FIC: Take the Heat Out of Me [3/9]

I thought I was done with this fic. I was wrong. chyldea asked for more of it for her birthday, and I somehow ended up with a 40k drabble. Here’s 9500ish words of the continuing adventures of Lost Days!Jason and Officer Grayson.

Title: Take the Heat Out of Me
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Dick/Jason
Summary: Lost Days!Jason trolls Officer Grayson!Dick in Blüdhaven. Dick counter-trolls with the power of love. (It’s super effective.) Title taken from Brother in Conflict by Voxtrot.
Previous Parts: Part One * Part Two * Part Three * Part Four * Part Five * Part Six * Part Seven * Part Eight
Crossposted: At AO3


Nervousness had never gotten to Dick the way it did most people. For him, most forms of nerves were mixed with excitement. It was the performer’s mindset, the ability to take fear and turn it into useful energy. He was nervous as hell, trying to pick up the apartment while he and Jason waited for Bruce and Alfred to arrive. He wasn’t nervous for himself, but excited for/afraid of the reunion between his caretakers and his brother, the very much prodigal son.

If Bruce had been a normal man, he would have known what to expect. A normal father would undoubtedly have been ecstatic to find that his son, thought dead for a full three years, was alive and whole. But Bruce was never that easy. Even his happiness was cut by a vicious undercurrent of fear, so his reaction would undoubtedly be mixed.

A mix of what was the question. With the Batman, the only thing that got a straight definition was justice. His relationships with the world were complicated, a knot of near-definitions that he switched out per situation.

Dick, for example, was his son. He’d been his ward—-and sometimes still was, when Bruce needed to put distance between them, and son clung too near his skin—-and he’d been his Robin, and he was his friend, and he’d always be his soldier, but each of those definitions interfered with each other. The children that had taken his oath had accepted that they would have to strive to fill the Batman’s ever-changing needs and definitions—-and they’d learned to accept that they would forever wonder what it was they were supposed to be, because he’d never tell them. He’d only tell them when they’d failed.

The problem with Jason was that he’d died. Death had set his definition as a good soldier. The memory of Jason Todd: A Good Soldier, had been something that Bruce had used to whip himself for years. He loved him, and Dick was pretty sure that he hated himself for the definition that death had written in stone for him—-failed father.

Dead people didn’t change. They were static. If they changed, it was only the shifting of the ghosts that haunted the memories of those they’d left behind. And that was a big problem, because Jason wasn’t dead anymore, and he had changed. He was nearly unrecognizable.

Jason had gained a foot and a half of height, at least a hundred pounds, and so, so many scars. A casual viewer might disbelieve that he was the same boy that they had buried, but Dick had every reason to believe. If gut instinct wasn’t proof enough that Jason had died and come back to them, the scar running from the tops of his shoulders to the middle of his chest and then down in a single line to his pubic bone was sobering evidence. The perfect Y-shaped scar was from his autopsy. Dick had noticed it in the shower, and now he was having trouble not thinking about it.

He shouldn’t have been alive, but he was. It defied all logic.

Unfortunately, logic was the Batman’s best friend. Logic was what he lived by and he based himself on, so the things that resisted rationality troubled Bruce deeply. Dick wasn’t sure how he would react to Jason, or how Jason would react to his reaction. Dwelling on all of the maybes and what if scenarios as he cleaned up the broken table, the busted handcuffs, the now-sleeveless shirt Jay had borrowed (and promptly ruined), the empty lube packet, and any other incriminating evidence gave Dick a headache.

He just wanted things to be okay. He wanted Bruce and Jason to be happy, because they both needed it. Was that really too tall of an order?

Jason emerged from the bathroom for a second time since calling Bruce. After he’d gotten off the phone, Jason had calmly, quietly walked to the bathroom and been violently sick. His face was pale and a little sweaty. Shoving the rest of the splintered table underneath the futon couch—-he’d clean it up properly later; really, he would—-Dick dusted off his hands and stood.

"You look like you need a hug," Dick said, sparing him a wan smile. Jason didn’t return it.

"Try it, and I’ll punch you in the dick, Dick."

"Yeah, it’s hug time," he said with a sagacious nod, wrapping his arms around him. Jason struggled initially—-they always did—-but then sagged into him. He buried his clammy face against the curve of his neck, arms limp at his sides, and allowed Dick to hold him. "Better?"

"Fuck you," Jason mumbled. Dick rubbed his back.

"We don’t have time for that now, little buddy. They should be here soon, so I’m going to put the pancakes on. Want to help?"

Jason gave him another thoroughly unenthusiastic “Fuck you,” so he curled one arm around his back and marched him into the kitchen. Pushing down on his shoulder, he made him sit at the table. He mostly sprawled, long legs stretched out and back slouched.

