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broken toys, broken boys

Chapter Text

"Good day, Grayson."

"Good morning to you too, Lancelot." Dick Grayson gave his fellow colleague a firm nod as he walked along the cars that were flanking him from each sides. Hands shoved in his pockets of his coat, he walked through the parking lot towards the main gates.

Nothing like a mocha frappuccino to start his tiring, crazy day spiraling around vigilantes and crimes.

His feet dragged themselves out onto the street and on the sidewalk. Random people were walking about, complaining on how cold the weather was as they snuggled their noses deeper into their scarves and blowed puffs of hot air onto their bare hands.

The cold, morning breeze bit at Dick's cheeks, turning his nose a bright red, but he didn't really care. He just wanted coffee.

Feeling a bit more comfortable when he neared one part of the city where it had much lesser crowds of people, Dick loosened his tense muscles and walked down the street. Dust and old takeout paper bags littered the grounds, along with a few cigarettes—some old, some still smoldering at their tips. Dick Grayson was never one to smoke.

"Aright, Ryder—open your eyes."

Dick spun to the side to see a dark alleyway, all charred and filthy—a small group of boys that looked to be about eighteen were standing beside a metal trash bin.

A tall brunette with a gaunt face along with a pointed chin, who seemed to be the leader of this group, stood in front of the boys who all seemed to be grabbing hold of another kid in particular. This one wore nothing but a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of sweats, and had the most peculiar green hair—a jacket was discarded on the ground at his feet.

"Stop, what the hell do you think you're doing?" The boy jerked his arms to free himself from the older kids' grasps. "Let me go!" They soon dropped him to the cold, concrete floor, pressing his back with their forearms and hands and knees to keep him from standing back up. Eventually, the young boy stopped struggling, and his hands dropped defeated, falling down onto the ground beside him as he was forced to kneel in front of the tall kid.

The brunette—Ryder, Dick supposed—removed his hands from his eyes, which Dick conluded that he'd had over his face for a long time. His face remained blank and emotionless as his gaze dropped to see the boy kneeling on the ground in front of him.

"Happy birthday, Ryder." One of the boys told the guy with a smirk plastered on his face, a look of pure craziness and insanity. "We knew that you wanted us to get you a cake."

"But we didn't have enough money." A short, pudgy blonde kid mentioned.

"So we brought you another treat." And with that, another boy with jet black hair nudged the young boy in the back with his knee. "And it comes with a free cake recipe."

Ryder didn't move, didn't say anything until the boy on the ground shifted uncomfortably on the concrete. The brunette looked up at the group of boys expectantly. "Well?" He questioned.

On cue, the boy with blond hair reached his chubby arm into the trash bin and, to Dick's surprise, fished out two bags of flour, a carton of eggs, and a big bottle that seemed to be full of alcohol.

"First, you crack the eggs open." The black-haired boy said aloud with a smile as he opened the carton of eggs and let the others take one each. The blonde threw it the young boy's head and the yolk splattered all over his hair, running down his temples.

The boy didn't even flinch, just stared at the ground blankly like a dead man who seemed to be awaiting his own funeral.

One of the eggs hit his back, egg shells and yolk dripping down his shirt. One exploded on his shoulder, another on the back of his neck, seeping into his clothes. All twelve eggs were soon gone, and the boy was covered from top to bottom with egg shells and yolk.

There was laughter, and the egg carton was dropped to the ground. The blonde handed a bag of flour to the other boy beside him, keeping one for himself. They both ripped the bags open like chidren unwrapping their gifts on a Christmas day.

"Next, you add the flour." The black-haired boy said, and Dick watch in horror and disgust as the two boys dumped the contents of the bag onto the boy's wet head and over his clothes. Leftover flour scattered all over the black, charred ground while most of it stayed on his hair, his shirt, his bare arms and face. The boy's expression was completely blank.

The boy, Ryder, looked down at the helpless kid at his feet. For a second, Dick wondered if the boy was about to stop his 'friends' from doing any more of this.

"… It could use candles." Ryder announced, raising an eyebrow as he reached into his back pocket of his jeans—he fished out a small lighter.

"Got ya, boss." Another boy replied to the tall brunette by grabbing the bottle of alcohol from the blond's arms. Getting it open without any effort, he turned to the bottle upside down and spilled the liquid onto the boy kneeling on the ground, wetting his clothes and drenching his green hair, mixing with the yolk and flour.

Dick could see the boy's fists tightening at his sides, scraping dust and pieces of debris into his hands, shoulders trembling with futile effort to keep himself from breaking down.

"He's gonna look so good when he's lit up in those flames." A faint smile found its way onto Ryder's lips as he held up the lighter to the green-haired boy's head.

The boys laughed and began kicking him, spitting and sending curse words flying. And as the kid was being hit over and over by those older boys, he did nothing to defend himself. Only wrapped his arms around his legs and pulled his knees to his chest.

Dick felt sudden adrenaline rush through his veins, and all thoughts of coffee were gone instantly. He started his steps towards the group of boys in the alleyway, who didn't even seem to notice because they were too busy bruising the boy at their feet.

At last, all of the other older teens backed off, and the brunette Ryder stepped up with his lighter and put it to the kid's shoulder, only inches away from—

"What do you kids think you're doing?" Dick raised his voice—it seemed to bounce on the walls of the building flanking him from his sides. All the boys turned to see the young man in front of them, body stiff and coiled like a gun ready to shoot bullets.

When Dick received no direct response, he dropped his stiff stance. "I'm a cop; get outta here before I call your school and parents and inform them of your actions." He called out, and silently held his breath, hoping that it would be enough to drive the kids away. "Next time I see you doing this I won't hesitate knocking you out."

With grunts and whispers, the boys stepped away from the young boy on the ground, and dispersed, walking past Dick—he didn't forget to give them the sourest looks he could muster. After making sure all of them were gone, Dick speed-walked over to the young kid on the concrete floor, who was slowly sitting up, using hands to support him.

Dick pushed the empty glass bottle and the egg carton away with his foot and took a good long look at the boy in front of him—he seemed to be about fifteen or sixteen, hair unnaturally green, face pale and bruised and bloodied. Cheeks covered in dirt and soot. Clothes dirty and smudged with ash and dirt, stuck to egg yolk on his shirt.

"Are you okay?" Dick heard himelf ask, and immediately wanted to punch himself. Of course he wasn't okay. He didn't even look okay.

The boy looked up at him with such empty, lifeless eyes that he had to stop himself from kneeling down and giving the teen a hug.

"My name is Detective Dick Grayson." He started, crouching down to the boy's level who was still on the ground, making his voice sound as not-grouchy as possible. "What's yours?"

And instead of giving him the reply he had expected, the green-haired teen raised an eyebrow and said—

"Your name is Dick?"

In this situation (depending on his mood), Dick would have either gotten annoyed, been offended, or had burst out laughing. But for some reason, he didn't really want to answer the question. "Your name?" He repeated, a little more firmly.When he saw the boy giving him something that resembled a doubtful face, Dick sighed and pulled out his wallet, showed him his identification card for his workplace. "I'm a qualified detective."

"Garfield Logan." The boy replied softly, wiping some yolk off his hand and sweats, shivering visibly as he grabbed his jacket, draping it over his drenched, cold body. Dick kneeled completely onto the ground and took off his own coat, putting it over the kid's shoulders, wrapping it around his torso.

Dick got up onto one knee and gently grabbed the boy's shoulder with his hands. "Can you stand?" He asked him carefully, and after a moment of consideration, he nodded.

Satisfied with the simple response given, Dick slipped one of the kid's arms over his own shoulders. He then slowly helped the kid to his feet, and Dick could easily sense the teen's soft hisses whenever he moved his body, as if a small bending of joints sent pain all over his nerve systems. He smelled strongly of raw eggs and alcohol.

As he helped the boy out of the alleyway and back to the police station, Dick couldn't help but remember the coffee he had been going to go buy.

He could've really used a grande-sized mocha frappuccino.

Chapter Text

The boy stood in front of Dick, bloodied and bruised hands limply at his sides, a jacket and a coat hanging off his shoulders.

“Sit down.” Dick ordered, and he hastened to oblige, sitting down on a stretcher. Dick immediately felt sorry for putting the kid under so much pressure.

The air smelled of disinfectant and antibiotics. Dick really hated this smell—it brought memories, thoughts that he didn’t want to be reminded of.

The police station was rather quiet. Only few people walled along the halls, holding clipboards, empty mugs and microwave foods. Dick glanced out the window before grabbing a plastic bottle half-full of disinfectant and several cotton swabs.

Picking up a clean towel from the clothes rack, he tossed it towards the kid, who caught it one-handed.

“Clean yourself up, will you?” Dick called out, and the kid did so, wiping his bare hands and arms after shrugging off the extra clothing draped over him. Flour fell onto the white-tiled floor.

He rubbed the white towel over his cheeks and the sides of his head, egg yolk dripping onto the stretcher. Smearing blood across his face from a cut upper lip, he set the towel down on his lap, awaiting Dick’s next instructions.

Dick turned around and saw red all over the boy’s cheek. With a soft sigh, he brought the disinfectant and cotton swabs over, set it on the small table near the window beside a potted plant.

“Hold still.”

Dick pulled out his handkerchief from his breast pocket—the one Kory had given him—and wiped the blood away. The kid flinched every time the cloth grazed any of his cuts and black bruises.

“Press this against your lips—no, not too much pressure—good.” Dick removed his hand from the boy’s and stood there, inspecting his face. It was relatively cleaner compared to before, but yolk was still in his hair, flour on his shoulders and on his neck, scratches and cuts all over his cheeks. A particularly big gash on his forehead.

Retrieving the disinfectant again, he wet the cotton swab and holding his temple with his left hand, Dick tilted the boy’s head up and dabbed at a cut on his chin.

The kid flinched a bit at the contact, but said nothing.

Dick, who decided to take a more friendlier approach, focused on cleaning the cut. “So, what do I call you?” He asked out loud, exhaling at the same time. “Garfield? Gar?” The name was foreign to his lips.

“Just Gar.”

“Not Garfield?”

“Gar.”

Another long uncomfortable silence followed. Dick cleared his throat. “Who were those guys back there?”

“Calum Ryder and his cronies.” Gar muttered in response, suddenly looking a little more mature. “They like picking on kids.”

“Doesn’t seem like what they were doing to you counts as ‘picking on’, actually.” He mentioned. “Do they do stuff to only you, or other kids as well?”

“They make fun of some others, but mostly it’s me.”

“Huh. How old are you?”

“Fifteen.”

“How are are they?”

“They’re seniors, eighteen years old.”

Dick started to fix another gash on Gar’s chin. He could hear the kid breathing shakily, clamping his jaw shut.

“Where do you live?”

“Not far from here. A ten-minute walk, I guess.”

“With your parents, yeah?”

“No, uh, with my uncle. He’s rarely at home, though.”

“Where are your parents?”

Gar didn’t answer, before letting an answer slip. “Dead.”

Dick cursed in his head, feeling like slapping himself. Why was he so ignorant?

“Sorry I asked.”

“It’s okay.”

Dick took a few seconds to think of other things to actually say. He began wiping the other end of the cotton swab on the boy’s cheek.

“Did your, uh, parents give you your name? Garfield?”

“Yeah.”

“Is it like the cat from the comics, or that American president?”

“Like the president.”

“M’kay.”

Dick gently took hold of the kid’s hand and removed the handkerchief from his lip. He then began applying the disinfectant to the cut—he hissed, pulling away.

“Hey, calm down.” Dick said as softly as he could, removing the cotton swab from his face. “I know it stings, but just a few more seconds and this’ll all be over. You hear me?”

After a while, the boy nodded, and sat up straight. Dick carefully moved the cotton swab back onto Gar’s lip. His time, he didn’t flinch at all.

After doing the same with other cuts and gashes—taping some gauze onto the biggest wound on his forehead—Dick put everything away and spread out his arms a little. “We’re done—that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

The kid shrugged. “I guess so.”

Dick stayed quiet for a moment, biting his tongue inside of his mouth. After a pregnant pause, he looked up to look at Gar in the eyes. “Why did they do that to you?”

“Huh?” Gar’s misty eyes snapped back into focus. “Oh, uh, it was Calum Ryder’s birthday. The others had been planning to do this for a while now.”

“You tried to fight back earlier. It was really brave of you.”

“It was just an attempt. Pretty fruitless to me. Besides, I didn’t try to fight afterwards.”

“Still.”

Another long silence.

“They think me as vulnerable and... weak. Easy to push around. A freak.”

“They don’t know you.”

“You don’t know me.”

“You’re a good kid, Gar. You really are.”

“You don’t know me.”

The kid repeated the same line again, looking down blankly at the white-tiled floor. His shoes barely brushed against the ground, and white-knuckled hands gripped tightly onto the edge of the stretcher.

“I should get going now.” Gar mentioned softly, getting to his feet. Dick couldn’t help but notice him wincing at every small move he made.

“No, uh, how about you stay for today? Here, at the police station.”

