Work Header

Smoke Signals

Work Text:

Dick doesn't know when his weird food thing started--not that he necessarily wants to call it a thing. It's not a thing. It's just... the way things are. The way Dick is. And he doesn't know when it started.

While lots of people with weird food things (food things more significant than his, to boot. He's not deluded enough to think his silly issues are anything compared to what so many people actually, legitimately suffer through) can look back and pinpoint a moment, say, "That day was the day I knew..."

Well, Dick still doesn't know. Might not ever. But recently he... has not been hungry. And even when he is, food just grosses him out, all of a sudden. He doesn't know why, and he refuses to psychoanalyze himself over it, because it's fine. Even if it doesn't feel great, if he feels alternately starving and nauseous depending on the day, it at least keeps him thin. And he likes that. 

Physicality. It's a significant pillar of Dick's character. Not to objectify himself, because God knows he's had enough of that lately, and not to say his looks are more important than what's inside, but he's always been... pretty. Handsome. Attractive. And he likes that. Because when everything else has gone to shit--when Jason's dead, when Jason's un-dead, when Bruce is gone and Tim has left and when Blockbuster--

--When everything has gone to hell, Dick can still look in the mirror and smile and see that no matter the utter bullshit that makes up his insides, no matter the lies he's told and the horrid things he's done, his exterior doesn't match. He's still pretty. He likes that. 

And then it's torn away from him.

Because. Being pretty attracts people. All sorts of people.

Sometimes it's the wrong people.

And he knows its his fault. Because if he didn't want it, he'd have pushed her away. If he hadn't been such a weak, slutty whore, he'd have said no in a voice so authoritative she'd have had no choice but to obey. And he'd have shoved her off--right off the rooftop, in some of his darkest fantasies--and he'd have saved himself the effort of standing here, alone, feeling this way, feeling so disgusting and ugly and--

That is to say, he doesn't like to look in the mirror anymore.


It's Tuesday, which means Nightwing is bringing Robin with him on patrol. One Tuesday night a few months ago Dick had promised his brother that he would take him, and while Damian had made a valiant effort to maintain his cool, composed indifference, Dick had seen through the facade to the excitement underneath. Since then it had slowly become a routine, and now every Tuesday sees Robin patrolling the skies of Bludhaven along with Nightwing. Damian doesn't say anything about it, but Alfred has pulled Dick aside more than once to smile at him and tell him how happy he is making his brother. Also notably, Bruce has given permission for the routine to continue, which is approval enough. It's common knowledge in the Manor that Dick is Damian's favorite brother (the only one he openly tolerates, even). 

It's not as blatant as it was with Jason or Tim in the beginning, but it's its own kind of hero worship. It used to make Dick feel warm and fuzzy inside, being looked up to by his brothers who he loves better than anyone else in the world, but now it makes him feel--fake. Unworthy. Damian would be better off worshipping Batman, or Superman, or some random guy off the street, even. Anyone other than Dick.

Oh, God, Dick hates himself. He hates himself, he hates himself, he hates himself, he hates himself--


Get it together.

Fix your life, you stupid fucking--

"Ready for patrol, Dami?"

Breathe in and out, drown out his mind with other sounds, and take your goddamn brother on patrol.

Damian sniffs. "I was born ready, Grayson." He's insulted that Dick even had to ask. Dick would have it no other way.


They patrol the same way they always do, traversing the city by its rooftops. Nightwing and Robin--dark silhouettes against an indigo night sky. It's freeing in a way that patrolling alone isn't--when he's alone there's no distraction from his thoughts, so he kind of spirals a little. When he pauses too long on a rooftop he can sometimes see Tarantula. And if he pauses a little longer than that, he starts to imagine himself shoving her right the fuck off the side. Pictures her cracking against the sidewalk below, pictures himself joining her, wholly and truly as she'd always intended. Two little bugs crushed on the sidewalk.

He shakes his head. He and Robin are on a rooftop together, and the sound of their conversation drowns out his thoughts. Damian is boasting. It's the sweetest thing he's ever heard.

"After I cuffed the criminals, there were only three minutes remaining in which to dismantle the bomb."

"Only three?" Dick asks, impressed but unsurprised.

"Correct. With Batman busy detaining the perpetrators it fell onto my shoulders to defuse the explosive. However, with my superior intellect, it was not a challenge. I completed the task with thirty seconds remaining--thirteen seconds faster than my previous time."

"That's awesome, Lil' D!" Dick grins and ruffles his brother's hair. "Oh, whatever would we do without you around."

