Well, we made it! This is officially the last chapter of the story. Thankies to everybody who has stuck with me this long--your support was much appreciated :) The epilogue will be posted separately in about a week. Then you will finally know if Dick dies or not... (maniacal evil cackling) BTW, I reference a couple of my other fics in this one, but it's only for one scene, so it shouldn't mess you up too much.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Six Months Later
Wally, Roy, Garth, Donna, and Barbara walked up to the front door of Wayne Manor and were let in by Alfred, as usual. It had been four months since Dick had been released from the hospital and six months since he had—albeit reluctantly—started working on his recovery programs. And judging by the way Alfred actually smiled for the first time in weeks when he let them in, things were obviously going well.
But Babs asked him how Dick was anyway.
"He's… better, Miss Gordon, thank you for inquiring. I trust that you and your friends are here to visit the young master?"
"You bet!" Wally agreed enthusiastically. He was happy to hear that Dick had improved since his last visit two weeks ago. "We even brought a present for him."
The red-headed boy held up a medium-sized gift-wrapped package.
And what a present! Donna thought with a big grin. It wasn't especially expensive or elaborate or anything like that, but it had come from the hearts of all of Dick's friends—both young and old—and she just knew he'd love it!
"I am sure Master Dick will appreciate the fact that you were kind enough to think of him," Alfred told them. Then he informed the young people that Dick was reading in the living room, and that they could go straight in.
"Thanks!" Roy cried, and he was off like a shot, leaving his friends in the proverbial dust. Wally pretended to be upset.
"If only we were in costume—I'd tell him where to put it!" he grumbled good-naturedly. Donna giggled as the rest of them proceeded into the Wayne living room.
By the time they got there, Roy was already holding a one-sided conversation with Dick, who was gazing placidly up at his friend. Garth noticed that he was still a bit underweight from a recent relapse, but nothing like he had been that summer.
"…and Ollie even got us tickets to the baseball game next weekend!" Roy was saying animatedly.
Dick tightened the blanket around his shoulders and grinned at the red-head. Although it was a pale imitation of his usual sunny smile, Wally took it as a good sign.
"That's great, Roy… hi, people."
The others chorused their greetings and went over to surround their friend, who was sitting on the couch. Roy was already seated next to him, so Donna took the armrest, Wally settled himself on the coffee table, Garth sat on the floor in front of the table, and Babs leaned against the back of the couch.
"What have you all been up to?" queried Dick.
"Nothing special," Barbara answered.
In an undertone, Dick asked, "How are the Titans doing?"
"Alright," Donna shrugged. Then she added, somewhat shyly, "But we really miss you being there."
"Yeah—Gillhead is a lousy leader," whined Roy. "He made me order anchovies on the pizza last weekend!"
"I did not!" Garth protested. The others laughed, and even Dick giggled a bit. Donna couldn't resist giving him a little hug at the sound.
"Which brings us to the gift," Wally announced happily.
"I was wondering when you'd hand that thing over!"
Dick accepted the neatly-wrapped present with a polite 'thank you' and promptly began to shake it to see if he could figure out what was inside.
"Well it feels kind of like a book…"
"Oh for heaven's sake!" Barbara grumbled jokingly. "Will you just open that thing already?"
"Hey, I haven't been out on patrol recently. I'm just trying to keep my detective skills up to snuff, okay?" said Dick. Nobody could tell whether he was serious or not, so they just kept quiet as he tore the wrapping paper off. Dick noted that the paper was covered in birds, many of them robins.
Maybe they were serious… maybe they did miss him… maybe he was worthy of the love and respect they were offering him…
Dick gazed at the cover of his new book in wonderment and a bit of confusion. It had been homemade, obviously, and was decorated with pressed flowers and little shapes cut out of colored paper. Right in the middle was a photo of the Titans in their civilian clothes; it had been taken last Christmas. Barbara still had to marvel at the fact that, in their jeans and old sweaters, they looked just like any other group of teenagers.
"Hey, now, this is nice…" Dick complimented his friends. "Um… what is it?"
"Open it up and see, Batboy," Roy quipped. Dick pretended to be annoyed with the junior archer but did as he said.
"It's a scrapbook!"
"Now wasn't that easier than using an x-ray machine to solve the case?"
"Shut up, Roy!" the others chorused.
"Thank you," said Dick. Then he redirected his attention to the first two pages of the scrapbook. It was filled with various photos and mementos which Dick recognized instantly.
"Hey, these are from our trip to Disneyworld, aren't they?" he observed with a laugh, glancing at Roy and Wally.
"You bet they are!" agreed Wally. "And lookit this pic!"
