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Secrets That You Keep

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Dick didn’t notice it happening at first.

He knew that Jason and Tim had mended their issues and gotten close when Dick had been “dead” and doing his Spyral mission.  He had seen the pair partner up on missions before, so Dick had brushed it off as simply finding common ground finally.  He didn’t suspect anything when he called Tim and heard Jason’s voice in the background. 

It became a regular occurrence whenever he called Tim and Dick had just come to accept it as the new normal.  Hearing Jason’s voice rumbling in the background, snarky and rude as ever, was as close to normal as Dick really felt these days. 

There had been a few moments before the Crime Syndicate had started the downward spiral of Dick’s life that he had been sure he and Jason could have had some kind of relationship.  Looking back, he could see the friendship forming.  Perhaps even something more, but Dick didn’t want to think about the possibility of what could have been.  But the memories of meals shared on rooftops and wounds cared for by the other, he tried not to think about it.  He had accepted that it wasn’t his to have anymore.

At least in the light of day, he had accepted it. 

It was a different story when it was still dark out and Dick was lying in bed with nothing but his mind to occupy himself.  When thoughts of Jason as he was now blended with memories of Jason from before he died.  When Dick’s own emotions swirled and confused him enough that he wondered if what he felt for the younger man was something more than what it should be. 

More than what Jason would ever allow them to be.  Now.

Dick also didn’t suspect anything when he found Jason with Damian, sparring in the Cave one afternoon.  Damian had confided in him how he remembered Jason’s presence among The League’s ranks.  How Talia had brought Damian around plenty of times when she had overseen Jason’s training.  Jason was also the only other Bat who spoke Arabic fluently (Dick not far behind but not quite at their level), so having the elder there was a taste of home.  A comfort that not even Dick could provide the youngest Wayne.

And it was a home Dick knew Damian missed, if not for the people that came with it.

But despite those moments with Tim and Damian, Dick didn’t think twice about Jason spending time with them.  He didn’t even linger on the moments for any reason other than to lament how much he wished he could bridge that gap between him and Jason.  It wasn’t enough to raise suspicions though.

No, Dick didn’t suspect anything was going on until he found Jason with Cass. 

He had arrived at the manor early in hopes of getting some time in on the rings before Cass came over from Barbara’s for their weekly dance workout.  Other members of the family had enjoyed watching Cass dance, but Dick was really the only member who moved well enough to join her.  So, they had arranged weekly times to get together and dance.  And in order to get to the room where his acrobat equipment was kept, he had to pass the room where Bruce had created the perfect room for Cass to dance in.

And that was where he found Cass and Jason moving around to an old-school hip-hop song.  But it wasn’t like when she and Dick danced.  With him it was performative.  This?  This looked like fun.  Jason was smiling.  And an ache began to form in Dick’s chest at the sight of it.

Dick just remained frozen at the sight of the two of them, probably looking as shocked as he felt.  At least until Jason noticed him in the doorway and froze up, drawing Cass’ attention.  And while his sister brightened at the sight of him, Jason seemed to withdraw.

Damnit all to hell, that stung something fierce.

So yeah, he took notice of something going on then.  And that night he found himself in his Bludhaven apartment with Red Robin and Spoiler covering his city while he made a list of all the times he’s seen Jason spend with the others and all the time he’s spent with Dick.

Zero.

Leaning back into his sofa, Dick let his eyes stare off at nothing as it sunk in.  He could recall countless times he had seen Jason spend time with Tim, Damian, Cass, Duke, and hell even Steph.  But he couldn’t recall a single moment where Jason had spent time with him.  In or out of the suit.  Not since he had returned from Spyral.  And worse than that, he could recall multiple times where Dick entered a room and Jason immediately left.  There was always some kind of excuse so Dick had never investigated it, but now he could see it for what it was.  Avoidance.  Jason was purposefully distancing himself from Dick and goddamn that really did hurt.

Dick knew he hadn’t been a good brother.  He knew he could have been so much better for Jason, but he had been so hurt and so angry at the younger’s presence and the fact that he was Robin without even knowing what the name and the colors meant to Dick.

But Jason had told Dick he had been better than Jason had given him credit for, right?  When he had joined Bizzaro, Artemis, and Jason on that Outlaw mission, he thought he and Jason had patched some of their old hurts.  But maybe it had just been him who had done that.

