Track 1: Cross My Heart
It was a calm evening when Dick dismounted from his bike with holocomp pulled up, and entered the cave. The mission had gone without fault (something, Dick realized with a grimace, that was rare these days.) As team leader, it was his job to research the findings and bring them closer to eliminating the krolotean issue.
So, he sighed as he rolled a cramp out of his shoulder, this was going to be one of those tedious, underwhelming nights.
Bart stood on the blue platform, dressed nicely in a new set of clothes and greeted Nightwing when he entered. He wore a green button-up, which Dick unconsciously noted went well with Bart’s eyes and a pair of khaki shorts. Out of place was a pair of neon yellow and red adidas, which clashed with a bouquet of flowers that were suspiciously the same shade as Dick’s suit.
With a placid smile the tiny speedster kept himself entertained by counting stalactites growing from the ceiling and rocking back and forth on his feet—for once, in the few weeks since his arrival, still. He brightened when he saw Dick. “Hi!”
“Impulse,” Dick acknowledged. “What are you doing here?”
Everyone else had gone home from the mission hours ago. He’d passed La’gaan, Megan, and Gar settled on the couch watching Princess and the Frog and just finished getting off the phone with Tim. It was even shocking when Wonder Girl pulled puppy dog eyes and convinced Conner, Babs, and Karen to go out for mani-pedis.
“You can call me Bart,” chirped the speedster enthusiastically. Instantly he blurred around Dick, who waited. When he looked down, the bouquet of flowers were in his hand. Bart grinned again. “You like them? They’re called Asters. Blue Asters! Man, you have no idea how hard it was to find some flowers the same color as your bird, but—hey! Here they are, and tada, perfect color! You wouldn’t believe the meat I had to fight to get these.”
Um. “Thank you?”
“You look confused. Or a little flustered—I could never tell with that mask. Hey,” in a matter of seconds, Bart was standing toe-to-toe with Dick, eager eyes looking up to the older teen curiously. A smile accompanied his gaze, eyebrow arched. “How do you keep the mask on? I’ve got my goggles and—grife, you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to keep them on—”
“Impulse,” Dick said again. This time, he clicked his tongue. Bart responded obediently.
“Yes? And it’s Bart, by the way. Or Bart Allen, or Bart Impulse Allen—”
“Why did you bring me flowers?”
“Why did I bring you flowers? Oh yeah.” Suddenly the flowers were snatched out of Dick’s hands and Bart backed away, expression still unwavering. There was a twinkle in his eye that always spoke more harm than good. “I’m propositioning you.”
Which was where Dick pushed aside his favored train of thought and found himself very, very confused. With his team mates he could almost always calculate their next plan of action, otherwise he would tell them to abort for a better plan. With Bart, who was relatively new and undaunted by anything around him, Dick had been unsure what would throw the kid off or float his boat—
“You know, we can take it slow. I gave you flowers already—which is kind of retro, but I guess that’s okay. We can go out for a movie or something to get comfy and then eat—I like to eat, hello hyper accelerated-metabolism—”
“You mean,” Dick mused, “you want to go out on a date. With me.” Something he didn’t have time for.
“Nope! Propositioning you.” Bart crossed his arms and grinned giddily. “Unless that’s what you call foreplay in this decade, then yes. Dating. Lots and lots of dating.”
The next minute passed with Nightwing unconsciously leering at the shorter teenager in front of him, who had no shame. Bart exuded patience Wally previously lacked, and simply spent the time circling Young Justice’s leader.
Green eyes looked to the domino mask curiously and cheerfully. “Well?”
Dick coughed. “You know I’m an adult, right?”
“Wally’s twenty-one, which makes you eighteen. Barely legal,” Bart enthusiastically informed. “I’m fifteen. It could totally work. Plus, who am I gonna tell? I’d be hooking up with the Dick Grayson, that’s worth a secret.”
“Bart. Not everyone knows—”
“Which is why after I leave you’re gonna tell the computer to wipe out all security footage of this exact moment. Like you did when I said it the first time, right?” Smirking, the speedster ran another circle around the elder teen and raised his head cheerfully. “You are such a Dick Grayson!”
Dick decided best to keep his mouth shut. There was more in that gaze indicating Bart knew even more than he should let on. He shivered—it was a clear invasion of privacy.
“So? I didn’t get the flowers for nothing. In fact, I used my allowance for this week—did you know the Garricks are giving me an allowance? I have to behave, I even got a job as a newspaper boy. I’m such an awesome boy that the mother next door hit on me.” Bart wiggled his eyebrows and waved the flowers in Dick’s face. His frowned. “I think she hit on me. Is it flirting if she drops her robe?”
The older teen made a noise. He placed a hand on his temple, deciding best to take a breather. Now he understood why Artemis and Wally used to roll their eyes with exasperation, or Kaldur smiled sheepishly when Dick acted out. Taking in a breath and deciding to remain calm, Dick’s lips edged upward.
“I know a great burger joint in Happy Harbor. I suppose even I can use a break.” Dick nudged his head toward the quarters. “Let me change.”
Bart nodded with agreement. “Great! I’ve got the condoms if you’ve got the bat-lube.”
This, Dick decided as he bit the inside of his mouth, would be a test of sheer will-power.
The bike ride to the diner would have been awkward and odd, had Bart not seemed comfortable. Forty years in the future, Dick calculated, he’d be close to sixty years old. He faintly wondered if that was why the speedster was comfortable around him or if it was just the fact Bart was a people pleaser.
There was a glow in Bart’s eye whenever he was able to talk to someone. He seemed to need the security of contact, hand occasionally placed on Jaime’s or Tim’s shoulder when they spoke to him.
“You know, if you wanted to hang out, all you had to do was ask,” Dick said when there was finally a hitch in Bart’s speech. They sat in a booth next to the juke box of a tiny diner Conner had introduced him to years ago. Through black lenses, Dick stared down the brunet as he skimmed through the list of edibles, and caught a foot currently rubbing against his calf. “Without the…proposition. I like hanging out with my teammates. And…”
Green eyes looked up from the menu, glinting mischievously as Bart rotated his foot.
