Dick has a good life. He knows this. He lives in a beautiful, sprawling villa in Southampton with a beautiful, sprawling family and friends he would never hesitate to die for. He has a quarter of a billion dollars to his name and has been told, repeatedly, that he has good looks, nature and character.
And when the colour of your skin says untrustworthy to a lot of the world and your body is a lie you never chose to tell, but you can still lay claim to all of that – more, even – you can’t call life anything but the best. So Dick smiles a lot, laughs a lot, and never complains, because people with good lives have no right to.
He doesn’t complain when Bruce chooses Harvard for him. And on the flight home for his first summer back from college, he doesn’t even consider complaining once he touches down. What he does do is picture the scene that will welcome him at home, and he pictures it with the dull conviction that the reality of it wouldn’t even try to disappoint him.
He has a good life. He knows this.
He remembers, out of the blue, having read in a book or a journal or a magazine, What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such.
It’s 1989, and it’s the end of history. Jason used to quote somebody – Yeats or Eliot, Dick thinks, but isn’t sure – about the end that would come, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
The relief hurts more than if someone had gutted him with a knife and then twisted it. It’s in Alfred’s eyes when he picks Dick up at the airport, takes his bags with a firm no, Master Richard, I insist. It’s in the loud pattering of feet the instant he steps through the dark, looming cast-iron gates of home, which materialises into two ten-year-olds barrelling toward him, two little heads colliding with his stomach, two eager sets of arms wrapping around as much of him as they can reach. (Hey, Tim. Hey, Cassandra. I missed you, too.)
It’s in the tall, imposing mahogany of the door to the study opening by a hair’s breadth, Bruce placing a hand on the receiver of the telephone and saying, under his breath, Give me a minute – which is the first anyone has seen of him in days.
And Dick appreciates the warm welcome. He does. It feels good to be missed. Or it ought to.
But when Bruce comes outside for dinner – they’ve laid out a feast by the pool, and even Alfred isn’t eating alone, for once – there’s genuine, startled surprise in Tim’s face, and Cass beams in her quiet way, and Alfred’s eyes slide toward Dick for the briefest second, something close to gratitude in them.
Dick’s not hungry, all of a sudden.
“When did you say they were coming back, Alfred?” he asks. It must have been blurted out, out of the blue, but no one questions it. No one would. Dick means the new nanny and Damian, and they all know he’s nothing short of obsessed with the baby.
“Not long now, Master Richard.”
“Don’t hog Damian from Maxine too often this summer,” Bruce speaks up in his half-sardonic way. “We don’t want her to get bored and quit.”
Dick laughs. “I refuse to make that promise.”
A small smile pulls at one corner of Bruce’s lips. He needs more smile lines, Dick thinks. He needs to do that more often, and much less surreptitiously.
The thought feels like guilt.
When Maxine returns a moment after, Dick introduces himself, comments that Alfred has really outdone himself with the food, and takes Damian from her when she agrees to sit and eat. He’d worried that Damian wouldn’t recognise him at first – he’s fussy with strangers, tends to scream if they pick him up – but the instant he’s in Dick’s arms, he squeezes Dick’s face all over with his chubby little fingers. Dick presses his nose against his. “Missed you, kiddo.”
“The thing is,” he says. (Dick and Damian are alone on the porch, the one that faces the gates. Damian’s bushy eyebrows have always given him a serious look, so Dick tells him serious things. It feels like he understands.) “The thing is, it isn’t just relief. There’s an accusation in there, somewhere.” Dick pauses to let Damian grab at his finger and mouth it; he’s teething. “You know I didn’t want to leave.” But that’s a lie. “I didn’t have to leave.” True enough. Dick is the eldest and would inherit first, college degree or no college degree.
(There are six bedrooms in the villa: one for Bruce, one that Tim and Cassandra share, the temporary nursery that will be Damian’s room, someday, one for Dick, a spare for if Aunt Kate is in town or if Duke and Harper and Cullen get bored of Steph— and one that no one enters because it smells. It smells because no one enters. It still has a sheet of paper pasted across its door, incongruent with its luxurious surroundings, with faded, bold letters on it that read: JASON’S. DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT PERMISSION.)
“I had to leave,” Dick whispers.
“Bruce, who rented the Monte Cottage this year?” Dick asks over breakfast the next morning. Real estate on the Hamptons costs a certain amount that only a certain kind of people can afford. This means that they’re likely to – if not know, at least know of – whoever is moving in for the summer.
It’s simple curiosity besides. The holiday cottage is right across from the villa, and belongs to friends of Bruce who rent it out for the summers for “extra income” that they don’t need. With the beach as its literal backyard, it’s fairly popular, and hasn’t spent a summer empty for as long as Dick can remember. Because he has a good view of the ocean from his bedroom window, he also has an excellent view of the front porch of the cottage. Dick wants to know what he can expect to see.
“Oliver Queen,” Bruce answers without looking up from the morning paper. Dick hums, intrigued. He’s heard of Oliver Queen. California royalty. Eccentric, judging from the news coverage. Like Bruce, he seems to have a penchant for taking orphans in.
Dick had been curious about Roy Harper as a child, had wondered, idly, how similar their experiences were. Except that had been when Roy was first adopted, at twelve years old, and Dick had been about ten himself, only a year into his new life. As he grew older, the scandalous headlines and gossip that travelled all the way to the opposite coast would convince him that they were nothing alike.
Bruce interrupts his thoughts, clearing his throat and setting his paper down. “Do you want to— we can take the boat out? After breakfast?” he asks, half of the sentence in Dick’s direction and the other half in Tim’s, who’s been quietly completing a jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen counter.
Dick’s heart sinks, and the crestfallen look on his face is no charade. “I’d love to, I mean it, I really would, it’s just that I promised to head down to Montauk to meet up with everyone… they’ve been expecting me for a while, I wrote Wally a week ago…” And it’s a shame, the one time Bruce willingly suggests doing something not work-related together as a family. “But you and Tim can still go,” Dick suggests, hope in his voice. “You could even take Damian with Maxine? Maybe wait until Cass gets back from—”
“I understand. That’s alright.”
This means the plans have been tabled. Dick slides a nervous glance toward Tim, who’s retreated to his puzzle again. Is he hurt? Dick can’t tell. Possibly not – Tim and Cassandra are too young and new to remember that Bruce, the one who did like to take the boat out often, almost every weekend, who agreed to camp on the beach and had more smile lines. Dick’s Bruce.
You can’t miss what you never had, Dick reassures himself, but he spends some time with Tim after breakfast regardless.
He tells him about Lori, because that kind of talk would make Tim feel grown-up. He doesn’t tell him about Lucas, because that kind of talk, according to the world, would just be too grown-up.
On the way to Montauk, Dick stops at a convenience shop to buy something small for the change he needs. That’s when he sees him. He would have caught Dick’s attention regardless, because he’s handsome in that unambiguously masculine way that no amount of reading Gender Outlaw can make Dick less jealous of, but it still helps to pique his interest when he turns around after having paid for his purchases at the counter and Dick gets a good look at his jacket.
The jacket itself is nothing special, leather, probably, but Dick’s eyes are fixed on the badges. Some of them are harmless – band logos and anarchy symbols – but some of them are rainbows, pink triangles, or the words: ACT UP, BiPOL, HALF GAY, and whole sentences that Dick is too far to read.
His first thought: that takes guts. Might as well put a target on your back. It would have been a more common sight further down the East End, Fire Island, maybe, but here? People would talk.
His second thought: this stranger could pass for Wally’s brother. There are subtle differences – his close-cropped red hair is closer to proper ginger than Wally’s strawberry-blond, he has fewer freckles, the green of his eyes is sharper, brighter – but he could, easily. He’s bigger, though; Dick can tell that if he puts on more muscle, in a couple years he’d be twice Wally’s size. And he has piercings, at least three on one ear, plus one on his bottom lip that creates a tight crease right down the centre.
Dick returns his attention to the shelf in front of him, picking up a random candy bar.
When he looks up again, it’s pure chance that it happens right as the stranger lifts a pack of cigarettes and slips them into his pocket, his hands too quick for anyone else to have noticed.
It must have been for a second too long, because those striking green eyes catch his. It’s too late to look away. Instead, Dick can only follow their gaze, up and then down and then up again, a helpless reflex more than intentional appraisal, Dick thinks, because it isn’t immediately followed by a leering grin.
At least not until a moment after, when the stranger’s eyes slide toward the bulge created by the pack of cigarettes in his pocket, almost in realisation, and then he gives Dick a dangerous grin, and places a finger against his lips in the universal gesture for quiet, and winks.
He steps past Dick, out the door. Just like that, he’s gone, taking the novelty of the moment with him.
Dick blinks, surprised. “Really?” he says. “I heard about Oliver Queen, but not—”
“No, it’s definitely true,” Wally answers with a sagely nod. “It turns out Barry’s friends with the guy, Oliver Queen, I mean, and he said. Roy Harper’s moving in, too.”
Their table goes silent in the way that means it’s a result of gossip just juicy enough to shock. The Hummingbird, the bar and grill by the docks that they’re currently in, has been their favourite haunt for as long as Dick can remember. It used to be just him and Wally and Donna and Garth whenever Garth isn’t in the hospital, then Dick had started going out with Kory, so she and her friends became a part of the team, too – Vic and Gar and Raven. And even when Kory had left Dick for Donna, the group stayed together. It helps that he and Kory are still friends, though Dick never understands when the fact shocks people. Kory’s a great woman, and he and Donna are two halves of the same soul, so it’s only natural that they’d fall for the same person.
It’s funny, Dick’s dated the daughter of the owner of the establishment, too, Babs – Barbara Gordon – but she’s never been one of them, for some reason, although they get along. She’s head over heels for their bartender, Dinah Lance, except she doesn’t know it. Sometimes Dick wants to yell it at her just so that she does something before Dinah gets snatched up. She’s gorgeous. She would in no time.
He asks the question on everyone’s mind: “Why do you think he’s moving in, too?”
“Well, there’s nothing weird about a family vacation,” says Donna, but she sounds sceptical. Kory, one arm around her girlfriend’s waist, wrinkles her nose as well.
“It’s weird if you’re older than eighteen and your other two siblings aren’t coming along.” Wally taps the table absently. “Wait, how old is he? Babs’ age?”
“Babs, how old are you?” Gar yells, leaning back on his chair so his head is closer to the table where Barbara is sitting alone, hunched over a spread-out newspaper.
“Shut-the-fuck-up-when-I’m-doing-the-crossword years old.”
“She’s twenty-one,” Dick obliges. “Just the two of them? Are you sure? I thought Oliver Queen was married.”
“Bonnie King divorced him, like, a year ago, Dick, keep up.” Donna rolls her eyes.
“I’m sorry that I don’t read gossip rags,” Dick counters, batting his eyelashes at her, sarcastic. She sticks her tongue out at him.
“Here’s my theory.” Wally leans in, and everyone unconsciously follows. “That bullshit in the papers about boarding school was a cover-up. Come on, all those crazy parties and the drinking and the drugs? He must have been sent to rehab. So Oliver makes him come along because he can’t be trusted on his own. See?”
