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Next Friend
This story is set in Cereta's Hanging Work alternate universe. However, it's entirely unofficial. Thanks to Livia for betaing.

One of the best things about living in Star City that year was the chance of getting to play with Speedy outside the missions, but Dick still couldn't really believe his eyes. The kid leaving the abandoned building below him, arms wrapped around himself against the early October chill, wasn't wearing a costume, but he had to be Speedy. Just had to. The height, the hair color, the way he walked...it was obvious. Unbelievable, that he'd be out in this neighborhood at this hour in civilian clothes. Dick wouldn't often get a chance like this. It would just be wrong to let it go.

As Speedy walked up the street, Dick shadowed him from the rubbled and graffiti-strewn rooftops, careful to keep a firm grip on the package under his arm. Fun was fun, but if he lost this package, they might just have to skip town again, and Dick was starting to like it there.

When he reached a blind alleyway, Speedy hesitated, then turned in. Perfect. Dick shoved the package into his backpack and then somersaulted in behind him. "Your money or your life!" he growled, trying to pitch his voice as low as possible.

If he'd had any doubts about the kid's identity, they were dispelled when he spun around, dropping into a defensive stance. When Speedy actually saw who was facing him, he relaxed, but, strangely, he didn't smile. "Oh. It's you."

Dick had been looking forward to that "you got me" grin, so he kept going. "Does Green Arrow know you're in this part of town? It's not safe for do-gooders."

He laughed shortly, not a happy laugh. "No. He's not even in town."

"Having some fun while he's away?" Dick often wondered how the sidekicks stood it. All those rules--Kid Flash couldn't even admit to his mentor that Dick helped the Titans out, sometimes, when it was worth his while. Selina had rules, too, but they were all about surviving, and Dick had quickly learned that breaking them didn't make sense and rarely led to actual fun.

"Yeah, I guess."

"But what were you doing around here? The hookers are another couple blocks west."

"Very funny. Just...picking something up."

Dick saw now that Speedy had something tucked under his jacket. "Let me see."

"No."

"C'mon, what is it?" He tugged at Speedy's hand. The last time they'd arm-wrestled, Speedy had cheated outrageously; it was time to get his own back.

Speedy tried, unsuccessfully, to push his hand away. "Nothing!"

"Bootleg video game? Illegal arrowheads--what?"

Now Dick was leaning on him hard and grinning, liking the feel. Speedy jerked away, and something came loose inside of his jacket and fell to the ground. Dick only needed one look. He knew a kit when he saw one.

"Oh, geez--" he groaned, letting him go. "Why didn't you ask me about it first? I could've told you this stuff is no good."

"It's not any of your business," Speedy snapped, stooping to pick up the needle.

"Look, it might seem cool, but, believe me, it'll just mess with your head. I know lots of people--"

"Stop talking to me like I'm some kind of...of high-school sophomore!"

"You are a high-school sophomore."

"Maybe, but this isn't exactly my first time. I know what I'm doing."

Come to think of it, he did look a little thinner, tireder, unhappier, than the last time Dick had seen him, when they'd thwarted the Carabiner's kidnap attempt and Dick had gotten clean away with the ransom money. Since it had been a hundred thousand dollars, he'd thought it was probably a good idea not to hang around and rub their noses in it for a while. "Do you know you're being completely and totally stupid?"

"Big words from the thief," Speedy said. "What've you got in your bag?"

Dick gasped, because they always acted--after the first few minutes, anyway, when they usually pretended that they were on opposite sides and so forth, just because the grown-ups seemed to expect that they would--as if Dick was a kid just like them. Not a criminal, not the kind of person who their mentors sent to jail every day. "Nothing that will ruin my life."

"Says you. Look, this is my life and I'll do what I want with it. I don't see why you should get any say. You're around less than Green Arrow, and that's saying something. You just show up, have your fun, and leave, so who cares what you think?"

Dick frowned, cheeks heating. He couldn't believe how hard Speedy suddenly looked. Like he wished he'd never met Dick.

Dick didn't understand it. He could've told Speedy all kinds of stories--about Holly and a dozen others--but he didn't think it would help if Speedy was going to be a moron about it. Obviously, this called for a Plan B, and one was already starting to form in his head. "Fine. Listen--just--try to stop at idiotic, before you hit suicidal. New needle every time, okay? No sharing."

