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as night bleeds into night (and i know i came off better than you)

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there’s someone in his apartment.

there’s absolutely no way he should know that; nothing is out of place, there’s not a footprint or a hair or anything, but dick still knows. the vibe is off. tim makes fun of him for paying attention to vibes and shit like that, but you can’t work with batman for a decade and not trust your gut.

he’d bet money on it. someone is here, someone trying very hard to be unknown.

he pauses on the windowsill, one foot still hanging out of the building, and flicks his eyes around the room.

very few people know where he lives, and very few of those could hide themselves so well. wally knows, of course, but he can’t stay still to save his life. barbara, tim, damian, cass, steph are all back in gotham with bruce. roy’s an option, but there’s no reason for roy to be hiding.

he pulls himself into the building, only wincing a bit when he jars his side, and drops quietly to the bedroom floor.

“i know you’re here,” he says quietly to the empty room, “so if you’re trying to surprise me, there’s no point in hiding. let’s just get this over with.”

there’s just enough time for dick to wonder if he’s slipping into paranoia, if tim is right for teasing him about auras. but then, a shadow detaches itself from the rest of the room and steps into the light. dick straightens, deliberately not curling his hands into fists.

“red hood.”

“nightwing,” the man--boy, really-- in the mask says. dick cocks his head to the side, taking in the blank stare.

“it’s weird not seeing your eyes.”

“show you mine if you show me yours,” jason says and dick’s loosening his mask before he finishes talking. it was getting itchy anyway.

“what are you doing here?”

“came to see you.”

dick shifts his weight onto the balls of his feet. “like you came to see tim?” jason doesn’t flinch. “that was fucked up, todd.”

jason’s face doesn’t change, stays as calm as the mask he had on a few seconds ago. “he deserved it.”

“he’s a kid.”

“he replaced me,” jason bites out, anger flashing across his expression. “and a shitty replacement at that.”

“i didn’t nearly kill you when i found out.”

“not physically.”

jason glowers at him. dick glowers back for a second before giving up, too tired to engage in a staring contest.

“why are you here, jason?”

“do i have to have a reason to come visit my brother?” it’s bitter, sarcastic, and the anger on jason’s face gets clearer. dick runs his tongue against his teeth.

“you do when you were going to ambush me.”

jason waves a hand impatiently. the moon coming in through the window paints his face in weird shadows, makes the white streak in his hair glow. “we both know i wasn’t going to get that far.”

“do we?”

“as long as you stay out of my robin costume.”

“look, jay, i don’t have time to do this tonight,” he says quietly, loosening the costume at his neck and crossing the room. jason scowls.

“why, have you got anything better to do?”

dick has, in fact, work in a few hours and he’d really like to sleep.

“you could say that,” he answers and jerks the door to the bathroom open. jason follows him in, radiating annoyance. there’s a full medkit on the shelves above the sink, the best money can buy, and dick rifles through it until he finds what he needs.

the ache in his side is sharper, warmer, and it’s going to be hell to hide during training. he tugs his nightwing suit down over his shoulders and lets it hang around his waist.

jason whistles when the cut comes into view. “fuck, grayson. what happened?”

“explosion. got caught by some shrapnel.”

“it looks like an abstract painting with all the bruises.”

dick forces his grimace into a half smile, ripping open the antiseptic wipe with his teeth and hissing when it stings his skin. “that’s a nerdy way of saying i’m pretty.”

“wasn’t a compliment.”

dick stutters out a laugh. “if you’re not here to knife me, i could use the help.”

“knives aren’t my style,” jason grumbles but he snags the medkit off the bathtub and squats next to dick. “you’ll need stitches.”

“there’s thread in the box.”

“oh, hell no. i am not going to sew you up; that is not my job.”

“there’s no one else to do it.”

“do it yourself. or go back to gotham and get alfred to do it.”

“can’t. got work in the morning,” dick says around a yawn. jason sighs and finds the sewing kit, threading a needle and dousing it in peroxide.

“right. detective dick grayson, blüdhaven pd,” he says with a sneer. “how did brucie react to that news?”

“i’m old enough to make my own decisions.”

“oof. did he kick you out? is that why you’re living in this shithole?”

“he didn’t kick me out, todd. i just didn’t want his money.”

jason starts on the sewing and dick does his best not to flinch. “nice to know i haven’t been replaced as the family disappointment too. wouldn’t want to have anyone else getting kicked out and steal my crown.”

“you weren’t kicked out either,” dick manages, gritting his teeth as jason tugs. jason scoffs.

“i’m not getting invitations to thanksgiving dinner, am i?”

“you died, jason. we mourned you.”

“and then batman replaced me as soon as he could.”

“your suit’s in the batcave. the old one, i mean, from when—“ he snaps his mouth shut as jason ties off the thread, blinking against the pain. “he kept it.”

“a memorial to my mistakes.”

“not yours. his.”

“batman doesn’t make mistakes,” jason says mockingly, cleaning the stitches with another wipe. it’s still oozing a little bit of blood but that’s normal. “he’s incapable of being wrong.”

dick snorts, fumbling for some ibuprofen and swallowing the pills dry.

“give him some grace. it’s not every day his son comes back from the dead and goes through a murderous rampage through crime alley.”

“when you say it like that, it almost sounds like i’m in the wrong,” replies jason. he gets to his feet and waits for dick to do the same, leaning against the doorframe.

“you could stop killing people.”

“bruce could’ve avenged my death.”

“who’s to say he didn’t, in his own way?”

jason’s mouth turns up into a sneer. “then the joker wouldn’t still be alive.”

“that’s your idea of revenge, not bruce’s.”

“funny, because bruce is the one who taught us all we know.”

dick sighs. his whole body is aching but especially his side, and he’s got grit and blood caked everywhere. he wants a shower. he wants his bed. he wants his brother to come home and stop fighting.

“are you done arguing with me? i’d really like to rest before i go in.”

“what would little dickie do without his beauty sleep,” jason taunts as dick squeezes past him into the bedroom.

“don’t think i haven’t noticed the compliments, backhanded as they are.”

“you’re the one wandering around without a shirt on.”

dick huffs out a laugh, the costume still bunched at his waist. there’s a glimmer of something like a smile around jason’s eyes. it makes him look younger, more like the sixteen year old brother dick remembers instead of the angry man in front of him.

“you’re in my apartment. i’m allowed to be as naked as i want.”

jason makes a face suddenly, shaking his head. “do you remember when we found bruce—”

dick cuts him off there, shaking his head too and scrubbing at his face with a hand. “no, don’t remind me. the last thing i want to remember is walking in on that.”

“i don’t think i looked at him for a week.”

“it was worse than when alfred walked in on me that one time.”

“i remember that.”

“poor barbara. i don’t think she went into the manor for a month,” dick says and his laughter is pulling at his new stitches but he can’t quite care. jason’s laughing too and it’s so much like normal that dick can almost forget everything, almost forget that they’re supposed to be enemies.

“at least he didn’t slip condoms under your door like you did to me.”

“i wasn’t ready to be an uncle,” dick protests, collapsing on the bed. he’s really so tired. jason shifts his weight across the room, looking uncertain. “i missed you, jay.”

“ugh, don’t go sappy on me now, grayson.”

“thanks for patching me up.”

“be more careful next time,” jason says and scoops his helmet up from the ground.

“go easy on the team. please.”

it’s the wrong thing to say. jason’s shoulders stiffen.

“i’ll do what i want.”

“jason—”

“you don’t get to tell me what to do. no one does, not after everything.”

“i just don’t want you to do anything you’ll regret.”

“too late for that,” jason says sourly and fixes his mask over his head. dick hates it, hates the dead eyed stare it gives jason, the hardness that covers up the good in his face. “this doesn’t change anything, dick. i hope you know that.”

he doesn’t wait for a reply, just hurdles himself out the window and doesn’t look back. dick waves anyway, feeling a million years older. sluggishly, he kicks the rest of his costume off and barely has time to climb under the covers before he’s asleep.

 

true to his word, red hood does not pull his punches when he next meets nightwing. he doesn’t use the gun strapped to his waist but he does catch hold of dick’s arm and pulls him off balance. dick falls, only just turning at the last minute to avoid a shattered kneecap.

“motherfu--” he spits out, springing back to his feet. he’ll have scrapes all down his arms later.

“language, nightwing,” jason taunts. “you’ve got to be a good influence.”

dick flings a wingding and jason twists so it glances off his shoulder, shredding a hole in jason’s jacket.

“oh, fuck you.”

“language,” dick repeats grimly and ducks when jason takes a swing at his head. “god, what is your problem tonight?”

“maybe i’m still mad at you.”

“when are you not?”

jason throws a knife as answer, nearly giving dick a new haircut. dick wonders if the pitmadness is back, if it’s still lingering, if jason’s eyes are shiny green behind the helmet. it would make sense except he’s not going in for the kill, not really.

“i’m not going to let you kill him,” he shouts as he fumbles for his comms, tuning into oracle’s signal. “oracle, a little help?”

“technically, i don’t work for you anymore,” barbara says but he can hear the keyboard clicking in the background. “plus, you’re too far away.”

“just send some police over here before there’s no one to put in jail.” jason throws another knife and dick has to throw himself out of the way. “what the fuck are you doing here, anyway?”

“gotham doesn’t have a monopoly on crime.”

dick rolls his eyes. “obviously, or i wouldn’t be here.”

“so sometimes my territory crosses into your territory,” says jason. they’re not fighting anymore, just looking at each other for a minute. both of them are breathing hard.

“your drug ring, you mean.”

“it’s a new market.”

“like hell i’m going to let you sell that shit here.”

jason’s putting on an offended face, dick can tell. “i won’t be selling it. i have people to do that.”

“people like him?” dick jerks his head in the direction of the man slumped in the alley, a low level criminal. jason tenses.

“no, not like him. him, i’m going to kill.”

dick flexes his fingers, dimly registering the ache of split skin across his knuckles. “not if i can help it.”

“do you know what he did?”

“some of it.”

“and you’re okay with letting him go?”

“he’ll be released to the police, hood. not let go at all.”

“jail is too good for him. they were girls, nightwing. children,” jason spits out. his whole body’s strung tight like a wire and dick’s going to trip him at any second. his stomach twists.

