This chapter was a pain in the foot for various reasons, but now I've got it out I hope you guys don't hate it. The shifts are a bit abrupt but I was trying to stick to the point so this wouldn't be too much of a filler chapter. Thanks for being such patient readers, I know my gaps in updating can be frustrating but I love those of you who stuck with me anyway.
"Have you found out anything new about Qurac or Bialya?" I asked my uncle.
"No, kid, but I promise I'll tell you as soon as I do," said my uncle with a smile.
It was storming outside and my uncle and I were on the highway, heading towards Dad's treatment center.
I frowned, wondering if my uncle was telling the truth or if he was just brushing me off. Then again, I'd only shared my findings with the league last night. Things like this can take a lot of time, but still—
"So, I hear from Canary that M'gann invited you to a Halloween shindig," he said. "Do you have any ideas for costumes?"
"Shindig?" I snorted, as the old-manish-ness of my uncle's words hit me.
"Hey, it's better than peachy."
"You still won't ever prove a I said that."
My uncle smirked.
"You didn't answer my question."
"I was thinking about it but I don't have a costume—"
A thought occurred to me.
"Hang on, I'm still grounded, aren't I?" I asked, looking at my uncle.
"You can go, to the dance," said my uncle softly, "just, keep me posted on where you are. It gives me a gray hair every time I look for you and find that you're missing, and I'm too young for that. I'm not supposed to be a cane banging oldie for at least another few decades."
"You're already a cane banging oldie," I said.
"Am not!" said my uncle, taking one hand off the wheel and whacking the back of my head, though there was no force behind it.
I flinched reflexively before rolling my eyes.
"Really? Then why do little kids always think you're Santa?"
"Because you look so much like a red-haired reindeer, Wallace Rudolph," quipped my uncle.
I rolled my eyes again, looking out the window as a bolt of lightning lit up the sky.
"How original," I said dryly.
"You started it," my uncle pointed out.
I sighed, though it was drowned out by thunder.
"You know, I do have a clown nose and a pair of antlers in my closet…"
"Shut up," I groaned.
"Just saying," he said.
I shook my head at the image of what Artemis would say if I showed up in a reindeer costume. She wouldn't get the reference, of course. My middle name wasn't something I advertised, but she would mock me just the same.
I traced some of the signatures on my cast as my thoughts wandered away from my blonde frienemy. I realized as I looked down at the sharpie drawn names that my mom and dad hadn't signed this one…
I'd been waiting all day to see him and it was just a few minutes away now. I'd been looking forward to it all during school but at the same time I couldn't help but have my doubts. Would he be coherent like he was when I spoke with him the last time, or would he be really sick?
"So your sweet sixteen is coming up," said my uncle.
"I'm pretty sure the only people who call it a "sweet sixteen" are teenage girls and old ladies," I said, though the sarcasm didn't shine through as much as I meant it to as I was starting to chew my lip again.
"You're quick to stereotype today," said Uncle Barry, unfazed. "Anyway, your aunt wanted me to start going over some rules of the road with you, so you can practice."
"I already know how to drive," I said in exasperation.
"Pulling over runaway vehicles and chasing down thugs on a motorcycle does not make you qualified to drive in everyday situations. There's a lot of little rules they can nail your for on the driver's exam," said my uncle. "Look," he came to a stop sign.
"See how I came to a complete stop? If your wheels are rolling even a little they can get you for that, and there's the matter of parking too—"
"I know how to park," I said quietly.
"What?" asked my uncle.
"The moment dad found out that I needed to drive for—for the job. He took me out to the middle of nowhere and taught me the rules of the road. I'll probably need to practice a bit practically, but he's drilled me enough of the finer points into me that I know the state laws and the test rules."
"Oh," said my uncle in surprise. "That's great, kid, uh…well, after you get your permit just let me know when you wanna go over the practical stuff and I'll supervise, okay?"
I shrugged. I didn't really want to talk about my sixteenth birthday. I'd always thought it'd be my dad teaching me to drive (legally, this time) not my uncle. The coming of the "milestone" birthday would only make it all the more obvious that my parents weren't there.
Don't worry about it, I consoled myself. Those so-called milestones mean nothing. I learned to drive when I was thirteen, sixteen for me is just another year. It's not a big deal.
