I don't own Young Justice. This was a response to an anon meme prompt - a union of the Young Justice world, and that of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales.
Grimm and Bear It
Father doesn't know about this mission – she made it up for herself, and she's not telling him, because he'd stop her, rip the basket from her hands and tell her that she's being foolish, that she needs to hurry up and forget about Mother, that she needs to focus on her training and her future and quit thinking about someone who doesn't have one. But Artemis thinks about Mother every night before she falls asleep, and wonders if she's lonely in prison, if she's sick, if she's hurting, and can't help but cry. So she prepares a basket, and hides it under her bed, and lets Father tuck her in and tell her to be good, and pretends to go to sleep.
Hours later, she sneaks out.
She pulls her cape closer around her as she makes her way through the streets, the basket clutched in both hands, the weight of her crossbow reassuring against her leg. Mother made her the cape, green and flowing and beautiful, for her first heist, long before the Accident, and now it keeps her warm as she steps around the muddy puddles in the sidewalk. Gotham is chilly and dirty and dark – it is 4 AM, after all. She hurries to reach the haven of the next street lamp, unable to shake the feeling that she is being watched, but she knows Father did not see her sneak out. He couldn't have – he left after he put her to bed, presumably for a job, and she did not hear him come back…
The shadows move on both sides of the street as she nears the prison, and she races for its light, for the guards who are standing outside it with their guns. They will protect her. She is sure now that she is being followed, and by more than one person, but the dawn is breaking, and she has reached her destination.
It is too early for visiting hours, so Artemis waits under the vigilant eyes of the night watch until they take pity on her and let her sit with them in the guardhouse. She is just a little girl, after all, and it is cold and damp and dangerous outside.
(This is a good thing, that they let her in. Father will know she is gone soon, or perhaps he already does, but she feels certain he will not dare breach the prison itself to come after her.)
At 8:00 sharp, one of the guards walks her to the main building, lets her show her basket to the warden and explain that she is here to see Mother. The warden picks apart her cookies and confiscates the plastic-wrapped candies and destroys the one pie, but the taste is what counts, and soon the guard is ushering her into a dark, dark room and telling her that the visit will be monitored, that if she ever gets scared all she needs to do is call, and before she can ask him why the lights are off, he is gone.
A door opens on the other side of the room, but it is too dark for Artemis to make out a shape. Something shifts in the shadows. Fear begins to twist in her stomach, but she lifts her basket of mangled sweets and steps forward.
Her voice sounds strange, even to herself. The prison is safe, she tells herself again. The law will protect me here.
The shadow moves towards her, and she hears the faint squeak of rubber on concrete. The wheelchair. It must be Mother. She takes another step forward.
"What are you doing here, child?"
She stops. Mother's voice sounds strange. Mechanical.
"I…I…Jade and I baked you some things," she lies – Mother does not know her sister is gone. "We thought you might be missing us."
The wheelchair squeaks again, the shadow growing closer, and Artemis cannot explain why she is so afraid all of a sudden.
"Of course I miss you."
She tries to ignore the wrongness of Mother's tone, but her eyes are adjusting to the dark, and that shape is so large and hulking, not like the lithe woman she remembers…
She sees it then – the gleam of metal in the tiny sliver of light from under the door, and drops the basket in fright.
"You're not Mother."
The voice this time is low, gruff, unmistakable, and it chills her very blood.
The lights flood on, drench everything in harsh light. Father sits the wheelchair, the metal of his mask glinting as he rises, casting aside the voice modifier and reaching for her. She screams, runs for the door, but he traps her easily, pinning her to the wall and dealing her a blow to the head that makes everything spin, and as he hoists her onto his shoulder, all she can think about are the broken sweets, strewn across the concrete prison floor, and how Mother will never get them now…
There is chaos as Father leaves the prison. He dispenses with the guards who even try, which isn't all of them; some just step aside and let him pass with a pitying look for the helpless green bundle on his shoulder.
But the second he steps outside into the Gotham morning, the sky bursts open, and arrows rain down around them, dazzling red and green arrows that make Artemis's eyes open wide with wonder, and Father drops her to the ground and bolts with a barked order for her to do the same.
She doesn't listen to him. Father is long gone, but there are two men dropping from the rooftop, and the older one, all dressed in green like Robin Hood, is pulling her into his arms, checking to make sure she is not hurt, and he is so warm that she turns and presses her face to his chest, her fists full of his soft tunic. She feels his surprised chuckle more than she hears it.