“And any relative of Wally’s is a friend of mine.” Dick’s hand tapered off Bart’s adidas and he pulled on the sleeve of his jacket. How long had it been since he was in civvies? At…a restaurant and not rationing food? He couldn’t remember.
“But I don’t want to just be your friend. I want to be more than your friend. You know,” Bart wiggled his eyebrows. “A special friend.”
Dick pretended not to notice when a husband and a wife looked over, mortified. He felt himself turn pink and coughed in poor effort to keep the speedster quiet. “Bart. There’s something about subtlety in public.”
“Right. Right, that still exists, doesn’t it? I was never the best at that; I told Gramma that she was having twins. Grandpa was surprised—‘course, he didn’t know she was pregnant.” Something about Bart’s demeanor lit up, and he pushed the menu aside before kicking his feet to the cushion beside Dick’s lap. “You see, back where I live, I would just go streaking. That was gonna be my name—Streak, like the Flash.”
For a moment, Dick only stared.
Until in return a giggle left Bart’s lips. “Kidding, Nightwing. Grayson? Dick? Dick Grayson.” Brown eyebrows wiggled again and he padded Dick’s hipbone with his heel. The older teenager inched away carefully and caught green eyes staring at him fully. “See? I know how to make jokes—I’m not a complete weirdo. In fact, you guys are the weirdoes.”
“And why is that?’ To that, Dick actually had to laugh.
There were slight quirks to Bart, he realized, were very much like Wally, but still many that were simply Bart’s. He would raise his eyebrow mischievously, look at something as a practical joke, or snigger when something he found silly was said. But at the same time, half the stuff Bart pulled, Wally would never do. It’d been obvious since the first day that Impulse was genuine. Even now, when he spoke fondly about his grandparents.
“This morning some kid told me plaid and stripes don’t go together. I for one look amazing in both.” Bart relaxed, sitting back in his chair and putting both arms behind his head. An eager smile fell across his lips. “But I look best in green. It makes my eyes pop. See?”
“Popping,” Dick agreed, though wryly. If it was only one thing Bart and Wally had in common, it was a natural tendency toward narcissism.
In that moment their waitress introduced herself. She smiled cheerfully to the both of them, laughed as Dick charmed her into giving them free refills, and gave them an odd look as she left. Dick, with what little dignity he had left, stopped the foot that was trying to get between his legs.
“You don’t know a lot about boundaries, do you?” Dick tried hard to keep his voice quiet. A little bewildered, he curled his fingers into the silverware and hoped his ears weren’t as red as they felt.
“You could tell me to stop—”
“—but why didn’t you do that twenty minutes ago? When I was toootally gonna give you a hand job? Or, well, a footjob? I bet foot jobs are a lot kinkier—other than the smell, but hey. At least you know they’re in your shoes all day, you never know where your hands might have been.” Bart, for the lack of a better word, stopped talking for a good second, then smiled…seductively? “You’re into me, I just know it.”
Dick tried to suppress a grimace and bit back a comment. Wally had never been this tactless. “You and I must have a very interesting relationship in the future.”
There was a flash in Bart’s eyes. One so quick that unless you knew how to read a speedster, you would have missed it. In an instant the younger teen had gone from enthusiastic to perturb to happy again.
Changing the subject, Bart’s gaze narrowed mischievously. “I saw the way you ogled my cousin earlier.”
Still need to figure out why the kroloteans are so scattered around the—what? Under his shades, Dick’s own gaze dissipated. For once, he realized, his face said everything. Shock, confusion—hopefully a little denial.
“Please. Wally spent a good five minutes chasing me down to see Grandma Iris. He didn’t like our game of tag, but I guess that’s okay—she wanted us to go pick out wallpaper samples for Dad and Aunt Dawn’s room.” Resting his head in his hand, Bart looked at the older teen with…eyes that Dick couldn’t remember having. Not at Bart’s age, sheesh. “But that look you gave Wally when you tripped me? I could hear the tragic romance soundtrack spinning in the background—you were so moded when he mentioned going off with his girlfriend.”
“That’s…not…” Dick grimaced. “That’s not your business.” What? How? How…did Bart come up with that kind of answer?
“But you like him, don’t you?” Green eyes looked up and Dick froze. They already seemed to know the answer. “You love my cousin?”
Before Dick said a word, Bart beat him to it.
“It’s not the route you want to go. Trust me.” There was a difference in Bart’s tone. Calmer, more calculated. Later Dick would ask himself if that were a sign of what was to come; with the evenness of Bart’s tone and the careful way his eyebrows knit together.
“You…came to tell me that in the future I have no hope of ever getting together with my best friend?” A tight smile fell across Dick’s lips, something he usually never struggled with. Yet, here and now, he was staring at one tiny guru that seemed to have most, if not all the answers.
Forty years down the road Dick had a feeling Bart had a close relationship with his first cousin. The Garricks would be the easiest example of how long a friendship could last—and maybe this meant Wally and he were still friends later on in life. Just friends.
And, Dick realized, getting back to the matter at hand, Bart had just called him out on something. Something big that he’d been keeping a secret for years. Conner had only nodded, pity in his eyes when he noticed. Once, Megan gave him a look of sympathy, indicating this problem was so blaringly obvious she didn’t even need to read his mind. That had been embarrassing.
The sound of screams and the security alarms down the street snapped Dick out of his thoughts.
“Whoop,” Bart jibed, kicking his feet off the seat and stood beside his leader. He pointed across the street and grinned. “Looks like it’s hero time. Guess that’s rain check for our first date, huh?”
Quickly there was a peck to Dick’s lips, firm, thorough and quick (he was almost positive there was some tongue), a tiny whirlwind no one seemed to notice as it spiraled out the door, and the faintest hint of…sparkles?
Impulse grinned through his goggles from the window. “Just think about it, boss! You and I would be a hot couple.”
“Was that glitter?” Dick blinked.
“Duh. All heroic transformation sequences need to have some epic bling to them.” Wiggling his eyebrows, the speedster hilariously circled the lamppost, obviously waiting for Nightwing to come with him. Green eyes stared at him curiously. “You ever watch this old vintage show called Sailor Moon? It is so crash.”
