you took me in, you treated me like one of your kids. We didn’t get along at first, either—you thought I was too fast and you were just impatient. Then you pulled pranks on me and let your kids take care of me and…” Bart’s nails dug into the palms of his hands and he straightened his legs, allowing himself to see the matching loafers he wore for prom. “And that you were afraid of losing me, too. You were the first stable home that I had in ten years, a-and Iwouldhavedonanything for you. Even—”
“Even break up with my best friend to keep us together?” Wally guessed. The vibrato and intrusion of his voice nearly made Bart jump. He’d gone on a tangent with his explanation, forgetting about other presences in the room. Just…confessing everything he’d kept bottled up for a while.
Bart nodded uneasily. “I-Idon’tbelonginthistimeperiod.”
At this instant, he expected Wally to bonk him on the head again; call him a brainless moron and tell him damn straight. What he heard was an upheaval sigh as Wally collected to his feet and offered a hand. As the teen took it, he felt a squeeze and saw the remorse in the ex-hero’s eyes.
“I was wrong,” Wally muttered humbly.
“I was wrong,” the redhead said again, this time more belligerent. He sighed disdainfully, running a hand through his hair before taking a step back to look at the younger speedster. “Look, I don’t know why—maybe you’ve got this damn good luck charm or something—only I don’t believe in magic—but I like you. I really, really do.”
Okay. Now, slipping out of his depressing views and considerably very confused, Bart blinked a handful of times, his mouth parting slightly.
“You…love my best friend, right?” Guh. Wally had this somewhat wrinkly look on his face, like he was trying to talk while pulling out a splinter from his hands. Those things hurt.
The question did, too. The moment the ‘L’ word was tossed out there, Bart’s eyes moved to the stalactites above him. He debated this in his head—over and over and over until it just hurt and jarred into a tiny conclusion. Bart shrugged with a quick twitch of the shoulder. “Eh.”
“Eh?” Wally’s eyes bugged out. He looked ready to kill him. “I’m about to give you permission to date my best friend, and all you can do is throw aside his feelings like ‘eh’?”
“What do you want me to say?” Glaring, Bart bit the inside of his mouth and coiled his hands into fists. He breathed sharply and kicked the wrench with his foot even though it hurt. This wasn’t how the night was supposed to turn out. Not after running out of Palo Alto the moment Wally caught them. “I didn’t need your permission to date DG, Wally. I never did. J-Just because we broke up doesn’t mean…doesn’t mean it was about you.” The words fell emptily on his tongue, hollow as he felt. By the time he got to the end of his rant, Bart’s focus had turned to the ground, glaring in frustration at his feet.
“Yup. Uhuh. Sure. Anyway—” Wally hit him over the head. Hard.
“You still bug the everloving shit out of me. You’re lucky I don’t wring your neck.” Wally waggled his hand half-heartedly, eyes half-lidded in some weird retro sarcasm along with a smile that curled across his lips. Seething, the redhead ruffled brown hair and sobered. “Anyway, you don’t have to be the adult here, Bart. I’m telling you this now that you can ask and beg and get what you want—even sometimes when it seems ridiculous—”
Wally’s eyebrows furrowed together like he was making the hardest decision in his life, then a whole new amusement tinkered across his gaze, totally out of character for the mood. “Anyway, I’m turning the table over to Wing—” At a speed worthy of the Flash, Wally grabbed him by the arm and flung him out the door.
“Don’t worry! I’ll be sitting here. Patiently. Trying not to laugh.”
Bart looked to his cousin in disbelief, then turned around. To a bouquet of blue asters that glowed with the intensity of…two cerulean blue eyes and…a mop of black hair clipped back with a twin pair of pearly clips over the very famous, very first kiddish Robin smile.
His throat went dry, doing a full lookover of his leader. “Princess Serenity?”
Even to Bart, the comparison was almost ridiculous. He forgot to be angry at his cousin in favor of the long gown that Nightwing indubitably wore. Bart’s favorite part about Princess Serenity’s skirt was that it flowed like a waterfall, dancing and sashaying over her legs like music. It was ethereal—and on Dick’s own body, only reached his ankles. The tunic was laced with gold and a large bow with twin ribbons that flowed on either side of him. He was barefoot—(Bart would later comment how her feet were never really shown)—and the way his torso was angled compared to the real Princess Serenity, made it look like a man wearing a really large retro—vintage nightgown.
He would have laughed, only Bart was still overcoming the shock. His hands had slackened—and, and, even the makeup looked good.
“You’re wearing a dress,” he said stupidly.
