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A Better Bullet

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It was Friday night and Jason Todd had not expected to be spending it in Dick Grayson’s bathroom watching his so-called older brother apply a seemingly endless and bewildering series of products to his face, but here he was. When Dick had opened the window to let him in (Jason was opposed to using any sort of conventional ingress) and said that he could come in but that he was about to go wash his face and do his skincare routine, Jason had tagged along. 

I can’t believe he has a “skincare routine” , he had thought. Sounds fucking ridiculous. Whatever. Worst case scenario it won’t take long. Best case scenario I get to make fun of him forever.

To Jason’s initial joy, it had turned out to be the best case scenario. He had begun his observation with smug amusement, but that had fast faded into intrigued horror and was now verging into outright outrage.

“How the hell can you call yourself a man if this is what you do in your spare time?” Jason picked up one of the little bottles. The label was in Korean, which had never been his strong suit. Obviously he needed to brush up on it because as far as he could tell the bottle said something about “snail slime”. That couldn’t be right.

"Say whatever you want, but having a decent skincare routine has multiple benefits," retorted Dick as he patted yet another type of cream into his face. "For one, it helps with the secret identity. If you look tired and shitty all the time, people are going to notice and wonder why you look tired and shitty all the time. For two, people trust people who look like they take care of themselves. It's a fact. For three, what is wrong with wanting to look good and age well?"

"How did you even learn this stuff?" Jason sat on the toilet lid and stared at him. He hated it that he found the whole thing weirdly intriguing. It was like a whole-ass ritual.

"Babs," responded Dick promptly. "It started because I asked her how she always got all the kohl around her eyes off so well after being on patrol. My makeup remover wasn't cutting it. She said she'd teach me but in exchange she got to do a whole makeover on me. I think it backfired because she got super pissed at me. Something about my pores." 

He smirked at himself in the mirror.

He had the second best smirk in the world and Jason hated him for it. Instead of thinking too hard about that, however, Jason changed the subject.

"So you used makeup remover to take that shit off? I never even thought of that."

Dick stopped and turned his head to stare at Jason.

"How the hell were you getting it off?"

"Just water and whatever soap I had lying around." Jason shrugged. "Dishsoap, usually. And a lot of scrubbing."

Nevermind. This whole scenario was now worth it just to see the look of abject horror on Dick's face.

"You were using dish soap on your face ?"

"Whatever! I'm not into fancy fucking skincare routines. I'm sure Bruce doesn't do this shit."

Dick snorted. He actually snorted. "Are you kidding me? Bruce practically spreads La Mer on his fucking toast at breakfast. He’s more vain than a Gotham socialite housewife."

Jason blinked at him. "What the hell is La Mer?"

"It's super fancy skincare stuff.  Anyways." Dick turned back to the mirror and studied his eyebrows. "The point is that good skincare separates us from the animals and at the very least you are going to start using makeup remover and moisturizer."

"I don't need makeup remover. My mask covers my whole face now so no need for the kohl." Jason felt very smug that he could shoot down this particular point.

"Well, that explains your chin acne. We'll get you some cleanser and moisturizer then."  Dick didn't even glance at Jason or give him time to retort. “In any case, to what do I owe the pleasure? It’s not like you to drop by for no reason.”  

Jason shrugged and clasped his hands behind his head.

“What, I can’t just drop by and see you?”

“I didn’t say that.” Satisfied with his face at last, Dick turned and gave Jason his full attention and the full force of his blue, blue eyes. “I’m always glad to see you, Jay.”

Jason met his gaze for a long moment, then looked away. He hated himself for looking away but it was well-known that Dick could stare down anybody in the family, up to and including Bruce. Not Batman, of course, but Dick could still get Bruce to blink first.

“Honestly I didn’t think you’d be home,” he admitted. “It’s Friday night so I thought you’d be out on patrol. Not doing…”  He gestured at the menagerie of bottles and jars and tubs on the bathroom counter. “...Whatever this is.”

“This is called ‘self care’, and you should try some sometime,” retorted Dick. “Even I take a night off once in a while. It’s important to find a way to blow off steam… Even Bruce says it’s important to take breaks to stay sharp. So tonight is my night off and I spend it doing skincare and watching terrible television and eating terrible junk food because I can .”

“You go, girl.”  Jason spoke in a deadpan with no apparent irony. That did not mean there was no irony. “Anyways, can we get out of your bathroom? Feels super weird to have a conversation in here.”

Dick led the way out and Jason followed. He leaned on Dick’s kitchen counter and grabbed a handful of almonds from the bowl there that was always magically full of little snacks.

