Actions

Work Header

The Antics of Speedsters and Robins

Chapter Text

The Antics of Speedsters and Robins

Chapter 1

(Damian) (About fifteen years after the end of “Young Justice”)

Damian didn’t know the West family. He’d met Wally West a couple of times, off and on again throughout the years they were both active, but only for a mission here and there, and even then, he apparently didn’t act as he normally did out of costume. At least, he didn’t according to what he heard about the speedster from Drake and Grayson-
He blocked that thought before it went any further. It had already taken him an embarrassingly long time to get this far. If he thought about the older man, he might waver. Not lose his nerve – Damian would never do something as stupid and pointless as that, especially after he’d put so much time into coming to Central City. He just didn’t want to be…distracted. As he had been several times the last couple of months.

Instead, he focused on the house in front of him. He didn’t know the West family. But he knew about them. Mostly from files on his father’s Bat Computer, but also from word of mouth. Members in the Kiddie-Justice-League he’d been forced to fraternize with spoke of them enough for him to have at least an approximate idea of the family.
But Damian hardly remembered Wally past him and Grayson working seamlessly together. He had never seen the man outside of uniform, except in the picture Grayson had kept on his kitchen counter featuring the first Robin himself, about age twelve, grinning mischievously, Wally laughing his head off at something, and a (falsely) scowling Roy Harper with crossed arms. They were the perfect picture of friendship.

But that had been a long time ago. And things were different now. Damian had often looked at that picture in the past couple of months and pretended that he’d known those three people. That he’d understood why they had chosen that day, of all the ones they spent together back then, to memorialize. That he had been standing behind the camera with them, taking the picture. If only so he’d have a piece of him left outside of circus posters that were worn with age almost to the point of falling apart and a torn costume sitting behind glass in his father’s cave.

…It was a stupid, childish sentiment. And Damian knew it.

…But…

…But…he hurt. So much. He felt like something important had been ripped away from him prematurely. Every night, he waited, still expecting to hear that goofy laugh pass behind him as he worked on the Batmobile. Even though it was futile, he waited. When it never came, he’d sigh to himself and bury his hands deeper into whatever part he was working on so that his father wouldn’t see them shake.

He hated himself for his weakness.

But he couldn’t help it.

This wasn’t mother. Or father. Or Todd. Drake. Brown. Cain. Gordon.

It was Grayson.

And he…was being childish. But he didn’t care at the moment.

Damian shook himself of that thought, realizing that at some point, he’d stopped walking and had just been staring blankly. He grimaced to himself, mentally giving his face a slap for dropping his guard when there could be enemies anywhere, even on this quiet, suburban street. He steadied himself, took a deep breath, and focused on the house before him once again.

He didn’t know the Wests. But he knew enough about them to be mildly surprised. Their abode had fallen into a state of neglect that Damian knew Iris or Jai could have fixed within moments (ignoring the fact that the neighbors would surely notice if they did so). The siding, which had been a nice, soft green color, had faded into something that resembled mildew. The plants out front were almost all dead or overgrown and those that weren’t were close to being so. The shingles on the roof looked like they needed to be repaired soon. The mailbox was crooked and the letters that spelled out “West” were stained with grime, the ‘s’ missing. One of the front windows was cracked.
Damian wasn’t really sure what to make of it. Iris and Jai had both been heroes not too long ago, and their mother, Artemis, still ran missions with both the League and Young Justice. Normally, he’d be disgusted at the amount of negligence right in front of him. But now…

Now, he had lost someone close to him as well.

The teenager sighed deeply, wrapped his arms around himself ONLY because of the chilly, December air, and began to traipse up the sidewalk to the locked door. Discreetly looking in all directions out of habit to make sure no one was watching or following him, he stuck out a gloved finger to ring the doorbell. Even that was dreary, as the electronic bell had gone out of tune and become sluggish with age. Damian ignored it, stubbornly reasoning that so long as it worked, there was no need to replace it.
No one came to answer the door.

He stood outside for about half a minute before trying again, absolutely not shivering and trying to stuff his hands as deep into his pockets as they’d go. After that ring went unnoticed by any inside as well, Damian backed up and peeked through a window, chastising himself for not doing so earlier. It wasn’t like him to not look completely at his surroundings before walking anywhere, and he was trying really hard not to think about just how amateurish he was being.

Lights were on inside the house, and he could make out flashes of something in the kitchen that looked like a TV in the living room reflecting off the stove. He went over to the garage, his feet crunching through snow as he walked, and stood on his tip toes to peek in through a window in the door. The car was inside. So it seemed that someone was probably home and had simply deigned to just not answer the door.

Well. That wouldn’t do at all.

Maybe what he was about to do was wrong in the eyes of morality and the law, but at the moment, Damian frankly didn’t care. He had come for a reason. He had a mission and he would see it through to the end, no matter what that entailed. Besides. It wasn’t like he was an enemy or something. So he felt no guilt whatsoever when he vaulted over the fence in the side yard, landed in a pile of snow up to his knees, trudged through it to the back door, pulled out a lock-pick, and went to work.

Within seconds, he heard a small click telling him that he’d been successful and he turned the knob. A blast of warm air hit him, more surprising than it really should have been. He almost gagged on it, not realizing until right then just how numb his face had been after his long journey. The nearest Zeta-beam spot was a good forty-five minutes away in the center of the city while the West house was on the outskirts of the suburban district. Damian figured it didn’t really matter though. With two speedsters living in the house who could carry Artemis quite easily (at least, it seemed to be in the video files Bruce had in his database), the family could probably get anywhere they wanted to go in a relatively short time.

Damian caught his breath within a second and closed the door quietly behind him, already scanning the area for any sign of life. If for some reason he was wrong and no one was home, he’d just wait for someone to show up. It’s not like his father would notice he was gone or anything.

…Though…Pennyworth might.

Damian had to shove really hard – much harder than he’d like to admit – at the swell of guilt that suddenly rose in his stomach.

Dear Alfred Pennyworth. Probably one of the only people Damian had grown to respect, to the point where he’d never want to disappoint the old man. But…surely he wouldn’t if he was home before supper. Surely.

…Maybe.

Damian shrugged to himself, trying to push the concerns back down. He didn’t care what Pennyworth thought. Really, he didn’t at all.

…But…Maybe he could try and get this over with as soon as possible. Just in case.

So, with that happy thought, he started walking, making a mental map of the house as he went. Everything seemed old, some in slight disrepair, but the childhood crayon drawings and worn furniture spread around made it feel more like a home than the manor ever had. If Damian were honest with himself, it reminded him a little of the way Grayson’s old, cramped apartment had felt. A small, but well-arranged kitchen with a breakfast nook that led to a nice, comfy living room with a staircase were as far as he had to explore before he heard the telltale sound of a small explosion coming from down a hallway to the side. He slinked through it slowly, hearing some rustling behind a door at the end.

Damian paused outside for a moment, taking in the sound of someone cursing softly inside the room before he silently pushed the door open slightly and slipped through the gap, shutting it behind him. Jai West was fanning some sort of purple smoke away from a mechanical device that Damian had never seen before. His black hair (which he had to have gotten from his grandmother) was drooping with perspiration. “Come on, come on, don’t set off the fire alarm. Please don’t set off the fire alarm again,” the other teenager was mumbling. Damian blinked in surprise. According to his research, he and Jai should have been roughly the same age, but the other looked to be slightly older.

Damian focused on the matter at hand and cleared his throat. “Jai West –“

He was cut off by Jai spinning around fast. Not…speedster fast, but fast. “WHO ARE YOU?!” He practically yelled, looking Damian up and down.

Well. Some people just couldn’t control their over-reactions. Sure, Damian HAD broken in, but Jai had been in the superhero business for awhile. This must have happened at some time or another.

“Tch,” he began gathering his words, hoping he wasn’t glaring too hardly at Jai. Considering the other boy’s slight flinch, he probably was. “Damian Wayne. Though you should be able to recognize your allies on sight.”

Jai’s eyes widened and he again looked Damian up and down almost like he was a science experiment. “Damian…Wayne…Robin.”

“Brilliant deduction,” he replied caustically.

“Long time no see. But…what are you doing in our lab?”

Their “lab” was just a room with some tables in it and what looked to be a bunch of junk that was broken. At least none of said tables were wooden. Judging from Jai’s earlier reactions, that probably would have been dreadful. Damian chose not to comment on that.

“I came to speak with either you or your sister. Perhaps your mother.”

“About what?” No suspicion or anger, just confusion.

“Your father.”

And just like that, Damian could tell he’d made a mistake as Jai practically shut down, his face growing dark and his mouth snapping shut.
Dang it dang it dang it dang it. Grayson had always said to slow down and not be so impulsive and blunt-

And that topic was quickly banned. Damian couldn’t afford to get distracted when he was trying to do damage control on something he apparently did wrong but didn’t understand.

“We’ll get back to that, though. I actually need to talk about…Grayson…first. I just…” and no, he did NOT fumble over his words right there. “I have a theory. About his…disappearance. And I-”

“I’ve heard all about your theories.”

Damian hadn’t been expecting that. “You have?” He could easily have kicked himself for letting that come out so pathetically.

“Everyone even slightly associated with the League has.”

And…that was the root of the problem. Damian had only come here because it was the last place he had left. The only people he thought he’d have a chance talking to about this. Everyone else had dismissed him or written him off. Given up far too quickly. Even his father.

And Damian…had a lot to learn. But he was a little better now at admitting when he needed help. Even if every one of his next words felt like acid coming up from his stomach. “I understand they may seem…farfetched, but I have evidence.”

Jai cut him off before he could finish. “I heard no one else agrees with you. Batman told the others you were still in the thick of the grieving process.”

Damian most assuredly did NOT stumble over his next words. “I’m fairly certain I’m not mistaken. I just…” and here was where he fell apart. Where his words failed him because he didn’t know which ones to use. He had never been any good at this. Suddenly, he found himself wishing he had paid more attention whenever he’d let Grayson do all the talking. “I need help to prove it. To be absolutely sure.”

And, really, did that statement really warrant the look of outright pity that formed on Jai’s face? “Damian…look. I know how you feel. Really I do. You know I do, or I’m guessing you wouldn’t be here right now. It’s not easy losing those close to us. I…I went through the same thing you are right now. I wanted to believe so badly that dad wasn’t…gone. I did believe it. I spent three years looking for him. But, Damian, there comes a point when you have to realize that it’s all just empty, wishful thinking.”

‘Empty’. Funny. Because Damian felt far too full. Like his stomach was about to reject everything he’d eaten the past couple of weeks and like his heart was about to hurl itself out of his chest. His brain was throbbing so badly he was starting to see double.

Except…that wasn’t…It couldn’t be. No. Damian wasn’t about to start crying. Those were not tears building up and he did not feel the telltale lump growing in his throat.
He didn’t.

“But I have evidence,” he repeated, hoping that Jai would just stay quiet for a second and let him finish-

“You said you weren’t entirely sure, though. That doesn’t seem like evidence to me. Not good evidence anyway.”

…And no luck. Right. Speedsters. They apparently talked a lot, according to what Damian had been told. He should have planned for that. If he wanted to get his point across, he needed to do so fast, before Jai could interrupt. “There was a strange distortion in the room where he…it happened. After he was gone. It…was a lot like his pulse.”

“That could be anything. Pipes in the walls.”

“There was another sound,” Damian forced, talking over Jai’s last couple of words, stupid as they had been, especially for a scientist. “I couldn’t make it out at first, so I had to magnify it. The Bat Computer identified it as Grayson’s voice. It came up about fifteen minutes after he disappeared.”

Finally, Jai didn’t seem to know what to say. But he recovered quickly. Not surprising, considering how fast his brain probably worked. “…It could have been an echo or something.”

“It was too strong and the sound too pure. It was an actual statement. He said ‘I missed you’. He spoke to me just before what happened. He said nothing like that.”
Jai worked his mouth for a few seconds before replying. “Damian…look, it’s just not possible.”

And no. This conversation was not going to be pushed in that direction. Damian would eat his gloves before he let that happen. “We can’t know for certain. There was no body.”
“There was enough genetic material floating around to prove he was most likely dead!”

Damian opened his mouth, but no sound came out. For a second, his mind was filled with a rather unpleasant mental image of pieces and bits of Grayson coasting around, bumping into walls and ceiling, unable to dissipate. It wasn’t pleasant. Damian shook it away, but his voice was still a little more choked than it had been before, much to his chagrin. “But not enough to actually prove it. He was there, and then he wasn’t. He could still be-”

“Damian,” Jai took a step closer to him, angry now, “he didn’t just disappear, he disintegrated. There’s not enough left! He’s gone!”

Silence fell, for just a moment. Damian, for once, had no comeback, and instead of forming one, he busied himself with watching the realization followed by shame come to Jai’s face as the older boy took in his own words.

“Oh…Oh, Damian, I didn’t mean-”

“I was there,” and this time, Damian’s voice was hard as steel, enough so that Jai flinched slightly. “You weren’t. I saw what happened. You don’t have to remind me.”

“I’m sorry-”

“I came here,” Damian raised his voice slightly, well aware that he was beginning to sound a little like a frightened child, so he reigned himself in as best he could, trying to keep his face impassive, “because I found that same phenomenon, that same after-voice I’ve started calling it, in another case the Justice League has on file.”

Whatever Jai was about to say, he stopped with a surprised blink. “What?”

A few years ago, Damian would have assumed that he’d actually have to repeat himself and that Jai was an idiot for not being able to pick up his statement the first time. But, since then, he’d learned a lot – especially in the last year and a half or so. Mostly because of Grayson – and yes, he could think the full name without feeling like a lost, frightened cat; he just had to prove it to himself – and he was fairly certain that Jai knew exactly what he had said and was just shocked. So, Damian figured he should just keep going. “It was in your father’s case.”

Jai was quiet, for a long moment, staring blankly. Damian had been prepared for anger, for disbelief, for even fear. But…Jai’s face was filling with something else he couldn’t quite put his finger on. “My…dad? He’s…”

“His voice,” Damian clarified, watching warily as some of the color left the other boy’s face. “It was harder to catch because it was in super speed, but when I slowed the recording down, it sounded something like ‘not again’. There was more after that but it got garbled. I tried to catch it though other security cameras up and down the street where he disappeared, but most of them were silent and those that weren’t were not high quality enough to pick it up clearly.”

Jai was still staring at him, looking a little lost. “My dad…is…dead.”

“He might not be. If he isn’t, there’s a chance-”

“NO!” Damian didn’t jump at the sudden increase in volume. He really didn’t. But he now realized that the expression on Jai’s face had been one of hope, one that was quickly being quashed with a very aggressive forcefulness. “He IS. I…I looked. For three years, I looked and…He’s gone. That’s it.”

“He was gone once before,” Damian tried to remain calm as he answered. Jai was being rather erratic, but that wasn’t unusual in this sort of case. He just needed to keep his wits about him. “In Antarctica. He came back that time.”

“I know that,” Jai snapped, “Iris and I wouldn’t have been born if he hadn’t. But this…this is different.”

“How?” and Damian really was curious about the other boy’s logic. Wally West had disappeared a second time, and while the circumstances had been different than the first time, the end result had been the same.

“In Antarctica,” Jai wasn’t as good at controlling his emotions as most heroes his age, “dad was bombarded by bursts of kinetic energy. Originally, everyone thought the extra amounts caused his body to lose cohesion and fall apart. But, as we later discovered, that very energy actually slingshot him to another reality. It was because of it that he was able to make it all the way there without so much strain to his body that he actually would have disintegrated. That’s not the case this time. He ran too fast on his own with no outside help. There’s no way he could have survived.”

“You sound as though you are reciting from a textbook,” Damian pointed out, irritated that Jai was simply refusing to even think about what he had said.

“I looked for him! I couldn’t find him, and not for lack of trying! It took me a long time, but I finally realized what everyone else already knew, Damian. He’s gone. My dad’s gone and he’s not coming back. I’d appreciate if you would stop making me think about it.”

Damian took a deep breath. He had to be careful here, because one wrong word could make Jai completely shut down. “Everyone thought that back when he disappeared the first time. Except for Grayson. And Harper, when he made it back home. If they hadn’t kept working and looking, we never would have gotten your father back after Antarctica. What’s to say that everyone isn’t wrong again? That you’re not wrong?”

Jai looked like a goldfish for all of ten seconds as he tried to figure out what to say, and when he finally managed to get something out, it was so choked and garbled that Damian almost couldn’t understand it. “Get out.”

Damian look at him for a long moment, trying to compute the merits of arguing. But even if Jai’s voice said he was unsure of himself right then, the set of his body and firmness of his stance said the exact opposite. Jai had made up his mind and there was no way Damian was going to be able to change it. Especially now. Maybe later, after the other boy thought on it awhile. But right now, there would be no point in staying.

So, he shrugged and turned back towards the door, noticing Jai look slightly surprised that he actually was leaving. But he ignored it, even as the other boy seemed to realize just how rude he had sounded, considering that Damian was experiencing a very similar thing to what Jai had just a few years before. His hand fell on Damian’s shoulder lightly, hesitantly. “I really am sorry. I just can’t…”

But Damian didn’t want to hear petty excuses. He had lost Grayson. The most important person in the world to him. He couldn’t understand how Jai could just…give up like this. He’d come here because he’d thought – hoped – that someone would understand. Who better than someone who had already gone against everyone else’s opinion before? But now… He shrugged the other boy’s hand off and grabbed the door knob, pulling it open without a word.

If Jai didn’t want to get involved, Damian would leave and do it all himself. Drake had done it when Bruce had been thrown back in the past, so why couldn’t he?

Never mind that Drake apparently agreed with everyone else in this case and hadn’t answered either of the two e-mails Damian had sent him (which was overwhelmingly generous, considering their history together. Drake should have been happy that Damian had contacted him at all).

He walked through the doorway and slammed it practically in Jai’s face, not that surprised when the other boy didn’t follow him.

He, however, was surprised when he almost ran into a girl about his own age right outside the door. Iris West had been listening. For how long, Damian was ashamed to realize he couldn’t say. The girl had been very quiet. Something poked at the back of his brain, bothering him as he saw her for the first time outside of photos and videos. Jai and Iris were twins, right? And yet…Jai looked like he was at least a couple of years older. It made no sense.

That train of thought jumped straight out the proverbial window though as Damian took in Iris’ pity-filled expression. Great. Just what he needed. Without a word, he tightened his jaw, straightened, and made to march right past her without a word. Iris did nothing to stop him as he went, but instead stepped aside. In fact, it wasn’t until he was almost at the end of the hall before he heard her voice. “I’m sorry.”

Damian forced himself to stop. Iris had done nothing to him. Hadn’t upset him like her brother had. She didn’t deserve his ire. Yet another remnant of Grayson’s teachings.

Not a remnant, no. Because Grayson wasn’t dead. And he’d smile that stupid, goofy smile of his, ruffle his hair annoyingly, and offer to spar with wooden swords instead of staves or eskrima sticks when Damian told him about how he’d kept his temper in check once they found each other again.

Because they most assuredly would.

“I…I don’t want to make excuses for my brother,” Iris sounded sad, so very sad. Damian actually froze because…that’s not what he expected at all. “He’s just…tired. Really tired. He wore himself out looking for dad while everyone told him it was a waste of time. Even when he ran out of ideas, he wouldn’t stop. He ran himself ragged, day in and day out. I went out to find him at least twice a week and found him asleep in some ditch or warehouse somewhere and carried him home. When he finally gave up…he…just…stopped. He had nothing else to work for.”

But he did. It was Jai’s decision to leave Young Justice. His decision to pull out of the superhero community. Iris, while not part of a team currently, still helped out every now and then, though at fourteen, she was rather young and didn’t have a full time mentor anymore. Last Damian had heard, Bart and Barry Allen had offered, but there was apparently some tension there. She was still a part of things, as was their mother, but Jai had withdrawn from his duty completely.

