Down to Zero
Co-written with Livia Penn. Diverges from canon at the end of OUTSIDERS 21 (when they discover that "Batman" is really Slade). Rated NC-17.

The rooftop was empty by the time Dick and the rest of the team got there, of course. Slade and Roy were long gone.

At least they hadn't found Roy's corpse there. Dick knew that he should be grateful for that, but all he could think was that it meant that Slade had some other, bigger plan. Something Dick would have to figure out and thwart himself, or else even more terrible things would happen. The thought made him feel a hundred years old. He walked over to the edge of the roof and stared down at the traffic below.

"Nightwing?" Jade said.

"You're in charge," he answered curtly.

"You have a lot more experience with Deathstroke. And Roy--"

That was funny--that they would still instinctively defer to him on questions dealing with Roy. Like he was the one with the most at stake, when he and Roy hadn't done anything except snipe at each other for months. He did the analysis anyway, on the surface of his mind, by reflex alone.

"I can't think of any specific use Deathstroke has for Roy in particular right now. We should go back to base, see what we can find on his locations and contacts in the area. He's tough and elusive. It's not going to be easy."

It would be even harder without Barbara, but Dick couldn't let himself think about that right now. Slade's behavior was too strange, not consistent with a hired hit. Dick doubted he'd be able to buy his way out of this one. Which meant he'd have to figure out how to beat a guy even the JLA had hadn't been able to take down the last time.

"All right," she said. "Come on, everyone, back in the Pequod."

Indigo gave him a funny look as he walked back with the group. He ignored it. Someone else hailed his comm-unit. He ignored that, too. It chirped again.

"Fuck off, Batman," he muttered as he climbed into the jet.

"I second that emotion," Grace said behind him, and her voice was husky with anger. "If that asshole hadn't been screwing around with Roy--"

"Don't you dare," he snapped over his shoulder. "Don't you dare talk about him like that. Ever."

She met his gaze hard. "Don't you tell me what I can and can't say. Maybe you like playing games with that guy, but that doesn't mean he gets to put the rest of us in danger."

His throat tightened for a reply, but Kory said, quietly, "Nightwing. We're wasting time."

Her eyes were compassionate and he didn't want that, either, but she understood, at least a little. He swallowed the remark and belted himself into his seat.

It was past three when Slade's video-call came in. They were all in the control room.

"Hey, kid. You've looked better."

"Where's Roy?" Dick asked flatly. There wasn't going to be any bantering this time.

"Don't worry. He's all in one piece. For now."

"What do you want?"

"This one's easy, Nightwing. It's something you want, too."

"We don't want any of the same things, Deathstroke."

"Is that so." He raised an eyebrow. "Word is that you have access to a certain disk, Nightwing. I want it. And the suitable host you also have handy."

Behind him, Kory gasped.

It only took Dick a half-second longer. He hadn't even known it was possible, had had no reason to think it was, that anything could be done for Joey in his current state--but, of course, if it existed, Slade would have found the way. "No deal," he said.

"Don't pretend you care more about her than about Roy." His voice took on the slightest urgency. "And about Joey."

"It's not even on the table." Except in his head, where a tempting voice was already whispering. Indigo was hardly even a person. Just how many of them had to die because of her? And this time it was Joey. And Roy. The last thing he had said to Roy--"If you do anything to Roy--"

"You'll be my sworn enemy? Well, that will be a new experience for me, won't it."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Grace cut in.

"This isn't the way to do this, Deathstroke."

"It's my way, kid. Take it or leave it."

Dick pressed his fingers against his eyes.

"You know, I've got all day, Nightwing, but I don't think Roy does."

He turned the fingers into a fist, hit the console hard. "Fine. Tell me where you want to arrange the swap."

"Not now. Be in your jet in half an hour. I'll radio in a location."

"We'll be there."

Deathstroke cut the connection.

"You feel like sharing with the rest of the class, Nightwing?" Grace asked.

Kory said, "That was Deathstroke. The father of one of the former Titans, Jericho."

"He's dead," Indigo said.

Yes, he was. "It's a long story." Nightwing stood up. "His personality is on a disk now. That's what Deathstroke was talking about."