My uncle got into the turn lane, waited until the two lanes of oncoming traffic were clear, and then headed onto the road that led to the treatment facility.
It was still pouring and we had to run inside, though we still got soaked.
The heat inside the building wasn't enough to shake the feel of the cold, autumn rain, and I shivered as we approached the front desk.
I tried not to look the receptionist in the eye because I recognized him as one of the people who saw me—for want of a less embarrassing way to put it—run out crying on my last visit.
"You're welcome to go see him, but Mr. West isn't having a very good day," he said quietly to my uncle. "He hasn't been very coherent."
My uncle glanced at me.
"Maybe we should come back another time?" he queried.
I shook my head.
I wanted to see my dad, and whatever they had to say wouldn't change that.
"Do you want me to come with you?"
I shook my head again.
The receptionist gave me the room number after he received a nod from Uncle Barry and I made my way down the hall, alone.
The place was like a hospital, only not quite as nice. The walls looked cheap and dreary and the floors, while spotless, had clearly seen better days. I could tell by the variations in décor that that they were trying to make the place more pleasant, but something—probably funds—was making it difficult.
I wound through the stark halls of the treatment center until I reached a room with three beds. A very sick, wretched looking man was laying in one nearest the door and I smiled at him before doing a double take and realizing that I was actually looking right at my dad, but I hadn't recognized him at first.
I felt sick to my stomach as I looked at the man who'd raised me. He'd lost a lot of weight and his face had no color. His eyes were glazed over and blood shot too. He looked like he was dying, to be honest, and I tried not to let that scare me too much.
"Hey, Dad," I said as I approached the bed.
Dad didn't reply.
I walked closer.
"Dad," I said, positioning myself so I was in his line of vision.
He didn't even blink, it was like he didn't see me.
He shivered and turned in his bed, scratching at his skin. I noticed then that there were a few cuts up and down his arms and that he was wearing soft gloves. I cringed at the realization that he'd been itching his skin off.
"Dad, It's Wally," I said, putting a hand on his arm. I was still a bit damp from the rain outside and my Dad blinked as some water rolled off my sleeve and onto his skin.
His eyes focused for a second.
"Medicine time?" he slurred, disoriented.
"No, Dad, it's me, your son," I said, feeling hurt.
Dad squinted at me as if trying to puzzle something out before his gaze relaxed and he seemed to drift away.
I took a breath.
"Dad?" I tried again.
I felt sad and disappointed. If this was how mom had seen him, then her attitude was a lot easier to understand in an odd sort of way. I mean, if she didn't get to talk to him then she didn't understand that he wanted to be here. Maybe if she could hear it from him instead of having to see him like…like this all the time then she wouldn't be so mad at me.
I shivered from emotion and cold and sat down on a plastic chair that was just as cold as I was. I felt the chill settle on me as I grabbed my dad's gloved hand.
"Um…so it's raining," I said awkwardly. I could think of nothing to do but make conversation, so I kept talking.
"Well, obviously, I'm soaked, stupid statement," I said laughing uneasily.
"Halloween is coming up," I said after a minute of silence.
"On Sunday there's this dance. I don't have a date yet, or a costume, come to think of it. What do you think I should be?"
Dad seemed to be trying to focus his gaze on me so I smiled and kept talking, excitedly.
"My one friend is really excited. She sent us a picture of her as a dead bride and asked if it was a good costume. And, um…My other friend, the one that likes to be called Jinx, is taking her little brother Trick-or-Treating. Seemore is going with them. He's crushing on her and I think she's starting to like him back."
I laughed at myself.
"I sound like a girl, talking about dresses and crushes, I'm surprised you're not on my back about it right now."
I looked at Dad hopefully, half expecting him to snap out of it and start making fun of me. He didn't even move.
"Well, anyway, Central's playing Gotham in football next week. We'll probably lose, because Gotham's more savage than usual, yet again our team is more organized so it might be close."
My eyes trailed around the room and landed on a television in the corner.
"Maybe you should ask to watch it on television, it might be fun."
Dad gave a sudden jerk and I leaned in.
Is he waking up?
Dad gave another jerk and his monitors suddenly started making a piercing noise.