Damian scoffs and dodges away from Dick's hairstyle-ruining affection, but Dick can tell he's pleased with the attention. "Hardly my finest achievement," he demurs. "Much more impressive was the time I--"

A scream echos from the alleyway below. A hoarse, drunken yell. A call for help. Dick doesn't even need to look at Damian for him to spring into action. Nightwing and Robin spring off the rooftop and onto the scene below, which is a maddeningly common sight on the streets of Blud.

There is a woman wearing a tight and extremely short dress, and below her is a kid. He's maybe sixteen or seventeen, and clearly drunk. She's holding him down, pressing his back into the gritty concrete. It does not take a genius to deduce what is about to happen here.

Damian lets out a furious yell and charges the woman, katana clutched in his little hand. She shrieks, clearly unprepared to deal with a sword-bearing child, and gets off the kid below her, who is, thank God, still fully clothed below the waist. The woman is clearly no match for Robin. In less than thirty seconds she's huddled in a corner, shaking, while Robin handcuffs her--with a lot more force than necessarily condoned by Batman. The kid hasn't moved off his spot on the ground, shaking and sweating, and Dick--

--Dick hasn't moved either. Because. It's raining, all of a sudden.

Or--Is it raining? He can feel the water dripping off him in rivulets, so it must be. Catalina is coming towards him. But he can't move. He's trying to, wants to desperately, but his muscles aren't working the way they're supposed to and his knees have given out rather suddenly. 

Damian is there, and he shouldn't be. Damian shouldn't have to see this, first and foremost, but also he should get away because Dick knows what Tarantula is capable of, and for Damian to have to go through that--

Dick would never forgive himself. He would die, he would literally die, he would--

Damian is saying something but Tarantula steps in front of him and his vision goes hazy. It's raining, and he's huddled on the ground on a very cold rooftop. She steps over him, onto him. She is grabbing his wrist and putting her soft hand on his chest, pushing. He lets her push him down. It's easier than fighting. Still, he has to, he has to stop her.

"No," he manages to rasp out after a couple tries. It's hard to at first, takes a couple of false starts, but--"No," he repeats. 

She gives no sign that she's heard, fingering the zipper on his suit. 

"I said no!" he insists, angry, desperate, terrified. "Don't touch me, stop, I'm--"

Damian is there again, and Dick just wants him to go away. Because even if he could help, Dick doesn't deserve it, he deserves everything he gets--

"Nightwing," Damian is snapping. Dick blinks, and he's not on a rooftop. He's in an alley. His cheeks are still wet, but not from rain. Robin is shaking him by his shoulders.

"Get off me," he manages to huff out. Damian springs away like he's been slapped. 

"What was that?" Damian demands. His hands are on his hips in anger, but through the annoyance, Dick can make out his little brother's fear.

"I--I--" Dick doesn't know. "The kid. He, is he--"

"He is in no immediate danger," Damian assures him. "The police have picked up the woman and are helping him right now. He intends to press charges."

"That's. Good." Dick's head is clearing a little, but he still kind of feels like crying, or just throwing himself off a rooftop--

But he's not on a rooftop right now. He's not. Nowhere to throw himself. Nowhere to go. 

"You have not answered my question," Damian insists.

Dick stands on shaky legs. "It's okay," he says, leaning against the wall a little. "Don't. Don't worry about it."

Damian opens his mouth to protest, holding up a defiant fist, but there must be something in Dick's voice that brings him pause. It's a testament to his worry that he snaps his mouth shut, lowers his fist, and slumps his shoulders. "Fine," he concedes.

He's still got that defiant little scowl on, though, and it is of the utmost importance that Damian understands how serious Dick is in regards to what he's about to say. He kneels in front of his little brother, puts his hands on his skinny, lightly muscled shoulders, and looks him in the eyes through the layers of their masks. "What you saw--" 

His voice trembles and he has to start again. "What you saw was not important. This job, being a vigilante, it comes with dangers and that--trauma--was one of them. It's what I signed up for. It is fine. I am fine. And you cannot tell Batman about this. Do you understand me?"

Damian looks conflicted. "But--"

Dick interrupts him by repeating, more harshly than he means to, "Do you understand?"

"You are my Batman," Damian tells Dick finally, after a tense silence. His voice is troubled, and Dick hates himself for having to put his brother in this situation. God. If he could just learn how to suck it up and fucking deal with it--

"My loyalty is to you, first and foremost," Damian continues. "So if you really--if you really are unharmed, I will preserve your--secret."

Dick could sob with relief. But he doesn't. He pulls his brother into a hug, one that's perhaps a bit tighter than necessary, and mumbles, "Thank you, thank you for trusting me, Lil' D."