"And the host?" Shift asked, particularly quietly.

Dick didn't answer. After a minute, Kory said, "He was speaking of Indigo."

"No," Shift growled, and took Indigo's hand protectively. She just looked at Dick wide-eyed. Pink hair. Green skin. Like some Japanese anime doll, except lethal. It would just be so easy, not to have to pretend that he cared about this thing that had killed Donna. The silence dragged on.

"Jesus," Grace exploded, "are you going for the world record in uneven parallel asshole, Nightwing? You're even thinking about doing this?"

She was right in Dick's face, and it brought him out of his paralysis. "Of course not," he snapped. "But Deathstroke's an honorable enough guy, in his twisted way. If he says he'll bring Roy for the trade, he'll bring Roy for the trade. That's probably our only chance at recovering him alive."

She didn't back down. "And how are we going to do that?"

He glanced over at Shift. "I've got some ideas."

Slade picked another rooftop, of course. Dick was starting to hate rooftops.

"Is Roy--"

"He's there," Grace confirmed, glancing at the viewscreen as she brought the Pequod in for a landing. "Looks like he's awake, but cuffed. And beat to hell. Bastard."

She was working up a hard glower. Dick tried to remember what it had been like to wear your heart on your sleeve like that. It seemed like another life.

Dick picked up the disk. He didn't give the plan much of a chance; it relied on Deathstroke's making a certain assumption, and if Roy had ever let slip anything to the contrary--"If the situation deteriorates, people, concentrate on getting Roy out of there. He's helpless. And don't forget Indigo."

"What about you?" Jade asked.

"I'm sure you won't have a hard time leaving me behind if necessary."

Her expression was icy. "Not a problem."

"Then let's go."

Grace stormed down ahead of him, fists clenched, and she was halfway across the rooftop when Dick and the rest of the team halted behind her. Kory was carrying Indigo, switched off; Jade and Thunder flanked her.

"I'd stay back if I were you," Slade said, not threateningly, just matter of fact. His arm was draped loosely around Roy's shoulder, but it was easy to see that he could move to snap his neck in an instant.

"I've never really done what's good for me," she growled, but she stopped.

"Hey, baby," Roy said weakly. He was looking at Dick, though, trying to get his cue, as poised on his feet as he could be given the shape he was in. There was a shadow in his eyes that Dick recognized. Roy knew as well as he did how this was likely to go down, knew what they were refusing to do.

"Do you have the disk, Nightwing?" Slade asked.

Kory had been able to retrieve it without discussion. Dick held it up. "Right here."

"And I see you brought the other thing, too. Good for you, kid. Save the sentiment for something that's worth it."

The thought of anyone congratulating him on a decision made him want to laugh. Since his building in Bludhaven had blown up, every decision had been impossible, every choice he faced a bad one. By Batman's rules, what he was doing now was the right move, but he couldn't feel anything in him that agreed. There wasn't as much as a trace of the simple bright eagerness with which he had once resonated with Bruce's idea of justice.

"You are a charmer, aren't you?" Grace said.

"You seem to have agreed to it, too, girl, so let's skip the moral indignation." He focused on Dick again. "Bring the disk here. Nice and slow, just the way we agreed."

"Yeah. About that." Dick held up the disk. "I have a better idea."

Slade's gun was out of his holster in a second, pointing at Roy. "Yeah?"

"Why don't you let Roy go, or I'll crush this?"

Grace smiled, a mean smile.

"Come on, kid, don't waste my time," Slade scoffed. "You're not the type who could do that."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Grace demanded, letting out a short laugh. "Maybe he was different in short pants, but these days this jerk doesn't give a damn about anybody but himself. If he says he's going to send your brat to the recycle bin, he means it."

Dick swallowed, trying to stay impassive. They hadn't planned that line.

"If he did that, he'd be killing my boy all over again. Nightwing doesn't kill. Maybe you don't know him well enough, girl, but Roy can tell you. Right, Roy?"

Roy didn't say anything. His head was bowed, his eyes fixed on the asphalt.

He jerked Roy's injured arm. "Roy?"

"I don't know," Roy said finally, softly. "When we were kids, sure, but now--I feel like I don't even know him anymore. I don't know what he could do."

