Dick goes quiet when things get too much. Retreats into himself, goes distant, goes to some place Donna can’t reach. It’s him when he’s past getting angry, past being cold, past pushing people away, he just goes quiet, just disappears, goes to a place only he knows. It happens sometimes, usually after a fight with Bruce, sometimes after a failed mission, sometimes for no reason at all. The Titans are usually there for him when it happens, or he goes to one of them. They wrap him in a blanket and just wait him out. He always makes it back on his own.
Donna’s only seen it get really bad once, just after Jason Todd’s death, right after Bruce kicked him out. He came back to the tower blank-faced and completely unresponsive. It took Donna and Kory hours of coaxing just to get him to make a sound, a tiny little sob, and it took longer to get him talking again.
It doesn’t last for very long, usually, but it still takes him a while to come back, and it’s only him that can do that. No one else can pull him out. You can be there for him, you can wait him out, but you can’t help him. Dick pulls himself out on his own, in his own time, and he’ll smile like nothing happened at all and only talk about it sometimes, usually when he’s drunk, because that’s what he does.
(Donna tries to help him anyway because that’s what she does.)
Donna thinks that this memory loss thing is a little bit like that. Or maybe something better. Something more concrete. Maybe the gods preempting Dick’s mind. Whisking him away from the pain before it can even touch him. Something like a blessing. Gods know Dick deserves good things to happen in his life.
And it probably says a lot about their lives that memory loss and running away could be considered a good thing. Normal lives, without trauma and daily near-death experiences and all that. Better, easier, more peaceful than the lives they currently lead.
But also without the duty and responsibility. Without the meaning. Without the calling. Dick and Donna and all the Titans are the part of the community that’s known nothing else, growing up the way they did. Being a hero is as much a part of their lives as breathing. Memories or no, Dick wouldn’t have been able to leave the life behind so easily.
The Bat has a standing order to leave him alone. Something about giving him space. About not agitating him. About being careful.
The guy’s also been trying to get Dick out of the business since the first time he got hurt, on his first year as Robin and it’s also definitely about that.
And to hell with that. Donna needs her friend now and Dick deserves better than being kept in some fantasy world where he can run from his responsibilities and loved ones. The older heroes probably wouldn’t understand why it’s a bad thing. They were adults when they chose to take on their mantles. The Titans were kids, still figuring who they are. Being heroes is the way they figured it out, so intrinsically tied to who they are that it’s impossible to completely separate them.
Dick is a hero, always and forever. He never learned how to be anything else. None of them have. It’s muscle memory at this point. The Titans take care of each other because they’re the only people who know how. The only people who understood their place in the world. He needs them just as much as they need him.
“We’re going after him,” she tells Garth, in her room at Titans Tower, where they’re alone and no one can hear them. She’s bad at putting up fronts but the JLA’s on their backs so much and the slightest whisper they hear of her plan would lead to disaster.
They’d try to stop her and that way leads to violence. Donna’s just had about enough of the Justice League trying to interfere with their affairs.
Garth raises an eyebrow. There’s a slight smile on his lips, cynical and humorless. Donna wonders what the other Titans saw when he arrived. Garth’s so good at hiding his emotions, even better than Dick sometimes, just disappearing in the background, getting everyone to ignore him. She wonders if they see the lines around his eyes, the tension around his shoulders, the faint thrum of power that means he’s losing a little control.
Do they see how she’s barely holding it together? How close she is to screaming? How she’s so close to breaking down or breaking the world or both? Raven must know, maybe even Gar. They leave them alone, lead M’Gann away, distract her, don’t ask questions but share knowing looks with her. She wonders how much they know.
He’s a wreck, keeping it together through muscle memory and sheer willpower. They both are.
“Of course we are,” he says. “Where do we start?”
They start at Bludhaven. Dick has a bad habit of running away when things get too difficult but he never runs far. Never goes anywhere he can’t come back from. And Bludhaven, horrible as it is, is as much a home to Dick as Gotham or Titans Tower. But more importantly, it’s his. He goes there when he feels the need to be alone.
But tracking Dick down is still a bit complicated. Apparently, he hasn’t forgotten his lessons, hasn’t forgotten how to hide, even as he’s forgotten everything else. Bats are good at hiding. Dick might be the best at it. And Bludhaven is a huge city, wild and chaotic, intent on swallowing every single person whole and spitting out something different. It’s almost too easy to lose yourself in that urban nightmare, in the winding, trash-laden streets, the crime ridden neighborhoods. Identity hardly matters in a world that holds no laws.
Dick would blend in easily there. Would probably burrow himself so deep into its skin he’d think no one would ever find him ever again. It’s a good place if you’re hiding from the people who are good at finding things. Unlucky for him Donna and Garth know all of his tricks.
What they find isn’t good. It’s all the bad signs, jammed together, stuffed into a horrible, unmanageable creature of bad decisions.
Bludhaven is a monster of a city, a cross between the worst parts of Las Vegas and Chicago. And Dick’s decided to hide in the roughest part of a city, like he’s burying himself under all the pain, all the grime and dirt. In a cab, which means an easy getaway vehicle. No permanent address. And a persona as different from his real one as it could get.