“But I—“

“You’re hurt. And I think we need you for further investigation.” Dick stated, glad that he was able to come up with such a reason for Gar to stay. “And you said your uncle is rarely home. It’s our responsibility to help.”

Whether he was too exhausted to argue, or whether he found logic in Dick’s reasons, he didn’t know; but the boy agreed to stay.

After a simple order for the kid to stay in the room, he went out into the hall to get that cup of coffee he had craved for.

Chapter Text

As much as Dick loved talking with little kids and teenagers on random playgrounds and schoolyards, he knew he didn't want any children.

Well, not just yet, anyways. Maybe later.

But the kid lying in bed next to him was slowly driving Dick on the way to losing his mind.

"Why do you call yourself Dick?" Gar inquired, eyes widening. "Oh, is Dick the short version of Dickson? No, wait. That's a stupid name."

"My real name is Richard." Dick said out loud, fingers tapping on his mug filled with lukewarm coffee. "Others just call me Dick."

Gar seemed to look at him from head to toe before he leaned back in the bed. "Dick suits you better." Silence. "Not that you're really a dick or anything."

After a while, the boy turned back to meet Dick's eyes.

"Dick?"

"Yes, Gar?"

"Do you do meth?"

"What kind of question is that?" Dick turned to the kid wearily. "Do I look like I do meth to you?

A pause.

"Actually, don't answer that."

"Just out of curiosity."

"Gar, can you please just go to sleep?" Dick almost begged. He had been listening to Gar talk for a full hour, and this kid had so many things to say. It just never seemed to end.

The boy had had a constant fever during the day, and Dick had insisted that Gar get immediately into one of the emergency beds they kept in the guest rooms at the police station. He had complained that he felt fine, but Dick knew better. He had been sweating profusely, and Dick had managed to grab a bucket of water and a clean cloth to help him cool off.

"I'm not tired." Gar replied as he pulled the sheets up to his chin.

"Well, I am."

"Then go to sleep. There's another bed right there."

"I can't. You have a high fever, I have to look after you."

Gar shook his head. "Look, as long as I'm not coughing up blood or anything, I'm fine."

"Nope, I'm not moving from this chair."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah."

"Your choice. Don't say I didn't warn you."

"Noted."

Another pregnant pause followed, and Gar shifted his body so that he was facing Dick, and his back against the wall. "Dick? Can I ask you something?"

"As long as it's not about karate and police cars."

There was a faint smile on Gar's lips that vanished as soon as it had appeared. "Dick, do I…" He hesitated, but soon, continued.

"… do I look like a freak to you?"

This inquiry made Dick snap back into full focus. A strong urge to protect rose up from inside his chest, his mind. "Of course not." He replied in a softer tone, narrowing his eyebrows. "What reason is there to make me think you're a freak?"

"The hair, maybe. I dunno." Gar shrugged, sliding a hand underneath the pillow, looking up at Dick. "Can't think of any other specific reasons, really."

"What happened with your hair?" Dick asked, leaning his elbows on his knees and hunching his shoulders. "Did you dye it?"

"No, never." He exhaled. "I used to have black hair, but… one day it just started turning green." He raised his hands up next to his head. "I don't know the biology for it, don't ask how."

"Is that even possible?"

"What did I just say?"

Another uncomfortable silence followed, and Dick eventually had to clear his throat to break the tension that had begun dragging on for way too long. His hand picked up the neatly-folded wet cloth and he dunked it into the small bucket of cold water at his feet. After wringing the water out, Dick brought the cloth up and wiped the beads of sweat that had formed on the kid's forehead. He make extra care not to touch the gauze-taped wound.

"Some people like to judge by appearances." He said with a small sigh. "They judge based on looks, gender… hair. But, somehow I know, Gar, that you're not a single thing those Ryder boys called you. You're not an idiot, not a coward, and definitely not a freak." Dick removed the cloth from Gar's face as gave the boy the warmest smile he could muster.

"You're a good kid, Gar."

Gar said nothing, but a ghost of small smile could be seen on his features. He curled up underneath the covers and yawned.

"Dick?"

"Hmm?"

"Why are you helping me?"

Dick pondered for an answer. "It's my job and duty."

"Taking care of a sick kid in bed is your duty?"

"Yeah, something like that."

Dick heard a quiet laugh before silence followed, and it wasn't long after that moment when Gar's breathing steadied. Dick looked down onto the bed to see the teen fast asleep, hands curled at his chest and features painless and peaceful.

With a smile, Dick looked at the clock; it displayed eight o'clock in the afternoon. With a soft sigh, Dick wet the rag, wrung it, and after placing the neatly-folded cloth onto Gar's forehead, he stood up and left the room to get some work done as quick as possible.

Chapter Text

Dick waited patiently inside the guest room, hair sticking up in many different directions. His hands on his lap, fingers entwined with one another as he glanced towards the door.

Soon, the boy entered the room, holding his flip phone in his left hand. Dick immediately got to his feet, looking at the boy expectantly. "What did he say?"

"He's going on a business trip to Beijing." Gar replied with a short sigh. "So it's just gonna be me for a while."

"And how long is that?"

"Two months."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

Gar's fever had gotten a little better overnight, but was still higher than average temperature. Dick didn't want to let the kid go until he made sure Gar had physically (and emotionally) improved. And whenever he found himself asking his conscience why he was willing to help this kid so bad, Dick always replied as simply as possible: it was his duty.

"Are you gonna go home now?" He asked Gar carefully, sitting back on the old plastic chair.

Gar shifted uncomfortably and let a weak chuckle escape his lips. "Not like I actually have any other choice, do I?"

"You want me to walk you home?"

"… I think I'll be okay."

The rather hesitant reply made Dick's eyesbrows furrow. "You sure?"

"I think I've already been an enough burden for you." Gar shook his head.

The single word 'burden' almost made Dick's heart stop right there. The thought itself that Gar had just referred to himself as a burden made him feel guilty, as if it were his fault.

It probably was.

"Okay, you're gonna stop talking right there." Dick ordered gently but firmly, jumping out of his seat and took a few steps forward, stopping in front of the boy. His hand lifted to land on Gar's shoulder.

"Gar." He started, his gaze softening. "Don't ever think you're a burden to me. To anyone. You're a very special kid, and there's absolutely no reason for you to feel guilty for being a person."

"I'm sorry I kept you up all night." Gar apologized carefully. "You really didn't need to."

"Everyone needs help, adult, teenager, every child." Dick told him, hand not leaving Gar's tense shoulder. "It's normal needing help. So don't you ever say sorry for being human."

Gar's tense muscles relaxed, and a faint smile appeared on his lips. "Thanks, Dick." He replied, eyes leaving his feet to look at his eyes. "That means a lot."

"I'm walking you home, okay?"

"Okay."

"Good."

After Gar took a quick wash at the public bathroom sink, they headed out with their jackets and coats on. The cold winter breeze brushed against their skin, puffs of air dissolved as foggy clouds into the air.

Dick followed Gar down a few blocks, and none of them really said anything on the way. Both of them were too busy trying to keep themselves warm. Gar's ears were as red as fresh cherries, which, Dick thought, deeply contrasted with his striking green hair.

They soon arrived at a small neighborhood, which Dick was quite familiar with. He'd been there a few times for several crime invesitagtions, taking care of house arrests. It was a pretty dangerous area among town.

Gar lead Dick to a row of houses, all of them grey and black and old, vines climbing up walls like snakes up trees, windows boarded up and if not, glass panes dirty as if someone had intentionally pained them with black paint (which was possibly the case).

Dick had been so focused on inspecting the houses and streets, thinking about how worn down the neighborhood was, that he didn't even notice that Gar had stopped in his tracks right in front of him. When he finally felt his shoulder bump into Gar's back, he snapped back into attention. "Gar?"

No response.

"Gar, what's wrong?"

Gar's hand grasped behind his back and latched onto Dick's forearm so quickly that he almost flinched. Before he could even question, Gar spoke up first, voice shaky.

"Ryder's waiting for me." He said aloud, and in an instant, Dick peered over Gar's shoulder to see Ryder, the birthday boy, and a few other he recognized from the incident the day before. All four were leaning on the fences of one particularly clean house, drawing with markers on the mailbox.

Dick opened his mouth to say something, either something to calm Gar down, or spit insults at those kids with whatever curse words he could think of. But the green-haired boy beat him to it as he tugged at Dick's arm, now latching onto his sleeve.

"I wanna leave."

"Gar, is that where you live?"

"Yeah, and they're waiting for me. Dick, I wanna go somewhere else."

Gar was almost begging at this point, and Dick felt his own heart shatter upon hearing the boy's pitiful and desperate pleads. The tugs were getting stronger, and Dick's heartbeat was getting faster, and Gar's breathing was getting unsteadier.

Deciding on the only option he could think of, Dick turned around on the spot and began pulling Gar away from the house, from those kids, from those pieces of crap. He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and dialed a number, putting the phone to his ear.

It was the second ring that she picked up.

"Hello? Dick, why didn't you come home last night? I waited, figured it was just another long investigation or something."

"Yeah, sorry, uh, things got complicated. I should've given you a call."

"You damn should have. So, what's so complicated?"

"Kory?"

"Yes?"

"Do you think we have room for a guest?"

Chapter Text

“Dick, you seriously can’t be considering this—“

“I already have and I have already made my choice, Gar.”

“I can’t believe your girlfriend actually said yes.”

“Fiancé.”

“Right, fiancé.”

“This isn’t the first time I needed her permission to bring someone into the house.” Dick mused. “But I think she’ll like you much better than the last guy we had.”

“And who was that?”

“A hobo.”

Gar snickered. “You’re a real softie, Dick.”

“Shut up.” Dick said with a grin playing on his lips. “I’m anything but a softie.”

“You brought a hobo into you and your fiancé’s house.” Gar reasoned. “I think that qualifies as you being a softie.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Dick muttered, and couldn’t help but crack a smile. He loved having the boy around, although sometimes he’d be too much of a talker.

Upon seeing the size of Dick’s second-story house, Gar’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened. “Dude.” He said aloud, not taking his eyes off it. “That’s where you live? That’s the biggest house I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

“Yup. It’s pretty big, isn’t it?” Dick said with a small smile. Gar didn’t say anything in reply. With a short laugh, he nudged the kid in the arm with his elbow, nodding towards the door. “C’mon.”

Gar immediately followed, barely seeming to keep himself from sprinting into the fairly-big house.

A young, dark-skinned woman who seemed to be in her late twenties, with flaming pink-red hair stood by the doorway, looking at her fingernails. When she heard footsteps nearing, she looked up and found Dick with her eyes. A smile grew onto her face.

“Hey.” She greeted him, and walked up, giving Dick a gentle kiss on the cheek. “Took you a while to get here.”

“We stopped for pancakes on the way.” Dick shrugged, returning the favor by giving her a peck on her temple. Glancing behind his shoulder, he nodded towards the boy who seemed to be busy looking at a squirrel running up a leafless oak tree. “That’s our guest.”

Kory peeked behind Dick’s shoulder and a wide grin appeared on her face. She faced her fiancé again. “You didn’t tell me he was a little boy—“ She said.

“A teenager, actually. He’s fifteen.”

“Still—boys will always be boys.”

“I still don’t think he’d like being called a little boy.”

“So, how long is he staying?”

“I was thinking about a month or two. Maybe two’s better.”

“You kept that nomad in our house for five months, Dick.”

Dick raised his hands next to his head in mock surrender. “Hey, he’s gone now, isn’t he?”

Kory glanced towards Gar, who was now trying to beckon the squirrel to come down. “Is he nice?”

“Nice, really sweet, very talkative.” Dick replied with a shrug. “So far his demeanor has only been screaming the word ‘good’ at me for two days.”

“I wanna say hi.” Kory demanded, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

Dick nodded, and looked back to see Gar craning his neck to look at the top of the oak tree. “Gar!” He called out. “C’mere!”

“Just a sec!”

“Gar, that squirrel isn’t gonna climb down with you waiting for it like that."

Reluctantly, Gar stepped away from the tree and zigzagged across the lawn to the front porch. He suddenly looked nervous as he took his place beside Dick, placing his hands behind his back.

“Gar, this is Kory.” Dick said out loud, looking towards Kory with a smile. “Kory, Gar.”

“Hi there, Gar.” With a wide, white-teeth-smile, Kory reached out her hand for him to shake. “I’m Dick’s girlfriend, Kory Anders.”

“Girlfriend?” Gar narrowed his eyebrows and looked at Dick after shaking Kory’s outstretched hand. “I thought you said she was your fiancé.”

“She likes to stick with the word ‘girlfriend’.” Dick replied. “Kory thinks fiancé sounds cheesy.”

“I do not.” Kory retorted, glaring at Dick before turning back to the boy with the friendliest smile. “Well, come in, hurry up—it’s cold out here.” She then began pushing the two through the door and into the house.

Upon entering—no, being shoved into—the house, Gar gaped and his eyes widened in an instant. “Dick, you’re so rich—“ He called out, and his voice seemed to bounce along the walls of the house.

“It’s just an average two-story house.” Kory laughed. “But yeah, I took extra care to make it fancy.”