“I can’t take it anymore.” Gar groans. “I’m throwing a party.”
Kory blinks. “What?”
“You heard me, gorgeous. A welcome home party for this guy.” He jabs his thumb in Dick’s general direction (Dick feels so loved, he thinks sarcastically). “And then Wally, if your uncle and this Queen guy are as chummy as you say, then you can invite Roy Harper.”
“The chummy thing! Come on, you’ll probably have dinner together or something soon, right?” Gar sighs. “We’re all curious about this character, aren’t we?”
There are murmurs of agreement, so Wally caves and promises. Dick has to admit that the idea of it lifts the ennui for a moment. He’ll finally have a face to attach to the name.
“I want to see Garth,” Dick says after lunch, so they go to see Garth, him and Donna and Wally. The days of hospitalisation seem to outlast the days of remission now. They don’t talk about it.
“You’re back.” Despite looking like death warmed over, Garth beams from his bed. Dick gives him a hug that’s a little too tight.
Garth slips the swollen fingers under his sheets and says, “Tell me about Boston,” and Dick swallows away the lump in his throat and smiles and nods and obliges.
(“What does it feel like,” Dick had asked him once, younger and less conscious of being blunt about these things, “Knowing that you’re dying?” – and Garth had only shrugged. Said, “What does it feel like, pretending that you’re not?”)
He watches them arrive, later that night, but it’s too dark outside to be able to make out distinct faces when the cottage is surrounded by cars and movers’ vans. Damian shrieks from the next room, suddenly, and Dick rushes inside to go find him.
Gar wastes no time with the party – it’s set for the following night. “What did you expect?” Gar had said to Dick on the phone. “If it’s a welcome home party for you, it would be weird to throw it, like, a week after you got back or something, right?”
With that kind of timeframe, Dick doubts that Wally can keep his promise, but when he calls him, Wally proves Dick wrong.
“I didn’t even have to ask,” Wally says. “Oliver wanted me to show him around. Also I heard him telling Barry— something along the lines of Roy needing good kids like me for friends? That’s a point for my rehab theory, huh?”
“What’s he like?” Dick asks, curious.
Wally snorts. “Full of himself.” He pauses. “Then again, like father, like son, I guess.”
The best person in their group to throw parties of the non-uptight-rich-person kind is Gar, for multiple reasons. He’s fun-loving, first of all, and second of all, his parents are almost always busy travelling the world for business and pleasure alike, giving Gar a free run of the mansion most of the time.
Third, he’s dating Vic, who’s twenty-one and buys their alcohol.
Dick doubts that half the people he can see through his car window even know why the party is happening – or care. The advantage of being nouveau riche, as Alfred calls it, is that Gar knows and can relate to people from both sides of the class divide. As he parks and climbs up the stairs, Dick recognises acquaintances from in and around Southampton, but also friends who live in Montauk, people he’s met through Donna and Kory and Wal.
Theirs is an eclectic bunch in the truest sense of the term, Dick thinks. There’s Dick and Gar, and Garth’s adoptive parents are politicians, and Raven is an actual, honest-to-god Rajput princess. But then there’s also Kory and Wally and Donna, who don’t have their kind of money, but who, arguably, hold the group together. And there’s Vic, who’s kind of an in-between, with his father in the space program and all.
Dick gets along with Vic and Gar and Raven just fine, but he’s closer to the others. Sometimes he thinks money makes people colder, unable to connect with each other beyond a surface level. He used to be different, after all, he’s sure of it. Before he lost his parents. Before Bruce.
Now all he knows how to do is smile and laugh and not complain, but the thought gets too close to complaining for comfort, so he shoves it aside.
“There he is,” Donna says when he enters the foyer, spotting him in spite of the people milling around between him and the staircase. She beckons, and he follows her into the dining room.
The stranger from the convenience shop is standing with his friends.
Dick puts two and two together, and almost laughs aloud.
Roy Harper glances up. There’s faint recognition in his eyes, too, and Dick watches the same amusement dancing in them. “Oh, hey, Dick.” Wally gestures. “Roy, this is—”
“Dick Grayson, I know.” His voice has a subtle hoarse quality to it that Dick doesn’t expect; it’s deeply attractive. He holds out a hand. “Hi. I think we’re neighbours.”
“Hi,” Dick returns, taking it.
Wally looks relieved that he isn’t alone with Roy anymore, and says something about getting drinks. He slips away from them a little hastily. “I should have recognised you,” Dick says, chuckling wryly. “You look a little different in the photos, in the magazines and all? But now I see it.”
“You didn’t? I recognised you.” Roy grins. “So I guess you’re wondering why someone like me would be robbing petty stores for a smoke, huh.”
“I guess I am.” Dick smiles.
“Well, first of all, I don’t spend Ollie’s money, so let’s get that straight.” Roy makes a quick, fluid gesture with his fingers, snap and then point, it’s smooth, suave, cool. “Second, that guy didn’t like my jacket.”
“You always shoplift when you’re insulted?”
“Only if it’s for the things that count.” Roy smirks. “I hear this party is for you.”
“It’s for you, actually,” Dick says, just to see how he’d take the news. “I’m only the excuse. Everyone’s dying to know more about the newcomer, and… well, your reputation precedes you.”
Roy arches an eyebrow. “How far?”
“Far enough.” Dick sizes him up. Roy isn’t what he had expected him to be. Dick can see how Wally could call him full of himself – there’s a certain self-assuredness, an attitude, that he carries himself with, and it’s devoid of defensiveness, so it comes across as almost condescending. Like he’s too cool for everyone here. Like he and the universe share a joke that no one else is in on. “But the tabloids have called my father everything from a prodigy to a paedophile,” Dick continues. “So rest assured, I like to make my own mind up about people.”
The sharp edge to Roy’s smile disappears, mellowing some. “Thank you,” he says, and Dick can hear that he means it.
Dick likes him.
“You recognised me,” Dick says, the thought occurring to him all of a sudden. “How come? I don’t like my picture taken. There must be— what, one, two out there?”
Roy’s laugh sounds incredulous. “Uh, have you looked in a mirror lately?” he counters. “A face like that – one photograph or a million – it’s unforgettable.”
Donna pulls him away into the living room to dance when You Spin Me Round comes on. The doors to the dining room have been thrown wide open, so Dick can still see what’s happening there, Gar and Roy chatting, Vic drinking, Wally looking bored.
“Your heart’s not in it,” Donna yells over the music, and her smile is teasing, mischievous.
Dick tears his eyes away.
Donna and Kory start dancing to a slow song, after, so Dick heads into the kitchen for refreshments. He’s about to enter the living room by that door, when he hears Roy’s distinct voice – “You have some seriously attractive friends. Donna— and Kory, I mean, Jesus, Kory…”
“They’re lesbians. And dating each other,” Wally’s voice answers; he sounds irritated. Roy either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
“Lesbians are so fascinating.” A pause. “What about Dick, what’s his deal?”
Oh. Dick’s flattered, and more than a little relieved that he hadn’t read Roy’s intent wrong from the start. He enters the room, right behind the two of them. Roy doesn’t even seem abashed, it makes Dick want to play his game, to prove to be his equal. “He’s single,” Dick says, his voice faux-innocent.
Roy grins. “And interested?”
Dick shrugs, smiling right back. “And considering,” he corrects him.
“I was watching you…” Roy nods at the crowd still dancing in the living room. “You move like jazz, baby, all sex and no sleaze.”
Heat shoots right up to Dick’s cheeks, but he remembers his resolve to prove Roy’s equal, and so he only laughs. “I didn’t realise I was talking to a poet.”
Roy smirks. “Songwriter. Close enough.”
“…I am too straight for this conversation,” Wally mutters. He shakes his head at Dick, half fond and half exasperated, and makes for the kitchen.
Dick glances up at Roy through his eyelashes. It’s a look made for stronger men than Roy Harper, and Dick’s rewarded with the slightest hint of a swallow, a struggle for composure. “Not to be that guy, but.” Roy makes a pointed gesture. “Can I get you a drink?”
“I don’t drink. I’m not legal, besides.”
“Can I get you alone?”
“Depends on your… intentions.”
Roy raises both hands, like, Scout’s honour, or something. “Stargazing and conversation.”
Dick laughs. “Well, in that case.” He raises one shoulder, up then down. “Lead on.”
It has never been so easy to talk to someone. Dick’s words run away from him, and he has to make a conscious effort to stop himself before he can say too much, several times. “I’m not this annoying, usually, I swear.” Dick laughs. “You’re a good listener.”
“No, please. You were too quiet before.” Roy smiles. Without the posturing, his smiles are actually really charming, still with that touch of playfulness, but much more genial. “Where do you go? For college. Somewhere fancy, huh.”
Roy wrinkles his nose. “Really?”
Dick chuckles. “Is it that hard to believe?”
“The Harvard part, not at all. I see it.” Roy nods at Dick’s outfit. “It’s the Business part, but I don’t know. I don’t know you all that well yet, so.”
“I like it,” Dick lies. “Have you never considered— I mean, who gets the Queen Industries CEO chair if Oliver were to…”
“Oh, Ollie doesn’t get involved.” Roy chuckles. “He just owns it. Hates that kind of thing.”
Dick blinks. “Um, is that safe?”
“Not at all. I’m counting down to the day he gets double-crossed by one of those bastards and loses his fortune. Honestly? I think he’d like that.” Roy rolls his eyes. “So is that why you’re doing it? You’re preparing to…”
Dick nods, smiling wryly. “Someone has to.”
“The distance between has and wants is a million miles, kid.” Roy gives him a pitying look.
“I like it, really,” Dick insists. “I mean, what else would I do with my life?”
Roy shrugs. “Live it.”
Dick realises too late that his mouth has fallen open, and he hastily closes it.
It’s gratifying to see that Dick isn’t the only one getting carried away by whatever this spark between them is. The more they talk, the more Roy starts to seem human, tripping over his words, laughs becoming loud, eyes sparkling. Several times, people try to come out to the balcony, but then they see the two of them lost in the moment and turn around.
Roy starts talking about music, and he bursts into life.
“And you can’t— you can’t deny that the Beatles shaped the industry as we know it today. Love them or hate them— and I’m not a fan, personally, I’m more of a Dylan person— Bob Dylan—”
“God, Roy, I know who Bob Dylan is.”
Laughter. “Right. And they— I mean, they were the first ones to use more than your generic instruments in their music, you know? They brought in orchestras, experimented with synthesisers, hell, they invented metal music… Helter Skelter, nobody had ever sung like that before. So they dominated the music industry, no one else got a shot, and then they broke up, right, and it, like, what’s the word, it created a power vacuum? I mean, sure, you have the mediocre music of the previous decade, Queen excluded, but that’s because everyone was still holding on to that, that hope that the Beatles would get back together. Then John gets shot and that becomes a sure impossibility, right, so then this happens— the ’80s, the golden age of rock music. And it’s because of the Beatles. All of this latent talent, fighting it out for the throne they vacated. See?”