If Dick was embarrassed, he didn’t let it show. Taking a step forward, the elder teenager shrunk the distance between the pair, then bowed his head. Under clumps of black hair, Bart could vaguely make out the shape of a golden crescent moon. He grinned mischievously, and Bart knew he would never again be able to take orders from his leader without thinking of this dress.
“Am I pretty?” Dick asked as if it were the most casual thing ever.
Bart gulped. He nodded. “Very pretty.” He couldn’t help but notice the silver sparkles on the side of Dick’s face and the way his eyelashes fluttered. From the corner of his eye, he could see the little crowd gathered on the couch, followed by Artemis and Miss Martian, who looked very proud of their handiwork, and was aware of Wally, who was slowly circling the room to be next to his girlfriend. For the first time since the Flash Family dinner, he saw the pair lace hands and Artemis kiss the man she loved on the cheek.
“Do you remember these flowers?”
“I got them for you. On that very first day when you agreed to go out with me. When I was trying to proposition you since I thought you’d like sex.” When Bart was nervous, he rambled. He had no filter on his mouth, his brain fell into autopilot, and it was like running the same path taken a thousand times without actually looking, so you were in trouble if you ran into a pedestrian like an old lady on the street who would beat you with a cane or an umbrella—a yellow umbrella preferably since it was Bart’s favorite color next to blue—cerulean blue—
Wally’s eyebrow twitched a little, like it was the first time he heard this. Of course it would be—knowing DeeGee, he probably deleted all the security footage just like Bart anticipated because that was such a Dick Grayson thing to do, and it made sense because this was super-cute Dick Grayson.
Dick took closer steps until the flowers were pressed against them. A large hand took Bart’s very own and cupped it around the stem, and an amused smile curled across that face. “You gave me these flowers. Blue asters, and then we went out to eat. You told me all these ridiculous plans you had and how you loved Sailor Moon and…and then you called me out on something.”
He padded his finger along the side of Bart’s face, blue eyes brimming with fascination that made Bart’s heart do a somersault. This…this was always how Dick looked at him, and Bart knew centuries from now, he would never get used to it. Each time Dick looked at him like this, he’d fall into this trance all over again and never want to leave.
The elder teen continued, inhaling a sharp breath and spoke loudly, eyebrows furrowing. “You knew that I was in love with my best friend even though I tried hard to keep that a secret. I did it because I knew he was in love with my other best friend—someone I loved like a sister, and some day…I’d come to love him so much that it hurt and I needed to tell him.”
In that brief moment, Bart wanted to look away to see the color drain from Wally’s face—to see the reaction that had formed, but Dick had a hold on him.
“What you were really asking instead…other than making my life ten times weirder than it has been—” Dick’s hands found themselves on his hips, pulling the younger teen closer until he picked the brunet up and placed him on the kitchen counter. “Was for me to fall in love with you instead, to keep that friendship intact. Because you love your cousin more than anything, and if I could shift my feelings, then I would still have my best friend.”
This time, Dick look embarrassed. He turned pink, and with each climbing word, Bart could feel himself turning darker, too.
“What you didn’t anticipate was for it to work. Or for you to fall for me, too.” Dick cupped his face, blue eyes locked solely on green. “I…love the way you laugh, even when it’s inappropriate. I love the way you light up when anyone talks to you. I love those little freckles that are on your nose—” To that, a round of high-pitched aww’s radiated through the room—Bart was pretty sure he heard Jaime’s voice in that, too. Dick rolled his eyes. “—I could kiss them. All of them. I love being able to hold you like this and knowing I have you.”
Bart’s lip dribbled. He’d never been one to cry—only have speed episodes, and he couldn’t deny feeling so flustered and touched that he was close to vibrating off the counter. It was hard, heart thrumming in his chest and focusing on the way Dick’s lips moved and hearing the audible words and not counting the glitter spots on his ex-boyfriend’s face.
“Imp,” Dick continued, his eyebrow peaked dangerously. He kissed Bart this time; on the top of his ear just the way the brunet loved it. “You’re the first person that I’ve fallen in love with after four years. And we get each other. Can you just…please stop running away and let me catch you?”
Wow. Wow. Grife.
The brunet sniffled, his hands fisting in the taller teen’s clothes as they rocked back and forth gently, swaying in Dick’s arms. “Can we take turns wearing the dress?”
It was enough for a sweet chuckle to tickle Bart’s ears. “Promise.”
Dick lowered his head and kissed him.