He had all of the grim acceptance of a man sorting himself out before execution. Dick turned the stove on, putting the pan on to heat.

"It’ll be okay," he said, as much to comfort himself as to soothe his anxious brother. "No matter what happens, things will be okay."

"Sure," said Jason, leaning his elbow on the table. "What’s he going to do? Kill me?"

Dick shot him a look over his shoulder, pouring the first couple of pancakes on the griddle. The batter was thick and yeasty, and loathe as he was to admit it, it smelled pretty good as it sizzled.

"Don’t go there. I don’t know what you’ve psyched yourself up for, but dial it down. If things get ugly, remember that you’ve got me and Alfie to mediate."

Jason scrubbed his fingers through the white streak in his hair, visibly agitated.

"Ugly. Sure," he repeated. "That a euphemism for ‘if you feel like killing him, and dear ol’ Bats turns breakfast into a battle royale’?"

Dick was suddenly, vividly reminded of what a brat Jason could be. When he felt cornered, he got defensive—-snappy, rude, and downright mean. It’d pushed Dick to the limits of his patience when he’d been a weedy fifteen-year-old in pixie boots, but it exasperated him even more now that he was (for all intents and purposes) grown up. Sure, he hadn’t officially left his teens yet, but he expected him to be a little more adult about the whole situation.

"If it comes to that? Yes. I’m not going to let you or him—-”

Dick was interrupted by a loud knock on the front door. Jason visibly tensed, the hand resting on the table curling into a white-knuckled fist. Setting the spatula down, he gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze as he walked past. He didn’t bother with asking if he wanted to answer the door himself. That was too much confrontation, and Dick knew that whether or not he’d admit it, Jason needed him to act as a buffer.

Disabling the alarms and turning over the locks, Dick opened the door wide and forced himself to smile.

That was another skill that his unique upbringing had given him. He always, always could put on a show and make it look good. Bruce hadn’t had to teach him how to do it, because the spotlight already had. Juggling the playboy with the Bat, his mentor had been no slouch in the acting department.

But right then? Bruce looked like hell. His lips were pressed into a bloodlessly pale slash, the lines in his face deep enough to look like permanent gouges. His eyes were completely dry, but rimmed with red.

"Geeze. How fast did you drive? It’s been what, fifteen minutes?" Dick said. Bruce’s expression made his spackled-on levity fizzle and evaporate.

He looked so haggard. So old. Bruce wasn’t supposed to look like that. He just wasn’t.

"If the Blüdhaven police had deemed it wise to pursue us, I’m afraid that they would have found themselves unable to catch up," Alfred said, a light hand on Bruce’s back. He guided him inside, but froze up himself just after closing the door behind them.

Jason had followed Dick to the door, he realized, following Alfred’s stricken gaze. He’d approached silently, hands stuffed into the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt, and kept a few feet of wary distance.

"Jason?"

Bruce’s voice was roughened by an uncharacteristic apprehension—-he tried to use a low growl to mask his emotions, but Dick knew his tells.

Jason’s eyes were very bright. Dangerously so. Dick had to stifle the urge to move close enough to touch him, since that seemed to calm him down relatively well. But Bruce seeing that kind of touch, and maybe—-okay, definitely—-extrapolating the shift in their relationship was the last thing that either of them needed.

"Yes," Jason said finally, staring unblinkingly at his old partner. "Surprise."

And that’s when the smoke alarm went off. The smell of scorched pancakes carried to them, and Dick scrambled to turn off the alarm and salvage breakfast. The griddle billowed acrid smoke, and he mentally smacked himself for forgetting that he’d left the stove on.

They would’ve been better off with cereal.

Dick leapt, bracing himself in the entryway above them with his legs and arms spread. He could have dragged a chair over to help him reach the fire alarm, but why bother?

"Sorry!" He apologized quickly, unscrewing the lid of the alarm and popping out the battery. He dropped down lightly, throat choked with the nervous laughter he was just barely keeping pent up. They weren’t touching, weren’t moving, and weren’t talking. Dick only understood interpersonal communication through those three avenues, so this prolonged staring contest was driving him absolutely bonkers.

Couldn’t they just hug and say how much they’d missed each other? Just this once? Dick knew that Bruce loved Jason, and he had a sneaky suspicion that Jason still loved him, too—-despite his passionately violent rant to the contrary. If this was some kind of macho contest of willpower, Dick would start throwing punches.

Anything to break the silence.

"Pancakes," he babbled, his voice weirdly high even to his own ears. "Forgot the pancakes! It’s okay. I’ll just scrape the pan, toss ‘em, and start over. It’ll be fine, and it’ll only take a few minutes, so if you guys want to talk, you can, y’know, sit at the table." He took a deep breath. "And talk."