“hood--”

he doesn’t finish his sentence; jason launches himself at the pair, diving for the man on the ground. dick’s reaching before he can think, pulling out his escrima sticks, but jason’s already got a gun on his hand. three shots go off.

“get out of here before i shoot you too,” jason says lowly, panting hard. dick hesitates, anger and fury and sadness all thrumming through his body, but jason swings the gun around to point at him. dick puts his hands up and leaves without another word.

“won’t be needing those police now,” he says and oracle’s sigh echoes like static in his earpiece.

“i heard.”

“is it bad of me to not be terribly upset?” he asks blankly and there’s a long, long silence.

“no,” barbara says finally. “i don’t think b would agree, but i don’t think it’s bad of you.”

“thanks.”

“you’re welcome. do you need…” her voice trails off as she hesitates and dick sighs, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

“no, i’m fine.”

“someone could be over in a little bit.”

“no,” dick repeats. “i don’t think he’s going to stay here. he’ll keep out of my way.”

“dick.”

“he won’t hurt me. it’s not me he has a grudge with. keep an eye out for tim, though.”

“will do,” barbara says distantly and he can hear her typing again. “sorry, nightwing, but i’ve got this thing--”

“go,” he tells her because there are people who need her help more than he does. “talk to you later.”

“oracle out,” she says and there’s a click as the line disconnects. dick pulls in a long, long breath and stares out at the skyline. he’d like a moment to settle, to ground himself again, but there’s a scream and away he goes.

 

tim comes to spend the night so dick takes the evening off, figures blüdhaven can cope without him for a few hours. it’s been a quiet week, anyway, and tim needs this. he hasn’t said what’s bothering him yet, just kept a little quiet while dick makes popcorn.

“is it a girl?” dick asks finally and tim starts. “or a boy. either one is fine.”

“what?”

“the thing that’s on your mind. is it about a significant other?”

tim frowns at him and dips his hand into the bowl. “that’s not— no.”

“it’s a valid question.”

“of all people, you are not the one i would be asking about that. no offense.”

“hey,” dick protests weakly but it’s probably true. those questions are better handled by barbara, not that she hasn’t had her fair share of romantic problems, mostly with him. “do you wanna talk about it?”

“uh. no.”

dick shrugs, stealing a handful of popcorn. “okay. whenever you’re ready.”

“maybe i just wanted to watch shitty movies with my least favorite hero,” tim deadpans. “did you think of that?”

“least favorite? ouch. i should kick you out for that.”

tim shrugs, an echo of dick’s movement a few seconds before. “it’s the truth. the truth hurts.”

“and for that, i get to pick the movie.”

“dick, no. i don’t want to watch some ridiculous comedy that’s not funny.”

“monty python is a masterpiece, excuse you. you always pick boring movies.”

“interstellar was not boring,” tim argues, outraged. dick rolls his eyes.

“it was extremely boring and i’m making you watch a classic. no arguments,” dick says and hits the play button as the credits roll.

they’re halfway through when there’s a bang on the window. both the boys tense, instincts kicking in, but someone’s falling into the apartment before either of them can react.

it’s jason, still in his red hood getup, breathing heavily. he leaves bloodstains smudged on the wall.

“jason,” dick says, halfway to his feet, “what are you doing here?”

“haven’t seen you in a while. thought it was time for a visit,” jason bites out, yanking off his helmet and running his hand through his hair. he’s still on the ground, pale even in the moonlight.

tim’s frozen on the sofa next to dick but dick can practically feel the fear thrumming through him, the adrenaline kicking in. he’s ready to fight, ready to lash out if worst comes to worst. dick puts a hand on his arm, gentle. jason notices and narrows his eyes at them both.

“what is this? am i interrupting something?”

“todd,” dick warns and anger flashes across jason’s face.

“sorry,” he spits. “didn’t know i had been replaced here too.”

tim flinches, a full body movement, and sinks farther back into the sofa.

“of course you haven’t been replaced,” dick says as calmly as he can manage. “what’s wrong?” jason isn’t listening, trying to get back to his feet and through the window. his leg keeps giving out before he can stand and he keeps leaving blood in his wake. “you can’t leave like that.”

“i can and i am.”

“i’m on the fifth floor.”

“i got here, didn’t i?” jason says through gritted teeth and dick sighs, crossing over to grab him by the back of the jacket. “let me go.”

“no, not when you’re like this. what happened?”

“they had a gun i didn’t see.”

“shit. tim, stay there. i’ll just be a minute.”

“don’t want me near your little brother?” jason asks sarcastically as dick deposits him on the toilet seat. he’s so white under the bright lights.

“no, not after what you did to him.”

jason bares his teeth. “he deserved it.”

“he did not. he’s a kid, jay.”

the door’s still open behind them; dick’s pretty positive tim can hear every word. it makes him impossibly heavy thinking about them both, caring about them both. how does he protect them from each other?

jason grunts, stripping off his jacket. there’s a hole in his pants and blood seeping through the fabric, thick and sticky. dick bites down on a scowl.

“you climbed up my building with this?”

“didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

“you could’ve taken the elevator and knocked on the door. you know, like a normal person.”

“wasn’t sure you’d answer.”

dick shakes his head, drying his hands on a towel and pulling the antiseptic from the shelf. it’s nearly gone; he should pick some up next time he goes to the store. he tends to go through it fast.

“so you broke into my window instead. sounds like a logical plan.”

whatever argument jason is about to make is cut off by a sharp intake of breath when dick starts to clean out his thigh. it’s gentle, but there’s no amount of gentleness that won’t make this hurt.

“fucking hell, grayson,” jason growls. “is that just pure lemon juice?”

“it’s about to get worse,” dick tells him. “the bullet’s still in there.”

“fuck.”

“are you going to scream?”

“you’re about to dig a bullet out of my body. i don’t think i’m going to laugh.”

dick looks at him for a second, thoughtful. “tim,” he calls and there’s a rustling from the couch. “can you go find me a leather belt.”

jason grins again, nervous, painful energy radiating out of his body. “gonna whip a man when he’s already down? won’t be the first time.”

“don’t,” dick says sharply. “don’t joke about that.”

“maybe he should bring a crowbar?”

jason.”

jason huffs out a laugh, a painful sound that scrapes across his throat and grates against dick’s ears. tim comes into the bathroom, all the belts dick owns gathered up in his arms, and a face like he’s seen a ghost. jason laughs some more, making a face at him.

“bet i can still beat you like this,” he taunts.

“fucking hell, todd,” dick mutters, a muscle in his jaw working. to his credit, tim barely flinches, just drops the belts at dick’s feet.

“do you need anything else,” he says dully, not taking his eyes off of jason. dick sighs.

“no, that’s fine. if you want to go home, you can. barbara would pick you up.”

“i’m fine,” tim replies after a pause. he’s very much not fine but dick can only deal with one stubborn boy at the moment. he hands jason a belt.

“bite down on that.”

“what the actual fuck.”

“i can’t have you screaming and my neighbors calling the police.”

“i won’t scream.”

“i also can’t have you biting down on your tongue.”

“that’s one way to get me to shut up,” jason says but puts the leather in his mouth anyway, snarling around it. dick’s already sanitized the tweezers so he gets to it with necessary precision, poking around at the skin until he finds the intrusion. jason breathes heavier, faster, his whole body stiff with pain. he yelps when dick nudges the bullet, groans when it gets pulled out.

“fuck,” he says, muffled by the leather. “fuck.”

“almost done,” dick says and cleans the hole again. “i think you need stitches.”

jason spits the belt out and glares at him. there are indents where his teeth clamped down. “you think?”

dick tilts his head to the side. “it could go either way.”

“i don’t want to worry about stitches getting pulled.”

“i’m going to do it anyway. it’s too deep.”

“then why even give me a choice?”

jason only protests a little when dick sews him up, a mirror image of a similar scene from a few weeks ago. it takes less time and less stitches; jason has a bandage neatly wrapped around his leg from knee to groin in a few minutes.

“thanks, bro,” he says loudly, swaying when he gets to his feet. he barely puts any weight on his left leg and dick makes a split-second decision. “‘preciate the help.”

“wait, you’re not leaving.”

“i’m not?” jason asks, raising his eyebrows. the white streak of hair is falling down over his forehead, brushing against the lines already there. he’s got a bruise on his cheek and stubble dotting his jaw. dick crosses his arms over his chest.

“no.”

“you gonna kick out the fucker in the other room for me? bet that will go over nicely.”

dick doesn’t know what he’s going to do with tim. he just knows that if he lets jason out of the apartment in this condition, there’s a good chance he’ll end up dead in an alley and dick’s not about to let that happen. not again.

“i’ll figure it out.”

jason laughs again, no happier than any of the other times he’s laughed tonight, and hobbles for the door. he drops onto the couch as carelessly as he can without jarring his thigh, kicking his other foot up onto the coffee table.

tim looks at him, looks at dick, and looks back at jason again. “what are you doing?”

“sharing,” jason answers with a wide grin. “does it make you nervous?”

tim ignores him, turning back to dick with a question in his eyes. “dick?”

“i can’t let him leave this hurt. i’m sorry, tim.”

“i understand.” his tone is blank, devoid of any emotion. “if you’ll excuse me, i’m going to call a car.”

dick catches his arm and drags him into the kitchen, as far from the sofa as he can get. “you don’t have to leave. that’s not what i wanted, that’s not how i thought tonight would go. i don’t want you to leave.”

“i can’t stay here. not--” he doesn’t finish but his eyes flick over to the part of jason’s head visible from where they are. “i just can’t.”

dick drops his voice lower. “i’m not picking him over you. tim, i promise, it’s just because he’s injured.”

“no, i understand,” tim says in that odd, careful way that means he’s really upset. dick groans, wants to pull out his hair with his hands. “i’ll go back home.”

“tell alfred to make you some tea.”

“no, that’s not… i meant my home home. the family home.”

that stings more than dick cares to admit. “if that’s what you want. we’ll reschedule, if you want? can’t just let the movie go unfinished.”

“yeah.”

“tim--”

“i’ll just wait in the lobby.” he ducks under dick’s arm and is over to the door in the blink of an eye. “bye, grayson.”

“don’t leave on my account,” jason calls from the sofa without turning around. “i’ll miss you so much.”