There were cheers. The way the team acted about Dick and he as a couple was never an exaggeration—the girls cooed, guys aw’ed, and there was even cake involved. Artemis threw her arms around both boys, giving twin kisses on the cheeks, followed by Miss Martian and others. Bart never expected for them to gain so much hype, but he spotted Tim, Jaime, and Conner giving Dick cautious looks and appreciative smiles. Cassie pulled him away, one-armed and high-fived him, BB was still confused on the whole Dick-Richard-DG thing. Wally looked as though he wanted to say something—but he held his tongue. Looking at his cousin cautiously, Bart wondered if Dick and he were going to discuss what just happened.
But after Dick tensed, nervously smiling to his best friend and Wally hugged him—platonically—he relinquished that thought. Dick would tell him if it was a problem.
They would stand by each other, hand-in-hand with a grip too tight because neither boy wanted the other to leave his side. Later that night, with odd festivities still going on and Wally fighting over the Wii with Gar, Bart sat contently on his boyfriend’s lap and played with the skirt of the dress.
“The team’s never gonna let you forget this.” Bart grinned quietly and kissed his boyfriend.
Dick sighed in his hair, petting Bart’s hips and moving his legs. His fingers ran down either side of the teen, pressing and unpressing against the dress shirt Bart wore. “It’s worth it if I get to have you.”
Wriggling in his position and ignoring the shouting matches during Mario Kart 8 (something Bart usually loved to play, but he loved sitting in Dick’s lap even more), Bart’s hand pressed tightly on his boyfriend’s inner thigh over the satin material and he moved his butt over Dick’s crotch. “We should go back to my room and you should take this off.”
Chuckle. Figures—usually the darker-haired teen shrugged off compliments like that.
“For real.” Bart climbed his lap and nuzzled his ear against Dick’s. “I’ll put on that Sailor Jupiter uniform for you. And forget to wear underwear.”
Dick shivered at the thought, turning a modest shade of pink that put Tim to shame.
Bart smiled. Things were totally back to normal. “Remember. Green makes my eyes pop.”
Nudge. Bart smiled shamelessly, swaying back and forth with Dick at his side, hands laced together as they enjoyed Chinese food at Happy Harbor. He was drunk with giddiness, a little lightheaded that his second Flash Family Get Together had gone much swimmingly, and had to bite back a giggle whenever Dick’s hand clamped on his thigh. In his defense, Dick had been the one to start the swaying. Who knew—the great Nightwing was totally able to relax.
At one in the morning after going on a brisk run, two Allens and a pair of best friends stopped by for Chinese food. Wally sat next to Barry, halfway through his dumplings (flawlessly using chopsticks even though Barry had given up halfway through the meal) and his eyes narrowed at the pair.
“So, you two are together again. For about two weeks now, and I haven’t deterred you a bit,” Wally announced as though it was a fact. It was.
“Which is good,” Barry added, and he scooped a spoonful of fried rice with no interest in eating it. In fact, Grandpa Barry looked between the couple with a smile that said, ‘I can’t find anything wrong with this, and even if I could, I’m not going to crash it.’
“Stop,” Dick murmured to Bart—a little goofy, since a speedster elbow was humming precariously on his lap.
“I get that you two are a couple and everything.” Wally opened his mouth, ushering himself to say more, but then stopped. He sighed. “You know what? I’m happy for the both of you, too. Now that Bart’s watched everything of Sailor Moon known to mankind—”
“Not in English!” Bart pointed out. He jabbed his spoon playfully in his cousin’s direction, then squirmed when Dick’s finger poked his belly. “I’ve got all the words committed to memory; every last make up! Now English.”
“You’re going to spend a good amount of time ranting how terrible it is,” Dick commented. His eyebrows knitted together thoughtfully, blue eyes amused. “It’s…not traught.”
“We’ll make it traught,” protested the brunet. He split into a grin and ate the rest of his stir-fry noodles. “We’ll crash the Sailor Mode. And you have to wear a top hat when you do it—and I’ll wear the seifuku! Just the way you like it.”
Before DeeGee had time to blush or Grandpa Barry could process what exactly just the way you like it meant, Wally had banged a fist into the table, grabbing the trio’s attention. He turned green, which was a little offensive but Bart knew he was still adjusting (stomaching) the fact his baby cousin and best friend were a thing.
And, Bart thought, if he played his cards right, then Dick and he would be a long thing.
“Okay,” Wally said again, and he took a swig of his Dr. Pepper. “I get it. You two are together. And I’m happy to see you two idiotically in bliss together—ifyoueverhurtmycousin or mybestfriend, blah blah, I’ll kick your butt. But—” Wally seethed, turning the brightest hue of red. “Whoever is playing footsies with me, can you please stop?”
