Dick’s made it a habit to break curfew. He’ll pass out in first period biology, catnap on the bleachers during gym; the principal will send him home with a note for Bruce, and Bruce will lecture him long enough to fulfill general parental duties, and then Dick will break curfew again.
A predictable pattern, like the grid of corridors to the medbay. From a gurney, the ceiling looks like squares of pavement, flashing by overhead. It’s dizzying and disorienting, like the world’s flipped over. Dick hopes that Roy was unconscious for the ride.
The tips of Dick’s fingers feel sensitive and totally overexposed. He couldn’t wash out the blood under his nails, and so he trimmed and trimmed and trimmed them. And maybe trimmed them some more. His fault. He shouldn’t have peeled off his gloves when he bent over the industrial sink and lathered his cape with every soap and bleach and cleanser he could find, vibrating with anxiety. Just one of those days. Bruce would understand. Anyway, the foam kept coming out brown and rusty, and the hurricane spiral of water down the drain swirled, and Dick thought, half of what’s going down the drain, that used to be inside of Roy, should be inside Roy, and somehow it’s on me, why is it on me?
Bruce would understand that too. Donna’s been hit by a truck and come out with a minor cramp; Garth’s just as durable as Donna is, and Wally runs fast, heals fast. Roy and Dick, Ollie and Bruce, they’re different. The stakes are different. Bruises beneath the kevlar, secret scrapes, bones soaking up the pain ‘til they break. That’s just how it is. Some days, bad days, that’s all Dick and Roy have in common.
Dick feels responsible in spite of himself--blahblahblah, Roy chose this life, chose to be here, but Dick was kind of the one who started it, and maybe he feels a little protective and guilty, because he didn’t mean for it to become a thing until it became a thing.
Wow, that’s self-centered. Well, either that, or Dick’s gotten good at playing the blame game. The hem of his green PJs brushes his bare feet, curled brown toes against a speckled white floor. He should’ve worn socks. Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. At least Dick’s doing something he should do right now.
He nudges the door open with little more than a whisper. It’s darker in the room, and light steals across the void like a line of milk down a black mirror. The high bump in the red thread across the heartbeat monitor indicates that Roy’s awake.
Roy’s breath comes in soft scratchy puffs, or maybe that’s the machine feeding oxygen to his lungs. “Hey,” Dick says, feeling suddenly like he’s taking up too much space, stealing Roy’s air.
“Hmmm,” Roy tries. Dick ducks under an IV tube and perches on the bedside chair. “Hi,” says Roy, very slowly. “Fffuh. Fuhhck. Hey.”
“Got you on the good stuff, huh,” Dick says sympathetically. Roy’s pupils are enormous, pushing out his pale irises; his eyelids are puffy and ringed with stubby lashes.
“Mmmmyeah. Higher’n the Space Needle.” Roy’s facial muscles wobble, jelloish and uncooperative, and Dick realizes that he’s trying to grin. “‘S greeeeaaaat.”
Dick laughs. “You’re gonna be crawling up the walls in two days.”
“Maybe I should let you sleep. Go back to sleep,” Dick says, still giggling, but Roy’s fingers clench on the baby blue bedsheets, an involuntary gesture. They both stare at Roy’s hand--Dick’s not sure if Roy was trying to grab him, and Roy’s glaring at his arm like it betrayed him.
Roy sighs heavily. It sounds like a cough, rattling something loose in his chest. “‘M fine,” he slurs. “Just haven’t seen nobody in... ffforever.”
Dick fidgets a bit, wanting to hold Roy’s hand and knowing somehow that Roy wouldn’t appreciate it. “Well, Green Arrow dropped in this morning.”
Roy frowns. Those muscles seem to be working fine. “Musta missed it.”
“He’ll be back tomorrow,” Dick reassures him. So help him, Dick will make Ollie come back. After all, he knows where Ollie lives. “How long have you been up?”
Roy shrugs a shoulder. “Couple hours. Three...? Say, isn’t it nighty-night for Tweety Bird?”
“As if. Tweety Bird is his own boss.” Roy’s index fingers go up in the universal sign for bat-ears. “Okay, fine, so Tweety is a night owl. Can’t stop, won’t stop.”
Roy snorts, eyelids fluttering shut. His respirator fogs up on a particularly gusty exhale, then clears. He looks so tired and worn down, Dick thinks; no bravado, no boyish braggadocio, just flesh-and-bones. The veins are starting to rise in his hands, the cut of his jaw emerging through the softness of his preteen years. It’s not the first time Dick’s seen Roy hurt like this, but each time is different. Each time, they’re older.
“Sorry ‘bout using your cape as a band-aid,” Roy says a moment or two later.
“Sorry ‘bout your everything,” Dick returns. Roy shakes his head; something in his neck pops, and Dick winces, adjusting Roy’s flattened, sweat-stained pillow. Surprisingly, Roy doesn’t protest, staring at Dick like he’s never seen good bedside etiquette. Dick’s Inner Alfred says, That won’t do at all.
“Ya know,” Roy muses, watching Dick search the room for fluffier pillows, “some people... would consider this a job benefit.”
“More like who people?”
“You people like sounding like Darth Vader?”
Roy snickers. “Nahh, not that. I meant you... me. This.” His nose scrunches--probably an attempt to waggle his eyebrows. “You fussin’ over me. Bonding... at midnight. Illicit bonding.”
Dick glances at the clock, testing another pillow, which he deems satisfactory. “Technically two-thirty. Bonding at two-thirty.” Roy shoves him weakly, and Dick laughs again, helping Roy settle into his new, fluffier nest. Barely any movement, and yet Roy’s breathing is labored, the line on the heart rate monitor heaving upward, gently cresting, evening out. Recovery is going to be harder than usual.
“Is that better?” Dick asks. Roy gives him a thumbs-up.
“Now you’re just playing it up. ‘Leeeaaagues.’”
“Yeeeahhhhh,” Roy says pointedly. Dick smothers a sigh, verging on a laugh. They’re easy like this, not arguing about strategies or battle plans or Roy, you got toothpaste all over the counter! Yeah, yeah, I’ll wash it. You said that a week ago! I’m cleaning it now, gee-zus! It shouldn’t be such a revelation, but Dick wonders if they met some other way, in some other place--maybe they’d bicker less. Maybe eight out of ten interactions wouldn’t feel like missed opportunities.
Roy’s gaze traces an erratic path from Dick’s nose to his mouth to his eyes. “Robbie... do me a favor?”
Dick nods. “Anything.”
Wordlessly, Roy jerks his chin at Dick’s face.
“What?” Dick rubs his cheek, expecting to find a smear of toothpaste or a stray eyelash. He bumps into his domino instead, his second skin, a natural extension of himself. Patiently, Roy waits for Dick, second-in-command to the World’s Greatest Detective, to get a clue, and even then it takes Dick half a minute.
“Really?” he asks Roy in disbelief. He tugs off his mask, and without the enhanced vision of the lenses, the room seems less colorful. It’s realer all the same, bare and truthful and vulnerable, and apparently that's what Roy wants, because his grin pulls up first on the left, then the right. The corners of his mouth are trembling with effort.
“There you are,” Roy says.
What an odd comment, Dick thinks; it’s not like he went anywhere. He tucks his knees to his chest, setting his mask on the bedside drawer. For Roy, he smiles and laughs. “Yeah, here I am. C’mon. Where else would I be?”