“She did.” Dick said with a small smile, chuckling at the sight of Gar. “I think we spend half of my salary on household objects.”

“Shut up, Dick.” Kory teased, poking him in the chest with his finger. “So, Gar, can I get you anything? Snacks or a glass of water, maybe?”

“No, mam, I’m fine, thank you.” Gar replied with a polite smile.

“Don’t call me that—makes me feel old already.” Kory chuckled, closing the door behind her and clicking the lock. “Just Kory will be fine, Gar. Have a look around, will you? Dick’ll help.”

Dick nodded, gave Kory a glance, before walking up next to Gar. “C’mon.” He nodded towards the flight of stairs. “Let me show you around.”

Gar grinned widely and turned to Dick. He took this short moment to study the kid’s eyes.

His eyes were the color of deep sienna, with a mischievous glint that seemed to reflect the corners of his mouth, which were stretched from ear to ear. They were every shade of brown you could imagine, a raw umber and caramel mix, dotted with bits of dark chocolate. They glowed with humor and playfulness that almost gave him shivers and wrapped him in a warm embrace at the same time.

“Brown eyes.” He commented, grinning a little. “Your mom’s or dad’s?”

“Mix of both.” Gar replied with a simple shrug. “My dad was Japanese, and my mom was American. I lean towards my mom’s looks, though.” Dick was relieved that Gar didn’t seem to be bothered from the mention of his parents, as he had feared it would be a touchy subject.

Dick led him up the stairs and down a hallway. Gar followed close behind. “So, Gar.”

“Yeah?”

“Tell me; do you feel... isolated at times?”

The small grin fell of Gar’s face, replaced with a rather serious look of consideration and thought. “I had a few friends back in elementary school.” He said. “But that was before my hair started turning green, so you can probably imagine what high school’s like.”

“You’re a freshman, it can happen.” Dick said in the most comforting voice possible. “In a year, you’ll have so many friends that you won’t even be able to count them all—you’ll see.”

Gar said nothing for a while. “... I don’t think so.”

“Oh?” He frowned. “Why not?”

“You know, kids eavesdrop on teachers, rumors begin, they tell the others, blah blah blah...” He muttered, shaking his head. “They all know about the hair. I dunno how, but they just do.” Gar dropped his gaze to the floor. “Maybe uncle Larry told the school staff.”

“You’re normal, Gar. You’re not a freak in any way. You’re just a kid with cool hair.” Dick stopped in his tracks, and Gar stopped with him.

“You know, nobody realizes that some people spend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” Gar said aloud, staring up at Dick. “Because in their subconsciousness, deep down, they know those people can’t be normal.”

“They can and they already are.” Dick said a little bit more firmly. “You need to notice that you’re no different to other people around you. And if others don’t see that, it’s their fault, not yours. Understood?”

Gar swallowed, eyes fixed on Dick’s. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, and eventually settled making a tight fist, fingernails digging into skin. After a moment, he opened his mouth to speak.

“I understand.”

“Good.” Dick nodded. “Don’t ever think it’s your fault, because it never is.” He then started off the hall, not wanting to see the kid’s sad face anymore, because it tore his heart apart and made his chest hurt. “I’ll show you to the guest room—and I’ll have Kory bring you a sandwich.”

Chapter Text

The first couple of months were doable. He didn’t have much, or any, friends in that school. Just a group of ‘other guys’ to which he shared some space and time, in class and at lunch hour. It took him quite a while to adapt to the new situation. He was quite skinny, too polite, raised well by his parents, a bit too well he guessed and he still had a ‘childish’ side in him. He was young for his age.

For those obvious reasons (he was clearly not at the top of the social hierarchy), ‘they’ turned against him. ‘They’ were a group of four to five guys. He wasn’t sure back then what he had done, or didn’t do, to them. What he was sure about was that he didn’t have a proper defense, not in any way, shape or form. The moment ‘they’ turned against him, was the moment he turned into ‘prey’.

The months that followed consisted of being chased by this pack of wolves in and around school, in class, on the yard, on his way to and from school; there was never a moment to catch a breath, never a moment where he could come to his senses, no protection or help at all from no one. He was alone, he was spit at, got cornered, kicked and beaten up on a daily basis, sucked up the worst insults ever, had threats every other day or so, even to his life, and got publicly humiliated in several ways, was laughed at for the usual, stupid reasons, was ignored in various, humiliating ways, the list went on and on.

Never

Ever

A

Single

Moment

Of

Rest…

Look over your shoulder, ‘cause they’re coming for you.

He was prey, he was hunted severely, even up to the doorsteps of his safe harbors. It felt like he was being tossed in a trench and for some reason had to work his way through that pile of mud and shit that was called ‘school’.

When the guys had stopped in front of him during lunch, made fun of his hair once again by calling him 'a mutated spinach head', he snapped completely.

He somehow jumped on top of the table, planted one of his feet in his face, in hindsight with so much force that he had the profile of his shoe almost carved in his skin. A fully-crowded room turned silent in a moment's notice and some three hundred pairs of eyes stared at him, standing on that table. His predator laid on his back, as he had fallen backward from his place. One of the teachers dragged him from the table and angrily almost threw him into the principal's office, where he was ordered to wait. With that action, he confirmed his belief that teachers are the worst sort of traitors towards children. Finally he stood up for himself, only to find that he was cornered again and had to pay the price; in the form of a harsh conversation with the head of the school screaming at him that ‘violence was not allowed in school’ and ‘what the hell he was thinking kicking that poor boy in his face with the soles of his sneakers’.

All the while he shouted at him he was thinking; why did he stop? He should have smashed the entire damned table in his face for what he’d done to him… make him swallow the stupid chairs too. But moments before that, between the fore-mentioned table and the principle’s office, hid ‘heroism’, vanished in thin air and him, he could mumble not much more than an apology.

...

His dream ended abruptly, as he was shaken back into reality. His eyes opened, Gar's eyelashes faintly batting against his lids when he blinked. He laid on the bed, debating whether or not he should get up. His muscles felt weak, just like his energy. Gar let out an exasperated sigh, groaning as he rolled off of the queen-sized bed he had been occupying.

"Gar!" Dick's voice cut through the train of blurry thoughts. "Gar, come down, dinner's ready!"

"Coming!" He called back, mustering up all the strength he had left in his body and gripped the edges of the bed, getting to his feet. His legs were shaky underneath him, barely supporting his weight. With a tired grunt, his haunches landed back again on the rumpled mess of sheets. He took this moment of relief to look out the window.

The trees stood starkly in the winter morning like x-rays of their summer selves, only in reverse; black on white. They looked so forlorn in the frigid early evening, with already the short winter daylight fading. It was beautiful anyway.

"Coming," Gar called back, just in case Dick was wondering if Gar had fallen asleep again. Slipping on the pair of old, worn sneakers at the door by dragging them over with his toes, he got to his feet and turned the doorknob, stepping out into the hallway. He neared the staircases, taking in every inch and corner of the house.

The first things he heard were Christmas carols sounding off a speaker, jolly tunes and melodies that somehow made his heart race with happiness. And as the air grew warmer around him, enveloping him in a tight embrace, he made his way down the flight of stairs for the first decent meal he had had in quite a while.

Chapter Text

Dick's draw almost dropped open.

"What do you mean you don't eat meat?"

Gar flashed him an apologetic smile along with a simple shrug. "I guess I should have told you earlier."

"Well, lucky for you, I've got a whole bunch of vegetarian shit on the menu today." Kory said as she sat at the table after putting the mixing spoon into the sink. "Too bad you can't try the steak; it's amazing. Even for me."

"Even though she cooked it." Dick mentioned and chuckled when Kory kicked his calf under the table.

Gar barked out a laugh, and for a second, seeing another genuine smile on the boy's usually tense and darkened features spread a warmth throughout his chest and limbs.

"So," Kory flashed them a wide smile. "… let's eat."

Dick nodded and soon the room was filled with sounds of silverware clattering against tables and plates, mixing with the joyful tune of Winter Wonderland.

Kory immediately went for her prized medium rare steak, and Dick's hand reached for the platter of onion rings at the center of the table. Gar had very carefully grabbed the bowl of caesar salad and was dragging it towards himself. Dick noticed this and pushed it in his direction.

"Thank you." Gar muttered softly and began scooping small portions of salad and croutons onto his own plate.

They all ate in silence for about three minutes, not one of them really knowing what to say, because the situation made it so obvious that whoever blurt out talking would be the awkward idiot.

"… Look, I'm sorry to be so much of a bother. I'm sure it's weird for some new kid to eat at the same table with both of you." Gar chuckled, keeping his head down.

"No, no, don't apologize." Kory said after swallowing her mouthful of garlic bread. "I actually quite enjoy the company." A pregnant pause. "Well, with that being said," She started. "… let's all talk about something. Anything at all."

"What even is there to actually talk about?" Dick asked, wiping his mouth with a napkin after finishing his plateful of mediterranean pasta salad.

"Just throw me anything. Really, even waffles would be fine."

A waffle sailed through the air and landed right on top of Kory's plate. Dick and Kory both turned their heads to see a giggling Gar.

"Funny." Kory remarked, picking it up and bit at the crust. "Seriously, someone just say something."

"Gar," Dick suddenly started, looking towards the boy who was now happily chewing on his own waffle. "… how come you're a vegetarian?"

Gar shrugged as he swallowed his bite. "I just like animals." He responded, looking back at his sweet potato curry. "It feels wrong to eat them."

"You're missing out on so much." Kory shook her head, as if she almost felt sorry for him. "Pork and barbecue and those buckets of greasy chicken wings."

"Still doesn't make me want to eat meat."

"It was worth a try."

Dick cleared his throat. "Why do you like animals?"

"I used to live in Africa when I was really young, because my dad was a biologist." Gar replied, reaching for the sugar-coated pecans. "I remember playing with all sorts of animals; we even had this baby lion that we named Zander. My mom was real bad at giving names, you can probably already tell." He grinned as he bit into the pecan. "I guess I just have this special bond with animals."

"I think Zander is a good name for a lion." Dick said with a small frown. "What's wrong with that?"

"I still think Gar Junior would have suited him nicely."

"Gar Junior?" Kory made an exaggerated face. "What kind of name is that?"

"It's a good name!" Gar retorted.

"Oh yeah, is that what you're gonna name your kid?"

Gar's face flushed. "Good name for a lion."

And a short pause.

"And I'm not comfortable talking about the prospect of me having any children."

Kory burst into laughter, griping the edge of the table to keep herself from falling over. Dick also began snickering, hand stopping midair holding a fork. Soon, Gar himself joined in and all of them were laughing and giggling like an actual family sitting at a dinner table, talking about their day at work and what happened at school.

The laughing died down, but smiles were still plastered on all of their faces.

"What about you guys?"

Dick snapped his head towards the green-haired boy. "Huh?"

"So we talked about my kids." Gar stated. "Are you guys gonna have any kids of your own?"

Dick's face flushed a bright red and he forced a cough, averting the question and eyeing Kory, silently pleading her to somehow answer that inquiry.

"Well, uh, no plans for now." She replied slowly. "But maybe someday."

A snicker escaped Gar's lips at the sight of Dick hunched over the table, hiding his face behind the piece of barbecue he was holding up. "Someday, huh?"

"What she says." Dick muttered underneath his breath, receiving a laugh and a nudge from Kory.

After Gar excused himself from the table when all of them finished their meal, Dick had helped Kory clean the table up, and later, had curled up on the couch with her. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Michael Buble was playing on the speakers.

"So where did you find him?" Kory asked, pressing her forehead against Dick's Grayson's chest with a content sigh.

"Near Overchord Street. In an alleyway. Some kids were beating him up." Dick responded.

Kory immediately sat up, but letting his arms still stay wrapped around her.

"Beating him up?" She questioned, frowning. "I guess I should have figured that out myself after seeing all those cuts."

"They were throwing eggs at his head, and they were about to set him on fire," He released a shaky breath. "I couldn't just let him burn to death on the streets, whether they were really going to do it or not."

Kory's expression was a look of terror and disgust. "Those kids are so fucked up. Sick in the fucking head."

"He keeps telling me he's a freak." He said aloud. "That he feels weak and vulnerable. I don't think he knows what to do anymore. He says that… nobody realizes some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal." Remembering what Gar had said earlier, Dick sighed heavily and leaned against the backrest of the couch.

"I honestly don't know how to help him at this point."

"… You'll figure something out. We'll figure something out." Kory replied, falling back onto the warm, welcoming embrace of his arms. "He's a kid worth saving."

"He's a kid worth saving." Dick repeated her words softly, and held Kory in his arms, wondering how the world could be so selfless and shitty at the same time.

Outside, the sky had darkened, snowflakes falling from the heavens like a white omen onto the world underneath it, as if giving everyone nature's blessing.

Chapter Text

He’s scared.

The threat is real, very real, but this isn’t the first time he’s been in danger.

He can see him even now. Ryder, the tall, gaunt, aggressive lout, the school bully. Ranked by four confederates, he preyed on weaker students, abusing his strength with aggression, building his ego on the shattered remains of his victims.