From a rich boy in a mansion to a homeless guy in the slums of the worst city of the Earth. Dick’s emotional breakdowns are usually perfectly predictable, if you know how to look.
Donna and Garth have spent a lifetime of looking. And everything about this is a bit too calculated to Donna. Not just Dick freaking out and running away. It’s definitely a lot more complicated than memory loss. He’s trying to distance himself, cut away every part of himself that belonged to Dick Grayson.
It looks a lot like a kind of suicide to Donna. Dick Grayson got shot in the head and the guy who woke up thinks that he died.
“Dick hates being in one place. Probably better than a trailer or sleeping in some box,” Garth says with a shrug when they find the cab. Worry crinkles at the corners of his eyes.
“I hate that about him,” Donna mutters. Garth takes her hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. Donna squeezes back, grateful.
Sleeping out in a cab right in front of a bar. A cab that looks like it’s two days away from falling apart. Honestly. Only Dick could think of something so stupid and reckless. The fact that it’s not the worst way he’s self-destructed probably makes it worse.
“So what do you think?” Garth asks. “Break it to him gently or ambush?”
For an answer, Donna lets go of Garth’s hand and marches towards the car. She knocks on the drivers’ side window. Hard. Not hard enough to shatter it but pretty close. She’s angry and impatient and doesn’t have the time for gentle. Garth follows her without question.
The next few things happen in rapid succession: Dick bursts out of the taxi right at Donna, Garth manages to pin him down, Dick struggles but fails to break the hold. Donna and Garth share a look, caught between surprise and worry.
(Garth has superstrength but Dick, as a general rule, shouldn’t have been restrained so easily.)
“We need to talk,” Donna says.
Dick struggles again, half- wild and terrified, more fear than an actual attempt to get away. His head is shaved, the scar showing prominently. His clothes are rumpled, dirty, and ragged, like it’s the only set he has. There’s a dangerous look in his eyes. One Donna is all too familiar with.
“I don’t know you people are,” he snarls. “But you’re wasting your time here. Dick Grayson is dead. Whatever you’re looking for, you’re not finding it here so stop with the ambush already.”
“We just want to talk,” she says softly. “You may not know us but we know you. I’m not asking for anything, just let us say what we have to say. Then we’ll never bother you again.”
That makes him stop struggling. Makes them regard him warily. “No one’s ever said that before,” he says. “Never?”
“A few hours and few drinks, that’s all we ask,” Garth says calmly. “I already bought your favorite. Or was. But I don’t think alcohol preferences really change with memory loss.”
“I don’t know what you want from me,” Dick says. “I don’t have anything to give you.”
“Just a few words,” Donna says. “Just listen to what we have to say. Nothing else, I promise.”
It’s a lie, one she’ll hope Dick will forgive her for. She’s never been very good at lying to him.
Dick is almost eerily still. He looks like he’s considering it. Donna can’t quite read him from here. Would he be different, without all those memories? Donna would like to think that her best friend is her best friend but what if she’s wrong?
When Donna met Dick for the first time, she remembers her soul singing. A twinge in her chest that had instantly drawn the two of them to each other. And it had been a little like waking up for the first time and seeing sunlight streaming through the window, wrapped in covers, with all the possibilities of a day about to be had.
It was a little like love at first sight, if the two of them ever thought of each other like that.
Dick describes it as finding a soul that perfectly matched his. That knowing Donna is knowing a part of himself he never knew he needed.
Donna wants to believe that she’s not about to lose something like that so easily.
“Fine,” Dick says. His face is turned away from her.
Donna shares a look with Garth. He nods and lets him go.
Dick gets up, shaking Garth off. He’s not quite glaring at them but he’s wary. Donna keeps her expression neutral.
“Come on,” he says. “I know a place.”
Being Dick Grayson’s friend means dealing with at least one of two things at any given time: dealing with him when he’s being an asshole, and dealing with him when he’s being a self-sacrificing asshole. Donna’s still trying to decide which one of those this is.
He takes them to an abandoned warehouse. Bludhaven has a lot of those too, apparently. His driving has gotten a lot worse, a lot more reckless. Donna tries not to look too much into that.
“So talk,” Dick says. He’s sprawling on the only foldable chair in the entire building. “I don’t have all day and neither do you. And let’s skip the introductions, shall we? It’s not like you’re gonna be staying long.” Garth flinches and Dick pretends to ignore him. He opens the bottle Garth brought and fills the glass that Garth also brought because he likes thinking ahead like that. Dick downs half the glass in one gulp. Fast enough to make Garth flinch again. Dick makes a face that he hides quickly enough. His shoulders are tense, waiting for a fight.
With the kind of family he has, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. He’s probably had a lot of fights about his decision to run already.
“How are you?” Donna asks. Everything she planned to say seems to have disappeared from her mind. All she can think about is how Dick looks exhausted, slumped in on himself, dark rings around his eyes. His ragged clothes. The hunted, half-wild look in his eye. How scared he looks. She sits down carefully on an empty crate, eyes not leaving Dick once. Garth stands beside her.
