WHEN I FALL by AUSSIE NIGHTWRITER
DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the characters. Nightwing and all of his friends belongs to DC comics. I'd be a happy woman if Dick belonged to me...but no such luck. I have not made any profit out of writing this, so please don't sue me. It would not be worth your while.
Author Comment: I have been away for a long time... but I'm back. Please note, this story has not been betaed.
Special Thanks: Thank you to all those people who have left such wonderful feedback on my previous stories.
When I Fall
Dick stretched his back. It cracked in a dozen places. He didn't remember it doing that when he was in his teens. He felt old… or at least, his body was doing its best to convince him of that fact.
Wearily, the Titan leader rubbed his neck and then dropped stiffly into the leather chair at his desk. His aching eyes closed briefly, before opening to scan the growing number of files scattered from one end of the table to the other.
Paperwork. No one had told him that taking on the leadership role would involve spending hours documenting everything. When he'd joined, he'd been under the delusion that hero life would provide the active and exciting existence proclaimed by Roy...Roy.
Grayson glanced into the green room through the two-way window. Donna was typing at her computer at a speed Dick could only dream of. Gar was clearing a paper jam from the printer, his mouth at full throttle. Garth was waiting patiently for whatever had been chewed up by the printer. Wally was on the phone. Why was Wally always on the phone? From the lewd grin on his face it had nothing to do with following up on their latest mission in South America.
"Wally," Dick called sternly. West's boots left the top of his desk and with less than ten words he ended the conversation, replaced the phone and stared thoughtfully at his computer screen in an obvious, but unsuccessful attempt to look busy.
The Titans were no longer a collection of 'kids' doing their best to utilize their gifts for the good of mankind. They were a highly efficient unit which had actively taken its place along side the likes of the JLA in protecting the world from... from who? "From itself," Dick decided with a sigh.
Grayson shook his head with mild annoyance and for the hundredth time in the last hour, shifted his gaze to the open door of his office. Across the hall, the door to the conference room was still shut. Dick massaged his temples, praying all was going well within. Sarah was conducting an 'assessment' of Roy. Something had triggered a rush of emotion from the loveable hothead in the past few days and so Dick had ordered an appraisement of his best friend's emotional state. The bags under Roy's eyes had been growing since Cheshire had started proceedings for joint custody of Lian... and she had a good case. Her lifestyle was no more or less dangerous than Roy's and she had reformed... or at least, that was she was claiming. Today, the dark rings under Roy's baby greens had reached Grand Canyon proportions. Donna's furtive glances that morning had been all the incentive Dick had needed to order a complete psychological assessment.
At 11:30 a.m. the Titan's leader had informed his 'lieutenant' he would be undertaking the assessment, explaining that the purpose of the review was to provide his lawyer with concrete evidence that Arsenal was coping with fatherhood despite his 'history'. It was at that point the unhappy scowl on Roy's face had dissolved.
'History! You tellin' me my 'history' needs to be explained! What the hell is that supposed to mean? I'm clean, you know that. I've haven't touched the stuff... hell, you know that Dick!'
It had taken Dick some time to calm his friend. In the end, Roy had conceded to the tests, stomping off to the conference room and slamming the door. That had been four hours earlier.
Dick was more than a little nervous about what Sarah may uncover. Roy's stress levels were taking their toll not only on Harper, but on his partners, too. All were doing their best to support him, but it was difficult. The Titans were still a family on one level and they always would be. On the other hand, they were also a professional unit and Dick couldn't allow that to be compromised.
Sighing deeply, Dick dropped his gaze to the file in front of him. He had been working on the same page for the last forty minutes. Unfortunately, he couldn't focus. "Can't think why," he muttered sarcastically. He rose from his chair and returned to pacing around the room. Roy had been through so much. Dick wanted to protect him, but he couldn't when it came to this and it was that feeling of helplessness that was tearing Grayson apart.
The Titan returned to his desk and sank down into the chair.
Without warning, Roy shot out of the conference room, Sarah hot on his heels.
"Roy, just a couple more…"
The doctor looked to the Titan leader for assistance. Dick frowned. Roy wasn't happy and by the look of it, he'd had enough. "Roy…"
"No," Harper shouted, disappearing down the short hall that led to the kitchen.
"Twelve more questions and the assessment is finished," Sarah promised.
Dick could hear things being tossed around in the kitchen as his best friend took out his frustration on inanimate objects. "Roy, just answer the final questions and you're done," he called.
"You answer the damn questions, Grayson," Harper's disembodied voice suggested.
Dick eyed Sarah.