Dick’s a little lost, shaking his head in amused confusion. “I don’t know, I think I always just liked Paul…”
Roy makes a frustrated gesture. “You can’t pick a favourite, Dick, that’s missing the point. The magic they created— there’s a reason why none of them could replicate it in their solo careers. I mean, who writes stuff like that? Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. God is a concept by which we measure our pain— who writes stuff like that?”
“You’ve been spilling gems yourself all night long.”
“I had a Muse.” Roy winks. “Anyway— they’re gold, they should have been great songs, but they’re Lennon solos, so they’re missing that McCartney melody. Meanwhile, all of us are humming, something, something, silly love songs, the stupidest lyrics in the world, right? But it’s fucking catchy.”
Dick nods. “The magic was in the whole.”
Roy looks pleased, and nods as well. “Man meets moment. Or, well, in their case— man meets man.”
Dick laughs under his breath. “So you believe in things like that? Fated encounters?”
Roy’s smile grows wide, splits his face, almost. “Tell me you’re flirting with me,” he says. “I haven’t had a lucky break in years, make my night, pretty one…”
And Dick can only laugh again. It comes out startled. “How do you just say things like that? Goodness.”
Roy only shrugs and grins, unapologetic. Dick shakes his head.
“Half the room had its eyes on you when you walked in,” he says. “And you weren’t exactly turning away, either. I know trouble when I see it.”
Roy clutches his chest in mock appal. Dick laughs.
“Well, you’re in luck.” He bites his lip, meets Roy’s eyes head on. “I don’t have much of a sense of self-preservation, see.”
Roy smiles and steps closer. Closer still. There isn’t a kiss, but there’s the promise of one, in his eyes and the brush of his thumb against Dick’s lips.
The rest of the night stays quiet.
“Have you been drinking?” Bruce asks. It’s a valid question – Dick hasn’t been this chatty in years, not since— well. And it almost feels like it, too; he’s giddy and there’s a feeling in his chest so overwhelming he thinks his heart is about to burst.
“You know I don’t, it was just a fun time, that’s all. I missed them…”
Nothing good happens this fast, he tells himself. Nothing good ever happens this fast.
He opens his eyes to the sunlight touching his pillow and his turned-up wrist; across the inside of it, in black ink, is scrawled a string of numbers. Dick lingers in bed for a minute and memorises them so he can wash them off later.
The smell of ocean air is drifting in through the open balcony doors, and a sudden breeze pushes the curtain forward in a billowing wave so high it almost touches Dick’s face. The morning feels full of promises, somehow, and as he slips out of bed he catches himself humming.
Later finds him curled up on the blue-cushioned couch, one hand holding the telephone up to his ear and the other idly twirling its cord. “I’ll be seeing you later,” Roy’s voice tells him. “Ollie and I got an invite to dinner from your old man.”
“Tonight?” Dick’s breath catches. He finds himself, ridiculously, thinking about what to wear.
“Tonight,” Roy confirms, and there’s a smile in his voice. “I can’t wait to see you again.”
Dick laughs quietly. “Oh, you probably tell everyone that.”
But six o’ clock still feels simultaneously millennia away and too soon to prepare for. When Dick makes a subtle comment about Bruce being social outside of work, for once, Bruce tells him the idea had been Lucius’s, which means there is an ulterior motive to this get-together, after all. He doesn’t have room for disappointment in his mind at the moment, however. He steals another glance at the clock.
And then it’s time. There are the headlights through his window, the doorbell, the sounds of polite laughter and conversation.
He distrusts Oliver already. It’s something about his eyes. They’re the same shade of blue as Bruce’s, but Bruce has kind eyes, the sort that had once made even a traumatised child who’d just lost his parents feel safe, in spite of the man’s otherwise intimidating demeanour. Oliver’s, on the other hand, are cold. Dick gets the impression that he can be cruel if he needs to be. There’s the same air of amusement around him that Dick had felt in Roy, but it lacks the playfulness of Roy’s, and feels, instead, like Oliver’s judging the world, and it will never meet his standards.
“—And this is my eldest.” Bruce rests a hand on Dick’s shoulder, and Dick smiles obligingly.
“Dick, right? Roy mentioned you.” Oliver gives him a smile and a quick handshake. Behind him, Roy rolls his eyes, and then he catches Dick’s and hides a grin. Dick deliberately lingers when the adults and his siblings make their way into the hall so he can fall in step with Roy.
“Come here often?” he whispers, biting back a smile.
Roy shakes with quiet laughter. “I will now.”
“So you mentioned me, huh.”
“I told him how I took a walk in the woods one day and caught a pretty little bird…”
Tim, a few steps in front of them, glances up, curiosity in his wide eyes. “What kind of bird?” he asks.
Roy gives Dick a considering look, and then a smirk. He turns to Tim, and there’s a very good estimation of seriousness in his voice. “It was a blue jay.”
Dick tries not to laugh. “Wasn’t it a robin?”
“It was a blue jay that was so modest it believed it was a robin.”
Tim wrinkles his nose. “You’re weird.”
“Aw, thanks, kid. I try.” Roy turns to Dick again. “Nice place you guys got.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Dick smiles. “It used to be parish land. Gardens and a chapel. The villa was built in the ’60s, I think, by some movie star or the other.” They pass the parlour, which Roy peers into with some confusion.
“I’m guessing the other one was the morning room— oh, a separate music room, too, huh— wait, billiards? Where’s your dining room? You guys lounge more than you eat?”
Dick chuckles. “No, we dine al fresco usually. This place was built to be contemporary traditional or whatever, so, you know. For authenticity’s sake. But breakfast is acceptable in the kitchen.”
“I mean, if we’re going for authentic, used to be they wore a lot less in Ancient Rome.” Roy grins. Dick colours, and elbows him.
Ahead of them, Oliver and Bruce seem to be discussing the architecture as well. “How much does it cost to even just heat the whole place?” Oliver is asking. Dick doesn’t like his tone, and if he can catch it, he knows Bruce has, too.
“A bit.” Dick can picture Bruce arching an eyebrow.
“Kind of wasteful, don’t you think?” Oliver says, with a chuckle that does nothing to soften the words. “But, hey. It’s not like you personally designed it, right. We just happen to live in a culture of excess – if you got it, flaunt it.”
The sarcasm in his voice is cutting. Dick’s shocked by the brazenness of it. Oliver’s upbringing betrays itself in how he twists his words so that the insult is implied, but it’s still, clearly, there.
At dinner, things only escalate. Dick wants to continue getting distracted by Roy playing footsies under the table with him, but Oliver’s still talking about the expenses of maintaining the villa, and when the words carbon footprint come up, Dick knows it won’t end well. He hasn’t met anyone who’s been able to rile Bruce up before, but Bruce’s patience is very visibly wearing thin.
“—I mean, with how Wayne Enterprises has a finger in every pie and all…” Oliver shrugs. “Running a company of Orwellian proportions like yours, shouldn’t you consider your responsibilities?”
Bruce sets his fork down. Dick tries not to flinch. “I’m sure there’s a lot that we can be accused of. Clearly.” Bruce sounds curt. “But we’ve never been war profiteers, so there is that.”
The table goes silent, except for the sounds of Tim’s and Cass’s cutlery moving, blissfully ignorant. Dick knows what Queen Industries has been involved in, everyone does. Oliver’s eyes flash.
“So, Bruce. Dick tells me some old movie star used to own the place, that true?” Roy’s smile is so amiable, it’s easy to believe that he really hadn’t heard what Bruce had just said. Relief and a not insignificant amount of gratitude rush through Dick.
He gives Roy a surreptitious smile. “It was, uh, what was her name? Alma something.”
Roy takes his cue, and the pair of them steer the rest of the conversation toward safer territory.
After dinner, Dick heads upstairs to check on Damian, and first stops by his room for a breather. Oliver and Bruce are still pulling a charade of pleasantries downstairs – it’d have been rude for their guests to leave right away – and Dick trusts the need to keep up appearances to stop them from further passive-aggressive trash-talking. He steps out onto the balcony and breathes in the ocean air, and then he hears a distinct voice from below.
“Let down your hair?”
Dick gives Roy a smile. “Hold on, I’ll be right with—”
“No, just back up a little,” Roy answers, doing so himself.
“Can you make it?” Dick asks even as he does as he had been told.
Roy takes a running leap, and he finds his grip on the marble with ease. “Colour me impressed,” Dick says, smiling as Roy pulls himself up and onto the balcony. Roy returns it.
“Our dads hate each other.”
Dick chuckles and reaches for Roy’s face. “Wherefore art thou Oliver’s.”
“He’s not a bad person, I swear.” Roy sighs. “It’s an Ollie thing. Worst foot forward.”
“Shouldn’t that be best foot forward?”
“Nope – worst foot forward,” Roy insists, sighing again. “Ollie does it on purpose when he meets new people. Helps him suss out the real friends from the hypocrites, apparently. See, with him, it’s all about allegiances. You’re either on his side or not. So he likes to make his side obvious as early as possible. Save himself the time.”
“You sound like you disapprove.”
Roy shrugs. “I agree with his ideas. It’s just that I believe in fighting institutions, not people. Why make enemies when you can have friends?”
Dick leans up and presses his lips against Roy’s, gentle.
Roy smiles when he parts. “…Then again, why have friends when you can kiss them.”
Dick lets Roy lead the next one, languid and warm as the summer days. He wants to make it last, but he also doesn’t want to answer questions about swollen lips, so he has to nudge Roy back, a hand on his chest, smiling softly. “Not that I’d say no to going on forever, but…”
Roy chuckles. “Hop over the wall tomorrow, we’ll take our time on the beach. Say, early in the morning, before other people start showing up?”
“It’s a date.” Dick smiles wide. “Come on, let’s finish your tour of the place.”
It takes all of five seconds after Roy picks him up for Damian to sink his teeth into Roy’s palm. Roy yelps, and Dick is half-laughing, half-apologising.
“He’s a miniature demon!”
“He’s teething.” Dick takes Damian back, clicking his tongue in reproach. “Don’t listen to him, Demi, he just wishes I was holding him this close.” Dick smirks.
Roy laughs in spite of himself, albeit grudgingly. “You like kids, huh.”
“I like my siblings, sure.” Dick hums. “You have two, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, if you don’t count Cissie, after the divorce and all. By the way,” Roy adds with a pointed huff, “My brother’s an angel. Definitely not a biter. Christ, that hurt.”
“…Aren’t you close to each other in terms of age?”
“Mm-hmm.” Dick rolls his eyes. “Well, that’s the whole house. If you come by while the sun’s still up next time, I’ll show you the conservatory.”
Roy smiles. “Cool. I’ll try not to rob you too soon.”
“How do you like the cottage?”
“It’s not terrible.” Roy shrugs. “Except for that Dali print in my bedroom, that’s just offensive. The one that’s a trypophobic nightmare— Enigma something? I fucking hate surrealists.” He stops to take a seat on one of the bean-bags. “Says all I need to know about the owners, though. Avant-garde art, minimalist décor…” He makes a derisive noise. “Rich people, I swear.”
