TITLE: Shall I Find Comfort

AUTHOR: Mara Greengrass

AUTHOR'S EMAIL: fishfolkix.netcom.com. Feedback is better than chocolate.

PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Please ask.

CATEGORY: Friendship

RATING: PG for some bad language

SUMMARY: "From his own experience, Dick knew that awakening heroes from nightmares was fraught with danger and the strong possibility of bumps, bruises, and bloody noses."

CONTINUITY: I'm kind of ignoring current Robin continuity, okay? This takes place a year or two from the "present."

DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to DC Comics. I just fantasize and worry about them.

NOTES: The title comes from the last stanza of Christina Rossetti's poem, "Uphill." I got this idea from two random DC scenario generator results: "Dick Grayson/and any black-haired character" and "A former member of Young Justice/needs to be comforted after a nightmare." Thanks to Illmantrim for reassurance and Alexis for prodding me to find some kind of a point.
It was pure chance Dick even noticed. Padding through his living room toward the kitchen, in search of coffee, he happened to glance at the couch where Tim had collapsed hours before.

To Dick's surprise, silent tears coursed down Tim's face and his body convulsed under the afghan.

"Tim?" He took a step closer before realizing the other was sleeping. "Shit," he said aloud. From his own experience, Dick knew that awakening heroes from nightmares was fraught with danger and the strong possibility of bumps, bruises, and bloody noses. "Tim," he said again, but Tim curled his legs closer to his chest and continued to shake.

Perching on the edge of his recliner, just out of reach, Dick began to speak, steady and calm. "Tim, it's me. It's Dick. I'm here and I need you to wake up. You're dreaming and whatever you're experiencing, it isn't real. Please wake up. I promise everything's okay. We got the bad guys last night, remember? You crashed on my couch after we broke up that heroin smuggling ring. Please wake up."

Gradually, Tim stilled and the tears slowed. When it seemed safe, Dick stood and walked closer, being sure to make noise as he walked. "Tim, it's time to wake up. Everything is okay."

Tim's eyes opened--unseeing as yet, but definitely well on the way to consciousness. "You with me yet?" Dick asked, crouching down beside the couch.

"Wha...?" Tim blinked, staring around the room. He looked both old and young at that moment and Dick was reminded of when Tim first showed up on their doorstep, how he'd been uncannily self-possessed. Dick had envied that aura of self-possession.

"It's okay," Dick said, dragging himself back to the present, "you're in my apartment. It was a dream."

Tim sat up, eyes shocky. "Yeah, a dream." He put a hand to his cheek, then looked in disgust at the tears he wiped off. "Lemme grab a shower and I'll get out of your way. Gotta get back to the dorm at some point."

"Whoa!" Dick grabbed his arm. "Hang on a sec there. Are you okay?"

"Fine. It was just a nightmare." Tim looked like he was struggling to not yank his arm away. "No big deal."

"No big..." Dick let go and stood up, turning away so Tim wouldn't see his face, surprised at how pissed he was. The sound of Tim standing made him spin around. "Where are you going?"

"To take a shower. I just said that. Are you having trouble remembering things?" Tim smirked at him.

"Ha. Funny. Sit down."

"But--"

"Sit." It wasn't often that he used The Voice out of costume.

Tim stayed standing just long enough to register protest, then sat on the couch, crossing his arms. Dick took a deep breath, centered, and sat next to him. "I know a thing or two about nightmares and that was no ordinary nightmare. Can we talk about it?"

"We're guys, we don't talk about these things. Can I go now?"

Dick took another deep breath. "Yeah, maybe we don't talk about these things if we're Batman! But you've got me worried."

"You can stop worrying." Tim blinked and Dick could tell he was figuring out how much to reveal. Goddamn secretive little squirt. "It's just been a long couple of weeks, that's all. Run in with the Joker and all. So it's nothing, see?"

"Uh-huh. Nothing." Dick sighed, propping his elbows on his knees and burying his face in his hands. "You drive me insane, you know."

He felt Tim shift. "Dick..."

"You're just like Bruce."

"I'm not!"

"Uh-huh." Dick tilted his head sideways to look at Tim. "It's like you two are in some manlier-than-thou contest. You won't win. Nobody does stoic better than him. Believe me, I know."