"I'm almost done. One final piece of assessment," the doctor explained in a hushed voice. It had been a long day for both of them. Roy hadn't been in a good mood from the beginning, though he had done his best to be cooperative. "Take about five minutes."
Dick nodded and called to his friend, "Roy, five more minutes."
Roy strode passed Dick's door with a can of beer in his hand.
"Roy," Dick repeated.
Harper's fist appeared in the opening. He raised his middle finger with gusto and bounced it before withdrawing his arm and heading for the elevator.
"Now, Arsenal," Nightwing ordered. It was time to pull rank.
To their credit, Donna, Gar, Garth, Vic and Wally completely ignored the building situation, continuing with their assigned duties. Roy weaved his way across the room, stopped in front of the elevator and slammed his open palm against the console, summoning the car.
"Arsenal, I want the assessment finished today," Nightwing instructed.
Roy's chin toppled down onto his chest. His body was heaving with rage. For a handful of heartbeats he stood frozen. The elevator door opened in front of him. One by one, his partners' heads came up. They waited. Would Arsenal defy his leader?
With a barrage of curses, Roy stepped into the elevator and the door closed. The chime indicting the elevator was about to depart resounded in the stunned silence.
Gar's eyes were wide.
Garth and Vic exchanged a glance.
Wally shook his head and quietly started counting down. "Five… four… three… two…"
The elevator doors reopened, Roy stepped out and marched back across the workroom. His anger was visible both in his ruddy cheeks and his balled fist. Sarah stepped out of his path.
Stabbing a finger in Nightwing's direction as he stormed into the office, Roy growled with considerable volume, "No more. I've answered dozens of questions about things that ain't no one's business but mine."
Dick pointed to the chair. "Sit."
"I ain't a damn spaniel!" Harper exploded. His brilliant green eyes flashed with frustration.
"Sit." Grayson's voice was firm, but there was no anger or aggression. Roy swore and his chest heaved. Dick inclined his head toward the chair. Harper released a very slow, controlled breath, licked his lips and then walked to the chair and dropped into it with a loud thud. "Dr. Charles, complete the assessment."
Sarah's small frame filled the doorway, her face apprehensive. "Here?"
"Nightwing, it might be better if…"
"Here," Dick repeated.
Sarah nodded. "All right. I just need to get my papers."
Roy watched the doctor go and then settled his steely gaze on his leader, who returned to filling out his reports. "Just a couple more questions," Grayson stated, without looking up.
"You're doing well, Roy," Sarah encouraged as she returned. "The final part of the assessment is the simplest. Just a quick questionnaire that allows me to assess your perceived support structures."
"Great," Roy muttered. He slumped further into the chair, his body moulding to its contours. Sarah watched in sympathy as her friend shut his eyes. Roy was emotionally exhausted.
"Only a couple of questions. All you have to do is answer each question honestly."
"Yeah, yeah, get on with it," Roy grumbled, blinking his eyes to help focus.
"I want you to identify one person whom you think you can depend on… your best friend."
"I am going to give you the beginning of a statement and you have to finish it with your best friend in mind. Easy."
Roy's eyes narrowed to slithers and he squinted over at Dick. "May not be as easy as you make out."
Grayson gave no indication he was taking any notice, the pen in his hand gliding across the page.
"Let me give you an example. 'When I am sad he…' You might respond with, 'when I'm sad he is there to cheer me up'. Or maybe, 'when I am sad, he makes me laugh.' Understand?"
Roy snorted loudly. "You got to be kiddin'."
"Just be honest. It's important. Question One: When I am sad he…?"
"When I am sad he helps me get drunk and plot revenge against the sorry bastard who made me sad."
Dick's pen stilled on the paper.
Sarah's eyebrows drew down.
"What?" Roy asked innocently. "You said you wanted me to be honest. That's honest." Harper sipped his beer.
Sarah shrugged. "Fair enough. Question two: When I am blue…?"
Roy pursed his lips thoughtfully. "If I was blue he'd try to dislodge whatever was choking me… probably his hands around my throat."
Dick's narrowed gaze lifted and settled on Roy's stubbled face.
Sarah shook her head, slowly. Perhaps she shouldn't have said to be honest?
"Question three?" Roy prompted.
"When I smile…?"
Roy smirked. "When I smile he knows I'm up to no good."
Dick lifted his head and Roy bounced his eyebrows.
"When I am scared…?" "When
I'm scared, he'll rag on me about it every chance he gets."
"When I'm scared, he'll rag on me about it every chance he gets."
Dick sat back in his chair and attempted to look stern.