"Don't make me go back," she begs before she can stop herself, her voice hoarse. "I don't want to go back. I don't want to go back. Please."
Behind her, the man in red, who is more a boy than a man, really, frowns deeply. The green one meets his eyes and gives him a reassuring smile. Then he turns his attention back to the little girl in his arms.
"Don't worry, girly," he tells her, pulling the green hood up over her head and standing up with Artemis still cradled against his broad chest. "You're out of the woods. You're with us now."
Everyone always says Kaldur is lucky his father isn't around anymore – there are plenty of rumors about just what sort of man he had been, especially in the capital city. But it seems to Kaldur that even if his father had been all the terrible things his classmates say he is, if he had just stayed, at least his presence would have been terrifying enough to stop anyone picking on his son for looking like he does, for talking like he does, for being here when he shouldn't really be here at all.
Not that he'd ever complain. He is grateful to be at the Academy, grateful to have been pulled from the hard life of the military and brought to the capital to study among Atlantis's best and brightest. He is a child of no real origins, and the only one from his hometown ever to make it here, so he works hard to make his people and his mother proud, bearing the burden of difference willingly.
The other students call him names and flap their hands by their necks in a crude imitation of his gills whenever he walks by; they call him psyndar'ellah – half child – and try to see what will make this quiet, calm, solemn boy break. But Kaldur refuses to play their games. Hope and purpose make him stronger than these clever, spoiled children can ever know, and eventually he finds friends among the other quiet ones. The real change is yet to come, though.
The other students are chattering amongst themselves about the King's annual ball, which is to be held tonight at the palace. The girls are trying on new hairstyles and different personalities; the boys are pretending unconvincingly to find the whole thing dull. Kaldur is not attending. While he would cherish a chance to visit the palace and to see the King, whose work he greatly admires, his classmates have made it abundantly clear that they do not wish to see him there, and besides this, he has nothing to wear fit for a royal event anyway.
Alone in his quarters, he is watching the colored lights of the palace glimmer and shine from his window when a great shadow falls over the whole structure. He sits upright in his bed, eyes widening in horrified fascination as one by one, the lamps flicker and then go out entirely, plunging the whole palace into darkness, and suddenly even at this distance, he can hear screaming.
He is in the hallway before he can think twice, calling out for his friends even as he remembers that they went to the ball with the rest. The screams are growing louder, and as he bursts through the outer doors of the Academy and strikes out for the palace, he can see people fleeing the building every which way, panicked and slowed in the water by their billowing finery.
"Kaldur'ahm!" a voice calls out to him, and he slows a moment to see Garth and Tula swimming toward him. It is Garth who called out, and now he speaks again, his tone urgent: "You are going the wrong way. The Ocean Master has attacked – we must get to safety."
Just as Kaldur opens his mouth to reply, the roof of the palace explodes in a fiery mess, and two men come crashing out of it, one bearded and dressed in gold, the other masked and wielding a fearsome trident. He recognizes the golden one from the portraits. It is Orin, Aquaman, his King, and as Kaldur watches, enthralled, the hero launches himself at the Ocean Master and knocks him away from the palace and the people within it, roaring out something that Kaldur cannot decipher at this distance.
"Kaldur!" Tula implores, snapping him out of his trance. She lays a hand on his arm, worry written across her features. "We must hurry!"
He stares at her a moment, then nods in grave agreement.
"You are right. We must."
And then he strikes out for the palace with renewed alacrity, swimming as fast as his webbed hands and feet will carry him. Tula and Garth shout his name but he pays them no heed, his eyes fixed on the battle now raging high above the palace, watching the lightning snake from the tips of the trident and strike Orin square in the chest – the hero convulses with a roar of pain, and Kaldur doubles his efforts to reach him. The palace guards rise up to defend their king, but before they can reach him, the Ocean Master strikes them down with a mere gesture of his hand, and they sink back down without further struggle.
Only when he is almost upon the combatants does Kaldur remember that he is a solitary, unarmed student, and a second-form student at that. But the Ocean Master has pinned the king to the palace roof with his trident and is reaching his hand up to summon some foul power, and in that moment Kaldur does not care that he is just anything – he strikes, sending a jolt of electricity through the water to strike his enemy's open palm, and it is enough of a disruption. The villain bellows in pain and surprise, and turns his wrathful gaze upon the newcomer, and just when Kaldur is sure he is about to be run through with the trident, a swift shape crashes into the Ocean Master's side and knocks him away.