Damian says nothing. He looks conflicted still. But his mouth stays shut.


Dick holds his shit together for, really, an admirably long time after the incident. He drives Damian home on the back of his bike--Robin had protested, but Dick knows he doesn't mind being dropped off instead of driving himself when he's tired after an eventful patrol--and when he runs into Alfred and Bruce during his pit stop in the Cave, he chats with them normally. Damian doesn't break his promise. 

Dick drives himself back to Bludhaven that night, electing to turn down Alfred's offer of post-patrol tea and cookies. Generally he'd be all for snack time with his lil' bro, but he's still too mortified to have any sort of meaningful conversation with Damian, knowing what he now knows. And also. The food thing. On top of having lost his appetite in general, eating in front of others also makes Dick wildly uncomfortable now, and fills him with scorching dread. Something about it repulses him--just makes him feel disgusting. More so than usual, that is. 

It happens like that when Dick gets home to his apartment. He's exhausted--nothing tires a guy out like a panic attack. Hungry, too. Longing hopelessly for one's own death also really works up an appetite.

So Dick opens his fridge. There's a carton of strawberries, leftover pizza from the other night with Tim, and milk that is probably expired.

He dumps the milk into the sink and tosses the carton into the recycling bin, then picks up the pizza box and tosses the entire thing unceremoniously into the trash can. The strawberries actually look pretty good--they're fresh, bright red and juicy-looking. He grabs the carton and rinses them, pours them into a bowl, and nibbles on them while the coffee maker brews a cup of the ol' bean juice. It's four am and Dick does intend to get some rest, but he has such a tolerance to caffeine by now that he can drink it like water and sleep like a baby right after. Plus, he gets headachey if he doesn't have it. 

The strawberries are--good. Unexpectedly. They're sweet and flavorful, and recently Dick has really been missing his sugar. For years he'd had an addiction to sugary cereal--the less healthy the better. Now he seems to have lost his taste for it. He seems to have lost his taste for most things, if he's honest.

But he enjoys his strawberries, and he knows they're, like, actually good for him. This is a healthy snack, one that Alfred and Bruce would approve of. And for some reason that annoys him.

But the annoyance feels muted, somehow. Like he's watching someone else experience it, maybe. Dick has gotten so good at compartmentalizing that now it's not just the painful memories (note how he is very carefully not thinking about--it), it's everything. Most things, at least. The self hatred is as poignant as ever, and the love for his siblings. But everything else is felt--or not felt--through a screen, through a windowed door.

He needs to get through the door and find himself, he knows, or else this feeling of dark emotion that lies in his stomach will rise up and choke him. But the door is locked, and Dick has hidden the key so thoroughly he doesn't think he'll ever find it. 

And--what if he opens the door and there's just, just, nothing there? Nothing worth saving, or some angsty shit like that. No pieces left to pick up.

Suddenly there is a knocking at his window, and before Dick can even get up to open it himself, Jason slides in. He wastes no time in making himself comfortable, tossing his helmet and domino mask to the floor and propping his feet up on the dining table when he takes a seat. Dick suddenly feels nauseous, and ashamed. As if by eating when Jason had walked in, he had been caught doing something repulsive and undignified. He slides his bowl away from himself minutely.

"For God's sake, Jay, normal people use doors."

"I got done being a normal person when I fuckin' died, bro." Jason grabs the discarded bowl of fruit and helps himself to most of it. Dick is glad to see it go. How disgusting the food is. How revolting he, himself, is.

"Touche, Little Wing," Dick concedes, managing to grin. "What brings you to Blud?"

Jason rolls his eyes. "Can't a guy just pay his bro a visit without there being a fucking reason?"

Dick raises an eyebrow doubtfully. "Not when this guy is named Jason Todd and has never voluntarily visited his bro like, even once in his life."

Jason grins. "Okay, you caught me." He seems unconcerned at having been caught, tossing a strawberry in a high arc and catching it in his mouth, and it's--too much.

"Pardon me one moment," Dick excuses with almost sarcastic politeness before standing up abruptly and dashing to the bathroom. He has the presence of mind to lock the door using both latches (because of course the experienced vigilante Nightwing has multiple locks on all his doors) before he falls to his knees beside the toilet and is heaving painfully, coughing and retching. It's the events of the night, finally catching up to him in rushing waves of nausea. The disgust directed at himself, the horror that he could have possibly let Damian see him like that, and the guilt, oh God, the guilt. Dick is the worst brother in the world, the worse vigilante, the worst person. He thinks about tossing himself off a building, dismisses the notion, then wonders when he'll ever grow a pair of balls and be man enough to actually fucking do it like everybody fucking wishes he would--

It's just the events of the night, finally and violently catching up with him. He's basically fine. Or he will be in a minute or two, at least.