Dick chuckles. “We are rich people, Roy.”
“Come on, Dick, I know you know what I mean.” Roy gives him an unimpressed look. “We lived the same shit, didn’t we?”
“If we’re about to start comparing after-school kidnapping attempts…”
Roy laughs, a loud, genuine sound that makes Dick’s heart skip a beat. Again, he thinks. Again.
“What’s in there?” Roy asks, inevitably. His curious eyes have found the door, the fading letters of Jason’s name on worn paper.
“Nothing.” Dick clears his throat. “We don’t use that room.”
Dick smiles bitterly. “You could say that.”
Don’t look down, his father used to say, while he had been teaching him their trademark triple somersault. When you’re in the tuck, if you stop to look down, you’ll lose your centre. You’ll fall.
Stopping to think could cost you everything, up in the air. You didn’t. You just had to jump, to trust that someone would be there to catch you on the other side.
Dick likes Roy. He really, really likes Roy. He’s hurtling face-first into liking Roy, in fact, and he’s not sure that anyone’s waiting to catch him when all the things that can go wrong inevitably do. The obstacle that’s going to be the hardest to keep avoiding is staring him in the face at that very moment, there on the sand behind a boulder with Roy in his mouth and on his skin and across his senses. Kissing had turned into wandering hands into helpless, uncontrollable want— and then Dick feels Roy hard against his thigh and has to push him away, breath hitching.
Roy doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t ask what’s wrong, doesn’t try to bargain or coax; he immediately leans back and stops kissing. So he’s a good person, Dick thinks, there’d been no doubt about it, but that means nothing, he’s lost good people over this before. They’d been kind about their rejections – it’s just not what I’m into, you understand, right? – but rejections they still had been.
There’s a reason the only relationship he had ever consummated had been with Kory, who’s like him, whom he doesn’t have to build a case with first. He could meet the loveliest girl only to get told, I’m not a lesbian. Even from other bisexual partners, he’d hear, that’s okay, I’m attracted to both. And those are the best-case scenarios, not the ones where Bruce has to get involved, to threaten and to buy silence.
“Dick?” Roy leans forward, concern in his eyes. “Hey, are you okay? You went all pale…”
“I’m alright.” Dick tries to smile, though he knows it probably looks strained. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it. “It’s just that… if you were planning on going further, I just thought you should know, I’m trans.”
He plays with the sleeves of his too-loose zip-up jacket, feigning nonchalance in his voice. “Are you disappointed?” he ventures.
“…No. A little surprised.” Roy reaches out and cups his face, smiling kindly. “I used to live in the Castro for the longest time. I can promise you, Dick, you’re less alone than you think.”
Relief floods him, and Dick returns Roy’s smile. He can see the questions in Roy’s eyes, and he laughs. “Ask.” This is a chore to deal with, too, but it’s more bearable than his fears.
But Roy doesn’t ask the usual tried and tired, “What was your name before—?”, or, “Do you have a—?”
“In the papers and everything, you’ve always been referred to as a guy,” he says instead, his voice intrigued. “So when did you…?”
“Oh. When I was five? I think?” Dick considers it.
“Huh. You can find out as early as that?”
“Cool. Never knew.” Roy sounds fascinated.
And that’s that. He doesn’t go out of his way to reassure, advise, or patronise. He does touch Dick a lot more – not like that; a hand draped across his shoulders or little, sideways half-squeeze half-hugs as they walk back to the cottage – and Dick reads it as the promise that it is, that for Roy, this changes nothing.
Steering the conversation back to the mundane doesn’t even feel the slightest bit less than natural. “You lived in San Francisco.”
“I still kind of do?” Roy doesn’t meet Dick’s eyes, squinting ahead instead. “When I can, anyway. I live everywhere. I’m kind of— functionally homeless.”
Dick blinks. “How do you mean?”
Roy shrugs. “There was a time when Ollie just kind of stopped caring whether I came home or not, so I fell into the habit of staying over at friends’, or girl-or-boyfriends’, or whoever’s. Never really been able to break it. ’Sides, I don’t like to stay with Ollie if I can help it. We used to fight too much, and now it’s just…” He trails off, frowning absently.
“Just?” Dick prompts, soft.
Frantic all of a sudden, Roy’s fingers reach into the inside pocket of his jacket and slip out a pack of cigarettes. “He lectures. Can’t let go of the past. You smoke, Pretty Bird?”
Dick almost says no right off the bat, like he usually does, but he remembers that this is Roy, and he kind of doesn’t want to be any other version of himself but himself, with Roy. “Menthols. I like the flavoured ones. Yours are just disgusting.”
“Hey.” Roy elbows him. He lights up, takes a drag, blows out a puff of smoke. “Currently, I share an apartment with my sister Mia. At least, on paper, I do.” He laughs. “I don’t think Mia’s ever home, either, come to think of it. If I really don’t have a choice, then it’s Ollie’s penthouse. Not while he was married, though. It was better to sleep on the streets than have to deal with King Bonnie’s attitude toward the charity cases of the family. Am I oversharing? Oh, well. Secret for a secret.” He winks.
“But you’re alone with Ollie now.”
“Yeah, the plan was to give it two days and then hitchhike up to a real city.” Roy chuckles.
Dick isn’t surprised, somehow, and returns the laugh. “What changed?”
Roy loops an arm around his waist. It’s startlingly intimate, and Dick shivers, pushing closer. “Found a reason to stay.”
Dick hides his smile. “So… yes to a second date?”
It’s yes to a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, as it turns out. “Uh-oh,” says Donna, mischief in her eyes as she leans toward Dick across the table, “You’re in boy-flirting mode with this one.”
The Hummingbird is usually quiet on Sunday, but ever since Roy, it’s different. He seems to bring a party with him everywhere he goes. Gar loves it; the two of them are, in fact, currently just behind the bar, playing darts and flirting with patrons and generally being children. Dick glances up at Donna, confused. “I’m in what?”
Donna explains. “When you flirt with girls, you’re this classy, respectable, even-the-mothers-want-you dream darling.” She gives him a playful grin. “But with boys, you’re different – you rarely choose them, but when you do, it’s like, I don’t know, you give off this implied sensuality. Subtle, witty, charming, dangerous.” Nodding in Roy’s direction, “You’re into him for serious, huh.”
“Be careful,” Wally says, an uncharacteristic, deep scowl pulling his lips down. “If you ask me, he spells nothing but trouble.”
“Nobody did.” Donna rolls her eyes. “Let him have fun, Wal.” The pointed look that she gives Wally gives Dick the distinct impression that they’re alluding to conversations he’d never been privy to— conversations about him, he supposes. It’s vaguely concerning.
“Roy’s not what you think he’s like,” he insists. “You’re just stereotyping, Wal. Just because he talks and walks and dresses a certain way—”
Wally isn’t able to catch Dick abruptly cutting himself off, and before either Dick or Donna can warn him, he continues, “Don’t forget that he could have been in rehab for God knows what—”
Donna elbows him in the stomach, but it’s too late. Roy throws himself down on the seat next to them with a casual smile. “It’s fine, Don. He’s not wrong.”
Dick gives him a concerned look, but Roy doesn’t meet his eyes as he shrugs and continues. “It was heroin addiction. A bunch of other shit. That satisfy you, Inquisitor?” He reaches for the cup of coffee that he had abandoned earlier and stands again. “Hey, Gar, up for one more round? Bet you twenty.”
Wally has the decency, at least, to look mortified. “Oh, jeez, Roy, I didn’t mean—” He gets off his chair too, going after Roy.
Dick considers following, but Wally needs to apologise on his own first, he decides. Donna catches his aborted attempt to stand and breathes a laugh. “I don’t agree with Wally, just to be clear,” she says. “But, Dick? Just so you know. Every time I point my camera at someone, I see them immediately change, immediately put on a pose or a persona that isn’t them. Not Roy, though. He stays just as he is.”
Defensive all of a sudden, Dick frowns. “Isn’t that a good thing? It means he’s always true to himself.”
Donna hums. “Or it means he never is.”
She stands, and walks off to where Kory is helping Dinah. Dick contemplates his coffee for a moment, and then he catches Roy walking away from the dartboard to a table close by. He hurries to join him.
Roy doesn’t look up when he takes the seat next to him. Dick feels like something’s squeezing at his heart. He reaches for Roy’s face, and then he kisses him. He can feel Roy’s surprise – Dick isn’t big on PDA, generally, beyond holding hands and hugging – but the place is pretty empty on a Sunday like this, and Dick needs Roy to know that he isn’t ashamed. Of them, or of Roy.
No matter what.
Roy sighs into his mouth. He holds Dick’s waist in his hands, smiling ruefully as he pulls back. “I would have told you,” he whispers. “Eventually. I guess I wanted you to think I was better than I really am.”
“There are things about myself that I hide, too.” Dick caresses whatever he can reach. He pauses, and takes Roy’s hand in his. “Secret for a secret?”
“I have this bad habit of misplacing my fathers,” Roy says.
Dick hums. “I don’t think I even know who your father was. How is it that they can report every single wild party and crazy car chase, but not something as basic as that?” He shakes his head. “You’re one big mystery, Roy Harper.”
He can feel Roy shaking with quiet laughter. “What’s your secret?”
Dick lifts his eyes. He gives Roy a slow smile. “I’m a very good detective,” he says.
“Where’ve you been?” Bruce is outside of his study, for once.
“Out,” Dick answers cheerfully. “Montauk.”
“With that Harper boy again?”
Dick laughs. “Come on, Bruce, he’s nothing like Ollie.”
Bruce makes some ambiguous sound that Dick doesn’t bother deciphering, already thinking about calling Roy on the phone upstairs, talking until they fall asleep again.
Garth finds it all amusing. Wally’s (far subtler) criticisms of Roy only make him laugh, and Dick’s careful avoidance of revealing the extent of their relationship bring a light to his eyes. “He’s so, I don’t know, slick,” Wally’s saying, derision in his voice. “Hits on everything that breathes, Garth, you should see it. I swear, it’s sickening.”
Garth arches an eyebrow. “Pun unintended?”
“Stop it, don’t be morbid.” Dick shoves him lightly. “Anyway, Roy’s leaving once summer ends, isn’t he?” He tries to ignore the pain that comes with voicing that particular thought. “We can’t be exclusive.”
Wally stares at him. “…Who are you, and what have you done with my best friend?”
“Wal, I love that you’re concerned for me, honest, I do.” Dick sighs. “But I can take care of myself, all right?”
“It’s all you ever do,” Garth points out in a small voice. “Dick, how are you coping, really? Donna tells me things are serious, too. If he leaves…”
Dick laughs it off. “I just don’t look down.”
“Nothing.” Dick tucks a strand of his hair behind one ear. “Seriously, both of you can stop worrying. I’m fine, I’ll be fine, this is— it’s not that serious. It’s hardly been two weeks.”
“I’m sorry, I’m still trying to compute you and a relationship and not serious,” says Wally. “Honestly, Garth, I’m starting to think you got the better deal, isolated from all of our drama.”