Throwing his head back onto the couch, Dick stared at the ceiling and tried to think of anything he could have done in order to have Jason not want to be near him and though the faking his death thing had pissed the younger off, it didn’t seem like it would have been enough to get to this point.  Plus, it had been years at this point.  And nothing else stood out to him.  He couldn’t think of a single, goddamn moment where he might have pushed Jason away to the point where he wanted nothing to do with Dick.  And that was frustrating.

So, Dick gripped his hair and closed his eyes while keeping his head thrown back.

And that was the exact position Tim and Steph found him in an hour later as they slipped in through one of his windows to report how the patrol had gone.

“Dude, seriously?  I thought you were working a case?”  Tim teased him, laughing as Dick jolted forward and shoved all the papers on his coffee table into a folder and closed it so neither of them would see what it was he had been doing.

“I was.  I mean, I am.  I was thinking.”  He stumbled over his words as he tried to compose himself from the shock of having not heard them coming.  “How was it out there?”  He watched Tim and Steph exchange a glance before Steph headed for his kitchen to undoubtedly help herself to something to eat.

“It was fine.  Quiet except for that drop you knew was happening.  It was an easy takedown.”  Nodding his head, Dick pushed to his feet.  “Dude, you okay?”

Swallowing, Dick clenched his jaw for a moment before taking a deep breath.  “Yeah, just still stuck in that case.  You two staying here tonight?  There’s not much open, but I can order some food for you guys?”  Tim’s eyes narrowed and Dick could tell he wanted to push the subject, but thankfully Steph stepped into the room.

“Yes, food.  For the love of god, I’m starving,” she complained, dropping down into the spot Dick had just vacated.  Nodding his head, Dick grabbed the file from the table and headed to his bedroom to tuck it away just in case Tim got curious.  He would have to shred the papers later just to be sure no one else came across them.  Slipping the file into the drawer where he kept his jeans, he closed the drawer and took a moment to lean his hands onto the edge of the dressed, head hanging as the weight of his discovery hit him again.

He allowed himself a moment before straightening up and putting on the mask of Dick Grayson, doting brother and friend.  It was just another part to play, one he had playing for decades.  And he had been saying it almost all his life:

The show must go on.

Life took pity on him after that night and Dick found himself too busy to really think about the situation with Jason.  Busy with a new drug landing on the streets of his city and diverting all his resources into finding the chemist responsible for the seven overdoses in three nights. 

“Have you looked at the composition at all?”  Tim called out to Dick from his place at the lab table where he had been looking at the samples of the drug he had managed to get the night before.  Dick looked away from the map of Bludhaven he and Damian had been marking off the deaths on and shook his head.

“No, I don’t have the right gear.  That’s why I brought it here.  Why?”  He moved over toward Tim and waited to see if he’d put it up on the computer screen the magnifying glass was linked to.  The screen flickered before coming to life and showing the very base structure of the drug that had been dubbed “Dreamer” for the vivid dreams it gave the user.  “Is that…?”

“Fear toxin?  It looks like it, doesn’t it?”  Dick kept his eyes on the screen as Tim stood and grabbed a different slide that had been stored and slipped it in next to the Dreamer sample.  “They have the same base.”

“But the base of Crane’s drug is Blue Flower,” Damian spoke up, drawing Dick’s gaze for a moment before he looked back to the screen.

“Could this be Crane?”  Dick questioned, looking to Tim.

“I don’t think so.  Crane didn’t design his toxin.  He just replicates it.”  Dick found his eyes moving back to the screen again as he crossed his arms over his chest and tried to think about what this possibly could mean.  “This,” Tim pointed to the screen, “is Blue Flower.  But the rest of it is something else.  The analysis won’t be done for a few hours, but it should be able to tell us more.  Maybe point you in the right direction.”

Dick opened his mouth to agree and thank Tim for his help, but he snapped his mouth shut at the familiar sound of Jason’s motorcycle coming into the cave.  And all at once, Dick was reminded of what he had discovered the other night and the familiar pain in his chest flared up yet again.

“Oh good, I thought he was going to be late,” Dick looked over to find Duke headed down the stairs and beelining for Jason.  And though Dick wanted to question it and find out yet another link that he could add to his list, he forced himself to turn back to the screen and analyze the drug.  Tim didn’t say anything as he moved away, footsteps sounding toward where Jason and Duke were now talking about tickets of some sort and Dick just wanted to drown it out.

