Wally poked his head into the lounge and frowned. "Dude," he addressed the figure whose feet he could see dangling over the arm of the couch, "you know it's like two in the morning, right?"
"Uh-huh," Robin mumbled in reply.
"So…maybe you should go to bed?" he suggested as he drew near.
"Not tired." The book that lay open on the cushion in front of him held his attention so thoroughly that it took him a second to react when fingers began tickling his unguarded toes. "Gah, Wally, stop!" he complained, yanking away. "I'm trying to read here!"
"Okay, okay," the speedster agreed grudgingly, ceasing his torture. "…You, ah, didn't have a nightmare or something, did you?" he asked in a low voice, coming around to sit on the floor near the other teen's elbow.
"…Would you tell me if you did?"
"No one else is listening, so yes. I would tell you." He turned a page. "Only you," he added quietly.
"Yeah, I know, bro. Just…making sure, I guess."
"It's cool." You're the only one who knows who I am, he reflected silently. The only one I tell everything to. That's not likely to change, so quit worrying. "What's with you?"
"Dunno. I was asleep, then I wasn't."
"…Bad dream?" I'm not the only one who gets them, after all, he conceded.
"No, just…this weird feeling that I needed to be somewhere other than in bed," the redhead shrugged. "It's gone now, though."
"Well, maybe this is where you're supposed to be, then," he said vaguely as he studied a woodcut of a man dressed in a flowing cape and brandishing a heavy walking stick.
"Yeah, sure," Wally, ever the skeptic, snorted. "What'd you do, send your patronus in to wake me up and lead me to the lounge?"
"Nope. I was perfectly happy reading all by lonesome. Not saying I want you to leave or anything," he tacked on quickly. "I didn't mean it like that. Besides, I left my wand at home this weekend."
"Hah." The older boy craned his neck awkwardly, trying to see the book. "What are you reading about, anyway?"
"Huh? That sounded like a sneeze."
"No," he shook his head. "I said, 'hajduks.'"
"What the hell are you reading about high dukes for? I thought you finished your homework last night."
"I did. This is for fun. And they aren't 'high dukes,'" he corrected. "They're hajduks."
"That sounds exactly the same, Rob."
"No, it really doesn't."
"Maybe not to you, mister I speak a bajillion languages," he rolled his eyes. "So what is that, anyway? A high duke?"
"…Dude, not cool," he frowned.
"Oh, you want to know what a hajduk is? Not a high duke?" he said innocently.
"Yes, you jerk!" he whapped him across the arm.
"Okay, okay! Okay. Actually, I think you'll like this." He repositioned himself, swinging his legs over Wally's head and down to the ground so he could sit up. "So, hajduks were kind of like Eastern European Robin Hoods."
"Aaand now I know why you're reading about them."
"They were romanticized, obviously – I guess in reality they were more like mercenaries, or sometimes guerilla fighters, than anything – but they're still really cool."
"Like how are they cool? Give me an example."
"You mean besides fighting what they considered to be oppression and injustice four centuries before we were even born?"
"Hmm…there was one thing that really caught my attention, but…"
"But what? What was it?" Wally turned around, getting mildly excited. If he doesn't want to tell me what it is, that means it's probably really, really awesome. "Rob, what was it?"
"…No, dude, you'll want to actually do it, and that would just be crazy," he shook his head. "No way."
"Oh, come on, if it's that crazy I won't want to do it. Give me some credit, huh?"
Robin scrutinized his friend from behind his sunglasses. "Well…okay." He can be reasonable sometimes, after all. "So, they had this blood pact that they would do. Soldiers, like brothers-in-arms, they would cut themselves, and let some of their blood fall into a cup. They'd mix it with wine or milk, and then they'd each drink, and…that was it. They were blood brothers, sworn to defend one another for life."
The speedster's eyes were wide as he finished speaking. "Rob. Bro. We totally have to do something like that."
He sighed heavily and slumped backwards. "I knew I shouldn't have told you about it."
"C'mon! Think about it," he moved up onto the couch, leaning towards the other teen eagerly. "We're brothers-in-arms, right?"
"We're best friends for life, right?"
"We'd totally, you know…die for each other, or whatever, right?"
"Yes, of course, Wally, but that doesn't mean we should go drinking each other's blood."
"But if we put it in milk…"
"That doesn't make it healthy!" he cut off that chain of reasoning. "Ugh, do you know how medically unsound this idea is? Think of all the blood-borne diseases we could pass each other!"
"Yeah, but we get blood tested like once a month. If we had something, it would have turned up by now, don't you think?"
"Besides, we bleed on each other all the time."
"…Eew, but also technically true. Still, though. No."
"Come on, Rob. You don't want to be my blood brother?" he whined pathetically.
"Wally, you know that's not it. It's just…icky."
"'Icky?' How old are you again?"