It was like being hit; Dick could only breathe through it. Of course Roy would know he needed to back Dick's play. Of course he knew that. If only he would look up.

"That's crap," Slade said harshly, but his gun wavered. Just a few millimeters.

Dick stared at him, hoping he could put it, Blockbuster, everything, in his look without saying anything. Slade knew what a killer looked like. Slade stared back, narrowing the one eye. There was a dawning comprehension, and then unease, in his face, but before he could say anything, the asphalt at his feet rippled and Shift exploded upward from it hard enough to knock him flat on his back. Roy swung his cuffed hands into his abdomen at the same time, then toppled over backwards, too. Grace went for Roy at once.

As it turned out, Deathstroke didn't know that Shift could mimic materials Metamorpho couldn't. How comforting for Dick, to know that he could still put together a plan.

However, Slade was already rolling and shooting at them. Dick sprang for cover and heard a horrible scrape as he landed on the hand with the disk. He couldn't look, he couldn't think about it; he could only fling projectiles in Slade's direction. Shift lunged for Slade again and took some kind of grenade in his stomach; he splashed down in liquid form just in time. Jade's covering field came down a second too late to shield the rest of them, and the explosion stunned Dick, knocking his face into the asphalt.

By the time he'd recovered, Slade was gone. Grace was asking Roy if he was okay in an enthusiastically physical way. Shift had rushed over to turn Indigo back on. Dick looked down at his hand. The disk was torn open, the media inside scraped and shredded.

Jade saw it, too. "That's bad, isn't it."

All over again. Another one. He leveraged himself to his feet. "Yeah."

Roy looked past Grace. "That's a dummy disk, right?" His smile faded as Dick said nothing. "Right?"

"I--we couldn't risk it. Slade might have--"

"Fuck." Roy pushed Grace away and jumped to his feet. "How could you--"

"We had to, Roy! You know we had to!" Dick shouted. "This isn't a game! Slade would have fileted you!"

Roy looked down, unclenching his fists. "I know," he said quietly. "It's just--Joey--again..."

"Jericho was already dead," Indigo said.

Like Donna. He gestured blindly. "You guys get out of here. I'm walking home."

"Dick," Kory touched his arm.

"Don't." He couldn't cope with this and Kory, too. "Just don't."

He perched on the wall and watched the setting sun as the rest of the team boarded the jet. The stench of exhaust rolled over him as the Pequod lifted off.

The mood at headquarters when Dick returned a few hours later was boisterous. The stereo was on in the control room, pumping out a vaguely urban groove, Grace, Thunder, and Jade were doing shots, and Indigo was sitting on Shift's lap as they watched. Only Kory seemed quiet, perched on a table at the edge of the group.

Of course. They'd won.

"Nightwing!" Grace hailed him. "Have a drink!"

"No, thanks."

"C'mon! It's not every day you beat Deathstroke!"

"Yeah," he said. "I know."

She made a face. "Suit yourself."

Kory got up and came over to him, touching his wrist. "Nightwing, I think we should talk."

It wasn't fair, he knew it wasn't fair, but she had broken up with him, and Jade had brought her in because he wasn't doing well enough, and. He just couldn't let her see. "Maybe later, Kory. Where's Roy?"

"In his room."

"Taking a nap after his strenuous activity. Oh, and the rescue," Grace winked.

"Right." Without looking, he patted at Kory's hand, then pulled away and left the control room.

The lights in Roy's room were dimmed, but Dick could see what he was doing well enough--packing a suitcase. His heart stuttered once, but then everything in him went smooth and blank again. "Taking off?"

"To the rez," Roy said. "Just for a few days."

"Because Deathstroke beat you?" His tone was harsh, provocative, but he didn't seem to be able to change it.

"Yeah, Dick. This is all about my ego." Roy threw the shirt he was folding into the suitcase and turned to glare at him. "Listen. Slade talked to me. The whole time. About Joey. About getting Joey back. And I sat there and listened to him and all the while I knew we could never let it happen. I knew what we'd have to do." He shook his head shortly and started packing again. "The guys out there, except Kory, they don't really get that. They can't. They never knew him. Never knew us, back then."