Dick snorted. He reached for his comm., where he was pretty sure Mal was already contacting him. Looking to the younger speedster who waved like an idiot on the other side of the window, he hesitated. While Bart’s methods weren’t the…best, he had a point. And Dick had been locked up doting on the team far too long.
“C’mon, Tuxedo Mask,” Bart hummed, “in the name of the moon, you coming or what?”
“You hanging out with my cousin?” was the sentence that greeted Dick later that night when he answered the phone. Wally’s tone bordered between irritation and concern. No amusement there; maybe a little accusation.
“We went out for burgers and ended up stopping a jewelry store heist,” Dick explained as he looked through papers. He grimaced listening to the deadpan in Wally’s tone, almost missing Bart’s mirth. There was a silence on the other end. Straight Up Speedster Judging. “He’s on the team now. Someone’s got to make sure he’s adjusting, man.”
“He came over and asked Artemis this morning what kind of movies you like,” Wally said flatly. “Then he took the first two seasons of Sailor Moon with him.”
Dick couldn’t help the smile that quirked across his face as he went over paperwork. It may have been a bad idea to quote the show with a certain speedster. “Sorry.”
“Yeah, well—” Wally stopped, apparently unsure of what else to say. “Don’t indulge him too much. It’s just a phase—he’ll be out of your hair by the end of the week. Promise.”
The next time Dick met Bart, he was asked by the Flash to drop off a parcel at the West-Allen residence. Being a friend of the family for years, along with the fact his best friend was the Flash’s nephew, he actually thought it…rude if he didn’t dress casually. So, in March weather with the package tucked beneath his arm, he knocked on the door once—
“Dick! Wow you came, you look really cool—is that for me? Aw, you shouldn’t have—wait, does this mean you concede?”
—and literally a second later, the door opened with a dark-haired speedster beaming at the older teen. Red, yellow, and purple yarn tangled through brown hair, and on instinct, Dick quirked a tiny smile.
“I can’t concede if we’re not playing chess, Bart.”
“Then you can agree. Tim’s been teaching me to play chess—I beat him in a game once; convinced him to eat my cooking. I make a mean omelet.” The teen stood at the tip of his toes, forcing Dick to take a step back to keep from being smothered. Green eyes stared at him inquisitively. “So, really. You. Me. Fondue?”
“What? Don’t understand that movie reference? Grife, we could go to the movies, dark enough there. Don’t you have some super bat nightvision too? Hey! Your name’s Nightwing!” Bart plucked bits of yarn from his hair and leaned against the doorframe; an interesting attempt to look as smooth and suave as a 40’s movie. All he needed was a toothpick.
Dick sighed, again feeling the need to rub his temples, or run a hand through his hair or…pinch the bridge of his nose. “Subtlety, Bart. And…while we’re on the subject…don’t you think you should be going out with kids your age?”
“You’re in my age range.” The speedster quirked a wry brow and crossed his arms. The oversized t-shirt—one that was blatantly too big for him, tapered off his collar bone.
“Well…Tim is…” Actually, when Dick innocently asked the poor guy if he had a girlfriend (then boyfriend, when Tim said no), Robin turned as red as his suit and desperately asked to drop the subject. “You and I can’t…”
Wow, this was a lot harder than it looked. Suddenly the package was getting very heavy in his hands.
“Dick?” Oh, shit. Artemis peered out of the hallway, a look amusement and confusion across her features. “You’re finally here.”
“Hey Artie!” Bart turned around and managed to grab hold of the older teen’s wrist. A grin spread across his lips. “Just showing him in! He’s got the package right there.”
“Great,” mused the blonde. She smiled at the speedster, obviously not as perturbed as Dick felt. He wondered just how red his face was. “Wally was about to have a cow.”
To that, Dick sighed with relief. “Wally’s here?”
“In the other room struggling to sew the lightning bolt on a booty.” Sniggering a little, the ex-archer gestured that direction. “C’mon. Bart can show you where to put that.”
“Yeah...thanks.” Wally and Artemis in the same room. Together. Holding back the urge to frown, Dick supposed it was obvious. If Artemis was going to be at the West-Allen Residence, then so would Wally. He could speak to either one, but normally all three of them in the room together caused a little chaos.
Turning his head, Dick decided to focus on Bart instead, who…if possible, looked happier than usual.
“So you’re making booties?” the elder teen asked.
Green eyes peered up to him curiously and were accompanied by a smile. Bart yanked Dick toward the doorframe and stopped altogether. “Yup. It’s crazy, isn’t it? I never thought that I’d actually go in the past and actually, maybe see my parents born. A bit ironic too—uh, ‘cause, you know.” The younger teen let go of his hand, flapping the tail of his oversized shirt against his leg. “Mom was…telling me to clean my room when I was at home. And Dad uh, was on the couch watching some retro shows from the 2030’s—so lame. Their wedding anniversary was coming up and they were trying to figure out what to do. Now—”
Bart hitched, but only for a second. Dick decided not to interrupt him—there was something about that look; something serious, something void, something wistful.
“Now I get to see my dad born. Maybe.” A small smile spread across the teen’s lips and he almost looked…misty-eyed. “Maybe Mom’s somewhere already born or something. That’d be cool, don’t you think?”
“Mildly creepy.” Dick smiled back, a little relieved that the deepness of Bart’s voice disappeared. “But…yeah.” If Dick had a chance to see his parents again, then he would take it, hands down.
“The Garricks were telling me how happy they were that I was here. It’s like having a second set of grandparents—literally. Or third.” Speeding around the living room, the parcel was taken from Dick’s hand and set on the table. Emerald orbs looked at him proudly. “They can’t have children of their own, so Jay and Joan were excited to have me. Like I was their kid. Isn’t that crash?”
“Very.” It took a moment for Dick to examine the speedster’s reaction. It was unlike a month ago when Bart first kicked the door open of his time machine, hopped out, and began chaos. Wally pulled Dick aside later that day and said with much deadpan, Sorry you’ve got to deal with him.
Truthfully, Dick had no problem with the little guy. Other than the occasional need to keep him on track, Bart legitimately wanted to help.
Bart was that kid who could speak a mile a minute, talking about pie at the beginning of a sentence and end with medieval hierarchy. He made irrelevant comments, rushed off before anyone else, and, despite not having the proper training, managed to make it out okay. He was tactless the way he spoke and flighty when he did something.