Dick raises an eyebrow. “Doing fine, though I doubt you came here to ask how I am.” He takes another drink.
“We didn’t,” Garth says. He stalks towards Dick and flicks him over the head, earning a sharp yelp from him. “That’s for hiding out from us, asshole. Now tell us what this is really about. And stop drinking. You obviously hate it.”
Dick glares again. He downs another glass, looking Garth straight in the eye. The bottle is already a quarter empty. Garth rolls his eyes and snatches the bottle away from him. That’s probably a good idea. They need Dick sober for this conversation.
“I’m not hearing a lot of talking,” he says. “Say what you have to say and we can all be on our merry way again.”
“You’re usually much better at acting like an asshole than this,” Donna says mildly. “Must be the memory loss. Don’t know where to hit us where it hurts, do you?”
“Dick,” Donna says. “We all know you’re just putting up an act so why don’t you just drop it and tell us what this is really about.”
“My name,” Dick says, “is Ric.”
“Ric then,” Donna says evenly. “Wanna start talking?”
“I thought you were gonna do the talking and I was gonna do the listening.”
“Can’t talk if you don’t tell us what’s wrong first.”
“There’s nothing wrong.”
“Doesn’t look that way to me.”
“And what the hell do you know?”
“Quite a lot,” Donna says. “Probably more than you right now. So why don’t you tell us what this is about so we can actually talk about it.”
“This is about me,” Dick says, barely restraining the anger in his voice. “You know what it was like? Waking up to people looking at you and expecting someone else, expecting someone perfect? I’m not Mr. Golden Boy, okay? I’m just a screw up who lost his memory and doesn’t know who the fuck he is. You wanna know what this is about? This is about being what I actually want to be for once in my life.” He snaps his mouth shut, eyes wide, staring at her like he’s said too much. Donna’s entire being aches. She wonders, not for the first time, if they’re doing the right thing.
“Dick we all know you’re not--” Garth tries to place an arm on his shoulder but Dick shakes it off instantly.
“I said don’t call me that,” Dick snaps. “I go by Ric now. Like I keep saying, Dick isn’t here. ”
Garth’s getting angry too or getting worried or both. His hands have tightened into fists. His face is a little too blank. “I don’t care what you call yourself,” he says, voice careful and measured. “No one cares what name you want to go by. That’s not the problem here. You’re not here because you’re a different person but because you’re the same and you’re scared. What are you running away from? ”
Garth really does have a way with words, always cutting past all the bullshit and into the heart of the matter. He’s always been a straightforward kind of guy, has even less patience for Dick’s avoidance than Donna has.
Dick looks like someone slapped him. He’s shaking slightly. More from fear than anger, Donna thinks. Dick looks so scared right now. She just wants to take him into her arms, hold him, and never let go. She wants Wally and Roy here, both so steady and light in their own ways. They’d be able to get Dick through this, probably even better than her. Garth’s great at listening, at letting him vent and work through his emotions, but Dick has to want to do it first. She gets him to talk, to be real with himself, but she can’t do that if he’s still lying to himself.
Roy and Wally can get his head out of his ass enough for them to deal with. Usually through a lot of fighting and broken furniture. Donna’s not very good at fighting with Dick. One of the downsides of understanding each other so well. Garth just isn’t good with fighting with anyone who isn’t an enemy. They need each other to help each other. They can’t do any of this alone.
The five of them were perfect together, whole and unbreakable. They grew up together, know how to take care of each other, and how to fix each other. But something so whole, something so great is also so easy to break. They can barely function with a missing piece, let alone three. They’ve grown up and around each other, grown up needing each other. None of them are that great at being alone.
Donna doesn’t know what do anymore. She’s scared and tired and grieving, and she wants things to be alright again. She wants her family to be whole again.
“Look,” Dick says. “I know you think you know me, that you think you can just tell what I can do or can’t do, but you don’t. I’m not Nightwing. I’m not Dick Grayson. I’m not Robin. That guy you knew is dead. He got shot in the head. Dick Grayson is dead. So don’t think you know anything about me.”
Donna clenches her fist. Tries not to let his words hurt. Tries not to feel like she just lost another friend. Tries not to let the grief and anger and everything else overwhelm her. Fails, for the most part.
“I know you take your coffee black with too much sugar and a little more honey,” she says quietly. “I know that you like those stupid cereals with marshmallows on it, but your real favorite is oatmeal with chocolate for some godforsaken reason. I know you hate drinking and right now, you want nothing more than to wash your mouth down with hot chocolate. I know that you do the parallel bars when you’re trying to relax, rings when you’re agitated, and the trapeze if your nostalgic. You haven’t done any of it in a while judging from how tense you are. You’re bored and you won’t even admit it to yourself because that’s what Dick Grayson would do, isn’t it? And you’re not Dick Grayson.
