Author's Notes: I'm...not sure what this is. I just wanted to write. This the first piece I've written for this fandom, as well as the first piece I've written in months. It's also the first piece I've written that wasn't from another fandom for the first time in years. The combination is all very daunting and scary!
I have been thinking a lot about friendships and guilt and what a selfish emotion it can be and I guess this happened. I really want to do a companion sequel to this from Dick's perspective, cause I feel like I kept his thoughts and feelings really close to the chest on this one. I think that was intentional, but I wrote this in an hour so I don't know what my muse was really doing. This could also be an exercise in preparing myself for the worst, as my beta Kirsten says, since I am allll over the place re: 'Dick's kind of a dog' says Greg Weisman. So if/when I do write a sequel, I think I shall do it after I get more insight into what exactly that means, especially when it comes to Dick/Babs, which at this point I am 85% sure is going to happen in some context.
Now I'm just rambling. Hi, fandom. I wrote this for you.
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. Title and lyrics come from 'When We Were Young' by Sucre.
When We Were Young
Barbara used to sleep over when they were younger. She and Dick would lay their sleeping bags down in the living room in Wayne Manor; the one living room that was so large it was hard to believe that it could ever feel lived in. But on those nights, cuddled up by the massive fireplace, laughing and making s'mores (much to the dismay of Alfred, who didn't enjoy picking roasted marshmallows out of the carpet), it felt like home. It felt warm.
Back then, things were simple; life was a lot easier to handle when you didn't have the added complication of raging teenage hormones in your life. When you were friends with someone not based on their gender, but based on their personality. And that was why she and Dick were friends, why they had connected from the very moment they met at a Wayne Foundation charity ball. They just fit.
Then again, there were friends, and then there were Dick and Babs, and sometimes the lines got blurred. The lines between friendship and family. The lines between friendship and romance. The lines between love and lust.
Now that they are older, it isn't called sleeping over. It's called spending the night, and it's not a social practice or occasion. It wasn't snuggling into sleeping bags by the fireplace, but staying in separate bedrooms; Dick in his, Babs in the guest room. It was isolated and it was cold and it was inforced by Batman, who didn't think it wise to send the Commissioner's daughter home in the middle of the night after a grueling patrol. They usually don't do more than say goodnight to each other; it's not for a lack of want or caring, but due to a crippling exhaustion. Some nights, she wakes up before Dick. Most nights, he's gone before she leaves.
But then there are the nights where sleeping over, spending the night, has a completely different meaning. It's not at the Manor, but rather at Dick's apartment. It's never planned, it's never spontaneous, but it always starts with a phone call.
She knows better than this.
She's not stupid, far from it, and she knows that when he texts her late in the night that something is wrong and he wants an escape from it. Something along the way didn't go according to plan, and as team leader, he has to deal with the ramifications on his own. She knows exactly why he needs her in those moments, exactly why he wants her. What she doesn't know is whether or not he will tell her what happened, why he needs her at all. If he'll be vulnerable enough to divulge in the secrets that cause deep circles under his eyes. He usually doesn't.
He usually won't.
She long ago stopped taking offense to it. There were some things, she decided, that simply couldn't be shared, especially in their line of business. There were some things he just couldn't tell her, just like he couldn't tell her about the double life he was living for all of those years.
Still, it is grating. She doesn't want to be the midnight phone call anymore. The one he calls when he's upset, the one he wants to come kiss it better. Maybe when she was younger, she reveled in it. Maybe she enjoyed being the one whose shoulder he cried on. But she is older now, wiser, and she knows the implications that come with it all. She just doesn't know where she fits.
But still, she goes anyway.
So when he calls that night, five weeks after Artemis' death, when the warmth of spring is just starting to creep up the walls of Gotham City, she goes. "Babs, hey," he says over the voicemail, "I know it's late. I know. I know. I just…I need you. Call me. Or just come over. Just…Babs."
Later she'll blame it on the way he says her name, but she knows it has nothing to do with that. He doesn't have to say anything at all.
She arrives at his apartment shortly after one AM, and the night, despite the coming season, is chilly. She only has to ring the buzzer once and he lets her into his building. She waves timidly at the doorman, the one who eyes her with a smirk, and she feels slightly embarrassed. She's been coming around to Dick's apartment since he got it, and the man was plenty familiar with her coming at all hours of the day. Her midnight trips were just becoming more frequent, and the reasons why she was there more apparent. This was not lost on the doorman.
He lets her inside after two knocks and she takes one look at him and feels her heart break. His left cheek his slightly bruised and his hair is a mess; eyes rimmed with dark purple. He looks like he hasn't slept properly in days, and he probably hasn't. He's shirtless, his upper body exposed, and she sees the cuts and scars tracing and dotting his muscles.
"Babs," he whispers, and she feels something else in her break. "Hi."