Garth smiles sheepishly. “…Is this a bad time to tell you I’m getting discharged, then?”
There’s startled silence, and then there’s helpless joy, hugs and loud cheering that Dick’s sure will get them kicked out by some poor, angry nurse. Donna, who had been out in the hall, keeping Roy company, peers inside to see what all the fuss is about, and soon she’s joining in the group hug-slash-dance, too. Out of the corner of his eyes, Dick spies Roy hanging back, awkward but smiling at their happiness. “Baby.” Dick stretches a hand out for him. “Garth, this is Roy. Roy, Garth.”
“Hey, man, nice to meet you.” Roy’s smile is strained as they exchange a handshake. “Sorry for not coming in earlier, I, uh. I don’t like hospitals.”
Dick really regrets not telling Roy where they had been going, before, but it’s the second time that day that he’s thought it, and there was no use crying over spilled milk, after all. Garth tilts his head, questioning, and Dick wishes he had answers. He can see Roy’s hand twitch, and it reaches into the pocket of his jacket. Dick touches his wrist. “It’s a no smoking zone, Roy.”
“Right.” Roy runs a nervous hand through his hair. His eyes are taking in the room, the cards and flowers and boxes of chocolate at Garth’s bedside, the wheelchair, waiting. “You get a lot of— visitors, Garth?” he asks abruptly.
Garth’s surprised, but he smiles and nods, ever polite. “Sure. My parents. My girlfriend. These guys, even if all they do is cause a racket and get me in trouble.”
“Good. That’s good.” Roy nods, almost to himself. “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ll be outside, okay?”
“Not at all…” Garth blinks. Concerned, Dick follows him out.
“I fucking hate hospitals.” Roy’s fingers frantically dig around for his pack of cigarettes. Coming up empty, he swears again.
“Roy. Roy, hey.” Dick wants to reach for him, but they’re in a public place, and they can’t risk it. “Should we— we could wait in the car? Will that make it better?”
“Yeah,” Roy says absently. “Yeah, okay. Let’s.”
As soon as they slip into the backseat and Dick closes the door behind them, Roy leans forward, and twists the key for the ignition, automatically turning on the stereo. Some random rock song plays at a low volume. “What’s wrong with him?” Roy asks.
Dick exhales, and talks to his knees. “It’s neurological. He can’t— he needs the wheelchair. When we were— fourteen, fifteen, I think— he used to be swim team captain. And now he needs the wheelchair.”
Roy huffs. “Ain’t that life.”
“Is it because it reminds you of rehab?” Dick ventures.
Roy laughs under his breath. “Wow, that didn’t even occur to me. You’re right, too. Ought to be in college for psychology, not business, Dickie.” He pauses. Then he sighs. “You never know how alone you are until you’re stuck in one of those rooms, I swear. But, nah, I always figured I hated the places ’cause I’ve seen too many friends die in them.”
He lived in the Castro, Dick remembers, sobering at once. “Oh, I. I’m so sorry.”
“Mia, she’s positive.” Roy’s visibly angry. “Could be her turn any time. We don’t know. Who does, you know? They don’t fucking tell us anything.”
“Except horror stories. And have you tried not being gay? PSAs.” Dick purses his lips.
“They don’t let you have visitors. In rehab,” Roy blurts out all of a sudden. “Not for the first month— and if you’re in for something as bad as mine, not for the first couple months.” His fingers are frantically tapping along to the beat of the drums in the song playing between them. “That’s assuming people want to see your sorry face when they’re allowed to, too, of course. You’re also not allowed a telephone. Or letters. Or a Walkman, and they didn’t have a radio or a record player or a fucking phonograph, so there was no fucking music.”
That, for some reason, is what breaks Dick’s heart. Roy without music. He runs his hand up and down Roy’s arm, aiming to comfort.
“You were allowed books. And a journal. Took me a while to figure out that writing I would rather eat a bullet than stay here one more second in it only gets you sent to the counsellor twice as often.” He exhales a humourless laugh. Almost in a whisper, he says, “…I’m not good alone.”
“You’re not alone,” Dick answers, something fierce in his heart. He pushes closer to Roy, half-hugging him, half-leaning on his shoulder. “You’re not alone, Roy.”
Dinah’s too gorgeous not to get snatched up soon. Dick’s always said so.
Still, seeing it happen makes his heart sink.
He and the others are back from the hospital, back at the Hummingbird. They aren’t the only ones there. Oliver Queen is at the bar counter, leaning forward and whispering something to Dinah that makes her laugh in a very not-Dinah way, hiding her mouth behind the back of her hand. Beside Dick, Roy mutters, “…Oh, hell,” and then he raises his voice. “Hey.”
Oliver turns. “There you are, Roy,” he says. “Came looking for you.” And then he holds a hand up and turns back to Dinah. Even while they’re taking their seats, Dick can’t help but glance back at the pair at the bar over and over again.
“How old is she?” Roy asks Dick, something sceptical in the downward twist of his mouth.
“Twenty-five, I think.”
Roy glances back. “This is not going to end well.”
Later, Dick seeks out Barbara, alone in the backroom, and then he doesn’t know what to say. “Babs?” he tries. “You, um. You okay?”
“Crossword, Dick,” Barbara answers without looking up from her magazine. “I said not to interrupt.”
Her voice is rough as sandpaper.
Dinah stays over at the cottage one night. Dick wakes to find Roy yelling up at him from under his window; despite Bruce’s dirty looks, he lets Roy in for a movie and some company.
He has never gone out of his way to tell Bruce about his relationships. Bruce does find out, of course, he always would, but never with help from Dick.
But Dick has never gone out of his way to hide them before, either. With Roy, though, it’s sheer necessity.
The disaster dinner with Ollie had been the first strike; Roy had called Bruce by his name the next time they’d met, and Bruce had tactfully corrected him and now Roy knew him as Mr. Wayne. “Fair enough,” Roy had said, shrugging it off. “Ollie left an impression, I get it.”
But Dick knew it was more than that. Not that Bruce would ever admit to it, but Dick knew him. It was the fact that Roy had presumed, in the first place. The fact that Roy tended to just show up at the villa unannounced, that he’d even shown up visibly drunk, once, that he laughed far too loudly and convinced Tim to play catch indoors and wrestled with Ace and Titus on the carpet.
The little things that screamed irrepressible, that said that restraint was not a word in Roy Harper’s vocabulary, and good luck to all who tried to make it.
Bruce, with his rules and diligence and reverence for lawfulness, for order – is his antithesis. Oh, they’re civil to each other, but Dick can sense a natural dislike between them, same as the one he imagines is tangible between him and Oliver. It can be a snide comment here and there, to each other’s faces or behind backs, or a look, or a deep and damning exhale.
Like that one time. “What do you think of punk, Dickie?” Roy had asked at lunch, and Dick had shrugged, said, “Not one for the music, a lot of respect for the culture.”
“What culture?” Bruce had cut in sardonically. “Anarchy, disorder, and shock value?”
Or the time when Bruce had made the mistake of implying that Ollie was a neglectful father when asking what Roy was still doing at the villa. It had taken Dick a moment to catch that, but Roy had flared up immediately. “The fuck do you know about him? About us?” he had bitten back, voice shaking with a violent rage. “You think you do a better job? A workaholic who doesn’t even make the time to play with his little kids. And you’re blind when it comes to Dick—”
Dick had managed to calm things down, but there was a palpable tension, a forced quality to the civility now.
For all of their sakes, Dick tries to avoid spending time inside with Roy. Montauk and the beach serve as their haunts, or the occasional drive, to Long Island, even all the way to Manhattan one time.
Except that means that they never have the time or the privacy to go further than frantic kissing and long make-out sessions. It chafes. Dick’s love language is physical touch. He’s sparing with it toward people he has no intimacy with, but that line had long been crossed with Roy, and he quite literally can’t keep his hands off him these days. Roy can have his beautiful turns of phrase, wooing with a skill that could rival the Bard. Dick has his hands, his mouth, his skin; and while idle touch and closeness is great and all, he’s young, and it isn’t enough.
And then the universe steps in – as it seems to have done from the start with the two of them – and Roy just so happens to be at the villa while Bruce just so happens to be away on a two-day business trip and the radio just so happens to broadcast a hurricane warning, a Category 1 headed their way.
“You had better stay the night, Master Harper,” says Alfred, clicking his tongue at the news, as if hurricanes were a fad that he disapproved of. “I must ask Maxine as well, Master Damian may not sleep well on his own with weather like that…”
“Let the kids share a room tonight, then, Alfred. It could be fun. Distract them.” Dick keeps his voice casual, almost nonchalant.
“Very good, Master Richard.” There’s no indication that Alfred suspects anything behind the words, and he goes right back to work without interrupting Dick and Roy again.
The hurricane hits, and, predictably, takes the power out. They all wait in the parlour for it to return: Dick sprawled out on the couch, Roy sitting on the floor with his back against its leg, Alfred reading by candlelight in one corner. Cassandra is at the piano, and Tim is playing some noisy game with Damian and the nanny on the steps.
“Cass,” Dick shouts over the sound of thunder and howling wind, “Play us something we know, would you, please?”
She nods once, in her serious way, and then the theme from Somewhere in Time mellows out the harsh noise of the storm.
Dick lies back and enjoys it. The back of Roy’s head is right next to where his face rests on a little pillow, and he can smell a hint of cologne and some fruity shampoo. If he shifts forward, just a little, his nose presses against the prickle of Roy’s hair. Their corner shrouded by shadow, Dick can get away with running a hand across Roy’s broad shoulder, slowly, appreciatively.
He feels more than hears Roy’s quiet laugh. “Where are you going, Pretty Bird?” Roy whispers, tilting his head back. In the dim light, Dick can’t see the amusement in his eyes, but he senses it.
“You’re kind of…” Dick leans forward even further, and his hand has wandered far enough that he can slip it past the collar of Roy’s shirt, discovering firm muscle that he takes his time feeling, relishing. His words are being whispered right against Roy’s ear. “…Kind of irresistible…”
And then he abruptly withdraws, a little alarmed by the frantic pounding of his heart against its cage. “I think,” he says, loud this time, “I think I’m going to bed.”
He can feel Roy’s eyes on him as he leaves the couch, kisses Cassandra on the head, then Tim, then Damian twice, then Alfred, a quick peck on the cheek.
Dick has taken a hasty shower and changed into a set of nightclothes that he hadn’t opened before – and his bedroom remains empty, his door remains closed. He lies on the bed, staring up at the chandelier and wondering if he should have made the invitation more obvious. The wind is throwing raindrops violently against the glass of the balcony doors, and he covers his eyes with his arm across them, trying and failing to keep his heart from mirroring the weather and calm down.
It’s a wonder that he can hear the tell-tale creaking of the door being eased open through the noise outside. He leans up on his elbows, and gives Roy a slow smile. “Well, hi there.”
Roy is doing that thing, that crooked grin where his tongue reaches up and touches one of his chipped canines, and Dick’s stomach does a complicated flip in response.
The door clicks shut behind Roy. “Hey yourself.”