It is Garth. The two boys lock eyes a moment and nod, then without a word they are throwing themselves upon the enemy with the abandon of utter desperation, sending every spell they know at their foe, drawing him away from their fallen king.
It works, but for mere minutes. Garth is soon struck by a strange bolt of energy and freezes, unable to move even his eyes; he sinks like a rock. Kaldur holds out a moment longer, but suddenly the trident is raking across his chest as he fails to dodge quickly enough, and a horrible burning sensation runs through his body, clouding his vision, and then a harsh blow to his back sends him flying through the water and away from the fight.
He blacks out before he can strike the ocean floor.
When he awakens, he is in the infirmary at the Academy, his body aching all over, and there are voices murmuring near his bedside.
"It is him. I am sure. Nothing else could have made those marks."
The voice is deep and strong and warm. Instinctively, Kaldur wants to hear more of it, but instead he hears the hissing whispers of his classmates from the hallway, overlapping one another in malicious polyphony –
"It is a mistake."
"Of course it is a mistake."
"What would the king want with the psyndar'ellah?"
"Nothing. It is a misunderstanding. Wait and see."
A hand falls upon his shoulder, large and gentle. He opens his eyes and realizes he must still be dreaming, because the hand belongs to the king, who is watching him with concern in those bright blue eyes, and certainly this could not really be. In the doorway, the doctor stands vigilant.
"Kaldur'ahm," says Orin. "That is your name, is it not?"
He nods mutely. His chest burns, and when he looks down, he sees three deep scores in the skin, and remembers the trident prongs, and with some shock he comes to grasp that this is not a dream at all. Dreams do not hurt like this one.
"You have shown great courage, Kaldur'ahm," the king continues. "Because of your actions, and those of your friend Garth, the Ocean Master has been defeated. I am in your debt. Atlantis is in your debt."
Kaldur ducks his head, half in a humble bow, half to hide the furious flush that is raging across his face. Never before in his life has he been given praise like this. In the hallway, the whispers crescendo into an incredulous flurry, but he has stopped trying to hear the words themselves.
"I have already spoken with Garth," says Orin. "And now that you are awake, I have come to speak with you. I wish to make you an offer, Kaldur'ahm. Will you hear it?"
"Of course, my king," Kaldur replies. Nodding his approval, Orin takes a seat by his bedside and Kaldur is reminded of the utter fantasy of this whole situation. The king is by his bedside.
"Earth is ever in need of heroes," Orin begins. "As a member of the Justice League, I serve the cause of peace and order to the best of my ability, yet is the responsibility of the League not only to protect Earth now, but to ensure her safety in the years to come. We – the League – must ensure that new heroes will rise to take up our cause. This is where I turn to you. Your studies are incomplete, Kaldur'ahm, but your valor is whole. If you would accept my offer, I would ask you to join me on the surface as my protégé, to train by my side and help me fight injustice all across this world."
This time, the whispers from the hallway fall silent entirely. Kaldur, too, is speechless, staring at his king as though struck full dumb.
"You need not give your decision immediately," Orin reassures him, then looks surprised when Kaldur bursts out –
"Yes. I accept. I accept, Your Majesty."
"Are you certain? The life of a hero is difficult and dangerous," Orin cautions.
Kaldur shakes his head.
"I am certain, Annex," he says firmly. "If you would have me, I would gladly follow you to any end."
Orin smiles, then, his eyes twinkling approvingly.
"Then it is done."
A few days later, when he is well enough to leave the infirmary, Orin takes him to the surface for the first time. And as he stands on the sandy beach, filling his lungs with air, he cannot help but feel that he was made for this place where land meets sea, and this new name - Aqualad - was made just for him.
The king has cast him out.
It's terrible at first. They give him no explanation, no account of his crime, just send him into exile with a silent mandate and so many apologetic smiles.
(Rumor has it that the king feared his likeness, was repulsed by the endless comparisons and the whispers in the watchtower. Rumor has it he is not the king's own son but a false heir. Rumor has it the king could not bear to look at him.)
He has nowhere to go. Lost, he drifts through the woods of his own mind, through anger and doubt and brief moments of peace, through confusion and guilt and deep, deep loneliness. He cannot fathom what he has done to the king to deserve this fate but to live, and even living was not his own choice. It is not Conner's fault that the Mirror shows the king his face.
