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Dick is ten when he first asks Bruce about it.

He's been living in Gotham for almost a year, and one of the things he's learned from Batman is the importance of gathering evidence and being observant. His guardian ends up being the subject of most of Dick's faux investigations, because Bruce keeps things very close to the vest and understanding him requires a bit of secrecy.

But watching Bruce for so long means becoming very well acquainted with the Brucie act he puts on in public, and through it the way people look at him and act around him. And, of course, the way Brucie treats other people.

It's one of the things Dick can't quite understand, no matter how many times he sees Brucie flirt and seduce. All the women who touch him like it's nothing at some gala or another, the ones who get brought home and then leave quickly in the morning. Dick doesn't understand it, because outside of those engagements, Bruce never really dates, or does anything of the sort. He doesn't seem to want to. So why do it at all?

They're getting back from patrol when he finally gets up the nerve to ask. Earlier that evening they'd attended a charity event at the Gotham Museum of Modern Art, and Bruce and his date vanished for a little while before returning right before the end, looking a little disheveled and receiving a few suggestive comments from their fellow guests. And ever since it happened it's stuck in Dick's brain, wondering and eating at him, until he can't hold it back any more.

"Why do you bring so many women home?"

Bruce, currently in the middle of drinking from his water bottle, chokes, coughing as he attempts to not spit up water all over himself. Dick watches with some amount of delight, enjoying a rare moment where Bruce is less than perfectly composed, and waits patiently for him to get himself back under control.

When he does, he turns to Dick with a carefully controlled expression, asking articulately in turn, "...What?"

"You bring a lot of women home," Dick explains, unbothered by Bruce's attempt to play dumb. He's too used to Brucie to buy that. "Why?"

Bruce clears his throat awkward, glancing around. "Well," he says, voice stilted, "sometimes, when adults, ah—"

Dick scrunches up his nose, lifting his hands to his ears. "Ew, no! No! I don't wanna know that stuff!"

Bruce looks both relieved and bewildered. "Then why are you asking?"

"I meant that you don't seem to wanna bring women home when you're not doing the Brucie thing. So if it doesn't make you happy, why do you do it at all?"

Bruce's expression softens a little. He crouches down to put them more at eye level, and explains, "I decided years ago that in order to keep my identity secret, I was going to act in public in a way that would make people laugh at the idea of Bruce Wayne being Batman. And part of the airheaded persona I came up with is the...playboy aspect. No one thinks much of the drunken playboy. It helps protect me. And you."

The man tilts his head thoughtfully, and continues with, "And it's not that I don't...Well, you don't need any details, but it isn't bad. I like what happens. It's just I prefer to keep that aspect of myself to when I need to act in public, or on missions."

Dick, working on digesting that, asks, "Missions? Why on missions?"

Bruce grimaces briefly, fingers lacing together. "Sometimes, undercover work requires...similar things to what being Brucie requires. Sometimes people...let their guard down, during times like that. Which can be good for getting information, or getting close to someone I need to get close to."

He searches Dick's face. "Does that make sense?"

Yes, it does. And kind of no at the same time. He guesses there's nothing wrong with it, if Bruce is happy and it helps the mission. They do a lot of strange stuff for the mission; what's one more thing? It's just...a strange thing to try to understand.

Dick nods nonetheless, because Bruce is clearly Trying Really Hard, and Dick thinks that should be rewarded. He steps forward and wraps his arms around Bruce's neck in a tight hug. Bruce goes slightly stiff for a moment, and then hesitantly brings his arms up around Dick in return.

Bruce is still figuring out the parenting thing, but Dick thinks he's gonna get the hang of it.

When Dick is thirteen, one of his classmates brings a dirty magazine to school.

All of the boys in the locker crowd around, excited grins on their faces, pushing at each other to get a better look. There are half-naked women posed proactively on each page, and while Dick notices that they're very clearly beautiful, he can't help but take note of the impracticality of some of the photos.

Like the woman standing in a snowy background; in that skimpy thing she's wearing, frostbite is sure to hit her quickly. And the woman dressed in camouflage booty shorts and nipple pasties for the military portion of the magazine is holding that gun in an incredibly unsafe way, more likely to shoot herself in the thigh than anything else.

The other boys don't seem to have a problem with the logistics of the photographs. Instead, they're rather focused on all the naked skin, and big breasts, and plump asses. They goad each other on, and Dick stares on bewildered, listening to the comments they're making and not understanding at all.

Sure, the women are beautiful. But that' All the lewd things they're saying, all the gestures—it just makes Dick scrunch up his nose a little. He doesn't understand; is that what they're actually thinking and feeling? Sex Ed taught Dick everything he needed to know, and he picked up some extra facts as Robin, but he never really made the connection that people are actually supposed to feel these things.

Should Dick be feeling it too?

He draws in on himself, quickly getting changed out of his gym shorts and back into his school uniform, trying to block out the joking of the other boys. He just wants to leave.

Is this what Bruce meant, when he told him that he likes what happens? Dick doesn't think he ever connected that. He just thought Bruce meant...meant that he liked the result, that things went well and he did what he set out to do. Like it was an accomplishment. And who doesn't like accomplishments? No, it seems it's just Dick. Just Dick who doesn't want—any of that. Just Dick who is a step out of place with the rest of the world.