The red-headed speedster pointed at a photo in the upper right hand corner. It showed Wally and Roy on Splash Mountain during the part of the ride where they went down the five-story drop, and Roy looked like he was about to be desperately ill.
"Geez, even Bruce did better than that…"
"Shut up," Roy grumped.
"You see, we got almost everybody you know to make a couple of pages about their favorite moments with you. That's why the book is so long—you have a lot of friends," Wally cheerfully explained to Dick, ignoring the embarrassed/horrified look on Roy's face and the giggles of the others. "This page is from Roy and Ollie and me, as you probably guessed."
"And adding that picture was not my idea."
"Aw, it's funny, Roy. And I needed a laugh," Dick replied.
Well, that got a smile out of the half-humiliated Harper boy. He was finally doing something right for a change—cool!
The young people took a few moments to discuss the wonderful memories on those two pages. Dick, Wally, and Roy spent a good deal of time explaining things to the others since Barbara and Garth hadn't been there, and they hadn't even known Donna back then.
Eventually, Dick got around to turning the page.
"Oh! This one's from Barry Allen and me!" Barbara cried excitedly.
"Yeah," Wally added, his previous good mood gone. "And wait'll you catch a glimpse of these shots, Dickie!"
Dick obediently bent over the scrapbook, examining the pages closely. Most of the photos were quite fuzzy, but what really caught his eye was the newspaper clip that had been taped right in the middle of the first page.
'Justice League Teams With Joker In Worldwide Crime Spree', said the headline.
"…Wait a minute…"
"What does this mean?" Garth inquired.
Ignoring him and glaring at Barbara, who was smiling angelically at the boys, Wally growled, "This is when Robby and I practically got killed during our sidekick strike. Remember, Dick?"
"How could I forget? Hey, I never knew you were there, Batgirl."
"I only followed you for a little while," she defended herself with a suppressed chuckle. "Then I ran out of film in the camera and went home. You didn't seriously think I wouldn't get at least some of that little escapade on film, did you?"
"You shoulda stuck around, Bat-chick," Wally interjected. "Then we might not have gotten spanked by the Justice League."
"You two sure had some interesting adventures before we met," Donna commented, looking directly at Dick and Wally. "I hope the pages Diana and I made will bring back equally happy memories for you, Dick, even if they aren't as exciting."
"C'mon, Donna, we've had plenty of exciting times together!"
"Shut up, Roy… and get your mind out of the gutter! That isn't what I meant!"
They spent at least another thirty minutes sitting there, going through the scrapbook and sometimes ending up quite giggly at the memories. At one point, Alfred came in and served the group hot chocolate, which made it doubly dangerous to read the scrapbook as they now had to try not to spit cocoa out their noses from laughing so hard.
But, as happy as he was, there was just one thing Dick noticed, one thing he wished didn't upset him as much as it did—there was nothing from Bruce in the scrapbook. That must have been what the guys had meant when they said that almost everybody had participated in the project.
Well, what did you expect? We're discussing Bruce here.
Dick tried to push the disappointment and feelings of worthlessness out of his mind and instead concentrated on the remaining pages.
All too soon, Dick had reached the end of the scrapbook. On the very last page were taped a bunch of envelopes, some of them overlapping at the corners. All were addressed to him.
"What's this?" he asked.
"The five of us wrote letters for you," Garth explained. When Dick made a move to open one of the envelopes, the Atlantean gently took Dick by the wrist and softly instructed, "Not now. It would take too long to read them all now… read them later."
"Okay," Dick agreed with a shrug.
So he closed the book instead.
"Well, anyway, I don't know how to thank you guys for this. You obviously went to so much trouble just to make this thing for me. I…"
Dick was cut off by a chorus of voices insisting "Don't mention it", "It wasn't any trouble" and the like. He smiled gratefully and asked, "So what made you all decide to make a scrapbook?"
The others exchanged glances, looking too modest and shy to answer the question. Even Roy looked bashful.
Finally, Barbara realized that everybody was looking at her. She sighed. There were some distinct disadvantages to being the oldest.
"We… we figured that reminding you of all the good times we've had together would help make you want to get better," she explained quietly. "That way we could start having more good times again. We wanted you to know how much we missed you… and how much we want you back."
Dick looked down at the book and swallowed, unable to answer right away.
"Well… I… really don't know what to say… I…"
"Then do us both a favor and shut up. OW!!!"
That was when Wally had kicked Roy in the shin.
"That's okay, Wally," Dick assured him with a rueful smirk. "I'm the one who taught him that joke."
Barbara was still giggling at the exchange between them when Alfred came in to announce that dinner was ready.