"Fifteen. And shut up, it is icky. We'd have to drink each other's blood!"
"But you're Romanian, right? So…you could be a vampire," he teased.
"First off, no, I'm not Romanian, I'm half Romany. It's totally different. Second, you know better than to talk about that here. And third, I am not a vampire!"
"Waaaally…" As much as the thought of imbibing blood made his stomach turn, the idealist in him loved the thought of a ritual bonding. It would be kind of cool to know that we'd done something like that. Like a physical manifestation of how we already feel towards each other…I mean, really, short of some sort of ceremony, we already are brothers, so… "I dunno."
"But you're thinking about it, aren't you?" the redhead grinned, sensing that he was slowly wearing down the younger hero's defenses.
"I…look, there are other rituals where you just, like, rub the cuts together," he suggested. "It's not any more sanitary, but at least then we aren't drinking blood."
"I think we have to drink it. If we just bleed on each other, how is that any different than what we've already done before?" Although it's usually you bleeding on me, and not so much the other way around. I hate that. I wish it wasn't you who got hurt all the time... "C'mon, Rob. I really want to do this with you." To his surprise, he felt hot tears pricking his eyes at the thought of being definitively turned down. "…Please?"
With me, he repeated silently, now beginning to feel a little guilty. He wants to do this with me, specifically. Crap. "I…wouldn't you feel a little bad about leaving out Conner and Kaldur? They're our brothers-in-arms, too."
"…They're great, Rob, but it's not the same," he said, sounding a little guilty.
"…Yeah, you're right." He paused, coming to a decision. "…We'd have to cut ourselves. I read that they usually did it on their forearms. How are we going to hide that? You know someone will notice."
"Wait…you mean you'll do it?!" Yes!
He nodded slowly. "It just…I dunno, Wally, it just seems like something we should do. Even if I am likely to throw up from it."
"Dude, do not puke up my blood."
"…Wow, that was macabre."
"If you wear long sleeves when you're in civvies for the next couple days, no one should notice your cut," Robin continued trying to answer his question of how to hide what they were about to do. "I'll do the same, but if we get called out on a mission I'll have to say I nicked it in training or something. You're gonna have to back me up on that."
"Works for me."
"…Okay. Let's see if there's any milk."
"Too bad we don't have wine," Wally opined as they passed into the next room. "That would be awesome."
"We're going to be in enough trouble if we get caught doing this, let alone if we're using something neither of us can legally possess," he reminded him, leaning into the fridge. "Here we go. Still good and everything." He turned to find Wally holding a cup. "…Eager much?"
"I told you, Rob, I really want to do this with you," the speedster said with a serious mien. "I know it's doesn't actually change anything, but…it kind of does, at the same time."
If anyone could understand the importance of ritual and constructed loyalties, it was Robin. "Yeah," he nodded. "It does. I know what you mean." They stared at each other for a moment, considering what they were about to do. "You're sure-"
"Hell yes," came back flatly. "Are you?"
"…I am," he said firmly. We're going to get ridiculously grounded if we get found out, but…it's worth it. "Let's do this."
They worked quickly and silently, Robin pouring the milk, Wally procuring a knife from a drawer and pulling a couple of paper towels from the roll. The speedster vanished for a moment, then reappeared with a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and dumped it over the blade. Finally, they stood side by side at the counter. "So…do we cut ourselves, or…?"
"Hold on." To Wally's surprise, Robin shoved his sunglasses up and out of the way. "I'm not doing this with my eyes hidden. And I think we should cut ourselves; then it's like we're volunteering, you know? If we do it to each other there's a sense of duress. We have to both want to do this, and cutting ourselves proves that we do." Plus, I don't really want to cut you open.
"Okay," he nodded, relieved. I don't know if I could have managed to hurt you on purpose, anyway. "Makes sense. I guess…I guess I'll start." For once, let me be the first to bleed, he thought darkly as he picked up the knife.
"Don't go too deep," Robin warned softly as the other teen positioned the edge against the freckled skin a few inches below his left elbow.
"Right." Wincing slightly, he drew the blade downwards, a narrow line appearing in its wake. The mark was well made, just a few thin tendrils of red beginning to course as he pulled the milk close and let gravity introduce his blood to it. "…Do I put in more?" he asked after a few seconds.
"That's probably enough. I've still got to add mine, after all." Taking the weapon, he paused for a second before copying the motions Wally had made. They counted to three as the drips splashed down. "…Okay," he breathed, withdrawing and pressing a paper towel against the fresh gash. This is the hard part. You've got to drink that. It wasn't as if he hadn't swallowed plenty of his own blood in the past, but he'd never done so because he wanted to. And it never meant anything before, he added. Not like this does.
"Wait," Wally said.
"I just thought…Well, you said another way was to rub the cuts together. Maybe…maybe we could do that and drink?"