Dick looked to Bart.
Bart looked to Dick.
Instantly their legs retracted and they glowed guiltily. Flirting, teasing, and touching intimately came easy and crashfully for them. It was only when someone called them out on it that Bart felt like the blushing virgin he was and Dick was trying to reassemble his pretense of a mature teenager-slash-adult.
So, “Sorry,” was a unison response, even if they didn’t feel guilty about it.
Later, when Bart finished his fifth meal of the day, Barry pulled him aside before Nightwing and he could leave. It was early on a Saturday morning, and in a handful of hours, Young Justice’s several squads would be assembled for a new mission. He looked to his bewildered grandson, a smile on his face while Wally and Dick chatted about something crash at the other end of the street.
They were cool, by the way. Bart returned his future grandfather’s smile, rocking on his heels as he remembered only the other day, Dick assured him indirectly-confessing-once-having-feelings-for-his-best-friend hadn’t severed a life-long connection. DeeGee was happily relieved and Wally, although thrown off at the thought (seriously? Bart wondered. Dick used to look to Wally like his cousin was his world. Now…those looks were reserved for him) thought very little of it. Bart watched as Wally pushed Dick playfully in the arm.
“Sorry that I haven’t had time for you lately.” The guilt brimmed in Barry’s tone and he touched Bart’s shoulder affectionately. “Between the League and getting ready for this pregnancy, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I forget.”
“Totally cool.” Bart waved his hand, though secretly, his heart fluttered with warmth. “Not very many expecting fathers have to dote on their grandson while expecting a child. Well. Unless you’re old and you still got it. Hmm.”
Barry looked torn between laughing and not knowing what to say. He chuckled a little, patting Bart on the back before throwing himself onto the tiny teen for a hug. Bart hugged back. “I’m glad. But you and I are gonna go on patrol when you get back from your mission. Okay?”
Bart could have run to the Himalayas and shouted ‘HOORAY’ at the top of his lungs from that comment. He looked to the man with large green eyes, similar to those above him before grinning. “Promise?”
“Promise, Little Bee.” Grinning, Barry ruffled his hair and then gestured to the pair, who seemed to notice grandfather and grandson were speaking and were waiting for the time to go by. “And about dating Dick…I’m happy for you about that too. I’m glad you found a place for yourself.”
“Oh. Um.” A bashful blush rose in Bart’s cheeks and he smiled shyly. He almost wanted to apologize again for acting giddy at the restaurant, but couldn’t. They spent the second Flash Family Dinner in glowing warmth, with Wally cracking jokes with both of them, Artemis kissing him on the cheek like an awesome older sister, and the Wests, Garricks, and Allens treating Dick and his relationship as though it was the most casual thing ever. The only time Bart was bummed was when Dick wrestled his hand out of the older teen’s pants. He couldn’t help it; saying grace around the table took forever.
“Uh…wow, I don’t know what protocol says for young grandpa and his future grandson…hmm.” Barry rubbed his chin. “Play nice. And don’t hurt him. Make sure he doesn’t hurt you. Don’t let it interfere with your school work and…oh! Be happy.”
Green eyes blinked to the wiser ones above him. Barry patted his shoulders gentle-heartedly, smiling to the younger speedster.
“You’re a good kid. And I know in the future, your parents probably would have said the same thing.” Combing a hand through blond hair, Barry took a step back and looked to Bart proudly. “Iris means a lot to me. As much as Artemis means to Wally and Joan to Jay. So…maybe it’s Nightwing, maybe it’s not. But it’s good to have an anchor. Something to run back to. You have me, your grandmother…”
“And now I have him,” Bart gathered. Just thinking about it made his chest tingle.
“Would have said it at the first family dinner too—you know, after getting over my shock.” Smiling firmly, Barry gestured over to the duo, then frowned and wagged his hand. “But remember! If he breaks your heart, don’t even hesitate to tell me. I know all the secret codes to the Batcave, and even if Bruce changes it, I’m very persistent. Very—”
“Thanks, Grandpa.” Bart flung his arms over the man and felt his heart swell with love. Disgruntled, Barry rearranged himself before hugging him back.
“Aw, who am I kidding,” mused the blonde speedster after an affectionate breath. “Your dad’s probably given you this talk, hasn’t he?”
No, Bart didn’t say. He nuzzled his head closer to Barry, pretending he hadn’t heard the question.
But fatherly love was timeless.
“What did he say to you?”