He finds others, alone and scared like him – one is a dangerous feral creature, as fearsome as it is fearful; another is a mysterious creation of science, its full potential yet unrealized. He sees himself in both, and takes them in, though truly he has nowhere to take them to, since he has no true home. Even so, he knows they all belong together, these strays. Together, they are not quite as alone.
In time, he finds a Cave, where seven others come and go. They are people with a purpose, and while at first he just stays with them because there is nowhere else for him to go, over time he finds him thinking of them differently. They become more than the people who come to his home (and he does come to think of the Cave as Home, eventually), more than the people whose work he shares. Over time, they become as a family to him –
The cool-eyed leader, who can pierce even his thickest rage; the one with the quick feet and the quicker mouth, who tries to make him laugh and sometimes succeeds; the yellow-haired girl whose anger almost rivals his own; the boy who never shows his eyes, who knows the value of silence; the two spares – the Grumpy red archer and the talented young sorceress, who in their own way belong and yet do not belong like him; and the green-skinned one, whose simple kindness stirs up feelings he didn't know he was created to have. All become important to him in their own ways.
Sometimes he expects that the king will send someone after him, either to tell him he can come home, or to get rid of him once and for all. But time passes, and there is no word from the king, and Conner slowly discovers that he doesn't really care.
This is where he is supposed to be. He is not waiting for anyone to rescue him.
the "I" of the beholder
M'gann has done this to protect her uncle – he is too important to her, and to both their worlds, for her to place him in this kind of danger. Sometimes, when the prison grows too cold and lonely, and the company too fearsome, she wishes for his help, for the comfort of his mind beside hers, but she would never invite him into this place. He cannot know what she has done to shield him. She must face the Beast alone.
Some days, it seems she has been here her whole life, living within these walls where none can truly see her, running from the ever-present shadow of the one who keeps her here. It lurks around every corner, in every cavern of her mind; she can escape it, but never for long – sooner or later, she will remember to whom she belongs, and the darkness will swallow her again.
No one else knows. The others see her yet they do not see her at all, not for who she really is, for what she faces every day. Alone in the truth, she keeps them ignorant, taking solace in the fact that at least she can hurt no one else if she just stays quiet, if she just keeps them from finding out about her captor. If they knew, they would try to help her, and she does not know how to make them see that they cannot, that they can never understand what it means for her to be trapped like this.
She knows, or at least she has heard others say, that the way to free herself is to learn to love the Beast. But she cannot bring herself to do so. She cannot face its utter ugliness, and more than this she cannot forgive its violence. The very thought of accepting that creature – its horrible knife-like teeth, its wicked claws, its disgusting white skin – makes her sick to her stomach. She cannot do it, not even if it would release her from the struggle.
Yet even so, loathing it is exhausting. Sometimes, at the end of the day, it is all she can do not to give in and just let it have her. After a particularly difficult mission, or when the others' rampant emotions threaten to overwhelm her, it is tempting just to abandon the façade and surrender.
And sometimes – when the day has been too long and her resolve has grown too weak – she will stand behind the locked door and look into the mirror, and let her true self emerge, watching the ugly white limbs rip through her green skin until nothing is left of what she pretends to be. Then she will look upon herself, full of fear and hatred and shame, until she can look no more. And for a moment, she will know freedom.
Things are so much more complicated when the beauty and the beast are one and the same.
how you spin it
It's an embarrassing situation.
Uncle Barry has all sorts of confidence in him, after the initial reluctance. He even sometimes sends him out on missions to do by himself, things that should be simple enough, things he should be able to do on his own. Yet somehow, Wally has managed to mess this one up. He's supposed to be running ahead to let the police chief know that they've figured out who the head of the smuggling ring is, that they're ready to bust it up, that the Flash will be in pursuit momentarily, and the police should stand by to make the arrest. It's not difficult, but it's important. He's taking it seriously.
But he's lost.
He's lived in Central City all his life, but he's only been doing the whole superhero thing for a few weeks, and he's not even old enough to drive yet – how did Uncle Barry expect him to know the way to the police station all the way from the other side of town? But he's too mortified to radio for help, and too panicked to slow down, so he's just zipping back and forth between Main and Maple and Morris, trying to figure out how bad it would look if Kid Flash just kind of strolled into the convenience store and bought a map…
And just as he decides that it would look very bad indeed, he hears a strange laugh, stranger yet for the Doppler effect that warps it as he speeds by, and skids to a halt. Somehow, he knows that laugh was aimed at him and he's thirteen and self-conscious and it suddenly seems very pressing to find out why.