Speedy glared. "Whatever."

"Right. Whatever."

The alley fence was an easy springboard up, but Dick didn't feel the usual lift in his spirits as he flew up onto a rooftop.



Once Dick had cached the goods and picked up some supplies, he circled around back to where he'd first seen Speedy. He'd been careless to think it was an abandoned building—there was a guy hanging out in the areaway who was obviously a lookout. Well, Dick didn't look like a cop, but the guy would probably try to stop somebody in costume, too. Dealers didn't necessarily make the distinction between Selina-type people and Batman-type people.

So he tossed a flash-bang and ran in when the lookout went to investigate. Once he was on the stairs, he slowed down, trying to refine his plan over the anger and shock he still felt. He supposed he shouldn't be all that surprised. He didn't know Speedy that well. He'd only met him because Dick had happened to be taking off the Trigger Twins, who had accidentally gotten hold of some very valuable documents, at the same time that Speedy and Kid Flash had decided to put a stop to their other activities.

Dick had found the two of them tied up in a back room and burst out laughing. Kids in ugly costumes--what would the League think of next?

"Oh, like you can talk," the red-head scoffed. "Who's your superhero?"

"Superheroes aren't my thing," he said, looking him up and down. "They put you in such stupid outfits. I'm Catspaw."

"What are you doing here?"

Selina had always said it was important to be as operationally flexible as possible, and when he looked them over, he realized that these guys would make an excellent diversion, if they didn't get killed, which, since it was the Trigger Twins, they probably wouldn't. "Just out for a good time," he said, and stepped over to start untying them.

They had turned out to be a better diversion than he'd thought, and it never even occurred to them that Dick had gotten the most valuable loot. Despite himself, he'd been curious. He'd never met anyone else his own age who was in the life. He found out where their headquarters were, which wasn't too hard, and started dropping by to annoy them. He could tell that he particularly annoyed Speedy, the leader. Obviously Speedy was used to playing the tough, cool rebel, but he had to pretend he wasn't tempted when Dick, who was, after all, a real rogue, would suggest various questionable tactics on their missions. Sometimes that made him turn as red as his hair.

And Dick did go on missions sometimes. Usually because there was something in it for him (rolling the Titans's targets when they weren't looking was almost always profitable, and they just never learned) but occasionally just to keep them from getting killed, even after they added the two new members and powered up a little more. Messing with Speedy, flirting with Wonder Girl (which also fell under the category of "messing with Speedy"), and making money on an adventure—it really fit Dick's idea of a good time. Selina didn't mind as long as it didn't get in the way of her work. Dick knew she felt bad that he didn't get to keep his school friends.

But coming along not-really-invited on a mission with Speedy three or four times a year, or even running into him on a rooftop every few weeks now that they were in the same city, didn't add up to a real friendship. Selina always said that the people who acted the toughest had the most trouble buried. Well, she was always right, and here was more proof. Dick would never have picked Speedy as the user of the group.

The dealers were working out of an apartment on the third floor. Dick went out a window of an apartment two doors down and flattened himself along the cornice. Star City's architecture was too sleek and modern--it was a real pain--but this building looked to be at least pre-war, and offered a few more opportunities for an enterprising burglar. When he reached the dealers' window, he tossed the gas grenade inside, waited a minute, then pulled on the goggles and rebreather. Blackout gas plus tear gas might seem like overkill, but he wanted them disoriented and blind.

There were two of them, yelling and cursing and stumbling around. Dick executed his plan, then perched himself on the window to wait for the gas to clear. When the first watery-eyed dealer peered at him and actually saw him, he said, dangling a heavy packet of heroin out the window behind him, "Looking for this?"

"What the hell?" he demanded, grabbing for a gun which wasn't there.

"Or these?" He gestured towards the ledge, where the guns were lined up and spiked on top of the other packages.

"Who the fuck are you?"

"They usually call me trouble," Dick said, easily knocking back the second guy, who had decided to lunge at him before he'd even finished coughing, "but Catspaw will do, too. We need to talk. And I hope you have enough common sense to let me keep my balance while we're chatting. It would be too bad if I were to slip."

"I don't know who you think you are," Dealer One snarled, "but you're dead, motherfucker. Dead!"