If she ever questioned why she comes, she knows now as she wraps her arms around him and draws him close. She loves him, the way you really love someone. It is not the can't eat, can't sleep, can't breathe all consuming love she reads about, but the kind of love that is based on deep feelings and mutual respect and understanding. The one that stems from the desire to be with them, be around them, always, always, always. That is why she goes.
"What happened?" she asks, drawing back and running her hands over his cheekbones. He shakes his head, leaning into her grasp.
"Just…the usual. Things with Kaldur. Black Manta. Tigress. Nothing to worry about."
But she does worry. She wonders why he won't tell her things. Wonders why he builds up these walls. But she brushes away the thoughts and kisses him. Their teeth clash and their lips bruise against the other's and she melts into him. She can feel his tension slipping away, can feel his breathing pick up; this time in a good way. They're gasping, clutching, teasing, pulling. They undress each other; quickly or slowly, she can't be sure. She just knows that she ends up on her back, on his fancy Italian sheets and he's above her. Then he's under her and he's inside her and he's all over.
It always seems too much but it never is. It's always just enough. It's always just right.
Afterward, when they are done, he pulls her to him beneath the covers. Presses his body to the length of hers. Chest to chest, knee to knee. He bends her heel with his toes and she shudders. She feels like he has complete control over her sometimes.
"Babs," he says softly into her hair. "I just…thank you."
She doesn't say anything for a moment. Weighs her options; does she say you're welcome and pretend that it's all okay? Does she yell and say that she is tired of being his friend with endless benefits? Or does she say she loves him, and demand to know if he loves her back?
She goes with none of them.
"Dick," she begins slowly. The words are hard to get out. "I know that there are things…secrets, that you can't tell me. That are bigger than you and I. I know that. I understand that."
He tenses, every muscle stiffening, and she knows it was the wrong thing to say. "Babs—"
"Shh," she places a finger up to his lips. "I know that. And I understand that. I accept it. But I don't like it. I can handle it, but I don't like it."
She takes a deep breath then and he captures her hand in his, kissing her knuckles. "Babs…Barbara…you know if I could, I would tell you. I would tell you everything. Every little secret, every little part of me, you would know all of them. But I can't. I want to, but I can't."
"I know," she whispers, "and it's okay. It is. But this?" she gestures between them, slipping her hand out of his grasp. "It can't happen again. It won't. I love you, Dick, but I can't do this anymore. It's not fair. "
She untangles herself from him and slides out of bed, gathering her clothing and pulling it over her head, up her legs. He watches her, his eyes wide and startled. It isn't until she grabs her purse and heads for the door that he moves.
"Babs, I'm not, this isn't—" he cuts himself off, cursing as he tries to put on his boxers and still run after her. "Babs. Babs!"
He turns the corner into the hallway and she's stood at the door, lacing up her boots. "Babs," he says, and she can see the distress in his face. "I'm not using you. I'm not, I swear. I hate doing this to you. You're just the only one who gets it, Barbara. The only one who understands what it means to be a part of this, to be a part of him. You're the only one who understands." He looks at her, pleadingly. "Babs, you're the only one."
Her breath catches in her throat and again, she knows. She knows that's his way of saying he loves her. Knows it's his way of saying all of the things he can't seem to be able to say, at least not right now. Their relationship stretches too many years; there's too many things at risk here, treading these waters between lovers and friends. Too many things at risk, least of all their lives.
She finishes lacing her boot and walks over to him. She kisses him gently and feels him respond, feels him lock his arms around her waist. He doesn't want her to go. Not like this.
"I know," she says once more. "And when you're ready to talk, I'll come. I will when you are ready to talk."
With that, she tightens the strap on her bag and walks out, saying nothing more. She feels her resolve crumble as she makes her way down the hall, and she lets herself fall apart in the elevator, overcome with guilt for leaving him when he may have needed her most.
Or maybe it was that she felt guilty, because she needed him too.
Her phone rings off the hook for the rest of night and she gets no sleep. She showers and washes his scent off of her skin, but finds it lingers. She lays in her own bed, one that suddenly seems bigger and colder than any of the ones at Wayne Manor, and uses all of her willpower not to pick up. Not to respond to the dozens of text messages. Tries not to think of how much it's hurting him, how much it's hurting her.
Instead she forces her eyes shut and thinks of sleepovers. Thinks of marshmallows and melting, thick chocolate. Of coercing Bruce into telling ghost stories so scary that they both jumped and squeezed each other's hands so tightly that their were half moons in their palms from the other's nails. Thinks of staying up all night and telling secrets that were just between them. Things they could only tell each other. Thinks of being nine years old and having the best friend in the world and sleeping over because it's fun, not because it will keep secrets from her father, and definitely not because it involves sex.
As she thinks this; her phone continues to ring.
When we were young,
I never had to worry.
I didn't even care, cause something always came my way.
- When We Were Young by Sucre