It's a boy, another mask. He has a yellow cape and a red tunic over green leggings, and the smirk on his face is enough to make Wally's face burn. He knows who this is. This is the original sidekick. This is Robin, protégé of the Batman. And he's laughing at him.
"What do you want?" he demands, zipping over to stand below the fire escape on which the Boy Wonder is perched.
Robin just grins for a long moment, perhaps deciding whether or not this goof-up in the yellow costume is worth his time – it's impossible to tell with the domino mask. Finally, he stands up, withdrawing something from his cape, and just smiles at Wally.
"Twelve blocks north, eight blocks east," he says.
Then he's gone, a grappling line sending him soaring into the alleyway and out of sight before Wally can even yell anything back.
(They meet officially a few months after that, at a press event which both their mentors are attending. He has gotten over the embarrassment by then, and has the grace to thank Robin for his help, and to ask him if there's anything he can do to return the favor. But the other boy insists there isn't.)
Time passes. Wally's fourteen, and desperate – he's supposed to be helping the Flash keep Captain Cold from sabotaging the power grid, but he's been locked in this damn meat locker somewhere in the industrial district for almost an hour now, and he can't get out. It's freezing and it stinks and the door is very much incredibly solid. There's some kind of swipe-lock keypad device on the inside, but no matter how many thousands of combinations of numbers Wally enters into it, it doesn't respond. In all this, his only consolation is that once Captain Cold succeeds, and the power turns off, the electronic locks will disable and he'll be able to get out, but somehow the fact that his safety is guaranteed by his own failure is not particularly comforting.
After what feels like an age of running patterns through the hooks and chains and dangling slabs of meat, praying for an idea, Wally lets out a desperate cry and slams his fist against the little flashing panel by the door.
Then to his complete astonishment, the little light blinks to solid green, and the doors slide open.
Behind them stands Robin, a hologram floating over his glove, which is wired into the panel on the outside of the door. His uniform is a little different this time – the cape is black, though it's still got a yellow lining, and his legs are all covered, but it's definitely him. Wally gapes for a moment, then remembers his manners, and just as the other boy turns to leave without a word, he reaches out and grabs his arm.
"W-wait," he says. Robin turns to look at him expectantly. "Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?"
The Boy Wonder laughs.
"Don't you have a crime to stop?" he asks.
Wally feels his face grow hot, but the other boy has a point.
"Don't think I'll forget this," he shouts as he zips away and up the stairs.
From far behind him, he thinks he hears a chuckle.
(He gets there in the nick of time – Captain Cold clearly thinks he's out of commission, so he isn't expecting a second speedster to come barreling into the power plant, and in the chaos of the new arrival, the Flash manages to steal his freeze gun. But Wally goes to bed that night feeling indebted, and all he can think about is that this is the second time Robin has helped him out of a bind, and he still doesn't even get why he's doing it, can't figure out what's in it for him. It's all too mysterious, and it makes him uncomfortable.)
Time passes. Wally's fifteen, and this isn't fun and games anymore. The binds are rough on his wrists and ankles, and he thinks his nose might be broken, though it's already starting to heal. The thing about speed-healing is that it doesn't really help with the pain, though, and it hurts as he sits there in the dark, the only sound that of his own rattling breath. He doesn't know who's captured him. He doesn't know what they want from him, since they haven't made any demands, and he doesn't know what they plan to do to him, though if his treatment thus far has been any indication, it all looks pretty grimm. To be honest, at this point, he isn't sure he's going to make it through the night.
Just as he's coming to grips with that thought, a hand closes over his mouth. He tries to scream but it's muffled in the newcomer's glove, and suddenly a familiar voice whispers in his ear:
"Quiet, KF. We have about two minutes before they know I'm here. Hold still."
And he feels a knife slide through his bonds like butter. As the ropes drop to the ground, he labors to his feet, but the circulation in his legs has been cut off for too long and he can't help but stagger forward, off-balance. Thankfully, Robin shifts quickly to catch his weight on his shoulder, and holds him upright until he can stand on his own. Then the younger hero silently motions for him to follow.
They disappear into the shadows. Robin leads him to the secret passage that presumably got him here, and they creep along through the darkness until the streetlights are shining into the manhole above them, and they emerge into the city. No one has followed them – it is a clean getaway.
As Robin tries to make his own escape, Wally follows, keeping his voice low so they don't attract any unwanted attention.
"Wait up," he presses. "That's three times now. I owe you. At least tell me what I can do."