“Todd is taking him to a Knights game.  Apparently, Thomas has never been,” Damian supplied as he moved to take the spot abandoned by Tim.  Dick just hummed in response and didn’t bother saying anything in response, looking down at the younger man.  And though he tried his best to keep his Dick Grayson mask on, he must have failed for a moment because Damian was suddenly looking at him with narrowed eyes.  “You are upset.”

Shaking his head, Dick looked away.  “I’m frustrated,” he admitted, knowing it could be about a multitude of things and not necessarily about Jason forming solid relationships with every family member but him.

“No.”  Sapphire eyes turned back to green and Dick waited.  “You think we don’t notice, but we can tell when you are wearing your mask without wearing one.”

“Why would I be wearing a mask, Little D?  That’s just ridiculous.”  He forced out an easy sounding laugh as he ruffled his brother’s hair before turning to move back over to the map.  Unfortunately, that brought attention to the fact that he was there and when he glanced over, he found Jason staring at him with an unreadable expression on his face.  But Dick couldn’t focus on that at the moment.  He couldn’t waste his energy wondering why he was the pariah of the family in regard to Jason.  Not when he had a case to solve.

But he did waste his energy on it because it was all he could think about.

Even long after he left the cave that night and returned home to his apartment in the ‘Haven.  While he was flying through the sky, dressed in black and blue, and trying to get a handle on the Dreamer situation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Fuck, ‘Wing,” the modified voice hit him like a ton of bricks.  When he had sent off the distress beacon, Red Hood was the very last person Dick had expected to answer. 

“Hood,” he gasped, breaths coming out in quick, broken pants as he pressed a hand to his side.  It had started firm, but he was fairly sure his efforts were for ‘naught at the moment.  “You’re…I didn’t…”  His mind was foggy and no matter what he tried, he couldn’t break through it enough to get a coherent thought out.

Jason dropped to his knees next to Dick as he sat propped against the wall of a random warehouse he had stumbled into after fleeing from the scene that had gotten him shot.  “You’re fucking lucky I was already in the area, you dick,” Jason muttered, batting Dick’s hand away from his side and taking a look at the damage.  “Shit, do you have a doctor you trust here?  N?  Nightwing!”  Dick wasn’t sure when he had closed his eyes, but the feeling on Jason’s gloved hand smacking his cheek forced him to open them up again.  “Doctor?”  Dick blinked slowly, trying to make the question make sense.  Then it clicked.

“Leslie.”

“Fuck,” Jason cursed, tapping something on the side of his helmet.  “RR, I need an assist.  N is bad and he doesn’t have a doc out here.”  There was silence as Jason listened to whatever it was Tim was relaying, poking at Dick’s side while he did.  “Copy.”  Dick felt his eyes drifting shut again but shot them open again when Jason snapped his name.  “We gotta get on the roof.  Replacement is sending the Batwing.”

With a groan of pain, Dick tried his best to help Jason get his body in an upright position.  But he knew there was no way he was going to get up to the roof without Jason doing all the work and when he said as much, all he got was a grunt in return.  His focus hazed a bit until he was crying out in pain again as Jason heaved him up over his shoulder and carried him out of the warehouse. 

Being thrown over his shoulder didn’t hurt as much as Dick had thought it would and briefly he wondered if he was going into shock from blood loss.  Had the wound been that bad?  Had it been long enough for him to have reached that point. 

He wasn’t sure.  He couldn’t clear the fog from his mind enough to think straight.

And when he tried to ask Jason about time frames, his words were slurred and garbled, causing Jason to snap, “Shut up, Dickhead.  Just…just focus on not bleeding out.”

Dick told himself that the panic he heard in Jason’s voice was all in his head.

The sound of the plane landing on the rooftop they occupied was muffled and that was also concerning for his condition.  But his focus was nonexistent at this point and he could only gasp when Jason rushed them into the plane the instant he could.

Things happened in flashes after Jason strapped him down onto the gurney with the help of Duke, who immediately started cutting away his suit.  He remembered Jason removing his helmet and domino, pressing both his hands into the wound on Dick’s side, the elder being too far gone to complain about the spike of pain.

He remembered the warm face of Leslie Thompkins over him, mouth moving but words sounding far away.  Almost as if he were underwater.

He remembered shouting and a steady beep beep beep that was followed by a hand pressed to his forehead and a familiar voice whispering go back to sleep.