“jay--” dick starts but tim’s already left, already eased lock down. “fucking hell, you don’t have to be so mean.”

“don’t i?”

dick sits on the empty side of the couch, dragging a hand down his face. “i know-- i know-- you’re angry but you don’t have to take it out on him.”

“he’s the one i’m angry at,” says jason with feigned innocence. dick rolls his eyes.

“we both know that it’s bruce you’re furious with.”

“you don’t know that.”

“i do. you’re not as mysterious as you’d like to think.”

“he left me for dead and then found himself another son, grayson,” jason says, voice dangerously even. “so yeah, i think i have a little bit of liberty to be fucking furious, thank you very much.”

“he’s sixteen—”

i was fifteen,” he shouts and his hands are curled at his side. “and the joker trapped me in a warehouse and beat the shit out of me and you know what i kept thinking? ‘this is bad but i just gotta hold on for another second, cause any moment bruce is going to burst in and save me’. that’s the last thing i remember thinking before i died. and he didn’t and i don’t fucking care that the newest model of robin is sixteen because it sure as hell didn’t matter when that was me so don’t fucking lecture me about how young robin is.”

dick takes in a breath and lets it out through his mouth, an angry sort of pain twisting somewhere around his breastbone. jason looks like he’s ready to shake apart, like he’s going to explode like a bomb. dick winces at that thought.

“i just--”

“i didn’t come here for you to play peacemaker, grayson. i came to get stitched up and that’s it, so keep your bullshit away or i’ll make you shut up.”

a muscle works in dick’s jaw again and he crosses his arms over his chest. “fine. fine, i’ll shut up for now, but only because you’re hurt.”

jason grunts, tipping his head back against the sofa. all the fight seems to go out of him at once, leaving him slumped against the cushions and blinking heavily. the adrenaline must be wearing off.

“i have painkillers.”

“hmm?” jason murmurs, cracking an eye open to look at him. dick gets to his feet again and rummages through the first aid kit. alfred had slipped them into his bag last time he’d visited the manor. they’re the good kind, stronger than over the counter stuff. he pops two into his hand and gives them over to jason with a glass of water. jason takes them without looking.

it doesn’t take long before he’s drooping, sagging against the side of the couch. “damn, grayson. you could sell these for a lot of money,” he mumbles into the armrest. most of the words are slurred. “this is good shit.”

“you can thank alfred.”

“might have to steal some next time i’m in gotham.”

“he’d give it to you if you asked,” dick says mildly, hopefully mildly enough to hide the sourness in his tone. jason’s too strung out to pick up on the nuances.

“nah, he hates me. everyone hates me.”

dick’s heart drops somewhere near his toes. “jason.”

“c’n deal with bruce, c’n deal with him. you n’alfred…”

“i don’t hate you,” says dick. “i keep patching you up, don’t i?”

jason wriggles his fingers a little in a vague sort of gesture. “only once. doesn’t prove anything.”

“those painkillers must’ve really scrambled your brain, huh.”

“good shit,” jason repeats. he’s more off the couch than on at this point; if he keeps twisting like that he’s going to pull his stitches.

“you okay?” dick asks.

“i’m good,” he drawls as his chin dips. “sleepy. haven’t slept.”

“can you make it to the bed? it’ll be more comfortable.”

“no.” he slips down some more. dick sighs.

“here, sit up and swing your legs over here. it’ll be better than you falling off.”

“then i’ll sleep on the floor,” he says but obediently shifts so he’s stretched out. dick throws a blanket over him. “thanks.”

he sounds so young in that moment that it makes dick start, makes that pain twist again, makes him think about the years-ago when it was just the two of them against the world. nightwing and robin, throwing themselves off the edge of the world to follow batman. dick never ever thought they would fall.

jason lets out a tiny snore and he smiles, adjusts the blanket so it’s a better cover, and flips off the light on his way to bed.

when he wakes in the morning, the blanket’s balled up in the center of the couch and jason is long gone.

 

“tim,” dick says, juggling the coffee cups in his hands. they’re cold. tim looks at him with a keen expression, fidgeting with the strap of his backpack. “look, i’m sorry. it was a shitty thing i did and you didn’t deserve that.”

tim shakes his head. “you don’t have to apologize to me.”

“i do, though.”

“i understand why you did it.”

“it was movie night,” dick says solemnly. “movie night is sacred and i let it get ruined. that deserves at least one apology, probably more.”

tim’s still shaking his head but he pauses mid-shake, squinting his eyes at the cups in dick’s hand. “is that why you brought the coffee? it’s a bribe?”

“obviously,” he replies, shoving the caramel macchiato at tim. “it’s your favourite, extra drizzle.”

“i like my coffee black,” tim grumbles but he’s got the beginnings of a smile on his face as he accepts the starbucks. dick rolls his eyes.

“yeah, and i like tea unsweet instead of three lumps of sugar.”

“disgusting. you should be ashamed of yourself. alfred raised you better than that.”

“i know; it’s his greatest disappointment. he physically cringes whenever he sees me making it.”

“as we all do.”

dick sticks his hand out. “forgiven?”

“never needed it,” tim says with an eye roll but he he slaps dick’s hand anyway. “can you give me a ride home, though?”

“why don’t you call one of the thousand limos at your disposal to come and get you?”

“cause they don’t let me drive the limos.”

“oh. oh, i see. you don’t want a ride home, you want me to let you drive my precious baby without a license--”

“it’s literally older than i am, and i have my permit. i need the practice.”

“no matter how much you practice, bruce is not going to let you drive his cars. i’m just gonna let you know that right now before you get too excited.”

“you don’t know that,” tim says as he plucks the keys from dick’s hand. “just because he wouldn’t let you drive doesn’t mean he won’t let me.”

“get ready for disappointment, then,” dick says as they clamber into his oldsmobile, the car he’d bought for himself when he moved and needed something unobtrusive.

“you crashed three cars the year you were seventeen; of course bruce didn’t let you near the batmobile. i’m not going to do that.”

“two of those were fender benders and none of them were my fault.” tim shifts to raise an amused eyebrow at him. “okay, they weren’t totally my fault,” dick amends. “and at least i had my license.”

“the only reason i don’t have it yet is because my parents have been gone and the dmv won’t let bruce sign the papers.”

“when are your parents coming back, anyway?”

tim shrugs. “november? not sure yet. hopefully soon. can we get fries?”

dick doesn’t blink at the change of subject, knows tim well enough to recognize the discomfort. “i literally just bought you starbucks.”

“yeah, but i’m hungry,” tim complains as he adjusts course towards their favorite diner. “i’m a growing boy.”

dick doesn’t have anything else to do, not really. he took the afternoon off to come apologize and he figures an order of greasy food is a fine enough way of getting back into good graces. “fine, whatever. don’t tell alfred i ruined your dinner.”

“i’m not going to ruin my dinner.”

“you say that, but alfred will notice and then i’ll get in trouble.” tim laughs as he parks-- a decent enough job, for a kid-- and tosses the keys back at dick.

“you’re paying still.”

“you’re the trust fund baby,” dick argues halfheartedly, more for show than anything else. tim rolls his eyes again.

“sorry, who’s the son of bruce wayne, notorious billionaire, here?”

“technically, i’m his ward.”

“same difference. you still have access to daddy’s black card.”

dick shudders and punches tim in the shoulder. “don’t say the daddy word. please, timothy. i refuse to call bruce that.”

he’s got a shiteating grin on his face, one that dick doesn’t see often enough. it’s almost worth it.

“daddy wayne.”

“i will punch you, timothy. you know i will.”

“you already did,” tim says as he taps his fingers on the sticky table, moving to check his phone as it buzzes. “oh, is it okay if steph comes by? she’s hungry and bored.”

“sure, sure,” dick answers as he waves a hand. “is that still happening?”

“what’s still happening?”

“you and steph.”

tim freezes for a half second before frowning up at him. “we are not having this conversation.”

“why not? is that what you wanted to ask me about the other night?”

no. first off, because she’s gonna be here any minute and i don’t want to make it awkward, and two, because there’s nothing to talk about.”

“you seem pretty defensive,” dick says lightly, resolving to ask barbara about it later. she’ll know. tim just glares, pressing his lips together like he’s got to stop the words from falling out. he’s saved by the waitress coming to take their order and tim rattles off twice the amount of food dick expected.

“it’s for steph,” he replies begrudgingly to dick’s questioning look. “she always gets the same thing.”

“hmm.”

“don’t look at me like that.”

“like what?” dick asks as innocently as he can, playing with the straw wrapper. tim glares some more but it clears when stephanie comes in. she looks a little frazzled, dropping into the booth next to tim and stealing his half-full macchiato.

“that is very sweet,” she says as she makes a face. “did you get extra drizzle?”

“dick bought it for me.”

“what a disgusting drink,” she tells dick approvingly and takes another sip.

“that’s actually not yours,” tim objects and she scoots out of the way of his grabbing hands.

“i’m doing you a favor. you’ll crash if you drink all of this. did you order already?”

“yep, got your usual.”

“thanks. hey dickhead,” she says, giving him a wave. “thanks for letting me crash your bro date.”

“don’t call me dickhead,” dick says with a sigh. “i’m in enough trouble as it is.”

the waitress brings stephanie a glass of water and she blows the straw at tim, getting the wrapper stuck in his hair.

“how’s blüdhaven?” she asks dick as tim crumples up the wrapper and throws it back at her. “heard you have some vigilante company.”

“you could say vigilante a little louder,” dick says. “i don’t think the old man in the corner heard you.”

she rolls her eyes. “is what barbara says true?”

“what she says is generally true,” dick grumbles and then thinks about it for a second. “unless it’s about me. then it’s probably not true.”

tim’s eyes go sharp and he leans forward, putting his elbows on the table. “so you didn’t get bored on a stakeout and made out with a girl in an alley?”

“no,” dick says even as the back of his neck gets red. “that definitely didn’t happen.”

“oooh, who was this mystery girl?”

“donna,” tim says, smug, at the same time as dick says “no one.” stephanie’s eyebrows fly up.

“donna? for real? she’s too hot for you.”

dick groans, dropping his head into his folded arms “this is not what i wanted to happen today. nothing barbara says about me is true.”

“does that mean you weren’t hanging out with jason?”

dick unburies his head in time to see a spasm of pain flash over tim’s face before it’s carefully replaced by something blank.