"Coming," Dick replied. He closed the scrapbook and laid it down on the coffee table.
Dick leaned against the pillows and opened the scrapbook in his lap. His friends had gone home right after dinner, so he figured that just before bed was as good a time as any to check out the mysterious envelopes on the last pages of his scrapbook. He would give the book a permanent home in the Batcave later on. He didn't dare keep it upstairs for too long; he loved his new book, but there were several pages in it that could easily give away everyone's secret identities.
For now, though, he was going to read those letters:
Hey, Shorty! …Okay, okay, I'm sorry for calling you Shorty. I know you hate it, but it's so much fun, and you have to admit it's very fitting. Anyway, I'm sorry for constantly calling you something you hate (or at least pretend to hate).
But that's where my pity ends, Richard Grayson. I'm really, truly sorry that you're so sick, but don't expect me to start sobbing about it. I've already done that. Now it's time for the both of us to be strong. It's up to YOU to be better, nobody else — I'll be willing to help any way I can, but the decision is ultimately up to you. And if you decide to be well, you can count on me to back you up all the way.
I know it won't be easy. I won't pretend like it will be, and I won't pretend like I know what you're suffering through. But you're a tough kid. And I know you've got what it takes to beat this thing. Go get 'em, Shorty!
P.S. I know I called you Shorty again. I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. Get used to it, because some things NEVER change!
Well, looks like you've got yourself your first girlfriend, huh? Hehe.
Now, Dickie, I know how you attached you are to ol' Anna. She must seem like one heckuva gal to you. I've had a couple of girlfriends like her before (I can hear you laughing, and you'd better stop). They always seem great at first, but then they end up all controlling, demanding everything from you and gettin' all jealous every time you try to see and do something with a REAL friend. Trust me, buddy—these girls are great-looking on the outside and way shallow on the inside.
It's always hard to break up with these kinds of women, Dick, and I know you're gonna have a rough time tryin' to get Anna to leave you alone and go pester somebody else so you can go back to your own life. But hey. Challenges are what life's about, right, buddy? You'll get rid of her eventually, and then maybe you can find somebody who DESERVES you. Good luck, Wonder Breath!
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."
Henry Ford said that. I'm sure you know who he was. I thought it might help you to remember this quote whenever things get especially hard and you begin to doubt your abilities as you are so often wont to do. Maybe it will also help you to remember that we all have the utmost confidence that you will be able to make it through this. If you ever need anything — and I do mean anything — just call me. Get well soon, Dick!
To Dick, my dearest friend:
We have only known each other for a couple of years, but you've always been a wonderful person — so happy and cheerful, always smiling, always laughing. You could always make me smile. Then you went away and something took your place. Something angry and terrible, something I hated for hurting my best friend.
I've watched you torture yourself for so long now, and it still breaks my heart every time I think about it. Ironically, it wasn't until you were taken away from us that I realized how much you meant to me and to everyone around you. I can't help but feel like I could have prevented this somehow by telling you how wonderful you are, and what a valuable member of the Titans you have been. Why do you think we made you the leader, Dick? You are by far the most talented of the group, and I would do anything to ease your pain and get you back.
But I don't have the ability to do that. I know the past few months have been filled with pain and tears for you and the doctor has said that the recovery will be no different in that respect. But no matter how bad things get, rest assured that — like when you led the Titans — I will follow you anywhere. Just say the word.
I've been sitting here at this table for the past hour, staring at my blank piece of paper and balancing my stupid pen on various body parts, wondering what I should say to you. I must have started at least a dozen letters. All of them are now crumpled up in the trash can. I bet the others aren't having this much trouble writing THEIR letters, and Garth probably came up with something earth-shatteringly brilliant in about two seconds.
But you know me. I've never been much of a poet.
Then I thought of something. I never actually thanked you for anything—for leading the Titans, for teaching me things, for being my friend, for just putting up with me all the time… gee, I never realized how long the list was! I guess I never really thought about it. It's about time I did.
And that's all I wanted to say, I guess—just thanks. Just thanks for being you—meaning you're a great guy and don't you ever forget it or else!!
I'll visit you soon.
Your pal Wally
I'm sure you've noticed by now that I was the only one who didn't make a page for you in the scrapbook. I intended to, and I had plenty of ideas of what to put in them, too.
But that was just the problem. I had too many ideas. And every time I tried to narrow them down to just a few, I'd get ten more ideas for each one I had eliminated. So I finally gave up and went out on patrol instead. Clark is still giving me disapproving looks for that, if it's any consolation.