They know each other fairly well now – Wally's been on the job two years, and they've had to team up more than once before. But Robin's habit of showing up uninvited right when Wally gets in over his head has become alarming. Once is a favor. Twice is a debt. Three times is a pattern, and Wally wants to know why.
"There's nothing you can do," Robin replies evenly.
"No. It's just what I do."
He tries to disappear down an alleyway, but Wally zips ahead of him, blocking the other boy's path. He realizes his face is a bloody mess and his uniform is torn, but he wants answers.
"There's nothing at all you want from me?"
"Everybody wants something," Robin says.
"Yeah, and I want to know what you want."
"It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me."
They stare at each other in the dim glow of the streetlamps. When it is clear from the long silence that Wally isn't going to drop the subject, Robin sighs and slumps his shoulders, looking away as if thinking deeply about something.
"I'll make you a deal," he says finally, looking back up. "I'll tell you what I want…but only if you learn my name."
"What?" Wally says, blinking stupidly. "Your name?"
"My real name," Robin says with a cryptic smile. He seems satisfied with this compromise. "If you figure out my real name…I'll answer your question."
"I…" Wally begins, but before he can finish the sentence, Robin has fired a line into the shadows behind his head, and he has to duck to avoid a face full of his boots as the Boy Wonder swoops into the shadows and disappears.
(The Flash apprehends the men who kidnapped him, and takes him off duty for a week in a predictable paternal panic. But this suits Wally just fine. He has a secondary mission to accomplish.)
He's standing in the streets of Gotham City. It's nighttime, and the whole place is giving him the creeps. He tells himself it's because he doesn't know the layout like he knows Central's, even though he knows that isn't entirely true, and gets to work. This may be the town of the World's Greatest Detective, but he's got a little sleuthing of his own to do.
Finding Robin is surprisingly easy. He just follows the sirens, and soon enough he spots the tell-tale flash of red and black that is the new uniform. It's amazing, really, how easy it is to follow him; it's not even that Wally can outrace him anywhere, or at least not just that. Somehow, Robin seems more predictable than usual tonight, taking his time in deploying his grappling lines and avoiding sudden moves that would shake off a pursuer. It's incredible, too, that he never seems to notice that he is being tailed. Wally had expected he would be acknowledged within minutes of his arrival, but hours pass, and the sun begins to rise, and Robin is heading for a different area of the city, a nicer area than he's been in all night, and Wally can't believe that this might actually work. It's almost like Robin is leading him along.
The neighborhood is thinning out, the houses getting bigger, with larger lawns. Robin is being more careful, using the dwindling shadows to his advantage and checking his surroundings frequently. Wally keeps closer than ever, now, afraid of losing the little bird in the endgame, and eventually he follows him to the shabby garden of an old, abandoned house, where Robin approaches a boarded-up well.
Right before Robin lifts up the wood covering, he looks across the street, to where Wally is hiding behind a parked car, and Wally can swear he looks right at him. But he says nothing, and disappears into the well, and the night is done.
(Wally waits until the next night to follow, and the tunnel at the bottom doesn't surprise him. What does surprise him is when the tunnel dumps him on the grounds of Wayne Manor.)
It's a Saturday – no school. Wally's in Gotham again, but he's in civvies, and he's underdressed for this part of town, where everyone wears slacks and button-downs. But he knows as he approaches the tall iron gates, hands in his pockets, that this is the right place. He knows because there is a boy standing on the steps of the mansion like he's waiting for something, and he knows because as he gets close the boy descends the steps and starts the long walk across the grounds, black hair blowing lightly in the chilly November wind.
They meet at the gates, one on either side. Wally doubts himself for a moment, but the small smile twisting the other boy's mouth is unmistakable, and those blue, blue eyes are staring at him like he's supposed to be saying something. So he pauses, cocks his head to one side, and says,
The black-haired boy's smile broadens.
"You win," he concedes, as if laughing at a private joke.
"So now you have to tell me," says Wally, curling his left hand around one of the cold metal bars of the gate and stepping closer. "You have to tell me why you did it. You have to tell me what you want."
The boy tilts his head to one side and smiles thoughtfully, then reaches down, out of Wally's sight, to enter something into a keypad.
"What I want?" he murmurs curiously as the gates move. Wally lets go and steps back, surprised, as they swing wide open, eliminating the last barrier between them. Folding his arms over his chest, Dick glances over at the sprawling grounds and the big, empty mansion, then looks Wally right in the eye and says simply,
"I want a friend."