“stephanie,” he warns but she doesn’t give up, watching him closely.

“why are you working with him.”

“i’m not.”

“bullshit.”

“i’m going to go to the bathroom,” tim mutters, climbing over stephanie and out of the booth. he disappears as quickly as he can and dick scowls at her.

“in front of tim? really?”

she shrugs, unmoved. “it’s not my fault you’re buddies with a psychopath.”

“he’s my brother, steph.”

“and tim isn’t?”

“of course he is. it’s complicated.”

“i don’t see how it is, actually.”

dick sighs, rubbing at an old coffee stain on the table. the table is sticky and it makes him scowl, but that could also be due to the conversation. “i love tim, i do, but i can’t just ignore jason. i can’t lose him again.”

“even if it means you’ll lose tim?”

“stephanie,” dick warns and she shrugs again, her eyes boring holes into his.

“someone needs to be on tim’s side and if it’s not going to be you, then it’s going to be me.”

“i’m not picking sides.”

“you’re just working with the villain who nearly killed tim, in the most fucked up way possible.”

“that’s not--” dick squeezes his eyes shut, curling his fingers into his palm. “jason isn’t a villain.”

“oh, right. because heroes shoot people and rearrange the faces of sixteen year olds.”

“he’s pitmad--”

stephanie points a finger at him, her tone hard and clipped. “do not make excuses for him. he knew what he was doing and he did it and you can’t let that slide.”

“what do you want me to do, then? do you want me to just ignore him, my brother who came back from the dead? stop sewing him up when he falls into my apartment?”

“yes!”

“what if it was your mom, steph?”

her face gets harder. “we’re not going there, grayson.”

“it’s the same thing!”

she looks like she’s about to give him a piece of her mind, but her gaze shifts over his shoulder. with effort, she smooths out her expression. “stop hurting tim or i will hurt you,” she hisses as tim appears at dick’s elbow.

“are you guys done talking about me,” he asks dully and steph nods, sliding over on the vinyl booth so tim doesn’t have to climb again.

“for now,” stephanie says airily, shooting dick a warning look. dick rolls his eyes.

 

“do you not have anything better to do,” dick asks exasperatedly, squinting at the figure on the rooftop. “and can you do it in your own goddamn city.”

“the beer’s cheaper here,” jason says, toasting him with the bottle. “besides, i already told you i’m expanding my market.”

“so getting all of gotham hooked on speed isn’t bad enough?” jason tips his bottle again. dick heaves a sigh. he’s always sighing nowadays. “i got chewed out by steph because of you.”

“well, that’s your own fault. are you letting your little siblings walk all over you now?” jason’s mouth wraps around sibling in a harsh sort of way, bitter and a little bit angry.

“i don’t let anyone walk over me,” dick says blankly and jason grunts, kicking his feet against the side of the building. “what’s wrong with your hand?”

“can’t hide anything from you, can i? sprained it in a fight.”

“just a sprain?”

jason winces and the fingers on his left hand twitch. “maybe broken. don’t know.”

“are you… dulling the pain with alcohol?”

“maybe,” jason mutters rebelliously, wrapping his mouth around the bottle. dick pinches the bridge of his nose.

“that’s not-- that’s not good, jason.”

“feels good to me. feels really good.”

dick crosses over to him and sits down next to his brother, reaching for his wrist. “let me see.”

“no,” jason says but he lets dick tug his hand over and examine it, hissing when dick presses light touches to the fingers. his knuckles are definitely broken.

“who did you punch, a brick wall?”

“funny. he was hurting her.”

“who?” dick asks as he pulls out a bandage. jason doesn’t look at him, stares out into the city without really seeing it, like he’s somewhere else.

“her dad. she got caught and they sent her back to him. been checkin’ up on her, just in case.” jason takes another drink of his beer. “he punched her so i punched him back.”

dick’s hands still in their wrapping. “who are you talking about?”

“don’t know her name. rachel? rebecca? dunno. she was on the streets in gotham because she ran away.”

“but she’s from blüdhaven.”

“yeah.”

“and you followed her here to make sure she wasn’t being hurt.”

“yeah.”

“and that’s why you’ve been here all the time.”

“mmhm,” jason mumbles, tipping his chin up to the sky. “couldn’t just leave her by herself.”

“you could’ve called the police. you could’ve called me,” says dick as he restarts his helping. jason sucks in a breath when the first wrap goes around his knuckles.

“all cops are dirty,” he says, cracking his eye to squint at dick. “all offense.”

“those are my coworkers you’re talking about.”

“they fucking suck.”

dick tucks the end of the bandage into the wrapping, looking at the neat little job. it’ll do, even though jason should probably get it checked out at the hospital. he won’t; dick doesn’t even bother mentioning it.

“i don’t know what to do you with you, jay,” he says finally, quiet. jason finishes the rest of his beer and chucks it down to the alleyway below. they listen to it shatter.

“you can shut me out and kick me out of your life. that’s what most people are doing.”

“i can’t do that.”

“you can wish i were still dead, like your father,” he spits out the words again, like he spit out siblings earlier. “maybe i should jump, make everyone’s life easier.”

dick doesn’t think he’ll do it but he snags hold of jason’s elbow, just in case. “don’t even joke about that.”

“would you do it again?” he asks as he kicks his feet some more, the thuds a dull ache in dick’s head. “if i died, would you dip me in the lazarus pit or would you just leave me?”

“jason,” dick says and he can’t stop his voice from breaking around the name. “don’t ask me that.”

“it hurt a lot,” jason muses. “all of it. the dying and the coming back to life and the fucking pit, it all hurt. i don’t think i’d want to do it again.” he flexes his hand, the broken one, and then curls it into a fist. “it’ll be worth it, though, when i make him pay.”

“you’re going to hurt yourself more,” dick says evenly and coaxes jason’s hand flat. jason turns to look at him and there’s a dullness to his eyes, even with the green crackling along the edges.

“would you stop me from going after the bat? if you were there and i was there, would you stop me from hurting bruce?”

“i--” dick stops, chews on his cheek for a moment. it’s a loaded question, this one, and even more so with the way jason’s looking at him, the way there’s something coiled in jason’s body. “jay.”

“answer the question,” jason says quietly and his eyes aren’t dull anymore, sharp and keen and furious. dick would disappear if he could.

“yeah. i’d stop you,” he breathes out after a moment. he thinks about the way tim’s body had hunched over when jason was in the room, the way stephanie shook her finger at him and how soft barbara’s voice had been over the phone. “i’d stop you if you went after any of them.”

“even though i’m your brother.”

“i’m their brother too.”

jason’s face twists into something ugly and the green flares across his pupils. dick braces himself for whatever’s coming next.

“right,” jason replies acidly, more sober than he has been all night. “i knew i’d been replaced, but didn’t realise you replaced me too. have fun with your family, dick.”

“jason--” dick says but jason’s already gone, dropped off the edge of the building. dick hears his boots hit the ground, a loud sound, and then more as jason stomps away. he flops onto his back and stares at the crescent moon, his whole body aching like he’d just been hit.

sometimes, he wonders if he can stitch together his family as easily as he sutures their wounds, what the magic words would be to pull that needle through their ripped up relationships. whatever they are, he hasn’t been able to find them.

 

barbara’s the one who calls him back to gotham but it’s bruce who needs him.

“he wouldn’t ask you himself but he’s worried, i know he is.”

“i’m there,” dick had said, keys already in hand. he’s in gotham a few hours later, sitting at the table next to cass.

“tired,” she observes after a while of relative silence. he pours himself another cup of tea.

“a little bit.”

“tired and upset,” says cass, her brows furrowed over top of her own cup. “is it… jason?”

he presses his lips together and knows it’s answer enough for her. she narrows her eyes.

“hurt.”

“yeah, yeah, i know it’s hurting tim. steph already gave me that lecture,” dick says, collapsing into the tabletop. he buries his face in his arm and his fingers in his hair.

“no, not tim. hurt you.”

he stills. “what?”

“sadness… makes you hurt.” he looks up to catch her frowning again. “does bruce know?”

“bruce knows everything.”

“not an answer,” she scolds lightly and he shrugs.

“i haven’t told him anything but he probably knows. if tim and steph and babs know…”

cass nods, thoughtful. “it hurts him too.”

“jason? i know.”

“no,” she says again with a huff, like she’s frustrated. “bruce. when you hurt, he hurts.”

“it’s why i haven’t told him.”

“he’s father. he’s supposed to know… when you’re sad.” he blinks a little at the fierceness in her tone. “family,” she finishes. he scrubs his hand through his hair again.

“steph’s worried about tim, you’re worried about bruce, babs is worried about jason. is no one worried about me?” he complains under his breath.

cass shoots him an unimpressed look. “don’t be stupid.”

“don’t call me stupid.”

“you’re stupid,” she counters but she’s relaxing now, slouching against the kitchen chair. he relaxes too.

“you’ve been spending too much time around steph and tim. you’re going to pick up bad words next. “

“fuck,” she says brightly, grinning at him. his mouth twitches trying to keep away a smile. “bruce.”

“fuck bruce?”

“learned from bruce.”

dick’s eyebrows fly up and he can’t stop the grin that spreads across his own face. “bruce taught you to say fuck?” she nods smugly.

“accident. he was angry.”

“angry at you?”

she shakes her head and peers at him for a moment. “jason.”

“oh.” that explains a lot; bruce is never at his most careful around jason. especially when the others are there too. “sorry.”

she shrugs. “still funny.”

“he’s not taking his anger out on you, is he?”

“no,” she says, fierce again. “he’s father.”

dick holds his hands up in surrender. he doesn’t think bruce would, but it doesn’t hurt to check, just in case. “what other swear words do you know?”

she knows it’s a distraction and her eyebrows pucker again as she thinks. “fuck. shit. bloody. stupid.”

“all good ones.”

“you’re teasing,” she says and he nods.

“just a little.”

she glares at him. “you’re stupid.”

that makes him laugh, a sudden, surprised laugh that bubbles up from his belly. he slumps forward until he’s laughing into his arms, helpless and a little giddy.

“thank you for that, sis,” he says when he can force the words out. “i needed it.”

she hums at the nickname, the one he doesn’t call her enough, and springs out of her seat to give him a hug.