"You're leaving Lian?"

"You think I don't know how to take care of my own kid, Dick? Dinah's got her."

He folded his arms. "What about Grace?"

"That's the nice part about Grace, she's not a 'what about' kind of girl."

"Good thing the team probably won't need you."

Roy slammed the suitcase shut. "Maybe it's the way we communicate best these days, Dick, but I'm not in the mood for some kind of cathartic brawl right now, so you can drop the junior Batman act."

It was either go all the way and punch him, or else shut up. Dick didn't actually care which he did, but somehow just managed to close his mouth and stand there like an idiot.

The suitcase popped open, and Roy shut it again, leaning on it heavily. "Actually, despite the last five minutes of you being a jackass, I was sort of hoping you might come along," he said, not looking at Dick.

He was genuinely startled. "Come--along?"

"Yeah. It's a long drive, I could use the company."

Dick felt something move inside him, like a glacier calving, and the strange hateful feeling that had filled him broke. He sat down on the bed, suddenly dizzy. "Do you really think I could kill someone?"

Roy hesitated. "You know I had to try to make your threat sound credible, Dick."


"I could feel Slade starting to reevaluate the situation. I sold it pretty damn well, if I didn't believe in it."

"Yeah." Dick stared at the floor. "So did Grace."

Slade. Roy and Grace. Bruce and Tim and--God--Barbara. Everyone could see his failure. The whole house of cards was tumbling around him, and he had to keep walking around and pretending that it wasn't collapsing on his head.

"Dick. It doesn't matter to me what's going on. It--"

He didn't look up, and Roy trailed off. The silence stretched out between them. Finally, he heard Roy sigh, walk to the door, and then turn back.

"Look, if you don't come, I'm going to have to take caffeine pills and drive all night and I'll probably speed and get arrested and you'll have to come bail me out anyway."

Roy's words made images rise in his mind: traveling all night, in strange country blurred by darkness, no past, no future, just road. Getting away from everyone, everything, in his wretched life. For a moment, the vision was beautiful.

"So, you gonna help a fellow-Titan out, or what?"

He couldn't help Donna or Joey, or Tim or Barbara. This wasn't going to do any good, but he could at least do it. He looked up. Roy was watching him, half-hopeful, half-resigned.

"Fine. But we're not speeding. Not in your car. It can't handle it."

"We'll see about that," Roy said.

There was nothing to do in Blue Juniper but hole up in their motel room and wait for the car to be fixed. Dick found that he didn't particularly mind. With the blinds down, the room was close enough to dark, and the bed might be lumpy and covered in scratchy polyester linens, but it was big enough for him to stretch out, closing his hands on the sheets as though he expected to be tossed around at any second. It felt as if he hadn't slept since before the building blew up, as if he'd lived every moment since then in a relentless glare of anger and grief and guilt that had allowed him no rest at all. Now, he could give himself up to unconsciousness with the indifference of someone who had no better options.

Roy had a six-pack. Possibly, more than one. Even as he dozed, Dick was aware of him, sitting barefoot out on the motel balcony for hours, leaning his head against the railing, nursing a beer and watching the soothingly irregular and remote traffic on the highway. He was probably breaking half-a-dozen local ordinances, but Dick had seen the motel clerk's eyes when they'd checked in. No one was going to mess with them. They looked like a pair of drifters.

Which, Dick thought, was just about right for two guys who'd just had to fight to keep an old friend dead. Who'd had to look in his father's eyes and choose to save someone else instead. You couldn't keep on doing that kind of thing and not have it show. Not unless you hid in a mask and shadows, and Dick had no desire to be in Gotham right now.

Roy came in and out of the room as the day wore on, mostly to use the bathroom. Sometimes, he left the door open a crack, letting a sad and yellowish light spill onto the flat worn carpeting along with the rush of engine noise and warmer air. Once, he sat down on the bed and called Lian, and Dick rolled over, pulling a pillow over his head so that he wouldn't have to hear.

He probably never got very drunk, because he didn't try to talk to Dick about Joey. Or if he did, his voice only blended into the narration of Dick's dreams and he didn't know. Dick floated facedown in his shallow pool of sleep and didn't think about Joey or Slade or Slade's plan for Indigo at all.

