Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine.
Dick Grayson walked along the midway, contentedly eating a corndog. Life was good as long as his mom didn't see him eating the corndog. Corndogs were on her list of taboo foods, a list that seemed to contain almost every good tasting food around. His dad had snuck him the money for the corndog. His dad understood. Besides, it wasn't like he had the opportunity to eat corndogs that often. Rarely was the circus teamed up with a carnival. For the next three days, the usual high energy of the circus was amplified with the addition of the carnival. For Dick, it was true bliss.
Technically, Haley's Circus wasn't supposed to be here, here being Blue Valley, Nebraska. The original plan had been to go to Lincoln, but there had been a scheduling conflict. The backup plan had been to go to Omaha, but that plan had fallen through as well. As a result, they were in Blue Valley. Generally, Haley's Circus didn't travel to cities this small. A stop in Blue Valley would barely cover the bills. There just weren't enough people to buy tickets. Dick had overheard several of the performers complain about the smaller paychecks that would come. Their talk had made him nervous. If they were worried, should he be worried as well?
Money was one of the few topics his parents didn't talk about in front of him. It was something he didn't really think about. Truth was, he didn't need to think about it. He had everything he wanted and needed. Sure, they lived in a small trailer, but he had an entire circus to call home. Whatever he asked for, his parents seemed to get him…within reason. Not that he asked for that much. Again, he had an entire circus to keep him amused.
When he had asked his parents if they were worried about a smaller paycheck, they had firmly told him not to listen to the other performers. They had reminded him that they all had a job to do – make people smile. As long as they did their jobs, that was payment enough. The logic had made sense to Dick. He had pushed the thought from his mind. The worry had vanished.
Overall, from what little he had seen of Blue Valley, he wasn't too impressed. Then again, the Plains States in general didn't interest him much. They were just so flat and, well, plain. Even the cities seemed duller in his eyes. At least they were partnered with a carnival. That made being in Blue Valley a little better. Besides, bigger cities were coming. Personally, Dick was looking forward to Gotham City. He hadn't been there before and now there were rumors of a supposed Batman. He desperately hoped he would be able to catch a glimpse of the man, even though those rumors also said the Batman only came out at night. Dick doubted his parents would let him stay up just to try to spot the Batman. Still, there was always a chance…
Walking along, Dick watched the crowds. They were currently between circus performances. As a result, people were milling about the midway. Dick watched as people tried their luck at various games of chance, enjoyed the carnival rides, or ate carnival foods. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Smiles and laughter abounded. Dick smiled, too. The crowd's mood and energy fed his own.
As he walked along, a red-headed boy whom Dick guessed to be near his own age caught his attention. The boy seemed enraptured by the sights and sounds of the carnival. Dick's smile grew. It was easy to see the boy had never been to a carnival. Dick assumed the same could be said of a circus. With eyes open wide, the boy didn't seem to know where to look. Everything seemed to demand the boy's attention. For a reason he wouldn't have been able to describe if he had to, Dick decided to follow the boy. Maybe it was because the boy seemed to be near his own age. Maybe it was because the boy's obvious awe made Dick take a closer look at the carnival and circus. Whatever the reason, Dick followed the boy along the midway. Every once in a while, the boy would pull on an older man's arm to get the man's attention. Dick guessed the man was the boy's father. The man's impatience with the boy was plainly obvious, but the boy seemed oblivious of it. Dick was glad. He didn't want the man to ruin the boy's delight.
The boy eventually convinced the man stop. Dick watched as the boy pointed to one of the vendor carts. The boy pointed and talked. The man frowned, but finally nodded. The boy approached the vendor, reached into his pocket, and carefully handed the vendor some money. In exchange, the boy received a red – probably cherry – sno-cone. The boy's smile grew. Dick smiled and found himself craving a sno-cone as well. He glanced at his money. Not enough left for a sno-cone. He would have to ask his mom or dad for a little bit more. He doubted his mom would say no to a sno-cone. How could a sno-cone be bad? It was just flavored ice. Ice was just frozen water, and water was good for a person. Dick believed he could make his case.