“I know that you spent your afternoons in the circus with the elephant and even the other circus kids found that weird. They never liked you much. You got too angry, got into too many fights, too obsessive. I know you break things when you’re angry, and even more when you’re scared. I know you get so scared sometimes that you get angry. I know you’re good at reading people, at saying the right things to hurt them the most. And I know that that’s what you’re trying to do to us now because you’re so scared you’re going to say the wrong thing. You’re driving us away before we can reject you because you don’t remember us and it worked on your family, so why not? You don’t know us either, and you don’t know that we’re your friends and we absolutely do not stand for you lying to yourself.”
Donna takes a deep breath. She doesn’t move towards Dick like Garth did. She stays where she is, perfectly still. Looks Dick right in the eye and tries to keep herself steady. “You were the first person I called when I had my first date and my first breakup. The first time I had sex. My wedding. My divorce. My son. You were there for all my firsts. And I was your first call for all yours too. I’ve seen you at your worst, seen you tearing yourself apart, hurting everyone around you. I’ve seen you mourning. I’ve seen you so angry you destroyed your apartment, destroyed yourself. Don’t think that you can still lie to me. I know you, and I know what you look like when you’re trying to run away from the people you love.”
“Stop it,” Dick whispers. “Stop talking.”
“You run when you’re scared,” she says. “And that’s okay because that’s who you are. And you must be so scared right now. Gods know I know what memory loss is like. I understand, okay? But we’re not letting you go at this alone. We’ll always chase after you, darling. You know we will.”
She has to believe he does. Has to believe she hasn’t lost him completely.
Garth tries to touch Dick again. Puts a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t flinch away this time. He’s too busy staring at Donna.
“Please come back with us,” Garth says quietly. “Let us help you. Whatever you need.”
“We’re not forcing you to do anything,” Donna says. “Tell us to leave and we will and we’ll never bother you again. But you’re hurting so much. Let us help you. That’s what we do. That’s what we always do.”
“Titans Together, right?” Garth says, almost to himself. It gets a small smile out of her. Dick flinches back violently, like he recognizes the words, too. Garth’s hand is barely enough to keep him steady.
“I--Donna I--” Dick’s eyes are wide, staring at her. He looks like he’s about to cry. His face has gone pale and terrified, entire body trembling. “Donna. I--I remember. Your name’s Donna. And Garth… Garth you’re...I can’t--I can’t remember--” He clutches his head, letting out a cry. Garth is closer than Donna. He already has an arm around Dick’s shoulder. Dick leans into the touch. Garth is looking at her, terrified.
Donna rises slowly. Gently. She’s scared of breaking him. Of breaking him more than she already has. Of hurting him more than he already is.
“Who are you people?” Dick whispers. “I know you but I can’t remember. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to--”
She kneels in front of Dick, not breaking her gaze. “You don’t have to be anything for us, honey,” she says. “We love you for whoever you are.”
“I can’t--I don’t know what he--”
“You’re the same person,” she says. “Memories or no, you’re our best friend and we love you. You don’t have to prove anything to us.”
Donna strokes back his hair. At some point, he’s started crying. She has too. It doesn’t matter. She’s with friends. They're alone. She can cry here. For maybe a little moment she can cry.
“You’ve done nothing wrong, sweetheart,” she says. “Come home with us. Please.”
“I need you Dick, Ric, whatever you call yourself. We need you right now. You’re my best friend and--” her voice breaks. Donna tries to blink past her tears. She can’t afford to break down right now but she’s so close already. “--that’s never going to change, we can make new memories, you can take a new name, but there’s only one you and I really need you right now. Please come home with us.”
Dick lets out a shuddering breath. Closes his eyes. He puts a hand over Garth’s, like he’s drawing strength from it. He leans in close to Donna, pressing their foreheads together. Donna feels some of the pain in her chest ease, just being close to him, just knowing that he’s still there, whole and alive. She hopes that it helps him too.
“Okay,” he says quietly. “Okay.”
Dick passes out pretty much as soon as he gets into the back of the cab. Garth climbs into the driver’s seat and Donna climbs in beside him. It’s not her preferred method of travelling but Dick seems to like the cab. He might want to keep it.
Donna’s not that far behind Dick. She feels drained, exhausted, like her heart was ripped out of her chest and now there’s only a cavity waiting to be filled.
Garth glances at her. He’s driving towards the tower. “You should get some rest,” he says.
“Can you even drive?”
Garth raises an eyebrow.
“I don’t think they have cars in Atlantis,” she says. “...Or roads. You definitely don’t have roads unless I missed a lot of things since I last visited.”
“You’re hilarious,” Garth says. “I’m the Atlantean ambassador to the U.N. of course I can drive. And I don’t think Themyscira has cars, either, Amazon.”
They’re quiet for a while. Donna tries to force herself to smile but everything about this is wrong. Her world hasn’t really felt right since before…
(Since she found out she’s an evil version of Diana made to destroy the world. That kind of thing tends to put a damper on anyone’s mood. The fact that the world seems to pile problem after problem after that… didn’t really help.)
“You don’t think we’re forcing him, do you?” she asks. “I don’t want to force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.”
“Of course we’re forcing him,” Garth says. “You know how he gets. He gets lost in his head and he needs someone to pull him out. That’s what we’re here for.”