Damian had wondered why, but now, seeing the tiredness Iris was speaking of (and he did, now that he looked back at what had just happened, saw the circles under Jai’s eyes and weight on his shoulders), and now having experienced losing someone so important to him…Damian could at least begin to understand. Maybe. A little bit.
He found himself nodding before he’d decided to actually do so. Iris must have been watching him and caught the gesture. “Maybe he’ll change his mind later.” Though her voice said that she really had no such expectations. “But you…if you truly think there’s a way…If you truly think you’re right…don’t give up. I can’t…I can’t watch that again. Can’t see that hope die.”

That was the best thing anyone had said to him this entire time. And Iris didn’t even know him.

Damian nodded again, biting down his ‘thank you’. The last thing he wanted right now was to show weakness. So, without another word, we walked away back towards the door he came through. Artemis was in the kitchen now, pulling a pot out of the cabinet above the sink. She hardly batted an eye at the intruder in her home and Damian had to remind himself that Grayson and Wally West had been best friends and both had been very close to both Drake and Brown. Wally’s wife was probably very used to a bat family member randomly showing up at all times of the day with no warning.

“Are you staying for supper?” she asked, not giving away anything on how she actually felt.

“No thank you,” he answered, minding his manners, just as Grayson had taught him.

Artemis nodded at him, not looking surprised in the least. “Alright then. Be careful going home. Do you want Iris to run you over to the Zeta beam?”

Damian shook his head, because that would be nothing short of awkward on too many levels.

“Okay. Would you call when you get home so that I know you made it there safely?” She knew much better than almost anyone, just as all heroes did, just how many things could go wrong in an hour. Damian nodded absently, knowing that even if he didn’t, Pennyworth would. Without another word, he opened the back door and walked out into the snow.

Chapter Text

The Antics of Speedsters and Robins

Chapter 2

(Wally West) (October 16th, 2010)

Wally had never thought he'd feel his entire world crumble like a badly made card tower. And yet, that's exactly what had happened when he'd seen his beloved Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris literally incinerated on the viewing screen in the Young Justice Monitoring room by a strange alien beam of light. What made it worse was that he hadn't actually felt thatbad about it until hours later. Sure, he'd been upset, but not nearly as upset as the situation warranted. It wasn't until Wolf, and after him, Artemis had been hit that the true gravity of just what had happened smashed into him. Megan had screamed oh so loud that it had echoed, through the snow drifts and their heads via her telekinesis,

He knew that the others felt the same. Robin had been silent as he'd watched Batman fly out alone to meet the invaders after most of the others fell, only to fail as well. Connor had seen even Superman meet his end – the thought of which they had all really entertained in seemingly impossible 'what ifs'. Kaldur had seen the same of his king and his entire home land when the aliens started shooting those strange beams at the water. M'gann had flinched a bit when she saw it headed for her uncle, but that was all.

Now however, all of them seemed to be having the same breakdown all at once. Why it hadn't happened before, Wally had no idea, but he felt like a terrible nephew. Like the worst scum on the Earth. Kaldur said something about them probably all being in shock, which made some sense, but didn't quell the ache in his chest any. From the looks on the others' faces, he could tell they all felt about the same as he did.

And Artemis…

Wally tried his best to pull himself together, slapping his cheek to snap out of his daze. There was no time for regrets after all that had happened, not even for someone like him. And so, he forced himself to his feet, noticing that Robin had done the same, and headed for the Zeta Beam. They had all headed back to Mount Justice to get their heads in order after losing their teammate, but now they needed to move on. The place was a wreck anyway, with most of the ceilings and walls having caved in. The attack seemed to have hit the place when they'd beenaway. It was probably too dangerous to stay much longer anyway.

Just as he reached the device, he heard the computer, stammering. It had probably been damaged somehow."Recog-cognized. Red-d-d Arrow. B Ze-ero Seven-ven-ven." Wally blinked as Roy appeared, a deep gash across his cheek and blood flowing sluggishly down his left arm. The archer stopped suddenly, taking in everyone's bedraggled appearances.

"Is everyone alright?" The archer asked, looking around. Wally guessed he was counting heads before he halted, his brow scrunching in, which only happened if he was very worried or angry.

"No," Wally answered, the first to find his voice. It was much shakier than he would have liked, but he guessed he had an excuse. "We went to…to try and…" he had to take a deep breath to stabilize his breathing before he continued. "We lost Artemis."

Roy stared blankly at him for a moment. "What do you mean you 'lost' her?" And, wow, for someone that didn't like his replacement very much, Roy seemed really concerned. Even if he was trying to hide it with annoyance.

"She was hit," Robin answered from Wally's shoulder and the older boy gratefully closed his mouth. "By a…a beam of some sort. Just like all of the Justice League."

Roy was quiet for a few seconds. "You mean the one that just…made them…gone?" He finished lamely, obviously unsure exactly what to say. "I saw it on the news. Green Arrow and Black Canary…" and then he cut himself off, his voice choking on the last few words.

Wally felt his heart clench for his friend and self-proclaimed older brother. Roy, despite his tough guy act, in fact had a very gentle heart. There was never any doubt in anyone's minds (except for maybe Ollie's) that he really did love his mentor like a father, just could never admit it. Even when he'd thrown his Speedy hat down and stormed away. Of course something like this would pull him apart. He'd never gotten to reconcile.

Kaldur walked up at that point, looking more put together than Wally knew for a fact he was. "We were heading over to the League's Headquarters to see what we can do from there. Perhaps…you would like to accompany us?"

But not join. Never join. The moment that word got muttered would be the moment Roy backed out, proclaiming that he wouldn't be caught dead with 'the Junior Justice League". As it was, however, Wally wondered if the word choice actually mattered at all this time because Roy immediately nodded fervently. "Of course," he answered. "We should all stick together from here on out."

And they would.

Or…at least, they tried.

It seemed that no matter what they did, things kept getting worse and all of their plans kept falling apart. They started having to make riskier move and take bigger chances.

All too quickly, Kaldur gave himself to buy them time and get them through a Zeta Tube and Connor had been caught in the beam attempting to take out the very same device. He'd succeeded too, on four out of a dozen ships. M'gann and Roy would be gone if not for the two of them.

But, even when they found the Martian Manhunter pinned under rumble in the Justice League headquarters, Wally's heart felt like an empty gaping hole. He could hear Artemis's sarcastic sneer, see Connor watching the static channel in his mind's eye, and feel Kaldur's comforting webbed hand on his shoulder. He could even smell Wolf if he thought about it enough. They had allbeen friends. And now they were gone. Even when he'd said that there was a chance they'd been sent somewhere else – teleported, he'd known that wasn't the case. Could feel it.

Dead. They were all dead.

M'gann, J'onn, Robin, Roy and he were the only ones left, save for some others heroes and sidekicks that may still have beenscattered around. It was a terrifyingly lonely thought, especially of alien ships whichrose and drifted all around them, littering the once-blue sky with fire and ash as they tore down the human civilization to rebuild it in their own image.

"According to my calculations, this is the Mother Ship." Robin, hours after it had all started, pointed at one that looked slightly bigger than the others and was settled on the ground, doors opening and closing to allow little vessels with aliens on them to travel to and fro. "If we take it out…the others should follow."

"You don't sound too confident," Roy stated, his face pale and streaked with ash. They'd bandaged his shoulder from where'd it'd been wounded before he'd teamed up with them, but it was starting to fill with red. They'd have to change it soon. Wally was impressed Roy could still aim his bow steadily.

"It's an alien invasion. I honestly have no idea how all this works," Robin answered, voice shakier than Wally had ever heard it.

"Perhaps it is worth a try?" Martian Manhunter asked from where he was, rubbing his head. He must have taken quite a blow before they'd found him, as it had been hurting since.

"Yes. We have to do something!" M'gann cut in, her fingers fumbling together in a show of worry.

Wally nodded at Robin, who nodded back. "Alright then. But…M'gann, you and your uncle should stay here," the thirteen-year-old's gaze fell to the ground as he spoke.

M'gann, of course, reacted just as Wally would have if he'd been told the same. "What?! We can't just-"

"Wonder Boy's right," Roy cut in. "If we…fail, then someone has to keep going on. Has to lead the people who are left. You guys will have to find another way."

That made sense, the more Wally thought about it. M'gann and J'onn were telepaths. They may be able to beat the aliens with it later, or be able to calm people and gather them together. There was no way anyone would follow Robin – he was too young. Wally himself had a rather carefree reputation as Kid Flash, so he doubted anyone would really take him seriously. And Roy was too impatient for the tact required, especially if all of his friends were gone. Even if everything started out okay, with any of the three of them at the helm, it would all quickly fall apart – of that, he was sure. M'gann and her uncle were the best choices.

J'onn seemed to be thinking along the same lines (or maybe he read Wally's mind – the speedster would probably never know), and put his hand on his niece's shoulder. "We will await your return. Please take care."

Wally saluted him, trying to force a jovial expression onto his face. If he was going to go down here, he didn't want the others remembering him as a scared teenager who didn't know what to do.

With hardly a word, he, Robin and Roy all headed for the ship, ducking and tumbling behind rubble to hide themselves along the way. They worked almost flawlessly together, hardly needing a signal to show which wayeach as going. Wally could read that from which way Robin was leaning just slightly and which fist Roy would clench before bunching his legs to move. They'd done this countless times in the years previous.

And yet, that didn't stop him from missing it when Roy made his decision. They were almost at the door when suddenly a beam like the ones that had taken everyone else down extended towards them from a fin. Wally felt a hard shove from behind and saw Robin stumble next to him, both thrown through the doorway into the ship. The speedster had just enough time to turn and see Roy hit by the beam, disappearing in a bright flash. And if Wally had thought his entire stomach had fallen away when he saw Artemis go, it was nothing compared to the wrenching of his heart as his older brother's grimace faded from sight, lost forever.

He wasn't aware he was screaming, or that he had lunged back – because Roy had been there, right there – until he felt two small hands tug hard on him and a high pitched voice yell "WALLY!"

At that, he blinked in surprise as he turned to look at Robin. The younger boy looked to be in just as bad shape, his shoulders slumped and his entire form shivering sluggishly. But he was there. There and whole. "We have to go," Rob said, tugging again. "Roy…Roy would want us to finish."

And Wally slowly nodded, because Roy would. He'd given his life so that they could go on. Like Kaldur, Connor, Artemis, Wolf…

Iris and Barry. All of them.

And Wally was standing there like an idiot, a clean shot for any alien wandering by. He shook himself and nodded again, more firmly this time. Robin set his jaw and, again without a word or gesture, they took off.

There was a lot of protection for the mother ship and the hallways were swarmed with aliens that all tried to stop them. Wally ran through them, feeling the wind rushing past his ears and listening for the sound of Robin's staff making contact with enemies, just to keep tabs on his friend. It wouldn't do for one of them to get in trouble now. Wally charged an alien, grabbed him, and slammed him into the wall ten feet behind before kicking off of it, flipping into a sort of backwards tumble, and spinning around to grab another's arm. They both continued to fight, gradually advancing. It wasn't long before they reached what was easily recognizable as the control room and, after dispatching a final couple of aliens, Rob started working his magic, hacking into the system.

Wally had no idea how the younger boy did it, as all he could make out on Rob's holo-computer screen were alien symbols that meant nothing to him. But his younger partner somehow managed, without too much difficulty, to issue a self-destruct order to the mainframe and soon enough, the countdown appeared. However, at the same moment, some security measure must have been tripped and the door behind them that they had come through suddenly squealed shut.

Wally looked at it, and then back at Robin, who was staring at him, grim realization already setting in. Maybe the younger boy had already known that they weren't getting out of this alive. Maybe. Wally wasn't sure. He wasn't sure he wanted to know either. That knowledge would have been a terrible burden on Robin, having to lead his best friend into death like that.

When the younger boy didn't start hacking again to open their path, the speedster turned away, looking at the door. It wasn't that solid. The countdown behind them was already too far along, but maybe he could get it open. Go down fighting aliens, distracting them to make sure they didn't find a way out…All it would take was scrambling the molecules around a little.

But that thought was halted when he heard a small voice behind him – the smallest he had ever heard Robin's be. "Wally?"

He turned and looked at his younger friend, but Rob wouldn't meet his gaze for more than a fraction of a second, instead staring at the mask in his hands.

…Wait…

…Mask?

Wally had to blink in order to be sure, but there it was. Robin had taken his mask off. And now, he was looking up at him with the bluest eyes imaginable, a slightly darker shade than most would consider normal. There was intelligence and wisdom in that gaze, but also…fear. An overwhelming amount of fear. And something else in the line of his shoulders like relief.

Perhaps because the mask had, finally, come off? Wally wasn't sure.

When he found his voice, it was rather stilted, choked even. "Rob…?"

But Robin shook his head, cutting him off. "Dick. Short for Richard." Wally just kept staring, dumbfounded, so the smaller boy continued, looking more uncomfortable with each millisecond that passed with Wally saying nothing. "Dick Grayson."

As in…the trapeze artist whose family…

Oh.

Well, that certainly explained some things. Did that mean that Batman was –

Wally cut that thought off. There were more important things at hand, like his best friend baring his soul and the fact that he hadn't been given an answer or response of any sort.

Dick looked very awkward now, scraping the toe of his boot along the floor and looking down as he continued. "I just…I just wanted to say thank you. For being my friend, I mean. And…And that it's…" He trailed off for a moment, then, took a deep breath, and looked back up, determination in every line of his face as he finally met Wally's eyes again. "It's been an absolute honor."

And Wally…Wally had never been very good with words. When he went to school, he always got teased for his brains and so had just…stopped talking. With the team, he'd seen a chance to start over, so he'd acted overconfident, like all of the jocks at school, trying to be cool. And Robin saw right through it. Of course he had. He'd known Wally for two years, had met him before the older boy had learned how to act.

He'd let Wally into his partnership with Roy, making a triangle instead of the line it had been. And Dick was the one telling Wally it was all an honor?

Wally couldn't find the words. So he did the one thing he could think of as he saw a bright '3' appear on the countdown readout in the corner of his eye. He jerked forward, wrapping his arms too tightly around Dick's shoulders. He had just enough time to see the younger boy's eyes widen in surprise, and then feel Dick's arms repeat the action back before a loud rumbling overtook the ship and everything went dark.

When asked later, he'd say that had probably been simultaneously one of the scariest and most important moments of his life. Even if it had all ended up being some weird dream-simulation thing that went awry.

It was all in their minds, created by J'onn and transferred to all of them through M'gann. They were told that they'd known before they went in that it was all fake, but had forgotten when Artemis got killed right in front of them and M'gann's emotions overran the bond with her uncle. It…certainly made it more understandable why the Leaguer's deaths hadn't hit them all until much later, after Artemis and Wolf died, but…that didn't make it better.

Even Roy was visibly shaken, though he was trying very hard to hide it. He said he vaguely recalled Kaldur inviting him for a special exercise and agreeing because he'd been interested in the concept. But he couldn't remember exactly what that exercise was. Their emotions had been so strong that even J'onn had forgotten it was all fake when he went into the dream world to pull them back. That's why he'd had the headache. Only Artemis, who'd gotten out early in, before it all went wrong, remained somewhat unaffected, though she was deeply troubled by everyone else's pain.

Wally had never realized thoughts could be so painful, or emotions. Yet, he was glad he knew now. And he wished he could pass that lesson on.

But he was not allowed to tell any of the younger members of the incident in the years to come. It had been sealed under Batman's decree in the fear that the next generation would get it into their heads that they could do it better and the incident would repeat itself – possibly without League supervision. And so, the story was lost beyond his teammates, their mentors, and some members of their families.

Ironically, it was filed under the codename "Operation: Failsafe".

(Damian) (2032)

Two years. It had been two years since Grayson had disappeared. Damian had been able to say and think his name without too much difficulty for quite a while now, no longer feeling as though his skull was being crushed by some unnamed pressure whenever he did. But he had hardly gotten any closer to actually finding the older man. He'd run down almost every lead he had, and he couldn't find anything he didn't already know. He'd even gathered himself enough to go back to the scene where it happened, and all for naught. The entire area had been out of commission since that day, and there was nothing left that could help him. Deathstroke, who had been behind the operation there, had packed up and moved out faster than most would have thought possible.

Damian was starting (actually, he was far beyond that at this point) to grow rather irritated with himself. Grayson and Harper had done this before, to bring West back the first time he disappeared, and they'd managed to do it in just over two years. But they'd also made some progress every now and then. Damian had not. Not really. He'd found a few hints, but most had ended up being false or entirely pointless in the grand scheme of things. It might have had something to do with the fact that he had a lot more trouble working with others than his mentor had…and also that no one was really willing to give him the time of day where this case was concerned.

They all said he was still grieving. That he was just trying to hang on to the past and was refusing to move on. And no matter how much he fought back or how loud he shouted, he just couldn't convince everyone that they were wrong. That there was more at play here. The after-voice he had heard was still unnerving to him, and he'd gone over it a thousand times. It wasn't an echo. It was real.

Even father hadn't been able to dispute that fact, but had still left, unable to imagine getting involved with Damian's search. He'd been hopeful too many times and been disappointed just as many, he'd said. He couldn't invest his faith in Grayson. Or West, for that matter. He wouldn't.

Damian, normally, wouldn't either. But…Grayson had proven him wrong before. He'd made Damian like him, follow, and even trust him. Grayson had done the impossible in the past. Why not now? There was just enough evidence to make Damian think that maybe, just maybe, there was something more, something beyond what he could see. And he wouldn't give up until he got absolute proof that he was wrong.

Everyone else's opinion be damned.

But despite all of that, he still had to uphold his regular life. He still went to school. He still went to meetings at his father's workplace and spoke to the representatives every now and then. He still went to school. He still went on patrol and remained Robin. He still worked with his father and the other members of the Batfamily (and occasionally other heroes too).

It wasn't a matter of stability, or balance, or any of the other things Black Canary had spouted to him in the therapy sessions Pennyworth managed to drag him to. It wasn't a matter of pride, like Hal Jordon had admitted to suspecting over a communication to Bruce that Damian had overheard. It wasn't a matter of duty, like his father often posited. It wasn't even a matter of legacy, as Drake had asked him the one time they had seen each other since the incident, which an effort to mutual avoidance caused.

Though, that was probably the closest.

Grayson had loved Robin. So much. Maybe even more than Nightwing at times. It had been a huge part of his life, and he'd treated the mask with more respect than most sidekicks (or partners, as they often liked to be called). He'd told Damian once that he'd been crushed when Bruce had passed the name on to Jason without even consulting Grayson before, but that he'd gotten over it and had been proud to share the identity with his younger brother, and Drake after that. Then Kelli and Brown as well.

It had been one of the last things he'd said to Damian too. That he was proud of the newest Robin and that Damian absolutely deserved the name and mask, no matter what Bruce said.

Damian had no doubts that Robin was one of the most important things in Grayson's life. And after hearing that, there was no way Damian was going to let the name fade to obscurity.

After all, what would Grayson say when he came back?

In reality, he'd probably be happy, maybe even proud if Damian managed to move onto his own moniker, but…he'd still be sad. Even if he never said so. And, even if Damian didn't like to admit it, he'd come to find that Grayson was an infallible actor when he wanted to be.

That was the reason Damian had kept the other parts of his life going as normal. If he'd stopped going to school, if he'd stopped working with others and somehow managed to bring Grayson back due to new found time, Grayson would be happy and, hopefully, proud. But he'd also feel terribly guilty for "stealing so much of Damian's life" or some other such garbage. He'd never let it go either.

No, better for Damian to just keep going as he had, if only so he wouldn't have to deal with Grayson's ridiculous puppy dog eyes and overburdening apology hugs when he came back.

