Jason walked through the door of Roy’s apartment to an unexpected scene. Now, the sight of Roy comforting someone wasn’t a big shock, God knows how many times Roy had been Jason’s lifeline. The real surprise was that it wasn’t Kori or Rose or another Outlaw; it was fucking Dick Grayson. Jason was vaguely aware that they had been friends a long time ago, and that they hooked up a couple of times, but he hadn’t thought that they were close. Certainly not close enough for the soft eyes Roy currently had on.
Of course, the look was gone as soon as the sound of the door opening registered to the two men on the couch. Roy looked slightly irritated, which was normal, but Dickhead looked...spooked? That couldn’t be right. Whatever his expression had been before was gone and replaced with something like relief.
“Well, if Jay’s here he must need something so I’m gonna take off, nice to see you Roy,” Dick said hurriedly. He was halfway to the window before Roy could speak.
“Sit your ass down kid,” he snapped. “We are not done and you’re not flying away until we are.” Jason waited for the inevitable angry remark at being called a kid and for Dick to leave anyway. To Jason’s continued surprise Dick sat back down on the couch, expression slightly annoyed but mostly just shyly chastised. Which, what? That asshole is the least shy prick he knows and he backed down without so much of bitter grumble. What the fuck was going on?
“Jay?” Roy asked. Jason focused his attention back on the person he actually came to see.
“Yeah?” He responded.
“What did you need?”
What he needed was a place to crash because the replacement was in his apartment and he didn’t want to sleep on a cot in a safe house when his best friend had a perfectly serviceable couch he wasn’t using. Or so he’d thought. “Replacement stole my bed so I came to steal yours.” Like hell he was leaving just because Dickhead’s ugly mug happened to be here.
Roy hardly raised an eyebrow. “I don’t even want to know. Just use the spare mattress under the frame,” he replied, then tilted his head back toward the bedroom.
“Cool.” Jason spared Dick a look as he walked past him, but he was just looking down at his hands. Roy caught his shoulder before he completely made it to the hallway and his glare was loud and clear, ‘stay away I can’t handle two idiots at the same time’. It was a look Roy used often. Jason brushed him off and and kept walking until he was in Roy’s bedroom, making sure the door made noise as it shut behind him.
He waited all of 30 seconds before silently slipping out again to spy. He didn’t particularly care about whatever Dick and Roy were talking about; there was probably gonna be a little yelling, some questions that Dick would smile at but not answer, and then hopefully Roy would just kick him out so he and Jason could watch bad movies and play drinking games.
He stopped just out of sight at the edge of the room and saw that both of them were sitting on the couch. Ostensibly they were facing each other, but Dick was mostly looking everywhere but Roy.
“Dick.” Dick didn’t look. “Dick,” Roy stressed.
“Look, Roy, I appreciate you bringing me here but I don’t know what you want,” he looked right at Roy. “I don’t know what you want me to say.” What? Why the hell would Roy drag Goldie here? Why not dump him off at home if he needed to talk to someone?
“That’s bullshit and you know it. I don’t want you to say-” he cut himself off, put a hand to his face and tried again. “I want you to take a fucking break when you’re not okay. I want you to trust someone to listen to you like you’re willing to listen to everyone else.” Roy’s eyes were tired. His tone was firm yet compassionate, like it was when Jason needed someone to lean on after a bender or a nightmare, but something in it made Jason feel cold; Roy sounded just a hint desperate and Jason didn’t like it at all.
“I did take a break,” Dick retorted, and there was the defensiveness Jason had been waiting for. “ I took three days off from patrol. And obviously I did talk to someone or you wouldn’t have heard about it at all.”
“Don’t get snappy with me, and don’t act like you weren’t just using Wally as a distraction. That’s why Walls called me, he didn’t know what else to do because you were talking around the problem instead of about it and he’s worried.”
“He doesn’t need to be-“
“Also, taking a break is more than just staying off the rooftops because you don’t think you have the self control to not throw yourself off of one.”
WHAT? Jason had to have misunderstood. He had to, because otherwise Dick thought there was a good enough chance he would try and kill himself that he didn’t patrol for three days. Jason knew that Dick had more issues than he let show because no one does this job as long as he has and gets away untouched. Just...not, but no, it can’t be that bad, right? Except that it absolutely could and made sense that Dick would let himself burn out trying to be bright enough for everyone. Blinding everyone with sunshine smiles so bright no one thought to look for clouds. Apparently enough clouds that Dick wants to die… fuck.