Dad's whole body started twitching and I realized, as a nurse came in, that he was having a seizure. My eyes widened as I watched my dad flail around unnaturally. A sound left his mouth that was somewhere between a shout and a groan.
"Time to go, son," said an older aid kindly, entering the room. She led me back to the lobby where my uncle was waiting.
"How'd it go kid?" asked my uncle when I entered the lobby.
I was speechless.
"Mr. West isn't doing very well today," the aid told my uncle.
"We'll come back another day then," said my uncle as he put a hand on my wet shoulder. "I'm sure he'll be feeling better soon."
I walked out of the building, back into the rain with my uncle and got in the car. I sat there and shivered from both the rain and nerves.
"Kid, what happened?" asked my uncle as he started the car and cranked the heat.
"Dad couldn't talk to me, he didn't really know I was there. I talked to him anyway, but then he had a seizure," I said, still stunned.
My uncle let out a breath.
It was quiet before he asked:
"What's on your mind?"
I tapped my hands against the car. I didn't want to talk about it because I knew I'd get upset.
"Don't do this, Wally, talk to me," my uncle ordered firmly, but compassionately.
I looked out the car window and said:
"What if he gets stuck like that? What if the seizures mess up his brain function and he can't talk to anyone anymore?" My teeth chattered as I finished the sentence and raindrops rolled down my face like tears.
Uncle Barry looked away when I glanced over at him and I realized by the look on his face that my fears were an actual possibility. I had the sudden urge to leap out of the car and start running as fast as I could until I was so far away no one would even know what Crack Venom was.
"If it helps," said my uncle, and his gentle tone was enough to help me slow my heart rate back down, "The aids said he called your mother's cell phone this morning. It was her first time hearing him when he was coherent, but that's not unusual. The doctors say he's actually doing very well, all things considered."
"Did Dad tell her he was happy to be in rehab?" I asked.
"I don't know," said my uncle. "Why?"
"Because if he did, then maybe Mom's not so mad at me."
"Your mom was never mad at you," said my uncle firmly, "she took her anger out on you, there's a difference."
I didn't like the blame in my uncle's voice and I gave him a look.
My uncle looked out at the parking lot and I thought he'd dropped the conversation until he said:
"You know, your mom texts Iris every night to make sure you're in bed, safe and sound."
"She does?" I asked, surprised.
My uncle nodded.
"She loves you so much, she's just been having a hard time."
I leaned against the icy window, dissecting this statement, as my uncle finally shifted the car into drive and left the facility.
I felt calmer once I dried off and changed clothes. My uncle put some water on to boil before he hopped into the shower so I went downstairs, when I heard the kettle whistle and fixed myself a cup of hot cocoa.
I brought it back to the guest room and sat on the bed, sipping it. The good thing about having speedsters in the family was that no one was anal about what rooms of the house you were allowed to eat or drink in, as long as you cleaned up after yourself.
I inhaled the steam from my mug and listened to the storm continue to rage outside.
I was worried about my family. What if Dad didn't make it, or what if he did but gained some sort of disability? Would he ever be okay again? And what about the conspiracy I'd uncovered? Had my findings been correct? Had the league taken me seriously? And what if they decided I was wrong about the reporter thing? Would I let that theory go, or would I still cling to it? I fretted my way through a cup of cocoa and a bag of chips, putting things in my mouth more to give myself something to chew other than my lip.
I was still pondering everything when my cellphone rang and I saw Dick's phone number flash across the screen. I was a little surprised at the call. I figured that Dick would drop off the map for the next few days. It was Halloween weekend after all.
In Gotham, Halloween wasn't so much a holiday as a citywide disaster waiting to happen. Crime got so bad during that time that it was a more popular time of year to go on vacation and leave town than Christmas and every officer in the Gotham PD was required to work at least one shift that weekend no matter how much seniority they had or how much vacation they'd saved up. Needless to say, it was an extremely busy time for Batman and Robin, so the fact that Robin was calling me, and not resting up for a long night's patrol concerned me.
"Hello?" I said, picking up at once.
"Dude! What level are you on?" I heard him ask. There was a shriek and an explosion in the background. I assumed by the tone of his voice that he was playing video games (and not dodging actual bullets).
"Umm, what?" I asked.