They hold him by the cuff of his neck, eyes blindfolded with a rag that smelled strongly of blood—his blood—and black is all he can see. He feels like throwing up, just tossing himself off the building just like that.

“You want me to drop you? Push you over the edge? I can do it now and you won’t be able to save yourself.”

His upper body is bent over the railing of the school rooftop, legs forced to kneel—he’s one shove away from falling to his death.

He twists his head from side to side, squirms as one last futile effort. His short-lived mutiny hasn’t quite been successful.

“Let go of me.” He mutters, jerking his painfully tied wrists. “Let go or I’ll—“

A kick to the side of his head.

“Shut the fuck up.”

The grasp on his neck tightens, and he feels another palm flat against the back of his head, pressing it downwards.

“I can push you off this building right now and it’ll only end with a very bloody mess. But at least I’ll have fun doing it.”

His chest slips off the railing and he feels his body begin to fall, only to be grabbed by the hood and pulled backward. Once again, he is forced to kneel at the edge.

One push and he’s a goner.

And for a second, he wonders if he should just let them. Let them have their last fun and they can go pick on someone else.

Maybe they can claim he threw himself off that building. That it wasn’t murder—it had been suicide.

But no.

No, not just yet.

He won’t give up that easily.

“Go and kill yourself, you freak.” Ryder’s voice can be heard even from far away as if he’s speaking from a tunnel that never seems to end. “Nobody would care.”

“Stop.”

“You’re nothing but a freak. A nasty freak. Go on. Depressed enough? Just ask me to and I’ll push you off. It only takes one word. Just die already!”

He grabs his hair and yanks his head backward at the end with a painful twist, voice escalating into a yell.

“All it takes is one. Single. Word, freak. Just say it. I’ll be doing you a favor.”

No, not yet. He can’t.

“It hurts, doesn’t it?”

A kick to his back. The agony rushes up his spine.

“Having nobody helping you.”

Another kick to his ribs. He chokes.

Ryder leans in, puts his mouth to his ear. He can smell the cigarettes, and his breath is uncomfortably warm on his skin. He lowers his voice into a chilling whisper.

“It only takes one word. So why don’t you just say it, freak? You want me to push you off, or not?”

And he opens his mouth to answer.

...

“Gar? Gar, you okay?”

And then the nightmare was over, Dick was beside him, shaking him awake.

His eyes flew open and he found his own face covered in tears. He looked towards Dick, and with a sob, flung himself at him, grasping onto his shirt and burying himself into his chest.

Dick was caught aback from the sudden breakdown as Gar fell into his arms. The boy’s body was shaking, shoulder blades jerking with each sob as he cried, clutching his clothes tightly with two balled fists.

He wrapped his arms around him, pulling him into a warm embrace as Gar continued to sob freely into his shoulder. Dick’s hand instinctively went to Gar’s head and he started to run his fingers through his soft, green hair.

“It’s alright, I’ve got you. I’m here.” He muttered quietly, carefully shushing the boy as he sobbed, trembling and sniffling. “I’ve got you.”

“Dick—“ He choked out. “Dick, I’m so scared.”

“I know you are.” He replied, his fingers still in his hair. “And I’m going to make everything right again.”

“You can’t. You can’t fix me.”

“I can and I will, Gar.” He said firmly, but the arms wrapping around the crying teenager stayed gentle. “I promise. Trust me, okay?”

There was no reply, only sobs and whimpers that sounded from the young boy in his arms. Dick cradled him, rocking him from side to side as if that could somehow calm him, and at the same time, wondering if he had made a promise he could actually keep.

"I can't sleep, Dick." He rasped, burying his face into Dick's shirt, and Dick didn't resist. "Sleeping feels like I'm dying. I can't sleep. Every time I close my eyes I can see him. Oh god, what the hell's wrong with me?"

"You'll be okay." Dick continued to say until the panicked mutters died down, and he felt the boy's tense muscles relax in his hold. But the last few words Gar uttered before going completely slack sent a shiver up Dick's spine, making him want to hold the boy tight and never let go, because he'd never felt so scared before.

"I shouldn't be alive, Dick."

The night was cold and quiet, and for a short second, nobody seemed to breathe but himself. The storm was rolling in, and it was pitch dark.

Chapter Text

Gar had been reluctant at first when Dick asked him to tell him what the nightmare had been all about. But when the man had insisted upon hearing up, he had no choice but to tell the truth. He told Dick about Ryder, about the school rooftop, about the blindfold and those threats. About the beating he had been forced to take.

He left out the part where he had, shamefully, considered killing himself, because he knew if Dick found out, he'd never leave him alone. The last thing Gar needed was Dick accompanying to the bathroom because he needed to kept an eye on.

Pressure was something he wasn't quite ready for yet.

But even if he didn't actually tell Dick about the whole thing, he doubted he'd be oblivious to it forever. Dick was a detective, and even though Gar didn't know how good they were at figuring these sort of stuff out, he somehow knew it wouldn't take so long.

If he acted all cheerful and happy around Dick annd Kory, Gar guessed it would take him a while to get to know. That maybe, he had time to try and fix things himself. If not, screw everything.

Gar just hadn't expected Dick to know already.

"… I never said anything like that."

It was the first sentence Gar blurted out after staring at Dick with a blank look on his face.

Dick shook his head no. "Gar, you can tell me anything. I won't judge."

"I never told you that." He repeated, a slight strain in his voice, and the lying couldn't have seemed more apparent. "I don't want to die."

"I'm not one to determine your genuine thoughts based on what I heard; that's up to you." Dick said softly, gaze gentle. "You don't have to press yourself. I'm not trying to force an answer out of you. But if you can give me an answer, I'll be able to help."

Gar knew for a fact that Dick wouldn't be able to help, and even if he tried, would fail miserably, since he was too far from being fixed. But he found his mind actually in deep consideration. He had to admit he had maybe eyed kitchen knives on the counter or the sleeping pills stowed safely in the medicine cabinet. But he kept away from them now.

He didn't want to die.

The answer he finally gave said otherwise.

"I don't know." Gar muttered, eyes trailing down onto the floor to stare at his shoes. "I try not to think about it. But then sometimes I feel this pull. And… it's always very inviting. Like it's calling my name." He returned his gaze to Dick, mustering up as much courage as possible.

"From what I know, Gar," Dick started, entwining his fingers and placing them on his lap. "… there's not a single person in the world who wishes to end their lives."

"What do you mean?"

"They think that they want to die, that they want the pain to end; but in reality, it's the suffering that they want gone." Dick reached out and carefully placed his hand on Gar's knee as a source of comfort. "That's changeable."

"Oh, so if it's changeable, why hasn't anything changed?" Gar shot back. He didn't mean to snap, but he couldn't help but feel completely frustrated. He wanted to break shit, tear things apart.

Gratefully, Dick didn't seem the least bit fazed by his sudden outburst. "Because the efforts you put into trying and averting your situations haven't worked."

"Are you saying that I don't try?"

"That's not what I meant."

A long silence.

Gar shifted uncomfortably on the matress, tucking his hands undeneath his thighs. "I'm sorry. I'm just… really confused."

"It's normal for you to be." Dick said reassuringly, nodding. "And I know all this is probably freaking you out. But whatever happens, just remember that I'm going to help you as much as I can, and I swear on my life that I'll make sure you're happy."

"How are you gonna do that?" He inquired, lips moving wearily.

Dick said nothing.

He then opened his mouth to speak.

"Why don't you and I go visit Ryder and those kids?"

Chapter Text

Dick's expression remained stoic as he rang the doorbell of the rather large mansion, Gar shifting nervously from one foot to the other beside him.

"Shit, Dick, I can't do this." Gar blurted out and took two steps back. But as Dick had done for the sixth time that day, he grabbed his hand and dragged him back into place. He didn't resist, but his shoulders were hunched, and his expression looked like the face of someone who was minutes away from being executed after being framed of a crime he didn't commit.

"Gar. You just stay put, stay behind me. I'll do the talking, okay?" Dick said as gently as possible, squeezing the kid's cold hand. "Don't be nervous."

As soon as Dick let go of Gar's hand and turned back to face the door, it opened, revealing a tall, skeleton-like woman. Her cheeks were hollow and gaunt, face thick with eyeshadow and powder. She stood close to Dick's height, barely passing the top of his head.

He wasn't sure it was because of the eyeshadow, but the look she was giving them was terrifying. Gar moved and shifted uncomfortably from side to side behind him, hands clenching and unclenching in anxiety.

The woman said nothing for a moment, eyes darting back and forth between the mmana and the young boy behind him. "… Are we going to keep standing here until you actually open your mouth and tell me why you're on my property?"

Even the mom's a total ass. Dick Grayson thought. "Good day, mam, My name is Dick Grayson."

"We're not interested in your useless products." The woman snapped. Dick had to stop himself from bringing his shoe down onto her high heels.

"I'm a police officer and a detective, I work for the police department." He continued, briefly showing the woman his ID card for credence. "And this is Gar Logan, who I believe attends the same school as your son."

The woman stayed silent for quite a while. "What brings you here, officer?"

"It has come to my belief that this young boy right here has been bullied and harassed by Calum Ryder." He stated firmly, but gently, making sure the woman wouldn't suddenly explode.

"Nonsense." She snapped, leaning on the doorway with her long, slender arms crossed over her chest. "Calum is a very polite, well-mannered boy. He wouldn't do such thing."

"Mother, who…" Another person stepped out from behind, pushing the door further open to stand beside her. Ryder. His expression melted into something that resembled a fake friendly crown face.

"Good day, sir." He said, nodding at Dick before spotting the boy behind his back. "Hey, Gar. Nice to see you again. How've you been during winter break?"

With a whimper, the younger teen grabbed Dick's jacket, balling his fists. The woman raised an eyebrow at his hair, full attention finally on Gar himself. "What… interesting hair. Green is a very bold choice."

"I think it looks great on him." Ryder said with a smile. "It's what makes him so special."

"Do you? Because just two days ago, you were about to set his clothes on fire." Dick snapped, beginning to lose control. He was disgusted by the kid's behavior. Acting like a complete jerk to Gar, a boy three years younger than he was, and changing his demeanor by faking it as mommy's perfect little angel.

The woman was now furious. "Do not accuse my son of such behavior!" She snapped, eyes wide and nostrils flaring. "Some officer you are! I'll have to fire a complaint to the police department!" Her icy glare traveled to the main gate. "Guards, get these two out of my sight."

The two burly men who had been standing at the entrance began to make their way towards them. Gar, sensing Dick tense up, body coiling like a cocked gun ready to spring, grabbed hold of his arm and tugged. "No, Dick, don't."

Dick completely ignored Gar, and as soon as one of the men reached for him, he pulled himself out of the way, dodging a punch, and gave the guy a jab in the gut with his elbow. He grabbed the man's arms, pinned them behind him and kicked the back of his knees, causing the man to fall face-first to the ground.

The other man lunged for Dick, but quickly rolling out of the way, he swung a punch at the man's face, fist flying towards his nose. There was a crack, and the woman screamed.

Soon there were more men surrounding him, Gar watching from the side as he helplessly pleaded for everyone to just stop. A man grabbed Dick by the torso, trapping his arms and catching him by surprise. In reaction, Dick snapped his head backwards and heard a 'thunk' as the back of his head made contact with the man's face. The arms around him untangled immediately, and he could hear loud curses.

Between all that punching and fighting his ass off, in the corner of his eye, Dick caught sight of Ryder grabbing Gar's wrist and twisting it, swinging a fist at his cheek.

"Fuck! Ryder, you leave him alone!" He cried out before feeling a knee dig into his spine. Dick spun around and threw a punch at the man's face. "Fuck!"

He didn't know how long he had been fighting. Maybe it had been five minutes or so. But as he threw punches and elbowed guts, all he could think about was Gar, who was somewhere with Ryder behind those crowd of men.

Finally, a woman's cry cut through the air like a knife.

"Fall back, men!" The woman screeched, shaking with rage at the front porch, fists trembling violently at her sides. The men, all equally bruised and bloodied, stepped away from Dick. He turned to look at the woman straight in the eye, and she did the same.

"Officer," She started. "… leave at once."

Without a word, Dick turned around and pushed through the guards, spotting Gar sitting up on the stone floor next to Ryder. And Dick had never felt angrier. He sported a bruise on his cheek and his cuts were mostly reopened. Blood was trickling down from the corner of his lips.

"I'm okay." He muttered when Dick rushed over to help. Gar gently pushed Dick off him and got to his feet, holding his red, swollen wrist in his right hand grip. Dick wanted nothing more than to smash Ryder's head against the brick walls of the house, make him bleed. Rage boiling inside of him, he gave the Ryder boy one last cold glare before grabbing Gar by the forearm and pulling him out onto the streets.

They walked for a while, neither of them said a word. Gar remained quiet as he walked alongside Dick, and hesitantly opened his mouth to speak as he glanced towards Dick's split lip. "You didn't have to get hurt for me."

"I'm okay, Gar." Dick replied, exhaling. The winter breeze bit at his cheeks. "I would do the same thing if I had to do it again." His lip hurt, but otherwise, he felt fine. "What happened with you and Ryder?"