At the same time, the kid always seemed to know what was going on in the situation. He drew away from the issue and onto himself, if only to soothe the tension in the room. The speedy thrill that danced in the young speedster’s voice would disappear and become solemn. It was only a second—but when you were around speedsters as long as Dick was, it was always easy to catch.
Plus, Dick knew that act. It’d been his trump card for far too many years when he was Robin.
Right now, he had a feeling he was seeing pure, unadulterated Bart. It’d only happened once, when Dick first saw Bart’s face light up when Flash praised him.
“So the way you’re staring at me, is that code for do-me-now, or Bart, you’re an idiot?” Green eyes looked to him now, the sudden luster gone. Bart placed hands on his hips, lips forming a whimsical grin. “’Cause I get those a lot. Along with the occasional smacks on the head by Wally—well. When he’s fast enough to catch me, that is.”
Well then. There went the moment.
Dick bit back a laugh and shook his head. He placed a hand on the younger teen’s shoulder and looked into those orbs. “Better you keep your day job, Imp. I…should be going back now. Lots of files to uncover.”
“What, you’re not gonna join in on the booties fun? Wally can’t knit to save his life.” Immediately Bart zipped toward the door, the slightest crease between his eyebrows. His smile was eager and crooked, and a piece of purple yarn dangled over his eye. Dick resisted the urge to take it out.
“I only came to drop off the package.” Smiling with amusement, he crossed his arms and stood parallel to the speedster. Bart leaned against the exit and grinned. “Bart, seriously. I need to leave.”
“How about a fondle goodbye?” Unblinking green eyes. Now, a cute little pout. “Please, Tuxedo Mask?”
“Maybe a kiss.”
“On the mouth?”
“How about the cheek?”
“Hmph. I’ll take what I can get.” Crossing his arms, Bart repositioned himself over the door and gave the elder teen a playful stink eye. “But I want tongue!”
“Haha. You’ll take what I can give you.” With much hesitation, Dick split into a wry grin and reached over, pushing a lock of brown hair behind Bart’s ear. He looked down to emerald eyes, heart tapping, plucked bits of yarn from Bart’s hair, and pecked him lightly on the cheek. “Goodbye, Bart.”
He shouldn’t have been so surprised when red dusted across Bart’s cheeks, but he was. The speedster rocked on his heels and grinned. “Crash.”
Bart zipped off before Dick could regret what he just did.
“Artemis said you dropped by today.”
Nightwing switched the phone to his other shoulder and swerved when a trashcan lid was tossed his way. He maneuvered around the bandit, grinned as he heard a sound of defeat to his right (Babs was a badass, really—), and whipped out a batarang. “Yeah.”
“To your left!” he heard Batgirl say. Dick dodged.
“You could have said hi.” Aw. Wally was sulking on the phone. “Seriously. She said you and the kid looked like you were having a serious conversation before you left.”
“It’s nothing, really—” Your cousin just knows I’ve had a crush on you since I was his age and wants to do me—he didn’t say, “—and his name’s Bart. You’re gonna have to accept the fact he’s your cousin.” Especially since half the faces and quips Bart made felt like they came from Wally’s personal joke book.
“Yeah?” Wally asked, at edge.
Dick threw another batarang and grinned whenever the perp fell to the ground, legs bound. He moved the phone once more. “He’s really not that bad.” Please, Grayson. The shame on your face for kissing your best friend’s baby cousin is showing. Batgirl rolled her eyes as she hogtied the crook.
His best friend sighed against the receiver. “Hearing it from you is what scares me.”
It wasn’t planned, to say the least.
“That…shouldn’t have gone as far as it did.”
“Huh. Well, it did, DeeGee. And it was pretty cool too—don’t you think? Can’t take it back now—trust me! My time machine’s broken; I’ve got the scraps to prove it.”
Hours earlier it was the first time in days since the team had seen Bart. Because of preparation for the new baby, the Flash…family had been busy with things. Artemis explained over the phone that Barry was running back and forth between filling in for the League and becoming an expecting father, while Jay and Joan seemed to visit every day. Wally and she made frequent visits to Central City when the Flash was away with what was left of the league.
Someone, according to Wally, has to make sure the little brat doesn’t screw Central City over. Thus, Kid Flash made his ‘forced’ comeback and hovered over Bart as they fought crime. The original Flash (Jay Garrick) technically wasn’t an official hero again; he was supposed to be one of Bart’s mentors.
Kid Flash’s return wasn’t official either, Artemis explained, a bit of amusement in her voice. Bart apparently made a crack that Kid Flash wasn’t much of a Kid anymore.
It was that afternoon Impulse entered the cave, the first frown on his face since anyone had met him, and a storm worked up in his eyes. He faked a smile when Cassie greeted him.
“You’re not scheduled today,” she commented, lightly punching the other teen in the arm.
“Yeah, I just—” he twitched a little bit, pulling the goggles over his face. Bart placed hands on his hips and consciously grinned when he felt Nightwing’s eyes on him. “There was some baby that needed to be saving and so I caught her and gave her back to her mother and she was all happy again, so I thought, hey! Happy Harbor! I bet the guys are doing something crash today!”
“Been a while since we had a speedster on the team anyway.” Conner looked to the tiny speedster and nodded toward Nightwing. “Looks like you need to factor one in.”
“Gonna have to if Wally isn’t going to admit he likes being Kid Flash again.” Dick smirked wryly and hid a frown when he saw Bart roll his eyes.
“I like this one.” Superboy petted Bart fondly on the head. They’d had a strange bond since they met; like long-lost brothers. Usually the Superboy Seal of Approval was the hardest thing to get when joining the team.
The tiny brunet split into a grin, holding Superboy’s arm between both hands. “Thanks, big guy.”
Dick continued briefing Alpha, Beta, and Gamma on the current mission: the rumor of smuggled alien tech in three different locations. Through the entire conversation, he noticed Bart rocking on his heels, looking to the ground, to the ceiling—any place but the actual mission specs. He looked uninterested rather than distracted, and wasn’t as excited per usual. Normally his enthusiasm about a mission matched Wonder Girl’s.