It's not that I didn't want to make those pages for you. I did. But you've been such a vital part of my life for so many years that it would be impossible to just single out one important event like that. I know that sounds cliché, but it's true. Now I know I've taken that for granted for too long.
You know I've never been able to apologize or even express feelings very well, not to you or anybody else. I know this is a terrible fault of mine (there, I admit it. I'm not perfect). And I know I should have told you all of this long before now. I hope that, someday, maybe I'll be able to tell you this and a lot more that you deserve to hear. But for now, this will have to do.
I hope you understand.
The last letter wasn't signed, but it didn't need to be. Dick knew who had written it. And by reading between the lines, he understood exactly what was being said.
"Sure. 'Someday, maybe'. Sure…"
Dick highly doubted that would ever happen. The poor guy tried—he really did—but as far as emotions went, he could be worse than Spock from the old Star Trek series.
But he tried.
And that's what counted.
Dick's lips curved upward in a little smile as he reread the letter. A lot of effort had been put into that letter. He could tell. And just reading the precious note made him feel kind of… special. The way he used to feel whenever Batman would tell Robin that he'd done a good job on patrol.
Only way better.
"Happy New Year!" Speedy hollered.
He yanked on the ends of a party cracker, releasing several strings of colorful confetti into the air with a loud popping noise. Then he broke into a deafening and rather off-key rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne'.
Wonder Girl and Aqualad settled for plugging their ears, but Kid Flash reached over and gave the young archer a good hard shove off the chair. Speedy let out an extremely high-pitched yelp as he hit the floor. Wonder Girl and Kid Flash couldn't help but laugh while Aqualad tried not to. He was the leader now; he couldn't let Speedy know he was amused. That would seem like he was taking sides.
How did Robin do it? he mused. He always managed to laugh at everybody, even himself, without making it seem like he was siding with anyone.
Meanwhile, Speedy was not quite as amused as the others were. Muttering something threatening under his breath, Speedy clambered to his feet and stormed over to Kid Flash with the intention of beating him up. He might have succeeded if Kid Flash hadn't had his super speed.
"Nyah, nyah! You can't catch me!" the speedster chortled.
"Come now, you two," Aqualad tried to take control.
But Speedy, as usual, ignored him and yelled threats at Kid Flash, who continued to tease the archer while staying just one step out of reach.
"What, are you afraid to fight me? Scared you'll hurt yourself, Twinkletoes?" Speedy goaded.
Kid Flash glowered. Within seconds, he was standing nose-to-nose with Speedy. Nobody called him a coward and got away with it!
"Care to say that again, Arrow Breath?" he said dangerously.
"Alright, that will be quite enough," Aqualad commanded, still sounding unsure of himself. Speedy picked up on that instantly and gave the Atlantean a push.
"Stay outta this, Gillhead, it ain't none of your business!"
"You cannot talk to Aqualad that way!" yelled Wonder Girl.
"Ya know something, Wonder Chick? I think I just did!"
Aqualad sighed as the argument quickly escalated to war status. Kid Flash and Wonder Girl tried to talk (or shout) some sense into Speedy, who refused to give in.
He had to try to stop this. But how? Everything he'd tried in the past had failed miserably. If this kept up, the Teen Titans would have to be disbanded!
Aqualad was spared the agony of trying to stop the fight when something blurred past him, coming within inches of his nose and then curving around toward the others. He didn't have time to figure out what it was or where it had come from… but the next thing he knew, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash had been tied together with a strong rope. Wonder Girl easily escaped, but the rope promptly tightened around its remaining two prisoners.
"That's what you get for disobeying the leader."
Aqualad whirled around to face the doorway, where a very familiar hero now stood, holding the rope securely in his gloved hands. He could already feel a smile spreading across his face as Wonder Girl cried out a gleeful "Robin!" and nearly knocked the boy down in her attempt to hug him.
"Argh! Um… alright, I missed you too! But you're, uh,"—He coughed—"kind of… strangling me, Wonder Girl…"
She hastily loosened her grip on the Boy Wonder as Speedy and Kid Flash craned their necks to try to catch a glimpse of their former leader.
"What's going on back there?" Speedy hollered.
"Hey, Leader Man," Robin greeted Aqualad, ignoring Speedy's demand. "How're things going?"
"Much better, now that you have returned," Aqualad returned warmly, still smiling.
"Well don't start celebrating just yet. I'm still not quite ready to come back—I just thought I'd surprise you guys by popping in for a visit. Now I'm glad I did."
"Wow, great to see you again, Rob!" Kid Flash broke in happily. "Now would you mind letting us outta here? Please?"
"Do you promise to quit fighting each other?"