Tim's face went still and he studied Dick, which might have disconcerted Dick if he hadn't been raised by Batman.

Dick tapped a finger on his knee, wanting to shake some sense into Tim. "Talk to somebody," he said. "Don't deal with this on your own. If you don't want to talk to me, how about Superboy? Or Alfred?"

Tim's face closed off even more. "I'm fine."

"Why does everybody always say that when it's obvious they're not fine?" Dick threw his hands in the air and got up to pace back and forth in front of the couch. "'Oh look, I've got a fucking spear stuck through my leg. Don't worry, Dick, I'm fine.' Or the ever popular, 'My entire life has just gone to hell, but leave me alone 'cause I'm fine.' Do you people think I'm stupid or something?"

When he risked a look at the couch, Tim's eyebrows had nearly hit his hairline. "Way to repress, dude."

"Don't screw around with me when I've got a good rant going."

Tim swallowed a laugh. "Right."

"And don't think I'm distracted from the fact that you're having nightmares but you'd rather suffer in silence than talk about it."

"What's there to say?"

"In my experience--which you might recall is greater than yours--talking about the screwy parts of our lives makes dealing with them easier." Dick crouched in front of Tim, trying to catch his eyes. "And if you say 'But I'm fine,' I swear I'll make sure Batman puts you through the worst training regimen of your life."

Tim glared, but his heart wasn't really in it, which made Dick even more certain they needed to have this conversation. He sat on the floor, leaning his back against the recliner facing Tim. "So, what was it? Your parents dying? Your team being tortured?" He tapped his chin. "What other fun nightmares have I had? Oh right, there was the time I thought my parents were throwing me out of the circus." He kept his voice light.

"It wasn't that. It wasn't any of that. It was dumb," Tim said.

"If it came out of your subconscious, I'm sure it was many things, but dumb wouldn't be the first word that would leap to mind."

Tim stared at the opposite wall, obviously not seeing the Mondrian print that hung there. "I wasn't Robin."

Dick winced. He'd certainly had his share of nightmares that revolved around that subject in some way, and many of them had involved Tim or Jason. This might not be the best moment to point that out, however.

Tim went on while Dick's mind was still racing. "I wasn't Robin and so I didn't know what to do."

"Didn't know what to do about what?"

"Everything." Tim's voice was barely above a whisper. "Bruce died after Jason did and you tried to take over and then you died."

He kept his voice steady, despite the way those bald words clutched at his heart. "And?"

"And the clench and the earthquake and everything else, but I couldn't do anything. It was my fault. I had to watch everything fall apart." Dry-eyed, Tim stopped staring at the wall and stared at his hands instead.

Jesus, this was just like Tim. "I don't think that's stupid." No response and Dick sighed. "I think it might show that you have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, but that's no deep shock to me."

Tim glanced up at him for an instant. "So, is this psychotherapy session over? Send me a bill."

"You just get funnier by the moment." Dick wanted to pound his head against a hard surface. "Look, I think it's significant that you see everything falling apart without you."

"So I think I'm more important than I really am?"

"No!" Dick slammed his hand on the floor, but the carpet kept it from being really satisfying. "Goddamn it, you know that's not what I mean. You push yourself too hard, you expect too much of yourself."

Tim's gaze was steady. "If so, I learned from the best."

Nodding, Dick acknowledged the point. "Would you buy 'Do as we say, not as we do'?"

"Not really. What's with the sudden concern?"

Now that hurt. "It's not sudden."

"Uh-huh."

"Tim, I..." Dick sighed. "Look, I know I haven't exactly been there for you, but I'd like that to change. I guess...maybe it took this incident with the Joker for me to realize just how fucked-up our little family is. Because that's how it works around here: We take people for granted until they nearly die, then we freak out.

"I'm worried you're stretching yourself too far--college, Robin, the Teen Titans. Your encounter with the Joker scared me. I wish I'd been there to help."

Tim pursed his lips. "So that's what this is about."

"What?"

"You were off with the Outsiders when I got hurt and you're feeling guilty because you're overcommitted, so you figure I must be overcommitted too."

Dick groaned, banging his head against the recliner behind him. "I can't just be worried about you?"

"When is anybody in our circle ever 'just' anything?"