Dick has gone back to looking down. Roy puts a hand underneath Dick’s jaw and forces him to look up. “A break means you don’t solve cases so you can avoid sleeping. A break means you eat nice meals and, I don’t know take hot baths. A break means you take care of yourself, Dick!” Roy was fierce. He kept going, “and taking care of yourself does not include getting trashed.”
Dick glared, then looked away. His voice was small, “I don’t dream if I pass out trashed.” He smiles a little and says, “I think that almost counts as self-care.” It’s the wrong thing to say and Jason knows it immediately. Apparently, Dick knew it before he even said it because he had braced for the slap before he finished the sentence.
Dick’s head barely turned when Roy’s palm met his face, but the smack rang through the whole apartment for a few seconds.
“I deserved that,” Dick whispered. Jason wasn’t even surprised when the bastard had the gall to sound amused. Jason also knew Roy wouldn’t take that hint of amusement well. It looked like Roy was about to start yelling when he suddenly stopped. He looked at Dick suspiciously.
“Is this that thing that she told me about? What you used to do with the Titans?”
Dick looked as confused as Jason felt. “What are you talking about, what thing?”
“When you went out on patrol looking to get hit,” Roy replied softly, dangerously. “You had a bad day so you took twice as long as you needed to in a fight. You let whatever thug of the week get more hits in than he ever should have. That thing, Dick,” he growled.
“Oh,” Dick mumbled. “That thing.”
Roy looked pissed but his voice was still low when he kept going, “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Dick looked angry too, but Jason could see it was covering up for his mortification. “How did you even know that? Don’t you and Kori have better things to talk about than me?”
“Why does it have to be Kori?”
“Because she’s the only person I told about it who would rat me out,” Dick bit out bitterly.
Roy rolled his eyes, “She wasn’t ‘ratting you out’, asshole, I was telling her what it meant to be touch-starved. When I finished she went all wide-eyed and ‘oh, that’s what was wrong with him.’ I don’t think she meant to say it out loud, but she did, and we talked about it. I was pissed, but I didn’t bring it up because I thought you stopped.” Roy and Dick spent a long moment just looking at each other.
“I did stop. It was unnecessarily dangerous and after a close call I stopped. I just…” he trailed off. He kept looking at Roy like if he just stared hard enough Roy would understand.
To Jason’s utter bewilderment Roy nodded like he did. He took Dick’s face and cradled it in his hands, his whole demeanor much more tender than it had been a second ago. He looked Dick in the eye and asked, “when was the last time you let yourself go?” Dick looked caught off guard by the question and Jason could relate. This entire conversation had been much different than what Jason had expected. He thought Roy would pat Dick on the shoulder, bicker a bit and then Dick would be gone.
“What do you mean? Let myself go how?”
“When was the last time you let yourself crack without fighting? Without channeling all that pent up hurt into anger and movement?” He looked Dick dead in the eye and asked, “when was the last time you let yourself fall apart?”
Dick looked away. Then, he pulled away from Roy’s hands, from Roy in general. He made a movement to get up before Roy caught his hand. Dick tried to yank away but Roy just brought his other hand around so that Dick’s hand was now caught between both of Roy’s. Dick gave another half-hearted tug and then settled back down. He still refused to meet the redhead’s eyes.
“Baby bird, look at me,” Roy coaxed. Baby bird?
“I haven’t been the baby bird of the family in a long time Roy, that moniker no longer applies to me.” Dick still wasn’t looking at Roy but Jason swore he saw the ghost of smile start to spread on his face.
“Listen,” Roy scoffed. “I know that you somehow ended up the eldest brother of your weird bat cult, but you are always going to be our little bird.” Roy’s tone was playful but his body language was still that weird gentleness that caught Jason off guard.
Roy was Jason’s go-to confidant, he knew that Roy wasn’t a hard ass all the time just like Jason wasn’t a jerk all the time, but Roy didn’t show that for just anyone. Life was too much of a bitch to leave yourself wide open like that, so why did he do it for someone he barely talks to?