Since walking back to the cave, Bart had been cheerier than usual. Well—Dick smiled inwardly, watching as Bart unintentionally hummed with each step that he took, swinging their arms joyously since they opted to take the long way back to Mt. Justice—he’d been that happy since they were a couple again. The taller teen was beginning to wonder—and rejoice—in the fact Bart didn’t seem to have a maximum capacity on his zeal.
It was a strange…readjustment since they were a couple. A weight lifted off their shoulders after putting everything out in the open; one that Dick hadn’t even noticed was there. True, it was a big fat obvious duh that Wally’s opinion came into play about their relationship, but Dick hoped by now Bart understood they were together. No third entity was going to break them apart this time.
“Oh, you know. The Talk that all parents feel they need to give,” Bart chirped. He hopped to the top of his feet and pecked Dick on the cheek.
They tended to do that, even during mission briefings and debriefings—lazy kisses, holding hands, and groping where it was the least appropriate. Conner had to beat it in his head that he was the leader and molesting his boyfriend should be circumstantial and not become a regular thing.
“He thinks that you’re my anchor. And I like that thought. You’re a cool anchor.” Bart rocked on his heels brightly, twisting his flighty footing almost like a ballet dancer as they reached the entrance of the mountain and stuffed nimble fingers in his pockets. “If you flexed with your Nightwing suit on, the bird would totally look like an anchor. Or a dolphin. Ooh! You could be aquatic!”
“I don’t think—”
“Seawing!” Bart flapped his arms enthusiastically and circled his boyfriend, creating a tiny tornado at the taller teen’s feet. “You could squirt water and carry around a TASER!”
“You’re ridiculous.” Regardless, Dick laughed, even sparing a small giggle as the computer scanned their identities. Once in the middle of the room, Bart’s bubbly eyes sobered, amusement teeming in his irises and a beautiful smile that only made Dick…happy. He was really, really happy.
“So,” Bart said simply, his eyes gleaming.
“So,” Dick echoed. His hand was taken between two slim ones—a pair that never seemed to have calluses, but were scraped with oil under his fingernails. He wasn’t sure Bart even realized it, when the young brunet was able to marvel about cars and machines and the mechanics behind them, that he had the makings to become a fine engineer. It was a subject Wally begrudgingly admitted Bart and he bonded over quite well.
While he was busy marveling how long, oblong and delicate Bart’s fingers appeared to be, he didn’t notice his arm slipped to the small of Bart’s back. The tiny teen stepped on his leader’s blue TOMs and hooked both his arms around Dick’s shoulders. His stomach pressed against Dick’s own, and the look in green eyes was a little more than simply lewd.
It was amazing how Bart managed to flip the switch between bliss and arousal so easily; sometimes even blending the two together in casual conversation. But here, with mischief twinkling in his eyes and ears tingling pink with excitement, Dick knew he managed to keep at the same pace as the boy in front of him.
That in its own, being able to keep up with a speedster, was a talent. Bart’s eyes glimmered with all the heat and heaviness of the world, then contorted, like the little guy was asking himself, what shall I do with this now?
Dick had no problem lowering his head just slightly for Bart to reach his lips. The height difference between them was almost troublesome, but neither one seemed to notice. Bart had a ball comparing it to the height difference between Usagi and Mamoru and seemed to like dangling on limbs. There were certain…places the taller teen himself liked to reach, ways he liked Bart to straddle him that made this relationship all too pleasant.
He moaned softly, allowing Bart to suck on his lip, and ran his knuckles firmly down the speedster’s back. Dick took stumbling steps—carrying both Bart’s weight and his with their skin pulsing together. Bart clung to him needily, his hands clenching and fisting the front of Dick’s shirt and a sugary croon as his sloppy kisses pressed against the crook of the elder teen’s neck. When Bart pressed a kiss to the juncture of Dick’s neck, lips grazing at that tiny line where his jaw and ear met, Dick elicited a longer, drawn out moan. His hands found either side of Bart’s legs, hiking the teen higher and higher on his body.
When discovering such a pleasant sound, he could feel Bart grinning before the feathery touch of teeth grazed that same wet spot.
“You’re into it today,” Dick murmured. He caught Bart by the jaw and forced them into a clanging kiss. Bart tittered and undulated against him, fingers padding Dick’s thin v-neck. It was always true that the younger teen made most of the sexual advances—even before they were officially dating. Dick didn’t know when he would finally take his boyfriend seriously, but he knew that responding to one of these advances (on the rare occasion) meant he was telling Bart to jump and the response was, how high?
While one hand skillfully held Bart in place as they made clumsy steps out of the room, the other searched for bare skin, pulling up Bart’s thin long sleeve and cupping skin. He felt Bart gasp in his mouth, and made effort to grab the brunet by his bare thigh, if only to make him blush. It was one of their favorite past times; seeing who could make whom darker.