"He came over and twisted my hand after seeing you were too busy fighting those guards off." He replied quietly, his green hair falling over his eyes. "I'm okay."

"Are you sure that's all he did?"

"Yeah."

"Hundred percent sure?"

"I'm fine, Dick."

They walked along the empty streets for a few more minutes, Dick constantly ignoring the stings around his body. Gar had begun slowing down, breathing having become a little heavier.

"Hold on, Gar. We're almost there."

A weary, slurred 'I know' was the only response, and a part inside Dick's head was screaming that something was terribly wrong. Dick pushed the uneasy feeling aside and hurried towards the house just a few feet away.

He walked onto the front porch, fumbling with the keys and finally got the door open. Kory wasn't home, it seemed, as the house was quiet, nothing inside seemed to stir.

He heard the shuffle of shoes behind him, and Dick stuffed the keys back into his back pocket.

"Alright, go sit on the couch, Gar."

No response.

"Gar?"

And that was when he turned around to see Gar leaning heavily on one of the pillars of the porch, face white and pale as snow even under all the cuts he had sustained. One hand grasped at his side over his jacket, fingernails digging painfully into the clothes. His breathing was heavy and uneven. His blood-stained hand pressed against the concrete floor as he fell onto the ground against the pillar, eyes shutting tight.

"Oh, shit." Dick muttered as he scrambled over and dropped on his knees beside him. His hands searched over Gar's body, annd the boy's only reaction was a low, pained groan. "Gar, can you hear me? What's wrong?"

The hold on Gar's side tightened as his fingers curled around his skin. Upon noticing this, Dick leaned over and tugged the boy's hand away from the area, prying off finger by finger. Red covered his entire palm, a scene out of a horror movie.

Dick urged his tired muscles to move and moved his jacket away, leaving Gar's thin frame only in a thin shirt, the black already wet and sticky with blood. Dick's heart pounded against his ribcage. What if something was seriously wrong?

He rolled the shirt up to find a bloody wound etched into his skin. They were deep, red welts that almost looked as if someone had tried to dig their fingers into his body, raking their fingernails into his flesh. Blood trickled out of every fresh wound that one would have believed if they were claimed as claw marks of some hungry predator. The foul stench of blood stung his nose. Small pieces of flesh seemed to be gone and out of place.

Dick hastily hurried into the house and grabbed a clean towel off the laundary rack. Grabbing a new bottle of disinfectant on the way, he rushed back outside and dropped beside Gar, his face as pale as ever.

"Fuck, Gar, damn you. You said you were fine." Dick muttered as he pressed the towel against the red welts, earning him a cry from Gar. A hand shot out and grasped Dick's forearm, squeezing. Beads of sweat dripped down the boy's temples as his eyes finally fluttered open.

"I-I'm sorry." He rasped, hissing as the towel was pressed into his side. His feet kicked helplessly without strength. "I thought I could handle it myself."

"This could have been infected. If you had kept this injury a secret, then it could have killed you. Why the hell didn't you tell me earlier?" Dick didn't want to snap at Gar, he really didn't. But some part of him felt so upset at himself, another terribly worried for Gar, the other disappointed because it felt as if he hadn't earned the boy's complete trust.

"You…" Gar exhaled a shaky breath. "… you got hurt because of me. I didn't want to give you more burdens to deal with after all that you did." A cough, followed by whimpers. "You've done… so much for me already. I didn't want to hurt you… more than I already have. I'm so sorry, Dick."

And when the first tear rolled down Gar's cheek, everything built up inside Dick was smashed into tiny little pieces. He threw his arms around Gar's neck, pulling him close to his chest. He ran his hand through his soft hair, and couldn't help but let a shaking sob flee his throat. "Don't apologize. It's not your fault, I'm so sorry I couldn't protect you."

And for the first time in his life, Dick cried in front of someone else, because of this young, innocent boy who had suffered more than any child should have, and because he loathed himself that he wasn't able to help like he was supposed to.

His duty hadn't been fulfilled.

Chapter Text

He was okay.

At least, that was what Gar kept telling them both.

The day before had been exceptionally quiet. Kory, who had been out for ingredients needed to make a vegetarian stew, had felt like marching over to the kid's house and burning it into ashes the second she heard what happened from Dick.

And now, there she sat, at the edge of Gar's bed, who was fumbling lazily with a rubix cube covered in glittery stickers.

"What's that you have?" Kory asked, nodding towards the worn object in his hands.

Gar looked up at her, his fingers spinning the cube at a slow speed, making it seem as if he wasn't really trying to match the sides with the colors. "This?" He questioned, lifting it up gently. "It's a rubix cube. Belonged to my mom."

"That explains all those kiddie tattoos and butterfly stickers." She said with a smile, and Gar chuckled in response, looking back at the toy.

Carefully, Kory inched herself closer to Gar on the bed, offering him another grin. "It seems like you like you mom a lot. Where is she now?"

Gar's faint smile didn't fall from his face as he set the rubix cude down onto his lap, his eyes never wavered. "She passed away when I was eleven due to a plague in Africa. Along with my dad."

The grin dropped from Kory's face and her hand reached for Gar's instinctively. She grasped his left hand tight, and her heart ached.

"I'm so sorry."

"No, it's okay. It's been a while since I learned to get over them." He replied with a sad smile. His right hand never left the rubix cube.

Kory removed her hand from him, putting them back onto her lap with her fingers entwined. "What was she like?"

Gar's face locked into a thoughtful expression as he searched for the right words to say.

"… A lot like you."

The grin made it's way onto her face again. "Oh, really?"

"She loved teasing me, and she was a very amiable person. Had lots of friends. Made the best vegetarian dishes." He listed, leaning against the pillow behind his back. "She'd be that person who'd tell me crazy bedtime stories at night when I was just a little kid, the one who'd take me around the plains and help me pet the lion cubs and young giraffes. She called it an adventure." A slight pause followed. "And she had the most beautiful singing voice."

"Doesn't sound like me at all." Kory said with a soft chuckle. "Well, apart from the part where you said about the teasing."

"You're a friendly person, Kory. And you're really sweet and funny… besides that, you're a great cook. That lasagna was the best one I had in years." He shot her a weary smile. "I can see why Dick loves you so much."

"Your mom must have been a wonderful person." Kory said softly.

"… You remind me of her. Strongly." Gar said in response, looking back up at her. His eyes reflected a look of nostalgia and fondness. "When I look at you, I can see her, and… and it makes me feel really comfortable." The corners of his lips tugged upwards as he dropped his gaze to the bedsheets.

"Thanks for not kicking me out."

"I would never do such thing. But I definitely will if you don't try my steak."

"Still not going to eat meat, Kory."

"Like I said; worth a try."

Gar laughed, like a christmas bell in the cold, dark nights.

They both sat at the couch, half-drunk glasses of wine in their hands. The glass clinked as it bumped against the rings on Kory's fingers. The radio played the second verse of I'll Be Home For Christmas.

"Dick Grayson, how do you always get yourself into these sort of situations?" Kory asked with a playful smile, showing off perfect, white teeth. "You're unbelievable."

"Am I?" Dick teased, setting his glass down on the small glass coffee table. "You're always too serious."

"You tell me about 'being serious'." She shot back, taking a sip of her white wine. "You need to lay off from that job of yours, spend some time with me before you get yourself too busy."

"Well, if you want that so badly," Dick leaned to the side and planted a gentle kiss onto her neck. "… I suppose a break wouldn't hurt so much."

"First good idea that you actually had in years, Grayson." She giggled, laying back against the cushions and glancing towards the window flanked by ivory-colored curtains. It was dark out, but the night sky was embedded with stars like destinations on a map with no roads. Snowflakes fell from the heavens, landing on grass and trees and streets, and if you listened closely, you could hear the faint sound of children laughing in the distance.

"Are we ever going to have any kids, Dick?" She inquired, resting her head on Dick's shoulder, the wine glass tipped between her fingers. "I've always wanted one."

"Maybe someday." He replied, putting his cheek onto the top of her head, her curly pink hair tickling his nose. "But we still need some time to only ourselves, don't you think?"

"I guess." Kory responded with a small smile. She was happy to be wiith Dick Grayson, and the fact that they were taking care of a young boy upstairs only seemed to finish their bond like tying a final string into their relationship.

The carol was over, and the radio began to play When My Heart Finds Christmas. Upon hearing the slow song beginning, Dick stole the glass of wine from Kory's hand and set it onto the table.

"A dance, maybe?"

"Why not, detective Grayson?"

They both stood up and moved to the middle of the living room. Dick took a step closer to her and put one hand on her waist, another on her back. Kory rested one hand on Dick's shoulder. They both began swaying to the music from side to side.

"I just remembered what a great slow dancer you are." Kory mused as she rested her head on his chest.

"You have?" He glided her across the room. "Because I haven't."

His eyes met hers, and Kory stared at them for a long while before she brought her lips to his, sharing a gentle kiss.

And just for that night, everything seemed just perfect. Not a single thing held one flaw, and it was just them and the snow.

And when my heart finds Christmas, I hope it finds you too.

Chapter Text

"Dick?"

He looked up from his respective bowl of corn flakes and milk. "Yeah?"

"Can I go to my uncle's house today?"

"What, you're leaving?"

"No, I just wanna go get some stuff."

The fleeting moment of panic at the thought that Gar was actually leaving Dick and Kory was short-lived, soon to be replaced by a flood of relief that loosened his suddenly tense muscles.

"Only if you allow me to go with you."

"I'm cool with that."

Gar swallowed a mouthful of Kory's vegan eggplant omelette, reaching for the glass of orange juice that sat next to the reflective napkin holder, which Kory was currently using as a mirror.

"Nobody's at home?" Kory asked, voice a little louder than she seemed to have intended. Her finished plate which had been, at one point, stacked with a ridiculously excessive number of pancakes topped with blueberries and whipped cream.

Gar shook his head, stabbing the waffle that sat on his plate with his fork. "Nobody. Unless someone broke in. A lot of thefts happen around where I live. Some guys even managed to get past all of uncle Larry's high-tech security he installed last year."

"Well, let's just hope there isn't a hobo sleeping in your bed when we get there. Whoever it is, they're gonna throw one nasty fit." Dick said so casually that Gar almost spat his juice onto the table.

"Can I come along?" Kory asked, eyes wide and a curious look on her face. "I'd love to be the one to kick the hobo's fuckin' ass if we do come across one sleeping in his bed."

"We have a detective to do that." Dick replied with a smirk.

"I wasn't asking you, Grayson. I was asking Gar."

"I don't see why not."

"We go first thing after breakfast." She announced, a big grin plastered on her face as she stood from her chair, leaving the table. "Clear the table, both of you."

"She's such a mom." Dick teased after she was out of sight, and Gar giggled next to him.

"I think I like having a mom around again."

Gar burst out laughing.

Kory frowned. "What's wrong with the way I dress?"

"Kory, you look like an Aladdin who went into the wrong clothing store."

Dick stared at Kory's flashing red flannel pants and her oversized black cropped shirt with the letters printed on it proudly spelling out the words 'Carpe Fucking Diem'. A big, floppy hat to top it all off.

"Don't diss my style of fashion." Kory retorted. "Besides, Dick think it looks stunning on me; don't you, Dick?" A huge, white-teethed smile was flashed in his direction.

"You look beautiful in anything."

"Wait, what about my clothes? You must have an opinion on my choice of style."

Gar held his breath to keep himself from succumbing into a laughing fit.

"You look beautiful."

"Stop complimenting me and compliment my clothes!"

"I said you look beautiful in anything!"

"Oh, so do I look beautiful in a trashbag, Dick?"

"Yes!"

"Fuck you, Dick." The playful smile on her lips contradicted her words.

"Well, fuck you too."

And before they knew it, the two were stopping behind Gar who stood at the fence of a small house. An old tire swing hung from a branch of a rickety tree.

"I have to say, this looks like the perfect place for a hobo to crash." Kory commented, looking from the porch to the stained windows. "I'd crash here if I were homeless."

"Looks real homey, doesn't it?" Gar replied, sarcasm thickly dripping off every word. "C'mon, I'll give you a tour. It'll probably last about thirty to fourty seconds."

The three stepped on dry grass and over empty beer cans to the front steps at the door. Gar fished a ring of rusty keys out of his back pocket and picked at the lock. It swung open, the hinges creaking at every inch they moved.

"The official five-star hotel for the homeless." Gar breathed, and to Dick's surprise, the inside of the house smelled rather pleasant, unlike the musty, copper-like odor of the yard.

Somewhat like roses and cherry-flavored candy.

Gar lead both of them past a hall and into a small, cramped living room. An old TV sat on a small table at the corner of the room, surrounded by plastic coke bottles and DVDs. There was a worn recliner a few feet away from the TV, and beside it a coffee table which held nothing but a potted plant. A black couch was positioned by the wall not too far away, and Kory immediately headed over to sit on it, examining her nails. "I think I'll stay here for a while. Take a look around this cheerful place."

"Have fun." Gar responded with a smirk before turning back to Dick. "My bedroom's that way."