“big brother.”

“that’s me.”

 

“this is the last time,” dick pants as he runs from the two behind him, skidding around an alley corner and nearly crashing into the garbage bins there, “that i help b out.”

barbara laughs in his ear. “we both know that’s not at all true.”

“he didn’t say anything about ninjas,” he whines as he spots a fire escape, starts climbing up the side. it’s slippery with the rain.

“he didn’t mention those?”

“no, he just said he needed help.”

“typical,” she snorts. “come drop by and visit me after, though.”

“‘course, wouldn’t miss it.”

“for the last fucking time, comms are not for booty calls,” tim bellows through the line and dick nearly loses his grip because he’s laughing too hard.

“don’t blow out everyone’s eardrums, please,” barbara says.

“don’t flirt over the line, then,” tim retorts and dick tunes them out because he’s hauled himself up on the rooftop. he’s not alone; there’s a man on the other end of the building and two scaling the side behind him. it’s not an ideal roof for a duel, a little too sloped to be comfortable, but not impossible either. he plants his feet.

three-to-one aren’t bad odds. he’s fought worse, even if they are ninjas. but he’s dick grayson, former boy wonder and current nightwing, and he’s got the upper hand. he puts his back to the closest rooftop, ready to run if he needs it.

“you guys really ran with the ninja aesthetic, didn’t you,” he says as he eyes them getting into formation. the one on his immediate right scoffs.

“we’re not ninjas.”

“you’re all dressed in black and you have swords,” dick replies flatly. “sounds like ninjas to me.”

he flips instead of waiting for an answer, kicks the one on his left in the chest and sends the man sliding towards the edge. he ducks out of the way when the other two lunge and they hit each other instead. they recover fast enough to charge him.

it’s a brutal fight, bloody and dirty, and dick ends up using his fists more than he’s used to. someone gets a hit in across his face and he bites down on his cheek, blood blooming in his mouth.

“aw, fuck,” he says, spitting, and swings his leg around to knock down one of the attackers. the fight only lasts a few seconds after that and soon all three men are knocked out on the roof. dick puts his hands on his knees and spits again, trying to get the coppery taste off his tongue.

there’s a clatter, almost too small to be noticed, and dick glances up.

“jason,” he says without thinking. he can’t see jason’s face behind the mask but he stiffens.

“you’re in my city now, nightwing,” jason replies. “my territory.”

“i was overdue for a visit,” says dick and switches off his comm. somehow this seems private, not for the rest of the team. “sorry about the name.”

“s’okay. no one’s here to hear you.” he looks at the men scattered on the tile. “unless they’re still awake?”

“don’t think so, not for a while. how’s your hand?”

jason flexes his hand, almost on instinct. “better.”

“how was the hangover?”

“brutal.”

“don’t medicate with alcohol next time, maybe.”

“don’t tell me what to do,” jason snaps, sounding so much like the little brother dick used to have that it feels like a punch to the gut. “what are you doing in gotham?”

“funny how the tables have turned, isn’t it?” jason doesn’t answer and dick sighs. “b needed me,” he says after a minute, wishing the mask was off so he could read the expression on jason’s face.

“you came back because of him?”

“well, yeah.”

“family reunion, then. everyone together fighting crime.”

dick nods, scratching underneath the domino. the taste of blood is still in his mouth and he doesn’t know what he’s doing around jason and he’s so tired of tiptoeing around everything.

“guess my invite got lost in the mail.”

“don’t play that game,” dick snaps, suddenly and completely angry. “you know, you have got to know, that we’d take you back in an instant. a heartbeat, hood. fuck, you’re not even allowed to be bitter about this when all you would have to do is go back home.”

“it’s not that easy,” jason yells at him and it’s biting and hard. “do you think b would even let me in the door after what i’ve done? do you think he’d let me near anyone, or trust me again?”

“yeah, he would! because he misses you.”

that makes jason laugh, a bitter, angry thing, that makes something in dick’s stomach curdle. “you’re an idiot, nightwing. a complete fucking idiot if you think everything can be smoothed over by me just going home. do you think a’s cookies will bring world peace, too?”

“do you have to make everything so difficult?” dick grinds out.

“do you always have to live in a fantasy world?” jason parrots. “i’m not coming back. i don’t want to go back.”

“i don’t want to fight with you every time i see you.”

“yeah, let’s go back to beating the shit out of each other.”

“that’s still fighting,” dick says absently, glancing over his shoulder. he’s wasted too much time here; he needs to get back to everyone else. “i have to go.”

“go back to your family.

dick doesn’t respond. the best way out is the way he came but there are bodies in the way. he steps around them gingerly, not envying the headache they’ll have when they wake, and keeps jason in his sightline. as much as it aches to admit, he doesn’t trust him. not here, not like this.

“nightwing--” jason starts and dick swerves around to look at him straight on. his hand’s hanging in the air, like he’s reaching or pointing.

“what?” dick asks and then there’s ice at his side, a thin blade slipping under the kevlar and slicing at his skin. pain explodes across his torso, stealing his breath away, and he flinches. it takes a millisecond but his training kicks in and he clips the would-be assassin on the temple, making the guy’s eyes roll back in his head.

jason’s watching, still frozen with his hand in the air, and dick glances down to where the knife’s still sticking out of his costume.

“shit,” he says, dizzy with the pain. it’s cold and bright, arcing across his skin, and he might’ve yelled if he could. there’s a numbness creeping over that half of his body, a numbness that doesn’t feel like good time. he stumbles and his foot slips over the edge of the roof, sending his body tumbling after it.

dick grayson falls.

 

he passes out when he hits the ground, the suit absorbing some of the blow but not enough. the pain is shocking, jarring the many injuries he has already, crumbling his body until he can’t do anything but succumb to the black that’s eating away at his vision.

 

he’s only out for a second, he thinks, because he can hear jason yelling at him, loud and deep and frantic. it hurts dick’s head, but it’s a tiny hurt compared to everything else. it’s agony, all of this, absolute agony, and dimly he wonders if this is what it felt like when jason was trapped in that warehouse.

he wonders if he’s dying. it would explain a lot, like how he can’t move anything but he can still feel, how he can’t open his eyes but he can hear jason’s voice. it’s very fitting that the last thing he hears would be jason’s voice. his mouth is full of blood, thick and coppery.

“nightwing,” he’s saying, screaming, over and over. faintly, dick can feel something at his lips and then something on his neck. it’s cold, trembling, but he can’t pull away. dick’s pretty sure if he moves a muscle he’ll crack, shatter into a hundred thousand pieces, dissolve into the street and no longer exist. he wouldn’t move even if he could.

jason, he wants to beg. jason, make it stop.

there’s a growl from above him, low and angry, and suddenly the pain’s increased by tenfold; he’s caught up in someone’s arms and it hurts, everything hurts, and he focuses on the thin coldness in his side instead of the heat stretching over the rest of his body. it’s a different kind of pain but it keeps him together, keeps him from screaming again.

there’s a dull pounding that dick recognizes as footsteps after a while, realises that the jerking of his body is jason running. he stumbles, tightens his arms around dick’s body and dick gets swallowed up again.

 

“--batman!” jason’s yelling, bellowing really, and dick faintly hears the swish of a cape.

“what are you-- nightwing,” bruce says, his voice climbing through octaves and decibels. “is he--”

“no,” jason says roughly. “not yet.”

“what happened?”

“no time. we have to get him help, now.”

“get in the car,” orders bruce and it hurts some more as dick’s jostled, folded into the frame of the batmobile. he holds his breath as the dizzying pain washes over him, barely clinging onto consciousness again, still unable to move. the doors have barely slammed shut before dick can hear the engine gunning, roaring as bruce tears through gotham.

“jason,” bruce growls. “if you did this, i’m--” he cuts himself off as his voice cracks.

“you think i hurt him?” jason says loudly. there’s something ragged in his voice, broken under the gravel.

“i don’t know what to think.”

jason laughs. it’s on the edge of hysteria. “fuck you, bruce. fuck you.”

bruce ignores this and dick hears the static of the radio, listens as bruce barks out orders. “tell alfred to get the sick bay ready. robin, black bat, batgirl, tie up any loose ends and then get back to base immediately.”

“what’s wrong, b?” barbara asks and bruce’s teeth click together.

“nightwing,” he says shortly. “nightwing’s down.”

there’s an intake of breath that’s almost lost among the static. “shit,” barbara says succinctly. dick would laugh if he could, laugh if he wasn’t still half-convinced he was dying.

the engine growls again and dick can feel them pick up even more speed; bruce’s foot must nearly be on the floor by now. he wonders if they’ve ever gone this fast in the batmobile.

“what. happened,” bruce grinds out once more and there’s a low sound that comes from jason’s chest.

“one of the people he was chasing wasn’t knocked out. stuck a knife in him, dick slipped. fell over the side.” jason’s tone is flat on the surface but there’s something angry underneath, something that will bite at any provocation.

“dick doesn’t fall.”

“he did this time.”

“i swear to god, if you’re lying to me--” says bruce and dick can feel the muscles in jason’s arm bunch.

“i wouldn’t lie about this,” jason shoots back. “it’s dick.

“it’s dick,” bruce agrees. dick can’t read his tone. the batmobile squeals to a stop and jason is toppling out of the car before the engines cut off, footsteps echoing in the cave. it smells like home.

“what’s going on?” alfred asks and his voice is as scared as dick’s ever heard it. it’s that more than anything that makes dick start to panic again. he still can’t fucking move.

“he got stabbed and then he fell,” jason says. his fingers touch the blade that’s still embedded in dick’s side and ice floods dick’s side again. he would scream if he could.

“master dick doesn’t--”

“--doesn’t fall, i know, but he did. four stories.”

bruce and alfred take in matching breaths.

“shit,” bruce says lowly, and there are another set of hands on dick’s body. “shit, what if he’s paralyzed?”

that’s not even something dick’s considered. he’s been too focused on not dying that he hasn’t thought about the alternatives. not being able to fly would be a lot like dying, he thinks.

“we’ve got to get this knife out,” says jason.

“we can’t; it’s what’s holding him in.”

“well, we can’t take his suit off without it gone, and we need to see what’s underneath.”

“we’ll cut around it,” alfred breaks in before it can become an argument. “here, i’ll get scissors.”