By the time Roy had killed the six-packs, the light that came in behind him had grown faint and dusky-red; only the palest gleams were seeping around the edges of the blinds. He swung the door shut and crawled into the bed next to Dick. It was big enough that he didn't have to be very close, but his foot ended up pressed against Dick's ankle. He smelled toasted from the sun, with a wheaty undertone from the beer. He fumbled around, loudly, until he found the remote, and then turned on the TV.

"Roy--" Dick muttered, shielding his eyes from the harsh phosphor-light.

"It's past seven," Roy said, voice only a little thick. He began building himself a nest of pillows, and tried to swipe Dick's. Dick clung to his blindly, holding onto it but getting dragged closer. "The garage hasn't called. I think we're stuck here for the night."


"I don't really feel like going to the diner and eating with the truckers. The gas station has hot dogs, that's about it."

Dick rolled over, reluctantly. "I'm not hungry."

"Me neither." Roy pointed the remote at the TV again and began flipping around the channels. "You know, I don't think they even have porn here."

Dick ignored that. The TV was going on about Vietnam, jungles and guerrillas; he got blurred images of black-and-white paddy fields through his half-closed lids. When the bursts of gunfire started and didn't stop, he reached to grab the remote.

"Yeah, yeah." Roy changed the channel again.

Roy still didn't know, but he knew. Dick let his head go sideways, so that his face almost rested on Roy's shoulder.

Roy seemed absorbed by the images on the screen as he jumped from channel to channel. Two announcers were suddenly arguing over a fight in loud, excited voices. "Oh, good, the WWE," he said, and dropped the remote.

"Pro wrestling, Roy?"

"Sure. Why not?"

Dick peered back at the TV screen. Inside the ring, a hooded man in black vinyl was circling a muscular blond in sky blue. Down on the floor of the arena, a woman in a bikini with long, dark hair was waving her arms and calling out encouragement to the hooded man. The crowd was chanting something unintelligible.

The hooded man lunged at the blond, catching him around the waist and knocking him down. Then he jumped to his feet and dropped an elbow into the blond twice. On the third try, though, the blond rolled out of the way, and the hooded man lay on the canvas, apparently stunned.

"It's fake," Dick said. "Couldn't you see, just now?"

"Of course. So what? Kids love this stuff. Good guys, bad guys, color-coded for your convenience. They eat it up."

"I never believed in it. Batman showed me--"

"The same way he annihilated your faith in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, right?"

Dick rolled his eyes. "Very funny. But wrestling's just about as real."

"You're going to have to watch that talk when we get to the rez, man. The kids there have adored it since back when it was the WWF."

"Did that include you?"

"Sure did. How else do you get crazy enough to agree to an idea like Speedy?"

"Working in the circus," Dick said.

Roy laughed softly. "Right." The blond wrestler had moved in for a pin on the hooded one, but the woman was screaming at the referee, distracting him. By the time the referee's attention was back on the match, the hooded wrestler had kicked out of the hold. "Oh, nice."

"That's cheating."

"Yeah, but the good guy will still win in the end. The girl will probably switch sides, too." Roy was quiet for a little while, watching the action. "Sometimes, I still think someone's going to come down and make them play fair with us. Superman or someone. Make sure the match always goes to the right people."

Dick wondered when Roy had stopped believing that Ollie could be that person. He'd had the evidence about Batman early on--Two-Face had smashed it into his bones--though he hadn't let himself really look at it for years. Maybe it was making that discovery that had pushed Roy over the edge, back then. "That's not going to happen."

Roy slid down further in his pillows and looked over at him, close enough that Dick could see the green of his eyes. "I know. But you've got to believe in it a little bit, or how can you keep fighting?"

He'd done the right thing this time. Made the hard choice, the good choice. And Joey was still dead. Donna was still dead. Slade still couldn't think straight about it. Dick didn't know how anyone could keep fighting if this was all you got. But he couldn't say that, couldn't drive his own pain under Roy's skin in the guise of life lessons the way Bruce did. "For the audience. For the people who get to pretend that it's safe and it'll all work out in the end. Like Lian."