He followed the kid through another hallway, pictures and paintings flanking each side. And at the end of it, Dick could see a small door over Gar's shoulder.

Gar soon reached the door, spun the knob and pushed it open.

Dick was face-to-face with a room stacked with every 80s thing he could imagine. There were shelves of comic books organized by issue and volume, by series and studios. On top of a drawer stood about hundreds of figurines and action figures, some that looked old and others that hadn't even been unboxed yet. A few trinkets and collectibles lay around on the floor underneath it, along with stacks of cards tied together with yellow rubber bands. The green-colored walls were covered with posters of old movies and video games, such as every single one of Abbott and Costello Meet A Monster and Back To The Future. To Dick's surprise, a flat screen TV along with a Game Station 4 sat at the ready beside a pair of controllers. Record tapes littered the carpeted floors in front of a stereo, some of them being copies of Van Halen's Legendary Hits and also Greatest Hits of Chicago.

"You like Huey Lewis?" He asked as he crouched down to pick up a CD from the ground, examining the cover.

"One of my favorites." Gar replied with a grin as he emerged from a closet, dragging a blue backpack along with him. "His songs are great."

Dick glanced towards the posters on the wall, then at a big plastic box that seemed to be filled with vintage toys. "You like these kind of stuff, don't you?"

"My mom was the biggest horror fan you'd ever see." He stated. "Blame her for all this." Gar pulled the drawer open and fished out some t-shirts with the geekiest logos on them. Toei Animation. Star Wars. Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Shining.

Dick eyes caught the sight of a plastic pterodactyl hanging from the ceiling from a string. "Did you collect all these stuff?"

"One third of them were my mom's; the rest is my doing." Gar sat on his bed and looked through the comic books in his hand before putting them into the backpack along with the shirts. "Geeks run in the family."

"Aren't you too young to be liking something that I'm supposed to like?" He inquired, kneeling to open the small mini fridge in the corner of the room. It was packed with orange crush and root beer. Closing it shut, he turned his attention back to the work table stacked with books and worksheets. "You're fifteen."

"The 80s was the greatest century to ever exist. It needs some credit. It's the time when everything just started to not suck." Gar slipped a few candy bars in the bag and zipped it up, tossing it towards the door.

Dick turned to see a wall completely dedicated to photographs. Some black and white, most of them in color. Gar watched as Dick scanned every single picture framed. His eyes stopped at a photo of a younger Gar standing between a woman and a man. All of them looked so happy, carefree.

"Those were my parents." Gar called out softly from the bed.

"I can see the resemblance." Dick commented as he looked back and forth between the woman and the young boy in the picture. For some reason, he felt sad yet proud. Finally taking his eyes away from the photo and facing Gar, he watched as a somewhat sad smile grew onto his face. And Dick wanted to say something to console him, give him comfort and assure him that everything was okay when he knew it wasn't. He wasn't sure if his thoughts were so easily written on his blank expression, but Gar seemed to know.

"Dick." Gar said softly. "It's okay. I'm okay."

"You always say that."

Suddenly, Gar seemed a little bit more mature.

"The past is the past, Dick. There's nothing we can do to fix it, no matter how badly we want it to happen. The one thing we can do to make up for the past is to focus on the present, not dwelling on something that has already happened."

And upon hearing this, Dick was touched. He loved this kid so badly that it made his heart hurt. He had been forced to grow up at such a young age, and he didn't deserve that. He was supposed to be able to go out and skateboard with his friends. Date girls. Do stuff normal teenagers would do while they wouldn't give any shit about having to lose the people they love, or having to be afraid of being left alone.

"That's… very deep, Gar."

"I just said what I think."

"… C'mon. Kory's waiting for us."

They stepped back out into the hall, Dick taking one last look at Gar's room before shutting the door. They found Kory in front of the old TV, pressing on buttons to try and get it to work. Upon hearing two pairs of feet shuffling across the carpet, she turned around and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "You two boys doin' alright?"

"We're fine." Dick replied, which Gar corresponded to with a quick nod, readjusting the strap of his bag over his shoulder. "And we're ready to go."

Somewhere in Gar's mind, he was singing the lyrics to Power Of Love.

Chapter Text

"Remember the time when you said that the reason you needed me to stay a night at the police station was that you wanted to do more investigating?"

"I just wanted to give you a reason to stay."

Gar picked at the loose thread attached to the sleeve of his sweater, eyes fixed on the carpeted floor underneath him. "So, does that mean you're not gonna do any investigation or anything?"

"No, I am, I just… think I need to get to know you more."

"… What if they show up again one day?"

"Who?"

"Calum Ryder. And the others."

"Then I'll be there to protect you. I'll make sure they don't get to you."

"That's the thing, Dick." Gar said, voice raised, sounding frustrated. "You can't always be there to protect me. It's impossible."

"What did I promise you? That I'd find a way to help you no matter what."

Gar didn't know where all this sudden anger was coming from. One minute they were discussing Christmas presents and the next he was ranting in front of Dick. It just didn't make sense.

"Yeah, and that's what stresses me out the most! Why do you make a promise that's impossible to keep? Why did you have to get my hopes up like this into making me think I could somehow be able to live a normal life?" Gar didn't know why he was doing this. Why the hell was he lashing out on Dick?

"Gar."

"But did you do anything that could help me? All you got done was dragging me into something I'd never do as long as I live and get me beaten up by that Ryder fucker. Why did I even trust you in the first place?"

"Gar, stop."

"I can't believe you." He scoffed, getting to his feet and dumping the backpack onto the floor. "Why did you think you could help someone as fucked up like me?"

And with that, he grabbed his backpack and stormed out of the living room and out of the house he had learned to love. It was like his body was moving on his own, one part of his mind screaming at him to stop, the other thinking back to the few minutes that had taken place inside just before this had all happened.

"Dick, is this what we're supposed to be doing?"

"What do you mean?"

Gar hid at the top of the staircase, gripping the strap of his backpack tight in his right hand while the other held onto the railing.

"Dick, what have we done yet to help him?"

"We got him to open up, that's some progress made."

"What exactly have you done to stop the bullying?"

"I tried, it just turned out to be futile effort."

"You snapped, Dick. If you had had better control of yourself, maybe that wouldn't have ended that way."

"Kory, you would have done the same thing I had done, those people were sick."

"Dick… we haven't really helped him at all yet."

"But I made him a promise. I told him I'd help him any way I could."

"… Maybe it's gonna take a pretty long time to keep it. That's a very big promise you made to him."

"I don't know, Kory."

That had been all he heard because the second he heard Dick's indirect statement of giving up, Gar had bolted down the stairs with his backpack in tow, acting as if he had heard nothing.

"Gar, wait!" Dick jumped to his feet when the boy threw the door open and marched outside, the cold winter breeze blowing into the house and sending chills down his spine. "Gar!"

He hurried to the front porch, slamming the door shut behind him as he looked left and right to see where Gar had gone. When he saw no movement he could sense, he cursed under his breath and started into a sprint.

To do the next right thing.

He had to find Gar, no matter what, before something happened to him and Dick could never forgive himself. Every inch of him was trembling, numb.

Take a step, step again.

It was all that he could do.

He walked through the cold winter air, stumbling blindly toward the light.

Gar pushed himself through the wind that bit ferociously at his cheeks.

All was lost, hope was gone.

But he had to go on.

He couldn't go back, not now, although he wanted to be back in Dick and Kory's arms so badly. He missed their warmth, their heartwarming words, their encouragements even if they ended up meaning nothing.

'Hello, darkness,' He found himself thinking.

He was ready to succumb.

Chapter Text

It had been a full hour since Dick had walked through the streets in search of a certain teenager, and it had been so long that he had been thinking of the worst case scenarios to Gar's whereabouts.

He would never forgive himself if something had happened to him.

Never.

His throat hurt from inhaling all the cold winter air, his cheeks stung and his fingers felt numb. He could barely hear the crunch of dry snow underneath his boots spread over the asphalt like a dotted sheet of paper.

Gar had gone to a place where he couldn't find, and it was all his fault.

The guilt hurt like no other, and he wasn't sure why he had been so confident that he'd be able to solve this boy's every single problem, guarantee and promise him a happy life.

Kory was right; all he did was snap, and snapping didn't help Gar at all.

Gar had seen dark before, but not like this.

This was cold, this was empty, this was numb.

His arms wrapped tight around him, and he was trembling. Not from the cold, anyway.

His throat was dry and parched, and for some reason, he didn't know why he was running away. He knew Dick was somewhere out there, looking for him, calling for him… or was he? Did he even care anymore?

He was lost, he didn't know anywhere to go. The only stars that guided him were Dick and Kory, and without them, Gar knew he was helpless. Weak. Without them, he was nothing.

He staggered through the snow-covered streets. The lights were out.

His legs gave in underneath him in the middle of an empty road, and he didn't make any attempt to stand back up. He thought about giving it all up. Nothing could fix what had been done.

Gar didn't notice the truck that was speeding towards his direction, both him and the driver oblivious to the circumstance.

"Gar!"

His mouth clamped shut after the last attempt to call out for him, and Dick said no more. He willed his legs to keep moving.

Dick was tired. Exhausted. He didn't want to do this anymore.

But he had to. He just had to.

He leaned against the wall of a building at the intercourse of the road, mind fuzzy and thoughts swimming in his head. Inside, he was panicking, because like the many times in his life, he didn't know what to do, how to start.

Gar.

The boy was the only thing that would resurface inside his head whenever he tried to push him away and focus on actually looking for him. Dick had no idea what had caused the outgoing, cheery Gar to suddenly just explode like that. Had he triggered something? Did he think that Dick wanted to stop helping? That he wanted to give up on him?

Not a fucking chance in hell.

Dick pushed himself off the wall and started back off through the streets, ignoring the cold and stings on bare skin.

He turned the corner with a sharp spin, and his lips released a very shaky sigh.

He was quite far away, but it was Gar. Backpack abandoned on the side of the road, buried in the snow. Sitting on the ground, not moving, but he was alive. And for now, that's all that mattered. Dick started making his way towards him.

"Gar." He called out softly. "Gar."

Either the boy didn't hear, or chose to ignore him competely. There was no reaction, no response, no movement at all. Dick was still glad he hadn't found him beaten up inside a dark alleyway or a knife at his throat.

His eyes caught the sight of something moving on the other side of the road, and he looked, completely turning his head.

Oh, fuck.

Whoever was driving the goddamn truck didn't seem to realize that there was a kid sitting in front of him on the road just seconds away from colliding into him.

"Gar!" He cried out, his feet now running towards him in full speed, pounding against the pavement. "Gar, truck! Get out of the way!"

As if Gar had finally heard Dick, his head slowly turned and eyes met his.

"Get out of the road!"

And for a second, Dick was terrified that Gar was just sitting there waiting for his death, actually expecting the truck to hit him and take his life.

No, Gar wouldn't give up so easily. He was stronger than that.

Twenty feet.

The truck was closing in, and Dick's feet were carrying him as fast as they would go.

Fifteen feet.

Gar was staring at him, and Dick's heart was racing. The only sounds he could hear were his own heavy breaths that reached out to the boy in front of him.

Twelve.

Gar look of frustration morphed into one of utter terror and shock as his eyes fell upon the vehicle that raced towards him, body going frigid and refusing to move. Headlights shone blindly into his eyes, and Dick was so close.

Ten.

Dick grabbed Gar by the shoulders, and pulled him into his arms as the truck neared them both. He turned his back towards the headlights, shielding Gar from death. His own breath was all he could hear as he shut his eyes tightly, waiting for the blow.

The last things Gar remembered were Dick's arms wrapped tightly around him and then, his body flying across the road and onto the asphalt underneath, skin meeting cold snow before everything went pitch black and his mind went blank.

Chapter Text

Gar came to, the faint beeping of a heart monitor so very familiar that he just had to see what the hell he had gotten himself into this time.

The first thing that greeted him as soon as he slowly began regaining his consciousness was a splitting headache so intense that he almost cried out at the bolts of agony it shot through his brain. A very warm welcome, indeed.

And then came the sharp stings that raced up his appendages, every single joint and every single muscle. The headache combined turned everything into some kind of ugly mix of glitter and glue in a frying pan.

And then the beeping was growing louder, and he could see the red of his eyelids, and the pain was growing stronger yet also numb.

"Fuuuuuck." He groaned as his eyelids fluttered open, feeling as if his wrists and ankles were locked in place, his body refusing to move for him. Something soft rested underneath his head, and the familiar smell of antibiotics met his nostrils.

Gar immediately squeezed his eyes shut as the blinding lights above him shone directly into his eyes. The oxygen mask that seemed to rest over his nose and mouth felt somewhat uncomfortable. He felt his own fingers twitch, and tried curling his right hand into a fist. No luck.

"Oh my goodness, Gar." When he opened his eyes again, and woman was rushing over to him and he was soon embraced by a pair of arms that wrapped him into a gentle but warm hug. He couldn't find the strength to hug back.

She pulled away after a while and took a seat beside him, on the bed Gar was occupying. And he could then see who she was, despite his blurry vision. But he'd know that face anywhere.