“it’s military-grade cloth, alfred, we can’t just cut--” bruce is interrupted by a snip. “what the fuck?”

“they’re specially made to cut through anything. you’re not the only one who speaks with lucius fox, master bruce.”

they make quick work of the suit and dick can feel them strip him down, moving his deadened limbs as little as possible. it still hurts, it never stops hurting. there’s blood seeped into the cloth that’s dried and they have to pull it off of him.

shit,” jason says when the suit’s pulled down to his waist. “his ribs, shit.

“it’s a miracle his back isn’t broken,” alfred comments and bruce grunts, sounding gruffer than he has all night.

“we don’t know that yet.”

“should we… the x-ray machine?”

“we’ll have to stitch him up first,” says bruce. “what do we have to give him?”

there are hands near dick’s face and then there’s a light shining in his eyes, blocking out everything. he wants to cringe against the light but there’s too much, he’s still too fragile.

“master bruce, wait,” alfred calls, sharp and authoritative. “i don’t think he’s unconscious.”

“what do you mean?”

“i think he’s awake.”

“fuck,” jason says from far away.

“look,” says alfred and there’s the light shining in his eyes again. “see?”

“i see,” bruce replies, terse. “we’ve got to get that knife out and test it. there’s something on the blade.” there are hands on dick’s head, fingers gentle in his hair. “i’m sorry about this. it’s going to hurt, dick.”

it can’t hurt any more than what he’s feeling. it can’t, he has no more capacity for the pain. there are solid hands on his shoulders and some on his legs and then that white, icy stitch in his side is expanding, taking over everything, flushing out the heat, and dick is pinned to the table by bodies and the ache in his skin. he can feel the tugging of stitches, but it’s nearly lost against everything else.

when he comes to, when he can think through the haze that’s clouding his mind, there are more voices crowding up the cave.

“dick,” someone shouts. he thinks it’s cass.

“what the fuck is he doing here?” steph yells. “what the fuck did you do to him?”

“i saved his fucking life, thank you very much,” jason snarls back and someone should get in between them before they kill each other.

“all of you, be quiet,” bruce says in his batman voice, or close to it, and silence falls in the cave. “there’s some sort of toxin on this. it looks like it paralyzes, which explains why dick’s not moving.”

“not asleep,” cass says over by dick’s head. “hurt.”

she sounds scared. they all sound scared. dick doesn’t like that. with great effort, he forces his eyes open into slits. it doesn’t help much; it’s too bright, even in the cave, and they don’t go open farther. still, he makes himself squint at the vague figures around him.

alfred leans into view and he puts something heavy and cold over dick’s body. the bed moves and he watches the ceiling lights streak. there’s a click of a door and he’s in blackness, listening to the whirring of the x-ray machine work.

“—broken ribs and punctured lung,” alfred is saying when he gets wheeled out, back into the cacophonous room. “bruising.”

“internal bleeding?” tim asks and there’s a rustle.

“some,” alfred says. “we cannot operate on master dick until we know what’s on the knife.”

“i’m working on it,” bruce says shortly and there’s the sound of computers clacking. there’s something warm on his hand; dick thinks it might be cass holding it.

“dick fell?” tim asks, his voice so, so small.

“slipped right off the edge of the roof, “ says jason.

“did you push him?” steph says and dick can see her jabbing a finger in jason’s chest. “fuck, if you pushed him, i’m going to push you off the biggest bridge i can find.”

“i didn’t push him, why would i do that?”

“because you kill people. that’s what you do.

jason growls and it fills the cave. he’s going to snap, if everyone’s not careful, and then it will be even worse.

“maybe it’s best if you leave,” bruce says brusquely. dick can see jason freeze.

“what?”

“leave the cave,” says bruce as “if you can’t stop yourself from fighting, you shouldn’t be here. i don’t have time for this.”

“but i wasn’t--” he drags in a deep breath and lets it out. “fine.”

dick can hear jason’s boots against the ground.

stay, he wants to yell but his mouth, his fucking mouth won’t work, nothing in him works, and so he listens to his brother stomp away.

 

dick wakes up and everything still hurts, still aches in a never-ending way, but less than it was before. he blinks up at the ceiling and listens to the steady beeping of the machines around him. he thinks they’re probably keeping him alive, a little.

god, it was so stupid what he did. he almost died in the dumbest way possible because he’s an idiot and wouldn’t stop fighting.

someone’s beside him and he manages to turn his head a little. bruce is there, slumped in a chair with his forehead pressed to the hospital cot dick’s on. dick wonders how long he’s been asleep, how long they’d both been asleep.

“he’s out,” someone whispers, low and gravelly, and jason leans into view. there are dark shadows under his eyes. “he’s been out for a while.”

dick blinks at him.

“are you conscious? like can you understand what i’m saying?”

“mm,” dick says. his mouth won’t work right. it makes jason laugh quietly but there’s very little mirth in it, too much tension in the set of his shoulders. dick frowns as much as he can without it hurting because the last thing he remembers is jason being sent out.

jason must realize the question, somehow, because he shrugs. “they kicked me out. i snuck back in.”

“mmm.”

“told you they wouldn’t take me back.”

dick scowls and jason laughs again. he’s still in his costume and dick can see the blood smeared across the front.

his blood. his stomach flips.

“it’s amazing how you can deliver a lecture without saying anything,” jason tells him, only a little tauntingly. “bruce taught you that real well.”

“hmm,” dick says, grumpy, and then flinches at the shard of pain that goes through his chest. the beeping on the heart monitor picks up as he breathes hard, panicking. it’s that same numbing, paralyzing pain that had taken over last night.

he can’t go through that again.

“dick?” he can feel jason’s hands on his head, see the worry that’s slipped across his face. “dick, what’s wrong?”

he’s loud, too loud, and it wakes bruce up on dick’s other side, alert in an instant.

“what the hell,” bruce hisses out, looking first at jason and then at dick. “what did you do?”

“i didn’t do anything,” jason snaps. “he flinched and then his heart rate went up and i didn’t do anything.”

bruce growls, leaning over dick so he can read the monitors. “there must still be some toxin in his system.”

his limbs feel dead again.

“what can we do?”

“wait,” bruce says, heavy, and drops back down in his chair. he drags a hand through his hair.

“i didn’t do anything,” repeats jason, his tone desperate.

“how’d you get back in?”

“i know where the intruder alarms are. i didn’t trip them.”

“you were told to go,” bruce says and dick can hear jason’s teeth grinding.

“he almost died. i wanted to make sure he didn’t die here.”

bruce grunts, unimpressed but doesn’t order him out. jason’s fists are still balled and dick knows he’s not done fighting.

“do you have a replacement nightwing lined up,” jason says sourly. “just in case?”

“no.”

“oh, so it was just me that was expendable. good to know.”

“don’t be ridiculous, jason,” bruce snaps. there’s a weird pressure building in dick’s chest that has nothing to do to do with the pain. he shifts as much as he can, which is not a lot, and bruce presses his palm flat against dick’s shoulder. “don’t move. you’ll hurt yourself.”

“was i that bad of a robin that you decided to replace me that quickly? was i that bad of a son?”

“i didn’t replace you.”

“like fuck you didn’t,” he shouts again. it echoes in the cave, disturbing the bats, but bruce doesn’t flinch. “you ran out and found someone else to take my place as soon as you could. how long did you wait after the funeral? a week? maybe two?”

“i needed help.”

“i was your son.” the words rebound around them, building and building, until they’re nearly a tangible thing.

“it nearly killed me,” bruce says after a second. there’s no emotion in his voice, none. “your dying almost killed me. i needed someone to… stop that.”

“you are so full of shit.”

bruce sits down heavily in his chair again, running his hand over his face. “it’s not shit.”

“you kicked me out of the family,” says jason and there’s hurt under the anger. dick flinches again. “you replaced me and then you kicked me out when i came back.”

“i didn’t know what else to do.”

“you could’ve, oh i don’t know, not kicked me out. you could’ve killed the joker, avenged my death, done any number of things instead.”

“i’m not going to have this argument again,” bruce tells him. “not right now.”

jason’s mouth curls over his teeth in a snarl. “why? are you scared?”

“if you haven’t forgotten, dick almost died last night. forgive me if i don’t think that’s the best time for another screaming match.”

“i--”

he’s interrupted by alfred coming in. dick can’t see him but he’d recognize that voice anywhere, the disapproval only just covered by politeness.

“master jason,” he says and jason flinches. “might i interest you in a shower? what you’re wearing doesn’t look comfortable.”

“i’m not going upstairs.”

“there are showers down here,” bruce says impatiently and points to the corner of the cave that’s now used as a locker room. it was easier after patrols; they didn’t get yelled at for tracking mud into the house.

“there are towels and fresh clothes in there,” alfred tells him and jason tenses again.

“whose clothes?”

“generic ones. we picked up a whole bunch of sweats in case we ever have guests,” bruce answer and jason grunts, stomping away to the other side of the cave. “thanks, alfred.”

“not at all, master bruce. will you be joining us for breakfast?”

“no, i don’t think so.”

“i’ll send someone down with something. master jason?”

“i will not be bribed with food, alfred,” jason yells back.

“it’s pancakes.”

jason pokes his head out of the shower room and gives him a look. “i don’t think i’d be the most welcome right now.”

alfred clicks his tongue, a tiny sound dick knows means he’s disappointed. “if you say so.”

“i’m not letting him around the others. not without supervision,” bruce says quietly and alfred turns to look at him. “he can’t be trusted.”

“he’s your son.”

“he’s killed people, including almost tim.”

“not to excuse the taking of a life,” alfred replies, tone very careful, “but the circumstances are a little extreme.”

“stop talking about me when i can still hear you,” jason calls out. “i’m not going upstairs anyway. don’t get your panties in a twist.”

alfred clicks his tongue again and if dick had the energy to smile, he’d do it. bruce heaves out a sigh.

“i’ll take pancakes, if you’re willing to send them down,” he says quietly. “and some coffee. did everyone stay over?”

“mmm, yes it was quite a full house.”

bruce snorts. “as if it could ever be a full house.”

“they were quite worried. no one wanted to leave. how is he, by the way?”