He had to tell himself so every day, when he felt the calling to just leave and work on Grayson's case fulltime. Which was precisely why he was repeating it to himself almost every five minutes as he went through his classes at school that day. Damian was so bored out of his mind in all of his classes, he wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if his brain started leaking out through his ears in protest every time he sat down in one of the school's uncomfortable plastic chairs.

This day had been no different. The last bell finally rang and Damian was rummaging in his locker, grabbing the textbooks he needed for homework that night and plotting the rest of his day as he did so. If he could finish his Math work in forty-five minutes and his Physics in an hour, he should have approximately an hour to work on Grayson's case before supper. Then, he could finish his English essay in another hour and his history in thirty minutes (he'd done most of it during lunch), he'd have about another hour and a half before patrol with father.

Not nearly as much time as he wanted, but he'd have to make do.

He froze for a split second just as he was about to shut his locker door, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.

Damian had been trained practically from birth to be a perfect weapon. Even if he'd changed in the last six years since he'd come to Gotham, a lot of his old skills and senses had remained intact. In fact, he'd actually gotten to teach Grayson a couple things about fighting blind that not even Bruce had known. And, unlike most mentors that would have felt awkward about being outsmarted by their junior partner in something, Grayson had been wholly excited about it and had told Damien he'd give him a couple of lessons in upside down balance.

Unfortunately, they'd never gotten around to that.

Damian brushed the thought away as soon as it arose, instead focusing on the matter at hand. Someone close by had set off his guard somehow, and they were probably standing right behind his still-open locker door, judging by the way everyone else was moving along at a rather rapid rate, anxious to get home on a Thursday afternoon. None of them seemed suspicious in any way.

So, Damian tried to discreetly check under and beyond his locker door. Sure enough, there were a pair of worn Converse leading up into a pair of cargo shorts and the bottom of a t-shirt, facing him, obviously waiting for him to close his door. Judging from the slenderness of the legs and the size differential between waist and hips, it was a girl, probably not much off from his own age. That was…rather surprising, but not unusual. After all, this was Gotham. Anyone could be a threat or menace.

Damian took a deep breath to ground himself, and prepared for trouble, being as discreet about it as possible. He would have to be careful in a crowded hallway like this, but so would his adversary. Unless they were one of those that didn't worry about collateral damage. In which case, that would be an entirely different ball field, and Damian would have to adapt accordingly.

Within seconds, he quickly slammed his locker door and turned to the side to face down whoever it was, hand going instinctively to the bottom of his baggy shirt, under which his utility belt was discreetly hidden. But, instead of it being a threat, like he was expecting, Damian ended up blinking in confusion, absolutely frozen. He was so surprised, he wasn't even able to hide it adequately for several seconds, and only then did he slink back to a seemingly relaxed stance.

Iris West watched him calmly, hardly reacting to any of his movements. But the way her eyes tracked everything he did and the minute tenseness in her body showed that she was just as ready for trouble as he was. They hadn't seen each other since that day two years ago, at least, not in person, and Damian quickly took in the changes as Iris undoubtedly did the same.

She was much taller than she had been, but her arms and legs were long and lanky, making it seem as though her torso still had catching up to do. She was actually a little taller than him, which he was certain had not been the case before. Her long red hair was much longer now, reaching her waist, and had changed to be quite brighter than it had been. Judging by the state of her roots, Damian was rather certain that it was natural. It was actually about the exact shade that her father's had been.

Still was. Wally West was alive, as was Grayson. Damian was sure of it.

Freckles peppered her nose and her eyes were such a violently bright green that Damian was reminded concretely of Kryptonite. If he was inclined to being attracted to anyone, he would probably recognize her as a very striking young lady (which, no, he hadn't noticed at all). The fact that several boys and girls walking by were outright staring at the newcomer as they went only served to reinforce his observations.

When he had finished his inspection and met her eyes again, he realized that she'd completed hers first. Of course she had. Damian mentally kicked himself because how on Earth had he actually forgotten that she was a speedster? Even if for only a moment? He blinked and tried to exude an aura of confidence. After all, this was his domain, not hers. Which automatically gave him the upper hand – a fact she was no doubt aware of.

"What are you doing here?" he asked. Stony, but not too stony.

Iris looked a little uncomfortable for a split second before she answered. "I've…been working on something since we last met. I think you should see it."

"Why?" Whatever it was, it most likely correlated with either Central or Keystone City, which didn't really have much to do with him unless Batman decided to team up with the Flash again. Maybe she wanted help with something. But that's not what she had said.

This time, she answered more quickly. "You came to my brother about something very similar two years ago."

Suddenly, everything around them went silent. Damian's world narrowed down to Iris and her words. They echoed, over and over, through his head until he managed to pull himself together enough to answer, and even then, it was very garbled and strained. "What?"

Iris actually smirked a little at that, but…it wasn't like Drake's smirks, which were victorious and, at time, superior. Or Brown's smirks, which were usually reserved for when she noticed something Damian hadn't. No, these…were like Grayson's smirks. Friendly and soft, showing both a vulnerability and confidence-bolstering happiness. It looked something a little like relief. Damian would be lying to himself if he didn't mentally admit that the comparison pulled at his heartstrings the slightest bit.

Finally, Iris replied. "You said you thought that Uncle Dick and my dad are still alive. I…didn't believe you. Not for a long time. But…I was curious and end up taking a look. Now…I've found something, and I'm not so sure anymore. I just…wanted to know what you thought about it."

Damian stared at her for a long moment, trying to figure out what to say. Honestly, he was at a loss. He'd had no leads for so long, and nothing really solid to go on past the first few months. But now…

Damian still didn't know the West family. He certainly didn't know Iris.

But he knew about her from her files, enough to know that she was, first and foremost, a scientist. Even more so than her brother when she wasn't on superhero duty. She obviously had physically run here to make it so soon after her own school let out, assuming she went at all (which she most likely did – her school records were practically spotless).

She wouldn't have done that unless she was sure about whatever it was she had found.

Damian's mouth went dry and his throat swelled up. "What is it?" he managed to force out.

Iris released a breath that she had apparently been holding, reached into her pocket, and pulled out a flash-drive that she then held out to him. He took it with hardly a thought. "It's all on here. I have another copy at home. Just…take a look at it, alright?"

He nodded mechanically, staring down at the flash-drive that was now just sitting on his palm. "Sure."

Iris smiled then. A real, full-fledged smile. "I'll come back in a couple days then? To check in with you?"

"That would be acceptable. Actually…tomorrow. Come back tomorrow."

Her smile grew. "Awesome. Thanks, Damian."

And with that, she was gone.

Just…gone.

Damian blinked, looking to where she'd been a second before, back down to the flash-drive, and then back up again.

The hall was almost entirely empty now, and the few people that were left were so involved in their own worlds that none of them had apparently noticed the girl that had seemingly vanished.

Damian had read about speedsters, but he'd never had much of an opportunity to experience their abilities in person. When he did, it was usually on a mission and they were across the city or he was too busy with his own part of the operation to really observe them.

Somehow, he'd failed to attribute that power to real life. He hadn't imagined that Iris would use her abilities in such a public place while wearing such regular clothing. But…she had probably been able to check that no one was watching before she zoomed off much faster than Damian could guess. She had obviously learned to be careful, because her secret identity had remained intact for all this time.

Damian pondered all of this, realizing that he needed to relook into the West family again, as it had been awhile since he had. Slowly, he closed his fingers around the flash-drive and clenched it loosely in his fist.

Maybe the Math and Physics homework could come second, just for today.

Chapter Text

(Jason Todd) (Gotham – 2013)

Jason had heard stories of the Robin that came before him. There was no way he could have been in the business for more than a few days without gaining some sort of information about his predecessor. But he had never actually met Dick Grayson in person. He hadn’t been allowed to join Young Justice for almost four months after he’d taken to patrol the first time. And since, then, the older boy had ended up being mysteriously absent every time Jason was at Mount Justice. Whether it was because he was on a mission, had to stay late at school (where, strangely enough for such a small campus, Jason still hadn’t run into him), was hanging out with Wally, or any number of stupid excuses the other members of the team came up with.

But Alfred kept pictures around. Enough of them for Jason to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was in fact Dick Grayson standing in front of him. His back was to Jason, but his face was reflected slightly in the glass before him. His stance was comfortable and slightly tense, almost like he was ready for a fight. Maybe he was.

Jason could understand why. After all, Dick had been fired for something outside of his control. Bruce had gotten pissed off when the first Robin had been unable to give aid in Gotham one night, too busy helping his team in another country. He’d already been neck-deep in a plot perpetrated by Lex Luthor. There was no way he would have been able to pull out. Bruce had simply struck out in aggravation. In the few weeks that followed, the man realized he’d made a terrible mistake – two, as he hadn’t only fired Dick, but had kicked him out of the manor too. By the time Bruce was willing to admit that and asked his ward to come home…Dick, surprising everyone with a newfound rebelliousness he’d never had before, refused, saying that he was well settled in at Mount Justice at that point.

So, Bruce started brooding even more than was normal for him, trying to fix everything while still not actually apologizing. And if Batman became a little more brutal than usual over the next month or so, no one, save Commissioner Gordon, mentioned it.

It was by random chance that Jason Todd had chosen a night during that very same month to steal the tires off the Batmobile.

He still wasn’t entirely sure why it had seemed like a good idea at the time. Looking back, he really did feel like an idiot. He was lucky Batman hadn’t decided to flay him alive right then and there (not that Batman ever actually killed anyone, but he was still the stuff of nightmares to all criminals in Gotham). Instead, Jason had been shrouded in a tall shadow that night for hardly a second before he realized exactly who had come up behind him as he had started pulling the last tire. He’d turned, slowly, scared stiff, until he saw both his childhood hero and fear all in one terrible moment.

Batman was staring down at him, his head cocked slightly to the side, studying him. Jason was well aware that, right then, Bruce – not Batman – had probably been struck by déjà vu, thinking Dick had come back to him in a smaller, younger form. They looked a lot alike, after all. That was most likely the only reason that Jason had gained a home that night. Because Bruce was lonely.

He knew that. He’d thought often about the boy that had had to lose that very same home to make it possible.

But he’d never actually pictured what would happen when the two of them met. Now, that reality was staring him in the face. Or, it would be, if Dick would just turn around and stop looking at his old Robin suit. Jason knew the older teen was aware of his presence. He couldn’t not be. Even if he hadn’t heard him walking up, he’d probably seen Jason’s reflection. As it was now though, they were at a standstill.

Finally, Dick cocked his head to the side, very much like Bruce had that night. His voice was quiet, and Jason wasn’t entirely sure he was actually being spoken to. “I always wanted to be able to stand on my own. I couldn’t do it after the circus. I had to take and hold someone’s hand, rely on them.”

The circus. That…terrible, terrible night. Even Jason, who had lived on the streets his whole life and never really known his family…For all the times he’d imagined living happily with parents that loved him, maybe a sibling or two, aunts and uncles at the holidays…he couldn’t picture having all of that, and then having it all torn away in one horrible second. Or being the sole survivor of the incident (not counting an uncle that was in a coma and probably always would be).

Dick had stopped for a moment, obviously gathering himself, but he eventually pressed on. “I told myself that I never wanted to be that helpless again.”

“You’re not,” Jason said before he could stop himself. After all, Dick was capable of going on missions by himself with no back up and coming back with nary a scratch. He had stood by Batman’s side for almost seven years and proven himself worthy of being the Dark Knight’s partner. Not sidekick, but partner. He was the farthest thing from ‘helpless’ that Jason could think of at the moment.

He could see Dick’s lips curl up into a parody of a smile and found himself hoping that it was just the reflection off the glass that made the expression look so much like the Joker’s insane grin. “Oh…but I am, aren’t I? At the end of all things…I couldn’t protect myself. All it took was one word from Bruce, and all I had worked to build came tumbling down around me.”

Oh. Oh.

Jason wasn’t really sure what he could say to that. Because Dick was right. Absolutely right.

Suddenly, the encased Robin uniform behind the glass seemed much too bright for the dark cave around them. It was all light reds, greens, and yellows. Much different that the red and black one Jason was wearing right then, and the one he knew Dick had worn later in his career. Jason had always envied the boy that wore that outfit. Even since he himself had taken over the name, he’d always been jealous of Dick, for being there first, for being Bruce’s favorite, for having so many friends at Young Justice. Now, though…This was not what he had expected of his predecessor at all. There was no superiority. No judgment. Or slyness. Nothing like those things. And Jason didn’t really know how to react to that.

Dick’s head fell a little, his gaze switching to the ground as his hand came up to gently touch the glass, just the tips of his fingers. As though he couldn’t bring himself to press any closer. “I always wanted to be just like him. Until Operation: Failsafe. And then…I realized I didn’t want to be the Batman anymore. Never.”

Operation: Failsafe had been entered into Mount Justice’s computer approximately three years before. Jason knew without having to check because he’d happened across it not too long ago and had been more than curious. It was the only mission file that had been closed and blocked entirely from access. Not even the original members were allowed to look at the records without express permission from Batman. And something told him that he’d never get that. Jason was not a hacker like his predecessor. At all. Though he wanted to learn. Bruce had kept saying he’d teach Jason, but so far…

Maybe he should ask Dick. Something of an olive branch to extend between them, perhaps. Though Jason didn’t really have anything against the older teen. And he certainly didn’t care if Dick did against him. No, not at all. He had nothing to prove to the first Robin.

But still…that was a weird thing to say. “Why not?”

Dick’s fingertips pressed more firmly into the glass, but his gaze remained downturned. “What do you know about that mission?”

“Nothing, really,” Jason replied. There really was no point in lying right then. Besides, the way Dick’s shoulders were slumping slightly, he looked a little like a kicked puppy.

Jason…didn’t mind puppies that much.

Besides, maybe Dick could give him some answers.

A short, bitter laugh came from the older teen, sudden enough that Jason jumped slightly. “Of course not. Bruce didn’t want any of you to know about how his plan screwed up because of a few kids. Never mind that it might actually be important for all of you to study and think about. I…I want you all to know. So that you can understand. So that it’s not all just locked away. Kicked under a rug and forgotten.” He stopped then, a choked sound coming out before he violently cut it off.

Jason’s eyes had gone wide under his mask. A moment ago, Dick had been fading into the darkness of the Batcave. Which wasn’t so hard to believe, as he was wearing the all-black bodysuit he’d been using since Jason had taken Robin, his mask clenched in the hand that wasn’t planted on the glass case. There’d been talk of him making a comeback as another hero, but nothing had happened so far. Now, though…now, his face popped back up and Jason could tell that he was glaring openly. At his reflection or the Robin suit in front of him, Jason wasn’t sure, but it was an unnerving sight. Something told him that this was not an expression that showed up on Dick’s face very often.

He was angry. And sad. That much was obvious. But Jason had no idea why. What could possibly have happened in that mission?

“…I won’t forget,” he answered once he’d managed to work up the nerve.

For the first time, Dick’s eyes drifted to Jason’s reflection. And…wow, those irises were a rather dark blue. Maybe it was a trick of the light.

“Are you sure you want to know?” the older teen asked, voice quiet again.

“Yes,” and Jason tried not to sound too eager in his almost immediate response. This may be his only chance to find out about the mission.

Dick blinked, eyes searching, as though to ensure that Jason really was ready to hear whatever it was he had to say. After a moment, the corner of his lip drew up in the remnant of a smirk that Jason had seen in at least a couple of pictures, but it was halfhearted at best. Still, he started to speak, gaze drifting back to the Robin suit in the case. “It was a mental exercise, created by Martian Manhunter, but designed by Batman. He fed it into our minds through Miss Martian. It…felt so real.”

So…like virtual reality? Jason didn’t speak his question out loud, but he was trying to picture it.

Dick continued. “We apparently all knew it was fake going in, but…we forgot.”

Jason blinked, because…what? “How?” He asked before he could stop himself.

Dick’s posture didn’t change. His fingertips were still boring into the glass of the case, turning white. “It was an alien invasion simulation designed to get worse, no matter what we did. A no-win scenario, if you will. We saw the Justice League…destroyed. All of them. Killed. Just like that.”

An uncomfortable feeling started forming in a knot at the bottom of Jason’s stomach. He swallowed it down and didn’t say anything as Dick took a pause before going on.

“It hurt, but…not as much as it should have. It wasn’t until later, when we started trying to actually stop the attack that it all fell apart. We all fell apart. Wolf and Artemis died, and M’gann…M’gann screamed.”

Dick’s entire palm started pressing against the glass then, and Jason felt that feeling in his stomach jump up into his chest. Because, from the way Dick said that word, Jason could tell that there was a lot more weight behind it.

“It echoed,” Dick went on, eyes closing and his forehead slumping again, this time thumping into the case, “through all of our brains, multiplied in each other’s minds over and over. And something…snapped. Suddenly, everything was real. Batman…Bruce really had died. Artemis was gone. Forever. All of them…We tried to keep going. Even Roy tried to help, but…there was no end to it.” There, his eyes opened, his hand pushing so hard that Jason wondered if spider web cracks would appear in the glass.

“Soon, we lost Kaldur and Conner. We found J’onn unconscious in the Justice League headquarters, but everyone else…was really gone. And the others looked to me as leader.”

And that…that…

Wow.

That…would have been horrible. Jason knew that Dick had been passed up as the original leader of Young Justice due to his age and inexperience with teams. To suddenly gain that position because of something so terrible, at such a bad time…Jason tried to tell himself that he would have been able to handle it, had it been him. But, the more he thought about it – about Artemis’s brusque laughter, Kaldur’s guiding hand, Connor’s grumpy face (that was slowing growing less grumpy as time went on) – all just being…gone…These were people he had worked with the last few months. People he was starting to know as friends. For Dick…It must have been much worse.

“Actually…I got leadership after Kaldur died. I…I ordered Connor to try and take out those beams. I knew he wouldn’t be able to get them all. He knew that. But, it was either him or all of us and the troops trying to help out. He bought us time. And I…It was my fault he died.” And Dick sounded so lost there.

That uncomfortable feeling was rapidly moving into Jason’s throat by then. He didn’t understand a lot of what he was being told. A lot of the details were lost on him. And yet…the entirety of the story was bad enough without them. To actually be there… He’d lost many people on the streets throughout the years, but nothing he’d experienced even came closed to this. He was man enough to admit that. “No. You were trying to protect as many as you could. You can’t blame yourself for that.”

“Logically, I know that,” Dick answered, still staring blankly at that glass. “But…It was all so…It just kept going. We found the Mother Ship, and I told M’gann and J’onn to stay behind. I took Wally and Roy into the ship with me, even though I knew there would most likely be no coming back out. Roy didn’t even make it through the entrance. He pushed me and Wally ahead, took the hit by himself. In the end…I set the ship to blow up. But it did no good. Another Mother Ship appeared after the first was gone and M’gann and J’onn were all alone. All but two of us dead. Four of those by my hands. And nothing at all had been accomplished.”

That…Jason really had no idea what to say. He was having trouble getting any words past the lump in his throat. But…he had to know. Because Dick, Wally, M’gann…everyone was still here. So… “How did you wake up?” his voice was much more of a whisper than he’d anticipated. He honestly hadn’t thought Dick had heard him until the older teen answered. Finally, he turned around to do so, meeting Jason’s gaze for the first time.

“J’onn came into the dream to pull us out. When he got there…our emotions overruled his mind, just as they had our own as well. He also forgot it was fake. Once all of us were dead except for M’gann, it became quiet enough for him to remember what was happening. So he killed her.”

Jason’s eyes widened further than he’d thought possible. He’d met J’onn, and he couldn’t see the Martian doing that, especially not to his niece. “What?!”

“He punched through her stomach and shocked her out of the dream. We all woke up back in Mount Justice, freaking out and thinking we were in purgatory or something. I didn’t actually believe it when Batman told us we were still alive.”