“I didn’t think you’d be home but I figured I’d drop by anyways just for kicks,” he continued from his earlier point. “Just happened to be in the neighborhood.”

“Not a convenient neighborhood to happen to be in, considering it’s all the way in Blüdhaven.”  Dick sat on the back of his sofa with his legs crossed, perfectly balanced in a way that would have looked absurd for anyone that wasn’t a world-class gymnast. “But hey, not looking any gift horses in any mouths here. What’re you after in the neighborhood?”

“Oh, just gonna go to a club or bar or something.  All the dive bars in Gotham suck now - they’re all quote unquote ironic dive bars. Gotta come all the way out here to the sticks to find a proper old-school disgusting dive bar.” Jason caught Dick’s nonplussed expression and felt spurred on to elaborate. “You know, a really filthy establishment can really only thrive in a really filthy city. Like this one. And if I don’t feel like I might catch hepatitis from a bar, it’s not dirty enough.”

“Could you, just possibly, if you can help it, maybe consider not trash-talking my city in front of me?”  Dick pinched the bridge of his nose in a gesture of exasperation that spoke so strongly of Bruce that for a moment Jason was almost taken aback.

“Sure.” He shrugged and popped almonds into his mouth to prove how nonchalant he was. “Everyone feels protective of their own place, even if it is a shithole. I apologize for insulting your shithole.

Dick’s right eyebrow quirked up slightly. Jason remembered being so jealous of that when he was younger. He’d tried to teach himself how to do it by staring into a mirror and holding down one brow and raising the other. It had never worked. Dick’s eyebrows were simply better, stronger, smarter than Jason’s. Just like how everything else about Dick was better, stronger, smarter than Jason as well.

A rush of surly annoyance prickled through Jason and he pushed himself roughly away from the counter, half-throwing the remaining almonds in his hand back into the bowl.

“Guess I’ll go and let you get to your terrible TV and ice cream.” There was an edge to his voice that he hadn’t intended but oh well, too late now. He started towards the door. “Have fun with that.”

Dick rose to his feet. Now both brows were raised in an expression somewhere between wry amusement and actual confusion. “You invited yourself in here, insulted my city, and now you’re mad at me ?”

“It’s not my fault you’re so sensitive .” Jason grabbed the doorknob but stopped when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Jay.”

God damn it. He hadn’t even heard Dick walk over to him. How did he always move so fast and so quiet ? Batman training, duh. But even when he was just Dick Grayson and not Nightwing, you never heard Dick coming unless he wanted you to.

“What?”  Jason glared over at the face and the body connected to the hand that was still resting on the shoulder of his leather jacket.

“Do you want some company out tonight?  I’d love to go grab a beer with you. We can find the diviest dive bar in this whole shithole town and catch all the hepatitis you want.”  Dick was smiling, and the smile was a real smile. He wasn’t teasing or even being ironic -- he really meant it. That was the fucking thing about Dick Grayson -- he always really meant it.

Something tightened, and then went limp in Jason’s stomach. He took a breath and made himself release the angry tension from his shoulders. 

He deserves so much better than you, said the voice inside Jason’s head. That’s why you’re such an asshole.

Dick was still looking at him with that “I’m game if you are” expression. It was, even for Jason Todd, noted asshole and Prick Prince of Gotham, hard to turn down. But he had other plans tonight, ones that didn’t involve Dick Grayson or Nightwing. After all, that was why he’d dropped by to see if Dick was going out on patrol tonight.  

“Nah it’s cool. I’m in a shitty mood tonight and I wouldn’t be good company. Maybe I need to do some of that - what’d you call it? Self-care? Go have a beer or six by myself and let off some steam.”

He squirmed inwardly as Dick studied his face for a long moment, but at last Dick dropped his hand and stepped back. 

“I’m open anytime,” he said. “Just let me know. It would be nice to do something normal with you, you know?”

“Yeah.” Jason pulled open the door and hesitated just a second.  “That sounds nice. Later.”  

Not waiting for an answer, he walked out and pulled the door shut behind him. Stupid Grayson. Didn’t he know yet that they were cursed? None of them would ever get to enjoy doing anything normal. He pretended that he couldn’t feel Dick’s concern or the shadow of the touch on his shoulder all the way down to the street.


The basement of the club smelled like stale sweat, sex, and mildew. Places like this probably didn’t get a thorough cleaning very often, but that was part of the appeal. The bass from music being played elsewhere was a steady throb through the walls. A woman was alternating between moans and screams nearby. At least, that’s what Jason thought. It was hard to tell over the sound of the man bellowing directly into his face. 