He remembered coming to and finding a warm body pressed next to his uninjured side, smaller than his own and familiar from nights spent comforting nightmares on both sides of the relationship.  There were also two hands clinging to the hand on his injured side, but when he tried to turn and see who it was the haze came back and everything faded back to black.

The next time he came to, there was more clarity.  There was also a hell of a lot more pain.

“Dick,” he turned to find Bruce sitting in the chair next to him, relief smoothing over his face.  He had apparently been approved to be moved to the cave medical wing since this wasn’t the clinic or hospital Jason and Duke had brought him to.  But his vision was still fuzzy around the edges and he couldn’t quite focus to be sure.  “Chum, you with us?”

“Wha-?”  His voice cracked, unused and in desperate need of water.  Bruce grabbed the cup next to his bed and slipped a straw in it before pressing it to his cracked lips, letting Dick take a few slow sips.  He knew the drill by then.  Since he had no way of knowing how long he had been out yet, he needed to be careful not to make himself sick.

Pulling the cup away, Bruce kept it in hand but sat back in his chair.  “How are you feeling?”

“Hurts.”

“I’m sure it does.  Whatever they shot you with went all the way through but tore up your side in the process.  Leslie was not happy about the amount of damage she had to repair on the table,” Bruce told him.  Dick blinked slowly, eyebrows creasing as he tried to remember what had happened.

“Shot gun of some kind,” he offered up, remembering the distinct sound of the cocking of the weapon before it was shot at him from behind.  “These guys are low level, but-“ Bruce shook his head and placed a hand on Dick’s wrist.

“It doesn’t matter right now.  We can figure it out later.  Tim and Jason are already pulling together everything to see what they can do to help.”  That caused Dick’s frown to deepen.

“Jason?”  Bruce frowned in response.

“Yes, Jason.  He’s the one who found you after you lit your beacon.  Do you not remember?”  Dick shook his head, more to try and clear the fog than to deny his memory.  “He had already been coming out to find you to offer his help.”  But that didn’t make sense.  Jason had been avoiding him.  He had gone out of his way to keep his distance.  In a world where Jason didn’t hate him, it made sense that the anti-hero would come help.  He had connections to the underworld that would prove invaluable in a case like this, but they didn’t live in a perfect world.

“Jason hates me.”

“I what now?”  Dick’s gaze snapped to the doorway where Jason stood, still dressed in his Hood gear but without the helmet and mask.  Unable to reconcile what Bruce had been saying with the Jason he had been faced with recently, Dick just stared at the imposing figure he created.

“You hate me?”  Jason pinched his eyebrows together at that and took a few more steps into the room. 

Bruce cleared his throat and Dick tore his eyes away from Jason’s to look at the older man.  But Bruce wasn’t looking at Dick, his gaze was on Jason and Dick couldn’t see it clear enough to tell what he was thinking.  “Anything to report?”  There was a heavy pause before Jason answered.

“We knocked out a major supply chain and Tim’s staying at Dick’s to run the encryption on the files we lifted.  He thinks he’ll have the chemist’s name before lunch.”  The civility between the pair confused Dick even more than the fact that Jason hated him.  When had that happened?  How had he missed the fact that Jason, of all people, could work easily with Bruce?

Rubbing at his head to try and ward off the on-coming headache, Dick sighed and leaned further back into the pillows behind him.  The pain in his side was starting to get to the point where he couldn’t ignore it and he wanted to go back to sleep.  He definitely did not want to get into anything involving Jason right then.

“I’m going to go get Alfred.  He can give you something, Dick,” Bruce said quietly, placing a hand on his shoulder before standing and heading out the door Jason had come in from.  Instead of looking over at the other man still in the room with him, Dick just sighed and closed his eyes.

There was a shuffling noise for a moment before a woosh of air.  “I don’t hate you.”  Furrowing his brows, Dick opened his eyes and looked over to find Jason had taken over the chair Bruce had previously been in.

“Could have fooled me,” Dick replied, his voice taking on a bit more of a bitter edge than he had meant for it to.  The look that flashed across Jason’s face made Dick feel slightly guilty, but then he remembered how he had basically been treated like an infectious disease for no reason and told himself he shouldn’t feel that way.  But he did because it was Jason and it sucked to be on the outside looking in.