Roy nodded, slowly, like he had a point. "But you--you don't have any family, Dick."

He shut his eyes. "No."


"I never believed in the audience very much," Dick said. "It was always about the people in the ring."

"Great. Who could live up to that?"

"Not many people. But--a few." He opened his eyes again, and Roy's face was only a couple of inches away. When he didn't pull away, Roy kissed him.

Dick opened his mouth, letting it happen. Roy's mouth tasted like beer, and underneath that, a little like blood. His hand slid gently into Dick's hair, slow but not tentative. Dick wouldn't stop him, not tonight, and they both knew it.

"It'll get better," Roy said, the words almost lost under the noise from the television.

"Don't talk," Dick said, and bit at the side of Roy's throat, just under his jaw, where the love-bites usually showed up after a night with Grace. Roy groaned under him, tensing, and Dick kissed him harder, running his hands over his sun-warmed chest. The faded cotton of Roy's t-shirt was as thin as a ghost; Dick could feel every old scar, and all the new ones.

He was waking up all over, starting to feel again, and that was dangerous, he didn't want it--but Roy was achingly real under his fingers, pulsing with life, and it was impossible not to feel that energy. Dick was moving despite himself, jerking Roy's shirt up, ignoring the sound of a seam ripping. Pushing until Roy lifted his arms and let Dick strip away the shirt. He swallowed hard at the sight of the bullet scars on Roy's chest, the line straight down his sternum where they'd had to crack his chest. Dick had practice looking past scars, seeing them as simply part of the landscape, but now they just served to remind him that he could've lost Roy, too. Lilith, Donna, Joey--

"Cut it out." Roy twisted away, fumbling for the remote and switching the TV off. Silence fell, broken only by the slow, ocean-like sound of the traffic on the freeway outside. Roy tossed the remote away, then brought both his hands up to frame Dick's face, forcing him to look into Roy's eyes. "What are you carrying?" Roy said slowly. He didn't look as if he really expected an answer. "Come on, man, you gotta--"

When Dick kissed him this time, he felt it like a brand, first the shock and then the heat, searing its way down his nerves whether he believed in it or not. The tease of Roy's tongue, the punishing scrape of his stubble, it was all so much more real than anything else. More real than anything he'd felt in a long time.

When Catalina had touched him, held him on the roof of that building in Bludhaven, he'd been drowning and desperate for an anodyne. Even then he'd known that it was only a stopgap solution, a cure for his symptoms but not the sickness in his heart. Still, it had been enough--it had worked, for a while. He'd hung onto that numbness, trying to stay uninvolved with the Outsiders. With anyone. But this was the opposite--Roy's touch burned, everywhere, setting him off, lighting him up, and Dick couldn't stay cold.

He couldn't hold back the raw, helpless noises as Roy pushed his hands under Dick's sweater, stroking up and down his back. Couldn't keep from shivering as Roy fumbled for Dick's hands, intertwining their fingers as he pushed his thigh between Dick's legs. He couldn't stop shaking, and Roy wouldn't back off. Wouldn't let him go.

It didn't matter, Dick told himself. He was too tired to fight with Roy any more, maybe even tired enough to admit that he didn't really want to fight with Roy any more. This was better. And it would probably amount to about the same thing, in the end, when he'd need to push Roy away again-- He didn't want to think about that. Roy was hard, thrusting insistently against his hip, and Dick was getting hard too, his body surrendering to the natural reactions he'd been walled off from for months. Roy was matching every touch, every push. Moving with him like a partner should. Just like he always had. It was clumsy with both of them lying on their sides, but whenever he tried to push Roy over, Roy resisted, twisting and tugging at him. That was just like Roy, too, except it hadn't ever stirred up this hunger in Dick before.

He took a breath and faked a slump back, letting Roy half-sprawl on top of him. Roy crowed in victory, but it only lasted for a second until Dick could use his own momentum against him. Dick smiled sharply, flipping Roy and pinning him by the shoulders, but there wasn't any support there--Roy was half-off the bed and falling, with nothing to grasp at but Dick. Dick tried to catch himself against the wall, but jammed his fingers and fell, Roy dragging him down into the little niche between the bed and the wall. Roy had smacked his head against the floor, but he was laughing.