“You will respect me, you little faggot! I am your master !”

Jason was tied by his wrists and ankles to an X-shaped rack, barefoot and naked except for a cowl that covered his eyes and his hair. He could feel the man’s hot, foul breath and little flecks of spit hitting his face. Pain throbbed in his cut lip. He probed the cut with his tongue and tasted salt and copper. He spat the blood to the floor and heard the man in front of him jump back with a curse.

“How dare you?!” The blow was sudden but not unexpected - a heavy hand across the jaw that snapped his face to the side. 

A low laugh escaped Jason’s throat even as his blood roared in in his ears. This was supposed to be torture? This was supposed to be pain? He’d come to this place because it was supposed to be where all the freaks gathered, the real sadists and masochists. There were rumors that a sub had actually been murdered here and the body disposed of, but nobody Jason had spoken to had been able (or willing) to say for sure.

“Gonna have to do better than a love-tap, sweetheart.”  He turned to face the man he couldn’t see and let blood dribble from between his teeth as he smiled. It was disgusting, but what disciple of Batman could ever resist being as dramatic as possible? “You seem like the kind of sick motherfucker who only really gets off on hurting people if they’re weaker than you… So that really just leaves little kids, doesn’t it? Do you get off on hearing them cry? You know what Batman does to people like you, right? I do. When he catches you for being a kiddy fucker you’re gonna wish he did kill people.”

Hands seized Jason’s throat and squeezed. They were soft and clammy and feverishly warm. The man attached to them snarled obscenities, but Jason smiled. He smiled even as his breathing became ragged and his vision pulsed with the desperate pounding of his heart. He smiled and didn’t struggle against his bonds, didn’t even turn his head. That would be giving the weak motherfucker what he wanted and Jason would never give the satisfaction of a struggle to someone like that.

All he wanted was the pain. All he wanted was to hurt so bad that his body screamed and his mind fell and he could be allowed to sink into the abyss inside himself. He craved escape from himself, from this place, from the man touching him. And yet knew he didn’t deserve anything better. This was his sin, and his penance. 

He was just starting to slip towards blessed unconsciousness when something unexpected brought him back to earth.

“Excuse me, gentlemen.”

A man’s voice. It was low and smooth and quiet, especially compared to the guttural grunts of the asshole choking him out. It sounded familiar, but Jason’s oxygen-starved brain couldn’t place it.

“Who the fuck are you?”  The hands left Jason’s throat as, presumably, his so-called torturer turned to face the intruder. Jason didn’t want to gasp for air but his body had other ideas. He coughed and sucked in air between his bloody teeth. Turned out that a body that’s already died and been resurrected once isn’t eager to repeat the experience.

“I’m his real master. I’ve come to take him home.” 

His real master. Was it the words themselves or was it the way they were spoken (with quiet but absolute assurance) that made Jason’s blood quicken? 

The sound of footsteps coming closer. High-quality shoes, from the sound of the soles on the concrete floor. The weak motherfucker who was supposed to be his “dom” wore cheap shoes. He stank of cheap cologne too, a piss-poor imitation of the brand that Bruce usually wore, actually. Jason hated that he knew that. 

“He came here saying he wanted a dom to abuse him,” complained the weak motherfucker. “He wasn’t marked as being someone’s property already.”

“Yes, I’m afraid we had a fight. He’s always been far too willful for his own good. But rest assured that he will be punished severely for this stunt. I apologize for any inconvenience caused.” The sound of a billfold being opened and the soft rustle of paper bills being counted out. “Please accept this as a token of my apology.”

The bribe was apparently acceptable because the cheap shoes walked towards the door and paused. Jason had caught his breath by now and was listening hard. He could practically see the sneer on his face, despite the cowl that was still over his eyes. A weak man like this couldn’t bear not to get in the last word.

“Best of luck with that one. I hope you break him. Hard.”  

The door opened and slammed shut. Jason was left alone with his mysterious, anonymous “rescuer”. 

“Who the fuck are you?” He tried to snarl at the interloper but his voice was raspy from the choking. He coughed despite himself.

The new man didn’t answer, but Jason heard him kneel and then felt hands on his bare ankle. The guy was wearing nitrile gloves. Unusual but not unheard of in a place like this, especially for someone into medical play. First one ankle restraint was released, then the other. Jason thought about kicking the guy in the teeth and then breaking his arms free on his own but decided against it. The thrill that had shivered through him when that voice had called himself Jason’s true master… Wasn’t that the sort of thing that he had been looking for in places like this? 

Besides, he “saved” me. Would be rude not to stay and thank him.