When the spell of vomiting wanes enough for him to hear sounds other than the roaring of his ears, Dick makes out the sound of his brother, pounding on the door. "Dick!" Jason is snapping, "Don't make me knock down the fucking door, you know I'll do it!"

A wave of anger surges through Dick, and he snaps with as much conviction he can muster, "Get the fuck out of here, Jay!" He knows later he'll regret talking to his little brother like that, but--Dick is taken by another spell of dry heaves. 

"Fat fuckin' chance, Goldilocks! You can't kick me out of here, no matter how much you--"

While Jason rants, Dick manages to stand up and clean himself up a bit. Not that he puts much effort into it, but by the time he opens the door, he looks mostly presentable-ish. 

Jason had been leaning on the door, so he stumbles and nearly falls when it is thrown open. Dick glares at him tiredly and walks past him to the couch. "Finally," Jason sneers rudely, but behind that is obvious worry.

Dick, slumped exhaustedly on the couch, ignores that. "You never actually told me why you're here," he says accusatorially. 

Jason shakes his head and sits down besides his brother, looking at him with eyes shockingly earnest. "Something was wrong with the Demon Brat. Usually when he gets home from patrol with you--well, you know how he is, he won't shut the fuck up. All Nightwing this and Nightwing that. Not to mention shit he did. 'An innumerable multitude of reprehensible villains became privy to my knuckle sandwich!'" Jason imitates with impressive accuracy. "Tonight he was quiet. Which, don't get me wrong, my ears are thanking sweet baby Jesus he finally shut up. But it was unnerving. And I mean, he seemed physically fine, so I figured something had to be up with you. Which," Jason angles his head towards the bathroom. "Was I wrong?"

"You're always wrong," Dick grumbles as a distraction. 

Oh God. 

Poor Damian.

Dick had traumatized his little brother, evidently. That was bad enough, but the worst thing, the absolute worst thing, is that even when Dick's proven to be an incapable fuck-up, Damian is still loyal. He hadn't betrayed Dick's secret. He--

Oh God. 

He doesn't even realize he's trembling again, but Jason evidently has, because he seems even more concerned than before. "Jesus Christ, Dickie, what happened?"

Dick grins, and it's a bit more effort than usual, but sheer force of will and the pressing need to protect his little bro necessitate it. He laughs ruefully. "God, feels like my stomach was run over by a train. Like, a big train. A long one."

Jason seems startled by the abrupt change in mood but snorts. He's probably willing to deal with Dick switching moods like a teenage girl, if it means he's okay and nothing is too wrong. "Well how the fuck did that happen? Since I don't see any actual trains."

"Food poisoning, probably." It's not that big of a lie, since more often than not when Dick tries to eat it does in fact feel like poison. 

Jason raises an eyebrow. "That would be a credible excuse if you ever, you know, ate."

Dick glares at his brother, affronted. "Obviously I eat, Jay, how else would I be, you know, alive?" 

"Damned if I know, Dickhead. I mean, you've always eaten like a fuckin' bird. But--okay, don't get mad at me--I legitimately cannot recall the last time you ate in front of me."

Dick manages to shake it off, like it's some sort of joke. "If your memory is that bad, my diet is the least of your worries, I'm sorry to say."

Jason grunts angrily but like always, Dick knows his brother, and the worry in his eyes has dialed back to a much more manageable degree. "You better not be lying," Jason threatens, standing up.

Dick rolls his eyes. "Dude, the only person in history who has ever lied less than me is my boy Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe. My homie."

"Well," Jason considers, tilting his head. "They do call you the Golden Boy..."

"No, they don't. You do. I am pretty sure that's a Jason-coined term."

"That is factually incorrect." Jason begins to gather his scattered belongings, clearly readying to make his exit. Usually Dick would force his brother to enjoy at least another hour of bro-bonding, time of day be damned, but for now, God. He's just tired.

"Well, if you are lying, it ain't on me. I did my part, I helped, blah blah blah. Now good-fucking-bye." With that, Jason hops out the window.

Dick closes his eyes and does not move from his spot on the sofa for a very long time. 


By the time Dick has managed to drag his ass off the couch and into a pair of sweatpants, miraculously overcoming the frankly epic scope of his all-encompassing apathy, he feels... shockingly okay? Last night had sucked from all perspectives, but it had definitely been a wake-up call. Damian and Jason--and hell, even Tim, though he had thank God been spared from the shit storm that had been last night--deserve an older brother who could hold his shit together. The Tarantula thing? That had been years ago. It's time he stops letting it control him. The food thing too. Every single day, billions of people eat food. Appropriate amounts of it. In front of other people, for that matter. Dick is not special, he is not different, he can do that.