"I've heard that before," Dick said lazily, tossing the package up and catching it by his fingertips. "Look, I'm not actually here to take you off. If I were, you'd already be taken. Ask around."

Dealer One frowned. Clearly he had heard of him. "Then what do you want?"

Dick repressed the grin. Scary. He had to look scary. "You just sold to a kid. Redhead, my age, a little shorter than me."

"Yeah. So?"

"His credit isn't good anymore. Got it?"

"Or what?"

"Or you--or anybody else who sells to him--is suddenly going to find it a lot harder to get your stuff in and out of the city. I know Arrow doesn't pay any attention to the drug trafficking in Star City. He doesn't want to get his hands dirty. Me and Catwoman, our hands already are, and we know how it works, so--" He shrugged. "It can't possibly be worth it to you."

"I'm not going to be the bitch of some high-school punk!"

Dick tch-ed and tossed the heroin up again, this time balancing it on the back of his hand. "A lot of guys would give plenty to be Catwoman's, uh, bitch. Think of it that way. Okay?" He made the package teeter. "Okay?"

"Okay!"

"All right." Dick let the package fall to the ground, tossed the guns out the window, and turned to leave. "Remember. If you do sell to him, I'll find out."

"What is he, some kind of friend of yours?"

"Just somebody I'm looking out for," he said, and went out the window again.



Selina was pacing the floor when he dropped in through the window a few hours later. "Got it," he declared, displaying the package.

"You're late," she said, and he saw the two hastily-packed bags sitting by the door.

"Sorry. I got distracted."

She raised an eyebrow, taking the package. "Distracted?"

He might be angry at Speedy, but he probably should try to keep his secret. "Yeah."

"Distracted is missing a mark because there's a pretty girl across the street, Dick. Distracted happens. Coming home from a key job three hours late, on the other hand, is jeopardizing our entire position here. So please tell me it was more than a distraction."

Normally, he loved it that she treated him like an adult. Sometimes, though--like now--it definitely had its drawbacks. He paused. Maybe he was being silly. Selina wouldn't take the story like some high-school guidance counselor. She'd probably be able to help. There wasn't a lot Selina couldn't fix.

So, while she catalogued the night's take and stowed it in the floor safe, he told her the facts.

"Oh, sweetie," Selina said after he finished. "What am I going to do with you?"

"Are you mad that I used your name?" he asked. "I know I shouldn't have--"

"It's not that, though that probably wasn't the smartest thing you've ever done. It's the whole situation. I know you know there's more than one heroin dealer in Star City."

"Yes," Dick frowned, moving to a handstand on the coffee table. "But word will get around."

"So Speedy will have to go out of town to score." She snapped the safe shut. "He'll have to pay more and he'll be in more danger of getting caught. Is that what you were trying to accomplish?"

"I didn't say it was a perfect plan. I just--" He frowned harder and shifted his weight to one hand so he could gesture with the other. "I had to do something, Selina!"

"Ideally, you want to do something that will actually help," she said, not unkindly. "Trying to cut off someone's supply never works. Neither does trying to bully them into quitting."

"You have friends who cleaned up."

"Yes. When they were ready. If a junkie isn't ready to stop himself, well, even Superman won't be able to force him, much less an aspiring catburglar."

He brought himself crashing down on his back and glared up at the ceiling. "So what was I supposed to do? Just pretend I didn't see?"

He didn't mean to sound angry at her, and the next second he was ready to apologize, but she had already gotten up and walked to the windows. "You can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved, Dick. Believe me, I know."

"I don't want to give up on him, Selina." Of course what she was saying was true, but this was--different. It had to be. It was Speedy.

"I'm not telling you to." She turned around. "Listen, you at least understand. You've seen enough to know that people get high for lots of reasons, not just because they're evil or stupid. Let Speedy know that. Be his friend."

"How?"

She looked at him directly. "You're the one who knows him, Dick. You're going to have to figure that out for yourself."

Normally, he was thrilled when she left a problem for him to solve. But nothing this important had ever depended on it. "What if I can't?"

"I have confidence in you, hon. Now, go get some sleep. You've got school in three hours, and I'm not writing you another note."

"School!" he protested.