So, after he made the call, “Beast Boy, Miss Martian, and Batgirl: Team Alpha. Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl: Team Beta. Blue Beetle, Wolf, and Lagoon Boy will be Gamma—” He watched Bart cock his head in confusion and waited for the teams to disperse (after giving weird looks, of course.)
The room emptied out, leaving Impulse and Nightwing on the glowing blue platform.
Bart frowned, looking even more upset than when he came in. “Why’d you take me off the mission? I can run circles to the rest of them.”
Apparently competency was part of why the poor kid was upset. Dick gestured to the second hall and placed a hand on Bart’s shoulder. “Come on. I’ll buy you dinner.”
Green eyes widened in awe, clearly deterred. “What?”
“The team can handle the mission by themselves. Right now, you need someone to talk to.” Nodding his head, Dick took a step toward the living quarters, where he usually crashed when he went days without sleeping. “C’mon. Dinner.”
Bart’s behavior was a complete 360 from what they were all used to. He looked skeptical, demeanor withdrawn even when Dick offered a hand, and refused to move from the spot. With a mock-sigh, Dick yanked the kid by his arm and guided him through the hall into his room.
Over the years, Dick tended to pile everything into this room. While he was officially located in Bludhaven, he usually went back and forth between that and Gotham City. Currently he tended to crash at the cave, either when Miss M telekinetically forced him into bed or Superboy hauled him into the room and told the computer to go on twenty-four hour lockdown. Usually staying up for a week straight wasn’t on purpose; but it tended to happen a lot.
He heard a quick zip! and turned his head to see Bart sitting on his bed, dressed in civvies and clearly sulking.
Dick undid the latches on his gloves and looked at the brunet quietly. He’d always assumed there was a hidden layer beneath the two personalities Bart let shine, but he never thought he’d see it in full force. Not like right now.
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?” he offered softly.
Bart snapped out of his thoughts, eyes wide with surprise. A faint blush fell across the teen’s cheeks as he examined the elder teenager, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Itsnothingyouneedtoworryabout.”
It’s…nothing…worry about. Which was all Dick caught. Changing into a set of civvies, he ran through a quick list of things he used to do to cheer Wally up. It’d been a long time since the two of them sat in the living room arguing over videogames or had popcorn fights with movies. Wally was usually too busy with college and Dick, according to Babs, was working on becoming the second Batman.
Shivering at the thought he decided to stick to food for now. Speedsters couldn’t resist food.
“C’mon. We can take my bike. You can race it if you want.” That used to perk Wally up when he was sulking like a little kid. Right now Bart looked more like a kicked puppy.
The kid said nothing. Instead, bright emerald orbs looked up, grateful smile spread across his lips.
Reaching for the keys to his bike, Dick couldn’t help but smile back.
Bart didn’t race Dick. He sat at the edge of the seat, arms wrapped tightly around the elder teen’s torso and face buried in the back of Dick’s jacket like a child that had gone too long without human touch. When Dick tried to strike a (awkward) conversation with the poor speedster, Bart replied, ‘Mmmnghhhffgrgh.’
At the restaurant even less happened. Bart was still on his first plate of All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Food and languidly jabbing his chopsticks into a poor dumpling. This happened for a good five minutes before he sighed and stuffed it in his mouth.
Emerald green eyes looked to Dick awkwardly. Bart fiddled with the sleeve of his jacket and twitched. “Any reason why you’re staring at me like I’m meat at a school cafeteria?”
“Just trying to figure you out,” Dick admitted. He smiled at the bewilderment he got in return. “When Wally was Kid Flash, he’d turn to comfort food when he was upset. But you’re not like that, are you?”
Bart lost his appetite when he didn’t want to talk.
The teen looked everywhere but Dick’s face and adopted a frown. “Yeah, well. I’m not exactly Kid Flash.”
Smooth move, Grayson, assuming Impulse and your best friend were exactly the same.
Dick winced. It was rare anyone ever got upset with Wally; any argument they’d ever had was made up after a few hours. Yet it was also no secret that Wally had a few issues with his cousin—Bart even poked fun at it.
Despite everything, here sat Bart, who glared at his stir-fry noodles. Flashes were notorious as lighthearted and cheering people up. So…why was he angry?
“What happened?” Dick bit the inside of his mouth.
The speedster groaned, burying hands in his hair with frustration. “It’snothingseriously.”
Of course it wasn’t. Dick snorted, watching as his new friend continued twitching and making squeaky sounds with his chair. He grimaced; watching Bart this upset was heartbreaking.
Bart muttered something under his breath.
“IknowImadetherightdecision,” Bart said, much louder. Through brown tufts of hair, the teen peeked through his hair. “I know I did.”
There came the kicked-puppy look again. As he slumped against his chair, Bart looked like he wanted to die.
“What do you mean?” The elder teen and leader frowned. Finally, a breakthrough. He hoped.
“I just—Idon’tknowwhatshouldIknow?” Bart looked to Dick, eyebrows knit together tightly, like he was wondering if he could trust the elder teen. Reluctantly, he asked, “How do you know what’s the right decision and what’s the wrong decision?”
“You don’t always know.” No matter how easily the kid talked with everyone, told jokes and playful quips, he was still someone who wondered if he was doing the right thing. Dick had this conversation with plenty rookie heroes over the years and Bart was no different.
He reached over and placed a hand on Bart’s when there was no response.
“It’s true, Imp. Every hero questions it. It’s when you start doing that and realizing you’ve got to make decisions that it stops being a game.” When you stop laughing and joking and step up to the plate.
“But what if it was never a game?” A frown spread across the teen’s face and his hands coiled into fists. He was…trembling, Dick realized. Nervously vibrating, with his knee still pressed to Dick’s. “What if…you know what the outcome is now and it’s so mode and you want to change it anditjustdoesn’tandand—what if you knew all along it wasn’t a game and you need to fix it but you may end up screwing up anyway—”
“Bart.” Dick had to stop him. Otherwise, Bart would be vibrating out of his seat and probably into the sewers, given how nervous he was. Green eyes looked to him, pure fear in his irises. Not even the first Robin could contain his bemusement. “Is…something wrong? In the future?” He hadn’t expected such intensity to come out of a response.