Suddenly, between rubbing up against the elder teen and exchanging spit Bart pulled away, leaping off of Dick altogether. His legs buckled, weak and fumbling and cheeks set ablaze. Emerald eyes were of a darker opacity and his breaths were warm. Bart’s hair stood up at different odds and ends, and the overall dazed expression made him nothing short of adorable.
They were lucky to be alone. By some twist of fate every soul in the premises was either knocked out on the couch from a successful move night or had turned to their quarters for the end of the evening. Wally said his goodbyes with Barry after (coincidentally) telling them not to do anything too extreme.
Dick didn’t plan to, he promised. It wasn’t a lie.
Still, Bart’s lips fumbled breezily and he raised a hand. “Hold that thought.” Zip!
A trail of clothes started at Dick’s feet. At first, a neon blue sock that touched his big toe through his own shoes, then a neon orange one. A pair of Reeboks littered the ground, one facing north and the other facing southeast, followed by pants—
Which was where Dick’s train of thought began putting two and two together. He hesitated—then picked up the laundry one-by-one, deciding that his teammates already had too much of a ball with his love life to begin with. One-by-one he picked up the garments that created a neat trail toward a guest bedroom at the very end of the hall. He tucked the socks in the shoes, slung Bart’s haplessly thrown pants over his shoulder, stuffed the shirt in his arm, then stopped at the foot of the door, where a pair of simple red boxers were on the ground, along with a classy door sign of Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus with the fancy scripture of, DO NOT DISTURB.
Dick’s heart throbbed in his chest. He opened the door (already unlocked; of course) slowly and was greeted graciously. Mood music from before even he was born played in the background. A rainbow assortment of candles—not necessarily scented—hung on the dresser, in the closet, at the foot of the bed, etcetera, while various weeds and flowers looking suspiciously from Miss Martian’s flowerbed were strewn onto the duvet.
Of course, tucked sweetly under the duvet, as relaxed as possible even for Dick’s standards was Bart, bare from head-to-toe with a pleasant blush and the slight tent that was very hard to miss.
Clothes still tucked in his arms, Dick closed the door behind him, amusement teeming in his features. “What’s this?”
He could have keeled over in cuteness, watching Bart’s lopsided/seductive smile as he bent over. A flush had worked its way from the tips of his cheeks down to his neck. “A romantic mood.”
“You have birthday candles sitting all across the room and Megan’s flowers at the bed. With the Back to the Future soundtrack playing from Wally’s iPod.”
Bart shrugged nonchalantly, moving his legs beneath the comforter and leaving much to imagination as he leaned into the bed frame. “Stripped before I thought about getting the flowers and the candles and stuff—didn’t think you would appreciate it if I suddenly showed up as the newest Speedster on the channel nine news—Streak. Plus, Marty McFly is hot!”
“That’s very considerate of you,” Dick mused.
“I’m a very considerate person,” Bart agreed. He licked his lips, and the duvet dipped low on his torso, pooling at his legs with little curls of brown becoming Dick’s new fixation. “So. We broke up.”
“We got back together.”
“And that calls for makeup sex.” By now, Bart was grinning like a madman, looking like a cross between horny and an eager scientist that hadn’t gotten enough skin in his days. It was almost a walking contradiction, how bluntly Bart just forwarded his question, and suddenly he was twisting under the blanket, his hand dipping to the unknown and the flush raising higher in Bart’s cheeks.
It was hard to find the line between comedic and hot—and also hard to find his voice. Dick stepped closer to the bed. He couldn’t deny the growing erection in his pants, or the fact he was suddenly holding those shoes tighter in his hands to keep his heart steady.
“We haven’t had makeup sex yet,” Bart murmured, his voice hoarse and deeper in a way the elder teen hadn’t known he could pitch it. He ran a hand up and down his chest—where Dick had seen plenty of times on and off the beach in several different contexts. “And I hear that’s the best kind.”
“Is that so?” Unabashed, Dick stared at his boyfriend, that annoying voice inside his head telling him to shut up and tackle.
“Well—I don’t have much to compare to. None at all. Not even the opposite of makeup sex or like, lazy morning sex, which I hear is good too.” The natural cheeriness rang in his tone, and the bare Bart leaned forward, mewling. “But I want you to be my first.”
Dick’s throat constricted. Softly, he managed an, “Oh.”
If it was ever possible for a person to look as shy as they were blunt, then Bart managed to do it. He had an extreme caliber of emotions and lay them out without fault. Sitting on the mattress now, fairly confident of his claim yet shoulders tense out of nervousness, Dick was reminded of their kiss in Palo Alto.