Roy flicked his gaze to his leader. "When you least expect it, Grayson. You better be sleepin' with your eyes open."
"When I'm worried…?" Sarah pressed, relaxing.
Roy paused to think about the statement. "When I'm worried he tells me how much worse it will be if I don't quit whining."
Dick crossed his arms across his chest and grunted, apparently unamused.
"When I'm sick…?"
"When I'm sick he tells me to stay the hell away from him so he doesn't catch what I've got."
Dick's lips began to tremble.
Sarah deliberately softened her voice. "When I fall…?" She was interested in the answer to this particular question for it would show if Roy believed he would 'hit the ground' or 'be caught' by those around him. The fact that Roy was using humour to make it through the final part of the assessment told Sarah a great deal in itself. "When I fall…?" the doctor prompted, when an answer wasn't forthcoming.
Harper's eyes locked on Grayson's. For a split second the mirth left his face, revealing the vulnerability that both Dick and Sarah knew was there. If I fall, he'll be there to help me back on my feet.
"Roy?" Sarah asked quietly. She could tell a silent conversation was taking place between the two men. She'd seen it many times before. "You okay?"
"When I fall…?"
Harper smiled. "You want the honest answer?"
"Yes," Sarah replied, cautiously.
"When I fall he points and laughs at my clumsy ass."
Sarah jotted something down in her notebook. "Only three to go. A good friend…?"
"Will help you move," Roy stated immediately.
"A very good friend…?"
"Will help you move a body."
"Will bring the shovel. Is that it? Good." Roy tipped the can of beer to his mouth and drained it. Crushing it in his fist, he tossed it into the waste paper basket, rose and strode for the door.
"Roy…" Grayson called after him.
"In your ass, Dick."
"I've got the shovel," the dark-haired man assured softly.
Roy glanced back over his shoulder and his chin bobbed. "Yeah, I know. Come on, you can buy me a beer and we'll discuss knocking off Cheshire's lawyer."
Dick grinned, relief radiating from him. "I don't want to miss that. Give me a minute." He watched Roy leave and turned to Dr. Charles, his intense blue eyes demanding an immediate answer.
"Do you want my technical diagnosis?" Grayson's expression provided all the answer Sarah needed. With a smirk, she translated into layman terms. "He's dog tired. He's drowning in emotion. He's too stubborn to admit there's a problem, but he's still got a sense of humour which means he's dealing with it."
Dick nodded slowly. "Tell me something I don't know."
"He's doing okay. He knows he has support from all of you. Most importantly, he seems to believe that you'll let him fall if he has to, but that you'll be there right beside him. He knows he doesn't have to deal with this on his own. That's the key."
"Your advice regarding keeping him in the field?"
Sarah closed her notebook. "He needs to be active to keep his mind occupied. And he needs all of his family around him… especially you. I'll type up the report tomorrow, but tonight, I intend going to the tavern, getting drunk and having someone I trust get me home."
Dick nodded. "Sounds like a plan. Thanks, Sarah."
"It's been a hell of a day. I really..."
"WHEN I'M IMPATIENT, HE KEEPS ME WAITING" Roy yelled as the elevator opened.
Dick winked at Sarah. "I guess that's our cue." Grayson strode out of the office and announced, "Guys, tavern."
There was a collective whoop of joy as the group downed tools.
As Roy stepped into the elevator, the toe of his boot snagged on the mat. He plunged headlong into the open car and ended up sprawled on the floor in front of his seven friends. Their reaction was immediate and predictable. All but Dick pointed, laughed and began to make jokes at his expense. With Grayson's help, Harper untangled his arms and legs and got to his feet.
Mumbling under his breath as the others stepped into the elevator laughing, Roy shot a questioning glare to his poker-faced best friend.
"I didn't say a word, Roy," Dick stated, sliding his arm across the red head's shoulders and keeping his face particularly blank. "Not a single word."
The door slid closed. The laughter died away and silence filled the small cabin on its journey to the underground parking lot.
Dick glanced out of the corner of his eye and grinned mischievously. "Or course, the night is still young, sure-foot."
The others erupted again.
Roy sighed, shook his head and muttered, "It's gonna be a long night."
"First round is on, sure-foot," Vic boomed, slapping Roy on the back.
"A hell of a long night," Roy repeated, a gentle and grateful smile forming on his lips. He knew he had a long night of teasing and ribbing ahead... in other words, a night filled with the support he needed to take his mind off his pain. And should he fall at any point, Dick would be there to get him back on his feet. Roy didn't doubt that for a single moment.
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© Dec 2005 Aussie Nightwriter. : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.