"We're not talking about them. We're talking about you and me."

"How romantic." Tim wiggled his eyebrows.

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Blow it off or change the subject whenever a conversation gets touchy-feely emotional."

"I told you, I learned from the best."

Dick sighed, scrubbing his face with his hands. "All this before coffee. Man, I must care." When he looked up, Tim was back to staring at his hands. "I'm not trying to interrogate you. I want...hell, I don't know what I want. Forget it. Go take your shower."

Dick closed his eyes, sudden weariness overtaking him. What he really wanted was to go back to bed and pull the covers over his head, and for a moment he despised the sense of responsibility that meant he would press on with Nightwing's work no matter what.

Dick sighed as he heard Tim stand up from the couch. He was tired of trying to help, tired of trying to be the healthy person in the lunatic asylum. After a few moments in which he didn't hear the shower, he opened his eyes to find Tim sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of him.

"Yeah?" Dick asked.

Tim shifted. "I'm sorry."

"Whatever." He shook his head.

"No, really." Tim touched his knee. "You just caught me at a bad time. I haven't been sleeping well, with the nightmares, and it's been a rough couple of weeks."

Dick let out a long, slow breath. "I understand. And I should know better than to pound on you at a time like this. It's just rough to see somebody else hurting."

"I know. Believe me, I know." They shared bleak smiles, thinking of their friends and colleagues, not to mention their mentor.

Swallowing, Dick looked away, unable to look Tim in the eye. "I really am sorry I haven't been that helpful. I guess...there's still a part of me that sees you as my replacement. In the back of my brain there's a piece that never quite gave up the resentment when Bruce took on Jason and then you."

The silence dragged on, but Dick couldn't look back at Tim. He felt small and petty, a bit unbelieving that he hadn't realized this until now. But it felt like the truth now that he'd said it aloud.

"I'm not your replacement."

"I know."

"Not as Robin, not in Bruce's life, not as a member of the Titans."

"I know."

"Do you?"

The faintly amused tone got his attention and Dick finally looked at Tim. "I guess I do now."

"Good."

"Hey, who's supposed to be helping who around here?"

Tim's laughter was genuine, and it warmed Dick's heart to hear. "That's Robin's job, you know. Keeping the big boys in line."

"Yeah, it is, isn't it?" Dick found himself able to laugh as well, looking Tim over. "So, let's start this over. How are you?"

"I've been better, I've been worse," Tim said with a shrug. When Dick snorted, he held up his hands. "What do you want me to say? I don't get enough sleep, I've got nightmares from all the crap I've seen over the years, and I'm lucky if I can remember what day it is in time to get to the right class. Is that better?"

"It's a start. Now promise to devote a few minutes to thinking how we can help you with these problems."

"I promise." Tim put a hand over his heart, the corner of his mouth twitching in a probably unconscious imitation of Bruce when he was humoring you.

Dick paused, considering his next words. "If something happened to you, things would fall apart, you know. Not because you weren't Robin, since I'm living proof that Robins can be replaced. But because you're you and it'd nearly kill all of us to lose you."

Tim ducked his head, picking at a loose tuft in the carpeting.

"I mean it."

"I know."

"Okay, I hereby release you from the touchy-feely stuff. Get out of here." Dick leaned over and ruffled Tim's hair.

Tim grinned and swatted at his hand. Then he sobered. "Thanks, Dick."

"Thank you, Tim. And any time. This time I really mean that."

As Tim went to get cleaned up, Dick levered himself off the floor with a groan, his body choosing this moment to remind him of a few punches he'd failed to block the night before. Stretching, he thought about everything that needed to get done. The list was only getting more pressing the longer he stood there, and none of it was going to happen unless he got that coffee.

But Dick stood in his living room, a grin spreading across his face. It felt as if a weight had lifted off his shoulders, a weight he hadn't recognized until today. How ridiculous of him to waste so much unconscious energy on something so unimportant.

Now it was time he stepped up to the plate for one last set of responsibilities and watched out for his successor, his kid brother, his friend.

The sound of splashing water prodded Dick into movement and he went to the kitchen to scrounge up breakfast for both of them. Maybe--just maybe--there was hope for his dysfunctional family.

--end--

Uphill

by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.