“he’ll live.”

there are careful fingers pressed against his pulse. “that’s the important part.”

bruce waits until alfred leaves to smooth down dick’s hair. the movements are slow and gentle, and it makes dick sleepy again. he’s tired, even after all his sleeping, but there’s not much he can do besides rest.

he slips away into unconsciousness to the sound of the shower and the feeling of gentle hands soothing him to sleep.

 

it takes a long time for him to figure out how to sit up again without his chest feeling like it wants to crack open, how to talk without wanting to double over in agony. the first time he laughs, he gasps for breath because it slices through him like a blade. he tenses every time the pain is piercing, waiting for the horrible numbing feeling to come creeping back over his body.

he’s not sure what excuse they gave to the police station in blüdhaven, but it must be something good because he doesn’t get any irritated calls about missing work. they don’t let him leave, either; he’d mentioned it once, gritting the words out through the spasms of his chest, and alfred’s mouth had been a thin line.

“certainly not,” he’d said in that way of his that didn’t allow for any argument. that tone would stop a rampaging elephant in its tracks. “you’ll stay here.”

“alf--”

“you can’t get out of bed without help, master richard. we’re not about to let you live by yourself.”

dick had given up and spent days in his old bedroom, rereading his books and listening to his comms during the night until barbara had cut off his feed. she had not been happy he got hurt.

jason wasn’t picking up his phone, wasn’t answering texts. dick gives up there too.

 

he has to fight back to consciousness. fight through weird sludge that doesn’t let him move, keeps him trapped in the darkness when all he wants to do is open his eyes. they fly open with a gasp, a choked off sound that he can’t stop.

beside him, bruce moves.

“dick,” he says and dick makes that sound again, involuntary. “dick, you’re okay.”

he blinks around the lingering effects of the nightmare. they’re not new, not in this house, but this one was different. he could still feel the coldness being wrapped around his heart, making him shudder, making him slow.

dick takes a minute to self-evaluate, figure out where the worst pain is coming from now that he’s not dreaming. his side aches, all down the length of his body, and he feels like he was used as a punching bag. the earth-shattering, all consuming agony is still gone, distilled down to an ache around his chest. he hurts but in a way that means he’s healing.

bruce is there in the chair next to his bed, out of his cowl but still in the basic layers that go underneath the suit. it’s dark in that way that means it’s almost morning, still like the world’s holding its breath as it waits for the sun.

“i died,” dick manages to say, a little nonsensically. bruce frowns and leans forward so he’s within reaching distance.

“you didn’t.”

it felt like he died. he had died in the nightmare. “i thought i did.”

“but you didn’t,” bruce repeats and his hands are smoothing over dick’s hair, tangled and damp from the shower he had taken earlier that night. dick closes his eyes at the feeling, just for a second.

“why are you here?”

“couldn’t sleep.”

dick cracks his eye open to squint at him. “nightmares too?”

“no.” bruce’s voice is tight. dick knows what that means, but he asks anyway.

“what happened?”

“didn’t get there in time. she had a kid. i dropped him off at the hospital.”

“mm. you didn’t try and adopt him too?” it’s a weak joke but bruce smiles anyway, a small little thing.

“i think i have enough sons at the moment.”

“never stopped you before.”

bruce laughs, low, and something about the quietness of the room and the way he feels like a child again makes him honest.

“jason thinks you wish he were still dead.”

dick senses, rather than sees, bruce’s face shutter. the fingers in his hair still.

“he told you that?” bruce asks after a long, long moment. his voice is so careful.

“yeah.”

“when?”

“he was drunk,” dick says. “and injured.”

bruce’s teeth click. “hn. i keep wondering if it’ll ever stop hurting and it never does,” he comments and it’s almost too quiet for dick to hear. “i don’t… i don’t wish he was still dead. fuck, of course i don’t.”

“he thinks you do.”

“it… would make things easier, in some respects.”

“bruce,” dick says. “you shouldn’t have made him leave.”

“which time,” he answers sourly.

“when i was--” dick’s breath hitches a little. “when i was hurt.”

“he can’t be around tim. i won’t let that.”

“jason’s your son too. or, was.”

“jason will always be my son,” bruce snaps, too sharp. dick winces a tiny bit. “but i don’t know what to do with him.” he drops his head into his hands, rubbing at his eyes. “there’s no good solution to this.”

“you could talk to him.”

there’s a laugh, a hollow one. “don’t you think i’ve tried that.”

“no, i mean--” the words catch in his chest for a second and make it hard to breathe, ripples over his chest in spasms. dick holds himself still as bruce’s hands drop away from his face.

“dick?”

“i’m okay,” he gasps out. “give me a moment.”

“this is not a good time to be having this conversation,” bruce says after a second, his voice carefully absent of any emotion. dick snorts.

“you said that when jason was here.”

“it was true then and still is true now.”

“when is a good time to have this conversation?” dick asks, voice lilting up in a mocking way. the pain in his chest is easing, the wave of pain settling down.

“when neither of us are sleep deprived.”

dick snorts again and bruce settles his hand in dick’s hair once more, brushing his fingers through in soothing strokes.

“you should talk to him,” he says, around a yawn. “not as batman, not as bruce wayne.”

bruce’s mouth twists into something ugly. “what else is there?

“talk to him like he’s your son, not like he’s another… villain to outsmart and subdue.”

bruce looks like he wants to argue more but he shuts his mouth, something shuttering in his eyes. “okay,” he says.

“are you just saying that to placate me so i’ll go to sleep again?”

“no,” bruce responds but there’s a twitch to his cheek that tells dick otherwise.

“i’ll go to sleep if you promise to think about it.”

it’s a bad choice of words, dick realises. he’d bet anything that all bruce does is think about jason; he’s not one to let go of a problem once he sinks his teeth into it. dick got that relentlessness from him.

“done.”

“you should go to sleep too,” says dick and bruce gives him a tiny smile. it’s sad at the edges.

“nah,” he says quietly. “i’ll be fine.”

 

“this is terrible,” he complains to cassandra, who’s sat on the edge of his bed. he’s on that edge of getting better, almost healed but not quite enough. he’s got enough energy to be restless but not do much else. “i’m bored. i’m missing work. i’m all better and shouldn’t be lounging around all day.”

“not better,” cass says mildly and points to the book on the nightstand. “read.”

“i don’t want to read,” he whines. “i want to do something.”

“read to me. it helps.” she smiles at him when he narrows his eyes. “be a good brother.”

“always with the guilt trip. what are we reading? harry potter?”

“tim said it’s good.”

“he’s right,” he says with a sigh but he reads a few chapters anyway. cass curls up next to him, careful to avoid his ribs and his ankle, which he hadn’t known was broken. it’s a miracle he hadn’t broken more of his body, really.

he gets winded after speaking for a while, the muscles in his chest seizing up and making every word hard. “sorry, cass. have to stop.”

she pats him on the shoulder, very careful. “it’s okay. we can read more later. good for you.”

“good for me? i thought you meant it was good for you.

“both. one bird, two stones.”

“it’s two birds, one stone,” he corrects.

she purses her lips disapprovingly. “not supposed to talk.”

“you wouldn’t even need two stones for one bird. barely would need one,” he says, his breath hitching when his chest spasms.

“stop talking,” she repeats and puts her hand over his mouth for good measure. “you’re hurt.”

“not good bedside service,” he complains but it comes out muffled, unintelligible. he tries licking her hand and she makes a face but doesn’t move. he huffs out a sigh.

“what’s going on?” tim asks, coming into the room. he’s juggling tea and it takes a second for him to negotiate putting down all three mugs. “what did dick say?”

“not supposed to talk,” cass repeats. “kept talking.”

“it’s how we know he’s getting better,” tim says around a yawn, handing them all their tea. “we should only be worried about him when he’s silent.”

dick glares, snapping his teeth against cass’ fingers. he wouldn’t bite, not hard enough to hurt, but it finally makes her take her hand away. she wipes her palm on his blanket.

“mean.”

“i just wanted to drink tea,” he says and brings the cup to his lips.

“no, you wanted to talk.”

“scooch over,” tim tells cass and she shuffles so there’s space for him on the bed.

“i’m injured,” dick says mildly as he gets jostled during the negotiation but neither of them pay him any attention. eventually, they end up on either side of him, plastered along his arms.

“is this okay,” tim asks but it’s not really a question. he doesn’t look like he’s about to move any time soon. dick pretends to give an irritated sigh.

“i’m not allowed to move, i’m not allowed to talk,” he grumbles. “the only thing i am allowed to do is sleep, and even that’s in certain conditions.”

“shh,” cass tells him and wiggles her fingers threateningly. dick shuts up and cass hands tim the book, motioning for him to keep going.

“you’re at the prisoner of azkaban already? wow, cass, you’ve gone through them fast.”

“barbara helps,” she says. “and steph. and bruce.”

bruce used to read to dick, right after the accident when there were too many things going through dick’s mind to let him sleep. he’d sneak down to the study and bruce would stop whatever he was doing, settling them both on the sofa to dutifully read whatever book put in front of him. it’s a good memory in a haze of bad ones.

he’s pulled from his thoughts when tim clears his throat. tim reads until his voice is hoarse and cass is asleep curled into dick’s side. she’s been covering blüdhaven sometimes for dick, pulling double duty until he can do it himself.

tim finishes the chapter and folds over the page to mark where they stopped, tracing over the front cover with a finger. he’s got a look on his face that means he’s thinking about something, hard.

dick nudges him in the side. “what’s wrong?”

tim shakes his head, running his index finger over harry’s face, and dick nudges him again.

“there’s something bothering you.”

he chews on his lip and then sighs, tired and sad. “is jason right?” he asks in a flat voice, the voice that sounds so much like bruce when he’s trying not to show emotion. dick wants to bang his head against the wall but he settles for cautious curiosity instead.

“is jason right about what?”

tim pulls a face. “don’t make me say it, dick. you know what i’m talking about.”

“tim--”

“it’s okay if i am his replacement. i won’t be mad. i just… need to know if jason was right. is right,” he says and won’t look at dick, focuses on the bland pattern of the bedspread. he drops his voice so it’s almost inaudible, so dick has to strain to hear. “i just need to know my place in this-- on the team.”

dick shifts so he can sling an arm around tim’s shoulders, pulling him into his side. “do you know i didn’t come home for months after bruce adopted jason? i moved into the titans tower and refused to answer anyone from gotham. i was… i was furious.” he pauses for a second, tasting the ghost of anger on his tongue. “bruce adopted jason, legally, and i was just his ward. it hurt more than i’d like to admit.”

tim twitches, his hands pattering out a quiet rhythm on the bed. it’s a restless need to keep moving that dick understands.