"We promise," the boys grudgingly mumbled.
"And do you promise to follow all of Aqualad's orders until I come back?"
"FINE! Now will you untie us already?!" Speedy growled.
"Alright," he obliged. With a simple flick of his wrist, the rope went slack. Speedy and Kid Flash wasted no time in untangling themselves and walking over to Robin.
"Um, not to put pressure on you," Wonder Girl started, "but when do you think you will be able to return to the Titans?"
"You really want to know?"
"Well, like, duh," Speedy said as everyone else just nodded.
"You really, really want to know?" Robin taunted, flopping backwards onto the couch.
"I said duh. What more do you want?"
"Well in that case… I have absolutely no idea."
"I don't," Robin repeated with a shrug. "When I'm ready, I'm ready. And right now, I'm not ready."
"You will tell us when you are ready, won't you?" Wonder Girl inquired.
"Of course! In fact I wish I could come back right now, but Batman would strangle me. And let's not even discuss what Alfred would do."
"Why aren't you ready?" asked Kid Flash in a very small voice. "You seem pretty okay now, and if you want to come back, you should be able to. Um… right?"
"That's just the problem. I'm not okay," Robin confessed. "I mean, I'm up to a fairly decent weight… but I'm not ready for the responsibility of leading the Titans just yet. I'm still… I still feel like I'll mess up and get one of you guys killed, okay?"
This last was spoken in a rush, as if he was embarrassed to admit it.
"Robin, we're all scared," Aqualad put in supportively. He took it as a good sign that the Boy Wonder was able to admit his fears aloud. "We just don't let it rule our lives. That's what being brave is—overcoming your fears."
"Yeah, I know… but up until recently, I was the leader. I assumed responsibility. And if I screwed up, it could really cost you."
"We know there are risks, Short Pants," said Speedy. "We knew there were risks when we agreed to form the Titans in the first place."
"But we trust you," Wonder Girl finished up. "That is why we appointed you our leader. Because we can trust you, we know we can trust you."
"Well, thanks," Robin said with a little smile, "but I still don't think I'm quite ready for all that responsibility yet. I can be your research assistant, though."
It took the Titans a moment to register that comment.
"Really?" Kid Flash cried in delight.
"Why not? Physically speaking, it's not very taxing, and this way I'll be able to keep my hand in until I can be leader again. Which reminds me. Aqualad, don't get too comfortable as leader, because I AM coming back—someday—and I don't want to have to beat you up over any mutinies. You got that?"
"I wouldn't want it any other way," he acknowledged.
There ya have it. A rather optimistic ending, I think. Hope ya'll liked it!! And if not, well, too bad. Thanks again for the reviews!
ShockMePeter-To be honest, I'm not quite sure what it's about. Masochism, I think. O.o And I'm glad someone found the apple seed bit amusing; that was sort of the point. ;-)
caltha-Yeah, Ollie's the really evil one. It's his fault Speedy's a jerk half the time (or three-quarters of the time... okay, ALL the time). Aw, I wanna cuddle him now, too! That's never happened before...
steelelf-BruceDick sweetness is my favorite, too. (big grin) By the way, what's Fun Dip?
kokomocalifornia-I think he would, too, but I still probably should have asked. Anywho, yes, I'm afraid this is the end of the line for this story. Now I actually have to go and write something else...
antiSTYX-New reviewer! Yahoo, thanks! Here's that happy ending for you :) Yeah, I'm glad Speedy's feeling guilty, too (evil grin) But hey, I needed SOME reason to excuse his behavior, right?
Adren-That's good to know. I hope he lets you join. Hehe, you read that... (cough) I'm sorry you didn't like the ending. Looking back, that seemed cheesy too... oh well. And, well, he can still see in this one, so you don't have to worry (though if you're anorexic and diabetic, it's possible that you could lose your sight... but I digress...)
Balance in the Dark-That was the scene from my uncle's song. Heh. Glad you liked.
Gohanzgirl-Yeah, updates! Thanks for reviewing :)
They call me Bruce-Thankies. I hope the length of this thing doesn't scare you away :-P
PlatinumRoseLady-Don't worry. Speedy acted a little like a jerk in this chapter. That oughtta make the transition a little easier, lol.
steelphoenix-That's a tactful way of putting things, but yeah, it sums it up nicely :) And, well, Bruce had to learn sometime. He's smarter than Speedy, so it would make him look bad if he didn't.
CrazyInsomaniac-Meh, that's okay. I had SATs today, so I understand (unfortunately). Oooh, yeah, put that gun away... if you shoot Dick, Bruce would probably go ballistic. On you. LOL :)