“Master Richard, so glad to see you awake,” Alfred’s voice cut off anything Jason might have said in response.  And Dick welcomed the interruption because he was in too much pain to focus on anything Jason might have had to say.  “Master Bruce said you are in pain?  Let’s take a look at everything and then I will give you something to take care of that.  The next time you wake, we should be able to move you upstairs to your room.  I assume you’ll be more comfortable up there than in the cave.” 

Alfred’s words were familiar as he looked over the various monitors Dick was attached to before pulling the sheet down and lifting the shirt Dick had been changed into up so he could look under the bandage on his side.  It was a familiar routine and he was thankful for that.

“This looks to be healing nicely.  Dr. Thompkins shall be coming by tomorrow to look at it herself, but I will report to her that infection seems to be a nonissue.”  The bandage was replaced, and the shirt pulled back down before Alfred was off to grab a syringe and a vial of what Dick assumed was the good pain medication. 

It was then that he made the mistake of looking at Jason, who was staring hard at the spot where Dick’s wound was hidden by his shirt and bandages.

Dick didn’t know what to make of that look on his face.

“Now, this will put you out rather quickly but when you awake again I shall have some soup for you and we will move you upstairs,” Alfred explained as he added the medication to the IV drip Dick was hooked up to already. 

“How long was I out?”

“A little over three days.  Though, to be fair, we did keep you under for the first two on purpose.  There was a lot of damage and Dr. Thompkins needed time to repair it.”  Dick nodded and shifted down as much as he could without bothering his side too much.  He had known his side was pretty much swiss cheese after that gunshot.

“Thanks, Alfie.”  The older man hummed and placed a hand on his shoulder, just like Bruce had, and Dick spared one last glance to Jason as he felt the pull of sleep hit him.  That haunted look was gone from his face, but his eyes were still glued to Dick’s side.

“Sleep well, Master Richard.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Can we talk?”

Dick looked up from the laptop he had managed to convince Bruce to let him have and found Tim standing in the doorway of his bedroom.  Nodding his head, he waved his brother in while shutting the computer with a soft click.

“What’s up, Tim?”  He watched the younger move into the room and assess the area before choosing to sit on the side of the bed away from Dick’s injury, near the window instead of the door.

“I found something at you place and I think there’s some things you need to know.  Some things I don’t think you’re going to get out of the person who should be telling you.”  Both of Dick’s eyebrows rose at that and he would happily admit that his curiosity was piqued.

“What did you find?”

“Your lists about all the things Jason has done with the entire family vs what he’s done with you.”  Oh.  Damn.  He knew he should have shredded those. 

“Timmy….”

“No, just listen for a minute, okay?”  Shifting uncomfortably, Dick nodded.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to know whatever it was Tim was planning on saying.  The air in the room was stifling and Dick hated it.  He hated that there was always this undercurrent between the two of them, ever since he “returned from the dead”.  Part of Dick wondered if he should sit Tim and Jason down and tell them the real reason he had agreed to do Bruce’s mission.  But then the idea of them having to wear that burden, that truth of their father figure, made him think twice.  He might not be okay with Bruce like they used to be, but he wasn’t going to destroy Tim’s image of the man and he wasn’t going to be the cause of Jason pulling away from the family again.

He refused.

Focusing back on Tim after his thoughts drifted, Dick realized his brother had been speaking.  “Sorry Tim, I zoned.  The meds are still kicking.”  Tim’s flat look and annoyed quirk of his brow told Dick the younger man didn’t believe him for a moment.

“I was saying that Jason doesn’t hate you.”  Now it was Dick’s turn to not believe Tim.  “No, really.  I know you made those lists and I can see why you drew that conclusion, but he really doesn’t.  I can’t explain why he doesn’t, he definitely needs to be the one to share that information, but just know that he doesn’t.”

“Tim, I appreciate you trying to help,” Dick started but was interrupted by a throat clearing at the door of his bedroom.  Jumping slightly, Dick turned to find Jason in the doorway.  Flinching at the burning pain the movement caused, he pressed a hand to his side and hissed.

“Shit, Dick.  Sorry!”  Jason rushed forward and looked like he was going to press a hand over Dick’s but stopped short. 

“Are you okay?  Do we need Alfred?”

“No, I’m okay,” Dick waved off Tim’s question.  He breathed through the pain before slowly relaxing back into the pillows behind him, warily watching Jason have some kind of silent conversation with Tim.  “Did you need Tim for something, Jason?”