"Danger City IV, what level are you on?!" he said, as if it should be obvious.
Danger City IV…
"That's out?!" I yelped, now realizing what he was talking about.
The background noise died and I could tell Dick had paused his game.
"What do you mean "that's out?" You've been talking about this game for months!"
"Umm…" I froze up, unsure of what to say. "I just, forgot. I've been busy…"
"With what? Your parents are on a cruise, you're not dong extra-curriculars because of your arm, the team's not doing much of anything and last I checked you decided not to do the science club this year because the new captain's a jerk.
"I have a life outside of school and work, you know!" I said.
"Anyway, how's the game?" I asked, partly out of curiosity and partly to change the subject.
"It's better than Danger City II," he said.
"Woah! Nothing's better than DC II! Not even the original game! What's the game play like?"
"More plot this time, which is nice, and better weapons and graphics."
"Well, the graphics are a give in, but it's nice that they learned their lesson after the third game, it was cool but the interest factor went down pretty quick."
"This one's pretty re-playable," said Dick. "Apparently there are a few different endings and levels you can get to based on the way you play."
"Sweet," I said approvingly.
"So what have you been so busy with that you forgot about the best game of the year?" asked Dick casually.
"School and stuff," I said shortly.
"You're being evasive," he said and I noticed that he had yet to restart his game, meaning he was giving me his full attention.
No! It's Halloween weekend, he has enough to worry about.
I frowned in frustration.
"Can you just drop it?" I asked knowing any further excuses were pointless, but asking Dick to just let things go might work, depending on his mood.
"Does this have anything to do with your friend?"
"What friend?" I asked, confused.
"The one whose blood you were running tests on a little while back."
Oh! Right, crap…
"He's fine," I said, uneasily.
"Are you sur—"
"So how's the game?" I asked. "How far into it are you?"
"Walls—" scolded my friend.
"Dick," I growled.
"Well, it's pretty intense. There's a bonus level in each segment of the game that you can only play if you get a high enough score during the regular game play. And once you unlock that level you can go back to it and play it again."
"Cool!" I said, pretending to care.
"Yep, it's pretty sweet," said Dick, and I noticed the sarcastic undertone in his voice.
I swallowed and continued the conversation. The tense semblance of casual chatter lasted just a few minutes before Dick said he had to leave. I hung up, feeling a bit sick.
Don't worry about it, Wally, just don't. I told myself firmly.
Don't, Don't, Don't.
There was a knock on my door.
"Hey, Wally, I just rented a movie, you want to watch it with me?" I heard Uncle Barry ask through the door.
"Sure," I said tonelessly, getting up.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
The night was quiet, and an uneasy peace had settled on me as I sat there, mindlessly watching movies with my aunt and uncle. All was quiet until the doorbell rang.
"Wally, can you get that?" asked my uncle, who was in the kitchen fixing a snack.
"Sure," I said.
I walked over to the door and pulled the handle. I was surprised to see my mom standing there.
"Hi," I said, glancing at her appearance. She looked tired, and bewildered. She was holding a plastic bag in one poorly manicured hand and her purse in the other.
"Hey, sweetie," she said and I smelled cigarette smoke on her breath. I felt disappointment fill me. It was no secret that my mom had been a heavy smoker once upon a time, but she'd quit for good when she became pregnant with me. I suppose she'd picked up the habit again.
"I went to see your dad today," she said before smiling. "He was coherent, for a change."
I cracked a grin and I couldn't help but hug her.
"That's great, mom," I said, feeling relieved.
She hugged be back with difficulty, because of the bags, and let go quickly.
I stepped back and put distance between the two of us as my aunt came up behind me.
"Oh! Hi, Mary," said Aunt Iris with a smile. "Come in!"
"I can't stay," she said. "I have some errands I need to run. I got an offer for the house," she said.
"Already?!" exclaimed my aunt.
"Yeah," said my mom, looking both relieved and devastated. "Apparently our neighborhood is a hot market right now," she shrugged and I felt sadness washed over me. I'd known this was coming, but this made it permanent. There was no going back now, my house, my home was gone. It was probably going to be sold off to a couple yuppie newly weds with no history and no taste. They would taint the place with their decorations and paint colors until it was no longer mine and my parents' anymore, but someone else's. The thought made me sick, but I didn't let it show, I couldn't.