But why… "You mean like a double bond?" he guessed, peering at him.
"Well, yeah. A…a double bond. Like in chemistry, you know? The more bonds between two atoms, the stronger the hold. It's harder to break the connection."
"…You know, Wally, for someone who doesn't go in for mystical, spiritual stuff, you say some pretty deep things sometimes." As he spoke, Robin raised his own split limb, peeled the makeshift compress from it, and pushed it tightly against the other teen's. If we're going to do this, we might as well do it as thoroughly as we can, he thought fiercely. "…Ready for the next step?" he asked after they scrubbed the wounds together for several seconds, Wally wincing slightly, Robin stoic.
"Yeah," the speedster answered, a little breathless with excitement.
"You cut first, so…you should drink first," the younger boy reasoned as he handed him the cup.
"…Sure." He raised the glass to lips, then lowered it with a slight frown before the mixture touched his lips. "Is…are we supposed to say something, or…?"
Robin met his gaze, eyes flushed a darker blue than usual with concentration. "Do we really need to, Wally?" he whispered. Don't we already know everything we could possibly say?
"No," he shook his head. "No, Dick, I guess we don't." Don't be mad at me for using your real name, I just…it seems like I should, for this.
Their eyes stayed locked as each took a swallow. It wasn't nearly as disgusting as either of them thought it might be, although the milk did have a slightly coppery aftertaste that was unusual without being unpleasant. "I think we should finish it," Robin said as he passed the glass back. "You know…all the way to the end."
"All the way to the end," Wally toasted him. Each took two additional gulps, and then the container was empty, the rite complete.
"So…wow. We, ah…we just did that."
"Yeah," the redhead agreed. "We did…bro."
Robin grinned broadly, the last word now carrying a secret reference that only they could possibly understand. "That was pretty intense…bro," he returned, causing a similar smirk to spread across the other teen's face. Remembering that he had unmasked for their ritual, he reached up and bumped his glasses back down.
"So you're not going to throw up, right?"
"No," he laughed. "I'm not. I'm…I'm sorry I hesitated, Wally."
"It's okay. I know it wasn't because you didn't want to do it," the redhead told him truthfully. "But I'm really glad we did. It…it means a lot to me. You…well. Yeah. You know."
"Yeah. I know. You, too." They exchanged a warm, wordless glance, full of all the things that their enculturation made it too strange to say out loud. "…You know, I think I might be a little faster now," Robin joked.
"Huh. I feel a little smarter. Weird."
"Heh." He glanced at his watch and found that nearly an hour had passed since Wally had wandered into the lounge. "We should clean this up and get to bed. We have training in five hours."
"Yup. How's your arm?" he asked as he moved to rinse the glass and the knife.
"It's more or less stopped. Yours?"
"The same." Shutting off the water, he left their dishes to be thoroughly washed later. "We should probably put some gauze or something over them, though. You know, just in case. It would be pretty stupid if our blood-brotherhood ritual gave one of us an infection."
"Yeah, you're right. I'll go get some stuff," he said, zipping off and back in a matter of seconds. They had just finished applying their bandages when the Zeta tube announced Batman.
"Oh, shit," Wally muttered.
"Relax. We cleaned up, remember? It's fine," Robin hissed. "Hi," he greeted as his mentor entered the kitchen. Wally rolled his sleeve back down, and Bats is used to seeing me with fresh dressings. We're fine.
"…It's three in the morning," was all the man said, head swiveling back and forth between them. He'd been on duty in the Watchtower since midnight, and as was his secret habit when he was on security duty he had glanced frequently at the goings-on inside Mount Justice, verifying at regular intervals that his son was safe. As such, he had seen Wally come into the lounge and fall into an intense discussion with Robin about something that he couldn't hear. He'd wished again at that point that Superman would stop blocking his installation of microphones, but the Kryptonian insisted it was too much of an invasion of privacy. By the time they moved into the kitchen, he was intrigued, and had more or less switched to watching only the feed from the mountain. He'd witnessed the entire ceremony silently, hunched over the screen in case someone came in. Now, curious as to whether or not they would admit their activity, he decided to lead them on a little.
"It's Saturday," the sunglassed teen replied. "We were just hanging out. We were about to go to bed. What's up?"
Wally's nervous, although he's gotten much better at hiding it recently, the adult hero noted. There was a faint glimmer of wetness in the sink where Robin had left their tools, and he crossed to it as nonchalantly as a man in a cape possibly could. Snagging a clean glass from the cupboard, he filled it with water and drank half before turning back to the boys. "It seemed prudent to check in."
"…Is something going on that we should know about?" He suspects something. He doesn't like to eat or drink in front of anyone but me when he's in costume; he even avoids it when it's just Superman around. The water was just an excuse to check the sink. The question is, how much has he already figured out?
"So…what, a surprise inspection?"