“No!” Bart exclaimed, and he stood up from his chair. As people looked his way, Bart sank back in his seat and looked to Dick, scared. “No. That’s not it. Everything’s crash, I-I swear.”
“Then what is it?” He needed to stop beating around the bush. Bart was this much of a mess and Dick hadn’t a clue what to say. He took Bart’s hand, coiling their fingers together, and squeezed it tightly. Under his solid grip he could still feel Bart shaking like a time bomb.
Whatever happened, Bart was nearing a panic attack. Fortunately, Dick wasn’t gonna let that happen.
“Hey,” he muttered, and he leaned over the table, forearm pressed against marble. The hand between his was so tiny, so shaky, and Bart was too out of it to care. “Hey—Hey, Imp. Just look at me. Everything’s going to be okay, you said so yourself. Look at me, okay?”
Emerald green orbs looked up and Dick felt relief flood through him.
When he was certain Bart’s attention was unwavered, Dick continued. “You don’t have to put on such a brave face for everyone, Bart.”
Vibrating trembles. Averting his eyes, Bart tried to yank his hand away. Dick wouldn’t let him.
“I’m serious, Imp. I get it. We all get it: you’re from the future, and…from the looks of it, you don’t know what’s going on or what you’re doing anymore.” Right now, Dick was almost certain their tourist wasn’t actually a tourist. And being stranded in the past probably wasn’t part of the plan—Bart was having trouble finding where to go from there. “You have doubts whether or not you can make it as a hero, don’t you?”
Bart fidgeted. It was cute.
“Don’t. You’re great, Imp. You don’t…need to carry the weight on your shoulders, whether or not you’re doing the right thing. Right now…you have to trust your instincts. Or, impulse in this case.” Lips twitching, Dick almost smiled when those big green eyes looked back to him, doubtful and hesitant. “You’re part of a team now. Whether or not you were in the future, you have us now. You have me.”
He didn’t let go of Bart’s hand. His gaze did not waver, nor did his speech hitch. Instead, Dick realized, Bart needed someone to open up to. Someone for a very, very long time.
“If…it’s Wally that’s bothering you—” Dick’s heart skipped a beat in his chest. “—tell me. And it will stay between the both of us. Anything, Bart. If you ever need a shoulder, you can find me.”
The look on Bart’s face clung to every word. The trembling in Bart’s hands finally stopped and he looked to Dick, expression tight.
“You mean that?” he asked aloud, evidently lost in his head. “If I ever need you, you’ll be there?”
“I’ll bring Luna-P just to fix it.” Amusement graced Dick’s smile, and he bit back a sigh of relief when Bart visibly brightened. The tiny speedster fidgeted and twitched, but Dick could feel him relax under his grip.
He wasn’t sure what changed, but Bart was okay now. More sure of himself.
In a matter of seconds, the elder teen was in a bone-crushing hug, Bart’s face buried in his stomach. He looked down, startled, but Bart went undeterred, hugging tightly and never letting go.
“Thank you,” Bart whispered, voice sober. “You are so crash, DG. And I hope I can tell you. Some day.”
“You’re welcome.” Running a hand through the small teen’s hair, Dick held him closer. He said nothing else; he only wished that one day, Bart could tell him too.
After the pep talk, Bart was more willing to move around. With a goofy smile and pink from the bridge of his nose to cheek-to-cheek, he ate four bowls of egg drop soup, seven dishes of lo mein, eight sticks of teriyaki chicken, and two dumplings. After enough time, the manager meekly told them to leave before Bart ate out the entire restaurant.
That reaction with a speedster, Dick mused, was something he was used to.
“Sorry,” Bart said with embarrassment in his voice. He scratched his head, pout on his lips. “I don’t have much of an appetite when I’m all moded and stuff but when I get my head out of there I’m like, boom! Food!”
“Can’t say it’s the first time I got kicked out of a restaurant.” The team leader smirked, rubbing circles in Bart’s knuckle as they walked. It’d been sudden, but the moment they left Dick felt the need to hold Bart’s hand. To make sure he was secure.
Suddenly Bart stopped, and the discomfort reappeared in his face. Brows knitting together, he looked to his feet and let a frown overcome his features.
Oops. Pretty obvious which super-powered friend would get you kicked out of a restaurant, Grayson.
Without even thinking, Dick reached over and kissed Bart on his nose. A smile graced his lips as he watched sanguine burn across Bart’s cheeks.
“Just you and me, Imp. No one else.” He squeezed Bart’s hand for emphasis. “You can tell me anything, okay?”
“Oh. Uh. Huh. Well then—” Bart buzzed; twitching and fidgeting nervously but—good, nervously. A lopsided smile spread across his lips and he yanked Dick to the side of the road. “This is turning out splendidly, don’t you think? Hey, you like Splenda? I think it’s kind of lame, really, people are totally lying when they say it tastes the same as pure sugar—I like pure sugar—you ever try it with bread? Condensed milk tastes good with bread, I showed my neighbor once—she dropped her towel again.”
“I take it you’re in a better mood?” Dick mused.
“I take it I should be moded if a mom is hitting on me.” Bart rubbed his chin and hummed, curious expression across his face. “Hmmm, you think I should tell the Garricks?”
“I think…you should probably leave it alone.” Though, mildly creeped out, was at the tip of Dick’s tongue. He mounted his bike, hand still intertwined with Bart’s, and drew curiosity when the younger teen didn’t follow in suit.
Bart held a thoughtful expression, then rocked on his heels. “Can we go to the beach and hang?”
“At midnight?” In the middle of April?
The speedster shrugged, grinning a little. “You ever try skinnydipping? And roasting marshmallows? I could go for marshmallows, only not the colored kind because those don’t make sense and I don’t understand why you would need a flavor for marshmallows because that just ruins everything, and stargazing—stargazing! I like stargazing.”
“You like stargazing?” Wally would never—
Dick stopped himself—he needed to stop comparing Bart to Wally. Bart was not Wally, and Wally was not Bart.
There was that grin again: the truthful one Bart held whenever he spoke of the Flash or his grandmother or the Garricks and a petite blush that accentuated his cheeks. Pure, authentic Bart. “I love it.” Wow.