“He had a life here. It wasn’t a good life but…” Better than what they have now, arguably. He doesn’t stand to wake up and find out that two of his childhood friends were murdered, along with dozens of other people he’d known. “I just feel like--”
“Like we’re using him to lean on because of…”
Garth closes his eyes, grip tightening around the steering wheel. When he opens them, he looks tired too. “We’ve always relied on you and Dick, haven’t we? You got us through emotions and Dick got us through everything else.”
Donna snorts. “You make us sound like a married couple. Like we’re your parents or something. Never thought you saw us like that, Fishcheeks.”
“You know what I mean,” Garth says. “The two of you are good at that. Being there for other people. And we taught you that we’d be there for you when you need us. That’s just how we work, Donna. Just because you do it more often doesn’t mean you can’t rely on us too. He needs us right now but we need him to. We can’t just run away from our problems. Not when they have a habit of following us.”
They can help Dick, she thinks. Dick’s always been there for them. He gets angry, gets cold and distant, but they only have to ask and he’ll be there. He’s always there. And now he can’t be so they have to help him. That’s what friends are for.
“We’re really codependent, aren’t we?” Donna says. “I don’t think it’s very healthy.”
“I like to think we turned out okay given the circumstances.” Garth’s eyes flicker to Dick, still passed out in the rearview mirror. There are new lines around his eyes, in his forehead. He looks scared, even in his sleep. Donna tries not to look too much into that, either. “Besides,” he adds quietly. “Dick would hate us if we didn’t tell him about Roy and Wally, memories or no.”
Donna looks away. They’re driving by the coast. The sea is peaceful. It steadies her a bit. She wonders if it steadies Garth too.
Probably does. Garth’s always liked being near the water when things got hard. Their first clubhouse was near the sea precisely because of that. They’re all hurting in their own ways and they have their own ways of coping.
They fall quiet again. It’s not as heavy as before, like some of the pain got away from her and were swallowed by the sea. It’s a nice picture to have. A nice sentiment.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there,” Garth says when they’re halfway to Titans Tower and the waves have nearly lulled her to sleep. “When things started to go wrong.”
Donna tries to be completely awake for him but can’t quite manage it. Still, she thinks that Garth needs something from her, too.
“Not your fault,” she says because it isn’t. The truth is generally a good thing. She doesn’t blame him for having his own problems. They’re not kids anymore. They have lives outside their own, outside each other. That’s okay. They always come back to each other in the end.
“I’m still sorry.” Donna doesn’t really know what to say to that so she stays quiet, just keeps staring at the sea. She feels an arm on her shoulder, squeezing gently. “Get some rest, Donna. It’s going to be better when you wake up.”
“That’s a lie,” Donna says, but she closes her eyes nonetheless.
“Things are always better when we’re together,” Garth says. “Even if it’s to mourn what we’ve lost.”
She falls asleep to Garth stroking her hair gently and the sound of waves lulling her into dreams.
She wakes up in her room at Titans Tower. Dick is curled up in one of the chairs, awake but despondent. His eyes are vacant. Garth is kneeling right in front of him, trying to get him to talk and not succeeding very well. Donna would think that Dick hadn’t noticed him at all if not for the fact that he’s very clearly leaning into Garth’s hand on his arm.
Donna shakes off the last vestiges of sleep and heads over to them. She kneels beside Garth, putting a hand over Dick’s. He doesn’t even twitch. It’s like he hasn’t even noticed she’s there.
“Bad day?” she asks quietly. They’ve developed a code for it pretty early on. Dick had his bad days. Wally had his running days. Garth and Roy had their punch something in the face days.
Donna’s really didn’t have a name, but the boys tended to give her ice cream and host movie nights when she’s feeling down, then they go out to fight crime and leave her to take the big bad down on her own while they watch and do damage control. Anyway, she doesn’t get like that often. She’s the one who helps them get through stuff. They’ve been through worse. Donna’s good at protecting them. She doesn’t need their protection.
“The worst I’ve seen.” Garth gives her a helpless look. His grip tightens on Dick’s arm. “It’s like he doesn’t even know where he is.”
Really bad day then. Garth wasn’t there for what happened to Jason. He hasn’t seen Dick at his absolute worst. He’s not quite there yet. He’s close but not yet there. Donna decides that that’s a good thing.
“Standard thing then,” she says. “Ice cream and movie night. What do you think, Boy Wonder? Scooby-Doo marathon?”
Dick’s eyes flicker to hers. He head twitches. A tiny, miniscule movement. Donna decides that it’s a nod.
“Get the ice cream, Garth,” she says. Garth gets up and goes with one last reassuring squeeze for Dick and a kiss to Donna’s forehead.. Donna strokes Dick’s temple, finds that she misses his long, shaggy hair.
He’s always liked it long, ridiculous as it is. They never stopped teasing him for his mullet. He took it in good humor, with a roll of his eyes and a half-hearted defense of his hair. It just sent the rest of them into laughing fits that lasted twenty minutes or more.
“We’ll figure this out, okay?” she says. “Come back when you’re ready and we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do.”