“What the fuck are you doing here, Jason?” The low voice suddenly turned harsh. And very, very familiar. 

The bottom dropped out of Jason’s stomach. Blood roared in his ears again. The entire world turned briefly upside down as realization arced through him like an electrical charge. He pulled at his bonds but strong hands grabbed his still-bound wrists and held him tight.

Dick? What the fuck are you doing here?”  

The hands released his wrists and yanked the cowl up and off his head. Jason blinked as the world reappeared around him. A world dominated by a face. A face with tousled black hair and concerned eyebrows and blue, blue eyes and fucking perfect bone structure. 

...Which was somewhat spoiled by the fact that he was also wearing a black kerchief over his nose and mouth.

Jason stared at him. “...And why the fuck do you look like you’re about to go rustle some cattle?” 

Dick’s eyes narrowed in a scowl. “Because I have the unique problem of being more recognizable with my eyes and my cheekbones covered, that’s why,” he hissed. “And don’t change the subject. What are you doing in a place like this?”

Jason took a long, exaggerated look around the room. Up at his bound wrists and the rack to which he was still tied, at the interior of the room with its intentional atmospheric gloom alleviated only by cheap candles burning in cheap candelabras, at the vast array of whips, chains, clamps, plugs, paddles and other accoutrement that you’d find in any self-respecting torture sex dungeon. His gaze finally returned to Dick, brows slightly raised.

“Quilting bee?” He drawled. 

He knew why Dick was here. Dick was here because he cared. Because he’d used his Boy Wonder powers to deduce that something was bothering Jason. He’d followed his brother out of concern and found him here, in a seedy, shitty place full of seedy, shitty people doing seedy, shitty things to each other. And now he wanted to know why, why Jason felt the need to come here for this, to be abused by strangers who he wouldn’t even deign to shoot in the face as Red Hood because they weren’t worth the ammo. 

How could he explain? How could someone like Dick Fucking Grayson ever possibly understand the abyss inside him that could only be filled by pain? How did he explain that after you’ve been dead and resurrected, pain is the only feeling you trust to tell you that you’re still alive? How do you explain that the soft touches are the thing that hurt most, so you seek to erase them with chains and whips and knives? How do you explain the guilt and the shame that you carry every day that’s now amplified by a million because all you’ve ever wanted was to be worthy of his respect and now he’s seen you like this? 

How do you carry that weight? 

You don’t. 

There’s no explaining all of that to Dick Fucking Grayson. So you lie and you bullshit and you try to piss him off so that he forgets to be concerned. 

Dick took a step closer, practically bringing their bodies together. Jason was still naked, but that didn’t really matter to either of them. Nudity stopped registering on the weirdness scale after you had been in the Bat-Family for a while.

At least, that was usually the case. Jason wasn’t sure if it was because he was in what could be delicately termed a ‘compromised position’ or just the emotion of the moment, but it felt like electricity when Dick’s leather jacket brushed his ribs. The room was cold and the heat of Dick’s body just a few inches away was palpable. Jason even caught a whiff of the scents of all the skincare products he had so carefully applied earlier. The look on Dick’s face was one of anger and worry and determination to know the answers.

Don’t you dare bullshit me , his expression said.

It took a lot to make Dick truly angry. Jason had seen it before and he knew  Dick wasn’t anywhere close to there now. The problem was that Jason wanted him to be. Dick being angry was better than Dick being concerned. Although sometimes with Dick, as with Bruce, it could be hard to tell the difference. 

“You are coming home with me right now and we’re gonna have a talk. And if you run and make me chase you down, you will regret it. Got it?”  Dick grabbed Jason’s chin and forced Jason to meet his gaze.

Stupid fucking Grayson and his stupid fucking always-wins-the-staring-contest eyes.

“Yeah, I got it.” Jason sneered a little and jerked his head out of Dick’s grasp. 

He knew he was acting like a teenager who got caught breaking curfew but he didn’t care. Anything was better than acknowledging the shame and embarrassment that was roaring inside him like a chasm beneath the smirk and snark. Jason would never, could never admit how thin that veneer really was, nor how desperately he wanted to hide the feelings roiling inside him. 

“You wanna untie me and find my clothes or should I walk home with a cross on my back and my dick hanging out?”

The elder brother stepped back and folded his arms across his chest.

“Really? You want to start doing that now?”

Jason rolled his eyes. “My cock hanging out. Better?”

“Much.”  Dick unstrapped Jason arms from the rack. While Jason rubbed his wrists, he picked up the pile of neatly folded clothes from the long table full of sex toys and torture implements and threw them at him.