He rushes out of the locker room, trying to smother the feeling of not-belonging.

It's after a battle that one of his best friends kisses him.

Dick is fifteen, and loves being on the Teen Titans. This group of people are ones he would die for, would do anything for, and they're making a real difference in the world. They're his family, and he loves them all like he loves Bruce and Alfred and Barbara—more than he thought it was possible to love people who didn't give life to him.

He loves winning fights with them, too. Because they're all amazing as a team, especially with Robin at their helm. Successful battles are far more common than failures, but this was a particularly nasty one. This was brutal and exhausting, and they've come out the other side victorious. He can't wait to celebrate with them later! He can't wait to tell Bruce!

And then Wally kisses him.

They're both grinning, both breathing hard. Dick pulls him into a crushing hug, cheering about their victory, and Wally spins them, giddy laughter erupting from his chest. Wally lowers Dick back to his feet, but doesn't pull back, and Dick doesn't think anything of it. They're all so close, always in each others' space. Wally hugging's nothing.

It becomes something when Wally, still with that blinding grin, leans in and presses his mouth against Dick's.

Dick is stunned still. He almost doesn't understand what's happening, his brain slow to catch up with what is going on. Maybe this isn't a kiss, maybe Wally is doing...something else. But it's—it is exactly what it seems. Wally is kissing him, and Dick...

Wally notices that Dick is stiff, that he isn't kissing back. He pulls away slightly, brow furrowed. He's still smiling a little, but his expression is lined with confusion, and quickly sliding towards upset and embarrassment.

Gone is the joy from only a minute earlier. Gone is the pure excitement. In its place is rejection, and he's pulling away from Dick. He's closing off. Dick hurt him.

Panic is thick in Dick's gut, fear that he's losing him, that he's ruined things, that he hurt one of his best friends over something so simple. So before he's even fully aware of what he's doing, he grabs the front of Wally's Kid-Flash uniform and yanks him back into place against him, crashing their mouths together.

It's uncomfortable and strange. Dick has never done this before, and the force with which he grabbed Wally made their teeth knock together. But it's—but it's okay, because he can feel Wally grinning again, like he can barely contain it even as he tries to kiss Dick, so it's. It's good. Because Wally is happy again, and things are going to be okay.

"That was amazing," Wally says, breathless, when they finally break apart. Dick tries to match his enthusiasm; he can admit that it got less uncomfortable as it went along, but he definitely doesn't feel what Wally is. Wally he just reached the moon, through one kiss.

Dick is thinking about how his mouth now tastes like the Doritos Wally was eating earlier and how he's not really a fan of those chips.

"Yeah," Dick agrees nonetheless, and his smile reaches a more genuine place, because Wally is happy. So it doesn't matter that Dick didn't particularly enjoy the act of kissing. If it makes his best friend that happy, then it has to be a good thing. Wally doesn't deserve to be upset just because Dick's weird.

"For a second I thought—" Wally begins, brow furrowing just a little.

"I was just surprised," Dick rushes to say, heart pounding. "I was just—you surprised me. And then I stopped being surprised."

Wally grins. His arm wraps more securely around Dick's back, and that's—well that's rather nice, actually. He likes the closeness. He always has, with his team. He likes how freely they all touch each other, especially because Bruce is so contained and Alfred so proper. So this part, Wally hugging him, that's nice.

Maybe the kiss will be a one time thing. Maybe it was just Wally's way of showing how much he cares, when the adrenaline was rushing. Maybe they can just hug and cuddle like this. Dick finds that he likes that idea quite a lot.

"Yeah you did," Wally agrees, with a sly look in his eyes, smile still giddy and overjoyed. "That was some kiss, Robbie. Can't wait to do it again."

Oh. Well. Alright.

"Yeah," Dick says. "Yeah, me too."

"What did you say to Wally?"

Dick cringes, not turning around. He keeps running, feet slapping down against the pad of the treadmill. The screen tells him that he hit his top speed fifteen minutes ago and has since surpassed it. His muscles are burning and his entire body aches, but he keeps going. Maybe then he can outrun the guilt.


He counts his breathing the way Bruce taught him, refusing to get winded. He's not done yet, and he refuses to collapse before he decides he's done.

There are footsteps, and then he sees Roy out of the corner of his eye, stepping up to the side of the machine. The redhead reaches out and lowers the speed on the treadmill, doing it slowly enough that Dick comes to a natural stop rather than lurching off his feet. He glares at the machine angrily as it finally stops, feeling betrayed by the inanimate object.

"Dick. Look at me."

He turns his glare to Roy, but the older boy doesn't quail under the force of it. They've known each other for quite some time now, after all. Longer than the others. And similar backgrounds have bonded them in a unique way, a way that Dick doesn't think many other people can understand.

Usually, he loves Roy for his blunt nature, for his tendency to face a problem head-on and force Dick to do the same whenever he hesitates. But right now? He wishes Roy would just leave him—and this issue—the hell alone.

Dick steps off the machine, moving around Roy to where his water bottle sits on a nearby bench. His legs shake a little and threaten to buckle, but he locks his knees and tries to look unaffected as he says, "It's none of your business."