"Anyway, I needed to drop this off for Wally," said my mom unevenly, as she handed me a bag.
"It's a your Dad's old Teen Wolf costume. For some reason your father kept insisting that you needed it. He couldn't tell me why, but he made me promise I'd bring it to you," she said, shrugging helplessly.
My breath froze and my heart paused for just a moment.
"I—uh—went to visit him today," I muttered. "He wasn't very with it, so I just kind of talked. I mentioned that—that I didn't have a Halloween costume." I swallowed. "I guess it sunk it."
My mom pursed her lips the way she did whenever she was thinking hard.
"That's a really good sign," said my aunt, optimistically.
My mom smiled in a way that looked like she was trying not to cry and she nodded.
"It is," she said in a low voice.
She took a deep breath.
"Be sure to take pictures of Wally in the costume," she said to my aunt.
"Absolutely!" said my aunt.
"I'd better go, bye baby," she said glancing my way. I prepared for a hug or kiss, just because it was pure habit, but she just waved. I waved back, feeling both happy and hollow. I glanced down at the plastic bag and wandered back inside.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Third wheel. That was the only thought running through my mind as I stood awkwardly in the gymnasium as M'gann and Connor danced together. When I say danced together, I mean M'gann mimicked the girls around her and tried to draw Connor in. Connor himself was awkwardly shuffling from side to side and moving his fists up and down like he was from 1960. He looked constipated, and this all would have been hilarious if only I'd had someone to laugh with (sorry Con…) but that wasn't the case.
I'd known Robin and Kaldur weren't coming, but Zatanna and Artemis had bailed at the last minute for some weird reason. This meant that I was now stuck as a third wheel on some cheesy date.
I rolled my eyes as I resisted the urge to scratch my face. Dad's old costume was in pretty good shape, but the fake fur and face paint was itching like crazy.
I stared boredly at the flashing lights and other teens dancing as superheroes. It was a little ironic, by trying not to reveal our secret identities by dressing up as anything remotely hero related, M'gann, Connor, and I stood out all the more. I shrugged, deciding not to worry about it. Most of the people here weren't giving us a second glance. Another reason this party was boring.
"Hi, Wally, right?" asked a girl.
I turned and saw a beautiful girl with black hair and vibrant blue eyes that shimmered in the light.
"Yea," I said, managing a flirty grin.
"I'm Wendy, one of Megan's friends. I was just wondering where you got that costume," she said.
"It's just something my dad had lying around," I told her.
She's cute; maybe I should ask her to dance…I thought, perking up at the thought of this night having an up side.
"Bummer," said Wendy looking disappointed. "I wanted to go as Bella from Twilight, and have my boyfriend go as Jacob—but a more werewolf-y Jacob. Only he literally could not find a costume. Oh well, maybe next year," she said.
I nodded blankly. I had mostly tuned out at the words "boyfriend" and "Twilight." To be fair, I haven't actually read the books, but seeing some girl sobbing over the final novel made me decide that I just didn't want to know.
Suddenly the song on the speaker changed to "Gotham Sirens," and Megan, Wendy, and half the cheer leading team all squealed in unison.
"GIRLS' DANCE!" Hollered Wendy.
Just like that all the women in the room seemed to form a giant circle and a befuddled Connor was shoved aside.
He came and stood next to me.
"So…was that some sort of, rescue mission?" asked Connor.
"Umm, what?" I asked.
Connor turned to me, looking worried.
"On those shows M'gann watches—when a boy is annoying a girl, the girl's friends rush in to separate them. Usually it's more elaborate but—" he trailed off. "Was I dancing poorly?"
"Yes," I said bluntly. Connor slumped and I chuckled.
"Cheer up, dude, that's not why she stopped dancing with you." I told him, giving him a light shove. It was like pushing a brick wall and he didn't move an inch.
"Girls are kind of weird," I persisted, "there's some songs they want to dance to with their boyfriends and some songs they want to dance to with their friends. The ladies in this gym have deemed this song a "Girls song" and it's an unwritten rule that they should dance with other girls during it. M'gann will drag you over to dance with her again shortly," I said.