Half-stunned by his own clumsiness, Dick lowered his head to Roy's bare shoulder and laughed too. His heart was pounding, and his throat hurt--it hurt to laugh, it felt like sensation coming back to a frostbitten limb, sharp and stabbing.

"Real smooth, Dick, real smooth--" Roy's voice was low, hoarse with laughter as he moved a hand up to grip Dick by the back of the neck, shaking him, then mussing his hair.

"You--" Dick struggled to speak through his laughter, and then it wasn't laughter, but it was too late to fight it down. Everything came at him at once, each memory like a blow, over and over again at the same helpless ache.. Not just Joey, not just Donna and Lilith, but Grace and Lian, his own helplessness in the face of their pain, and Stephanie Brown, another dead Robin, and then the news about Tim's father, and the phone ringing over and over and no one picking up, and Barbara gone from Gotham, the strangeness in Bruce's voice when he'd told Dick not to trust him, not to trust anyone, and the gunshots, over and over, he kept hearing them, reverberating in the stairwell like a bomb going off, and in his dreams he was the one holding the gun. Blood on his hands, on his face--

There were hot tears in his eyes, and he couldn't, he couldn't breathe. He struggled to sit up, Roy hanging on, their legs tangled together. "You don't know," he found himself saying, "Roy--God, you don't even know--"

"Shh, shh," Roy mumbled, his arms tight around Dick. "Don't. Don't fall apart on me now, vato, I need you, okay, it doesn't matter what they say, we need you, Jesus, now more than ever--"

Dick sucked in a long, shuddering breath, staring up at the nothingness gathering in the dark corners where the wall met the ceiling. He wrapped one arm awkwardly around Roy, curling his fingers into the short, rough carpeting. Trying to center himself, fix himself someplace real.

"Roy," he said. "You can't. I screwed up. I--"

The shakes started to come again, and he clamped his eyes shut.

"Jesus, Dick." Roy squeezed hard. "Okay. Just give it up, okay? I'm here. I'm here."

His muscles trembled and burned and locked hard like tetanus as he strained against the memories. But Roy didn't relax his grip, holding him close, holding him together even though it felt like he was about to tear himself apart from the inside, and suddenly Dick collapsed against him and was still.

"What happened to you, man?" Roy murmured, his voice tinged with awe, still holding him tightly. "You kill somebody?"

"Yes," Dick said, letting it go without letting himself think about it. A breath later, he recoiled from the decision. The word vibrated in the silence, even more hideous than he'd imagined it, and he carefully kept himself from looking at Roy. Waiting for the first shift in Roy's position to push him away.

"Wow." Roy exhaled. "I thought that might be it."

That made Dick stare at him. But Roy didn't look disgusted or smug. Just serious, and a little sad. "You did? You couldn't have. Just because you thought I could--"

"Dick. I may not be the world's second greatest detective, but I've got eyes. And I remember what it was like for me."

Of course. The agency, back in the day. Those guys hadn't played by superhero rules. He and Roy had never talked about it, but Dick had always suspected. "You didn't say anything."

"Because you didn't say anything. Doesn't mean I haven't been trying to reach you for months. The whole stupid team--"

"Oh." The realization that anyone had thought he was worth it, worth all that, just to bring back, even suspecting the truth, left him as stunned as if he'd taken a hard uppercut to the jaw.

Roy still had a hand in his hair. "But you were so damn stubborn--God, Dick, what did you think? Did you think I would judge you? Fuck, you were there when I was jonesing and covered in my own puke--"

This time, the kiss was wetter, slower. Dick slid up Roy's body, threading his fingers into his hair. Roy groaned, arching up gradually beneath him.

"We'll work it out," Roy said quietly when they broke apart. "Whatever we have to do. Just drop this island unto yourself bit, okay? 'Cause it really doesn't work for you."

Dick knew there was something he should say now, some disclaimer, some distancing remark, the kind Bruce would have made. But he couldn't think of it, and he didn't want to try very hard to. Another way in which he wasn't measuring up to Batman's standards, and he'd just have to live with it. "I didn't want to--I didn't know what to do, Roy. I couldn't tell anyone. I was afraid--"

"Christ, the way he's fucked with your head," Roy muttered.