Roy's expression twists, unimpressed. "It is when whatever you did affects our team."

Dick barely suppresses a flinch. He knows, goddammit. He knows he screwed up, and he knew before he screwed up that keeping the status quo of the team was important, but he couldn't help it. He just—he was running on an hour of sleep, he had a fight with Bruce, and then Wally's hand was on his crotch and Dick just—

He couldn't handle it. He can, normally. He can. Because it makes Wally so happy, to get him off. And have him get him off in turn. It's never a big deal, just some kissing and mutual hand jobs and then they cuddle and watch a movie and Dick loves that part, what comes after. Relationships are about give and take, and Dick can give Wally what he wants, because it makes Wally so happy.

But he. But he'd been so tired, and so frustrated, and Wally's hand had been too much. Wally's suggestive smile and joke about 'helping him relax' were just too much. So he smacked Wally's hand away, and yelled at him to give it a rest for one night, and ran from the room.

Ran from the room, but not before he saw the look of hurt confusion on his boyfriend's face.

So yeah, he knows he fucked up. He knows Wally has been sullen and upset since it happened, and Dick himself has been terse with the team, and it''s ruining things. He is ruining things. He has to fix it. He has to apologize, and tell Wally he didn't mean it, and then initiate something, and then everything will be okay again.

"I'll take care of it," Dick says firmly, staring at the floor so he doesn't have to look at Roy and see the judgement. "It'll be fine, Speedy. I've got this."

Roy doesn't say anything for a long moment, and then he sighs. "It'll be alright, Robbie," he says, before walking away.

Dick, as he sucks it up and begins walking through the halls to Wally's room, can only hope he's right.

Wally answers his tentative knock almost instantly, the perk of being a speedster. When he sees who it is, his expressions shifts into something awkward and upset, vulnerability settling onto his freckled skin.

"Hey," Dick says hesitantly. "Can...can we talk?"

Wally nods and steps to the side, allowing Dick to enter. He doesn't comment on how sweaty Dick is, doesn't joke about it the way he normally would, and that hurts something deep in Dick, a horrible loneliness at the thought that maybe he fucked this up for good.

"I wanted to apologize," Dick says, figuring there's no reason to beat around the bush. "I was having a really bad day, but that's no excuse for snapping at you the way I did. I didn't mean it, and I'm really, really sorry."

Wally stares at the ground, brow furrowed, for long enough that Dick's anxiety begin to rise and rise, churning quickly to fear. But when Wally finally looks up, it's with a smile. It's sad, and still a little tense, but it's real, and a relieved breath shakes its way out of his lungs.

"I've been thinking a lot about it," Wally says, like an admission. "And I...I think we should go back to being friends. Instead of boyfriends."

It's like Dick can't breathe. He didn't want this. He doesn't want Wally to pull away. He says they'll still be friends but that's always code in the movies, no one ever means it. He can't lose Wally, he can't. He'd rather give Wally everything he wants, he can do it.


"No, I mean it," Wally replies, and he sounds sincere. "Being your boyfriend has been so, so great, Robbie. But I think...well, you're my best friend. And I think that was better. I don't want to risk us breaking up messily and losing you. So, this is a happy break up. Because you're still my best friend."

The relief that floods Dick's system is almost overwhelming. He does his best to keep it from showing, instead nodding seriously. There's a rush in his head, a roaring in his ears. He can hardly believe it. He hopes Wally means it, he hopes this won't turn around and bite him in the ass. He misses being Wally's best friend.

"That sounds good," Dick says, with complete honesty. "I...I agree. You're my best friend, too."

There's still a tinge of sadness in Wally's eyes, but his smile brightens, and Dick knows him well enough to know he's not faking it. "Great," he says. "Then...wanna go watch a movie?"

Dick grins.

Dick is sixteen when he runs away leaves home.

He and Bruce are arguing again, another fight where Bruce acts like Dick has no clue what he's doing. Another day that Batman begins to trust him less and less, despite how much better he's grown over the years. Bruce used to be open and encouraging, used to act a father. But he's become more and more controlling recently, and his excuse of how 'the world's gotten darker' is a weak one.

And what he said before Dick left...he doesn't think those words will ever leave his head.

If I found you today instead of then, I would never bring you into the fold.

So he gets on a bus and he leaves Gotham, destination anywhere else.

It isn't all that hard to find a job as a dishwasher in a run-down restaurant. The owner doesn't even bat an eye at the fact that Dick doesn't especially look over eighteen yet, just tells him to get to work. Which is all well and good, but without a place to stay...

And then his coworker brings him to Eddie. Eddie, and Liu.

The pair of them are everything Dick wants to be. They are powerful and intelligent and made their own way in the world, created themselves, refused to bow to anyone else. Eddie is inspiring, openly offering Dick—and the other boys they've taken in—everything he could possibly need to get forward in the world.

Fresh off the sting of Bruce's mistrust, Dick can't help but get sucked into the hope Eddie is giving him for the future.

And then there's Liu. Liu, who is beautiful and clever and kind and doesn't treat Dick like a kid. She looks at him like an equal, something Dick has been longing for for so, so long. He hangs on her every word, and would feel like a ridiculous puppy if not for the way she pays just as much attention to him, singling him out of the group, saying she sees great things in his future.