To have one’s reality so thoroughly destroyed…To live with that, to try and grow stronger from it…Emotions…Thoughts…Jason hadn’t realized they were so powerful. And the fact that the file had been closed for him, so that Dick had to tell the story for Jason to know…was cruel. It was cruel to the team that had to go through it. Now he understood why any of the older members got so freaked out when anyone got close to real danger on a mission. It made so much more sense now.

Dick was looking at him, and really, his eyes really were that dark of a blue. Unnervingly so. Thank goodness he wore a mask on patrol, or someone would be able to recognize him with no difficulty.

The older teen seemed to be studying him again before he went on: “I finally was made leader. And I ended up sacrificing all of my friends. I tried talking to Bruce about it, and he said it was necessary. That I shouldn’t let it bother me, but…” he slumped backwards, leaning against the glass case that was now behind him. “It does. A lot. And that’s when I understood that Batman…Bruce…has this…need. To sacrifice everything important to him, as though to prove he can. That it won’t make him weak. I can’t be like that. I don’t want to be like that.”

“…You don’t want to be Batman.”

“No. I don’t need him anymore. Nor do I need Robin. They will both always hold a huge part of my heart. But it’s time for me to move on. You’re Robin now. Bruce is Batman. I am someone else.”

And it was then that Jason realized Dick was helpless. Right at that moment. He was prostrating himself in front of Jason, vulnerable in the Batcave, which, so far as Jason knew, he hadn’t been in since Robin had been taken from him. He was giving his successor ammunition against him. Jason could tell anyone and everyone on the team just how broken Dick had been this night, and no one would ever look at Dick the same way again. Even if they had gone through the same thing.

Until now, Dick had been shrouded in obscurity, having an air around him that made him seem almost perfect, especially in the past couple of years. Jason could destroy that. Dick had given him the means to. Bruce had already torn down everything else Dick had built outside Young Justice. Jason could uproot the rest of it. At least plant the seeds to do so.

And Dick had allowed it.

The level of trust he was showing right then…was unbelievable.

Jason swallowed again, feeling the weight of what had been given to him. “Thank you,” he managed. “For telling me all of this.” For putting both of us on the same level.

Because Jason hadn’t built anything yet. And, like Dick, he hadn’t had anything before he came here either. Now, they were about equal, at least here, away from Young Justice. And that…was a relief, in an odd way.

Dick smirked a bit at him. Really smirked this time. It was at once familiar and new. “No problem, bro.” And…yeah, they really were like brothers now, weren’t they? Jason had imagined siblings, and, while none of them had been quite like Dick…maybe they could be. “At least something good came out of all of that chaos, though.”

“Really? What?” Besides gaining a healthy respect for emotions and mental exercises.

“I told Wally who I really was, right before the ship we were on blew up.”

Jason stared. “You…did?” Dick, as well as an awesome crime fighter, was also supposed to be some sort of golden boy too, according to almost everyone else. And yet, he had broken Bruce’s second biggest rule? Jason hadn’t even realized that Kid Flash knew Dick’s identity, much less how or when that had happened. Apparently, the loud mouthed speedster could actually keep a secret.

Dick’s smirk grew so that it was a lot more amused looking. “Yep. Kind of wish I did it on my own terms, mind you, like…at any OTHER time, but…” he shrugged, and then glanced up at a camera that was in the corner of that section.

Jason blanched a bit, but managed to hide it physically. He had completely forgotten that Bruce was probably recording everything. Dick apparently hadn’t, though. And he’d said all of that right out in the open. A bit of revenge, it seemed, seeing as though Bruce hadn’t wanted Jason to know any of this.

But…Jason had seen Dick’s behavior. This hadn’t just been about getting back at Bruce. He’d honestly wanted to tell Jason and Jason alone.

Dick’s face grew softer and he awkwardly shuffled his feet for a moment. Jason was suddenly reminded that the older teen was still only sixteen. “Anyway, I’ve got to be going. I’ve got a mission in a couple of hours. It was nice to meet you, Robin.”

That…somehow sounded wrong coming out of Dick’s mouth. “Jason. You can call me Jason.”

Dick smiled widely at him. A smile that could easily light up even the dreariness of the Batcave. “Alright. Jason. See you around.”

Jason blinked, and Dick was gone.

About a week after that, Nightwing made his debut in Bludhaven during a particularly nasty case that he and Kid Flash managed all on their own.

(Damian Wayne) (2032)

Damian honestly couldn’t remember the last time his hands had actually sweated. He’d probably set some world record that had been screwed up once he went over the evidence on the flash-drive Iris West had given him. But…but

This was it. She had done it. Somehow, she had managed to find what he’d been looking for over the past two years.

He figured it was probably because she was a speedster, and so had noticed something he had not, even though it had been right in front of him this whole time.

Never mind that he couldn’t have been expected to notice something moving that fast.

He should have looked harder, especially after he’d heard Wally’s after-voice. He’d slowed down all of the security footage then, so why hadn’t he discovered this?

But…the how and why was unimportant at this point. The fact was, now he had what he’d been looking for. Now he could prove his theories.

Pennyworth seemed to agree with him, at least. Damian was explaining the findings to the butler.

“When Grayson and Harper found West the first time he disappeared, they did so by following a certain bit of evidence.”

“Indeed, young master,” Pennyworth sounded thoughtful as he stared at the screen of the Bat Computer, which was currently displaying the results of a scan Batman had done on the Antarctic area after West had vanished. “I recall it as being some sort of strange distortion that we had never encountered before.”

Damian nodded. “Correct. We had thought that it had come from West, due to him hitting speeds faster than any speedster previously. But, as it turned out, it ended up being from him ripping a hole in reality. He slipped into the space between parallel worlds, and when he did, some of that space slipped back through to us. The distortion is caused by the two planes of existence meeting.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, Master Damian, what does this have to do with the current cases you are working on?” There wasn’t any impatience there, or disbelief. Just honest curiosity. And hope. Something Pennyworth hadn’t revealed for over a year and a half regarding Damian’s work.

The corner of Damian’s mouth quirked up slightly, not quite a smirk. “Everything. According to the scan Batman took of the street West disappeared on this last time, and the scan I took of the room Grayson disappeared in, that same distortion appears in both places.” He pressed a button to bring up both of those scans, and then another that highlighted the areas where the distortion had been found. Nothing appeared.

Pennyworth seemed to notice and his eyes narrowed. “Forgive me sir, but I don’t see anything worth note.”

Damian nodded. “Neither did I. But Iris West did. The distortion is there. We can’t see them right now because the planes that meet are both doing so at super speed.”

Pennyworth, for once, was visibly startled. Damian blinked at the unusual occurrence and had to reign himself in to hide his surprise when the butler looked over at him. “Why is that?”

“I’m not sure yet. That didn’t happen back in Antarctica. But, if I speed the footage up…” which he did, and suddenly, a strange sort of blur appeared on screen. “There it is.”

Pennyworth turned his gaze back to the screen and fell silent for several minutes. “That’s…I…honestly don’t know what to say.”

“That makes two of us,” Damian sighed, slouching back into his seat. And if he sounded and looked a little (or a lot) like Grayson there, neither brought it up.

Suddenly, there was a heavy clunk from above, followed by solid footsteps. Bruce had come home and was heading down. Damian straightened his posture and turned around to face the foot of the stairs. Within seconds his father appeared, face grim after a long day of work. Damian opened his mouth to call out, but Pennyworth beat him to it.

“Master Bruce, Master Damian has finally hit a rather big break in his case.”

“Courtesy of Iris West.” And it really burned to admit that, but he didn’t want his father to find out later.

Bruce stopped short, looked to the computer, and blinked. He obviously realized exactly what was going on, recognizing the distortion and both camera feeds. He stared for a long moment before looking back down at Damian. “You can’t be sure about this. You didn’t secure the evidence. You have no idea where Iris could have gotten this.”

“I found it on our personal feeds too,” Damian answered, referring to the copies of the scans they’d kept exclusively on the Bat Computer where no one else had access to them. “The distortion only appears in super speed. Once Iris figured that out, I was able to apply it to all other existing copies of the data.”

Bruce fell silent, looking at Damian, then Pennyworth, then the screen, and then all over again. The quiet must have gone on for several moments before Alfred broke it. “Sir?”

“…I don’t believe it,” Bruce stated.

Damian blinked. “What?”

“Sir,” Pennyworth said again, voice the tiniest bit strained, “the evidence is right in front of you.”

“I understand, but…I can’t believe it.”

That couldn’t be right. Bruce – BATMAN – ignoring evidence? “WHY NOT?!” And no, Damian did NOT sound like a petulant child there at all, thank you very much.

And Bruce…buckled. There was no other word for the way his entire body just seemed to deflate without actually changing position at all. “I can’t, Damian.”

It clicked. He couldn’t. As in…he still couldn’t get his hopes up just to have them crushed.

Two years ago, Damian would have had more sympathy. He actually had.

But now…things were different now. He had evidence. More than he had had before. Bruce was being willfully blind, which was why so many others during the last couple of years had refused to help. Jai and Artemis West, Barbara Gordon, Brown, Drake, both Kents…So many had turned a blind eye in the hope of saving themselves a bit of pain. And he’d been abundantly lenient with all of them.

Now, though…Now, he was pissed. Bruce couldn’t keep turning his back. He just couldn’t. It wasn’t fair.

“Life’s not fair, Dami. But, I promise. I'LL try to be as fair to you as I can be.”

Damian’s breath stalled at Grayson’s voice echoing through his head. That had happened more than a few times throughout the last couple of years. But not in quite a while. And never as clearly or loudly as this instance had been. It was…mind numbing, really. Damian had to work quite hard to pull himself together, and by the time he had, Bruce was looking everywhere else other than him.

“I…I just can’t. You…you wouldn’t understand.”

That. Was. It.

“No, father. I DO understand. Grayson…was important to me. He took me on when even you wouldn’t.” Bruce’s gaze flicked back to him, wide eyed and upset, but jaw and stance still and tight. He wasn’t going to change his mind. But he was listening. Something he hadn’t done in two years. Since Grayson left. That was a start. “I will do whatever I can to bring him home.”

“There’s no evidence that he actually went through the tear, though. Just because one was ripped, that doesn’t mean Dick is on the other side of it.” Bruce…sounded sad, but he was obviously trying to hold himself together.

Damian already knew that. He’d weighed the odds against each other. It had already occurred to him that Grayson could, in fact, be dead. But, there was still that after-voice he had heard. It was possible that Grayson had said something on the other side, and it had slipped back to theirs. Just as possible as him not doing so.

Those odds weren’t good by any stretch of the imagination. But they were good enough. Too good to discount entirely.

“I know that,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “but there’s a chance he did. And as long as there is the smallest possibility, I won’t give up until I know for sure.”

Pennyworth was still standing next to him, watching Bruce grimly. Not choosing sides. But not leaving Damian’s either.

Bruce’s eyes pierced through him for another moment before he nodded slowly, sighing. “I…I know. I respect your decision. But…I just…can’t help you.”

No apologies. Just…denial. As usual.

Damian wished he’d managed to make it hurt less every time his father did that over the time he’d spent in Gotham. Maybe if he ever saw Drake again, he could ask if the older boy had managed it and how. His pride could take a hit for that. Or, better yet, he’d ask Grayson.

Grayson, who would never hold it against him and would probably never mention it again.

Grayson. He seemed so much closer now than he had since that day, so long ago.

Bruce had turned away and continued on towards the shower area. He’d always preferred using the ones down here than the overwhelmingly ornate ones upstairs in the actual manor. Just before he disappeared through the door separating the two areas, however, he paused.

“I really do hope you find him.”

And then he was gone.

It was so quiet that Damian wasn’t entirely sure he’d actually heard it. Regardless, he nodded slightly and turned back towards the computer. Maybe if he honed the computer’s scans more, he’d be able to pick up some other clues.

Pennyworth set a hand on his shoulder before heading off towards the stairs. “I’ll bring down some hot chocolate,” the old man stated as he went.

“Thank you, Pennyworth,” Damian answered without even really thinking. His fingers were already flying over the Bat Computer’s keyboard fervently.

Chapter Text

(Damian Wayne. February 14, 2030.)

Damian squirmed slightly in the cheap plastic booth he was sitting in, studying everyone around him discreetly. It was probably very unlikely that anyone here was an actual threat, but it was a long-ingrained habit of his. This was why he wasn’t overly fond of public areas. Grayson had been much better at handling them. With any luck, he would be again.

Iris seemed to think it was possible. She tapped the table between them, her lips twisting to the side. She looked rather troubled as she stirred the mint chocolate chip milkshake she had bought. Damian sipped at his own coffee one – Grayson’s favorite flavor, now that he thought of it – as she spoke after several seconds of silence. They’d decided to meet in a local diner because Iris wasn’t allowed in the Batcave and Damian wasn’t allowed in Central City without Bruce’s supervision. Unfortunately, in their excitement, they’d both forgotten about Valentine’s Day. Damian had to strain to hear Iris’s soft voice over everyone else in the place.

“I talked to Jai. He said he doesn’t want to get involved.”

“My father seems to agree with him.”

Iris made a strange sound with her tongue before she went on. “I…talked to my mom too. She…didn’t really answer me. I’m not really sure she was listening after the first sentence.”

“Denial?” Damian actually looked at Iris, which he hadn’t been doing, trying to avoid appearing like the couple everyone around them probably thought they were.

“I don’t think so. She hasn’t really been the same since dad…left. She just kind of…stopped, you know? The only time she really acts like herself anymore is when she’s on a mission, and then I think it’s just to keep her mind off the fact that he’s not there with her.”

Damian did know. Father was about the same. But, at least Bruce was a good actor when he wanted to be and the public hadn’t noticed anything amiss beyond what would be expected. As far as they knew, Dick had gone off on a trip and hadn’t returned. No one knew where he was. He hadn’t been declared dead. (Which, hopefully, would come in handy if he came back. When he came back.)

“That doesn’t really sound like the Artemis Crock in our records,” he said, watching Iris’s reactions closely. She wasn’t trying very hard to hide her emotions, and his question seemed to trouble her.

“You’re right. I…I don’t really know what’s going on with her. Auntie Joan says that mom very nearly broke when dad disappeared the first time. When he came back, she fell into shock for a long time. But…she eventually grew used to the idea of him being back. Maybe it all happening again just…I don’t know. She’s…distant now. I don’t really know how else to explain it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Damian said, though he was well aware he didn’t really sound like it. Try as he might, that sympathy which many superheroes seemed able to call up at any moment in time had never been a skill for him. He had, back when he’d had a certain partner, at least been better at acting the part. But now, he didn’t really feel motivated. He had the feeling that Iris would see right through it anyway.

“Don’t be,” she literally waved him off, pulling her milkshake to her again. “It’s not your fault. Besides, if dad really is alive, maybe she’ll be better once we get him back.”

Which brought them back to the crux of the matter. Damian took another sip of his own milkshake before threading his fingers together and setting them before him on the table. With his stiff school uniform, he probably looked like he’d walked out of one of his father’s business meetings. A far cry from Iris’s baggy cargo pants and slim Green Lantern shirt. They made an odd couple indeed, and had garnered more than a couple of searching looks.

Damian leaned forward a bit, resisting the urge to clear his throat. There was no need. His slight movement was more than enough to garner his tablemate’s full attention. Iris’s bright green eyes turned back to him and she nodded slightly, urging him to speak.

“I went over the data you sent me. Combined with what I found two years ago, I am well convinced that there’s about a fifty-fifty percent chance that our approximations are correct.”

“So they may still be reachable,” Iris said. There’s was a tiny pause before she did so, and Damian was fairly certain that she had taken a quick look in super speed at the workers and other patrons in the diner. They needed to be careful about what they said, after all. One of many downsides to meeting as they were. Still, Damian would prefer this than having to deal with Bruce coming home to find the two of them talking about this in the manor.

…Though Pennyworth’s cookies had almost changed his mind.

He brushed the thought away, instead dipping his head slightly to Iris in affirmation. “I believe so, yes.”

The girl took a deep breath, obviously calming her nerves and excitement. It would be rather unhelpful if she started vibrating or something in a place like this. “That’s…wow,” she began, inhaling and exhaling again with patient ease. “After all this time…”

That pretty much explained Damian’s entire state of mind for the last twenty-four hours, ever since Iris had come to him at his school.

“I know,” is all he replied with.

Iris nodded again and ran her thumb up and down the side of her milkshake cup. Her nose twitched a couple of times before she found words again. “There’s something strange about that distortion. It’s a little different than the one we found the first time this happened.”

Damian blinked. He hadn’t noticed anything wrong. But then again…Iris was much more accustomed at seeing things in that state. “You mean besides the speed?”

Her mouth pulled downwards slightly in the corner. “Yeah…It’s not as…smooth as it was fifteen years ago. At least, not in one of the incidents. Dad’s actually was almost identical, but Uncle Dick’s had…a skip…kind of.”

Damian raised an eyebrow at her. “‘Kind of?’ That’s not very scientific.”

“No, it’s not. But, I honestly don’t know how to explain it. There are little places where it flows more evenly than in others. It actually reminded me of a ripple.”

That was interesting. “What do you mean by that?”

Iris sat up a little straighter, biting her lip for a split second while she apparently thought of how to say her piece. “Well, you know how if you drop a pebble into a pond, it disturbs the surface? Makes a shockwave, of sorts?”

“Of course I do.”

“Right. Picture that. Then, picture that same pebble falling into a slow-moving river instead. Instead of disturbing the whole surface, which is already moving, it only appears to affect the small section it fell into. It makes a divot, if you will, right where it lands.”

“Right…?”

“What I saw was something between those two. It was a disturbance, to be sure, but it only happened in that one little area. And only at that moment. It spread a tiny bit, but then stopped quite suddenly.”

Damian pondered that for a moment, trying to imagine what could have caused something like that. “So, it was as if something stopped the distortion for a moment?”

“…Maybe. It was more…Like something pushed a bit of the distortion outwards in a little swell. Like, pushed it into our side of the tear from the point where the two planes met.”

‘Planes’ as in ‘planes of existence’. Damian really hoped no one was listening too closely to their conversation. And if they were, that they thought it was about some strange science experiment or something.

“So…” he started slowly, trying to think. He had always had a rather vivid imagination, so he could see, quite clearly in his mind’s eye, precisely what she was talking about. “If we go back to the metaphorical pond you mentioned earlier, would it be like we were on the side of the water that the pebble fell into or fell out of? Assuming the pond was only an inch deep and fell through to air on the other side?”

Iris answered almost immediately. “The other side. Er…the one it…fell out of, I guess you could say.”

Damian nodded, slowly, still thinking. A picture was forming in his mind. One he didn’t like. At all. Because…if there was air on either side of the pond, which was only an inch deep…and the pebble fell through the pond from one side to the other…

“It’d still be on this side.”

Iris gave him a strange look. “What?”

Damian’s gaze snapped to her. He hadn’t intended to say that out loud. Nor had he noticed he’d done so. But…there was no taking it back now. “The pebble. If it fell from the other side to this one…It’d still be here.”

Iris continued to stare at him. “…I don’t follow.”

“Think about it,” Damian answered, leaning even further forward. “If the space on either side of the pond was a world, a reality, and the pond represents the space between, then if something came from the other world through that space, it’d still be in this world.” Thankfully, no one seemed to hear that part of the conversation. It seemed no one had been listening after all.

Save for Iris, who had a profound look of discomfort quickly growing on her face. “You think…something is here? Something from there?”

“Possibly. West passed all the way through last time. And then passed through again on his way back. It stands to reason that something else could do so too. How big of a thing are we talking, assuming it’s about the same size as the ripple you saw?”

“A few feet.”

Damian blinked. He had watched that footage a couple hundred times the night before, and he hadn’t seen anything like that even once. He must have revealed something about his thoughts on his face, because Iris quickly added “It was really fast though. Even for me. And…if you’re right, it’s possible whatever it was didn’t come all the way through.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I watched the scans of when dad returned after this happened the first time. When he came through the tear, there was a very noticeable disturbance in the distortion in super speed.”