The route back to his trailer meant he could follow the boy and his dad a little longer. Not surprisingly, the boy was quickly distracted yet again. Not paying attention, the boy failed to realize the man had stopped. The boy walked right into the back of the man, the red sno-cone fell against the man's white shirt and then fell to the ground.
Dick paused. He noticed the boy had paled. He noticed the man had turned, anger contorting his face. "Wally, what the hell?" The man stared at the red stain on his white shirt.
"Dad, I'm sorry. I just-"
"You were just what? I'll tell you. Not paying attention! How many times have I told you to pay attention?"
The man grabbed the boy's arm and dragged him off the midway. Dick quickly followed. He had seen the anger in the older man's eyes, heard it in his voice. Sure, the boy should have been paying attention, but it was a carnival and circus. It had been an accident, nothing more. Dick had his fair share of accidents on a daily basis, thankfully not when he was performing with his parents. Accidents happened. No big deal especially since no one had been hurt.
"Look what you did! You ruined this shirt!"
"There's no way your mother will be able to get the stain out. Now I'll have to buy a new shirt. I knew bringing you here was a bad idea."
"You never do anything right. When are you going to grow up?" The man withdrew a pair of tickets from his pocket. Dick recognized the tickets as circus tickets. He watched as the boy seemed to grow even paler.
"Dad, no! I'll be good, please, I promise, I'll be good. I'll do better. I'll pay attention. I promise, Dad. Please, don't." Tears coursed down the boy's cheeks.
The man tore the tickets in half and dropped them to the ground. "We're going home."
"But Aunt Iris-"
"I don't give a damn if she gave you those tickets. If she wanted you to come to this so badly, she should have taken you herself. I have better things to do than waste my time with you."
Dick felt outrage building inside him. How could a father treat his son like this? His own dad would never, ever say anything like that to him. Sure, Dick had gotten yelled at over the years for various mishaps, but Dick knew he had been at fault. More importantly, those mishaps hadn't been accidents. They had been times when Dick had done something he knew he shouldn't have been doing. This, though, was truly an accident. The man seemed to be blowing it completely out of proportion.
"Dad, please, I'm sorry. I-" A loud slap filled the air. A roaring sound filled Dick's ears as his outrage increased. He wanted to go after the man, but he knew his place. If the man didn't hesitate at hitting his own son, the man wouldn't hesitate hitting Dick either.
With relief, Dick realized where he was. His family's trailer was close. He quickly ran to the trailer. "Dad!" he shouted, throwing open the door.
There must have been something in his voice because both his mom and dad stopped what they were doing and looked at him in concern. "Dick, what's wrong? What happened?"
Dick grabbed his dad's hand and pulled his dad out of the trailer. "Dad, come quick!" Dick ran back to where he had been. He didn't even look to see if his dad was following him. He knew his dad was. The man and boy were still there. The boy's shoulders shook from crying. The boy was also cowering. The man raised his hand to hit the boy again. Dick looked back at his dad. He saw his dad's face grow stern.
John Grayson moved swiftly and grabbed the man's hand. "What are you doing?"
The man glared at the elder Grayson. "Let go of me and mind your own business."
"I'll let go once you tell me what you were going to do." John Grayson wasn't a large man. He was smaller in stature than the man he faced. However, years as a trapeze performer gave him a level of strength that belied his stature. Dick knew if it came down to a fight, his dad would win with no problem.
"It wasn't what it looked like."
"Oh? And that red mark on the boy's face? You didn't cause that?"
The man grew flustered. Dick silently cheered his father. "It's not-"
"What I think," John finished. "So, please, tell me what happened."
The man glared at John. Dick watched as the boy's wide, tear-filled eyes moved between the two men. "Go fuck off."
John's gaze narrowed. Dick silently cheered again. His dad absolutely did not tolerate swearing or cursing. Dick had only uttered a swear word once and had quickly learned his lesson. "I'd suggest you leave now."
"Fine. Come on, Wally." The man grabbed the boy's arm.
Dick felt his own alarm rise. The man couldn't take the boy. Dick looked at his dad. "Let him go," John stated coldly.
"I'm not leaving my son here."
"And I'm not letting you take him just so you can hit him some more." John gazed intently at the man. "Your son will spend the day with me and my family."