Feeling his heart thrum, Dick almost lost grip of his bike. He looked to Bart, who was none the wiser—only more bashful and excited. The center of his palm tingled against Bart’s, and he held his breath before making room on the seat. “Then let’s go.”
With much enthusiasm the speedster obliged, and they took the road back to Mount Justice.
Swimming at night without having to worry if Riddler buried a well-concealed bomb in the middle of the ocean was different. Ignoring the idea that the Joker would appear and make a stand-off was at the back of Dick’s mind when Bart suggested they spent time on the beach. The first summer the gang and he ever had a beach party on the coast of Happy Harbor was fresh on his mind—and it was only moments later he realized they’d stopped having beach parties a long time ago.
Now, Dick spent his time collecting intel and worrying about the team’s performance. Kaldur was no longer with them, instead part of a stressful plan they concocted years ago. Megan and Superboy were regrettably, hardly stable after their breakup, and neither refused to speak about it. Wally and Artemis—two of his best friends, and one he held very, very dear, quit the superhero business.
So it left Dick by himself. And here he was now, hunting Bart down in the water—
—and winning. Bart squealed and squirmed under Dick’s grip, arms caught between the older teen’s biceps and feet kicking in the water. Green eyes peered to Dick and he sighed dramatically. “I’d win if we were naked.”
“And why would that be?” the scent of sea water and Herbal Essences conditioner wafted through Dick’s nostrils. He couldn’t help his laugh.
“I’ve been told I have a cute butt,” Bart declared, “it’s a very, very crash butt.”
“By the lady next door?”
“By the lady next door,” the speedster reaffirmed. “I was distracted by your butt, that’s why I didn’t win! We could be buttbuddies!”
Dick made a noise and involuntarily dropped Bart in the water. Rather than protesting and complaining, the speedster whooped and kicked his feet until Dick could faintly make out a figure swimming back to shore.
He followed at a slower pace and found Bart sprawled on his back, gaze fixated at the sky above them.
Right, Dick reminded himself. Stargazing. He kept his thoughts steady as emerald orbs looked his way, fond smile across those lips as Bart patted the space beside him. Without question, Dick plopped down next to him, hunched over and shaking saltwater out of his hair.
Bart sat up immediately and frowned. “You’re totally doing it wrong, DG.”
The end of Dick’s lips quirked and his eyes narrowed, blue and unsheathed. “Am I?”
“You gotta lay down. Crash the mode. Like this!” Bart propped his feet in the sand and laid down to prove his point. He looked to his team leader, exhibiting a pleading puppy dog pout.
“Hah. Okay, you win.” There wasn’t any harm in it. Imitating Bart, he laid down onshore, sand sticking to his wet back and elbows. With nothing to disturb him (not even Bart, who true to his word was mesmerized with the landscape), he breathed in the scent of the beach and…felt relaxed. No tension, no need to contact the team because he knew they would deliver as they always did.
Waves danced across the shoreline, undulating and whispering under the moonlight. They’d started a fire and roasted marshmallows earlier on in the evening—Dick would have guessed by now that it was around two in the morning.
It crackled, the hues of red and orange melding with the million points of light above them. The dead of night met energy; the life of flames.
“My parents were kind of hippies,” Bart said quietly, interrupting their silence. “Uncle Damian told me he’d have to kick them out of the Watchtower because it wasn’t safe for kids. Dad promised he’d build me a planetarium if I ever cleaned my room.”
“You could build them one,” Dick pointed out. “You’ve got nine months and I’m pretty sure their room’s clean.”
“So clean that it’s not even made yet. Man.” A chuckle left Bart’s lips and he sat up, chin resting on his knees as he looked to the sky wistfully. “We lived in this house on top of this hill in Manchester, and they gave me the room with the balcony. It was so…”
“Crash?” Dick supplied, still propped in the sand. He didn’t realize he was smiling.
“Beautiful,” Bart frowned, arms around himself. “I’d never know if Max didn’t tell me. And when I moved in with him he gave me the room next to the biggest window in the house—even if I did sneak out on occasion.”
Dick blinked, the question, why did you move in with someone besides your parents? At the tip of his tongue. He’d already promised Imp that whenever the little guy was ready, Bart could run to him. It’d ruin the scene now if he asked questions.
“You really don’t know what to appreciate until someone points it out to you.” Dick smiled up to curious green orbs and chuckled when he saw the faintest hint of red. Sitting up, Dick touched his knee to Bart’s. “The gang and I used to come out on the beach to celebrate a successful mission. We’d have sleepovers at the cave, pretend that it was the Watchtower, and be…unstoppable. We were a family.”
“July 4th, 2010. I remember reading about that.” Bart turned around, arms resting on his knees. He grinned. “What happened?”
“We…grew up. I grew up.” The words were bitter on Dick’s tongue. They were harder to choke out than he thought they would be, and the hollowness he felt suddenly spread through his entire body. There he sat, crisp blue eyes leering off into cold water.
Ever since the death of his parents and becoming Batman’s partner, he’d never had a normal childhood. Despite all the fun they had as a squad for the Justice League, fun and games ended quickly. What mattered to kids their age was only miniscule to now—to the controversy of even having heroes.
He was so busy growing up he forgot he was just a kid. Most eighteen-year-olds were worried about college classes. He was worried about the safety of the world.
A hand on his knee was what drew Dick away from darker thoughts. Emerald green eyes, heavy and deep, with a sadness Dick had never seen. Like in one look, Bart knew everything. The smaller teenager palmed Dick’s knee, fingers running smoothly across his leader’s bare thigh.
Without any hesitation, he leaned over, tapped noses, and pressed a kiss to Dick’s lips.
It was different from the other two: not spontaneous, like the time Bart and he had gone to the diner. Not joking, not playful whenever he visited the West-Allen house. Instead this was heated—needy and longing and…just what Dick needed.
He felt Bart move, bare hands touching his biceps, searching for that same heat skin-on-skin, and maneuvered Bart onto his lap. A pleasant sound hummed in his ears, and the pads of his fingers grazed across wet, bare skin crusted with a layer of sand. He could feel Bart’s flush travel down his torso, and Dick’s own tingling as Bart tried to bring them closer.