The distance between them is bridged in a few long strides. Dick welcomes the weight of Roy’s body draping over his. His hands wrap around as much of Roy’s back as they can, the tips of his fingers just barely able to meet in the middle. “Been wanting this for so long, Roy…”
“So take what you want, baby,” Roy answers, and his voice holds a wealth of sinful promise that he immediately proceeds to make good upon.
Thankfully, the noise of the violent weather outside drowns out Dick’s vocal appreciation of Roy holding him down by the wrists and taking him to heaven. “…Don’t fall asleep here,” Dick warns, after, finally able to get his breathing under control. “Alfred will see.”
“’Kay.” Roy makes a vague, assenting noise. His hands are mapping Dick’s neck, his face. “God, you’re so fucking beautiful…”
Dick laughs under his breath, the wrong side of giddy. “No, Roy.” And it’s not like it’s the first time he’s heard the words, but they mean so much more, from Roy, right then, right there.
“You are,” Roy insists. “Someone great should paint you.”
Roy laughs. He rolls over twice, landing on his stomach. Dick takes the opportunity to lean up on one arm and with his free hand trace the tattoos that cover all of Roy’s back; a mural in all the colours of autumn. Lit only by the moonlight and thunder outside, the various shapes seem almost magical. There are huge records, train tracks, bar codes, and a myriad other things thrown together in artful chaos that mirrors Roy himself. The only unambiguous one is in the centre. “Is this a fox?” Dick asks, running his fingers along its outline.
“Coyote.” There’s a slight accent in the way Roy says the word that Dick can’t place, which makes it sound mysterious. Unconsciously, Dick makes his touch lighter, almost reverent.
“Is there a story behind this one?”
Roy breathes a quiet laugh into the pillow. “You don’t tell Coyote stories unless there is frost on the ground – in the wintertime, that means, Dickie, sorry.”
“Navajo custom.” Roy sighs in a way that suggests it’s unintentional, and it sounds almost wistful. “And no, he isn’t my spirit animal. That’s not a thing in the way that people keep thinking it’s a thing.”
Roy sounds like he genuinely knows what he’s talking about, which sparks Dick’s curiosity. “Are you Navajo?” he asks. It’s not impossible. Looks can be deceiving, and he would know.
Roy turns on his side. “Secret for a secret?”
His bright eyes, cat’s-eye bright tonight, get that look in them that Dick loves, something musing, philosophical, and – Dick imagines – almost uncharacteristic if you didn’t know Roy all that well. He sits up, and Dick envies how at home he is with his body, tucking one leg under the other and resting his hand on his knee, not even the slightest bit self-conscious of being nude. Someone great should sculpt you in marble, Dick thinks.
“My father told me that there was a big thunderstorm on the night that I was born.” Roy chuckles to himself. “That’s why you’re so wild, he said. ’Course, then I figured out I was adopted, and that was a lie.” He makes a contemplative sound, talking to his knee. “He took me in when my actual father died. Don’t remember much about that one, except that he talked like this – ” This in a fine Irish brogue, tucking his syllables under his tongue – “And I was raised on the Navajo reservation— in Arizona. The rest of them didn’t agree with the poetic version about why I was such a little shit, though. Nah, the preferred one was that I had the mark of Coyote on me.”
His hand reaches across his stomach like he’s trying to hug himself, and brushes against the tattoo on his back. “Mą’ii. Trickster god. Irresponsible, foolish, and very, very bad luck. I remember thinking— I didn’t ask for that. I didn’t ask for any of it. If I could have made myself look less like myself and more like them, I would have. If I could have changed my blood— and then my father, he gets sick, fatally sick, and he starts worrying about what’ll happen to me when he bites it, worrying about me getting kicked out of the tribe ’cause I’m not Diné, so he hands me over to Ollie. And I didn’t ask for that, either.”
He exhales, and it’s longsuffering. “I was sick of things just happening to me, you know? Sick of being the passive character in this story. So I decided— I’d stop. I’d make things happen in my own goddamn life instead of letting circumstance keep having its way with me. For the record, Dick, I still stand by that. Made a lot of crap decisions along the way as a result, sure. But, hey— at least they were my crap decisions.”
“You’re so brave,” Dick marvels.
Roy starts, and turns his head around so fast, Dick’s taken aback. And then he settles, although his fingers are drumming on his knee in a tic that Dick now recognises means that he’s shaken. “Your turn, Dickie,” he says.
Dick turns on his back, staring up at the ceiling. “I lied. I hate college.”
He can hear Roy laughing softly beside him, and a strong hand comes down to play with the hair on his forehead. “Yeah, kind of figured.”
“I’m just no good with academia.” As though his initial admission has broken a dam, it all comes spilling out. “And I hate being made to feel stupid. I’m not. I like math, see, numbers— numbers make sense, numbers have a logic to them. But it’s not like— not rules, really, it’s intuitive. You know? Once you know the methods, you can calculate anything, so I’m good with the numbers. It’s all the rest of it, the theory, the dead people whose creepily manipulative opinions you have to learn. All of it is so set in stone, it’s… stifling.”
“So why do you still do it?” Roy questions, as Dick had expected he would. He considers the shut door shut tight in his mind, faded letters on fast-yellowing paper.
“Path of least resistance,” he says, his voice a murmur. “Because I hate to rock the boat, I guess. If I could have half your guts, Roy, baby—” He worries at his lower lip. “I feel like I was half-alive before I met you.”
He regrets saying it as soon as he does. Something in Roy’s eyes stays carefully closed, and Dick gets the distinct impression that he’s about to bolt, about to say something about— Alfred, and getting back to the guest room before dawn, probably— Dick panics, but he hears none of it in his voice, eerily casual, coy, innocent, as he blurts out, “This is my first time with a man.”
A small, hesitant smile sells it – and Dick’s terrified by how calculated each word and move is. Roy, tender heart that he is, won’t leave after that little admission. Dick wonders if he has always had it in himself to be so manipulative, and when Roy leans down to kiss him, he doubles his fervour, a wordless apology Roy probably doesn’t even realise he deserves.
“Did I make a huge mistake?” Dick says it under his breath, like he’s ashamed. “What am I saying, of course I did. God. Roy is— he’s older, and—”
“Wow. Two years. What an insurmountable age difference,” Donna says flatly. “Dick, sweetheart, don’t overthink it.”
Dick plays with the empty glass of soda he has on the bar counter. “It’s not about age,” he answers. “Roy’s so much more experienced, so much more… I don’t know. Mature. I don’t want to— what if I’m just playing Mary Had a Little Lamb here? I don’t want to come across as some clingy, overbearing— some kid with a crush, you know?”
“Honey—” Donna cuts herself off with an exasperated exhale. “If one heartfelt sentence about your feelings toward him is enough to scare him off, then, I’m sorry, he probably deserves to be scared off.”
“Oh, don’t. Don’t say that.” Dick tries to banish the thought. “I’m not scaring him off, am I? Saint Sara…”
“Do you hear yourself right now?” Donna laughs, fond, but incredulous. “So what do you plan on doing, hiding the extent of your feelings for him until he leaves just so you won’t need to worry about coming on too strong while he’s with us?”
Something in his eyes makes her hesitate, and her teasing smile gives way to a shocked little o-shape. “…Oh, my God. You do.”
Dick smiles, shakily, down at his glass. “I think I’m in love, Donna.”
Donna barks out a startled laugh. “Yeah,” she says, something almost terrified in her voice. “Yes, Dick, you are.”
“Okay, okay, do it. It’s fine, I’m ready. Do it.”
“Look, are you sure you want to? We don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“Don’t be patronising, Roy, come on. Do it.”
Dick flinches at the sharp, pinprick-pain as the piercing gun finds its target, eyes squeezing shut. His earlobe throbs for a second until Roy presses cotton with some kind of liquid on it against it. “Okay?” Roy chuckles. He leans down and kisses away the tear that runs down Dick’s cheek, more from having closed his eyes so tightly than from the split-second of pain.
“Yeah.” Dick smiles. Roy gives him another peck on the cheek, and then he steps back to evaluate his handiwork.
“Your old man is going to kill me for this, isn’t he.”
“It’s fine, look. My hair is long enough to hide it.” Dick pushes a few strands forward to prove his point. “Should have bought something to wear…”
Roy snaps his fingers. “Stop the presses, I have the perfect thing for you. Wait.” And then he jogs off in the direction of his room. Dick makes himself comfortable on the kitchen counter – his seat all morning ever since Roy had motioned for him to come over from his front porch, Dick had, and he’d hoisted him up here – his fingers playing with the skin around his new piercing.
When Roy re-emerges, he has a box in his hand, decorated with sequins and random stickers. He upturns it on the counter next to Dick, and sifts through the pile of metal and coloured stones.
“This one.” Roy holds up a small, bright-blue fake gemstone. He runs the cotton over the pin at the back, and then he eases it through the hole on Dick’s earlobe. “But I wish I had real sapphire for you…”
“Oh, I couldn’t accept something like that…”
“Just the thought of you wearing it with all those fancy suits, though.” Roy grins. “You in boring monochrome fastidiousness— and then a flash of bright blue rebellion.”
Dick smiles softly. He parts his legs to give Roy space between them, and tangles his fingers in Roy’s hair as their foreheads touch and their lips exhale barely inches away from each other. “Is that how you like to think of me?”
Roy’s about to answer, crooked smile against crooked smile, when footsteps startle them out of their embrace. “Roy— oh.” Oliver stops in his tracks, blinking in surprise.
Dick hides his face, self-consciously smoothing out his hair, and Roy pulls back as he clears his throat. “…Just needed some help bringing the boxes in, but it can wait,” Ollie mutters, awkward.
“It’s fine, I’ll.” Roy brushes past him for the door. Dick wishes he had waited. He hops off the counter with half a mind to follow after Roy, but then he realises that Roy would be back in a few seconds, and ends up just standing in his spot, uncomfortable. Ollie’s observant, though, and gives him a tight smile, almost in response.
“You don’t like me much, do you, Dick.”
Dick stiffens. And then he collects himself and gives Ollie a careful, polite smile in return. “Not at all, Mr. Queen, I hardly know you.”
“Kid, I was raised with people who talked as pretty as that, you can cut the bullshit.” There’s no malice in his laugh, but the amusement is close to patronising. “I won’t take it personally.”
“You heard about me from Roy, right?” he explains, shrugging almost nonchalantly. “If you heard about me from Roy and you didn’t dislike me, I probably wouldn’t trust you with my son.”
“Don’t say that.” Dick and Ollie both turn around, Roy’s sudden reappearance taking them by surprise. Dick knows, he knows that Ollie is the only person who can get under Roy’s skin, who can find a crack in that laidback attitude that even Bruce only ever manages to – at best – amuse, but this is something else. It wasn’t even this bad when Bruce misspoke about Ollie within Roy’s earshot. Roy’s clenched fists are visibly trembling, with rage or with pain, Dick can’t tell, and there’s so much emotion shining in his eyes that Dick thinks Roy – Roy – is about to cry.