“The same kind of disturbance?” he demanded, his voice much sharper than he’d intended.

Iris shook her head. “No. He tore right through it. What I saw…Maybe I explained it wrong. It was more like…okay, that pond that we’ve been talking about? Imagine it had a gelatin bottom.”

“…Okay.”

“Now, imagine that the pebble was actually a rock, just big enough to make the gelatin bounce downwards. It was more like that. If something came through, it bumped the distortion outwards into our world, but it didn’t break through it. That’s what I meant by it being like a ripple.”

Damian thought about it, really hard, for almost ten seconds before he answered. By the time he did, Iris was biting her lip uncomfortably again. “Such as…if something came right up to the tear, pushing the distortion sitting there on the other side through it to ours, but didn’t come out as well?”

Iris nodded. “Right. And…you know…I just thought of something.”

“What?” Damian asked, trying to put the parts together. He felt like he was missing something. Something really big and obvious.

“We don’t know if whatever it was came from the other side, do we? What if it came from the space between realities?”

There it was. The final piece to the puzzle Damian was trying to put together. “Grayson.” If he really was alive, had realized what had happened, and tried to get back…

But Iris looked troubled. “No, I don’t think so. It happened right as he disappeared here, in this world. He’s not a speedster. I don’t think he would have had time, honestly. It was just too fast.”

“Then what could it be?” Damian asked, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his heart.

“I don’t know. We have no idea what goes on between worlds. Not even dad did, because he went right through to the other side. But…I have a feeling it wasn’t bad.”

Silence fell between them for a long moment which was only broken be the waitress walking up with a tray overflowing with cookies. “Would you two like some? We’re handing them out free to couples for Valentine’s Day.”

Damian tried to remember not to look at the young lady like she was an imbecile. He didn’t think he was very successful, though. “We’re not-”

“Absolutely! Thank you so much!” Iris interrupted with a smile that could have probably powered the Batcave for a month if it was measured in watts. Damian shot a look of pure disbelief at her, but neither girl seemed to notice as the waitress giggled annoyingly.

“Well, aren’t you two the sweetest, cutest couple here. Tell you what - I’m going to give you each two.” And she did, pulling them off the tray and setting them before Damian and Iris on napkins. “Have a great day!” she said as she practically skipped off to the next table.

Damian now glared openly at Iris. Who…only had one cookie in front of her now. Of course Damian had seen her eat it. He would never be unobservant enough to miss something like that.

Iris looked right back at him, a small smile gracing her lips as her bright eyes danced with mirth. “What?” she asked, as though what she’d done was completely acceptable.

What was that?!” He shot back, gesturing wildly at the waitress.

Iris shrugged. “Free cookies.”

And…no, the second cookie in front of her had not vanished without a trace. It had not.

Damian just continued to glare at her, but Iris seemed unfazed as she took another sip of her milkshake and pointed at the napkin and sweets sitting untouched in front of him. “You going to eat those?”

“No,” he bit out in reply, ready to go into full lecture mode.

But Iris distracted him by smirking. It was quite an…unnerving expression, honestly. “Awesome. Thanks.”

Damian blinked, and then looked down, not sure whether to bother being surprised when he saw nothing but crumbs. He’d been looking right at her. How…?

He felt a headache coming on. A big one.

He was really starting to regret not getting to know any of Wests before all of this began. Seriously. He could have been much better prepared for any future…shenanigans.

But he wasn’t. And now he had to learn fast and on the go. Something he’d never been very good at when it came to people he had to work with.

It didn’t help much that Iris was quite obviously trying to hold back laughter. Or that he needed her due to her experience with speed and her brains. Damian felt the distinct urge to punch her in the face, but the thought that she could easily dodge it just put him into an even worse mood. What had he done to deserve this? Was this his punishment for not figuring out the rather simple solution of playing the scans slowly? It had to be. This all had to be God’s twisted idea of a joke. There was no other explanation.

Iris full on snorted at that point. “Are you okay?” She asked, sucking up more of her milkshake to stifle any other sounds bursting to get out.

“…I’m…fine…” he managed after a second without raising his voice or drawing attention. Grayson would be so proud.

“You sure? You look like you just blew a gasket.”

“Or four.” She didn’t seem to take it as the warning he’d intended that statement to be.

“You know what?” she asked, smirking wider, leaning backwards in the booth and crossing one leg over the other as though she owned the place. “I think I’m going to like working with you. This is going to be fun.”

…Yes. Punishment. It had to be.

(Roy Harper. 2016 – Bludhaven.)

It had been a long time since Roy had been to Bludhaven. The last time had been when he was looking for the real Roy Harper. Dick and Wally had come here with him. That had been the last time they’d helped him with his search. They’d given up soon after. Roy had tried really hard not to take it personally, but it wasn’t easy. Especially when he hadn’t actually felt like, well…a person. He’s said as much, and Wally and Dick had tried to refute the fact, said that he was as much a human as either of them. That he had thoughts and feelings. A life.

And yes, he did have a life. A life that he had inadvertently stolen from the real Roy Harper. He couldn’t expect them to understand how that felt. Maybe he had gotten too angry with them, too forceful. Because, after that, they were both much more wary around him, afraid he was going to explode. And they stopped with the search for Speedy. And so, he’d cut off almost all contact with them. If they weren’t willing to help him, then he saw no reason to help them either.

Of course…that was easier said than done. Every time he received a letter, e-mail, phone-call, or text from one of them, it became more and more difficult not to answer. But Roy had a mission. And if Wally and Dick weren’t going to help him, then there was no reason for them to speak until said mission was complete.

Looking back…Roy saw that he was probably being rather childish. Wally and Dick had been trying to help, in their own way. He saw that now. They hadn’t walked out of the search. His obsessive behavior had unnerved them enough to push them out of it. But…that didn’t give them the excuse to abandon the real Roy Harper.

He still felt a raw kind of upset whenever he thought about their falling out. But that was behind them now. Wally…was gone. Had been for about nine months now. Roy had gotten used to that void in his heart about three months ago. But from what everyone else said, Dick hadn’t. He was apparently in denial about everything that had happened in Antarctica and was looking for the speedster.

This…wasn’t like the real Roy. At all. Roy had been kidnapped and taken away. Cloned. Twice. Wally had not. He’d disintegrated. Roy had seen the footage (and had some quite vivid nightmares about it that had woken both Lian and Jade up on multiple occasions). His little brother was dead. That’s all there was to it. There was nothing anyone could do about it.

From what he understood of everyone’s worry, Dick didn’t agree.

Roy had figured it was a phase that the younger boy would come out of eventually. That’s what he’d told Bruce when he’d called and asked Roy to step in and do something. Because Dick would listen to Caped Crusader.

It wasn’t until the new Robin – Tim…something – had called, practically begging him to just go by and check on Dick that Roy had really started to worry that maybe his old friend had walked off the deep end. Or leaped. Tim had sounded really worried, told him that Dick had stopped answering calls and e-mails about a week ago. No one knew if he was okay or what was going on with him. That was the point when Roy had asked for the address.

He was slightly embarrassed that he hadn’t already had it. But…he and Dick hadn’t really spent any time together since Wally had…left. Lian squirmed behind him, and would have knocked him slightly off balance if he hadn’t been used to it. She was starting to get big enough to actually weigh something and Roy had had to make her a bigger carrying bag. Jade wasn’t exactly happy about him taking their daughter into the least safe city this side of the country, but Roy had had a feeling that he’d be happy he did. Dick hadn’t gotten to meet Lian yet, past just glimpses. He’d never held her or anything like that. Roy was banking on the hope that, if Dick was as gone as Roy himself had been that night when Jade had jumped through his window and literally back into his life, baby in arm that he’d never been told about, maybe Lian could help bring Dick back too.

Roy hoped so. He hadn’t taken a taxi because he’d heard too many horror stories about them in Bludhaven. And the way people kept looking at him on the street corners was making him wish he’d left his daughter behind after all. Too late now, though. Bludhaven didn’t have a Zeta beam set up yet. Roy had had to catch a train from Gotham, which had taken over three hours. If he went back to return Lian to Star City, he’d have to put off visiting Dick until tomorrow, which…Roy had a bad feeling about that.

Besides, Lian was getting fussy. And hungry. He had some baby food and watered-down juice in his baby bag, but he didn’t want to stop until he was at Dick’s place, no matter how hard his daughter had started kicking his back in frustration.

And, ow, that hurt.

“Lian,” he said, trying to keep his voice down to avoid drawing attention to them, “stop it, sweetie.”

There was a small grunt in reply, and then another hit, higher up. She’d probably thumped her head back at him.

Clever.

“No, no, stop hitting me. That’s not nice.” And, darn it, someone was heading over towards them. A scraggly man with gapped teeth and dressed in a trench coat that had probably not be washed since the Vietnam War.

“Need any help there, sir?” he asked, a slight airy sound to his tone. A few other men were watching from the street corner he’d come up from and chuckled.

Roy tried really hard to stop his lip from curling up. “I don’t think so.”

“Now, now, there’s no need to be hasty, good sir,” the man said, drawing closer. He was about four feet away now. “She’s a real pretty girl. I’ll bet she’ll be a lovely woman.”

Roy sidestepped, putting an extra two feet between them. “Don’t come any closer,” and boy, that was quite the warning bubbling up in his voice. He sounded angry. And he was. Lian was his little girl. His perfect, little girl. There was no way he was going to let this guy get any nearer to her. The notion that he thought he had a chance of Roy doing so was…worrying. The fact that this creep actually had reason to believe such a thing was sickening.

“Oh, sir. I don’t like being spoken to that way,” the man smiled crookedly and there was a glint as he took out a knife.

Roy immediately leapt into action, one hand catching Gap-tooth’s wrist and holding it away from him while his other came up and forward lightning fast to slam into the man’s nose. Then, Roy planted his foot into the man’s stomach with careful precision, sending him into the corner of a mailbox where he slumped, knife clattering to the ground.

Two of his other cronies came forward then, one with rusty colored hair and the other a blonde. But Roy was ready. Lian was eerily quiet for a child her age, as she’d been taught. Both Jade and Roy had trained themselves to fight with Lian in one arm or on their back, just in case their identities were ever found out and an enemy showed up at their apartment. Roy, who had been hesitant to expose their little girl to that world so early (and absolutely ignoring the fact that they already had during that mission when they’d found the real Roy Harper), was now happy for the effort they’d put forward as he grabbed the shoulder of the blonde, spun him around, and jetted him back at the rusty-haired man, maintaining his balance easily despite the weight on his back.

The blonde came back at him, and Roy dodged his punch, allowing the man to stumble forward so that he face-planted himself straight into Roy’s rising elbow. Soon enough, he was down, and Rusty tried to charge in his place. Roy moved at the last second, grabbing the man’s jacket as he passed, bent him over, and kneed him hard enough to wind him completely. All three men were on the ground now in varying states of pain, all of them crawling away from him.

There was a final man at the street corner, wide eyed and taking a slow step forward, unsure whether he should get involved or not. Roy figured he’d help out, looked him straight in the eye, and gestured to the other three already on the ground. “Think about it,” he said, sounding as menacing as possible.

The man glanced at his buddies and their conditions before visibly gulping, turning tail, and racing away.

The sides of Roy’s mouth twitched up in a small satisfied smile. He hadn’t pulled out all of the stops – he couldn’t put his secret identity on the line like that in broad daylight (well…almost broad. It was almost about to start getting dark.) But he’d done enough. Bludhaven’s streets, while always busy towards the city center, tended to be rather empty of passersby at the outer fringes, where Dick apparently lived. No one wanted to stick around for long, so they quickly got to their destinations as fast as possible. There were a few walkers and cars out, but none of them wanted to get involved as they stalwartly kept moving.

Lian let out a little happy squeal, throwing her hands up in excitement. Roy wondered if he should worry about how she was apparently proud of him for winning the battle, but he pushed it aside. The important thing was getting to Dick’s as soon as possible. He’d already been out too long. He hadn’t wanted to come so late, but he figured this would probably be the only time he’d be able to catch his friend between whatever day job he had and patrol as Nightwing, who still made appearances on a daily basis.

Roy had seen a few newsreels on the new hero of Bludhaven, but all of them featured little more than a dark blur. Roy wasn’t sure what to expect.

After about five minutes, he finally found the apartment complex that belonged to his friend. Trying to hide his surprise at how rundown it was, he opened the entry door and walked in. Dick was on the second to top floor right next to a fire escape, according to Tim. So, Roy got onto the grungy elevator, ignoring the squeals and clunks as it jerked upwards. Lian let out a cry at a particularly rough movement and he swung the carrier around to his front so that he could hug her to him, trying to comfort her.

And he thought his apartment had been in a bad side of town when Jade came with their daughter for the first time.

Dick must’ve been out of his mind.

Roy’s grim thoughts were only backed up even more as he got off on the right floor. All of the wallpaper was peeling, many of the doors had scratch marks or patched repairs that showed they’d been kicked in at some point or another, and both windows at the end of the hall were cracked. The old wood floors were split down the planks and had sticky residue from some old linoleum covering. Roy was pretty sure that the discussion going on between a tenant and a visitor a few doors away was either a drug deal or something else just as disreputable. Thankfully, Dick’s door was in the opposite direction, and Roy turned that way, trying to keep an eye and ear on everything and everyone at once. He unconsciously tugged Lian closer to him, really wishing he’d left her behind now.

Finally, he came to Dick’s door and knocked, a little desperately. No one answered. Roy, after about thirty seconds of silence, knocked again, calling out “Dick?” There was a sound behind him and he spun, meeting gazes with an older woman who was going gray. She blinked at him, then looked down and smiled slightly at Lian before looking back up.

“Are you here to see Dick?”

Just how thin were the walls in this place?

“Yeah,” Roy answered, shifting Lian’s weight a little. His daughter grabbed his arm loosely and babbled a bit. “He’s an old friend.”

The woman nodded, smiling wider at Lian’s antics. “Glad to hear that. He’s a kind boy. Not like most of the people who live here. He always takes my laundry and does it for me whenever he takes his own. Separates the colors and everything. And he made me Christmas cookies.”

That did sound a bit like Dick. “He’s a good person,” Roy agreed, growing slightly concerned as there was still no response from inside.

The woman’s face turned serious. “He is. I’m worried. He hasn’t left for a few days. Not even in the night.”

Roy blinked, staring at the woman, but her gaze gave nothing away. “He hasn’t?” he asked instead.

She shook her head. “No. If I were you, I’d check on him. Star City’s a long ways away and night’s almost here. You might want to hurry. The hotels are almost always full by this time of day. Booked for the night.”

Roy stared. “How did you know…?” He hadn’t said anything about Star City that he could recall. Though that was where he and Jade had moved to after everything settled down following Wally’s incident.

“I’ve seen you on the news. I heard a thump from Dick’s apartment one night, about four months ago. His door didn’t lock very well back then, so I went to check on him. Took nothing more than a hard push. He’d passed out coming back in through the window. I helped him stitch up a rather large wound in his stomach. He still has the bullet.”

…What was Roy supposed to say about that? What she was talking about…Dick must have been coming back from patrol. She must have seen him in his Nightwing outfit. And Roy had appeared in the news dozens of times during his many years of being an active hero, both as Speedy and as Red Arrow. Was he really that recognizable? Well, then again, if you know your neighbor’s a hero…and he doesn’t get many visitors…Wally and Roy were two of the only male heroes in history with red hair after all, and there wasn’t really anyone close to them in age…

“What did he say? I mean, about you…” Roy trailed off, not really sure about how to go on with that question.

The woman waved his concerns off. “We never spoke about it. But I’ve seen his little brother come by a couple of times since then. Another nice young man. From Gotham, isn’t he? He was a little more perturbed about it. Anyway, I’ve been worried about Dick. He’s fixed his lock since then, so I haven’t been able to check on him. I thought about calling the police, but I wasn’t sure what state they’d find him in. You know how they act if you’re wearing certain…clothing, yes? I’ve heard him moving around in his apartment, so I know he’s doing something, but…it’s not nearly as much as usual.”

Roy nodded, trying to absorb everything she was telling him. He was still having some trouble with it, though. As soon as he was able, he nodded. “I’ll make sure he’s okay.”

“Thank you very much,” she said and, with a wink at him and small wave to Lian, she ducked her head back into her own apartment.

Roy watched after her a moment before turning back to Dick’s door. Carefully, he shifted Lian’s weight to one hip and pulled out his lock pick with the other. If Dick didn’t like him breaking in, too bad. He should answer the door then. And if the neighbor woman was wrong and Dick wasn’t home, well, there was no way Roy was going to sit out in this hallway with Lian. Especially with that strange drug deal thing still going on down the hall. Or wait…no, that was a different person now, meaning a different transaction.

After a few moments, there was a small click. Roy put his tool away, turned the knob, and quickly stepped inside, closing the door firmly behind him.

Chapter Text

(Damian Wayne. Gotham City. February, 2032.)

“We’ve got to find a new place to meet.”

Iris glanced up as Damian sat in front of her, sitting with his back almost ramrod straight and his hands poised in his lap. “Why?” she asked, turning back to the small menu.

“Because people are getting ideas,” Damian practically hissed, seeing the same waitress as the one two weeks ago on Valentine’s Day smile radiantly at the two of them.

“So? Let them,” Iris said with a shrug, flipping the menu back closed and passing it to him.

Damian eyed her venomously, but took the menu and cracked it open. They were already here, after all.

And this place really did make good milkshakes.

Bruce had said he’d pay for them. He claimed it was because he was glad Damian was finally making a friend his own age. But Damian was fairly certain it was really because his father didn’t want Iris knowing where the Batcave was yet. Nor did he want Damian traipsing off to Central by himself (never mind the one time he’d done so two years ago. He’d actually gotten grounded for that).

They sat in silence for a moment, Iris looking out the window at the people passing by and Damian studying the menu, despite the fact that he mostly had it memorized at this point. Suddenly, however, both had their gazes drawn over to a commotion at the end of the street, where a bank stood with peeling paint. Several people ran out of the entrance, some screaming loud enough to be heard through the window. Others were visibly crying, some clutching each other.

Without even thinking, Damian looked to Iris only to find her bright green eyes already planted on him. She moved her head, lightly gesturing to the scene going on outside in question. Damian nodded back minutely, keeping an eye on everything else going on around him. No one was watching them. Most of them were running outside to get a closer view of the bank, and the rest were all staring out the window.

Without a word, Damian rose from his seat and headed for the restroom. Iris, after a few moments, followed. It didn’t occur to him until he’d gotten into the stall and was pulling his suit out of his bag that this…was going to be noticed. Robin hardly ever made day appearances, and did even less often without Batman at his side. If he ever ran into trouble while on the way home or by chance, of course he would stop and do something about it. But it was…not exactly rare, but unusual. Enough so that the news always made a somewhat big deal about it whenever they caught wind of him doing so.

And now…Iris was with him. Iris – a hero who had decidedly not ever been seen in Gotham before. Not only that, but Damian had never run a mission with her. He had no idea, beyond a few videos and training sessions, how she worked and fought. Nor did she know anything about him; at least, not as far as he knew. This…was going to be awkward. No way around that.

Damian gritted his teeth and pulled his tunic down over his chest, pulling out his cape and draping it over his shoulders. A shorter version of his regular, knee-high, tie-up boots were sitting right next to him (he’d found a way to fold them so that they fit in his bag without much issue) with his gloves and mask sitting on top of them.

Every time he got dressed in a small, public place like this, he was reminded of one of the first times he’d gone out as Robin after his father had disappeared into the past. Grayson and he had been at a late night gala for Central City’s Labs when the Rogues had decided to hold everyone inside the nearby department store hostage. Both heroes had disappeared into the nearby restrooms, along with Barry and Bart Allen, and all of them claimed a stall to change in. When they came out, there had been a very surprised and stupefied man standing in front of the mirror, water running behind him as he stared back at them, his mouth dropped open.