She presses a kiss to his temple. Gets up. Walks out and gets her laptop. Scooby-Doo marathons are good. Dick always gets heated about it. Offends the detective in him. It’s usually hilarious. It’s gonna hurt without Wally and Roy, constantly egging Dick on, but anything to help Dick. “I’ll put on the--”
She freezes. Her back is turned to him. She grips her laptop hard enough that she’s scared she might break it.
“Your name,” he says, “your name’s Donna, right?” His voice comes out hoarse, like he’s forgotten how to talk. And uncertain. Donna closes her eyes. Her voice, when she speaks, miraculously doesn’t waver.
“Yeah,” she says. “That’s me.”
She can’t bear to look at him yet. Doesn’t want to know how he’s looking at her.
“And we were--You knew him. From before. You know what he’s like. Who he is.”
“I know you.”
He’s quiet. She feels his anger, even from here. It’s familiar and a little bit comforting. Donna knows Dick’s anger well and this is an anger she knows she can handle. It’s him letting himself reach out and Donna thinks she needs a lifeline too. She turns around. Sets the laptop on her bed. Sits down right in front of him, cross-legged.
There’s a pause where Dick seems to be gathering the strength to talk again. Donna’s scared that he’s gonna go quiet again but he doesn’t. With visible effort, he closes his eyes and steels himself. Then he opens his mouth and says,
“You know what I mean. You know what he was like before--With the memories.”
“I do,” she says. She meets his eyes. His gaze is still distant, barely focusing on her, but she’ll hold his attention if it’s the last thing she’ll do. “What do you want to know?”
“Everything,” he says. “You said--I’m the furthest thing from perfect and you said you’d accept me for whoever I am so tell me. Everything.”
It’s a dangerous path to tread. Dick has that look in his eyes again, like he’s looking for more ways to disappear. She thinks that she’s just about had enough of all his running away.
The problem with Dick is that he never learned to back off, always charging straight to the thick of every battle without a hint of hesitation. He never stops, always running and running and running at full speed like it’s the only thing he can do. Dick Grayson doesn’t run away. Until he does and then he never stops.
(“Wanderlust,” he’d always say with a rueful smile. “I’ve always been a cliche.”)
Those are the times he’ll need someone to chase after him, tackle him to the ground and do anything to make him stay, remind him of all the reasons why he stayed in the first place.
“You’re not perfect, no, but you are a good man,” she says, “and no don’t give me that look, I’m an Amazon so just accept that for the compliment that it is.” She tilts her head, considering. “You’re a good man but you get angry a lot. You’re not good at controlling your temper and you lash out. You can get manipulative and downright cruel if you want to be. You’re scared of hurting people so you push them away and end up hurting them more. You were obsessed with pleasing Batman. You love him and you’d kill yourself for him and yeah, that’s a horrible trait because it brings out the worst in you. Is that what you wanted to hear? You’re also really good at self-pity, too, last I remember.”
Dick blinks slowly. He curls in on himself tighter, burying his head against his chest. Donna doesn’t know if she’s making things better or worse. Better, hopefully.
“You made me cry once, asshole,” she says. “It was a bad fight. We were teenagers. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about but gods, you made me cry. An Amazon crying over something a fourteen-year-old boy said to her. It’s pathetic. You dissolved the Titans so many times, as if it was just your decision--” She cuts herself off because she’s dangerously close to bursting into tears again and she’s not doing that. Not in front of Dick. Not because of him. Not here in this tower.
“I’m sorry,” Dick says after a long moment. “If he--If I hurt you. You’re the--That’s a really shitty thing to do.”
Donna lets out a wet laugh. “ You don’t even know what you’re apologizing about. I really hate you sometimes, you know.”
A ghost of a smile. Barely a twitch of the lips. Nowhere near the real thing but better than nothing.
“I can imagine,” he says. Then he says, “tell me more,” so Donna does. Stories from their early days. The first time they met, when they fought the Justice League, that time they were in a band. The time they nearly killed a man. The first time the Titans broke up because they were growing up and growing apart and everything was growing hard.
And all those years when they forgot each other, lost that huge part of themselves for years and years, only finding each other recently again. And to lose that all over again.
She doesn’t tell him about Roy and Wally. Not yet. Not right now when he looks like he could shatter from one wrong word. It’s something she’ll pay for soon but she’s just getting Dick back again. She doesn’t think she can bear to lose him again.
Worse, she doesn’t think she can stand it if she tells them about them and only see second hand pity in his eyes. He doesn’t know them yet. It wouldn’t be fair to ask him to mourn them. Make him apologize for not being able to.
Donna doesn’t know how long she talks, probably too long, but Dick’s eyes are focusing more and he’s breathing easier and he seems more there with each word she says. There’s a missing light in his eyes, the one that’s always there when he’s talking to her, when he’s with the Titans. Donna hadn’t realized how important it was to her until it’s not there.
But this is also the most she’s had of him in a long time and she’s not letting it go.