“Don’t fucking— why do you always—”
“Oh, hell.” Ollie looks aghast, and Dick thinks, absurdly, that they do this to each other, then, break each other’s masks. “I didn’t mean—”
“I am trying, Ollie! I am trying so hard, and you keep—”
“Keep what!? You’re still my son, am I not even allowed to worry about—”
“I came on this stupid fucking trip, didn’t I? I took Connor out when you asked, I stayed home for a whole fucking weekend while Bonnie was still there, looking at me like I’m the dirt under her Louboutin—”
“Christ, what did I say!? What was so wrong with— it’s like I can’t do anything right by you anymore, Roy!”
“So stop trying! Just stop fucking trying, okay, stop it!” Roy thunders forward, and Dick flinches when he grabs his wrist so tightly it hurts. “Dick, come on, let’s get out of here—”
And then he’s being dragged out of the backdoor of the cottage, Ollie’s calls after the two of them ignored. Dick lets Roy storm through the sand in silence; he knows Roy well enough to know, by now, that it isn’t in his nature to stay angry for very long. It takes a moment longer than usual, but, sure as sunrise, the tenseness falls from his shoulders.
Roy mumbles, “Sorry you had to see that.”
“What did he do?” Dick asks, as Roy idly kicks at the surf. He keeps his voice carefully devoid of an accusation; Roy’s unpredictable when it comes to Ollie, sometimes resentful, others fiercely, uncompromisingly loyal. Roy takes a moment to answer, hands in his pockets, staring out at the horizon.
“Sometimes I feel like I fucking died and Ollie’s living with some— some ghost he’s trying to appease,” he says. “Why can’t he just let it go already, you know? I’m over it. I did what I did, and it can’t be undone. Christ. He looks at me like— I swear, he looks like he’s in mourning.” A humourless laugh. “Sounds right. Mourning the perfect angel he thought I was. Easier than having to face the mess I really am.”
He sighs, and runs a restless hand through his hair. “He blames himself. He’s trying to make up for it— he’s trying, and I know that, but…”
“Bruce won’t be home until past midnight tonight,” Dick says.
Roy glances up at him, confused. Dick continues, “If you don’t want to sleep there tonight, we could smuggle you in before then.”
A slow smile lights Roy’s eyes up with a rare sincerity that makes Dick catch his breath. He steps forward and hugs Dick tightly. “…You’re a real prize, lover mine.”
It’s the connotation of being on his knees – call it a metaphor, shorthand, whatever – it makes this feel like worship. The taste of chocolate-flavoured latex on his tongue and the music of Roy’s breathless sighs above him, whispers telling him what to do and how to do it, turning into swears, into sheer exaltations about how beautiful he is, like this, how good he’s doing— worship.
At some point during, Roy cups Dick’s throat while Dick’s mouth is still full, and – reflexively, involuntarily – Dick tilts his head back by the slightest inch. Looks up. He doesn’t know what’s in his eyes, he’d been too lost in the moment to pay attention, but he wishes he could understand the naked emotion in Roy’s eyes in answer.
“The way you look at me, sometimes,” Roy whispers, after, once they’re cleaved together in bed without an inch between them. Dick’s heart races, half-panicked, half-hopeful, but Roy doesn’t continue.
“Dickie.” With a contented sigh, Dick blinks his eyes open, languid and slow. His vision is still sleep-heavy and vague, but he’s conscious enough to recognise Roy’s soft smile, hovering above his own. “Sun’s up, sleepyhead. I should go before Alfred shows up.”
“Don’t,” Dick complains. “It’s not.”
Roy chuckles. “Yes it is, look how bright it is.”
“Floodlights,” Dick insists, wrapping his hands around Roy’s shoulders, pulling him down and closer still. “They’re always shooting movies on the beach.”
“I should go.” Roy contradicts himself by leaning forward and kissing Dick on the neck. “You’ll get in trouble, baby.”
“Mm.” Dick tilts his head back to give Roy’s lips access to more. “You should…”
But they linger, inevitably, and the early hours pass in a half-hearted tug-of-war between I’m leaving or You should leave and intervening kisses, wandering hands. “Roy,” Dick whispers, words against Roy’s chest to make them quiet enough for there to be that slim chance that he could get away with it. “Do you like me?”
“What’s that, Pretty Bird?”
Dick lifts his head, watches Roy relaxed against his pillow. “Do you believe in love? Like, between two people? Like in the movies and— in all the songs?”
Roy hums, contemplative. “I don’t know,” he finally decides. “My father— uh, the second one— he used to say that you’ll know it when you feel it, so. I’m not sure. I’ve never been.”
“Oh.” Dick pushes himself higher so they can be at eye level, relishing the slide of skin against skin as he moves. “I didn’t think there was a single experience in the world that I’d have you beat at.”
“You’ve been in love?”
Dick smiles, all casual, as if it isn’t a big deal. “I think so.”
Roy reaches up, cards his fingers through Dick’s hair. “And were you loved back?”
Dick shrugs. “Never had the courage to ask,” he says.
“Bet you were.” Roy half-smiles. “Everything about you is so captivating. That effortless charm, your looks, your heart. Who’d be stupid enough not to? You were. I know it— you were.”
“You’d say that to anybody, I’m not special…”
Roy whispers, “Do you want to be?”
Dick’s breath catches. He thinks it’s his heart at first, the pounding, but then Roy hisses out a swear and Dick realises someone’s there, outside, knocking on the bedroom door. Their wide eyes meet, and in the next instant Roy’s scrambling out of the sheets and slipping under the bed, Dick’s hastily pulling on his shirt. He opens his mouth, about to say, One second, but thinks better of it— more believable for him to have been asleep. So he pulls the blankets over himself and waits for the knocking to persist a while longer, and then, in as groggy a voice as he can pretend, he says, “Come in.”
He watches the door-handle twisting downwards. It isn’t Alfred who walks in. “Good morning,” says Bruce, and Dick’s heart is racing wildly, hyperaware of every imagined breath that Roy could be taking under the bed. But he’s good at hiding it, and he gives Bruce a smile that he hopes passes as genuinely tired.
“You’re up early, considering how late you got in last night.”
“I suppose I was a little eager to share the news.” Bruce is smiling with his eyes, if not his lips, and holding up a piece of paper. “The penthouse got approved. It’s officially yours.”
“O-Oh.” Dick’s heart sinks, his smile wavering as he struggles to maintain it. “That’s great.”
Bruce is still giving him that look, and it’s soft, but faraway. As if to shake himself out of it, he reaches over and gives Dick a pat on the shoulder. “You’re growing up so fast, old chum.” Half a whisper, and then he’s Bruce again, that unreadable look disappearing. “We’ll discuss the details downstairs.”
“Right behind you,” Dick answers.
As soon as Bruce closes the door behind himself, Roy slides out on his back, shaking with quiet, uncontrollable laughter. Dick shushes him, but it’s bubbling up inside of him, too, and he’s caught between half-hissing admonishments at Roy, half-struggling to stay silent himself. “You’re going?” he whispers through breathless laughs as Roy pulls on his clothes.
“Not exactly.” Roy winks. Dick doesn’t get a chance to ask him what he means; Roy steps out through the open balcony doors and jumps off the low edge onto the lawn below. Dick follows, to watch him and wave goodbye, but Roy doesn’t keep walking. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he glances up, grinning, mischievous. And then he skirts the pool – in the direction of the front of the villa.
“What are you doing!?” Dick hisses, but Roy’s gone. Seconds later, the doorbell buzzes. Dick’s laughing again, rushing out of his room toward the top of the staircase. He gets there just in time to catch Roy standing at the open front door, hands in his pockets, casual as you please.
“Morning, Alfred, Mr. Wayne. Is Dick up?”
Dick has to hurry back to his room before his laughter can give him away.
“Alfie,” Dick says, idly stirring his cup of tea, “Have you ever been in love?”
Alfred doesn’t seem surprised by the question – but then, Alfred rarely seems surprised by anything. “I’ve lived a great many years, Master Richard. One cannot avoid it forever.”
Dick hums, trying to appear nonchalant. He pulls his legs closer underneath himself, on his perch on the kitchen windowsill, and continues, “How do you know when it’s love and not infatuation?”
He’s expecting another vague, cop-out answer, but when Alfred says, with a touch of nostalgic longing in his voice, “When you have shed a tear for them, my boy,” Dick glances up, surprised.
Alfred’s smiling. “Not because of them, mind the difference. But for them. You’ll understand when the time comes.”
Before Dick can answer, Cassandra wanders in. Bruce says he’s done, she signs at him, and Dick sets his cup down, hops off his perch. “Thanks.” He pets her hair as he passes her. The doors of Bruce’s home office are wide open, and Dick waits while he finishes his phone call.
“All of the documents are ready, if you want to finalise the deed now,” Bruce says as he hangs up. Dick gives him a strained smile, nervously shuffling his feet.
“Actually, Bruce, I— there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“Second thoughts?” Bruce gives him a faint smile, steady, understanding. “It isn’t too late to cancel. Don’t worry. You’re more than welcome to keep coming home between semesters, until you feel ready. Leaving the nest isn’t all that it’s made out to be, trust me.”
“Yeah, um.” Dick plays with the sleeves of his shirt. “It’s good that you said that, actually, because— I think I’m going to stay on. At home, for a while.”
Bruce nods, a little solemn. “If you’re sure. The penthouse will have to be put on the market again, it’s a pity, but I’m sure there’ll be a better one waiting when you’re ready.”
“No, Bruce, I—” Dick takes in a steadying breath. “I mean… for a long while. I don’t think I want to go back next semester. Any semester.”
A loaded pause. “You want to drop out… of Harvard?” Bruce says, each word more disbelieving than the one before.
Dick nods. “I’m sorry, I know it was my idea in the first place. Well, not Harvard, specifically, but— college. I gave it a shot, and— I don’t like it, Bruce. I’m not good at what I go there to do. It always feels like a waste of time, and for a long while, wasting time was what I wanted, but things are different now, and I don’t want to keep— to just keep going with the flow, a-and letting life be something that happens to me, instead of something that I actually feel… like I get to have a say in.”
Something cold in Bruce’s eyes and the downward twist of his lips makes Dick stop. “That boy put you up to this, didn’t he,” Bruce mutters.
Dick’s stomach plummets. “No! Well, Roy helped me find the courage to tell you, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while now.”
“For a while, and you never mentioned it to me?” Bruce shakes his head, unconvinced. He’s angry. Dick can hear it, seething under his words. “Something that you feel you can have a say in— that sounds more like him than you. He’s a bad influence, I’ve always said so.”
“Roy has nothing to do with this.” It’s a struggle to keep the impatience from his voice; Dick’s so, so tired of people misunderstanding Roy, who’s brave, and kind, and deserves none of it. “I’m really sorry, Bruce, but I promise you it isn’t—”
“I forbid you from associating with him from now on.”
Dick’s heart stops cold. “…What?”
“I said I forbid you from associating with him from now on,” Bruce repeats firmly. “This has to stop. You stay out late every night— in fact, I barely see your face during the day— and now it’s dropping out of college? What’s next, should I call ahead and have them ready a room for you at his rehabilitation centre, too?”