Dick was definitely smiling now, but he still wasn’t looking at Roy. “Your best friend is a bird,” he pointed out playfully. “Why isn’t he your baby bird?”
“Jason is my best friend and he would definitely kick me in the nads if I called him baby bird. Plus, that’s not us.” Dick looked at him curiously, so Roy continued, “We’re equals. We don’t do the whole, y’know. We’re on the same level.” Jason felt warm- it was always nice to be validated.
“The whole y’know. I hate that I know what that means,” Dick griped. It was obvious he didn’t, he was obviously holding back a laugh. “But yeah, that’s fair.”
“It helps that I didn’t know him when he was a kid. You’re still the same menace you were when you were ten sometimes and honestly it’s too exhausting to think of you any other way.”
“That is completely unfair,” Dick said haughtily, smirk in place. “I don’t think of you like the same sulky fifteen year old you used to be.”
“Yeah, okay,” Dick admitted sweetly. “To be fair though, I really like that sulky fifteen year old. He put up with me and Wally. At the same time, and only cursed the skies about it a couple times instead of constantly. That’s really impressive. That was a lot of nonsense to put up with,” Dick was grinning like mad and wiggled his eyebrows at Roy.
Roy was pure exasperation as he put his head in his hands and groaned. “So much nonsense,” he said wearily. “ I asked God at least once a day what I did to deserve such hellions as little brothers.” He looked up at Dick and smiled. Dick just laughed.
Jason had frozen again. They had considered each other brothers- Jason hadn’t known that. He knew that Dick and Wally were supposedly best friends, and that Roy had been introduced early on, but brothers was something different. It’s a commitment that Dick didn’t take lightly, Jason would know. He hadn’t been warm to Jason upon reception, far from it, but once he’d decided to give the big brother thing a try he had done his best for Jay. Even after Jason came back he had still yet to leave Jason the fuck alone. That was the thing though, Jason had only seen Dick as a big brother; to himself, to the replacement, to Cass, probably to the new brat. It had never occurred to him that Golden Boy could’ve been someone else’s little brother.
“I loved that about you,” Dick declared. He then promptly laid his head in Roy’s lap. Roy just looked at him in mild confusion.
“You loved that I thought you were a hellion?” He questioned.
“No,” Dick laughed. “I loved that I could act like a kid around you. Around everyone else it felt like there was no room to act silly. I still did sometimes, but it wasn’t the same. At stupid society parties I was ‘mature for age’ and I had to be, because I didn’t want to embarrass B and I didn’t want to give those rich bitches any reason to feel justified in calling me trash. Around the League it was always a fight to prove that I was safe despite being a kid.” Dicked shifted and caught Roy’s eye. “You made it feel safe to be a kid.”
Roy just stared at Dick for a few seconds. Jason did too.
“You made me feel safe,” Dick continued. “You trusted me to be professional on the field no matter how immature I was off of it. You expected me to act like child sometimes, and that was new. Bruce always hoped I would be lighter-hearted than him, but he expected me to be angry or serious. The rest of the League expected that if I was competent enough on the field to pass Batman’s inspection then I must be at least mature beyond my years if nothing else. I’ll admit, I was angry. I was incredibly sad and as mature as only someone who had to rebuild their whole world from scratch could be. I wasn’t entirely the kid you expected me to be, but you made me feel okay to pretend like I was.” Dick turned again so he was facing away from Roy and burrowed closer. “I’m a slightly different person around everyone. At first it was because I had to be to get through so many changes. Then it was because that’s just what I’d gotten used to; being something different for everyone,” he murmured. “I liked the person I was allowed to be with you.”
It was too much. Jason didn’t know what he had expected when he came to eavesdrop on the conversation, but it certainly hadn’t been this. He didn’t know much about Dick’s life before meeting him, and it was because Jason really hadn’t cared. It hadn’t seemed important. It seemed a little more important now and Jason didn't want to look too closely about why anything felt different.
“Dick, I-” Roy tried to start, but Dick cut him off.
“Thank you,” Dick said as he sat up. He twisted so his back was against the arm of the couch and looked straight ahead at Roy, who was still a little wounded-looking. “For taking care of me. I’m sorry that I worried you, but I’m gonna be okay. Tell Wallman that I’m fine.” Dick smiled at Roy again and started to get up. He didn’t get very far.
“You crafty little brat, get back here.”