She makes him feel special, and important, and competent. The opposite of everything Bruce was making him feel. He's so lucky to have found her. He never believed he could be this happy.

So when she puts her hand high up on his thigh, he doesn't let himself stiffen. He ignores the way his stomach twists into knots, and lets her kiss him. Lets her push him gently down onto his back. Lets her remove his clothing, and then straddle his lap as she does the same to her own.

Because she's given him so much. She's changed his life, her and Eddie. He thinks he loves her. He thinks she loves him, too. So if she wants this, if this will make her happy...

Then doesn't he owe her this? The guilt gnaws at him, that he doesn't feel the same things she does, the things Wally did. There's something so wrong with him, something broken. Why can't he just be normal? Isn't being the orphaned circus brat enough? Isn't being Bruce Wayne's ward enough? Did he really deserve one more thing to make him feel different from everyone else?

He tries to make up for it by giving Liu his all. He kisses her skin and runs his hands over her body and lets her direct him the way she wants him, pulling a coy and inviting smile onto his face that Dick has gotten better at making seem real, since Wally. And Liu looks at him so warmly, so patiently, taking him through everything and never laughing when he fumbles.

It doesn't feel...bad, he supposes. There's some pleasure, when he's inside her. And he comes. So it' can't be bad. The way his skin is crawling, the way he wishes it never had to happen—that's just nonsense. This is all fine, and Liu looks so happy. He did that, he gave her that. So this can't possibly be bad.

He gets used to it, the more they do it. The...uncomfortable feeling lessens, he adjusts. And he lets her teach him, grateful for her patience and kindness. Grateful that she thinks he's truly worth something.

Maybe he's not Robin anymore, maybe this isn't the way he expected his life to go, maybe Eddie isn't exactly above board, but it's...good. He can be happy here. Happy with Liu.

It is crushing, when he learns the truth. The kind of pain that takes your breath away, that makes you want to vomit. That makes you feel, for a single moment, like maybe existing simply isn't worth it anymore.

She never loved him. She and Eddie, they...they just wanted to use Dick. They wanted Dick's access to Wayne Enterprises, wanted to use him to rob Bruce. They played the long game, were clever and patient. An entire summer he spent with them, getting deeper and deeper into their jobs, deeper and deeper in love with Liu.

And they were playing him the whole time. They never cared. She never cared. She only had sex with him to manipulate him. She only pretended to love him because it made him easy.

He feels no satisfaction taking her and Eddie down. He feels nothing but empty as they're arrested and taken away. He barely even has it in him to be happy when Bruce tells him he respects him as an adult, that he's earned it.

He feels...used. He feels wrong. And he doesn't tell Bruce what happened, doesn't tell him about how a grown woman took his virginity, because it's—not a big deal. Bruce sleeps with people all the time, many with age gaps. What Dick did with Liu wasn't...really for the mission, but it allowed him to trap her in the end, so. So it's all fine.

And maybe if he repeats that enough times, he'll actually start to believe it.

Kory is...Kory is a breath of fresh air.

She is beautiful and kind and so clever, so gentle to him and ferocious to their enemies. From the very first moment she arrives, he's drawn to her, and she to him. She makes him happy. And she's an amazing addition to their team.

And it's. It's so soon after Liu, and it makes Dick...anxious. Because he's fallen before, and been badly burned. He doesn't want to go through that again.

But Kory is so different. Every moment with her is like basking in the sun. The thought of Kory ever doing anything to hurt him, ever actually trying to hurt him, it's laughable. She'd never. She truly respects him, and cares for him.

And she...she never presses for anything. They hold hands and cuddle on the couch and hug all the time, a physical intimacy that Dick loves, that he can't get enough of. He loves being wrapped up in her arms, pressed against her side, held against her chest as they fly. And it is made all the better, infinitely better, because she doesn't seem to want anything more than that.

Or, if she does, she just doesn't—doesn't try to initiate anything. Maybe she can tell that he's broken, and is too kind to press at that wound. Maybe her own past experiences have made her hesitant to do anything. Dick doesn't know if the reason even matters, only that the end result good.

It's quite a while into their relationship before she initiates anything. Dick's Nightwing now, a hero in his own right, another kid wearing his colors. He and Kory often sleep in the same bed, holding each other through the night. So when she enters his room one night, he doesn't think anything of it. Just moves aside to make space for her.

But then she's pulling him into a kiss. And they've...they've kissed a few times, over the course of their relationship. But it was always brief pecks on the lips, not what this is. Deep, and claiming. And she straddles him on the bed, her hands beginning to wander.

And he...he doesn't understand where this is coming from. They've never done this before, never even mentioned in passing that maybe they'd try it out. Kory has never tried anything, never said anything. So why? Why now? What changed? Why didn't she talk to him about it beforehand?

Not that talking about it would change things, really. He...he still would've said yes. He's still going to say yes now.

Because Kory is his entire goddamn world and he'd give her the universe if he could. So he can give her this.

So he kisses back, and lets his hands wander too, and gently helps her out of her clothing. And he does his best to make her feel good, to make this a great experience for her. He can do that, he can be a good boyfriend. He can. He will.