“I’ve got a mini EMP device in my pocket that’s knocking out the cameras and bugs that are probably in this room, recording everything. I’m sure the perverts who run this place film it all, both for their own enjoyment and to have blackmail material on all their patrons. So there should be no record of anything that happened after I walked in here. I hope you had the foresight to do something similar.” Dick walked to the door and waited.

“Where would I have kept it? Up my ass?” Jason pulled on his jeans and shirt and his leather jacket. He was grateful Dick had stepped away. Dick being so close had made his pulse go berserk.

No answer to that quip. That was a good sign - maybe Dick was actually closer to being angry than Jason thought. He met Dick by the door.

“So… you gonna lead me out of here with a collar and leash or what?”

“I should. That would make the most sense for this scenario. But since I don’t have a collar and leash in this pair of pants and I don’t want to steal theirs, you’ll just have to act contrite.” Dick opened the door and grabbed Jason by the back of his neck, like a mother cat picking up a kitten by its scruff. He forced Jason to walk with his head bowed low.

Later, Jason would realize that he didn’t remember anything about the “walk of shame” through the dungeon. Who Dick spoke to, how he managed to sweet-talk his way out of the situation, if money had changed hands… all of it was a dull background blur to the electric heat of the hand gripping the back of his neck and controlling him. 

The feeling was so intense that it was almost a relief when they walked out into the muggy air of a Blüdhaven night and Dick released him. They were close to the harbor so the air was heavy with seawater, gasoline and the tang of steel and smoke. Even so, Jason took a deep breath in an attempt to clear his head. The nondescript building from which they had just emerged remained dark and nondescript as ever. No sign of what was going on beneath the surface.

“So- ” Jason started.

“You’re coming home with me and we are going to have a conversation about whatever the hell just happened in there.” Dick repeated, cutting him off before he could even get out a sentence. “And if you try to bolt, I swear to God I will chase you down.”

“You know, I really thought I graduated from the famous family lectures when I, you know, died and then after I moved the fuck out ,” snarled Jason.

Dick had started walking in the direction of his place, obviously expecting (and trusting) Jason to follow him. He stopped now and looked over his shoulder.

“If you’d rather go and explain all of this to B instead, be my guest. I would love to see his reaction to you apparently wiping your ass with everything he ever taught you about protecting your identity and not putting yourself in harm’s way for no good reason.”  

There was no answer to that, so Jason didn’t even make an attempt at giving one. Telling Dick about this hadn’t been an option to begin with. But now that Dick knew, telling Bruce was even less of an option. To say nothing about the rest of the family. Instead, he ground his teeth and followed.


Well doesn’t this just feel oh-so-familiar?  

Once again, Jason found himself in Dick’s kitchen feeling defensive. This time, however, he was slouched on a bar stool and Dick was standing, arms folded across his chest. The black kerchief was gone, along with the cattle rustler look. Pity. Now he had no choice but to take Dick seriously.

“Is that helping?” Dick gestured to the ice pack that Jason had pressed to his eye.

Jason grimaced. “Yeah. It’s fine. Is this like The Princess Bride? Are you making sure I’m in good shape before you tear me a new one?”

Dick raised his shoulders slightly. 

“Maybe. Probably. Are you ready to talk about what you were doing there?”

“No. But you’re not gonna leave me alone until we do, so let’s get this over with. Despite all appearances I’m really not into prolonged torture.”

“Jason.”

“The whole crowbar incident sort of put the nail in that coffin,” Jason couldn’t help but snarl.

Jason. ” Dick’s eyes narrowed.

“What do you want, boy detective? You wanna know the truth?”  Jason wished he could shut up and stand there and be cool and intimidating and just wing off one-liners. Why was it that he could do that as the Red Hood in front of a room full of gangsters with guns and not now? He wanted to get it over with. Wanted the disgust and disappointment to finally appear in Dick’s face so that he could stop anticipating it. 

“Fine. The truth is that I like pain. I like… feeling pain. So I go seek it out in places like that because I can’t exactly ask a normal person to do that to me.”  

Despite his best efforts to keep his eyes fixed on the marble countertop, Jason glanced over at Dick. 

Dick’s expression was unreadable. Dammit.

“Are you mad? Because it’s none of your fucking business what I do on my own time, Dick.”

Dick shook his head and his voice was soft. Softer than Jason expected.  “No, I’m not mad. I’m -”

Jason yanked the ice pack away from his eye and glared at him. “Seriously, it is none of your business. And if you tell anyone about this, I will kill you. I mean it.”