Turquoise eyes looked over at him before his shoulders heaved in a sigh.

“Tim, can you give us a minute?”

“Yeah, okay.”  Dick kept his eyes on Jason, but saw Tim stand out of the corner of his eye and head out of the room.  Though not before stopping to squeeze Jason’s arm, and Dick’s not sure he hid the pain that gesture caused him from his face well enough because Jason frowned.

“You can sit, you know?”  Dick gestured to the chair Tim had vacated and watched Jason eye it for a moment before he settled for pulling himself up onto the desk across from the bed.  It was familiar and Dick could remember Jason doing just that on the rare occasion that Dick had stayed at the manor before Jason had died.  It made him feel even more heartbroken at what he and Jason had become.

The silence stretched thin between them and Dick shifted, more out of awkwardness than pain.  He wasn’t sure what was about to happen between them, but he was curious what Jason would be willing to reveal.

“Were you ever going to tell anyone about before you left for Spyral?”

Frowning, “I’m pretty sure the entire superhero community knows about what happened.”  His frown deepened when Jason rolled his eyes with a shake of his head.  “What?  You guys all knew about the Crime Syndicate and me being hooked up to the Murder Machine.”

“After that, Dickhead.”

Dick considered what he was saying and thought about the only event that had really taken place between his actual death and him leaving for Spyral. 

“How did you find out about that?”  He knew for a fact Bruce would never tell anyone that he had beaten his son into submission.  And Dick had only told one other person who had no association to the family.

“You didn’t find it odd at all that after hating you for so long, Timmy all of the sudden “forgave” you?”  He had, actually.  He had wondered why the hell Tim had suddenly felt like Dick was worthy again, but he hadn’t wanted to push his luck, so he didn’t ask.  It had felt too wonderful to have one of his brothers back that he hadn’t questioned.  “I never watched it, but he gave me the cliff notes.”

“So what?”  Dick asked, shrugging his shoulders.  Tim had forgiven him because he had seen Dick had basically been given no choice.  But Jason apparently didn’t feel the same as their younger brother.

Jason sighed, “You let us be pissed at you for over a year.  You let me punch you and accuse you of some pretty terrible shit.  You could have told us at any point, and we would have believed you.”  Jason paused and Dick didn’t know if he was wanting him to say something, but he didn’t.  He just remained silent and took the judgment as he always did.  “You’re doing it right now!  For fuck’s sake, Dick.  Stop being such a fucking martyr all the time and realize that it doesn’t always have to fall on your shoulders!”

“It’s not about being a martyr, Jason.”  Dick held up a hand when it looked like Jason was going to argue.  “It’s not.  You both had already made up your minds about what happened.  And I was on a timetable.  Then when I was back for good, I…”  He had had too much trauma he needed to deal with, and he didn’t have the energy to dredge it all up again just so his brothers would forgive him.  “It didn’t matter in the end.  Going to Spyral had always felt like a punishment and having you and Tim be upset fell in line.”

“Punishment for what?”

“For so much,” he admitted softly.  “So much more than any of you will ever know about.  But mostly for getting caught by the Syndicate and for letting Lex kill me.”  He watched Jason blanch a bit and though Dick wanted to comfort him, he just didn’t have it in him.

“I trained you to live, and I watched you die.” 

“And the longer it went without explanation, the less it seemed to matter.” 

“And you don’t think we deserved to know the truth about what Bruce did?”

“No.  You didn’t deserve that.  And I would go back in time to make sure Tim never witnessed it if I could.  But you?  Especially not you.”  And maybe Dick was wrong for feeling that way, but he would always want to protect his family.  He would always do whatever he could to make sure they were safe.  They all knew it and Bruce had capitalized upon it.

“Because I’m so fucking fragile that I might go insane again if I knew Bruce had beat the shit out of you just to get you to agree to go undercover and lie to the whole family?”  Dick knew Jason was baiting him for a fight at this point, but he was too tired to engage.

Rubbing at his forehead, Dick closed his eyes.  “Jay, I hated when you were back, but you weren’t with us.  I hated having that distance between us.”  And he had done everything he could think of to bring Jason back.  He had given him chance after chance, even though he kept doing unspeakable things.  “And then things started getting better between us and I was so relieved.  I thought it was just a matter of time before you came home.”  But it had taken Dick’s death to really mend the bridges that had been destroyed.  “I didn’t want to be the reason you separated yourself from the family again.  And don’t try to tell me it’s not a valid concern.”