"If the rule is unwritten, how do they all know which songs to dance with their friends and which not to?" asked Connor in confusion. "These songs all sound the same to me."
"Heck if I know," I said with a snort. "You've about tapped out my knowledge of women for the night."
"And all this time you've claimed to be an expert," said Connor with a smirk.
"Dude, I'm like a magic 8 ball. I know all, but there's only so much info I can give you before I have to tell you to ask again later," I said smoothly.
"What does that even mean?" asked Connor.
"Ask again later," I quipped.
Connor gave me an odd look and walked away to get some punch.
I sighed, disappointed at the reaction. Robin would have teased me right back and we'd have spent half an hour trying to one-up one another. Heck, I'd even settle for bickering with Artemis to standing alone at a dance like a middle school student.
This is why you never go stag, Wally. I told myself as I watched M'gann and Wendy dancing. All the pretty girls have dates.
I perked up significantly when Marvin or Melvin—whatever his name was—started kicking up a fuss about aliens. I wasn't all that concerned, it was just kind of amusing to watch him rant about aliens being among us when there were two of them dancing together amongst all the humans. Things got better from there, we discovered his prank and turned it around on him, which was probably the most exciting event of the night. The only downside was when everyone got over what had happened and began dancing again. I looked over at Connor and M'gann, who so engrossed in giving each other disgustingly lovey looks that they were completely unaware of my presence.
I am so out of here, I decided.
I left the gymnasium and started heading back to the cave. The good thing about being in such a small town, was that it was easy to find an area with woods thick enough to run through without being seen. I sprinted back and entered Mount Justice.
The computer announced my presence to the empty cave and I checked the clock. It was ten o'clock, the dance should just be ending. I shot M'gann a quick text to let her know I'd left early so she wouldn't look for me, and headed off to shower. I couldn't take this itchy costume anymore.
I wasn't worried about getting back to my aunt and uncle's. Uncle Barry gave me permission to spend the night at the cave so long as I made it to school on time the next morning. Normally he probably wouldn't have made this allowance but I'd "behaved myself" enough in their eyes on Saturday (I hid in my room while pretending to study) to have earned some leeway for the holiday. Really, this "grounding" of theirs was a bit of a joke.
I lost track of time, showering, eating and watching television, that I was shocked when Connor walked in and I realized that it was midnight.
"Dude, where'd you go?" I asked.
"We all went to get food at a diner," said Connor.
"It took you two hours?" I asked.
Connor grunted, producing his "I am done dealing with people today" face and sitting onto the couch.
"Are you really watching this?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at the home improvement commercial.
"Nah, go ahead," I said handing him the remote.
Superboy took it immediately switched the television to static.
He breathed heavily through his nose, and closed his eyes as he leaned his head back against the couch.
"Where's M'gann?" I asked.
"She went to Wendy's house for a sleepover," he grumbled, his eyes shut tight.
"You okay?" I asked, amused.
"My head hurts," he stated blandly. He cracked open an eye. "The music at the dance was loud, but having all those girls in the same car was somehow …louder."
I shook my head, glad I'd left when I did. Even though it did mean I'd missed out on diner food.
"I should go to bed. Don't stay up to late watching this, Supes. I'm sure there will be reruns," I said sarcastically as I stood up.
I put away the dishes I'd used, and wandered to my room.
My room in the cave was like a cross between my room at home, or ex-home…and the guest room at my aunt and uncle's. There were a few posters on the walls and I had some things lying around but it was still pretty sparse. I climbed into my bed. The mattress wasn't superb, in fact it was probably the same kind that they used in dorm rooms at colleges, but it wasn't lumpy and old like the one at my ex-home, so that was nice.
I curled up under the blankets, some of which were provided others I'd brought from ho—I mean, ex-home, and went to sleep.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
I'm usually good about being woken up unexpectedly. It's a necessary trait in my line of work. There were times that I really struggled though. That night was one of them. I'd been woken from the deepest part of my sleep cycle by a light shining in my face. I bolted up in bed, unsure of where I was. I saw that the door to my room was open and light was streaming in from the hallway. A figure stood in the doorway but I recognized the silhouette. My subconscious instantly shut down my panic response and tried to reach for sleep again before I was fully aware of what was happening.