“I’m not -”

“If you tell Bruce about this, I will kill you and he will never find your body.” It was a harsher threat than Jason really intended but the idea of Bruce knowing about this made him want to dig himself back into a coffin with his bare hands.  

“Jason, shut up and listen to me. I just told you I’m not mad, I’m -”

“If you say disappointed I swear to God-”

“Shut the fuck up and listen to me!” Dick’s eyes flashed. Jason clamped his mouth closed and concentrated instead on grinding his teeth.

“I am not angry or disappointed, you idiot. I’m worried.”

Jason frowned. “Why? You know none of those people in there were a threat to me.”

“No, of course not. You could have smashed your way out of that rack and taken out every single person in that whole place blindfolded and with your hands tied. That’s not what I was worried about, Jay.” Dick took a deep breath. 

Jason just watched him, waiting for him to continue. From the set of Dick’s shoulders, he could tell that he was trying to keep a hold on himself. He saw Dick’s eyes glance at the ice pack resting on the counter and concern flicker across his face. He knew Dick probably wanted to tell him to put the ice back up to his eye, but also didn’t want to pick a fight now that he was listening. 

“The guy who was ‘torturing’ you is a mid-level enforcer for the Penguin. I’ve seen him before. He didn’t recognize you, but what if he had? What if he told his boss about it? What if word got out that oh hey, the Red Hood secretly likes to go to this place and get tied up and tortured a few times a month? Doesn’t take a genius to think that they’d find a way to put you in a situation that even you couldn't get out of while you’re vulnerable.” Dick watched Jason’s face as he spoke. “Did you realize any of that? Did you even think about any of that?”

“It would take a hell of a lot of bad guys teaming up to take me out like that,” retorted Jason. But it was less of a snap and more of just a growl. 

“You’ve pissed off a hell of a lot of bad guys,” he reminded Jason.

Jason shrugged and held the ice pack against his eye again. 

“Fine, so no going to sketchy clubs where bad guy mooks hang out and ask them to torture me. I’ll find another way to get my rocks off.”

“Is it a sex thing?” Dick asked.

Jason narrowed his eyes but didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure how to answer, honestly. He’d said “get his rocks off” and it wasn’t not a sexual thing, but to reduce it to just sex seemed… wrong. Yes, the whole point was that he was seeking release but it wasn’t just sexual. It was bigger than that. Deeper than that. More than that. 

“It’s okay if it’s a sex thing,” Dick continued.

“It is but it’s not.” Jason admitted. He was studying Dick hard through his narrowed eyes. “It’s just…Why do you want to know this shit anyways? I thought you were going to lecture me for being a freak.”

Dick frowned. “I’m not going to lecture you for being a freak. You’re not a freak. And I’m asking you because I want to help you.”

Not a freak? Didn’t think I’d hear that one.   Jason scrutinized Dick for a long moment. Dick had moved over to the kitchen island and was leaning forward with his elbows and forearms resting on the counter, his gaze and body language all pointed directly at Jason. Dick’s dark hair was falling into his eyes and his expression was sincere. Maybe he really did want to help. Maybe Jason actually wanted him to help. Well, it wasn’t as if this was going to get any more awkward.

“You said you like feeling pain, and that it’s sort of a sex thing but also sort of not a sex thing. What do you get out of going to a place like that, aside from some old guy sweating on you? Unless you’re into that sort of thing? I’m not here to kink-shame you.” Dick held up his hands in a “no judgment” gesture.  

Jason made a face. “Fucking gross. No, I’m not in it to help some old asshole get his rocks off either. The other person isn’t really important. They’re just…” He stared down at his hands flat on the kitchen counter. They were covered in tiny scars - relics of training, of knife fights, of punching through windows walls, faces, whatever that was in his way, of bombs that detonated a little too early, of clawing bare-handed through a wooden coffin and six feet of graveyard dirt. He curled them into fists. “I want to make myself hurt. I want pain . I want to feel pain because it makes me feel alive . But at the same time, I can’t hurt myself enough. So I have to use someone else as a tool to get me there, to the place in my head I only reach when my body’s screaming. I’m the finger on the trigger and I’m the target, but they’re just the bullet.”

He fell silent, fists clenched on the cold marble counter, heart clenched inside his chest, jaw clenched until his molars hurt. There was no coming back from this. That was the truth of him, bleeding on a silver platter for his brother to reject or swallow. He didn’t know which he wanted more. He waited, and the silence stretched on just like the abyss inside of him. He felt this before, more often than he wanted to admit, when he had just confessed his sins at church and sat waiting for condemnation or absolution. But that was only in the eyes of God. What was that compared to condemnation in the eyes of Dick Grayson?