So, when Damian calls him up to let him know that Alfred wants him to attend dinner at the Manor (code: Damian wants Dick to have dinner with them but doesn't want to admit to it, even though Alfred probably had contributed to the extension of the invitation as well) Dick swallows back the agony that swells up in his throat at the very idea, and says, "Sure, Lil D. I'll be there."

Dick does make an effort to eat lunch that day, but the attempt is half-hearted and abandoned before it can even truly begin. He just isn't hungry. And if he spoils his appetite by eating before dinner, it will render the family meal even more painful than it is undoubtedly bound to be. Therefore, adhering himself to his own flawless logic, Dick neglects eating entirely until he arrives at the manor at six o'clock sharp.

Damian greets him at the door the second he walks in, like he's been...

Like he's been waiting.

Something about that makes Dick's heart hurt, but he isn't sure what or why.

"Pennyworth has made pasta," Damian informs Dick as he leads him down the hallway to the dining room. "It is a special recipe, he claims, from Italy. You went to Italy with the circus, yes?"

Dick is pleased with Damian for remembering that little tidbit. "That I did, Little D. Best pasta I ever had... I think. It's hard to judge pasta, since I literally cannot remember a plate of it I didn't enjoy." Up until recently, that is, but Dick elects to exclude that particular disclaimer.

Damian's eyes gleam, clearly pleased. "I knew you would like it," he says smugly. "That is why I requested it specifically."

Again, with the heart-hurting feeling. Dick just loves his little brother so much.

"I'm sure it'll be great."

This whole conversation has only strengthened his resolve to eat at least one full plate of food for dinner, so when Alfred sets it in front of him, Dick glares at it resolutely. It's you versus me, pasta, he thinks. I can do this.

"This looks fantastic, Alfie!" It's not a lie. The pasta does, in fact, look fantastic. If only the thought of actually consuming it held any real appeal, then Dick would really be in business. 

Alfred looks vaguely pleased with himself, evidently proud of his butler-ly success. "Thank you, Master Dick." He serves the rest of the family with efficient gusto and the meal commences in earnest.

Though Dick dutifully grasps his fork, the thought of actually putting it to his lips in front of his entire family fills his stomach with hot, heavy disgust. So he twirls his utensils in the food to create the illusion that he is eating (for the express purpose of buying himself some time so he can work up the resolve to actually do it. He is going to eat tonight.) and makes conversation.

"Timmy," he says, grabbing his little brother's attention. Tim looks up questioningly. "What do you call a noodle that's a spy?"

Tim looks resigned to the inevitable pun atrocities, and answers with a blank face, "I don't know, Dick. What do you call a noodle that's a spy."

Dick grins. "An im-pasta," he announces with enthusiastic finger-guns and a wink.

"Oh, oh God," Tim says, face-palming. Jason makes loud retching noises from across the table, and Dick ignores how badly his own stomach wants to sympathize--that is an avenue of thought he does not wish to pursue at the dinner table.

"Grayson, I am ashamed," Damian informs him frankly. "That was unbearable, even for your own pitifully low standards."

"Demon Brat's right for once," Jason agrees wryly. "Like, there are so many good pasta puns, and you went with that one? Honestly, Dick. The pasta-bilities are endless."

Tim, manners thrown to the wind, moves his plate aside so his forehead can make contact with the table. "Make it end," he begs. "This is terrible."

"Manners, Master Timothy," Alfred reminds right as Bruce clears his throat and gruffly reprimands, "Tim."

Tim points at Dick and Jason, accusation in his eyes. "Do you see what I'm dealing with here?"

"I don't know what's bothering you so much about these puns, Tim," Bruce says with a slightly evil glint in his eyes. Dick sees what's about to occur just moments before it does. "Penne for your thoughts?" Bruce continues, making the inquiry with an entirely straight face.

There is shocked silence for a moment before Jason loses it, choking on pasta and laughter. "Oh, oh my God, the Batman is making pasta puns. There's no escape, Replacement. You're doomed." He cackles benevolently. Tim looks like he wants to be literally anywhere other than at this dinner table, and Damian looks shocked and vaguely horrified, like he wasn't even aware Bruce knows what puns are and is in the process of discovering that his entire life has been a lie. 

Dick grins, and this time, it's truly genuine. His family. How grateful he is to have them. 