"KF," the figure said.
"Rob?" I slurred. "What's wrong?"
"I wanted to talk to you," said the boy and though I was still half-asleep, I knew something was really not right.
I got out of bed, swaying dizzily and staggered over to the lights, flipping them on.
I blinked hard as my eyes adjusted and I looked over my friend with concern.
He didn't look right. I was too tired to truly observe him but something was off.
"Are you okay?" I asked, groggily, my anxious mind fighting my fatigued body.
"Yea, calm down, KF," said Robin. He was gentle, but his voice was still tense.
Get him off his feet, my brain told me. He might be hurt.
"Sit down," I told him, gesturing him towards the bed.
He sat and I closed the door and flopped down next to him.
I looked at him more closely this time. He was in his civvies, and his hair was wet, like he'd just showered. I could see that his skin was pale and there were dark circles peeking out from under his sunglasses. He didn't seem to be in physical pain, but he was upset, really upset, though I couldn't tell why.
"What happened?" I asked, watching him with concern, still struggling to keep my eyes open. My mind put together the fact that last night was Halloween. Had something happened on patrol?
"I've been wanting to talk to you since yesterday," said Robin, "but every time I wanted to come see you, someone would pull a stunt and Bats and I would have to go and deal with it."
There was exhaustion in his tone that gave me pause.
"Dude, when's the last time you slept?"
"That's not important," mumbled Robin, urgently.
I shut my mouth, studying him.
Things were silent.
"Was it patrol, Rob?" I asked gently.
He huffed angrily. "No, it wasn't patrol," he said.
"Okay," I said patiently. "Then what's the matter?"
"Gee, maybe you should tell me," said Robin in frustration.
"Wait, what?" I asked, not comprehending what he was saying.
Robin took a deep breath.
"Wally," he said tiredly. "I know."
"What?" I asked again, with more emphasis this time.
"Friday," said Robin. His voice lost it's agitated edge and gaining a sad, gentle quality that freaked me out.
"I thought maybe something had happened to your friend, so I looked him up."
I blinked, then the realization set in and my heart dropped.
"There are no students in your school that have been put in rehab. In fact, on the list of ninety patients that have been admitted into rehab centers in the Central City area over the past few weeks, only two were high school sophomores and they were in a completely different district.
I said nothing, I only took a silent breath and stared at the wall.
"So I widened the search parameters…"
Dick trailed off and silence fell until I looked up. He watched me analytically, his eyes meeting mine.
"Your parents aren't on a cruise."
The words were like a punch to the gut as my lie went up in smoke. My emotions flew and it took all the willpower in my exhausted brain to keep my face blank and steady. I looked back at the wall.
"I'm so sorry," said Dick, softly.
The tone of the words startled me. I'd expected anger, the kind he'd had when he first came in, but I was getting sympathy instead. This made me even more uncomfortable than before, so naturally my first reaction was to look for an escape route.
"Look, can we not do this right now? I have school in—" I glanced at the clock "—like three hours."
"Really, Wally?" asked Robin, unimpressed.
"I don't want to talk about this right now," I told him firmly.
"More like you don't want to talk about this ever. You'd much rather sit around and lie to someone who trusted you."
The past tense on "trust" was like a slap in the face. To anyone else, it might have been a trivial comment. With Robin, trust was everything as there were so few people he could give it to. This was serious, and I knew what it meant.
It's over, I thought, hanging my head in sorrow. We aren't friends any more.
The quiet filling the air was tense, but breaking it was worse.
"Well," I said quietly. "I think I'll go back to my Uncle's house. It's quieter there anyway."
I stood up and grabbed my clothes.
"So, what, you're just going to ignore me because I want you to talk about the truth?" demanded Robin, his frustration overruling his compassion. "Are you trying to pretend nothing's wrong, like you did in that stupid simulation—"
Robin cut himself off, knowing he'd crossed a line.
He went tense and waited for me to say something.
I turned slowly and looked him right in the eye.
"I am so tired," I said in a low voice, "of people saying that kind of crap to me because they feel that they have a right to know, first hand, what's going on." I breathed out through my nose and shook my head. "You want information? Talk to Batman. I'm done discussing this with you."
I left the room and walked straight to the zeta tubes.