"Yes, school," she said crisply. "Who knows, maybe you'll learn how to solve the problem from one of those drug-education posters."

Dick groaned, rolled to his feet, and headed for his bedroom.



Dick spent the next three days trying to come up with a plan. Even though he spent all his hours in class thinking about it rather than anything as pointless as what they were talking about, he didn't have any luck. Part of the problem was that he didn't know Speedy's name or where he lived. They'd bent a lot of rules working together, but not the biggest one: everyone had kept their secret identities.

Speedy probably lived in Star City, because that was the Arrow's town, but that was all Dick knew. That meant no dropping by to do an intervention. It also meant he couldn't talk to Arrow, either. Even if he wanted to, he knew he had to stay away from the JLA. Selina had drilled that into his head since day one--they might not throw him in jail, but they would certainly take him away, and then, Dick thought, what would happen to her?

He started trying to track down Speedy's identity, but it all kept leading nowhere. What ended up saving him from failing that semester wasn't his own brain, but the message on the Titans communicator that came in during the early evening on the fourth day.

"Catspaw, you're probably not even listening, but if you are, if you could come to the garage at Kraft and Reilly...well, there's not any money in it for you, so you probably won't come. But if you could...I mean, right now..."

Speedy sounded terrible. Dick replayed the message five times, each time worrying a little more. Selina was out visiting a fence. Maybe that was just as well. He put on his work clothes and left her a note.

The garage was self-service. Dick headed to the roof. When he pushed the door open to step out, he walked right into the setting sun, and it took a minute for the dazzle to fade from his eyes. There were two dark shapes waiting there: someone shaped like Speedy, and someone who, as Dick's eyes adjusted, turned out to be Green Lantern.

His heart plummeted in his chest. Even though Speedy had started acting like there really were two sides and Dick was on the wrong one, he'd never even stopped to think it could be a trap. "You've gotta be kidding me," he said, readying a jumpline, even though he didn't think it would do much good to run away from a Lantern. Already he was wondering how long he could hold out, whether Selina would have time to get away--

"Wait," Speedy said hoarsely. It sounded as if he had been crying. "Just wait a minute."

"Speedy," the Lantern said, "are you sure you want to do this?"

"Are you gonna take me in?" he challenged him.

"I have responsibilities. I don't know anything about drugs--"

"My point."

"What's going on, Speedy?" Dick asked, cautiously relaxing the arm with the jumpline.

"Green Arrow found out."

"Wow. Did you guys have a fight?"

"I wouldn't call it a fight." Speedy's smile was bitter. "He threw me out of the house."

Dick stared. He couldn't even begin to imagine Selina doing anything like that. And to think that people said that they were the bad guys. "What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. I--I have to kick, Catspaw. I thought maybe you might know somewhere I could go, some clinic or something..."

Dick's mind raced. It wasn't safe for Speedy to go to a regular clinic--he'd be too vulnerable if any of the clientele recognized him. He and Selina had a few hideouts, but they were grim little niches not designed for anyone's comfort.

Selina had said to be a friend to him. A friend, not just someone who showed up every once in a while for an adventure.

That really left only one alternative.

"Sure, I have a friend who can help," he said, glancing obliquely at the Lantern. "But you can't talk--the way you were talking earlier--in front of her. She wouldn't put up with it, and neither will I."

"I don't like the way that sounds," Green Lantern said.

"Speedy? I mean it. You can insult me, but you'd better not say a word to her."

He shivered. "Yeah. Okay."

"Then come on. It's going to take some time to get you set up."

"If he asks," Speedy said to Green Lantern, "tell him I'm fine and I don't need his help."

"It's your choice, son," Green Lantern said, "but--"

"But he probably won't ask."

Dick repressed a wince. "Okay, let's go. You first, Lantern."

He made them wait til the green glow had faded from the horizon. This was stupid enough as it was.



"Nice place."

"Yeah." Dick led him through the cool slate modern of the living room to his bedroom. "We're going to put you in here."

"This is where you live, isn't it?"

He sighed. Some lies would be pointless. "Yes."

"And your friend--that's Catwoman."

"Yes."

"Selina and Dick Kyle." There hadn't been a chance to hide the mail. Speedy sat down on the bed, cross-legged. His color wasn't very good. "Funny. Is she really your sister?"