The Flash had smiled, waved merrily, and reassured the man that they would take care of the problem down the street, Kid Flash (who had started going by just ‘KF’ since he’d gotten older) had given the guy a quick fist bump, which the man mirrored the movements of seemingly mindlessly, then followed his mentor out. Leaving Batman and Robin, who most decidedly did not belong in Central City, behind.

That…had been an interesting moment, because, right then, Grayson had actually pulled off the ‘Batman Voice’ for the first time, growling out “get yourself to a safe place” before turning and gliding to the door, cape swirling behind him. He’d even gotten the temperament and arm movements down to a tee. Damian had been so shocked that he had almost forgotten to follow, barely remembering to give the civilian man a curt nod as he did so.

That had been the first time that he’d thought Grayson may actually be able to pull off being Batman.

Even if it had killed the acrobat a little inside every time he donned the cowl.

Now, Damian tugged his gloves on, secured his mask, grabbed his bag, and exited the stall as quickly as he could, pushing his memories away. It wouldn’t do for him to get distracted by the past so soon before a case. But, as he came face to face with the mirror before him, he stopped stock still, staring at himself. His reflection looked so…wrong, standing without his mentor. Lonely, almost. It was actually worse when he saw Father standing next to him as Batman. Somehow, Grayson and Batman had become synonymous in his mind, even though he knew that the man absolutely hated that identity. He didn’t know why. But Grayson was Batman to his own Robin. No one else could be.

Breath, Dami.

Damian blinked behind his mask, absolutely not jumping a little as Grayson’s voice echoed in his head again, as it had been doing more often in the last two weeks than it had over the past couple of years. It was…rather disconcerting, to be sure. But it also served to ground him. His face curled down slightly into a scowl as he stared at it in the mirror. He could think about all of this later. Right now, there was a crime happening in the bank a few doors down.

Without another hesitation, he turned on his heel and headed for the door. Within seconds, he had snuck past the cook in the kitchen and was out the back door into the alley beyond. Iris was already waiting for him – of course, what with her speed – and was practically quivering in exhilaration. Great. Just what he needed. An overexcited partner.

Iris, however, surprised him as she nodded calmly. “Alright, so what do you want me to do?”

Damian honestly didn’t know how to react. First of all…in all of the videos he’d seen and the few times he’d been in training with Iris, she’d always gone by the name of ‘Impulse’ and worn Bart Allen’s old red and white costume design. Now, however, she was wearing a red uniform with yellow highlights that was somewhat reminiscent of Grayson’s Nightwing suit. He recognized it, of course, though he hadn’t seen it since Wally West had disappeared the second time.

It had yellow lightning bolts traveling from her shoulders down to the tips of her middle and ring fingers on both hands, as well as down the sides of her body from armpit to the tops of her shoes. There were yellow gloves paired with yellow boots and she had a white circle with a red lightning bolt in it emblazoned on her chest, along with red goggles perched on her head. Though, unlike Wally West’s last costume that this one was obviously a homage to, Iris didn’t have a cowl ending at the top of her forehead – her long red hair swung free around her face with the goggles possibly the only things that would keep her identity secret, like Damian’s own domino mask.

“…Speed Demon?” he finally asked, remembering what her father had called himself in those last few years, looking her up and down, and taking note of all the details in her outfit so that he wouldn’t be distracted by it during their takedown. Wally West had worn it when he’d come back after returning from the other reality he’d been sucked into during the Antarctica incident. But Damian hadn’t seen it in quite a while.

Iris smiled slightly. “Yeah. I know…it’s dad’s, but…Jai and I were always both Impulse, you know? We had matching uniforms. But I felt like, if I was going to do this with you and he wasn’t, I wanted to break away from that.”

That…was fair, he supposed. He just hadn’t been expecting it. “Tch. You should have told me this before.”

The edge of Iris’s mouth twitched and Damian got the distinct impression that she was nervous. “How else am I supposed to see your adorable puzzled face?” Damian glared at her. Hard. But it seemed to have no effect as Iris just chuckled for a second before straightening again. “Uncle Dick’s words, not mine.” And of course the soft fool would have said something like that with no regards to Damian’s comfort. “So, are we going to do this thing or not?”

Damian nodded, trying to calm the nerves and irritation that were rapidly starting to rise in his chest. This could all go very badly, after all. Iris had done nothing but surprise him over and over the last couple of weeks. She wasn’t like her mother or brother at all, and away from Young Justice, which was really the only other place Damian had met her in the flesh, she was an entirely different person. He wasn’t completely sure it was the best idea to go out into a possible battlefield with her.

But…people were in danger. He was a hero. It was his job to help them, no matter how dangerous the situation might be. Iris being there didn’t change that. She was used to this sort of thing too, even if she didn’t go out nearly as often as he himself. Maybe they could just do their own thing, like normal, but in the same place at the same time.

However, the way Iris was waiting for direction seemed to negate that idea pretty effectively. “You want me to tell you what to do?” he finally asked, finding that slightly out of character for the stubborn girl.

She glanced towards the street, and then back at him. The movement was so fast, it was almost a blur. “This is your city, after all. I’m kind of out of my element when it comes to your criminals, so…yeah, I’ll let you take lead on this one.”

Damian paused for a second. He really hadn’t expected that. But…he couldn’t complain, now could he?

“Alright, then. Tch. I guess that means I’m going to be doing all the work.” He started moving towards the street, peeking out around the corner and trying to get a read on what was going on. There were a few more people outside, and police surrounded the building, their guns trained on it. One woman was sobbing openly, saying something about her daughter still being inside and asking why the robbers hadn’t sent both of them out together. Spectators crowded around, held back by other officers. Commissioner Gordon was trying to talk to the criminals with a megaphone, but no one inside appeared to be answering.

Iris spoke from behind him, a slightly sarcastic lilt to her voice. “Yeah, sure. I’ll just stand back and watch you do your thing.”

“We’re going in from above,” Damian answered, stepping away from the street and ignoring Iris’s quip. He’d helped out at this particular bank multiple times in such situations and knew that there was a glass ceiling that was rather easy to open if one knew what one was doing.

“Sure thing, boss,” Iris responded and, without another word, turned to run full pelt at the wall at the end of the alley. Damian turned just in time to see her start to run straight up it, her momentum carrying her to the top. Strangely enough, she wasn’t nearly as fast as she had been in her cookie snatching two weeks before.

Damian pulled out his grappling gun, aimed for the top of the building, and fired. Within seconds, he was zipping upwards, the wind biting into his face. He planted his feet at the top, grabbed the edge of the wall, and hauled himself over. He then headed over to where Iris was kneeling on the ground, peeking just over the edge to look at the bank across the street from her position. His grappling gun rewound itself as he walked, the line retracting back into the gadget. It was impossible to see anything from this far away through the tinted windows with the naked eye, but Iris apparently had some sort of telescopic function in her goggles as she peered intently at the bank windows.

"There’s about eight of them that I can see, all with machine guns,” she said as Damian ducked down next to her so that they wouldn’t be noticed by anyone below them yet. “About a dozen and a half hostages, maybe, who are hunkering down to the right, across the bank from the teller windows. A couple of workers are emptying cash registers at gunpoint and a few others look to be opening the safety deposit box room at the back. There may be some more baddies over by the vault, but I think that’s in another area. I can’t be sure."

Damian nodded. This all sounded pretty par for the course. And, indeed, the vault was down a separate employee-only hallway, so he figured that there probably were workers and robbers down there as well. “Understood. Let’s cross over the road four buildings down so that no one notices us right away. We’ll have to hop across the gaps between them from there until we get to the bank roof.”

“No problem,” Iris said, letting go of her goggles. Damian figured she’d probably pushed and held a button to magnify her vision. “I’ll just run. I’ll wait for you once I get there.”

“Hold on,” Damian grabbed her arm just as she stood to go, realizing that she had a bit more muscle than he’d been expecting. It was hard to tell, because she was more of a lithe-type, resembling Grayson in that fashion. “I need to know before we go into this. What’s your top speed?”

Iris bit her lip slightly. “Unfortunately, not nearly as fast as anyone else in the speedster clan. I can’t even hit half the speed of sound yet. I probably top out around…errrr…two-hundred-fifty miles per hour? Maybe three hundred if I really push it?”

Damian stared at her, shocked. “That really is slow,” he finally said, because it was for a speedster.

Iris, instead of glaring at him like he expected, just awkwardly shrugged. “Yeah, well…sorry to disappoint you. Dad never really got the chance to teach me how to go much faster.”

Telling if something was a joke or not had never been Damian’s strong point, but he was fairly certain that this wasn’t one. Iris’s voice wasn’t exactly bitter, but it was rather flat. He figured he probably shouldn’t say anything about it, but… “You were much faster than that in the diner back on Valentine’s day. I didn’t even see you move.”

Iris shifted slightly, not meeting his eyes. “Running is different than moving, Robin. It’s an entire body affair. It’s easy to be in relative time while you’re sitting and mostly still. Not so much when you’re actually traveling.”

He supposed that made some sense, but it still left a somewhat uneasy feeling in his stomach. He had thought she would be much faster, and now they were going into a potentially dangerous situation with hardly any preparation and he was not aware of exactly what she was capable of. And what about…

“You seemed faster when you came to my school. I didn’t actually see you leave,” really, he hated to admit that, but if Iris wasn’t being entirely truthful, he had no other way to get her to talk.

Iris just gave him an odd look. “I was going slower then than I did just now coming up the building,” she responded. “You just weren’t prepared for it. You’ve seen enough of me moving that fast by now that your eye has trained itself to pick up on it more.”

Damian blinked, entirely still otherwise. Could it really be that simple? It wasn’t like him to not notice when things like that changed, but…he had been more attuned to whenever Iris would slip into relative time now and then than he had been before. He’d just thought she’d slowed down slightly for his sake, but if she hadn’t…

He mentally shrugged the thought away. They had no time to deal with it right then. He could think about it later when he got back to the manor. Right now, he had to be prepared for doing battle alongside a speedster who wasn’t nearly as fast as he’d like, ideally.

He’d just have to make do. Grayson had with him when they’d first started out.

Damian carefully pushed the fact that he’d been trained to be an assassin practically from birth and that Iris most assuredly had not from his mind. “Ready to move?”

Iris nodded and sped off. She was still very fast, mostly a hazy shape as she easily built up enough speed within a few steps to take the ten foot leap over the alley next to them and smoothly landing on the next building before continuing on to the third. Within seconds, she’d turned, run down the side of the building four over, just as Damian had said, and was quickly crossing the street. She was beyond the crowd around the bank and most were staring in the opposite direction. Those that saw her would only be able to make out a red blur. Once she’d made it to the building across the street and begun to scale it, Damian started to follow. Firing his grappling gun to the roof door on the building over, he retracted the line fast enough that he was almost pulled completely over the ten foot gap, catching himself carefully and walking vertically up the last couple of feet. It was a movement his body had long since gotten used to and was almost as easy as walking at this point.

He was able to build up enough speed to just leap over the next two alleys, and then turned and shot toward the top of the building across the street. Unfortunately, it was about the same height as the one he was on currently (as almost all the buildings on the street were), so he couldn’t simply swing over like he usually would. Instead, he did the same thing he’d done while crossing the first alley. He lost enough momentum that he ended about fifteen feet lower than the peak of the building wall and had to scale the last part. By the time he made it to the top, Damian was fairly certain that more than a few people had probably noticed him, but he didn’t let it bother him, working instead on climbing as fast as he could.

Soon, he was squatting next to Iris by the glass skylights in the bank’s ceiling. He found himself relieved that he’d remembered to leave his school bag in the original alley they’d left by the diner, planning to come back for it later. It would only get in the way during a battle. The robbers below were holding roughly the same positions as they had been when Iris had reported to him a couple of minutes before and Damian started to run various scenarios through his head, trying to decide on the best way to proceed. “I’ll take the ones surrounding the hostages and over by the teller desk with the cash registers,” he said, of which there were five. “Can you handle the ones aiming out the windows at the police, the ones at the back getting into the safety deposit boxes, and then head for the vault? The entrance to the hallway is fairly noticeable and towards the back.”

“No problem,” Iris answered, adjusting her goggles. Damian took note of it, filing the movement under ‘possible nervous ticks’. The more he knew about his partner, the better. “Ready when you are,” she continued, putting her hands against the window frame.

“Ready,” he responded, pulling out several batarangs and somehow knowing what she was going to do right before she started vibrating her hands against the glass, quickly causing spider web cracks. Usually, he would have picked the lock, or jumped right through while shielding his face, but this was easier for the time being. Damian readied himself and jumped through the new hole as soon as he heard the shattering sound, feeling Iris’s body heat as she leapt down right beside him.

They managed to take the robbers by surprise, probably because nobody had been expecting the Boy Wonder in broad daylight, much less with a hero they’d most likely never seen before (at least, not in that suit – they may have seen Iris as Impulse in the news at some point or another). Before he touched the floor, Damian had managed to knock a couple of guns out of their respective holders’ hands with his batarangs. Using his cape at the last moment to slow his fall slightly, he tumbled once he hit the stone ground, skidded to a stop and immediately hurled another projectile that disarmed the last robber hovering over the hostages. He then turned to do the same to the two still making employees empty the cash registers.

Gunfire rang out from the back of the bank as he charged at the nearest villain, leaping at the last moment and planting one of his feet in the older man’s chest, knocking him to the ground. He landed and spun, grabbing the arm of another and using his momentum to hurl the man into a nearby wall with a loud crack. He then swiped his foot up and firmly slammed it into the first robber’s back as he tried to stand back up. Afterwards, he pulled out a zip tie and quickly wound it around the man’s hands before sprinting at the last robber on this side of the bank. This one pulled out a knife and slashed out at him, but Damian dodged to the side, leapt on a desk, and then jumped off it, catching the man’s face with his heel. Feeling a crunch as the enemy’s nose broke, Damian ran right through his landing and across the bank to the teller booths, where the two robbers by the cashiers were trying to regain their guns from where he’d knocked them.

He managed to reach one before that happened, vaulting over the teller counter and practically tackling the man into a potted plant. He then pulled his arm back and punched with enough force to knock the robber’s head back into the wall. The man slumped and whimpered slightly as Damian turned to the last robber. Both employees were now huddling under the counter, somehow remaining out of the enemy’s reach for the moment. This one had just regained his gun and was whipping around to aim, but Damian yanked out his retractable bo-staff and swiped out with it, knocking the weapon away before bringing the wooden pole up and smashing it into, first, the man’s chest, and then his face. As quickly as he could, Damian zip-tied these two up as well, went back over the counter, and back towards the other two that he hadn’t restrained yet on the other side of the bank. The one he’d taken down second was slowly regaining himself, just reaching a standing position, so Damian wacked the bo-staff into the man’s gut before knocking his legs out from under him. The last robber was still clutching his broken nose and seemed rather uninclined to fight further, so Damian managed to tie up both of them without any more incident. Only then did he look over to where Iris had sped off to.

He’d lost track of her as soon as they’d hit the ground. Once they had, the girl had been gone, already reaching the first of the robbers in the back within a second. Now, several men were lying on the floor, dazed, their hands also bound behind them as Iris appeared from the hallway to the vault, throwing the last man down next to his companions. All of them were wearing the same ensemble of black long sleeved shirts, gray pants, and black ski masks. Iris brushed her hands together, the corner of her lips tugging up into a smile. “I checked the rest of the premises. That’s the last of them.”

Damian stared, rather taken aback by how smoothly everything had gone as, behind her, four more bank workers emerged from the hallway. They looked around at the robbers in utter disbelief, their gazes racing back and forth between the men tied up, Damian, and Iris. Finally, the sudden quiet was broken by a bank guest in the group of hostages that Damian had defended. “Thank you,” the young man said, slowly standing and smiling at them nervously. “Thank you so much.”

Damian just scowled at him, but Iris smiled brightly. “No problem. Is anyone hurt?”

Slowly, but surely, everyone started standing, shaking their heads. An older woman replied, “We’re all okay, thanks to the two of you.”

At that moment, the front doors banged open and police flooded the bank, guns poised until they took stock of all the enemies on the floor. Quickly, about half of the present Gotham PD went to the robbers and started handcuffing them while the other half headed over to secure the hostages. Commissioner Gordon himself was coming in when Damian shot his grappling gun and started pulling himself back up towards the skylight. Below, he saw Iris speed out of the bank, deftly dodging around all of the police officers and hostages.

Once he was outside again and had pulled himself back onto the roof, wandered over to the edge. He hadn’t told Iris where to meet him.

But it apparently hadn’t been necessary, as the girl’s hands appeared on the brink of the roof and she hauled herself up next to him. The crowd below was now going on excitedly, pointing up at the two of them with smiling and confused faces. Damian ignored them and walked back out of their view with Iris trailing behind.

Her face was alight with adrenaline and mirth, her wild red hair in tangles around her face and blowing around her in the wind. She started gathering it all into a messy ponytail, mumbling about how she should have done so before they’d started. “Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?”

Damian nodded absently, trying to stop the slight grin that came to his lips. That had gone much more smoothly than he could have imagined.

Maybe, at least on the crime fighting front, this wouldn’t be as bad as he’d thought.

Chapter Text

(Roy Harper. 2016 – Bludhaven)

Dick had always been slightly sloppy when it came to keeping his own space, so Roy was rather surprised when he stepped into his friend’s apartment only to find it almost spotless. There was a tiny bathroom off to the right that had a tub, short shower, a toilet, and a small sink with no vanity, all stuffed together as snuggly as possible. Right to the left of the entrance was a narrow doorway to the kitchenette, which was in a galley format. It was rather long with a bar passing through to the living room, but barely three feet wide. The living room housed a television, a tattered couch, and a big chair that had a ripped seat cushion. Roy glanced around, and then walked the four feet to the end of the entryway. While the living room opened up a little, extending to the right the width of the bathroom housed on that side, it was very small. There was no bedroom and only a shoebox of a closet.

Roy stared at the little space, taking in the bookshelf on the side that had all of Dick’s Transformers and action figures displayed. Next to that was another bookshelf that had his DVDs, video games, and books. More books were piled in stacks against the wall, and Roy saw that they were all neatly alphabetized. There was a filled dark blue laundry basket at the edge of the living room next to neatly folded piles of clothing and a bowl sitting on the small table in front of the old couch.

Roy walked forward and stopped as he realized there was someone lying on the aforementioned sofa. Dick, despite the length of the couch, was curled in as tightly to himself as could be feasible, his black hair fanning out around him in disarray. It had gotten about two inches longer than it had been the last time he and Roy had met. A patched blanket was splayed over his upper body with one hand peeking out from under it next to his face, but his legs tangled in it so much that it wasn’t really covering them at all. One of his feet bore a red sock while the other was bare and Roy could clearly see the Ninja Turtle pajama pants Wally had given Dick almost four years before. They were more than several inches too short by now.

Roy stared at his friend for a few moments, a small smile reaching his lips that, within moments turned to a frown as he started seeing the full picture. Dick was obviously having a nightmare, judging by the way he was twitching and flinching every other second or so, and his head was ringed with sweat. The roots of his hair were actually shining with dampness in the late daylight streaming in from the windows (which, running along the entire back wall, were probably the most attractive feature about the place). The younger man’s one visible hand was clenching and unclenching in an unsteady rhythm.

Even Lian seemed unsettled by the thick atmosphere hanging over Dick as she clutched at Roy’s arm with a vice grip.

He readjusted his daughter in his hold as he squatted, head coming down to almost Dick’s level. Carefully wrapping one arm around Lian, he set his other hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Dick?” he said, trying to keep his voice gentle, but firm and loud enough to wake the other. The younger man twitched slightly, before sinking further down into the cushions. Now that he was closer, Roy could tell that Dick’s breathing was much more labored than it should have been. He shook the other’s shoulder slightly harder. “Dick?”