Dinner passes uneventfully, though Dick does not manage to convince himself to take even a single bite. Maybe if he was alone, it would be okay, but with everyone watching him, he feels too uncomfortable. It's not a big deal though, since he's stopping by his apartment before patrol tonight and if he's hungry by then, he can grab something. Plus, he's pretty sure he's gotten away with it. Everyone is caught up with their own conversations, and they pay no more attention to him than normal. He delays his escape until Jason has excused himself, because getting up first would be suspicious, and then stands up. "Thanks again, Alfie," he says genuinely. "It was great to spend time with all of you."

Bruce's eyes laser-focus on Dick's plate with classic Batman scrutiny. "You didn't eat anything," he observes.

Dick waves it off like it's not even an issue. Eating? What's that? Who's she? "Of course I ate some. I love Alfred's cooking. I just wasn't that hungry." He pushes in his chair and purposefully makes to leave.

Damian stares at him with accusing eyes. "You're lying," he accuses, threat in his voice and the furrow of his brow. "Why are you lying?" The way he phrases it, it doesn't sound like a question. More like a demand.

Dick's stomach swirls with anxiety, but he keeps up the smile. "Everything's fine," he promises. "Just wasn't all that hungry tonight. Had some weird food poisoning thing last night. Ask Jason. He was there."

Bruce accepts the lie with no further interrogation, but much to his chagrin, Damian follows Dick out the door to his bike. "You did not have food poisoning last night," he tells Dick firmly. "This I can confirm because I was present throughout the entire patrol, which did not conclude until early hours of the morning. Therefore you are lying about on at least one front, and this makes it likely that you are also being untruthful in other departments. What happened last night and why didn't you eat today." Again, it's not a question. It's a statement, a demand, and a threat, all wrapped up into one in Damian's special style of scrutiny.

"You know what happened last night," Dick answers evasively. "And, as you can see, I am doing fine. The food poisoning was afterwards. Jason came to visit me after patrol, that was when."

Damian sniffs, seeming mollified. "You must be more careful, Grayson," he commands authoritatively.

Dick drags him in for a hug, pulling him in close and holding him. "I will be, Lil' D. Promise."

Damian looks suspicious when he manages to release himself from the embrace, but he allows Dick to drive off with no further investigation. 


Weeks pass like this uneventfully. Dick eats when necessary and never, ever more. He patrols Bludhaven (with Damian, every Tuesday night) and hangs out with Jason and Tim in his apartment. He pointedly thinks about any and every thing other than the spider-themed-vigilante-who-shall-not-be-named, and how he might like to just. Forget his grappling hook, one day, and see where that lands him. Everything is going well.

One night, on a Tuesday patrol with Dick's favorite Damian, a thug manages to stab Dick right in the side. He's fine, luckily, since his suit took the brunt of the damage, but that's also the problem, because there is now a gaping hole in the side of the Nightwing suit as a result. Since leaving the rip in the suit would be tantamount to inviting his vital organs to be stabbed (which he has never considered during the late hours of the night, when he's bored on a stakeout, and all the time, generally--no sir) he takes it to the one and only Batman-approved seamster--Agent A. 

Dick rides into the Batcave with Damian right behind him, grinning. It had been a very nice patrol, apart from the stabbing incident. He and Damian had put a stop to a dangerous drug trading operation, and it had been wonderfully reminiscent of Dick's days as Batman. Generally speaking those days had, well, sucked, but Damian had made them bearable. So taking down thugs with his brother at his side was refreshing in the best of ways. Having Robin's help was always appreciated, too. Dick has been feeling rather headachey and nauseous and cold, lately. He's pretty sure it'll pass soon, but until it does, the assistance is welcome. 

Alfred tsks sternly when he sees the damage sustained. "You really must be more careful, Master Dick," he reprimands. Still, when Dick changes into civvies and hands him the ripped suit, he takes it obligingly and promises to have it returned, fully fixed up, by the next day. 

When Dick returns to pick it up and say hi to his little brothers and Bruce, Alfred makes him try it on to ensure that everything is mended properly. He slips it on and resigns himself to Alfred's inspection.

Alfred looks concerned at what he sees. "Master Dick," he says, sounding worried. "Your suit needs to be taken in. It seems you have lost weight."

That makes all other conversations in the Batcave grind to a halt, though predictably everyone tries to make it look like they're not listening. Jason, who had visited to borrow the Batcomputer to look up details on a perp, swivels his chair around to eavesdrop more effectively, and Tim pauses in his rhythmic beating up of a punching bag by trading powerful punches for gentle, performative love taps so that he can appear occupied by his workout whilst eavesdropping. Damian had been standing beside Dick anyways, because that's where he generally gravitates, and he fixes his brother with suspicious eyes and a furrowed brow.