Nibbling at the speedster’s bottom lip, he felt the jolt of pleasure run through him as Bart gasped, fingers skillfully thumbing his chest. He whimpered, rocking and thrusting against Dick erratically. The space in his trunks was becoming unbearably tight, and he could feel the full-force Speedster Erection pressed against his thigh.
Dick took Bart’s pause to his advantage, squeezing Bart’s legs over his and pressing a kiss to the other teen’s neck.
Bart took it a step further, panting against Dick’s ear, rubbing against him, and making raspy moans. Buzzing against the taller teen, he placed a hand to the well-toned ridges of Dick’s skin, grazing his leader’s stomach and the tips of his fingers inching beneath the hem of Dick’s trunks.
With a buck, Dick moaned against Bart’s skin as he felt the kid clutch his cock. The wetness of ocean water had turned into concentrated beads of sweat on his forehead. He rolled his hips, savoring Bart’s mewls as he grinded against him.
Catching his breath, Dick choked on another guttural sound as Bart moved against him. The little guy pressed against the other teen, hair soaked with sea water and sweat, and he gasped as Dick caught his lips with his own.
The way Bart moved, heated but dry, pleasurable and amazing—vibrating—
With a choked gasp, his entire body convulsed and Dick let out a moan—low and absolutely stunned by the power. Stars clouded his vision and soon, he felt the semen drip down the side of his leg, followed by the sickening squelch Bart’s hand made as he removed it.
Green eyes looked to him, bright against the fire and accompanied with a toothy grin that were still swollen from when they kissed. A red-apple blush still glowed in tanned cheeks. “Wow.”
Um. Yeah. Wow.
When he saw the wetness of Bart’s hand flickering in the moonlight, Dick maneuvered them, pinning the boy beneath him by pure instinct. His eyes scanned skin, watching the red at the tips of Bart’s cheeks and the bigness of Bart’s smile.
Without even thinking, he licked his lips. Then, ducked his head in shame.
“Well,” he muttered when he found his voice, “that…shouldn’t have gone as far as it did.”
Unashamed, unabashed, and undeterred, Bart grinned up to him in a fit of laughter. “Huh. Well, it did, DG. And it was pretty cool too—don’t you think? Can’t take it back now. Trust me! My time machine’s broken; I’ve got the scraps to prove it.”
There was a hickey right above Bart’s collar bone. Dick swallowed hard, trying to recall everything that happened in the last few minutes. All that came to mind was kisskissmoanpleasure.
Before the pure shame of getting off with his best friend’s cousin could settle in his brain, Bart leaned up to kiss him. Pure, chaste, and very sweet. Blue eyes looked down, unsure how to react.
He watched the tired smile over the speedster’s face, satisfied and…happy. Bart was happy.
“Don’t forget,” the speedster murmured, low and crooning, “you liked it too.”
“You gonna be okay?” Dick scrutinized the boy once more, examining everything he could. Nothing changed. This was still Bart, Bart was still a mystery and—despite everything, Bart was right. Dick had liked it. He loved it.
Brown eyebrows knitted together. Green orbs shimmered under moonlight, taking in the words intensely, before Bart’s chest lowered, heavy breath leaving his lips.
“I’m alive. Everything’s okay,” he whispered, voice as fragile as a child’s. “I’m alive. And that means that…everything is okay.”
In return, Dick didn’t respond. He knew when a person needed to keep to himself, and only watched as Bart fought through his inner demons. Shivering, he knew all he could do now was plant a kiss to Bart’s lips and pull the teen in his arms. “C’mon, Imp. Let’s get cleaned up.”
The feeling of dry cum was not a pleasant one.
“All yours, DeeGee.”
“Haha. You are such a geek.”
“What happened?” This time it was Nightwing who called Wally first. He looked to the couch where Bart sat, carrying an animated conversation about the Sailor Scouts with Gar and Conner. Going down the corridor with phone in hand, his chest tightened when Wally sighed.
“So you heard? Wait—he’s at the cave? Oh thank god.”
“I took him out to dinner to cheer him up. He was out of it, Wally. He wasn’t himself and whatever you said to him—”
“What makes you think I said something to him?”
“No. Yes—I mean.” A long drawn out sigh was heard in the earphone. “Artemis already gave me an earful about it, man. I’ve been trying to find Bart since he stormed off.”
“What happened, Wally?” He hadn’t meant to let the anger slip in his voice, but it did. “Bart was a mess. It took everything to cheer him up.”
“I…well…I yelled at him.” There was hesitation in Wally’s voice as he continued. “It wasn’t intentional. There were two fires happening at once, both too big. The fire department couldn’t get to both at the same time, so Impulse and I handled one. There were civilians in too many rooms—a ton of them. I told Bart to take one side and I would take the other, but when I turned around, he was gone.
“One of the support beams had collapsed and the ceiling was about to give way. I shouted for him, but he was gone. So I grabbed people, two-by-two. If the Flash hadn’t showed up, there would have been plenty of people who wouldn’t make it out of the fire, Dick.
“So, I…I yelled at the kid when I found him with Aunt Iris. I mean, where was he when there were so many people in danger? How did he expect to live up to Barry Allen if he couldn’t even sort his priorities? Just because he’s a blood relative doesn’t mean that he’s…cut out for the hero business.” Wally was hesitant with every word he coughed up. There was another hitch in conversation, and Dick could imagine the redhead pinching the bridge of his nose with frustration. “It turns out that there may have been something wrong with the pregnancy.
“Uncle Barry wasn’t supposed to be back until next week and she had no idea I was in town. Bart was Aunt Iris’s best bet to get to get to the hospital. But I didn’t know that until after he stormed off. We got into an argument and he was too fast, even for Barry, to chase. We’ve been looking for him ever since.”
“Dick. I’m sorry.” Guilt flooded through Wally’s voice, strained and helpless.
Dick twitched when he heard a crowd of laughter radiate from the living area. He caught a glimpse of Bart, who quickly locked eyes in the distance and waved.
Forcing the frustration down in the pit of his stomach, Dick turned back to the conversation.
“Don’t apologize to me,” he said. “Apologize to Impulse.”