Dick didn't answer, ignoring the sinking feeling as he hunted down extra bedding and a large mop bucket. He wanted to spend as little time cleaning up puke as he had to. As he brought his armload into his bedroom, he heard the front door open. Darn. Back earlier than he'd hoped. He had wanted to present her with a fait accompli.

"It's Malaysian tonight," Selina called, coming into the bedroom with a paper bag in her hand. "I didn't have time to--"

"Hi," Speedy mumbled, staring at her anxiously. Dick could see he was braced to be thrown out instantly.

Selina's face was cool and unreadable. "I'm sorry, Dick didn't tell me he was having guests over. I didn't bring enough for three."

"That's okay." He tried to smile. "I don't think I'm going to be able to keep anything down anyway."

"I see. Dick, will you help me set the table, please?"

He followed her out into the dining room. "Selina, look--"

"Is that who I think it is?"

"Yes. Green Arrow threw him out. He needs to detox."

Her eyebrows rose. "Here?"

"You told me to be a friend to him!" Dick said hotly. "Friends don't hide behind secret identities when they can help."

She looked as if she was about to say something angry, then reconsidered. "Oh, sweetie. You know this means we're going to have to leave town, don't you?" she said quietly.

He nodded. That much was obvious. Another year, another town…but he was going to miss this one.

She sighed. "Afterwards. Right now, we've got a fun three or four days to look forward to. If he ruins any of my rugs, it's coming out of your allowance, Dick."

He swallowed. "Selina--"

She waved him off. "Go on. I'm going to call Dr. V. I want him to get a look at him. You babysit."



When he came, the doctor made noises about taking Speedy to the hospital, but backed off when Dick glared. He gave Speedy a couple of shots, wrote some prescriptions, and muttered, "Kids these days," as he left.

Selina looked into the room. "I'm going to go get these scrips filled. Will you be all right for a little while?"

"Sure," Dick said, "we're fine."

Speedy was sleepy from the shots and drifted off for a little while. Dick sat by his bed and watched him. It was hard to believe that he was there, in Dick's other life. He looked so vulnerable, out of the costume, spilled out boneless on the bed. Dick wondered where his parents were, why they didn't care what happened to him. He'd only found out by chance, and the thought made him sad, almost ashamed. He reached out and gently brushed Speedy's hair out of his eyes. His forehead felt hot, and Dick pressed the back of his hand against his cheek to cool it.

Speedy stirred, and Dick hastily snatched his hand back. He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling, rubbing his hands over his arms. "I really don't feel so good."

Dick smiled and said briskly, "Well, you're throwing up into the bucket, got it? Nowhere else. I know you've got good enough aim."

"Sure."

He got up and started into the bathroom. "I'll get you some water--"

"Roy."

"What?" He looked back at Speedy.

"Roy. My name is Roy Harper." He had pushed himself into a sitting position. "It's only fair."

"That's your real--Wow." Dick dropped onto the edge of the bed. "No more secret identities. Wow."

"No more secrets," Roy said, and then he was kissing him. That was almost as big a shock as Dick kissing him back.

"Oh," Dick said weakly when they were done. Roy still had his hands on his waist. "Oh."

"Yeah." Roy laid his head on his shoulder and glanced up at him from below. "Is that...okay?"

"It's--" Dick had read a lot of books, but he didn't really have words for how wonderful it made him feel, how different and exciting and new it was to be all tangled up in someone's arms, to have someone's breath against your neck. He was overflowing with warmth, everywhere. "It's amazing."

"Mmm." Roy slid a little closer. Dick curled his arms around to hold him. After a minute, Roy ventured, "Um, Dick?"

"Yeah?"

"I think I'm going to hurl."

"Whoa." He let go and slid back so fast that he toppled over onto the floor.

Roy quickly fell to his knees and started vomiting--into the bucket, at least. When he finished, he looked up at Dick, who was rubbing his elbow where he'd banged it, and said weakly, "Well, this is sure a fantastic start for the next generation of the Justice League."

Dick grinned back at him. "Who says I'm going to join your League? Maybe you'll join my team."

"Yeah, right," Roy said, and nailed him with a pillow before starting to puke again. Dick grabbed a shoe, but then chose not to retaliate—it was too easy.

He was going to have a long time to get back at him, after all.


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