The silence stretched for so long that Jason finally forced himself to look up. An unreadable expression had filtered into Dick’s blue eyes, a light that Jason had never seen before. It made something tighten inside his stomach, something he didn’t want to name. He dug his fingers into his palm and sought refuge in anger so all the other emotions wouldn’t betray him.

“Would you just say something?” He snapped at Dick.

“You deserve a better bullet.”

An involuntary shudder tore through Jason’s whole body.  Sheer force of will enabled him to stifle his sharp intake of breath, but only barely. 

Jesus Christ. He didn’t know if it was the words Dick said or the way Dick said them but something had made a whole mess of feelings clench themselves into a knot in his gut. He stared hard at Dick, not sure if Dick had meant it the way it had sounded… 

“What does that mean?” He finally forced the words out of his dry throat. 

You know what you want it to mean, a voice hissed inside his head. It’s what you’ve secretly always wanted. You’re disgusting. You’re broken. Your sins are a curse on you and everything you touch. You know it’s true.

“It means I want to help you.” Dick straightened and walked around the island to Jason. 

Jason let him approach but watched him with a wary eye. The knot of guilt and desire in his gut still throbbed with tension. The voice in his head still screamed about his sins. But all of that paled in comparison to the ache of desire that got stronger as Dick approached.

“Help me how?” Jason forced himself to meet Dick’s eyes. Since he was sitting on the barstool, they were almost the same height with Dick just a few inches taller now. It was strange to be seeing him eye to eye instead of from above. 

Dick wrapped his hands gently around Jason’s wrists. The delicate skin was still tender from where it had been chafed by the restraints in the dungeon. His fingertips were a little cool, but the touch of skin against skin sent electricity coursing through Jason once again. He forced himself to inhale, wondering if Dick felt the same thing he did, the same electricity. His heart was beating so loud and so fast that he was sure Dick could hear it.

“I want to help you feel what you need to feel. I want to help you get to that place that you need to get to feel whole. And I want to help you do this in a way that’s safe and sane and that won’t put you in any danger.” Dick spoke in his softest, most earnest voice. His thumbs ghosted across the skin of Jason’s wrists.

Jason ripped his hands away from Dick’s grasp. The light touch was too much, too tender. He couldn’t handle that kind of gentleness right now.  

“What, you’re saying that you’ll hurt me?” He tried to scoff and sound scornful, but he wasn’t sure if he’d completely hidden the tremble in his voice. He suddenly couldn’t help but remember the feel of Dick’s hand on the back of his neck, forcing his head down in submission as he he led him away from that awful fucking place.

Dick nodded. “If that’s what you need to be okay.”

Jason stared at him for a long moment, trying to determine if this was actually some elaborate prank. What if at any second, Dick was going to burst out laughing and admit that he was just fucking with him?

“You’re Dick fucking Grayson,” he blurted. “What the hell do you know about causing pain?”

Up went that right eyebrow of Dick’s again, perfectly sardonic. The corner of his mouth curled into a smirk that made Jason’s throat go dry again. Any doubt he had about Dick’s sincerity vanished.

“I’m Dick fucking Grayson,” Dick practically purred. He leaned forward, his palms flat on Jason’s thighs. “I know all about causing pain.” 

Jason was pretty sure after the fact that part of his mind imploded in that moment, or maybe he suffered a tiny involuntary blackout. Because the next thing he knew, Dick was standing a few feet away again, thumbs hooked in the belt loops of his pants as he watched Jason with a small frown.

“You need to keep holding that ice pack to your eye if you don’t want it to swell shut,” he was saying. “It’s not doing any good just sitting on my counter.”

With a squinty glare, Jason pressed the ice to his face again. Honestly, he was grateful to have something else to distract him. The sensations of cold and pain were better than whatever fucking mess of emotions was happening in his stomach right now. Cold and pain he knew how to handle, unlike everything else he felt.

“Fine,” he said gruffly. “If you really want to try this, we’ll do it. But this is absolutely not a sex thing, okay? It’s just pain.”

“I understand.” Dick went to the fridge and pulled out two bottled sparkling waters. He popped the caps off both and offered one to Jason. “I have no interest in fucking you, so don’t worry about that. You are, after all, my brother and stuff.”

“...Yeah. And stuff.” Jason took the sparkling water and sipped it. The cool fizz felt good on his dry throat. He knew it was psychosomatic, but it seemed to cool down some of the heat and the tension in his gut as well. He was grateful that Dick wasn’t standing close to him anymore. It was easier to breathe this way. 