He watched Jason huff out an affirmative noise, shaking his head.  But Dick knew he was right.  Jason might be good with members of the family, but his relationship with Bruce would always be fragile.

“I have been noticing it for months now, your relationships with everyone.  How when I call Tim, you’re usually there in the background.  How you take Duke places, dance with Cass, and even spar with Damian.  Steph mentions you all the time when she’s around and I saw you with Bruce in the medbay.”  The all too familiar ache he felt in his chest when he noticed these things came back and Dick rubbed at it.  “I’ve watched all of this at a distance because that’s where you’ve kept me.  No matter what I’ve tried, I have been on the outside looking in.  And I just don’t understand.  You can move forward with Bruce, maybe you even forgave him.  But you can’t do that with me?”

Jason pushed off the desk and walked over to the window, turning his back to Dick.  And the older man would never admit how much that hurt.  He just didn’t understand how, especially if he knew the truth, Jason could still be so upset with him that he would shut him out like that.

“Why does it bother you so much?”

“What?”

“Why do you care that I have relationships with all of the others but not you?”

“I-“  Dick wasn’t sure how to answer that.  Why did it matter?  He and Jason had been at odds for almost the entire time they had known each other.  With the exception of maybe that last year before his death, when they had finally began developing a friendship or whatever it was that had been happening between them, they had almost always been fire and ice. 

But Dick also knew that he cared for Jason.  That even though he was outcasted by the man, the man Dick watched blossom over the years was one that he cared deeply about.  One he wanted to be part of his own life.  But it was more than that, something whispered in his mind.  It was more than he was willing to admit.

“I was so angry with you when you came back from Spyral and I wanted nothing more than to beat the shit out of you for it,” Jason admitted, turning to look at Dick.  And Dick could only nod, understanding.  “Then I had Tim calling me in the middle of the night panicking because he came across the crowl footage of the fight you had with Bruce and I wondered why the hell you would keep that from us.  Why would you not tell us the real story and just let us blame you.”

“I ultimately still made the decision to go.”

“The hell you did, Dick!  The hell you did.”  Jason’s temper was flaring again, and it took Dick by surprise.  He had seen Jason mad plenty of times, more than he could ever recall.  But he had never seen Jason mad for him.  “You begged.  You mentioned us all by name.  You knew that after Damian, it would be too much.”

And that was true.  It was exactly why he had begged Bruce to let him come home.  “But he also made a valid point.  Someone had to do it.  Someone had to make sure they didn’t do to anyone else what the Syndicate had done to me.”

“But you didn’t have to be dead for that.  At least not to us.”  Jason paused and moved closer to the bed.  “We didn’t have to mourn you.”

“He had my funeral before he even told me about the mission.  I doubt Timmy found that information.  He kept me in a chemically induced coma so I could heal up and he could make all the arrangements.”  From the look on his face, Dick had a feeling that was the wrong thing to say to Jason.  So he tried to say something to calm him down a bit.  “No matter what any of you say, Jay, protecting you all will always be my job.  I will always sacrifice myself for all of you.”

“And that’s the problem.  That’s why I have been keeping my distance.”  Dick frowned and searched Jason for some kind of silent answer.  But the look on his face gave nothing away.  “I don’t want to mourn you again.  Not when-”  He cut himself off, shaking his head.  Dick could see the muscles in his jaw clenching.

“Jay?”

“Before everything turned to shit, we were good.  Right?”  Nodding his head, he remained silent to see where Jason was going.  “I thought so too.  There was…something happening.  And maybe it was wishful thinking on my end.  A childhood crush that not even the Pit could erase.”  His laugh was self-deprecating, and Dick hated it.  But his words confirmed that Dick hadn’t been the only one thinking there had been something more between them back then. 

“It wasn’t wishful thinking,” Dick offered, softly and carefully.  And for a moment, Jason just stared at Dick with his emotions so blatantly on display.  It was the most open Jason had probably ever been with him and his chest began to ache for a reason other than missing the other man.  “But what does this have to do with me protecting you all?”

“I don’t want to mourn someone I’m in love with.  Again.”

The words hit Dick right in the gut, stealing all his breath.  Jason was in love with him.  Not just Jason loved him.  No, he was in love with him he said.  And he didn’t want to experience what it felt like to lose someone he was in love with again.

