__  __     _   _     ____                         _   
|  \/  |   | \ | |   |  _ \                       | |  
| \  / |   |  \| |   | |_) |_ __ _   _  __ _ _ __ | |_ 
| |\/| |   | . ` |   |  _ <| '__| | | |/ _` | '_ \| __|
| |  | |_  | |\  |_  | |_) | |  | |_| | (_| | | | | |_ 
|_|  |_(_) |_| \_(_) |____/|_|   \__, |\__,_|_| |_|\__|
                                  __/ |                

Chapter 1

"Home, sweet home..."

The raven-haired 19 year-old stood in the threshold of his new apartment. It was small, but he didn't have a job yet, so he preferred to burn through his savings as slowly as possible. Just inside was the living room, just large enough for the ratty though otherwise clean couch against one wall facing a plain black table, presumably for a TV to sit on. Just behind the table was a wall separating the living room from a kitchen with enough floor space for two people to stand without bumping into each other. Down the hallway he could see two doors, presumably the bathroom and bedroom.

Richard exhaled softly. Here, now, was the beginning of his new life. Here, nobody knew him, though they probably knew his adoptive father, the reason he'd moved out here in the first place.

Well, no point in dwelling on these things. Not when you had a friend with more of your baggage coming up the stairs any second. He stepped inside, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a suitcase rolling along the carpet behind him. He paused a moment in the hallway to peer inside the bathroom; the shower would need a curtain, but everything looked to be in decent condition and fairly clean. The bedroom was about the same: plain, with little furniture. A basic bedframe with a boxspring and mattress. An end table to the right of the bed. A closet on the wall across from the bed.

"A little different than the other places you've lived, huh Grayson?" a redheaded young man said, himself about the same age as Richard.

"I'll live," Richard said tightly. He didn't realize he'd been clenching his jaw until he realized just who he sounded like. "Thanks, Wally," he amended, turning to face his friend, an amiable enough smile on his face as he reached for the bags he had.

Wally knew something was eating at Richard. "I'm going to get the last bag," he said. "Be back in a flash." Richard could only see a blur move down the hallway and out the door, all in less than a second.

Richard lifted his bags onto the bare mattress and began unpacking. Clothes filled three of the five total bags, clothes which he refolded and stacked along the wall until he could get a small dresser and some hangers to put them away properly. He had almost finished the first bag when a light wind lifted at his hair and a hand gripped his shoulder.

"Promise me you won't hide from the rest of us," Wally said softly. "I know you feel like you need some time to yourself. That doesn't mean you're alone."

"I know," Richard replied, coughing to try to clear the lump forming in his throat.

"Also, Artemis told me to tell you that, if no one hears anything from you for too long, she's going to bring everyone to come see you."

He smiled as he turned to face Wally. "Tell her that I appreciate it," he replied. His mind, however, was not thinking of the kindness of the gesture, nor of the friendship he had with these people, but considered instead the tactical advantage if anything happened to him and he went missing for a while. The smile faded.

"Speaking of Artemis, how are things between you two?" he asked, changing the topic.

Wally stuck his hands in his jeans pockets. "Good. Really good, actually. My mood goes up whenever we spend time together, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." Barbara. The wound was too fresh for him to be able to say goodbye before he'd left. *I hope she can forgive me.*

Silence filled the room as Richard stared at the wall. Had he made the right decision in escaping everything? In leaving everyone behind? The whole team had felt the effects of his falling-out with Bruce, so nobody had questioned his need to get away. Not except Alfred, of course. How many of the others thought he was making a mistake? On second thought, he didn't want to know.

A tap on the shoulder. Wally's face seemed to appear in Richard's vision, though he knew he just hadn't been paying attention. "Dude. You gonna be alright? I can crash here a few days until you get settled in. Artemis would understand."

"I'll be fine," Richard reassured him. "I wouldn't want you to get bored while I was out signing my life away."

Wally chuckled. "Are you kidding? I'd be off exploring your new campus while you got to deal with the paperwork."

Another silence. "Go home, Wally," Richard said kindly. "You've got family waiting for you."

"You do too, Grayson. Don't forget about us."

Richard looked up at Wally and their eyes locked. An unspoken agreement passed between them and Wally zoomed out the door, leaving Richard alone to fold his underwear in silence.