And when it's over, she curls up against him and tells him she loves him, and he feels like crying but he doesn't understand why. He had sex with his girlfriend, someone he could see himself spending the rest of his life with. It's just sex. It's never been a big deal. It isn't a big deal.

Kory leaves, after maybe ten minutes. Says she has something to do, and will be back later. Kisses the top of his head, and then is gone.

She comes back half an hour later, and doesn't mention what happened. She calls him dear heart like she always does, and squeezes his hand in a familiar way as she slides in beside him, and then they go to sleep.

Dick isn't...quite sure about the protocol here. Maybe you're not supposed to talk about it after? Liu was never shy about mentioning what they were doing. But Kory is from a different planet, so maybe the customs are different. Though it...doesn't really matter, does it.

It doesn't matter. At least, it doesn't matter until the next day, when Mirage laughs and gloats and tells everyone they had sex.

Dick feels like the rug got ripped out from under him. He can barely comprehend what she's saying, that she pretended to be Kory. She pretended to be Kory, and they had sex.

Everyone is angry. Kory is so...she's so betrayed. She says awful things and he can't blame her, he doesn't understand how this could've happened, how he didn't know.

They'd never had sex before. He should've known.

He's two for two now, in being so blinded by his emotions. He lets them get the best of him, and finds himself played. Over and over again, he's manipulated. Is there some kind of tell he has, that lets people know they can get to him through sex? That he's stupid when it comes to things like this? Is there some sign that tells people they can use him, that he's easy?

It shouldn't bother him. It's just sex. People have sex all the time. It's not the world's fault he's so—so...

A man at a bar strikes up a conversation with him.

He's funny and attractive and has a nice smile so when he asks Dick to dance, he agrees. And when he asks to buy Dick a drink, he agrees. To that one, and the next. And when he asks Dick if he wants to go back to his place, he agrees.

Because the man is funny and attractive and has a nice smile, and the evening had been going pretty well and Dick had been having a nice time. And the man so clearly wants him, and Dick feels so bad that he doesn't want him back. That he doesn't want anyone back. He's supposed to want this, he knows. It's not—it's not normal, to not feel these things.

He's had a long time to come to terms with this facet of himself. But still he gets that feeling in his gut, when someone propositions him. Still he gets that uncomfortable, skin-crawling thing when hands begin to grope.

He's supposed to want this. It's not the man's fault—or anyone else's—that he doesn't.

So they have sex, and it's fine. They both come, and the man gives him his number almost shyly, and Dick says he'll call but he knows he won't. This one encounter made the man happy, and Dick's leaving him that way. More interactions will only lead to disappointment. Wally found that out the hard way, and Dick doesn't especially want a repeat.

He begins to get a reputation. Not a big one, not like Bruce's, but the media calls him a playboy. Love 'em and leave 'em. Some less kind names, too.

And it's not just as a civilian. He's attractive, and good at what he does, and kind, so heroes come onto him as well. And he gives them what they want, because he can and he feels guilty and he just wants people to be happy.

Everything else is...irrelevant.

Dick is very good at honeypot missions.

It's the one area where his lack of attraction helps instead of hinders. He's so used to faking arousal, so used to making people think he feels the same things they do, that his performance is always flawless. Missions like this are just a different version of what he does every day.

"Doesn't that make you feel, I don't know, weird?" Tim asks one day, after watching from a rooftop as Dick let a mobster feel him up in an alley, using the man's distraction to get information out of him. Information that helps their case in an enormous way.

And Dick shrugs, uncaring, because of course it makes him feel weird but what else is new? He can do his job. This might as well be good for something.

"No," he says, because he can't explain it to his little brother. Tim isn't like him. Tim likes having sex with his girlfriend, and the girl he cheated on his girlfriend with. Tim is a normal teenager, with normal urges. Dick doesn't want to change the way Tim looks at him just because of this oddity.

"It's just a job, Tim," he tells him. "It's a mission, nothing more."

Tim hums. "You and Bruce really are alike."

That's both a compliment and an insult all rolled into one, and Dick doesn't comment on it, continuing on writing his report.

Barbara is special like Kory was special. Which means of course it has to crash and burn the same way.

Catalina is...he didn't expect her. He didn't predict her like he should've, didn't understand how deeply involved she is until it's too late. Too late, with Barbara leaving him. Angry and betrayed, just like Kory was.

And after it all happens, after the circus and his apartment and Blockbuster, he's just so...he's so tired. So when she tells him to go with her after—after, he does. He follows her to a motel, and he lets her kiss him and coo reassurances in his ear and take whatever she wants from him like she did on the roof.

She's all he has left now, really. Bruce has his hands full in Gotham, and even if he didn't, Dick couldn't face him. Not after what he did. He feels lost and alone and Catalina stays, she stays and she tells him they're in this together and she doesn't care that he barely speaks or moves or does anything. She stays, and because she's all he has left he gives her what she wants from him.

The phone call from Bruce, calling him back to Gotham, saying he needs his help, is both benediction and damnation.

Dick sleeps with Slade because Slade wants him and Slade has control of Sophia and Dick cares about what happens to Rose so he—he sleeps with Slade.

There's something so knowing in Slade's eye, when they fuck. There's something there that Dick doesn't quite understand, something that unsettles him, makes his heart race a little too fast. And he respects Slade, he knows Slade probably better than the mercenary would like and this is just. It's just another game to him. Just another level to the game of chicken they've been doing, waiting to see who blinks first.