Dick laughs nervously, uncharacteristically uncomfortable with the conversation. "Well, it happens," he defends casually. "Natural fluctuation, and all that." Tim looks unconvinced, so Dick adds, "Look it up."

Alfred, too, remains concerned. "This is beyond any natural fluctuation, Master Dick. Have you been feeling well recently?"

Annoyance seeps in, outweighing Dick's anxiety. "I've been feeling peachy," he snaps, feeling self conscious and generally disgusting. Revolting. He is the most repulsive person he's ever met, he's sure, there's no doubt in his mind whatsoever. He backs away. What he wouldn't give to be splattered on the sidewalk somewhere. "Thanks for mending the suit, Alfred. It looks--and fits--great." None of his usual cheer is behind the words as he makes his exit, still in the Nightwing suit. Alfred is right. It's... not baggy, per say, but certainly not as form-fitting as it had been, once upon a time.

However, he doesn't get far before he runs into Jason. His little brother throws some jeans and a t-shirt unceremoniously at Dick, and orders, "Change into these. We're going out."

"For the last time!" Dick erupts, turning on Jason. "I said I'm fine!"

"Jesus Christ, no one fucking said you weren't!" Jason rebuts, throwing his hands in the air. "We're hanging out, for fun, if that's okay with you. Jeez," he repeats, probably for good measure.

Dick takes a few deep breaths, examining his brother for hints of malice or--worse--unbidden concern. Finding none, some of the tension leave's Dick's shoulders. "Okay," he says, taking a step towards the restroom where he can change. "Okay. Sorry. Give me a moment."

Hating himself with a new, intense ferocity (does anyone even exist who deserves to fucking die more than Dick does? Because if such a person is real, Dick will be pretty surprised), Dick changes into the civvies. He doesn't know whether they belong to himself or his brother, and he frankly doesn't care. When he returns, Jason is waiting for him in the garage. He's already in the driver's seat of one of Bruce's more nondescript cars. Not a remarkably fun vehicle, but perfect for blending in around Gotham.

"Get in," Jason beckons. Dick obliges silently, unwilling to talk about his little... moment... from earlier.

They drive in silence for a moment until Jason turns on the radio and fills the car with some rap song Dick's never heard before. Jason steers with a steely, resolute face of absolute determination, and by the time they arrive at their destination, Dick is a little angry at himself for not having realized where they were going.

"Jason," Dick says, voice flat. "Why are we here."

Jason looks at Dick with an expression of innocence so exaggerated, newborn kittens would be jealous. "What do you mean?" he asks cluelessly. "I like this place, they make the best burgers. You like burgers, don't you?"

They are parked outside of a restaurant, a small family-owned burger shack with no indoor seating and colorful signage. Dick has been here before, once or twice, and knows that Jason's assessment of their food quality is spot on--that is to say, everything tastes wonderful. And. Dick is kind of hungry.

He loves this place. It is run by two older black women, sisters if he remembers correctly, and they're some of the kindest people he's ever spoken to. Their cooking is all homemade and fresh and delicious, and--Oh God. Dick can feel his resolve crumbling.

He manages not to get angry--or, any more angry at Jason--as his younger brother gets out of the car with an announced, "Wait here," and steps in line. 

Dick waits a moment or two before his hunger, overwhelming and all-consuming now that he's finally acknowledged its existence, forces him out of his seat and to his brother's side. "You didn't ask what I wanted," Dick says.

Jason shrugs. "Was just gonna get you the usual," he says.

Dick shakes his head and says nothing, peering at the menu. 

When it comes their turn to order, he has already decided what he wants and also that he is going to pay for it. He's so hungry, he's so hungry, especially now that he can see and smell the food, and it's reminding him of the times he's been here with his family before. Dick's weeks-long policy of self-enforced fasting is forgotten as he recites his order to the woman behind the counter and he hands over his credit card.

Their food is ready only a few minutes later--these ladies work fast, as always--and Jason takes the bag with a smile and rare, polite, thanks. He and Jason get back into the car.

Jason opens the greasy paper bag and breathes in the enticing smell with a sigh of satisfaction. "Alright," he says, taking his own sandwich out of the bag, "this one is mine, and, wow," he continues, observing the bag's remaining contents and handing the lot of it over to Dick, "you are hungry, Dickhead." He whistles, impressed.