"Of sorts, yes." Placing his now-empty cup in the sink, hepicked up the knife. Examining it, he verified that there was, in fact, a barely visible rill of dried blood crusting the edge of the blade. "…This needs sharpened," he commented as he placed it back where he'd found it. "…And you may wish to scrub the blood off of it entirely next time."
Wally groaned, but Robin's face remained serene. "…I thought you had a mission with Green Lantern tonight."
"I did. It ended sooner than we anticipated, so I took a few hours of monitoring."
Oh, hell. "…You saw everything, didn't you?" Of course you did. I should have known you were watching.
"I'm surprised you didn't stop us." Beside him, Wally was boggling; the fact that he'd known both Batman and Robin for several years wasn't enough to erase his surprise at the way they always managed to hold perfectly rational, almost emotionless conversations, regardless of the topic or whether or not there were spectators.
"…I didn't see anything that I objected to," the dark-clad man stated slowly. His mouth twitched upwards slightly as the very edge of his son's eyebrow came into view over the top of his glasses. "So there was no reason to interrupt."
The speedster couldn't stop looking back and forth between the other two. He…he didn't see anything he objected to? he repeated to himself, bowled over. Whoa.
"None at all, huh?" Robin verified quietly.
"You're far from the first two young men in history to enter into such an oath," he answered. "It's a powerful ritual, and it suits the bond between you. So long as you stick to it," he seemed to be looking directly to Wally, "I have no problem with it."
"Hey, I'm not going to do anything to break it," the redhead protested. "What's with the focus on me?" He wouldn't normally have argued with the Bat, but he took it as an insult that the man would just assume he would be the one to put the friendship he'd sworn to at risk.
"I know from experience that Robin will do everything in his power to uphold the sacred promises he makes, and that he will be cautious as to whom he enters into such contracts with," was growled back. "This is the first time I am aware of you having taken a vow of this level, however, and as such I have no way to judge how well you will keep it." He paused, drawing himself up. "Prove yourself worthy of the honor you've been given this night, Wallace." With that, he tilted a slight nod to his partner and stalked out.
"Huh," Robin said when they were alone again. "Interesting."
"'Interesting?' He thinks I'm going to screw this up, Rob!"
"No, he doesn't," he shook his head. "If he thought there was a real chance that you would go back on it – that you would betray me – he would never have let us finish. He would have stopped us. But he didn't," he marveled. "He not only let us do it, he told us that he knows. He witnessed it, Wally. That's powerful. That lends it a special kind of strength."
"Really? I…I'd never heard that before."
"You get assigned enough reading about the rites and rituals of other cultures and you start to notice patterns," he shrugged with a smirk. "That's a fairly common belief, the power of a witnessed or known oath. So is the blood brother ritual. Like he said, we're far from the first people to do it."
"…Huh," it was Wally's turn to exhale pensively. "So it's like…a grand tradition."
"Yeah, in a way." He paused. "Pretty cool, huh?"
"Definitely. I can't believe he wasn't furious."
"I thought he would be, too. It kind of makes me wonder if he's ever…" he trailed off.
"Who would Batman be blood brothers with?"
"Dunno," Robin shook his head. "I would say Superman, but…they have such a weird love-hate relationship. Still, I guess I could see that. If it was going to be anyone, I think he's probably the best candidate."
"I can't picture that," Wally snorted.
"Well, it's all speculation, anyway." He yawned. "Oh, man, I'm wiped out."
"Yeah, me too." He frowned suddenly.
"Well…you're probably going to have a scar from this. I mean, not a really obvious one or anything, but still. A scar."
"So? That's kind of cool. I'm okay with it. It's way better than how I usually get them, and this one will actually mean something to me other than 'ouch.'"
"That's my point, though. You're gonna have a mark way longer than I will. That…that kind of sucks. I guess I could just reopen mine every few months…" Normally he loved his fast healing, but this was a scar he wanted the world to see.
"Wally, no way. Don't do that. The scar isn't what matters. The ritual is what matters." The way we feel, and the way we act on those emotions, are what really matter, he added silently.
Robin didn't speak, thinking as they walked down the hall. "What if we renew it?"
"In like, I don't know, five years or something. We can do it again, refresh it. You'll get to have a scar again for a while, and mine will probably be pretty faded by then, too. I mean, it's not like I cut super deep or anything, it's going to fade."
"…That's a good idea."
"Plan." Reaching their respective doors, they bumped fists. "Night, Rob."
"Night, Wally." They beamed at one another, then spoke in unison.
Author's Note: I love the bromance between these two. The story title, 'Frati,' is Romanian for brothers. Robin may not be Romanian, but a lot of hajduks were, so I went with it. If you enjoyed this, I've got more Dick/Wally fluff in my story 'Of Friends and Foes,' which is posted in the Batman fandom. The second half of this story will be posted tomorrow. Happy reading!