“So, you don’t hate me?”  Dick asked, dazed.  And the laugh that escaped Jason was surprised and emotionally strained.

“No, you fucking asshole.  I don’t hate you.”

“You never said?”  Right?  Dick sorted through his memories as quickly as he could from when things were good between them and couldn’t recall that admission.  There were moments where maybe the look in Jason’s eye could have been a confession, but Dick had been so worried about screwing everything up that he had missed it. 

“I never said,” Jason confirmed.  “And by the time I was certain, I was standing at your grave and it was too late.”  He closed the remaining space between them and carefully sat down on the bed, looking as though he was searching for something in Dick’s eyes.  “And when you came back, the anger pushed all those feelings away.  It was easier to feel betrayed.”  Nodding his head, Dick looked down at his blanket covered lap.  He could understand that.  “But then Tim called and I was faced with the fact that you had done all of it against your will and I couldn’t ignore my feelings anymore.”

Dick sighed, “But you still stayed away.”

“I did.  Because it just reminded me of how much it had hurt to bury you and how you would always be this self-sacrificing idiot who put everyone else before himself.”  Dick couldn’t argue with that assessment.  He had always been of the mind that his life meant so much less than the people he cared for.  He would be happy to die if they could live.  He didn’t want to actually die, but he would if it saved them all. 

What didn’t make sense was what had suddenly changed.  Dick wasn’t sure why Jason was telling him any of this now.  “What’s different?”

“What?”  Jason sounded confused and Dick looked up at him.

“What’s different now?  You didn’t have to tell me all of this.  You could have let me keep on believing you hate me.”  He could have kept protecting his heart.

“You almost died, Dick.  When I found you in that warehouse, I thought you were going to die.  Duke even asked what we were supposed to do if you died on our way back because we didn't have paddles on the plane for some reason.  Tim thought you were dead already when we rolled you out.”  Jason licked his lips and shifted, looking like he was debating something internally.  Dick found out what that something was the moment Jason’s hands pressed against his cheeks.  “You almost died, and I was faced with the fact that I was still going to have to mourn someone I loved if you did.  And when Leslie said you would live after we spent hours wondering if you’d make it through surgery, I knew I didn’t want to pretend anymore.”

“Little wing…” Dick whispered, reaching up one hand to wrap his fingers around one of Jason’s wrists.  His breathing was coming out heavier than before, the confession sucking the air from his lungs.

“I am so fucking in love with you, Dick Grayson.  And I don’t want you to die thinking I feel anything less than that.” 

Before he could respond, Jason was pressing his lips to Dick’s in the softest kiss Dick had ever received.  A gentle press of one mouth to another.  But it was the most emotionally charged kiss the older man had ever received.  Ever.

It was over more quickly than Dick wanted it to be, but Jason looked like he had more to say.

“I don’t expect you to feel the same.  Not with the way things have been on your end since you came back,” Jason told him, rubbing a thumb against Dick’s cheekbone.  His other hand dropped away from Dick’s face.  “I can wait until you’re ready.  But like I said, I didn’t want to keep pretending.”

And that was a sentiment that Dick could appreciate.  He was happy to know Jason wasn’t expecting him to say he loved him back because he was still adjusting to the idea that Jason didn’t hate him.  He cared deeply for the younger man, but there was too much to sort through in his head before he could confirm love.  He had rushed into things too many times in the past and it had turned out poorly each and every time.

“You know Tim is going to take credit for your confession, right?”  Dick chuckled as Jason rolled his eyes.

“Replacement is a shit.  He’s been bugging me about talking to you for ages.  He’s too observant for his own good.”  Yes, that was definitely the truth.

There was a moment of silence between them and Dick turned his head to kiss the inside of Jason’s wrist on the hand still cupping his cheek.  “I can’t say it yet.  But I don’t think I’m far off.  In the meantime, maybe we can just…”

“Hang out?”

Dick chuckled and nodded.  “Yeah, hang out.  And maybe kiss some more.  Because that was a teaser and I’m not going to be up for much more for a while.”

“Leslie would have my head if I did anything to slow your healing.”  Dick hummed.  “But yeah, we can do the kissing thing,” he muttered as he leaned forward again. 

And as Dick sighed into the feeling of Jason’s lips against his again, he was silently thankful for the asshole who had decided to use a crappy shot gun as his weapon of choice.