And for some reason, all of a sudden, holding all of the food he had ordered, requested, all of Dick's hunger is gone and he is swept away by a wave of all-encompassing shame. Oh god. He was really gonna eat all of this. He wanted it. Oh god. Suddenly he feels sick. He hates himself. Yeah, he really, really does. 

Jason, who has evidently noticed Dick freezing up, pauses in devouring his sandwich and turns to his brother, concerned. "Dickie? Everything okay over there?"

Dick doesn't say anything. If he opens his mouth he'll be sick. He wants to die.

The worst part is, he legitimately doesn't understand what brought on this new bout of emotion. He'd had a weird day, sure, but he's with his brother now, his brother who he loves, and he should be okay. 

But he isn't. Because he isn't hungry. He isn't hungry and he wants to die so, so badly. He's so ashamed of himself. For everything. For thinking he could eat, for thinking he deserved to, for daring to hope, for being such a whiny little bitch. 

He has to get out of this car before he just loses it, or does something unimaginably egregious like bursting into tears. Which is a genuine possibility at this point.

It takes a moment before he can gather himself enough to respond. He puts all the food back into the bag, which he tosses into the backseat of the car. "Not hungry," he says, rather nondescriptively.

Jay looks confused, and a little pissed. "Dick," he says, voice calm. "What the fuck is wrong with you right now."

Dick opens his mouth, unsure how to respond but upset all the same, but Jason cuts him off. "Correction. What the fuck has been up with you, for months!"

Now Dick really does feel ready to cry, or yell, or some awful combination of the two, and it takes everything in him to hold it back. If he opens his mouth or twitches a finger or tries to breath he'll just, he'll just break down in tears, and he really can't let that happen. Anything but that. Not in front of Jay. 

Despite his best efforts, a pained whine manages to slip forth, quiet in volume but painfully loud in the confines of Bruce's car.

Jason freezes, shocked and horrified, facial expression screaming Oh god what the fuck do I do?

Dick wraps his arms around his chest and holds on tight, shuddering. Jason stares. Then, he snaps back into action. "Okay, cool," he says, managing somehow to invite faux calm into his voice. "We're going to the manor and Bruce is gonna help you out."

Dick's breathing is heavy and painful, making it near impossible to form words, so he shakes his head once. No. They cannot see Bruce. Dick will die from the shame, he'll just die, and, and, maybe that's not a bad thing, maybe he should just die, just throw himself right the fuck out of the moving vehicle, and--

Oh. Jason is driving already. 

The drive to the manor is tense and long and Jason remains unapologetic throughout the duration. Dick hates him for it. It would move him to anger if only he hated Jason even a fraction of the amount he hated himself. 

They park in the garage and Jason has to coax Dick out of the car. His arms are still wrapped around himself, because it's so fucking cold for some reason. Also, he feels lightheaded, and if he just keeled over and died right there in the passenger seat, that would not be a turn of events Dick would oppose.

Jason grabs him firmly but gently by the elbow and leads him with un-Jason-like kindness through to the Batcave. Through the miserable haze Dick manages to amuse himself by thinking, wow, he must have really freaked Jason out for him to be acting so nice. Jason is only ever nice when he thinks someone is dying.

If fucking only. 

Bruce--Batman, currently--is stationed at the Batcomputer, and he does not look up when his sons enter, Jason in front, Dick leaning into him for support he shouldn't need.

"Bruce," Jason says when they stand a few feet behind their father. He has not yet looked up from his work.

"Not now, Jason, I'm working," Bruce dismisses gently. 

"No," Jason insists, "this is important. Dick's--hurt."

And just like that, Bruce is turning around in his chair with frantic speed. His eyes land on his son, shivering, leaning against his brother, and he zeroes in, pulling Dick to his chest in a rare embrace. 

And it's too much. Suddenly the tears manage to break through the barrier Dick has so carefully constructed, and he is gasping painful breaths into his father's shoulder, unable to breathe with the force of his sorrow. Bruce hugs him harder, arms wrapped around him in a vice-like grip, like he is afraid someone will take him away. He doesn't ever want to leave.

"Dick," he asks, voice heartbroken, "sweetheart. What's wrong? What happened?"

But he can't speak through the pain, acute and all-consuming. Bruce's embrace is warm and comforting, and for some reason that's what it takes to make him break down. Because his father is hugging him, and it's been so long. Because how could Bruce want to hug someone like Dick?

The thought has him pulling away, but Bruce doesn't let him. He protests weakly. "No--you--you don't like hugs. You--you don't want to hug me."

"Of course I want to," Bruce says, and a statement of this emotional magnitude coming from him is such a rarity that Dick lets himself believe it. "I do, I do." 

So Dick begins to tell him.