"And how do I know you're not some criminal?"
"This from the man who hits his son?"
"I didn't… Fine." The man turned to the boy. "Enjoy yourself because when you get home-"
"I'd stop talking now," John warned. "Get lost."
The man stalked away. Dick felt a silent cheer.
John knelt down in front of the boy. "Are you okay?" The boy sniffled and nodded, wiping away his tears with the back of his hands. "My name is John Grayson. This is my son, Dick." Dick smiled and gave a little wave. "What's your name?"
"Wally." The boy stared at the ground. "It was an accident," he said softly.
"I'm sure it was. Was that your dad?" Wally nodded. "Has he hit you before?"
The question seemed to make Wally freeze. Wally remained silent, but Dick knew the answer. In looking at his dad, he realized his dad knew the answer, too. Dick picked up the torn circus tickets. "My Aunt Iris gave me those tickets. She was supposed to take me, but she couldn't. Now I can't even tell her how the circus was."
Dick and John smiled at each other. "Well, Wally," John began, "I think you're going to be able to tell her more about a circus than she realizes." Wally looked at them in confusion. "See, Dick and I are part of the circus." Wally's green eyes grew wide.
"Have you ever ridden an elephant?" Dick asked. Wally shook his head. "Would you like to?"
"I…I don't know."
John laughed. "An honest answer. I like that. How about if you come with us to our trailer. We'll get you cleaned up a bit, and then Dick can give you an insider's tour of a circus. How does that sound?"
Wally glanced shyly at Dick. Dick grinned. Wally did, too.
Wally West, aka the Flash, leaned back in the chair, his feet resting on the arm of another nearby chair. He smiled at the custom-made tennis shoes adorning his feet. They were similar to the ones his friends had given him several years ago. Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, smiled as he watched Wally admiring the shoes. "You really like the shoes, don't you."
"The shoes are awesome. Thank you." He tried not to think about how much the shoes had cost. Money wasn't something Dick flaunted, even though Dick had plenty of it. The shoes were simply a gift…a really, really, really nice gift. A gift Wally could never reciprocate financially, but he knew Dick didn't expect that.
Wally glanced at Dick. They had been friends for years. Over those years, their friendship had had many ups and downs. They had been there for each during good times and bad. They had fought with each like family. They had mourned with each other. He didn't have any brothers of his own, but in his heart, Wally considered Dick to be a brother. "Do you remember the first time we met?"
Dick settled back into his chair, his feet also resting on another chair. "Of course. We were on the Watchtower. You were this fleet-feeted impatient speedster wearing this garishly yellow costume-"
"Says the man who wore green panties and pixie boots."
"-who talked a million miles a minute and never seemed to have any control over what came out of his mouth. I was glad when I found the key to making you shut up. Batman."
Wally smiled at the memory. He still had the tendency to talk before thinking. It still got him into trouble. And then there was Batman… "Yeah, he scared the hell out of me. Hell, he still does at times." Wally easily recalled the first time he had met the Batman. While his first encounter with Dick may have been on the Watchtower, Barry had purposefully shielded Wally from meeting Bruce. It had been a wise decision based on what had happened when he had met the Batman for the first time. Dick, or rather Robin, had snuck him into the Batcave. They had been admiring the trophies Batman and Robin had collected when out of nowhere, the Batman was there. Wally had taken off before Batman had even said a word. Barry had eventually caught up with him and calmed him down. "I really don't know how you put up with him."
Dick shrugged. Wally knew it was a question Dick wouldn't answer. Dick had given up trying to explain his relationship with Bruce years ago. While Wally knew that Bruce truly cared for Dick, the older man's actions didn't always show it. How Bruce sometimes treated Dick grated on Wally, yet Dick was always the first one to defend Bruce. Just like Wally knew he was always the first one, and usually the only one, to defend Hal… "You were the first sidekick I met. I was so excited to meet someone my age that was in the business."
"Ditto." Wally took a sip of beer. "But, I meant the first time we met."
"Wally, that was the first time."
"No, that was the first time Robin and Kid Flash met. I meant the first time Dick and Wally met."