This time, Dick responded, groaning slightly with a rather noticeable rasp in his voice as his eyes slit open. Slowly, his blue irises drifted around the room, pupils hazy as he took in his surroundings with a post-dream weariness. Finally, his gaze settled on Roy. He blinked and opened his mouth, but when he spoke, nothing but a small rasp came out. Quickly, he cleared his throat and tried again, this time managing to choke out a small sentence. “What are you doing here?”

Roy’s frown grew. Dick sounded…bad. For lack of a better term. “I came to check on you. The Batfamily home ship was worried when you stopped responding to their hails.”

Dick blinked, probably processing the bad Star Trek reference before he answered. “I’m fine…I just…I’m a little ill, that’s all. I’ll be right as rain in a couple more days.”

His voice had died out almost completely by the end and Roy had to lean forward slightly and strain to hear him. “You’re sick?” he asked in response, taking in Dick’s curled up form and wretched appearance.

The younger man blinked once more and nodded slowly. Then, his hand disappeared beneath the blanket and he started to try and push himself up. The movement looked like it was painful, and Roy found himself stopping his friend with a firm grip to shoulder. Dick looked at his hand, then to Roy’s face, and finally down to Lian. “You brought your daughter?”

“Yes,” Roy answered, as he reached for a pillow squashed between Dick’s back and the couch cushion, fighting off a grimace as he realized it was wet with sweat. He flipped it over so the dry side would be facing Dick, and repositioned it behind the acrobat’s head against the arm of the couch. Then, without a word, he tucked his hand under Dick’s armpit, stood (which was something of a balancing act with Lian in his other arm), and helped the other sit up more and lean back against the pillow. It was a slow, agonizing process that Dick spent with his eyes clenched shut. Roy tried to ignore how much the sight bothered him as he squatted again and put the back of his hand up against the younger man’s forehead. “You two haven’t really gotten to meet yet.”

Dick just sat there, still, watching as Lian reached out and grabbed the edge of the couch cushion. “No, we haven’t. But it’s dangerous in this part of town.”

“I didn’t know just how much,” he responded as he pulled his hand away and not-so-discreetly wiped it off on his shirt. Dick’s forehead was wet enough that, if it hadn’t been blazing with fever, Roy could have thought his friend had just come out of the shower and fallen asleep right before he’d gotten there.

“It’s dangerous in this whole city,” Dick retorted with a slight cough as he slumped completely back against the pillow.

Roy didn’t really have a response to that – Bludhaven had a reputation, after all – and instead turned to the bowl sitting on the table behind him. Inside were the soggy remains of what looked like a rather sad chicken soup. Most of the top layer was congealed, obviously having sat there for a while. Well, at least Dick had tried to take care of himself. Sort of. “When did you become immobile?”

He looked back in time to see Dick squint up towards the ceiling, apparently deep in thought. “Er…maybe…two days ago? Three? I don’t know.”

That…was worrying. Dick was usually pretty good at keeping track of these sorts of things. If he couldn’t, then he was probably in a lot of pain. Or really out of it. Neither idea seemed appealing at all. Lian seemed to agree and suddenly reached out over the nest of Roy’s arm, setting her hand on Dick’s and staring at him with wide eyes. The younger man looked down at her as she babbled something that sounded like a question, her eyes never once leaving his.

Dick blinked again before slowly taking her wrist with his own hand, lifting it off his arm, and moving it away. Out of all of the movements he’d made up until then, that was by far the most coherent, as were the words that came with it. “I appreciate your concern, sweetie, but I don’t want to get you sick, if this isn’t an infection like I think it is.”

That caught Roy’s attention and his gaze snapped back up to his friend. “An infection?”

Dick suddenly looked rather uncomfortable and shifted slightly, his fingers twitching all along the blanket as he tried to pull his legs up towards the rest of his body and failed miserably. He didn’t have the strength. “It’s nothing, really.” But he winced as he moved, arms drawing in more tightly around his stomach.

Roy was getting very concerned now. He’d thought it was just exhaustion from the fever, but if Dick was hurt somehow…He suddenly recalled the lady next door saying that she’d helped Dick remove a bullet once, after she’d found him passed out under the window. “Dick,” he said, and almost regretted it when the younger man flinched slightly. Almost. He hadn’t meant to sound quite so terse, but he did still want answers. So, as his friend started to turn his face away in a vain attempt to escape Roy’s piercing eyes, he kept pushing. “An infection from what?”

“It’s nothing,” Dick repeated, now trying to scoot backwards, further into the couch as that was the only direction that wasn’t blocked by Roy, but stopped almost immediately with another pain-filled twitch. This time, coughs erupted from his chest, wracking his frame violently for almost a full fifteen seconds before they died down.

Roy continued kneeling on the floor, ignoring how his legs were steadily going numb from the effort, and stared in concern. This…wasn’t what he’d expected to find. He’d been prepared for many things, at least somewhat. If Dick had been neglecting sleep, like he had back when Bruce had fired him two years before, or if he’d been foregoing meals again like he had after Jason--

Roy cut that thought off. Fast.

He’d expected to find that Dick was running himself ragged, whether as Nightwing, or in his apartment looking for any leads he could in reference to Wally…but this was…something far past that. Roy thought he’d understood what the phrase ‘pale as a sheet’ meant before this, but looking at Dick’s pallor, he realized he’d really had no idea. And the way the younger man trembled, as though there was no warmth to be found anywhere in the room…

Roy figured that, judging from how Dick kept clenching his arm around it, whatever wound he had was probably in the area around his stomach. So, with no warning, he suddenly pulled the blanket towards himself and off of his friend. Dick made a sound that seemed somewhat like a duck’s squawk and made a half-desperate grab for his cover, but the movement was slow and uncoordinated, so he didn’t even come close.

Roy didn’t have any idea how to react. Dick was wearing an old T-shirt that was a couple of sizes too big for him (in fact, the archer was pretty sure it was one he himself had left in Wayne manor once), but it was bunched up around Dick’s stomach and tinged a faint pink over the younger man’s belly.

Blood. A lot of it.

Before he realized what he was doing, he was tugging at the fabric rather hard. Unfortunately, the blood had dried into a sticky texture and it pulled at the bandages Dick had wrapped tightly around himself under the shirt, which in turn pulled harshly at the acrobat’s flesh. Dick yelped and Roy immediately let go. “Sorry!” He said, almost dropping Lian as he scooted back on his knees.

Dick weakly turned over and curled up even tighter, now facing the back of the couch. He sounded completely out of it when he answered “S’no problem.”

But it was. And Roy wasn’t going to let this fly without doing something.

He made sure he was much more gentle this time as he slowly reached out to Dick’s shoulder and tugged, pulling his friend back onto his back. Usually, the acrobat would be batting at him, trying to get away and claiming that he could take care of himself. But, it seemed that Dick had come to the conclusion that he couldn’t currently and simply went along with it. Despite that…this time, when Roy reached for his shirt, the younger man turned his face away very purposefully. As though he was ashamed.

Roy tried not to let that bother him as he situated Lian more securely on his knee while readjusting his balance on the ball of his left foot and dropping his right knee to the ground for stability. He then reached around his daughter and used both hands to gently pry the shirt and bandages away from Dick’s stomach. It was still a very slow – and painful – process. The wound started to bleed sluggishly in several places again by the time it was done, and Roy had to at least give Dick credit for wrapping it well, even if he apparently hadn’t changed them since. Thankfully, the floor was wood (scratched everywhere) and wouldn’t stain nearly as easily as carpet, so Roy just set most of the messy dressings on the floor and used the rest to try and keep the red weeping from Dick’s stomach from getting on the couch.

The acrobat hardly moved during all of this, save for tensing at particularly stuck patches of bandages as Roy pulled them off. He still hadn’t turned his face back towards the archer.

That was worrying, maybe even more so than the wound itself. At least, that’s what Roy had thought before he leaned further forward to get a better view of it. Of course, that meant that Lian also got closer. Her little hand jabbed out, almost touching, but Roy caught it at the last second. Lian’s voice was low and serious as she said “Boo boo” solemnly.

“That’s right,” Roy said quietly, cursing himself for letting her see it. He lowered her to the floor, silently chastising himself for not doing so before. “Uncle Dick has a BIG boo boo.” Dick stiffened slightly, but didn’t do anything else. Even as Roy lifted himself and sat on the couch next to his knees. “And I’m wondering exactly how he got it.”

From this angle, he could see the side of Dick’s face and the way it scrunched up as the acrobat tried to think. “In a fight,” he finally answered, voice little more than a grumble. “I got careless.”

Roy looked back at the wound, finally getting a good study of it. The gash itself seemed straight and extended almost all the way across his friend’s stomach, just above his belly button. “It looks like you almost got gutted,” he retorted, though, thankfully, it didn’t appear to be very deep at all. But the border of it was rather slimy looking with puss. Dick was right. He had an infection. Roy looked back up, trying to hide his surprise when he realized that, though his actual face was still turned to the back of the couch, Dick’s visible eye was planted on him. “Who did this?” And, geez, did his voice really have to quiver so much right there?

Dick’s blue eye seemed to grow darker for a second before he answered. “Slade.”

And, suddenly, Roy’s entire attention turned to thankfulness that this hadn’t been much worse.

Deathstroke had become much more active after Antarctica, quickly gaining a reputation as one of the Justice League’s most dangerous and deadly enemies. He seemed to carry a special attention for Dick, though, showing up first all over Gotham, and then sporadically in Bludhaven. But always where Nightwing was. Sometimes, Robin would be present too, but that was rather rare. It was honestly rather creepy, this infatuation the villain apparently had with the acrobat.

“What was he up to this time? Killing some congressman’s kid or something?” And now, Roy stood, making sure all of the bandages were positioned to where they’d catch any falling blood before he did so. Stepping carefully around Lian, he headed to the kitchen and opened the cabinet below the sink, finding Dick’s first aid kit and a clean wash cloth (which was the same place he’d kept them in Mount Justice). Then, going through the upper cabinets, he found what looked to be a big popcorn bowl. He took it down, followed by a tall glass, stuck the former in the sink, turned the creaky faucet over to the right, and waited for it to warm. While it did so, he opened the fridge and pulled out a couple of beers. How Dick, who was underage, had gotten them wasn’t even registering as a concern at the moment. He knew his friend didn’t drink them, anyway. After that, he checked the water temperature and, once making sure it was warm enough, started filing the bowl. As it did, he traipsed over to the bathroom and found a huge role of bandages hidden away with the stack of toilet paper under the vanity-less sink. There was also a roll of paper towels that he picked up.

It took him two trips to turn off the faucet and carry it all back to the table in front of the couch. By the time he had, Dick had finally turned away from the sofa back. He and Lian were locked in some kind of staring contest as he looked down at her and she back up at him. Finally, after all of that, Dick answered. By the time he had, Roy had honestly forgotten about his question. He’d intended it to be rhetorical.

“He said he’d been looking for me.”

That was…a little unnerving. Roy tried not to show his unrest as he dunked the washcloth in the bowl of water before bringing it over to Dick’s wound. He couldn’t do much about the infection – his friend would have to see a doctor about that – but he had to do something. “He found you,” was his grim reply as he pressed the cloth to the younger man’s stomach and started cleaning away the puss.

Dick cringed, either from the feel or from the words, but Roy couldn’t tell which. There was silence again for quite a while, and the archer was beginning to wonder if he should worry about Lian and his friend apparently trying to fry each other’s brains with their eyes as their staring contest continued. Finally, Dick seemed to find his voice, and when he spoke, it was the loudest he’d been all day.

“He told me he wanted me to be his apprentice.”

Roy stopped blotting at the wound and went slack with shock. That…didn’t sound like Deathstroke the Terminator at all. He found himself looking down at his friend. “What? Why?” he asked before realizing that those were probably the two most stupid questions he could come up with right then.

Dick’s arm reached out to Lian, his finger outstretched, which she took and clenched into her tiny fist. So much for not getting her sick. Though Roy was fairly certain that the acrobat had been right and that the fever was only brought on by the infection. His friend shrugged slightly, grimacing as it pulled at his wound. “I have no idea. He said something about us being a lot alike.”

Roy started tending to the cut again, just to have something to do with his hands so that they weren’t trembling. This…was bad. If Slade had somehow gotten Dick into his sights…

He really didn’t want to think about it.

Dick seemed equally concerned as he watched, but did nothing as Lian brought his finger to her mouth and bit down on it, gumming. Only the tense line between his eyebrows betrayed how agitated he was.

Roy finished blotting up the puss, and then reached for one of the beer cans. He popped it open, poured it into the glass, and then grabbed the paper towels. He dipped them into the alcohol, using it as a disinfectant, and then gently pressed them all around the area. It probably wouldn’t do much good at this point, but it was better than nothing. Once he’d finished that, he dropped the used paper towels on the pile of bandages sitting on the floor, and took some new ones, using them to dry the wound as much he could. Finally he took the bandage roll. At the movement, Dick, who’d somehow managed to stay eerily still for the last leg of the process, pulled his arm away from Lian and tried to sit up. Roy had to put an arm around his back and help him. More blood fell as the acrobat moved, staining the elastic waist of the too-short pajama pants. Maybe that’s why Dick had worn them.

Gently, he stood and pulled his friend up in front of him. Dick was, at best, unsteady on his feet, whatever color that had been left in his face rapidly disappearing. Roy, as quickly as he could, wiped the new blood away, grabbed the roll of bandages, and wrapped them snuggly around the wound before guiding the younger man back down onto the couch. It wasn’t the best job, but it would hold for a little. Toward the end, Dick was having to put almost all of his weight onto Roy’s shoulder and was clutching his arm so firmly, the archer was pretty sure his circulation was being cut off. Neither said anything, however, until Dick was sitting again, panting as though he’d run a marathon.

Once he had, Roy knelt down, gently grabbing his friend’s face and holding it still, making sure he had the younger man’s attention. “You’re not,” he said quietly, seriously. “You’re nothing like him.” He knew, somehow, that this was eating at the acrobat. Dick was one that hid his emotions behind a smile and jolly cackle. Roy would think it came from living with Batman for so long, but neither of the Robins that came after him seemed to have the same practice. Not only that, but Dick was good at it. His mask was practically impenetrable. There were few people that could see through it on occasion.

Roy needed to nip whatever it was that Dick was thinking in the bud. Of course, the effect was ruined slightly as Lian swatted at Dick’s shin and made a very serious sounding babble. Dick and Roy both looked down at her and the girl suddenly smiled, squealing as she held her arms up to her father and rolled backwards until she was lying down and grinning up at them.

Roy almost mindlessly let go of Dick’s face and bent to pick up his daughter, stood, and then settled next to Dick on the couch, tucking Lian onto his lap.

Dick watched the whole scene, face almost expressionless before he shook himself a bit and plopped backwards on the couch back. “I…know I’m not. In some ways. But…others…” he picked absently at his bandages until Roy wordlessly reached over and caught his hand, stilling it. The acrobat gave him a guilty glance before continuing. “Others, I know I am. Like my obsessions. He and I are very much alike in those regards.”

“Which doesn’t matter. What does is how you apply them,” Roy retorted, and finally, they were getting to the main reason why he’d come here in the first place. Slade could wait for a second. This was more immediate.

Dick shrank from him, actually going so far as to scoot away and up against the sofa arm. “I know what you’re going to say.”

“And yet, I feel like I should say it anyway.” Lian seemed to agree with him as she crossed her tiny arms and her gaze started to pierce at Dick again. And, really, his daughter was far too perceptive. This couldn’t be normal.

Dick looked at her, flinched, and then looked away again out the windows in front of them. “I’m not giving up.” He’d sound so much more menacing if his voice wasn’t all raspy.

Roy sighed, running his free hand through his hair in agitation. How was he supposed to go about this? He’d only just started getting used to what had happened himself. Now, he had to convince Dick that everything was going to be okay, even though he himself wasn’t sure it ever would be. “Dick…he’s gone.”

The acrobat seemed to try and snort, but it came out more as a garbled, choked sound. “I’m not entirely sure he is.”

“Dick…” When had he started sounded so long-suffering?

“I think…I have proof.”

Roy’s mouth clicked shut. He honestly hadn’t expected that. This day just seemed chock full of surprises. But…Dick was in no shape to be having these debates. He needed rest. And probably something warm to eat. Roy sighed and stood, setting Lian back on the couch right next to Dick. “Make sure she doesn’t fall, would you?” he said and, receiving a vague nod from his friend, started picking up everything he’d brought over to the table. The dirty bandages and paper towels went into the trash (which Dick kindly told him was in the cabinet second from the left on the bottom next to the oven), the bowl and cup into the sink where he rinsed them out and quickly washed them before leaving them to dry. He replaced the beer he hadn’t opened into the fridge and then put the unused bandages and paper towels back into the bathroom. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with the washcloth, covered with blood as it was. So he ended up picking up Dick’s now-ruined shirt, wrapped the cloth in it and threw them both into the laundry basket. Then, he fetched a new shirt – one he knew Dick didn’t care about that much – from the pile of clothes by the wall that smelled clean.

All of this he meticulously did as he tried to gather himself. Dick remained on the couch, somehow managing to entertain Lian even in his weakened state while Roy tried his best to bring his scattered thoughts back together. Finally, he retook his place beside his friend, handing him the new shirt which Dick struggled through putting on. Roy helped him without a word, set his daughter back in his lap, and carefully began to speak. “I know you’re really…passionate about this. But…Dick, death isn’t something we can reverse.” He looked over at his friend here, taking in the acrobat’s hunched form that seemed to be sinking into itself. It hurt, seeing him like that, and Roy knew he was probably going to hate himself for a long time after this, but it needed to be said. “You should know that better than anyone.”

To Dick’s credit, he took it far better than Roy would have ever imagined, simply growing still with the muscle in the side of his neck tensing to show his distress. The silence that fell between them then was the most strained yet, and Roy wished he could take it back. But…Dick’s wrists were far too thin. The circles under his eyes far too dark. The gauntness of his face far too prominent. None of that had been there the last time he’d seen his friend, at least, not nearly to this extent. It had all happened in the months since Wally’s death. It didn’t take a genius to realize that Dick was killing himself. Robin and Batman had been right to worry and Roy was kicking himself for not seeing it sooner.

Dick finally responded, and when he did, it wasn’t anywhere close to what Roy had been expecting. “And I do. He’s gone. But, Roy…” Dick dropped off, taking a deep breath and gathering himself before continuing. “This time, it’s different. This time, I think I can change it.”

Roy just looked at him, unsure what else to do. That had been his trump card. “What do you mean?”

“I thought I was going insane at first, but…there’s this weird distortion where he disappeared, and it’s…I can’t explain it. I’ve never seen anything like it. But…I don’t think Wally just disintegrated. I think he went elsewhere.”

“As in where?” This…was unlike Dick. He wasn’t one to get excited over something intangible if he didn’t have actual evidence of it. So…maybe…But Roy couldn’t let himself think like that. Not after he’d just begun to get over all of this. He couldn’t.

But, Dick was making it rather hard for him not to. “I don’t know yet. But…it’s…I can’t…I’ll show you,” he said suddenly, sitting up much too fast – predictably to get whatever it was he needed to do just what he’d said – and he ended up falling onto the floor.

Roy looked down at him for a moment before it actually clicked what had just happened. Hurriedly, he stood, set a squirming Lian on the couch, and reached down to help his friend struggle to get up. “Dude, you can’t go moving like that right now.”

Dick nodded tiredly, slumping back against the couch, now seated upright on the floor. Roy was pretty sure they were going to have to change his bandages again relatively soon. Perhaps he should take Dick to hospital…But…that would bring up a lot of unwanted questions. And Dick seemed…okay, now. Sort of. Kind of.

Maybe.

Roy wasn’t really sure.