“That is not something to joke about!” Dick cries, shocked and horrified. “He was struggling— you know what, this isn’t even something I should be trying to justify! Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, to lose to their fight sometimes! If the fact that he’s a recovering addict makes you think less of him, then the problem lies with you, Bruce, not him!”
“I’m trying to protect you. You’re far too trusting. Too willing to see the good in everyone. It’s admirable, Dick, but there are still those who can and will take advantage of that!”
“How is Roy taking advantage of me!?”
“He’s filling your head with these— these grandiose ideas that have no basis in reality, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! There’s naïveté, and then there’s— plain foolishness, Dick. Maybe in Oliver Queen Fantasy Land, it’s acceptable to waste all your potential for the sake of some baseless concept of self-discovery, but in the real world, you need your education! What happened to the responsible, mature Dick Grayson that I know? You were never as— as thoughtless as the other children, and I was always proud of it!”
“If I was different from the other kids, it’s because you never let me be one!” Dick blurts out. This pain, that he keeps buried, has been stretched too thin for too long to suppress anymore.
There’s a dangerous, quiet pause that follows.
“We don’t talk to each other that way under this roof,” Bruce says, a warning in his voice.
“Since when!?” Dick laughs, incredulous. “Oh, since Jason? So that you can pretend that we’re one big, happy, perfect family— that we didn’t drive him away?”
Bruce turns white as a sheet. Like a loaded gun, Jason sits between them, impossible to address, impossible to ignore. “…When will you stop pretending that this is about protecting me, Bruce?” Dick continues, voice pleading. He can see in Bruce’s eyes that Bruce doesn’t understand, and Dick has no idea how to make him.
“I will not change my mind about this.” Bruce’s lips are pulled into a tight, thin line, as if to emphasise his point. “As long as you’re living in my house, I never want to see you with him again.”
“Your house.” Dick laughs, humourless, under his breath, ignoring the sudden tightness in his throat and the burning in his eyes. “All these years, and I’m still just the freeloading orphan?”
“That’s not what I— where are you going? Dick!”
Dick ignores him, rushing past every door on the corridor, past Alfred’s concerned questioning, past the front steps, and the road, and the gate to the cottage behind the villa. Roy’s smoking on the front porch, and he glances up, surprised. “Hey, beautiful, what brings—”
Dick doesn’t want to know what kind of expression’s on his face, for it to make Roy look that worried. “What’s wrong?”
“Bruce isn’t going to let us see each other anymore.” It comes out part frantic, part disbelieving.
Roy doesn’t move from where he’s leaning against the wood of the cottage. Dick can’t meet his eyes. “Under what threat?” Roy asks, and his voice remains calm. Dick doesn’t understand.
“I— kicking me out, I think,” Dick answers weakly, an admission. Bruce wouldn’t, he’s sure Bruce wouldn’t, but—
But he would. If it was to protect himself from losing another son. He would.
“Ah. The classic my mansion, my rules, huh.” Roy hums. “They say it’s not about the money, but in the end, it’s about the money.”
“They didn’t buy us, Roy.”
“Who are we kidding?” Roy laughs, quiet and self-deprecating. “Come on, Dick. Team Unwarranted Trust Fund Babies, you and me, remember?”
Dick meets his eyes. “Are you really so unaffected by this?” he asks, genuinely hurt.
Roy shrugs. “Well, you here to break things off?”
Dick doesn’t understand. But he knows that he’s in no state to bear this, too. “Forget it,” he hisses, turning and stomping back down the front steps. He’s halfway to the gate when he hears an unmistakable swear, and then Roy’s footsteps chasing after him.
“Dick— wait!” Roy grabs him by the wrist, and swears again. “You and that— that stupid look of actual surprise when I act like an asshole, I swear…”
“I do, you know,” Dick blurts out, uncaring, unafraid, after all this. “I do want to be special to you. I do.”
Roy’s hold on his wrist loosens, becomes less vice-like, and he takes the other one as well, pulling Dick closer until their foreheads touch. “They all do, Dickie— until they don’t.”
Dick swallows hard. “You’re saying you don’t want me.”
“I’m saying I’m a handful.” Roy sighs. “You’re selling yourself short, babe, acting like it isn’t you who’s giving me the time of day here, huh. The way you look at me, sometimes— like you think I can save you from something. Look at you, you could have anyone you wanted—”
“Clearly not anyone.”
Something vulnerable in Roy’s eyes, there and gone again. “I’m just saying, if you pick me to be your long-overdue teenage rebellion, you make poorer decisions than I did, Pretty Bird.”
Oh. So the uncaring façade, earlier, had been Roy steeling himself for the breakup, Dick realises. He sighs, half-relieved, half-exasperated. “Roy— Bruce has literally forbidden me from coming down here, and I’m down here. He’ll come dragging me back any minute— and I’m a little bit mad at you, and I don’t know how to be mad at you…”
Roy kisses him on the side of his head. “I’m sorry,” he says, like he means it. “Come up to my room, beat me up with a pillow or ten if it makes you feel better—” He leans down and whispers, “I’ll do my penance, put on The Cure and eat you out good—” A chuckle as Dick shivers. “—Then we’ll talk ways to get around Bruce, okay?”
Night is falling. Dick has his head on Roy’s bare thigh, his hand hovering loosely over the side of the bed dropping cigarette ashes from the burning stub between his fingers, and a pleasant kind of rawness between his legs. Bruce hadn’t come stomping down to the cottage to get him after all, and that somehow manages to be more ominous than the alternative.
But he can’t find it in him to care, at the moment. Roy’s fingers are carding through his hair, and there is the gentle caress of still-warm air on his bare back. Besides, the muffled sounds from the kitchen tell him that Ollie’s home, and he can picture what would happen if Bruce were to show up demanding to see Dick. He laughs to himself, quiet.
“We’ll get through this,” Roy promises, his hands as gentle, as reassuring as his words. “It’s not my first time sneaking around with a lover.”
“I can believe that,” Dick says, amused. And then, because today’s the day he’s decided to throw all fucks out the window, he whispers, “My brother ran away from home.”
“Tim?” Roy asks, confused.
Dick exhales and lifts his head, sitting up. He considers the cigarette in his hand – barely one at all at this point – and decides it isn’t worth it, steals the one from between Roy’s fingers instead. “Jason.” He takes a drag, breathes out. “Second eldest. You wouldn’t know a lot about him, Bruce had learned his lesson about letting reporters around his kids by then.”
“Oh.” Roy nods. “Were you close?”
Dick laughs, the thought of it still ridiculous, even then. “We hated each other.” He pauses, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “…In the way that brothers do. Which meant we loved each other, really.”
“Why’d he run?”
Dick shakes his head slowly. “I don’t know. Why do you?”
Roy takes his cigarette back, glances at the closed door of the bedroom as though he can see through it into the kitchen, where Ollie is. “To hurt him.”
“Well, if that’s what Jason wanted, he got it.” Dick smiles, wry. “He certainly got it…”
“Oh, is that what turned Bruce into such a repressed fash?”
Dick sighs. “Please, don’t. Bruce is— he’s got a lot of problems. He lost his parents in such a traumatic way, and right in front of him, too, you know. He took me in because he understood. It’s because we’re so close – because we were all we had, once – that he gets so threatened by my friends. By you.” He swallows. “But ever since Jason… it’s gotten worse. It’s like he’s afraid to loosen his grip on the leash he has around me, just in case I leave, too. He can’t bear to keep losing the people that he loves. That’s all it is. It’s— difficult to handle, sure, but that’s all it is.”
He isn’t sure what to make of the answering shine in Roy’s eyes. It’s half-pitying, half-introspective. “Dick,” he says, “You know— you know that Bruce isn’t emotionally qualified to be a parent, then, right? I’m not— I would never trivialise everything that he’s done for you or everything that he means to you, but— you know that the two of you aren’t supposed to be on equal footing, right? He’s your father, not the other way around, you shouldn’t be the one thinking about—” Roy pauses, apparently at a loss for words and frustrated about it. “Listen, Ollie’s immature in a lot of ways, too, but not like that.”
Dick frowns, lost. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” Roy sighs. “I get to yell at Ollie and pick fights and get fucked up just to prove a point all I want, it would never make it okay for Ollie to do the same to me. You understand that?”
“Our parents are people too, Roy.”
“See, just the fact that you think that way at nineteen…” Roy laughs, humourless, sardonic. “You genuinely have no idea what I mean, do you?”
“No, but…” Dick turns away. “I don’t want you to think that he doesn’t love me, because he does, I just wish— sometimes I wish—” He wouldn’t love me to death, Dick thinks, pained.
“Oh, baby.” Roy pulls him close and holds him tight. “You just have way too much room in that heart of yours for lost causes like him and me, huh.”
“You are nothing like him,” Dick whispers, hugging back contentedly. He passes it off as a joke immediately after – “For starters, there’s all those tattoos,” – because he isn’t sure how to put it into words, that Roy makes him feel alive and young and free, that Roy had been wrong, before, Dick doesn’t look at him like he thinks Roy can save him, he looks at him like Roy has.
“I want you to stay over,” Roy says. “But I guess that would just be pushing it with your new prison guard, huh.”
Dick laughs half-heartedly. “Yeah, I should get back.” He and Roy get dressed with kisses in between, and then Roy escorts him out, arm around his shoulder. It used to be that having to say hi and bye to Ollie after having emerged from Roy’s bedroom felt like a literal walk of shame, but Dick was used to it now. Like that old free-loving hippie would care, anyway, Roy would brush it off. If there’s one thing he would never disapprove of, it’s being open about arbitrary taboos, you know, sex especially.
Dick still isn’t sure how to feel about that – to someone who barely likes to say the word aloud, some things were and always would stay sacred – but, well.
“Bye, Mr. Queen.”
“I’m walking Dick home,” Roy adds. Ollie makes a vague, acknowledging sound— his concentration on tasting something off of a spatula that smells of strong spices and a home Dick had never known. Roy pauses at the front door, giving Ollie an unreadable look past the threshold of the kitchen opposite. He says, “Hey, I… think I changed my mind. About dinner with you and Dinah.”
Ollie glances up, startled. He blinks, then he frowns. “You feeling okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah… Dad.” Roy’s voice goes quiet at the word, and his eyes are just as soft, too. “Feeling ace.”
“…Bye, Mr. Queen,” Dick repeats, thinking he sort of understands.
The sentence, as it stands: no more telephone in his room, permission required to use the ones downstairs, no going down to the cottage or the beach for the rest of the summer, and a seven o’ clock curfew. Dick lets Bruce list them off in silence, and once Bruce finishes, he steps out of the study without a word. There had been a faint, sour-sweet smell in the air, and Dick finds it surprising that it isn’t that surprising. Liquid courage – Bruce is only human, after all, and they don’t know how to be mad at each other, either.
Dick stands in front of the mirror, tucks his hair behind his ear, slides the little piece of bright-blue rebellion through his piercing, and twists to lock it in place.