“And there was that time we were on TV and Wally was being an asshole. You weren’t there in the beginning because Batman was being moody again--”
A knock on the door stops her. Dick’s eyes widen and she follows her line of sight. Garth is standing there, holding a gallon of cookie dough ice cream. And Ms. Martian is standing beside him.
“What is she doing here,” she hisses, aware of how cold she sounds. She’s exhausted and she’s tired of pretending.
(It had been Dick’s idea to play along, just for a little while. It was clear he hated it, they both did, but the Justice League were watching Donna’s every movement and it was the only way to get her out. Just until they could get the other three on board then they could go off on their own again, like they’re supposed to.
Donna hates being the damsel in distress, hates having to be saved, but she hates being locked up in the watchtower more. The Justice League forced them to compromise, as if they had a hand in the decisions the Titans made.)
“Just listen, Donna,” Garth says. “She wants to help.”
“You’re green,” Dick says.
“I--I sensed him in the tower,” Ms. Martian says. “I can heal him, if he wants. Amnesia is fairly simple to cure.”
“And run back to Batman to tell when you’re done?”
Ms. Martian straightens. “No,” she says. “I don’t agree with what he’s doing. I know why he hasn’t gone to me or Uncle J’onn already. It’s not fair to anyone what he’s doing.”
The prospect is tempting. She and Garth want their friend back. They need him back. They can’t lose anyone else right now. But she remembers the look of fear in Dick’s eyes. He’s always been transparent to her. She knows what it’s like, to have people look at you and see someone else, treat you like your something to be disposed of, thrown away to find the true person underneath.
She doesn’t like Dick running away but she understands why he did it. Titans protected each other, even when it hurts. That’s what being a family means. She shares a look with Garth and knows that he’s thinking along the same lines.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” he says.
Donna turns to Dick. “I promised you we’d do whatever you wanted,” she says. “The promise still stands. You want to stay as Ric, want to forget those memories, and we’ll do that. And we’ll figure out what to do after.”
“I came here,” Dick says, “I came with you,” like it’s already an explanation. Maybe it is.
“You don’t have to lose yourself for us.”
“I want my memories back,” Dick says quietly. “Of course I want them back. You’ve told me all about his life and he has all of you. He has all of your love. I want to be the man who deserved all that.”
“We’d still love you--”
“But I won’t love you the same way,” Dick says. “Not like he did.” He closes his eyes, a small smile painting his lips. “It’s going to be a bit like dying, isn’t it?”
Donna takes his hand in hers. She likes the weight of it, warm and familiar. “Yeah, I suppose,” she says. “It’s probably a lot like that.”
“That’s okay,” Dick says. “I don’t think I’d mind dying for you guys.”
“None of that,” he says. He presses a kiss to the back of her hand. “You’re getting your friend back and it’s a good thing.” His eyes flicker to Garth. “I wouldn’t mind a Scooby-Doo Marathon first, though.”
Garth lets out a breath that’s probably supposed to be a laugh. “Of course,” he says. “I already bought the ice cream.”
They watch five hours worth of Scooby-Doo. Dick falls asleep halfway through, through constant streams of ‘this is stupid’ and ‘that’s just not how it works’ because some things never change, but Donna can’t bring herself to do anything until the last episode rolls. Garth doesn’t seem inclined to protest.
“Is it going to hurt him?” Garth asks Ms. Martian as she prepares to fix his memories.
“No,” she says. “Just a little sting and he’ll wake up remembering everything.”
“Do it then,” Donna says, pressing a kiss to Dick’s--Ric’s--forehead.
Ms. Martian presses her fingers against his temple. Donna closes her eyes and hopes for the best.
Dick wakes up exactly two hours after Ms. Martian fixed his memories. They put him on Donna’s bed and just let him rest there. Donna knows because she was sitting at his bedside, watching him the whole time. It’s probably unhealthy, definitely exhausting, but she’s not letting Dick out of her sight for a pretty long time.
Garth’s not really much better. He exhausted himself pacing back and forth, waiting for him to wake up. He’s the one curled up in the armchair now. Donna resists the urge to dump him on her bed as well. He’s probably gonna wake up with a crick in his neck if he stays there.
Their rooms at Titans Tower had bunk beds before, when they were kids and when they first reformed, along with multiple comfortable places to sleep. They usually just crashed together in one room. There’s really no point in living with your friends if you can’t stay up all night talking to each other.
They didn’t have them at this tower, too busy pretending they’re not a family and just some sort of random superhero team. Too busy trying to prove themselves.
Hera, it was the dumbest idea they’ve ever had. The Titans have never needed to prove themselves before. They are who they are and nothing else mattered. They don’t now, no matter what the Bat says.
Ms. Martian’s wandered off. Donna’s going to deal with her later. She’s going have to thank her. The girl has spine and she’s really nice. Maybe they might even make a Titan of her yet.
“I know you’re awake,” Donna says, watching Dick’s eyelashes fluttering. tiny twitches of movement that say he’s alive. “How are you?”
Dick groans, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose. He sits up, still not opening his eyes.
“Donna?” he asks, voice horse and pained.