“What?” Dick startled.
“That was a lovely little moment of honesty, and we’re gonna talk about it later, but you used it as a distraction so you could leave without answering my question.”
“What was the question?”
“When was the last time you let yourself let go?”
Dick paused. “I honestly don’t know, Roy,” he answered.
Roy sighed, “I had a feeling you’d say that.” He pulled Dick closer so they were sitting shoulder to shoulder and then left his arm around Dick’s frame. “You have people who would be more than willing to catch you,” Roy prodded. “Why not let someone help you?”
Dick turned to hide his face in Roy’s chest and muttered, “I worry.”
“About what Dick?”
“No one trusts a frayed net.”
It took a minute for Dick’s meaning to sink in, but once it did Roy was angry and heartbroken at the same time, he faltered, “oh, kiddo…”
Dick Grayson was a highly capable, very dangerous individual who succeeded at nearly everything he tried. Most of the time, he led with a smile and lent a friendly helping hand to anyone who asked. There were many times when logical reasoning worked well to persuade Dick of something as logos was highly appealing to a student of Batman. However, Dick Grayson had also lost everything when he was stranded in Gotham, had thought he lost everything again when the man who helped him rebuild fired him. Sometimes abandonment issues showed themselves as extreme perfectionism, and the expectations placed on Dick by himself and those around him weighed heavily on the acrobat until they crushed him. It was easy to change Dick’s mind about something when his opinion was logical, but convincing his heart of something was infinitely harder. That didn’t mean Roy wasn’t gonna try though, dammit.
“Do I need to lay out why that’s fucking ridiculous or do you want me to just hug you?”
“I know it’s dumb,” Dick grumbled.
“It’s very dumb,” Roy agreed. “Unfortunately it’s also understandable coming from you, so I’m gonna hug you, and you’re gonna let go for a little bit.”
Roy shifted so he faced Dick on the couch, then shifted Dick because Dick wasn’t moving. Roy hugged him, and waited until he felt Dick hug him back. “Let go,” Roy insisted.
“Roy,” Dick warned.
“I’ve got you,” he reassured.
Dick tensed just a fraction. His fingers played with Roy’s shirt. “Roy,” his voice cracked, desperate. Roy just tightened his hold.
Jason watched as his childhood hero and bane of his existence went boneless. Jason watched as the man who represented every impossible standard he couldn’t reach went silent and turned grasping. Jason watched as the man who called him ‘little brother’ started crying, quietly at first, and then he was sobbing like nothing would ever be okay again.
Jason watched Dick fall apart. He turned away from the scene. He raced back to the bedroom as quickly as he could and it was all he could do to remember to be quiet.
Wasn’t it something he had wanted? For Dick, Bruce’s golden boy, to break. Hadn’t he wanted to watch as it became too much for even the original boy wonder to take? He never wanted to see it again. Jason could still hear Dick crying in the other room, and he wanted it to stop. He didn’t want to know how broken the blue bird was, how many frayed edges he really hid, he wanted to know why he had ever wanted this.
An hour later Jason walked back into the living room of Roy’s apartment. Dick had stopped crying awhile ago, but Jason wanted to be absolutely positive he wasn’t walking into another emotional train wreck. Both men on the couch turned to look at him when he entered the room; there were glasses in front of them on the coffee table, so they must have gotten up at some point, which was, good? It was something.
“Hey, Jay,” Dick greeted.
“What up?” Roy asked.
“Not much, assholes,” Jason responded casually. He walked to the fridge and grabbed a beer. He turned around just in time to see Dick flop his head onto Roy’s lap.
“Why are you doing that?” Roy implored. “Do you want me to pet you or something?”
Dick looked at the redhead above him and said, “y’know what? That sounds awesome. Please pet my hair, Royboy.” He then dramatically reached for one of Roy’s hands and placed it on his head.
“Okay, boy needy, whatever,” he teased as he started running a hand through dark hair. “But you ever call me Royboy again and your ass is grass.”
“You’d have to catch this ass first,” Dick responded cockily. “And only Babs is allowed to call me boy-wonder-based puns. Mostly because the only one she uses is Hunk Wonder and I like it.”
Roy laughed, loud and sincere, and cooed, “you are such a loser.”
“Hey, just because it’s true doesn’t mean you say it,” Dick whined.