Dick rolled his eyes and paused to consider the question. "It must have been about six months after Robin and Kid Flash met. I was doing homework on the Watchtower. You opened one of my textbooks, saw the name on the inside cover, and asked who Richard Grayson was. I was certain that Bruce would kill me that you knew my identity. I had been asking him if I could tell you and the others for weeks, but he was insistent. He didn't trust any of you. He still wasn't too sold on the whole Teen Titans concept. Anyway, I was a near basket case when I got back to the Manor. Alfred reassured me nothing would happen."
"So, what did happen?" Wally hadn't heard this story before. He remembered pestering Dick almost constantly to reveal his real identity. And it hadn't been just him. Roy had been just as persistent. Worse, they had known Bruce – Batman – was the problem, not Dick.
"I confessed to Bruce about what had happened. Keeping it from him would have been pointless since he would have figured it out soon enough. Not surprisingly, Bruce was not happy. He started in on a long lecture about the importance of secret identities, how it wasn't just him and me at risk… Alfred quickly stopped him. He deflected every one of Bruce's arguments. He's the only person I know of that can make Bruce and Batman squirm. Besides, Bruce knows if he ticks off Alfred too much, Alfred will make Bruce's and Batman's life difficult."
"Alfred's a saint." Wally smiled. "And that was a good story, but it wasn't the right one."
"What? Yes, it was. That's when you found out I was Dick Grayson."
"Well, yeah, it was," Wally admitted, "but it wasn't the first time we met."
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you remember when Haley's Circus went to Blue Valley?"
Dick paused. Wally could tell his friend was searching his memory. The circus stopped in many, many cities over the years. The chances of Dick actually recalling a stop in Blue Valley – Nowhere, USA – was slim. "No."
Wally wasn't surprised. "Okay, well then, do you remember coming to the rescue of a red-headed kid? Your dad standing up to this kid's dad? Offering this kid the chance to ride an elephant? Showing this kid the ins and outs of a circus?"
Again Dick remained silent for a bit. A small frown creased his forehead. "I remember a sno-cone…a red one." Wally waited. Dick had stumbled onto the correct memory. "That was you?" he asked in surprise.
Wally smiled softly. "Yep. It was the first time you had my back."
"Wal, why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because I just remembered a few days ago," he admitted.
"Well, actually, I was reminded just a few days ago. With everything that's been going on recently, Iris felt she needed to remind me that you and I have known each other for a long time, longer than either you or I remembered."
"But how did she know?"
"I had told Iris about that day, not about everything of course. She didn't need to know about everything. But I had told her about meeting you and your parents, petting Elinore, sitting in the front row and seeing you perform, and all the other things we did that day." Once Iris had reminded him, the memories had flooded back. It seemed strange that a day he could now remember so clearly, he had all-but forgotten. Worse, it was a day that had meant a lot to him. While it had been exciting to get a behind-the-scenes look at the circus, the most important part had been that for the first time, someone had stood up for him and defended him. "You know, that was the first time someone stood up to my dad. My mom never did. Iris suspected, but she had no proof, and I would never give her any. I knew that was a line I could never cross." Wally glanced at him. "You and your dad were my heroes."
"What did your dad do when you got home?"
He heard the concern in Dick's voice. His family life had always been a source of tension. While Wally knew he had a tendency to share too much information at times, it was a trait that had never extended to his home life in Blue Valley. What happened in Blue Valley…even Barry and Iris had never known about everything. Both of them had suspected, though. Both of them had connected many of the dots. So, too, had Dick. "Surprisingly, nothing. Your dad spooked my dad." While the break hadn't lasted long, at least it had been a break. For now, Wally hoped Dick would move on. He didn't want to talk about the past, at least not how it concerned his family. Besides, it was all in the past. Thankfully, Dick didn't dwell on the topic.
"It's weird how now that you reminded me, I can remember that day."
"Yeah, it was the same way for me."
"Strange how we ended up being friends."
"You got that right. The odds…" Wally shook his head. "You becoming Robin, me becoming Kid Flash."
"They've been some great years."
"I wouldn't trade them for anything."
Dick held up his bottle of water. "Here's to many, many more."
"Hear, hear." Wally tapped the neck of his beer bottle against the water bottle. They both took a drink. "So, rumor has it that Roy…"