He kicked off his shoes, then climbed onto the bed, which dipped under his weight. Bart made room for him, allowing his leader at his side, and reached in for a welcomed kiss. Padding his fingers on the base of the speedster’s neck, Dick teased hair before pulling away, mind semi-fuzzy. Green eyes blinked curiously.
“No,” Dick said.
Blink. Blink blink. Blink blink blink. “What?”
“No,” the elder teen repeated, and this time he was confident when he found his voice. Before Bart’s ears could get any redder—mortified or angered or some combination of the two—Dick pulled Bart into his lap—bareness and all, and felt a little sadistic—especially since Bart looked closed to crying all over again.
“You don’t want me.”
“I want you.” Dick kissed Bart’s bangs, then stroked chocolate hair between his fingers. A pout formed across Bart’s face and he squirmed—Dick had to offer a quiet apology, knowing friction was a powerful enemy and, well, he couldn’t seem to stop moving. “But I want both of us to be ready when we have sex.”
A pointed look overtook Bart’s demeanor and he wriggled in Dick’s lap as if to do something. “I’m ready!”
“I’m not.” Sex could hurt; especially with a person who claimed they were emotionally ready when they clearly weren’t. In no way would Dick risk finding out if Bart was a masochist. Being on the receiving end of Bart’s glare of disbelief embarrassed him, but Dick was truthful. His cheeks were red and hands curled over Bart’s waist. “When we have sex, I…want to make you feel good. Amazing.” Thoroughly taken so even hyper-accelerated healing couldn’t hide away a good night of sex.
(He had a feeling if Tim looked at his thought process now—or hell, even Wally, he would wake up mysteriously in Cuba with a lethal-looking rash.)
As Bart started shivering, Dick grabbed the comforter and draped it over his boyfriend’s shoulders. Brown eyebrows knitted together, still unconvinced. “What about that kiss?”
Dick shrugged nonchalantly—it was a good kiss. However, it did not change the fact that they’d been together for two weeks—three, counting the week they were together after Bart’s accident. Without Bart constantly at his side, it was surreal remembering that they were together, and there was no denying they’d become a couple quickly. He wanted to savor every moment, to make sure every slow moment was carved in his boyfriend’s head. “Foreplay.”
“Ughh…you’re good at foreplay. Terribly good at it. And like, good with words because everything you say just sound like you’re about to sex me or something. Which is good.” Green eyes darted everywhere, the flush still evident in his cheeks, and he shuddered again. “You suck.”
Dick looked down Bart’s torso, unconsciously licking his lips. Maybe not penetration, but…“Is that why you’re still hard?”
“You make me very, very hard.” Bart’s voice was between a scold and a whine—not necessarily the typical naughtiness one would find in that sentence. However when it came to Bart, it usually had that affect on Dick.
“Okay,” the elder teen said. He threw Bart back onto the bed, allowing the shorter teen’s hair to mesh against the pillow, pinned him down, and proceeded with an enthusiastic kiss.
Bart wiggled free, making noises of surprise and eyes glossing in stun. He moved his head, eyebrow arched. “Okay?”
“I’m not going to fuck you,” Dick announced—maybe a little louder than he was comfortable with, and he silently wished there was a more eloquent way to say that to his very naked fifteen-year-old boyfriend as an equally horny eighteen-year-old. However, Bart thought nothing of it, only whimpering as Dick dipped low and wetly kissed his collarbone. “But—” He rolled his hips against Bart, the tips of his fingers grazing up Bart’s inner thigh and tickling sensitive skin. He grinned like an eager kid as Bart gasped and murmured softly, “that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make you feel good.”
“Oh…,” Bart managed, which morphed into a moan as Dick’s hand rubbed his nipple. “Oh—”
“So, what’s the score, Imp?” Dick grinned despite himself, his hand running firmly on the path beneath Bart’s navel before grabbing hold of a fervent erection. He kissed the space behind Bart’s ear, squeezing affectionately and pushing apart Bart’s legs for good measure. “If I remember…we weren’t even dating yet and somehow—”
“Y-You came in my hand,” Bart finished wantonly, flushed to a tee. He wriggled, gasping and writhing as Dick dared move at an agonizingly slow pace with kisses on his bare torso.
“Hmm?” Dick crooned, and he moaned himself as Bart’s hands clawed his shirt.
“W-We were…w-were stargazing a-and then we made out and…and I slipped my hand in your trunks while you were giving me th…that hickey a-and—” Bart’s breath hitched.