“What happened?” he asks. His hands wander up and freeze when it reaches his hairline. “And what the hell happened to my hair?” His hands wander across his shaved head. Flinches away when it runs over the scar.
Donna’s voice is careful. “You don’t remember anything?” It wouldn’t be unlikely. Ms. Martian had said it was a possibility, something about losing identities, but…
Donna decides to cross that bridge when they get there.
Dick finally opens his eyes. He turns to her slowly. There’s the haze of pain and fever there but he’s there. He’s well and truly there. “I remember I was with Batman and the Commissioner, joking around then… nothing.”
So he doesn’t remember anything. Nothing from his time as Ric. It might come back at some point but right now, he doesn’t remember, and Donna doesn’t have to deal with it yet. It’s awfully convenient, isn’t it? Dick running away and not remembering what he’s done, not necessarily in that order. All those days he wasn’t there gone. Ric Grayson, so scared of not living up to the memory of a person he doesn’t know, running away because it hurt so much, just gone. Like he never even existed in the first place.
Like he was never even real.
“Donna?” Dick’s voice sounds far away, coming from underwater. Donna can barely concentrate on anything. “Donna what’s wrong?”
What isn’t wrong? The world seems intent on crapping on her. She’s exhausted and tired of being its punching bag. She’s tired of losing people.
She pushes at Dick’s shoulder. Probably too hard. Hard enough to hurt him. She’s horrible. The guy just got healed. She’s probably gonna end up injuring him again. She picks him up and crushes him against her chest. Savors his warmth. Savors the fact that he’s there and not dead and knows who she is and still trusts her. Donna’s gotten really low standards on how to deal with people over the past few months. The world can barely even meet it.
Dick wraps his arms automatically around her. He’s still confused but she appreciates it. He smells like someone who’s been sleeping in his car for the past few weeks. Donna really cannot bring herself to give a shit.
“You got shot in the head, you asshole,” she says. “You’ve been walking around Bludhaven with amnesia like an idiot and Garth and I had to go and find you and drag you back here.”
And it makes it sound so simple, so easy. Donna doesn’t think she’ll be ever to say how much he’s hurt her.
“Oh,” Dick says. “I’m sorry,” and he sounds like he genuinely is, like he understands what she can’t say. Sometimes, Donna really hates him.
“If you ever pull something like this I’m going to kill you.” She holds onto him tighter. They just hold each other for a while. Donna tries to get herself together. She’s sick of this act. She’s sick of feeling like she’s falling apart every second, too. She’s tired and she wants her friends here and she’s tired that they can’t be here with her. They can’t be whole ever again and there’s nothing she can do about it and she hates it.
Just waiting for someone to fix her pain for her, waiting for someone to help make things better. Donna’s not a child. She doesn’t want to be comforted.
“Donna.” Dick pulls away. Holds her by the shoulders. Searches her face. “That’s not all that’s wrong is it?”
Donna is shaking her head even before she can think about it. “Dick, no don’t do this. You just got better, you don’t have to--”
Donna hates his voice. Hates that he’s the steady one when he’s the one who just got hurt. The one who’s injured. Donna’s okay. All her hurts are hurts she knows how to deal with. She’s okay.
She realizes that she’s trembling. Shaking so violently she feels like she’s about to break apart.
“What happened, Donna?” Dick asks, sounding so gentle it hurts.
She shakes her head again. Tries to pull away but Dick holds onto her. Holds her together. It’s not fair. She’s the one who’s supposed to be doing that.
She is an Amazon. She doesn’t need to be taken care of. She’s always been the one taking care of them.
“Let me help you,” Dick says softly.
“You’re the one who needs more help right now, Boy Wonder.”
“It’s going to hurt you too,” she whispers. “It’s going to hurt you so much. You just got better. I don’t want you to get hurt more.”
Something flickers in Dick’s eyes. He glances at Garth, very obviously exhausted in more ways than one. He should be awake by now, always been a light sleeper. Donna wonders if she’s given it away already. There’s not many things that can reduce her to tears like this. She doesn’t break easy. The signs are all there and Dick’s always been an amazing detective.
“It’s already hurting you. Tell me so we can help each other,” Dick says. “Titans together, Titans forever, right?”
It’s too close to what she and Garth told Ric. Friends forever, friends helping each other, friends being there when no one else could. It occurs to Donna that it doesn’t just apply just to him. That it’s not just them who needs help sometimes. She doesn’t have to be her protector all the time. She’s gotten so used to it. It occurs to her that the others could be there for her too.
And something in Donna breaks shatters into a million pieces, and she lets it. For now, she lets it. She’s with friends. With family. She can let herself break here.
So she tells him. About Roy. About Wally. About him. About everything that happened in-between. And all the pain that came before it. Dick knew some of it already but they never talked about it. He’s not the only one who likes to keep their pains close to their chest, who has a fear of not being the right person to everyone.
There’s a reason they get along so well, after all.
And Dick breaks too. Donna sees the look on his face when she tells him what happened.
“I just--They’re…” And he’d broken down and Donna had held him and he’d held her. And they were together. Not complete but together and they’ll learn how to manage.
They always do.