Slade is rough with him, because he can be. Because Dick can take it, and it doesn't feel any worse than normal sex does, so there's not really any difference to Dick. And Slade always makes him come, which Dick thinks is supposed to be a good thing but just leaves him feeling sticky and uncomfortable.

Slade doesn't say a world when Dick leaves right after, again and again. He always looks like he knows something Dick doesn't, and Dick, standing on the edge of a precipice, hates that he can't tell what that is.

Having Damian under his care gives Dick a breather he hadn't been expecting.

Not that life is easy, oh no. Being Batman, dealing with Wayne Enterprises, Tim vanishing, Jason rioting, an assassin child living with him—Dick's life is far, far from easy.

But it's—different. Because having a gives him the best excuse in the entire goddamn world.

No, sorry, I can't go home with you, I need to put my kid to bed. No, I can't hook up with you in the bathroom, Damian is waiting to be picked up from his art class. No, have to take a rain check, Damian Damian Damian.

Dick hadn't realized how much he'd needed it, craved it, until he had an excuse. It's been nine years since that first kiss with Wally, and Dick simply got so used to the way things were that he forgot that things didn't used to be this way. That he might've felt different and weird and separate from everyone for not experiencing what his classmates did, but that's as far as it went.

He was just a kid back then, but still.

It's not the only way having Damian makes him happy, but it's the most immediate one. It takes them a little while to find their groove, for Damian to love him and Dick to realize he'd do absolutely anything for the boy. But once they're there...

It's perfect. He misses Bruce like crazy, and he's so afraid for Tim, and he's constantly worried and frustrated about the state of Jason, but he's able to breathe. And he has his kid by his side. So even with all the trouble, even with everything pitted against them, it's good.

And this time, when Dick says it's good, he means it.

Dick knows most things don't last. He moved around so much as a kid, he got used to change. Got used to having to let go of things.

But goddamn, he didn't want to let go of Damian.

But's good. Because Bruce is back, and he deserves the chance to know his son. He can't do that if Dick takes Damian to live with him. He can't do that if Dick is constantly in the way.

So Dick goes back to his old life. He puts on the Nightwing black and blue again, and has to admit that at least this change is a good one. Being Batman is...a chore. Something that needs to be done, and he'll do it to the best of his capability, but Nightwing. Nightwing is his, is him, and he couldn't be happier to be back in his own mantle.

He starts teaching again, and settles back into who he was before everything changed. But with that...with that comes everything else.

People begin to flirt with him, come onto him. He's a single, attractive, childless man, after all. No excuses, no responsibilities. It is what it is. It's just sex. He even likes intimacy, so what's the big deal. It's just sex. If it makes other people happy, if it gets the mission done efficiently, then he can handle it.

He's supposed to do it. Supposed to want it. So he'll do it.

Jason has known he's asexual since he was eleven years old and an older boy on the street bragged about how he 'got lucky' the night before.

Jason listened, along with the other boys crowded around, as the teenager shared all the nasty details. And Jason couldn't help but think it all sounded rather meh to him. The other boys were shifting with red cheeks and tightened pants, and Jason could only roll his eyes at the ridiculousness of it all.

He doesn't learn the term asexual until he's fourteen, though. He's beginning high school, dressed in his stupid Gotham Academy uniform. A woman comes to speak to their class about what being LBGTQ+ in the United States is like. And she explains how there are many different identities, more and more getting accepted every day, and when she explains asexuality, Jason—

Well, it's not a big thing, actually. He has a moment of Oh, a moment of So that's what this is. There's something warm in his chest, a small amount of satisfaction that he understands at least what's been going on with him.

But honestly, he hadn't been thinking too much about it. He's already so different from all these rich kids, already felt different because of his background. The fact that he doesn't particularly want to fuck anybody doesn't really matter, with everything else on his plate.

So it's just...nice. It's nice to know that this is a thing. That it's not common per say, but there are still many people who identify this way. Jason's not a freak in that regard.

He tells Alfred, because Alfred always likes hearing about what he learned in school that day, and Alfred looks surprised for all of a single moment before he smiles and nods, and they move on with the conversation like it's nothing.

He tells Bruce a month later, when he's making fun of his adoptive father for all the women hanging off of him, trying to get into his pants. Jason states in no uncertain terms that he thinks that is all stupid, thank you very much, and he's happy he doesn't have to put up with that garbage. And when Bruce presses back teasingly that he'll understand when he's older, Jason scoffs and informs him that no, I'm ace, so back off Brucie.

Bruce doesn't understand, at first. But he's Batman so he puts his all into researching until he considers himself an expert on the subject, and he buys a mug with the asexual flag on it. Jason almost falls out of his chair laughing when he sees it, but he can't deny that the easy acceptance feels...really nice.

Not that he gets to enjoy it for particularly long. He's fifteen when the Joker beats him to death and blows him up.

Things only get more complicated from there.

He doesn't have any time to think about being asexual, once Talia brings him back. It's an irrelevant detail about himself, far less important than perfecting his skills in preparation of returning to Gotham. Avenging himself, the way Bruce did not avenge him. Forcing his father to do something.