Dick picked at his bandages again, but ceased when Roy moved to stop him once more. The younger man sighed. “I just…No one believes it. Believes me. But, Roy…I found something. I can’t…I can’t tell exactly what it is, but it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. I’m not sure what it means. But it’s brought up questions. Questions that I can’t answer and that can’t just be explained away by ‘he ceased’. I can show you on my computer.”

“Later,” Roy quickly interrupted and reached out to stop Dick as he lurched forward again, probably to try and stand. “You’re a little…out of it right now. I’m not sure you realize just how…er…unfocused you are at the moment.”

And Dick was, his hands fluttering around like drunk butterflies and his eyes opening and closing rapidly.

It would have been funny, seeing him so uncoordinated, except that Roy was too busy worrying about whether Dick also had a concussion too, what with the way the acrobat was blinking at the dying sunlight coming through the window. Roy slowly, so as not to startle his friend, reached out and started ruffling Dick’s hair, discreetly looking for any lumps or cuts. Dick undoubtedly would have noticed and pushed him away under normal circumstances, so the fact that he didn’t react at all to the maneuver was more than a little worrying. But, thankfully, Roy didn’t find anything that shouldn’t be there, so he just dropped his arm around the younger man’s shoulder and pulled him over in a side embrace. Lian shuffled around on the couch and Roy kept one eye on her to make sure she wasn’t about to crawl off it.

Dick, surprisingly, slumped into him. “I’m tired,” he said, voice trailing off. Roy squeezed him slightly to show he’d heard.

“I imagine. You’re half dead.”

Dick flinched and tried to pull away, but Roy held him fast. This…this wasn’t okay. He’d already lost Wally. He couldn’t…

Dick was like a little brother to him. Just like Wally had been. Dread had been rising steadily in his stomach since he’d set foot in Bludhaven, and now he was channeling it. He knew that Dick’s research had to be important to him – he wouldn’t have run himself so ragged if it wasn’t. But that didn’t give him to license to just throw everything else away. At least, not in Roy’s stubborn opinion.

It wouldn’t bother him so much, except that Dick just didn’t seem to care. His whole affect about the situation and his condition were just…flat. And that was scarier than Roy would like to admit. He was not going to watch Dick do what Roy himself had for the past few years. Watch him self-implode. He wouldn’t stand for it.

“You need to take better care of yourself,” he said, though he was pretty sure that Dick had already gotten the message.

“I know,” Dick responded, giving up on getting away and just curling further into Roy’s side. “I just…he’s gone, Roy. I said…I said some pretty terrible things to him those last few months. And he was so pissed at me about the Artemis and Kaldur thing. I…I never got to apologize.” He snorted. “No, that’s wrong. I could have. At any time. I just didn’t.”

Roy wasn’t sure what to say. If he’d lost Wally before they’d reconciled, after the archer had become so pissed off at everything and before Lian and Jade had walked back into his life…

He didn’t want to think about how that would have eaten him alive from the inside out.

Suddenly, Dick’s obsession didn’t seem so overpowering.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, “and I wish I could do something to help. But…it’s not right…I can’t. It wasn’t fair, to lose him like that. But we did and now we have to deal with it.”

“…Together?” Dick’s voice was so quiet, Roy almost missed it.

His lips curled up into a rather bitter smile as he answered “Yeah. Together. But you have to actually be there for that to happen.”

He felt Dick nod somewhat. “I never…told him.”

Roy felt his forehead crinkle in confusion. “Told him what?”

Dick didn’t seem to hear him. “I told Artemis…or, she kind of figured it out…but…I never told him.”

Roy, worried about the deep sorrow in his friend’s voice, looked down to try and meet Dick’s gaze, but couldn’t as the acrobat was staring at the ground. “Told him what, Wonderboy?”

Dick just shook his head, folding himself in even closer to Roy, shivering as though he was searching for warmth. “It’s not important.”

Except it obviously was. “Will you tell me later?” He shifted slightly to get Dick to perk up a bit, but it didn’t work. “If you told Artemis, I think I deserve to at least know details.”

Dick shrugged as much as he could in his condition, making it a very aborted movement. “Maybe. When I show you my proof.”

“Sure,” Roy said, still looking closely at Dick. The sudden change in demeanor was putting him on edge and he didn’t really know what to do about it. “Whatever you say.”

Suddenly, there was a squeal and Roy turned just in time to see Lian take a tumble off the couch right next to him. Heart pounding, he managed to catch her in his free arm in a sort of backward hold and set her on the floor, barely avoiding a catastrophe. It was jarring enough that he couldn’t even respond, just staring at his little angel as she smiled brightly up at him, crawled right into his side, and planted herself there, leaning against him.

Roy blinked down at her as Dick chuckled from beside him. All of them were now sitting on the hard, uncomfortable floor where it was probably coldest in the entire apartment. But…it was…cozy. He could feel Lian’s little movements on one side and Dick’s steady heartbeat on the other (and goodness, it was a relief to feel that, with as limp as Dick had gone since he’d fallen from the couch).

The archer knew he’d have to get up eventually, to either make food or order something. Not to mention change Dick’s bandages again. And call either Alfred or Doctor Midnite to fix that gash. But, for now…

He wrapped his other arm around his daughter and pulled her tight against him, turning to stare out the windows in silence.

For now, he would just sit there with two of the most important people left in his life.

Chapter Text

The Antics of Speedsters and Robins                                   

 

Chapter 6

 

(Damian Wayne. 2032 – Gotham City – Batcave)

 

Damian fought the sudden and intense urge to grind his already clenched teeth. His little…escapade with Iris two weeks before had been easy enough, but he was starting to have serious doubts that it had actually been worth it. He’d sorely underestimated the impact their tryst would have on the news world.

 

As he discovered yet another video taken on a low-quality cell phone of that day, he barely resisted the urge to slam his head into the computer keyboard with frustration. Just as he was about to, that stupidly familiar and yet unnervingly clear voice sounded through his head again.

 

Breath, Dami.

 

And he did. Several times. As he did, he rubbed the palms of his hands into his eyes, resting his elbows on the desk before him. All of this had been blown completely out of proportion, the internet exploding with speculations and rumors about Robin and the female speedster’s team up. That, on top of Grayson’s voice echoing repeatedly through his head, was doing nothing to improve his mood of aggravation. He and Iris had been working in their own cities, trying to find something – anything – that would help them in their search.

 

Needless to say, they hadn’t had much luck. Damian had been researching possible ways to cause a crack between realities while Iris had been focusing on trying to locate places it had happened before. If they could understand how West and Grayson had disappeared, then they might be able to figure out where the two went and then start to work on a way there.

 

But, no matter how much he looked, Damian just couldn’t figure out where to go from where they were. Most of the information he found came from conspiracy theory sites, which he was completely aware were less than trustworthy in citing actual sources. Places like the Bermuda Triangle and Area 51 came up more than once, which Damian had to discount almost immediately. While some of the stories held interest, there were so many of them at this point that it was almost impossible to separate fact from fiction and, even worse, exaggeration. Almost any information he could find on actually opening a way between worlds was so farfetched that, were he a weaker person, he would have laughed at the outrageousness.

 

As it was, he would just sneer and move on, trying to ignore the drop in his heart at another lost lead.

 

At those times, he’d almost welcome Grayson’s voice in his subconscious, listening as the older man would chuckle, almost feeling the fingers ruffling gently through his hair, and almost groaning aloud at the corny “Don’t worry, Dami. When you look at something too hard, sometimes you miss something really simple. Just be patient, and maybe the answer will come to you.” Or something like that, anyway.

 

Not that the disembodied voice of his mentor was…normal. Or acceptable, in any way. But…it was comforting. And boy, was it a rather large blow to his ego to admit that to himself. Though, after catching himself several times imagining that voice, wanting, so badly, to hear it when things got rough and all hope seemed lost…he couldn’t lie to himself about it.  

 

Grayson was gone. For now, anyway. That was overwhelmingly obvious. The fact that he was hearing him probably should have worried him more than it did, especially as it started happening more and more often, but he couldn’t bring himself to shut it out.

 

Instead, he slumped slightly in his seat, his head thumping back onto the top of the chair as he stared at the horrible video of Iris rushing out of the bank, turning, and zooming up the side of the building to join Damian himself at the top. For several seconds, he continued to stare, even after the video ended and asked him if he wanted to restart it. There was a small countdown until it would do so on its own.

 

Iris.

 

Iris had figured out the secret behind Grayson’s disappearance. She’d found what Damian had been seeking for two years. And it had probably only taken her one try.

 

Honestly…Damian was beginning to wonder if he was out of his depth. He didn’t have super speed. And he certainly didn’t understand what it was like to. He had never felt limited by his lack of superpowers before. In fact, that very thing had made him feel strong. He had to learn how to fight, adapt, and take down those that seemingly had a physical advantage over him. And thus, if he was ever to run into a new villain he was unfamiliar with, he’d be better equipped to handle it, no matter what he was facing.

 

But now, he wasn’t so sure he felt the same way. At least not in this case.

 

What if he was just missing something because he couldn’t see it? Like the distortion in the room Grayson had-

 

Right, that thought hadn’t happened. At all.

 

…And yet…

 

Damian had the distinct impression that he was forgetting something. That perhaps the answer was right in front of him and that he may already know it, but it hadn’t made itself clear. Something to do with Grayson, and that room…

 

He blinked as the video in front of him automatically started over, showing Iris streaking by on top of the roofs and heading to the bank.

 

Iris running. At super speed.

 

Damian slowly sat up, the chair squeaking with his movement. His eyes were trained on the speedster in the video before the camera turned to catch himself – Robin – hopping over an alley and following behind. Almost in a daze, he reached forward and grabbed the mouse, rewinding the film. As he watched the red and yellow blur streak across the sky, a thought occurred to him. One that, once he’d thought of it, he honestly wanted to slap himself for it not occurring to him before.

 

Wally disappeared in the Arctic because of an immense buildup of kinetic energy. In fact, now that he thought about it, Jai had said something like that, hadn’t he? Damian bolted forward, trying to call up the audio file he had for that day. Thanks to his father’s paranoia, he was almost always bugged, at least with a tracker. But sometimes, including that day, he also had an audio recorder on him. He’d worn it to the West’s house then in the hopes that one of the family members would say something useful. Since then he’d listened to it several times, and though some of the parts struck him as interesting or vaguely helpful, he wasn’t entirely sure why they stuck out.

 

The only part he’d actively chosen to listen to was Iris’s little speech at the end, and that had only been to calm his anger at Jai whenever he thought of the older boy’s refusal to help in any way.

 

But this time, something else was eating at him. Something obvious. Finally finding the right file, he called it up and started listening, pausing here and there, but ultimately dismissing most of it.

 

Until a little ways in, when he’d gotten Jai somewhat riled up. Quickly, he rewound and played the passage again. “In the Arctic, dad was bombarded with bursts of kinetic energy,” Jai’s voice came out of the bat computer’s speakers clear as a bell. “Originally, everyone thought the extra amounts caused his body to lose cohesion and fall apart. But, as we later discovered, that very energy actually slingshot him to another reality. It was because of it that he was able to make it there without so much strain to his body that he actually would have disintegrated.”

 

Damian paused the audio and pondered for a moment. Jai…wasn’t wrong. The Robin had been through Grayson and Harper’s files on the incident more times than he cared to count, and they had come to the same conclusion. West would have died traveling to another world if it hadn’t been for those bursts. So, the question remained: how had West managed to survive this time? Because he had. He had to have, at least for a little while. The after voice Damian had picked up proved that, at least. Whether he had survived after that was another matter entirely.

 

But the fact remained that he had made it through to the other side and lived long enough to say “not again” and the indiscernible words after. How? How had he done it? And, for that matter, how had he been audible at all?

 

Grayson and Harper had looked for any sign that West had survived after leaving the first time, and their main clue had been the distortion caused by two worlds meeting (which they hadn’t known at the time). There hadn’t been any sound at all, which was odd, considering that West had been in mid-sentence when he’d disappeared. Why hadn’t they been able to hear the end of it?

 

Damian had wondered this before. Had replayed all of the recordings in the Arctic that they had and slowed the footage down, hoping to find something to answer his question, perhaps in super speed. But there had been nothing. Grayson had thought it was because West had traveled too far off to hear through the crack. Another reality was quite a ways away, after all. Or it would be easy to get to.

 

So why had it been different this time? And not just that, but…

 

Why had Grayson disappeared?

 

The acrobat wasn’t a speedster. If it was kinetic energy that catapulted West to the next world over, how had the same happened to Grayson? It had to have had something to do with the disintegration process, but Damian had been unable to find any information on that. Slade had cleared out everything within a matter of hours after Damian had dragged himself out of the building. It had been a miracle in and of itself that he’d managed to grab and take the security video with him when he’d left, or it would likely have been lost too.

 

If he could figure out the answers to all of those questions, maybe it would help him. But…

 

Damian ran his fingers through his hair angrily, tugging at the ends. He’d never exactly been one for imagination. It was part of the reason that he’d never been as good at this detective thing as Grayson and Drake seemed to be. That, compounded by his impatience. He’d gotten better over the years, that was true, but apparently not enough so to think this through.

 

No, he could. He could do this. For Grayson. He had to.

 

Think Damian, he thought bitterly to himself as he bashed the knuckles of his fingers into his temples none too gently. Think think think. Think like Grayson. He figured this out before…

 

“Forgive me for being blunt, Master Damian, but I don’t believe it very prudent to strike yourself in the head.”

 

Damian spun around, trying to stomp down his surprise. If Pennyworth had managed to sneak up on him, he must have been really out of it.

 

The butler said nothing about it, instead setting a platter of half sandwiches down next to the keyboard, as well as a mug, no doubt full of hot cocoa. Damian hadn’t realized just how chilly it was in the Batcave until he saw it, and almost immediately shot his hands forward to grab the ceramic cup, warming his near-numb fingers. Pennyworth simply watched, his mouth twitching slightly. “Far be it for me to assume I am capable of doing so in this sort of work, but is there anything I can help you with, sir?”

 

“Not unless you know how to rip a hole between worlds. Or know how to find an already existing one.” Damian practically snarled back, grabbing a sandwich half and taking a rather vicious bite just to have something to do. As soon as he did, however, his stomach growled loudly, begging for more and the teenager realized it had been upwards of six hours since he’d last eaten anything. He took another bite as Pennyworth watched, deep in thought.

 

“I can’t say I am at all versed with either. However, I do believe Master Dick created a device to do just that.”

 

The Robin blinked. He hadn’t found any mention of something like that in all of Grayson’s notes. Perhaps the acrobat had hidden the information away? Something like that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands, after all. Something like that would be endlessly useful. “Are you certain?”

 

Alfred nodded curtly. “Undoubtedly. I don’t know where he put it, but it’s probably still around somewhere. As for finding these…tears without it, I admit, I’m not very well informed in these sorts of things. However, perhaps I can help you compose a theory?”

 

Damian finished the first sandwich half and took a small sip of the cocoa. Not too hot, but still nice and warm. Just how he liked it.

 

After taking a mental note to pour through all of Grayson’s research again for the device Pennyworth mentioned, he turned his attention back to the screen before him so that he wouldn’t have to make eye contact with the old butler. “I guess. Seventeen years ago, when West disappeared in the Arctic, he made it to the next world because of all the kinetic energy his body absorbed from those bursts.”

 

“Indeed, sir. I recall quite clearly Master Dick coming up with that idea.”

 

Of course he had. Because Bruce hadn’t helped much with West’s disappearance either. No one had. Grayson wouldn’t have had anyone other than Pennyworth to talk to about it until Harper came around and joined him on his search. That was probably why the older man also knew about this strange device the acrobat had apparently made. Damian didn’t mention any of this and continued. “He was saying something as he left, but we weren’t able to catch the end of it after he faded. Not even a hint. Unlike the second time.”

 

Pennyworth was silent for a moment, deep in thought, before he blinked and, if possible, straightened. “You are referring to the voice you found? Of Master Wally saying “not again?”

 

Damian nodded, grabbing another sandwich half as he did so. They had the perfect proportions of Swiss cheese and turkey. “Yes. And something similar happened with Grayson.”

 

“I remember,” Pennyworth answered with a curt nod. “But that did not occur the first time?”

 

“No. And I don’t know what’s different. Jai West mentioned that his father should not have been able to make it to the other world at all with the speed he’d been going when he disappeared the second time. Grayson was pretty much standing still during his incident, so the same could be said about him.”

 

“And yet,” Pennyworth was as stoic as usual, his voice revealing nothing of how he felt about all of this. “They both made it somewhere, or we would not be able to hear them speaking after they disappeared.”

 

“Exactly,” Damian took another bite and sip. “I just can’t put together what happened.”

 

Pennyworth was silent for a while before moving away. That…was rather unusual, and after a moment of surprise, Damian turned the swivel seat around to see the butler again. Pennyworth was staring right at Grayson’s old Nightwing costume in one of the glass cases behind them. It obviously wasn’t the one he’d been wearing that last day, but rather one of his spares. It wasn’t as thick and didn’t have as much bullet protection. It’d been an earlier, cheaper model that Grayson had retired when he’d learned to sew more durable materials that he’d been saving up for. In his last days, he’d only used it in emergencies.

 

It had always felt wrong that that was the one his father had memorialized, but it was as close as they could get.

 

Pennyworth continued to look at it a moment before he spoke again, voice softer. “Perhaps…they didn’t go as great of a distance?”

 

Damian tried to compute that. “…What?”

 

Pennyworth turned back to him, an odd expression on his features that was very close to his usual face. Damian couldn’t quite place what it was. “The world Master Wally went to the first time may have been unreachable because neither he nor Master Dick had the kinetic energy to get there. But I see no reason they could not have gone somewhere closer.”

 

“But…West only made it to the next closest world. There’s none between it and ours. And even if they went the other direction, assuming the worlds are all lined up next to each other, it couldn’t be that much closer. We would have found some evidence of it at some point. Most likely.”

 

But Pennyworth looked…pensive, if at all possible without actually changing his stance or expression at all. Damian vaguely wondered if his own father had learned the art of stoicism from the old butler. “If I remember Sir, you mentioned that the distortion we found at all three incidents was the result of two planes of existence meeting. But you also mentioned that said distortion occurred when our world hit the space between us and the next world. That implies that Master Wally had slipped into a space between worlds the first time he disappeared and passed through it before he arrived in the next reality.”

 

Damian stared. That…that was…

 

So…OBVIOUS.

 

HOW COULD HE HAVE MISSED THAT?!

 

“He didn’t make it to the other world the second time. Neither did Grayson. They got stuck between,” he said slowly, trying out the words on his tongue. They sounded…right, for lack of a better term. His heart suddenly felt lighter than it had in weeks. “We could hear them these times because they were closer than West was during the first.” The bursts had probably thrown him through the between-space so fast that the end of his sentence had been lost.

 

Pennyworth bowed his head slightly. “It is a theory, sir.”

 

One that Damian should have thought of on his own. Iris and he had even talked about it back on Valentine’s Day, when she’d suggested that the thing which had possibly come out to their world from the crack had been from the space between, not the next reality. At the time, Damian had thought it might have been Grayson trying to pull himself back and had eventually been forced the rest of the way through to the other world. But if that wasn’t the case and Grayson had been stuck right there, between…

 

Damian wasn’t sure what that meant. Could someone live like that? Was there anything there to keep them alive? He had to believe there was. Grayson was alive. He had to be. As much as Damian had been trying not to get overoptimistic, somewhere, it had become impossible to imagine his mentor being dead. No, he had to have survived. Somehow. And if West was there with him…

 

He had the feeling that he was still missing a part of the puzzle. Something obvious. But he couldn’t think of what it could possibly be. Instead, he was too busy turning Pennyworth’s words over in his head.

 

If Grayson was in the space between worlds, then he was that much closer to home. And thus, that much easier to bring back.

 

If wasn’t much. Just a possibility. But it was a start.