The flaming curls rested on her shoulders and stretched on behind her back, bouncing as she shifted back and forth. A somewhat sad smile sat upon her dark-skinned face, but her eyes sparked with something that reminded Gar of fireworks.

"Kory," He rasped and frowned. He hated how his voice sounded, how it croaked out the word and expended all his energy to pronounce a single name.

"Shh." Kory's hushes immediately made him fall silent and he rested against the softest matress he could recall as her hand ran through his hair. He found it oddly satisfying. Her other hand reached for the mask and removed it from his face; he suddenly felt like he could actually breathe again.

"Kory, wha…" He made a feeble attempt to clear his throat. "… what happened? I don't…"

"Someone found you and Dick out on the street. Thank goodness they did, it was a close call. You were unresponsive for two days." She replied softly, forcing a smile onto her lips. "I was so worried, Gar."

"Why were we outside? On the road?" Gar inquired to nobody in particular, trying to push the headache away for now and trying to remember what the hell had happened.

It all came back to him in a rush.

"… Dick." He heard himself blurt out. "Where's Dick?" His hands scrambled underneath him and despite the burning protests poking and prodding at his entire body pushed himself up to sit upright, eyes staring right ahead.

"Gar, calm down." Kory got to her feet and gently pushed Gar by the shoulders back onto the bed, pulling the covers up to his chin. "Dick's okay."

"Can I… can I talk to him?" One part of him wanted to apologize to Dick and beg for forgiveness while the other absolutely refused to even talk to Dick; if it was the guilt or the anger that still lingered inside of him, Gar didn't know. The two sides conflicted with each other, and it made his head feel dull.

Kory looked at him for a long time before sitting back onto the chair. "He's still unconscious. So there's your answer." A small sigh escaped her lips as she propped her elbows onto the matress beside Gar's left arm, which he then noticed was wrapped heavily in bandages.

"… Kory, I don't…"

"Look, why don't you just help me out? Fill me in with everything that happened." Kory said, shaking her head a little before leaning in, one hand now on his hand that lay bandaged. Her fingers gently traced the lines.

And working his lips to move, he wearily exhaled and released out a few dry coughs. A glass was immediately put against his lips, and as it was tipped towards him, Gar drank the water, drenching his parched throat, finishing the whole glass in one go. When it was taken away, he sucked in a shaky breath as he prepared himself for what was to come.

"I heard you and Dick talking downstairs."

Gar saw Kory visibly flinch at this, even though it was obvious she had tried not to show it. The guilt overtaking his heart grew, seeming to dig a painful cavity into his mind.

"I pretended that I didn't hear anything." He continued. "But I felt like Dick didn't feel like helping me out anymore, and he had promised that I'd be happy again. And I suddenly just felt so mad that I completely lashed out at him… and then I just… walked out of there." His head started hurting more. "I felt betrayed."

"It's normal for you to feel betrayed and lost." Kory commented, almost seeming lost for words.

"But that's not it." Gar blurted out, heart growing heavier by the second. "He came out to look for me, and I just tried running away, but I just wanted to give up, so I just sat in the middle of the road doing nothing."

A pause.

"And then there was a truck, and Dick was running towards me, and suddenly he was there, between me and the…" His words faded into nothing but heavy breathing and quiet sobs. "I'm so sorry, Kory."

"No, no, Gar, this isn't your fault." Kory wrapped her fingers around the upper part of his arm, caressing the bare skin.

"If I hadn't been so goddamn selfish, this… this would have never happened. It should have been me, Kory, not Dick. It should have been me."

"Gar, stop." Kory stumbled to her feet and leaned over Gar, giving him a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Don't say such things. Dick made a choice to save you; you should be grateful."

"I'm not saying I'm not grateful, it's just… Dick didn't deserve this. If anyone should still be unconscious lying in a bed, it should be me. I shouldn't be… okay, Kory."

"Oh, Gar." Kory pulled Gar into another careful embrace. "When are you going to stop blaming yourself for everything bad that happens and actually realize that you deserve so much more?"

There was no reply, and the hospital was nothing but quiet. The heart monitor beeped quicker than it was supposed to.

Chapter Text

Gar had been worse off than this before; seemed like all of that beating he took actually payed off. The sharp stings of agony and the pain felt like nothing compared to past experiences.

It wasn't that it didn't hurt, anyway. It did. It wasn't everyday you got hit by a truck. He just never liked showing vulnerability.

He couldn't help but let a short, pained groan escape his throat as Kory helped him shift into that certain sitting position. Gar immediately cursed himself for not keeping his sensations to himself when Kory flinched.

"I-I'm sorry, did I hurt you?" Her warm hands moved away from his shoulder, and it left nothing but a cold, empty feeling.

"No, m'fine." He muttered, clenching his jaw as his back throbbed, as if someone was poking at him from behind with a cattle prod.

With a soft sigh, Kory landed back onto the chair that sat beside the bed and her hands dropped limply to her sides.

"Gar, if it hurts, just say so."

"It doesn't hurt."

"You got hit by a truck, Gar. You know I won't admonish you just because you tell me you feel like you're going to die."

"It doesn't hurt."

The headache forming behind his eyes suddenly grew, making it feel as if his head were pulsing. His lips, which were squeezed tight, forced out a moan. He felt like kicking himself. His good hand blindly groped for the bottle of painkillers that sat on the small table.

Kory shook her head as she grabbed the bottle and handed it to him, eyes sad and confused. "You wouldn't be taking painkillers every hour if it didn't actually hurt, now, would you?"

No response.

"You know, it's not good for you to have so many a day. They're only drugs, after all."

"Then I guess I like taking drugs." Gar replied with a rather simple shrug, and popped a tablet into his mouth without water. He swallowed, again feeling the hard lump force its way down his throat.

"You're used to this, aren't you?"

"Used to what? Drugs?"

"No, not drugs, Gar. Hospitals and meds. You're already used to them."

Gar pressed his back against the bedrest, head plopping down onto the pillow. "I guess… it's safe to say I am."

"Did it hurt as much as this? Back then, when they…"

"Beat me?"

"… Yeah. That."

"Didn't hurt as much." Gar was used to hospitals and meds, sure, but another thing he was good at was lying straight through his teeth. He had that certain way of hiding truths, making people believe things that weren't actually right to buy himself some time. To step out from the spotlight and all the unwanted attention.

He suddenly started feeling nauseous, like he was going to retch any second. He didn't want to bee a part of this conversation; he just wanted to see Dick.

For the last twenty hours, his thoughts had only swarmed around Dick. He wanted to know if he was okay, if he was actually breathing… sometimes Gar would feel as if Dick weren't alive, and he'd briefly panic before getting hold of reality again.

The last day had been restless hours of a successive 'sleep and just-sit-there-doing-nothing' routine. He was already sick of ending up in a hospital bed all the fucking time.

Kory would be there for him, and she tried to keep him entertained. Sometimes she'd disappear somewhere for a few hours, probably to Dick and back, and return afterward, eyes tired and weary but a big smile on her face contradicting the rest of her facial features.

And there was always that 'I'm glad you're okay' line mixed in their conversations, and sometimes Gar just wanted to scream at her that it wasn't fine at all, because someone was unconscious lying in a bed in his place. It just wasn't fair.

"How's Dick?"

It felt like the millionth time he inquired, but he couldn't help asking once every two hours because the guilt and concern stabbed at his heart like a knife.

"His vitals are steady, he's okay. It's going to be fine, Gar."

The same response repeated over and over, and Gar was frustrated because nobody was fine after colliding into a truck. It was simple as that. He himself wasn't fine; how would Dick be fine?

After about an hour of quiet whispers and quenching his thrist, Kory stood up, gave him the most encouraging smile she could muster and told him that she was going to go check on Dick, and Gar again felt that tug in his throat.

He felt sorry for Dick, and also, he couldn't help but feel like he had to beg to Kory for forgiveness. It was a hardship, a rigor when your love was unresponsive, lying helplessly in a bed while you couldn't even get mad the kid who caused the whole thing to happen because you felt sorry for him. Gar knew Kory had every right to be angry, and some part of him was confused to why Kory wasn't lashing out on him at all.

He couldn't remember when he had drifted off to sleep, but a gentle shake soon brought him back to reality. Above him was Kory, who, for the first time in the last hours, actually seemed genuinely happy.

"Gar." She said, the grin never disappearing. "Dick's awake."

"Dick's awake?" He actually thought he could feel the aching slowly fade away.

"He's a little bit confuzzled at the moment, but he's still Dick."

He felt his own body moving on its own accord, and squeezed his mouth shut as a sharp pain erupted in his shoulder. "I have to talk to him."

"Gar, no, lie down. You're in no condition to stand."

"But I have to."

"… You know what, Gar? I'll head over to his room right now, give your cellphone a call. I'll let Dick use mine, and you two'll be able to talk. I'll give you some privacy if you need any. Savvy?"

He swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded once.

"Yeah."

And the phone sitting by his bed was soon clutched into his hands, and after she left, he waited, a million thoughts rushing through his head like pictures on a movie screen. Haunted smears of color dotted all over the blank piece of paper that was his mind, making something that resembled an art piece by Picasso.

Gar had never really liked Picasso.

The sudden vibration that ran up his arm starting from the small device in his hand startled him, but he strained his arm to bring his phone to his ear nonetheless. His thumb tapped the call button.

"Gar?"

It was raspy and rather quiet, but it was Dick. The voice felt like one he hadn't heard in a goddamn eternity. A sob escaped his throat the moment he heard his name being called.

"Gar, are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine, Dick. I'm okay." His voice trembled as he spoke. "You?"

"A little worse for wear, but I'm good."

A shaky laugh escaped his lips. "That's all? I was expecting a little more."

"Not the first time I've been stuck at a hospital, kiddo."

A rather long silence followed, and Gar found himself empty of words. What was he even supposed to do at this point? Tell Dick that he was sorry? Plead for forgiveness?

"Dick," He exhaled shakily. "… this is all my fault."

"No, it's all on me." The raspy voice said, and Gar winced. "You were right, I should have tried harder to help you. I understand if you're mad."

"Don't try to persaude me that this wasn't my doing, Dick. Because even if you look at it from every single point of view, it still is. I was the one who left, the stupid one to sit on that road without even fucking realizing that I was minutes away from hit by a goddamn truck… you shouldn't have done that, Dick."

"It was my choice."

"And you made a bad one. You should have just left me there on my own."

"Don't say that."

"And why can't I?"

"Because it's not right."

"That doesn't fucking matter anymore."

"Gar, if I were to do the whole thing again, I'd do the same thing a million times. Don't think that this is your fault. I'm the guy who made you feel upset, blame me."

"… Everything you say is always a lie."

No response.

His mouth opened, but nothing came out, and his hand trembled.

"… I'm sorry, Dick."

Before he could hear any more, Gar pressed his thumb against the call ending button, and he could no longer listen.

The phone dropped onto the floor with a clatter, and the sobs wracked through his body and tore through his throat, and for a second, wished he were in some sort of coma so that he didn't have to deal with any of this shit.

The night was still, and he cried until his pained chest could take no more.

Chapter Text

Wheelchairs.

Gar hated wheelchairs.

They were annoying, stiff, and they looked stupid. And the guy sitting in it always looked stupid, too. And if you accidentally hit your hand on one of those pieces of metal that stuck out of nowhere, it hurt like hell and you'd have to wait until it didn't actually hurt anymore.

But stupid wheelchairs were the least of his problems.

Kory sighed, and her hands clutched the handles of that damn wheelchair tighter.

"C'mon, Gar. Into the wheelchair."

"No."

"Gar, I'm really getting tired of this."

"I am, too."

"Then get into the fucking wheelchair."

"No, I won't do it! It'll make me look like an idiot."

Kory leaned onto the wheelchair, arms crossing over each other and resting on the backrest. "… This isn't about the wheelchair, is it?"

"Trust me, it is."

"I promise everything will be fine. Dick and you just need some time."

"I'm not ready yet, Kory."

Another heavy sigh escaped her lips, and she stepped away, holding both hands beside her head in mock surrender. "Look, it's obvious this isn't going to work, so… I'm gonna go get some lunch. The hospital's carrot stew is ten times better than dealing with all this." Kory spun around and strode towards the door of his ward. Her hand grabbed the knob but paused at midturn.

"Call me if you need anything."

And then she was gone, and all that was left were Gar and the heart monitor.

As soon as he heard the door close with a soft click, he slowly removed the pillow from his face and set it on his stomach, blowing some hair out of his eyes as he exhaled a rather large amount of air.

Kory was never one to lose patience, especially with Gar. But Gar could admit that he had, that day, taken things a little bit too far.

Kory didn't know what went back and forth during the phone call, but when she arrived and found Gar curled into a ball under the covers, knees hugged to his chest, she had concluded that the call hadn't really ended well at all. From then, she tried to get Gar out of bed to go see Dick in person. But every time, he'd refuse, only to conceive the poorest excuses: that he felt too dizzy, that he had just been planning to take a nap, that his stomach hurt and that he had a headache that just wouldn't go away.