Things all go wrong. Bruce takes Option Three, throwing a batarang at Jason's neck and saving the Joker from the explosion. And Jason hates him, hates him for not choosing him, for not doing one simple thing, for not caring enough. He hates him because he's still his father but Bruce doesn't care and it's—it's—it hurts.

It's not until a few years have passed, and Jason is working with Roy and Kory, that his sexuality becomes relevant again.

Roy asks him if he wants to have sex. The way he does it is casual, and easy, in the way he's come to expect from his friend. He doesn't make Jason feel like there's supposed to be a right answer here, he just puts the question out there and waits for an answer.

So, Jason considers it. The easy answer is no, Jason can't say that he's considered having sex with Roy, can't say he's attracted to Roy. He thinks Roy is good looking for sure, but that's...different. Aesthetic attraction, versus sexual. Jason is perfectly content not having sex with Roy.

But it could be fun. He knows people enjoy sex, and maybe even if he doesn't experience sexual attraction he could still enjoy it. He's read about sex-positivity, in relation to being ace. He's curious enough to give it a go.

It's an awkward experience, in a way that makes him and Roy both laugh. But the awkwardness isn't bad, per say. Jason doesn't feel the need to repeat the experience, but he's not crossing sex out either. It felt good, and it was fun to do with someone he trusts with his life.

They have sex a couple more times, over the course of their time traveling together. Jason can tell how different it is for Roy. For Roy, sex is good, thoroughly enjoyable. Something he, like a majority of the population, likes to seek out. Something he thinks about, when he sees someone he finds attractive.

For Jason, sex is like...playing basketball. Not something he has any interest in doing regularly, or ever feels the need to do, but has a good time while he's doing it.

When he tells Roy his sports metaphor, the redhead takes it upon himself to ask Jason if he wants to play basketball any time he wants to fuck.

Jason slowly begins to build some bonds with the members of his 'family'.

He works a case here and there with Dick, or Tim, or even Cass. Does a team up with the demon spawn, and finds that that Spoiler chick is really cool. Asks Oracle for help here and there, and receives it.

He hasn't really talked to Bruce, but he doesn't really give a shit at the moment. Things are going really well for Jason, which is a thing he didn't even think was possible. He's building bridges, maybe even forming bonds. It's weird, but it's good. He patrols in Gotham and doesn't feel like an outsider.

So he's getting to know all of them, slowly. But he doesn't think he and Dick are close enough yet for it to not be extremely weird when Jason breaks into Dick's apartment for some intel only to find him currently saying goodbye to a buff dude who is apparently a one-night-stand.

Jason comes through the window, and freezes awkwardly, hesitating as the pair of men exchange pleasant goodbyes. And Jason can't help but look Dick over, because the older man is shirtless and wearing low-slung sweatpants, so his body is rather on display. Which means Jason can see the bruises.

He'd attribute them to a rough patrol if not for the clear imprints of fingers on his hips, and around his wrists. And the darkened hickies forming a line across the front of Dick's neck like half a collar. The fact that all those marks are already as dark as they are—Dick's hookup was grabbing him hard, hard enough it surely hurt.

Jason's stomach turns at the sight of it. To each his own, people can like what they like, but the way Dick brushes his fingers over his neck and winces doesn't leave Jason with good feelings.

"Christ, Dick, do you like that shit?"

Dick almost jumps out of his skin, unaware that anyone was in the apartment with him. He whirls around, hands rising automatically in a fight instinct, and then drop when he sees it's Jason, blinking in surprise.

"Jay," Dick greets, clearly confused but still sounding pleased. "It's good to see you. What are you doing here?"

"Needed some info," Jason says distractedly. "But answer my question—do you enjoy being hurt like that?" He nods to the bruises.

Dick glances down at himself, briefly examining the circles around his wrists, and then looks back at Jason and shrugs. "What's the difference?"

Jason blinks, sure he misheard. "What's the difference? You mean between sex that leaves bruises like that and plain ol' sex?"

"Yeah," Dick says, shrugging again. He heads over to the couch in the living room, plopping down with a quiet grunt. "I mean, sex is sex, right? It's all..." He waves a hand aimlessly, shaking his head. "So it really doesn't make a difference to me."

An uncomfortable, awful feeling settles in Jason's gut. He follows Dick into the living room. His hands are fidgeting restlessly, so he shoves them into his pockets to force them still.

Dick has his head tipped back against the back of the couch. He looks tired. And there's something in his eyes...something Jason really, really doesn't like, especially when paired with what Dick just said.

"Dick," Jason says. "Do you even like sex?"

Another goddamn shrug. Jason wants to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, make him stop being so listless, so empty, because it's scaring the shit out of him.

"It's's sex, Jay. It is what it is."

It is what it is, like it's a job he has to accomplish, a task to be completed. And not a fun one. Not a good one. Something that leaves him looking run-down, now that his one-night-stand has left. Like it's—like it's something he has to do, instead of something he should only do if he actively wants to.

Jason sits down, trying to calm himself. Okay, this is not what he was expecting to have to handle today, and he does not feel in any way prepared to do so, but he has to. He has to, because this is...this is wrong.