But still...

He found himself fighting down the disappointment searing him like a white-hot wire, along with a desire that he was still too afraid and ashamed to admit in his conscious thoughts. It was a desire he had buried deep inside himself for a long time, but that had clawed its way out of the mental graveyard of his mind. It was fitting, he supposed, that his unnatural abomination zombie desires went along with the rest of his unnatural abomination zombie existence. 

“You know, even if it’s not a sex thing it’s pretty fucked up for one brother to offer to torture the other one.” He watched Dick take a long swig from his bottle. “Normal people don’t do shit like that.”

Part of him almost hoped that Dick would turn to him with a thoughtful look and say “Oh yeah, you’re right. Let’s forget about it then,” and the whole subject would be dropped forever. The other part… not so much.

“Yeah, well… We’ve never had the luxury of being normal, have we?” Dick grinned at him, but there was something else behind the grin, an emotion that Jason couldn’t quite identify. “I can’t say this is something I ever expected to volunteer to do, but it’s not the weirdest.”

Jason chose not to dwell on what Dick could have done that was weirder than this. Instead he put down the ice pack beside the now-empty bottle.

“I’m going home, unless you plan on tying me down and stopping me tonight.”  He looked at Dick with raised eyebrows, hoping that he sounded dry and nonchalant.  

Dick shook his head.  “No, not tonight. I don’t think either of us are in the right headspace for that tonight.” He frowned a little at Jason. “You’re not just gonna run out of here and go find some other gross, shitty place, right?” 

Jason had been thinking about doing just that, of course, but he knew that Dick would sniff him out again if he did. Although, he admitted to himself, it might be sort of fun to go get in more trouble just to see how mad he could make Dick. 

“No, I’m planning on going home like a good boy. I’ll say my prayers before bed and everything,” he smirked as he stood up. 

“Good. Your face is going to feel even worse tomorrow so you should get some good rest.”  Dick walked Jason to the door. “Wait. Before you go, there’s one more thing.”

Just like last time, he stopped Jason with a hand on his shoulder. Jason tried to ignore the fact that he could feel Dick’s bare fingertips against his neck above the collar of his jacket, even though the touch burned.

“Yeah? What? Have you changed your mind and now you’re gonna yell at me and call Bruce?” His voice was somewhere between snarky and wary.

“No, of course not. All this is just between the two of us.” Dick looked up and caught Jason’s eyes, forcing Jason to hold his gaze. “I want to ask you one more thing, and I want you to tell me the truth.”

Jason hesitated. His instinct now was to lie on principle, but he wasn’t sure he could. Or even if he wanted to. He knew Dick would know if he did. He nodded once, curtly.

“Fine. What is it?”

“When you get the urge to feel pain, do you ever hurt yourself?”

A muscle twitched in Jason’s jaw. He hadn’t expected this question, although perhaps he should have. Count on Dick to be that perceptive. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“Yeah, sometimes. If I’m really desperate for it.”

“How badly do you do it?” 

Dick’s voice was so soft that Jason suddenly hated him for it. He didn’t know if it was sadness or pity or even sympathy, but he didn’t need it and he didn’t want it. He glared and tried to shrug the hand off his shoulder.

“Bad enough, okay? It’s none of your business, so fuck off.”

Dick hand grabbed the back of his neck again, this time tangling in Jason’s hair as well. What you forgot about Dick Grayson’s hands was that, for all his long fingers and soft skin, he had strength in them honed from decades of gripping trapeze bars and handholds on slick buildings. He was strong . Jason didn’t try to pull away, knowing that escaping from Dick’s grip would be a pyrrhic victory at best. 

“You’re not allowed to do that anymore, do you understand?” Dick spoke in a low, even voice, but with enough steel in it that Jason knew he was serious. “You aren’t allowed to hurt yourself anymore.”

“Who the fuck are you to tell me what I’m allowed to do?” Jason snarled.

Dick’s short nails dug into the skin of the back of Jason’s neck.

“You aren’t allowed to hurt yourself anymore because that’s my job now. Do you understand?”

And there it was, the same dark voice that Dick had used in the club to call himself Jason’s true master. Jason was still glaring at Dick, but he had unknowingly tilted his chin down in submission.

“...I understand,” he growled softly.

Dick released him.

“Good. I’ll call you tomorrow. Go home.” 

With that, he reached past Jason and opened the door. Jason walked out into the hallway in a sort of daze. He intended to go home, as he had promised, but he knew there was no way he’d be sleeping tonight. Not with the memory of Dick’s fingers sparking electricity across his skin.