Today's excuse had been that wheelchairs made him look stupid.

And poor Kory had tried so hard to help him, and Gar knew that he owed her everything. She had spent nearly half an hour trying to persuade Gar to see Dick in that wheelchair, and after fifteen minutes, he had found sanctuary by stuffing his face into the pillow that had been resting under his head.

It was probably about time she lost her mind, considering what a stubborn ass Gar knew he was.

Eventually, after hours of thinking, Gar found himself thinking back to years ago when everything wasn't as shitty.

"Mom?"

"Well, you're up early."

Gar offered his mother a smile. "Can't ever miss the sunrise, now, can I?"

He had been about seven at the time. Six in the morning and he had been standing there watching his mother write in her small notebook.

Their days in Congo were rather quiet.

"Hey, mom?"

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"What's your favorite animal?"

His mother smiled; the smile that Gar missed, longed to see. He missed the feeling of his hands in hers, her fingers running through his hair.

"My favorite animal? That's a difficult question."

"… Well?"

"… Chimpanzees. They're the most intelligent animals to exist."

Gar scrunched up his nose, small hands gripping the table. "That's boring."

"Oh? So chimpanzees are boring?" His mother said with a teasing smile and set her pen down to spin around and face him. "Then what's your favorite animal?"

"Tigers." He replied without hesitation, a small grin visible on his pale face. "They're big and scary, and they have sharp teeth. And it's so cool how they roar."

She laughed, her voice like a bell. "Tigers are pretty cool, aren't they?"

"Way cooler than a chimpanzee."

"Can you give me a mighty roar?"

"Roar!"

"Oh my, Gar." She faked being frightened, placing a hand on her chest with an overly exaggerated face. "You're one scary tiger. Well, maybe I should call you little tiger from now on. How's that?"

He giggled.

"I'd like that."

Something wet dripped down his face and onto his hand curled up into fists resting on the pillow. And it caught him by surprise.

Why was he crying?

His hands wiped desperately at his eyes, trying to stop the tears from flowing.

They were gone, it was all in the past now. There was nothing he could have done, he had gotten over them a long time ago.

Don't dwell in the past.

Focus on now.

He was strong, he was better than this.

Way better.

He swallowed the lump caught in his throat, felt his throat aching when he did, and buried his face into the pillow underneath his head, wiping his tears. He didn't give a fuck about whether the pillow was wet or not.

"Hey."

"Hey."

Silence ensued, nothing more, nothing less.

"How are you feeling?"

"A bit better. You?"

"Dick, you're the one who got hit by a vehicle, I should be the one asking you that. Not that I want to ask, anyway."

Kory took a seat beside Dick's bed, her hand reaching out and gently grabbing his forearm, squeezing. She minded the IV line.

"I'm glad you're safe, Dick."

A chuckle. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Kory."

She leaned over to rest her forehead on his, giving him a gentle peck on the lips. "I don't know what I'd do without you either."

Eventually, she fell back onto the chair, fingers carefully tracing circles over Dick's open palm. "Gar doesn't want to talk to you yet."

Dick let a heavy sigh escape his lips. "Figured."

"Hey." Kory said, forcing an encouraging smile onto her face. "He just needs some time to himself, okay? We'll work things out, get this knot untied eventually."

"… You're right. I guess he needs some space." Dick replied, turning his head a little to glance at the door and back. "What was today's reason?"

"That wheelchairs make him look stupid or whatever." She grinned a little, shaking her head as she chuckled. "I seriously don't get the logic behind that."

"Gotta admit, sitting in a wheelchair does make you feel pretty dumb."

"Really? I never knew."

"You're just not as experienced and injury-prone as I am."

"Thanks a lot, Dick."

"No, it's a good thing."

Time went by like hours, which seemed like years, decades, an eternity.

Snow was falling softly outside curtained windows, and none of them noticed.

Chapter Text

He knew that Kory was successively paying for the hospital bills for as long as he was staying in that hospital, and he definitely felt guilty for that.

It had been days since he had curled up in the bed and said absolutely nothing, refusing to even talk to or look at anyone. He barely remembered eating, and he never moved from that bed only to wash. Of course, Kory had tried reaching out to him—she had even brought her homemade vegetarian lasagna—but about three bites seemed to suffice for his upset stomach.

He didn’t know why his body refused to move, to do anything at all, so he decided to keep it simple and refer it to as a certain ‘phase’. He hadn’t been able to conclude what the ‘phase’ was actually part of, but Gar had stopped thinking about an answer for that enigma a long time ago.

It was countless hours of sleep, staring mindlessly out windows, more sleep—everything felt like a dead nightmare. Kory would pull the blinds up every time she visited. And every time she left, he’d either ask one of the nurses to pull them back down, or he’d drag himself out of bed to get rid of that damn light himself.

Those long days had merely been filled with the thoughts of his mom and dad—how he missed them, how it would feel like to have them right there by his side, listening to his dad’s stories and his mom’s singing. He missed them so, so much, and his heart ached for them.

Gar couldn’t even remember the last time he had even spoke. His lips were cracked and dry, his throat felt like a desert. He mostly kept his thoughts to himself, and he never responded to Kory. Heck, he didn’t even listen to what she was saying. And he knew that was a completely childish thing to do—the different thing from being stubborn about this was that he just couldn’t hear her at all.

Then Dick came.

Gar had barely heard the rusty wheelchair making its way to his bedside, his own back turned towards whoever was approaching.

“Gar.”

He kept his mouth shut.

“Gar, it’s Dick.”

He tried to pretend he was asleep, try to make Dick go away to avoid this conversation.

“I just want to talk. I missed seeing you.”

Gar’s hands gripped the pillow hard, fingernails digging into the thin material as his jaw clenched. He didn’t want this, he didn’t want this, he didn’t want this.

Gar almost felt a fleeting moment of success when he heard Dick sigh behind his back.

“Giving me the silent treatment, huh? Yeah, I get that—I guess you’re still mad at me.”

He didn’t give in.

“Kory came to me once in a while, kept me updated. She said you haven’t touched any food for a few days.”

Then there was the rustling of a plastic bag.

“So I brought some salad. Thought you might like it. Kory used her special dressing. You know, the one you said tasted like what you mom used to make?”

Gar licked his dry lips. Food sounded good. But he didn’t want any. He refused to have any. He wouldn’t eat, no matter how hard both of them pestered him.

“What would you parents say?”

Gar’s body tensed, those five words sending immediate chills down his spine. He felt his body freeze up completely.

“Your parents wouldn’t want their only son to starve like this, would they? What would they think?”

They’d think I’ve lost my mind. He thought, and once again, his heart ached.

“So, can you turn around for them? For me?”

His mind debated against both sides, and his head felt like a bomb ticking the seconds until it actually exploded.

And ever so slowly, he found himself rolling over to face Dick.

Dick looked much better than Gar had expected; his face was a healthy peachy skin tone, cheeks a rosy pink, pale but not too pale. And that smile on his face looked so, so fake to him. The small plastic container and a fork wrapped in aluminum foil were held in his bandaged hands.

And abruptly, there was that moment of panic that rose in his chest the second his eyes met Dick’s. What was he even supposed to say? Mutter apologies? Try to somehow work on a rational conversation?

A smile appeared on Dick’s face, and the plastic container was pushed towards his direction. “That’s it. Do you think you can eat?”

With no protest, Gar took the thing with trembling hands, grabbing the fork with the other. He slowly unwrapped the tin foil off, leaving it on the bed at his side, and carefully opened the lid. The sour scent of dressing stung his nose.

He didn’t want to eat, he really didn’t—but something told him he should.

His parents would have wanted him to.

Gar slowly put the small portion of salad to his lips, hands shaking uncontrollably, and it slowly entered his mouth, food meeting his taste buds for the first time in days. The sour and sweet and bitter flavor spread throughout his tongue—he felt like he could actually feel the first bits of energy trickling through his veins.

He swallowed, forcing the food down his throat before actually realizing how famished he was. He tore into the food, stuffing everything into his mouth.

Dick watched him from the side as he devoured the small amount of greenery. The corners of his lips were tugged upwards, and something that seemed like relief was spread across his features that Gar was finally willing to do something for himself.

When the container was finally empty, Gar set it carefully on the bedside table along with the fork. He half expected Dick to say something, but the man stayed quiet.

A long silence ensued.

He might have eaten, but he still refused to speak. For now.

“How was it?”

Gar squeezed his mouth shut.

“You were hungry, weren’t you?”

No. No, he wasn’t going to talk.

“Gar, I have questions I want to ask you.”

He was still listening.

“Back a few days ago. When you were on that road, and when that truck was moving towards you. Were you… were you doing that on purpose? Did you… know that truck was coming?”

Before he could stop it, the word came flying out of his mouth.

“No.”

Even Dick seemed surprised at his sudden burst that had formed the short answer. Gar felt as if his mouth and vocals were moving on their own accord. Thankfully, Dick didn’t question him on that.

Dick’s next inquiry hadn’t been something he had expected.

“… If you knew the truck was there, would you have stayed?”

It caught him completely off guard. Would he have stayed? Or would he have moved out of the way?

“I…"

He could still recall that short moment when his heart had almost stopped as the headlights blinded his sight, the engines roaring as the wheels neared him, ready to collide into Gar, merely one second away from death.

Was death something he longed for without knowing?

It took him quite a while to realize that he didn’t have an answer. Fuck him and his suicidal tendencies.

And he must have looked either very upset or confused, because Dick’s expression softened and his hand was running through his hair. It felt oddly nice in those unfortunate circumstances.

“I’m sorry I asked, Gar, I was just worried. I’m sorry. Don’t cry.”

Gar had opened his mouth to tell Dick that he wasn’t crying until he felt the tears travel down his face. Then there was a warm hand on his cheek, wiping them away.

Everything rushed into him like a long train of thoughts. Dick was there, right by his side, comforting him, making him eat. He was actually grateful that Dick had come to see him.

But one other part of him hated this—hated all of it. Dick had decided to use Gar’s dead parents to guilt trip him into forcing him to do things he didn’t want to do, using them as bait.

Gar hadn’t forgotten their names in order to be reminded of them again. That wasn’t what the point of letting go had been for.

He swatted Dick’s hand away, rolling over again so that his back faced the said man, hands curled at his chest.

A few minutes later, when Gar had gotten tired of the guilt eating him inside and had decided to turn around again to tell him he was sorry, Dick was gone.

...

After something that seemed like hours of restless sleep, tossing and turning, Gar found himself standing barefoot in front of Dick’s ward. His feet felt cold, planted firmly against the tile floors, toes curled in. His hand was halfway to the knob, frozen in midair—his lip hurt from all the biting. The hall was quiet—too quiet—and it scared him. It was three in the morning.

Somehow, his brain had seemed to think that opening that door up was the only rational thing to do—so he did, twisting the knob and carefully pushing it open with his toes.

Gar was greeted by more darkness and an eerie silence. “Dick?”

The name suddenly felt foreign on his lips, as if it was his first time calling out to him.

“Gar?”

Gar never thought that single groggy, raspy reply would flood him with such relief. A small nightlight flickered to life somewhere inside the cramped room, and Gar was then able to see Dick’s illuminated face staring back at him, eyes almost half shut.

Without a word, Gar entered the room, gently closing the door behind him with a soft click. His bare feet brushed against the floor.

“… Dick, I’m—“ His breath hitched. “—I’m sorry about earlier. I-I didn’t mean to—“

“Gar.” His name echoed throughout the room, cutting Gar’s words short. “C’mere.”

He hesitated but obliged, slowly making his way to Dick’s bed, hands clasped tightly behind his back, fingers curling around each hand. Gar then shamefully dropped his head, waiting for the admonishment, the reprimands.

Instead, Dick scooted over to the side, his face lighted up by the small source of light in a pale yellow. He patted the empty spot beside him, eyeing Gar. “Lie down.”

“But—“

“It’s okay.”

Unable to take the tension anymore, Gar climbed onto Dick’s bed, slipping underneath the covers, feet tuck tight against his body. An arm was soon draped around his thin frame, wrapping him into a hug, and Gar then realized how much he had missed Dick.

The hand gently caressing his arm felt so nice, felt so comforting in such a long time that he couldn’t help but press himself against Dick a little more, curling into a ball underneath the bedsheets, closing his eyes as he exhaled.

The warmth he had longed for was rather inviting, and Gar slowly felt himself drifting away towards some place farther.

...

The next day, when Kory had first noticed that Gar was missing from his ward, she had panicked like she never had before, terrified to death that he had managed to make his way to the hospital rooftop and jumped off, or ran away to escape from everything altogether.

But when she entered Dick’s room and saw Gar tucked underneath the covers, arms clutched to his chest and Dick’s around Gar’s body, both of them cuddling in the very small hospital bed, she couldn’t help but laugh, grab her iPhone 11 and snap several pictures. For a second, she considered making it her background photo, but decided to keep her cruelty to a limit and instead use the whole thing as bribery towards them both in case things ever got heated.

And meanwhile, Gar dreamt about small houses, wide, African plains, tigers and baby lions.