"Alright," Jason says evenly. "Alright. Um. You know that sex is...supposed to be enjoyable, right?"

Dick's expression spasms. "I know that," he grits out, staring at the ceiling.

"Okay," Jason says, keeping his tone even. "So if you don't...if sex isn't enjoyable to you, why do you have it?"

Dick's lips press into a thin line. He doesn't answer.

"Shit, man," Jason mutters. "Shit."

Things Jason didn't predict for his day: having to explain to Dick that he might be asexual, after years of Dick rather publicly having sex with quite a few people.

A stone settles in Jason's gut. Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no oh no. Dick's been having sex for years. He's had sex with a lot of people. He's the Batclan go-to for honeypot missions. And Dick...doesn't like sex. So for years he's been—


"Dick," Jason says. "Please tell me. Why are you having sex if you don't like it?"

Dick's throat bobs as he swallows. "Because..." he starts, and then trails off. Swallows again. "Because it—it makes people happy. And I can...give them that."

Jason takes a moment to digest that, fighting the urge to shout. "Well," he says. "That's just about one of the dumbest things I've ever heard come out of your mouth."

Dick's eyes cut over to him, narrowed, expression twisted up like he's tasted something sour. "Look," he says harshly, "just because you don't get it—"

"Oh no, I get it perfectly," Jason interrupts. "This is par for the course, really. You and your self-sacrificing tendencies, always beating yourself up when you can't be what people want you to be. I understand perfectly why you've been hurting yourself to make other people happy. It's spot on for you, Dickie. But that doesn't make it okay in the least!"

"What the hell do you want from me Jason?"

"There's your problem, Dick," Jason says with a mirthless chuckle. "You always want to know what everyone else wants from you. Ever considered that maybe what people want is to not hurt you? To only have consensual sex with you?"

Dick's jaw drops. "They—of course it's been consensual! I—"

"You know what I mean, don't act like you don't. Sex that you want to have, not sex that you agreed to have so that people will be happy. Not sex you're having so you can—can complete a mission and then feel absolutely shitty about later."

Dick closes his mouth, looks away. Jason takes a deep breath.

"Okay," he says. "Okay. We're...we're going to take this one step at a time. You've been in relationships, so. So, do you experience romantic attraction? Do you actually like people that way? The warm and fuzzies, butterflies in your stomach, all that Hallmark shit. Do you feel that for people."

Thank fuck that Dick nods right away, no hesitation. Jason doesn't know what he'd do, if Dick told him he never loved Kory in that way. It would hurt something fierce, and it would piss him off. So it's really good that's not true.

"Yeah," Dick says as extra confirmation. "Yeah, I...I do. And I just. I want to give them..."

"Yeah," Jason says, voice soft. "Yeah, I know. Alright. Um. So seem to like physical contact. You're always hugging the demon brat, and anyone else you can get away with. So do you actually like doing that? Or do you feel like you have to?"

"I like it," Dick says quietly. "I like being close to people like that. It's just when it...goes further—that I..."

Well that's good too. Might've hurt the demon brat to know Dick was forcing himself into that.

"And on a scale from one to ten where one is 'meh, sex is okay,' and ten is 'I hate this I wish I wasn't doing it,' where do you fall?"

Dick looks down at his hands. They're clasped together, tightly enough that his knuckles shine white. It's a painful contrast against the dark bruises only a few inches away.

"Ten," he says eventually, voice hoarse like he's close to tears. "I've never liked it, any of it. But it makes people so happy and makes them like me and it's not their fault that I'm fucking broken—"

"Hey," Jason cuts in sharply. "You are not broken, do you hear me? You aren't broken. You're asexual, and it's a perfectly fucking valid identity. You are the farthest fucking thing from broken."

Dick blinks at him, eyes wide. "I'm—what?"

"It means you don't experience sexual attraction," Jason says. "It's a sexuality, the same way being bisexual is. It's a real thing, and it sounds like that's what you are. On the sex-repulsed side for sure, as well."

When Jason learned the word asexual, it was nice, but not a gigantic change. But Dick looks like Jason just told him that pigs actually can fly and have been doing so for centuries. It's a painfully vulnerable moment, and Jason would feel honored to witness Dick without his walls up if not for how sad this entire situation is.

"That's...That's a—a thing? People are like that?"

Jason doesn't say, Of course people are like that, you are like that. Instead he says, "Quite a lot of people, in fact. There's a flag and everything." He shifts, and awkwardly clears his throat. "And, I mean. I'm like that, too. I mean, not exactly, I'm not sex-repulsed but it—that's not the point. I'm asexual too, Dick."

Dick blinks owlishly at him, saying nothing. Yeah, Jason imagines this is quite a lot to take in. Spending so long thinking there was something wrong with you, and forcing yourself into doing shit that hurts—one conversation isn't going to fix all of that. But Jason thinks he's gotten them off to a good start.

"You're not broken, Dick," Jason repeats, firm but gentle. "There's nothing wrong or unusual about not liking sex. People will still be happy just to know you."

Dick's eyes are shining with tears, and Jason pretends to not notice when one rolls down his cheek.

"Can you—" Dick starts, and then glances away, fingers twitching against each other. "Can you...tell me more about it?"

Jason smiles. "Wait 'til you see our bomb ass flag."