"Don't. It's not his fault."

"Okay, okay. I'd just as soon not think about him while I'm scoring, anyway."

"Scoring?" Dick couldn't help smiling faintly. "Is that what you're doing?"

Roy wiggled his hips a little, and Dick bit back a gasp. "Yeah, it's my patented get-them-to-confess-their-darkest-secrets-so-I-can-comfort-them method. Works like a dream." He kissed Dick again, tenderly touching his eyes closed with his thumbs. Dick let him, shut out the cheap comforter hanging next to them and the cracked plaster in the ceiling to concentrate on the feeling of Roy anchoring him.

After a minute, Roy rolled so that they were both lying on their sides. It was a tight fit, but Dick didn't particularly mind, not with Roy's hard-on pressed into his thigh like a guarantee of the truth of his earlier words. The body didn't lie. Didn't leave him achingly guessing like grim silences and space between always did. Dick sighed.

"Okay?" Roy asked, his lips against his ear.

"Okay," he agreed.

Roy manuevered himself downward with deliberate slowness, but not as much as he would have if he were really playing around. When his mouth engulfed Dick's cock, Dick reached out and grabbed the leg of the bed, hard.

With Catalina, he had been staring up into the Gotham sky, feeling exposed and helpless, infected and decaying. But they were burrowed in here, safe from the world, maybe even, finally, from his own conscience. He was with Roy, the way it had always been, in more times and places than he could count, the way it still could be if he could just figure out how.

Roy took his time, kept it slow. Not so much teasing as careful, stroking the inside of Dick's thighs. Dick reached down with his other hand and twined it into Roy's hair again. "Roy--I'm sorry."

"Shhh," Roy mumbled. "Relax."

And so he did, until there was nothing for him but the rhythm of the blood in his veins, the beat Roy's steady sucking made behind his eyes. Then he came and there was nothing at all. Just precious seconds of peace.

It couldn't have lasted long, but it was like shutting down a hundred runaway processes long enough to reboot. His head felt clearer than it had in months--and he realized that he was completely exhausted. He relaxed his grip on the bed and didn't bother to try fighting the urge to drift off. After a while, he became aware of Roy pulling at him, lugging him up onto the bed. "C'mon, buddy. It's romantic down there, but not so comfy."

"You're getting soft, Speedy," he said, half-conscious.

"Not really," Roy said, "but we can deal with that later. Come on."

They ended up dug in together in Roy's fort of pillows. The last thing Dick remembered hearing before falling asleep was the sound of traffic. The hum of the world moving, and they were part of it. Just, for once, at rest.

"Come here," Roy said, kneeling by the fire three days later.

Dick looked across the desert. Children ran and played in the dusk; their light voices carried far. Dick had been looking forward to meeting some of Roy's people, but Roy hadn't driven to any of the trailers or small houses that dotted the landscape. Instead, he had brought them here, to this slight hollow some distance from any of them. They'd waited quietly for sundown, Roy's thigh warm against his.

"That's going to smoke," he said, approaching.

"That's the point." Roy poked at the fire. "Stand still now."

The smoke drifted over him, rich and warm, but with an underlying tone of bitterness. Roy came and stood next to him, breathing deeply. Dick matched him, letting his heart slow under the sound of crickets in the dark. It wasn't long before Dick's hair and skin, even his lungs, were saturated with the smell. He felt as if ghosts were streaming away behind him in the eddies.

"They're gone," Roy said. "Joey, Donna, Lilith, Blockbuster."

There was still a pang. "I know."

"Those reasons to fight, though, they're still here."


After a minute, Roy reached out and took his hand. "Just promise me, man--"

"I promise," Dick said. Whether or not it was true. He owed Roy that much. He owed a lot of people. When he got back, there'd be a lot of work to do.

But, then, there always was.


Roy released him and moved to put out the fire. Dick watched him, appreciating the way his shoulders moved, all the sinewy, stubborn grace of him. Then he rose and flashed Dick his quick grin. "C'mon," he said, "I'm starving. You'll like frybread."

Dick followed him across the desert, towards the twinkling lights.

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