“i know better now, but it was not fun at the time. i got over it, though.”

“you didn’t answer the question,” tim says.

“bruce needed you,” dick tells him. “we all did, in some way. and yeah, at first, maybe you helped fill a hole jason left but you’re a completely different person. you couldn’t replace him any more than someone could replace you.”

“i took his job.”

“you did what you had to do to keep bruce safe. listen, tim. jason’s got his own issues and they’re his to work out with bruce. he shouldn’t have taken out his anger on you but his argument isn’t really with you, okay?”

“okay.”

dick puts his head on top of tim’s and pretends he doesn’t see tim blinking hard. “in any case, you’re part of my family. i can have more than one little brother, you know.”

“you’re an only child,” tim mumbles and the words are thick. dick pokes him in the side.

“i am not,” he protests and then winces as his chest contracts, holding his breath through the pain. it wakes cass up and she’s alert instantly, looking at him and then glaring at tim.

“you let him talk.”

“as if i could stop him from talking,” tim says and it makes dick huff a laugh, sharp and pained. cass clicks her tongue.

“time for medicine.”

“yeah, yeah. i’ll go get alfred.” tim slides out from under dick’s arm and off the bed, crossing the floor on quick feet. dick looks at cass.

“nice nap?”

“shh.”

“you’d be a great nurse.”

she glares, putting her hand over his mouth again and this time he doesn’t have the energy to fight it off. it doesn’t take long for tim to come back, this time with alfred in tow and a glass of water in his hand.

“master timothy says you’ve been overexerting yourself,” alfred says disapprovingly and dick rolls his eyes.

“m’bored,” he says, garbled. alfred shakes his head as cass takes her palm away, handing over a couple of pills for dick to swallow. he grimaces as they go down. “they make me sleepy.”

“sleeping is good for your health, master richard. it helps you heal and stops you from speaking.”

“i’m never puncturing a lung again,” dick says as he lays back down, blinking against the tiredness. alfred hums, tugging at the blankets so they’re straight.

“i should certainly hope not. it was not a pleasant experience, for anyone.”

“i’ll say.”

“how about you don’t say anything and go to sleep?”

“funny,” he mumbles but he does as he’s told, listening to the three of them pull his door closed and letting his eyes close.

 

it’s gotten colder since the accident, winter digging its claws into the city. the wind whips around his body and he shivers, wishing for not the first time that a cape was part of the nightwing costume. it would throw everything off, and a short cape would just look ridiculous, so he abstains. but it’s cold.

his chest still aches if he pushes too much. he probably got back into the game a lot sooner than he should’ve, but it was worth it. bed rest was driving him nuts, making him go itchy at the edges as he was left behind and everyone else threw themself into their work and his.

he shifts, swinging one leg over the edge of the building, and waits. the part of his face that’s exposed to the air is numb, frozen from the cold, but he’s not moving until jason shows up.

it takes a while but eventually, dick hears the stomp of heavy boots on the cement roof. it’s a courtesy; all of them know how to move silently. the only reason for footsteps is to announce an entrance without startling anyone.

dick wonders if jason’s afraid he’ll fall back over the edge again, if that’s the reason for the noise. he smiles.

“oh, how the turn tables,” jason says gruffly and dick twists around to see him. his helmet’s on his face, a blank slate where his expressions should be. dick’s smile slips. “you’re in my city now.”

“not just yours. mine too.”

“nope, you gave that up when you moved away.”

that bothers dick more than it should but he presses it away to examine later, a different issue to think about.

“mm,” he says instead.

jason grunts, coming over to sit down as well. “why are you even here?”

“you didn’t answer your phone.”

“yeah, that was on purpose.”

dick peeks down at the ground for a second, catching jason’s twitch out of the corner of his eye. it’s an aborted movement, like he was reaching for dick in case dick fell.

“i needed to talk to you.”

“i didn’t want to talk to you.”

“then you shouldn’t have stopped answering your phone,” dick snaps and then shuts his mouth for a second, shaking his head to clear it. there’s a weird familiar pull in the middle of his chest, not the same pain that’s become so routine but one from earlier, a feeling he only gets around jason. “look, i didn’t-- i didn’t come here to fight you.”

“that’s new,” drawls jason. it echoes strangely through his helmet, distorting his voice into something hard. dick hates it. “why else would you be here.” he pauses for a second. “you’re not beat up again, are you?”

“no, i’m not. not more than usual.”

“then you don’t need me for anything,” jason says and makes to stand up. dick grabs his sleeve.

“wait, we haven’t talked yet.”

“that’s on purpose.”

“hood.”

jason grumbles but settles down, leaning back on his hands splayed out behind them. it puts his shoulder behind dick’s, his face slightly out of alignment with dick’s.

“i talked to bruce.”

“whoop-de-fucking-do,” says jason. “do you want a medal or something?”

“no, i mean, i talked to bruce about you. about what happened when i was, uh…”

“broken on a gurney?” jason’s voice is flat, emotionless. dick sucks in a breath and lets it out slowly.

“yeah, that.”

“didn’t think bruce did talks.”

“he doesn’t,” dick says with a sigh, feeling the roughness of the roof against his fingertips. “but apparently almost dying lets you get away with things.”

jason barks out a laugh, the sound grating against the sky, roughened by the years he’d spent smoking. “what a fucking lie that is.”

“jay--”

jason flops so he’s lying on his back, legs still hanging off the edge, and folds his hands behind his head. “as if being dead lets you get away with anything.”

“in all fairness,” dick says dryly, shifting so he’s perpendicular to jason’s body. he tucks a knee under his chin. “i wasn’t trying to kill him. just have a conversation.”

jason cracks an eye at him. “isn’t that the same thing?”

“point.”

“what did he say?” it’s light, careless, and if dick didn’t know better he would think jason doesn’t care about the answer.

“if i was smart, i’d tell you you’d have to talk to him about it.”

jason kicks his heels against the side of the building, a steady thud thud thud. “pity you’re not smart.”

hey.”

“what did he say?”

“would you believe me if i told you he cried?”

“fuck no.”

“that’s good, because he didn’t,” dick says around a smile and jason swings out his leg to catch dick’s ankle, a sharp kick.

“has anyone told you that you can be a real dick sometimes?”

he presses his smile into his knee, catching the shadow of a grin on jason’s cheek. “once or twice, yeah.”

jason lets out a long breath, his fingers folded across his chest and his thumb twitching. “what if… what if i told you i also talked to bruce?”

dick gives him a sharp look. “like, without killing him?”

“thought about it,” he grumbles, mouth pulled down into a frown. “but no. tried to punch him once but he dodged it, the bastard.”

“so, what happened?”

“you’re really fucking nosy,” jason tells him, sitting up in one fluid movement. “well, i’m still not invited over for family dinners but i think he’ll let me in the cave sometimes. gotta make it up to tim somehow, first.”

“he likes caramel macchiatos, with extra drizzle.”

“that’s… okay, that’s disgusting. i might have to beat his ass for that.”

“jason.”

“it’s a joke.”

dick laughs in spite of himself, nudging his shoulder against his brother’s. “can’t believe you made me try to convince you to see bruce when you’d already done it.”

“you were so earnest.”

“i was trying to help.”

“serves you right for being nosy,” jason tells him, as prim as he can be in a bloodstained leather jacket. dick rolls his eyes.

“does this mean you’re coming to thanksgiving?” he asks and jason freezes, looking a little pale around the edges.

“oh, hell. you’re going to drag me there, aren’t you?”

“yep,” dick says cheerfully. “me n’alfred already have it all planned out.”

“what if i leave the country?”

“i think it’s been too long since you’ve gone toe-to-toe with alfred if you think that’s going to make a difference.”

jason groans. “it’s going to be the worst thanksgiving in the histories of thanksgivings.”

“nah,” dick says, thinking about the first year after jason had died, how it had been so silent. he’d eaten in record time because the sadness had been so stifling, running as fast as he could from the house and bruce’s guilt masked as anger. “it’ll be fun.”

“fuck you completely,” says jason and he hunches over to run his hands through his hair, scrubbing at his face. dick watches for a second.

“how’s the girl? the one in blüdhaven?”

jason flexes his hand involuntarily. “her dad’s still in the hospital. i leave her some money when i get back there.”

“nice of you.”

“it’s blood money. drug money.”

“i don’t care,” dick says carefully because there’s this careful sort of peace between them and he can’t ruin it, refuses to ruin it. there are things he’ll care about later, arguments he’ll push, but for now he’ll settle for a jason who’s here and talking and not running away.

“as long as i’m not putting bullets into brains, right?”

dick shrugs. “brains. chests. limbs are okay, i guess, as long as you miss the arteries.”

jason hums. it’s not a agreement but it’s not a denial either, on that thin border between argument and giving in.

somewhere below them, there’s a thud and a crash and the sound of an alarm. both of them tense.

“i’ve got this one, dickie boy,” jason says, reaching for his helmet. “you’re still supposed to be on medical leave.”

“i’m fine.”

jason snorts. “you don’t come back from almost death and are fine in two months. trust me on that one.”

he turns to go but dick stops him, catches the sleeve of his jacket.

“jay.”

“hmm?”

he hesitates, running his tongue over the edge of his teeth as he thinks.

“i just… would you accept an apology?”

jason looks at him, a sharp turn of his jaw. “no.”

“how about a thank you?”

“definitely not.”

“you didn’t let me die, hood,” dick says softly. “that deserves something.”

“you can fuck off and leave me in peace,” jay says, on the warning side of teasing. “you can stop falling off buildings.”

“i’ll try not to.”

“buy me a fuckin’ beer next time i see you.”

“i— okay. okay, i can do that.”

and then jason is gone, the ghost of a laugh caught in the wind and dick’s by himself. he takes two seconds to compose himself, steady himself, and then leaps from the roof. for a second, he’s free falling again, the thing he loves the most and hates with all his heart, before catching the end of grapple and swinging to a stop.