“Uhuh,” chirped the older teen. He rolled his hips, moving harder.
“And th-then…there was the h-hospital b—oh my god, Dick—ah…”
A few hours later, Dick patted Kleenex tissues on the wet spots of Bart’s torso, arm pooled for Bart to lie on. Hands roamed his chest languidly—simply touching and pressing and prodding to actually feel another person rather than to ask for another round. Speedsters had a very small refractory period. Who knew. Bart’s eyes were half open, body like jelly in the elder teen’s grasp. Dick had the manners to grab boxers for the both of them, then threw the tissue wads in the nearby waste basket.
He kissed Bart serenely, and chuckled quietly when Bart murmured crash in his hair.
“That was good,” he said, words half slurred.
“Thank you.” Smiling shamelessly, Dick leaned in, locking blue eyes to green.
“That was very good,” Bart echoed, and his hands found their way on Dick’s hipbone. They smushed together, belly-to-belly. He breathed in the musky scent of sex and buried his nose in bare skin. “Like. Wow. Grife. Crash. I love you.”
“I love you too.” The elder teen swooped down and grabbed his boyfriend in a kiss. He meant it. He loved Bart. Neither one bothered to mention it was the first time they’d said it directly. The look in Bart’s eyes were worth a thousand more I-love-yous until he lost his voice, and every time those three words were spoken, they would only carry more meaning.
A hand pressed against Dick’s chest, firm and sweet, and touched his pulse. The smile was lazy, tied with brightness and warmth that heated Dick to the toes.
“You sir, are a very good masturbatory device,” Bart crooned, faking a British accent.
Smiling coyly, the drowsy leader didn’t protest when Bart regained part of his energy and lay on top of him. “Is that even a word?”
“Please! You’re the king of words.” Bart’s hands strummed his chest, still feeling and searching. There was the way he looked to Dick, with green eyes shining and head raised high that took Dick’s breath away all over again. Suddenly, it softened, and Bart leaned forward, chest-to-chest with him. Their noses touched, the sheen of their gazes bouncing off each other. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Dick ran a hand across Bart’s tan back and threw the sweaty duvet above them. He smiled, gaze fixated on the younger teen.
“You…” a brunet eyebrow stretched hesitantly. “You think we can last this time?”
Dick strained his neck, pressing a soft kiss to his beloved’s face. Once planted, he stared into green eyes firmly and readjusted himself. “I know it’s better not to think about it. And that I’d crash the mode with you any day.”
There hadn’t been a good time to mention it earlier; how Dick managed to catch part of the conversation Bart had with his cousin weeks ago. The way Bart shined despite all odds…that was what fascinated him. Just like the family he had in the future, Dick wanted to be part of it. He wanted to be Bart’s anchor, keep him together, and know that he had more than just family to run to.
He was never the best at words. Being put in a dress made him puke out his feelings like he was a thirteen-year-old kid all over again.
Green eyes glittered as though instantly reassured. Bobbing his head up and down, he pressed his chin to Dick’s chest, ears bashfully pink. “Right. Sorry. Speedster jitters. AndwhenIgetspeedsterjittersIget—I like you. I really like you. Like—”
The door opened. Of all the times Dick forgot to recite a lockdown code, Blue Beetle barged into the room, furious. “BART! Did you eat all of my Chicken Whizees aga—”
“I’m going to walk out of this room now,” said the Hispanic teen slowly, his accent suddenly becoming thicker, “and forget I saw this.” SLAM.
The door slowly opened again.
“Uh, and—Superboy says it’s time for the mission.”
“We’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” Dick assured.
“Uh. Right.” The door slammed again, the whir of Blue Beetle’s wings buzzing in the hall and a cry of, “No! That’s weird, but they are not a threat! No they aren’t! No they—!”
Once the voice faded away, the couple was left in their own ministrations. Bart rocked on his boyfriend’s torso before falling to his back and whistling. “I should buy him some more Chicken Whizees.”
A laugh illuminated from the back of the elder teen’s throat. “I like you too, Bart.” He held Bart close, this time tangling fingers in his hair and squeezing tightly. “And I’m here for you. Right where I should be.”
A grin matched his own. In a blur of sparkle and red, Dick found a mask pressed to his face, with black Kevlar thrown in his direction. Impulse stared him in the face, goggles in all with arms at his side. “How long do you think it’ll take before the team knows?”
“Yikes.” Bart kissed him happily, held a ‘V’ to his forehead, and grinned. “C’mon, Tuxedo Mask! We’ve got a beetle to shut up!”
Dick followed behind without a second thought.