"No, please," Alfred said with a thin-lipped smile. "Allow me. You’ve done more than enough damage for one meal, Master Richard."

Dick shot him a pleading look, his eyes wide. He couldn’t leave him alone with them. It’d just be cruel. But the old butler merely gave him a nod and disappeared into the kitchen, abandoning him.

Bruce took a seat at the rickety table. Wordlessly, of course. Because Bruce was dealing with feelings, and Bruce just didn’t deal with feelings, and he wouldn’t talk about said feelings unless he had a gun to his head.

No, probably not even then. Bullets didn’t scare Bruce Wayne.

Dick tossed the disassembled smoke alarm aside, taking the seat diagonal from Bruce’s. That only left Jason with two options: sitting beside him, or sitting across from him. He chose the seat across from the Batman, probably because it meant sitting next to Dick.

He was glad for that. It meant that Jason was easily within grabbing distance, and he could see what his hands were doing underneath the table if he leaned back a little in his chair.

A part of him felt weirdly guilty for being so paranoid, but a larger, louder part of himself reminded him that last night, Jason had seemed really keen on the bloodiest revenge possible. He wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it was difficult to believe that a guy as stubborn as Jay could do a complete turnaround in a few hours’ time. Difficult even for him, and Dick had an abnormally large capacity for belief.

"You’ve grown," said Bruce. Dick couldn’t decide if it was an observation or an accusation. Dead little boys didn’t grow. They were dead little boys for all of eternity.

"Puberty," Jason agreed. "It’s a real kick in the pants."

Okay. They were talking. Talking was good.

The conversation stopped there, stilted and awkward. Dick drummed his fingers on the tabletop. He did his level best not to fidget clear out of his chair.

"I, uh," he said, running his hand through his hair. He knew that Bruce would start questioning him if his anxiety got loud enough to distract him from Jason. "Found him. Or he found me. Jacked the tires off my squad car as a joke."

The way Bruce’s jaw rippled and clenched made him wish he hadn’t said it. But how was he supposed to discuss Jason when talking about Jason had been taboo for so long?

Thankfully, Alfred came in with breakfast. He arched an eyebrow at Dick.

"If I didn’t know better, I would think that someone put beer in the batter.”

"His idea," Dick said, pointing to Jason.

And normally, Jason would have smirked widely and taken full responsibility, or turned it into an argument, or accused him of throwing him under the bus just because Mom and Dad were there, but he didn’t say anything at all.

Dick avoided feeling the full weight of the tension by filling himself and the air around him with a buffer: he ate and he talked, even though he was the only one doing so.

"The timing’s just nuts when you think about it," he said through a mouthful of pancake. "Finding him here, in my city. Nuts. Just nuts. Don’t you think so?"

Nobody answered him. He took another bite, hoping that it’d settle his stomach. It didn’t.

He felt twelve years old all over again, relearning how to hold both sides of a conversation. Going from the circus to the manor had been jarring. Bruce’s silence had felt like a punishment. Circus rules dictated that you were only alone and quiet when you had done something wrong—-when the group was excluding you. He should’ve been acclimated to Bruce’s particularly rocky brand of stonewalling, but circus blood couldn’t be denied.

"Your eighteenth birthday," Bruce said, after a moment. He answered Dick, but looked at Jason when he said it. He couldn’t seem to tear himself away. Dick got that. It felt like Jay’d go up in a wisp of smoke if he so much as blinked for too long. "It was yesterday. I…visited your grave."

"That’s sweet, but I moved out ages ago," Jason said tonelessly, mashing his pancake with the tines of his fork. Outwardly, he wasn’t showing any kind of reaction. The stillness was enough to make Dick want to pull out his hair. If he didn’t love his mentor and brother, he’d hate them for putting him through situations like this one.

Not eight hours before, Jason had told him that he wanted to kill Bruce—-while he’d had Dick pinned to the flattened remains of his coffee table, hands wrapped around his throat.

They’d worked that out. Dick was still sore from said working-it-out, but it’d been successful. Hadn’t it? Jason wouldn’t have stayed the night if he hadn’t gotten through to him. Dick’s thoughts cycled with breakneck speed, and even shoveling down pancakes wasn’t enough to keep him from feeling sick. He was the first—-and only—-one to clear his plate.

“Shall I help you with the dishes?” Alfred asked Dick, his tone translating to let’s give them some space, shall we? Whatever Jason and Bruce had to say to each other, they weren’t about to say it in front of an audience. Dick’s nerves scuttled at the idea of leaving them alone, because he wasn’t sure which of them was more likely to lash out—-or which one he was feeling more protective over.

But he had to trust Jason. He’d told him that he did, so now he had to prove it. Gathering and stacking the plates, he pasted on a smile.

"Sure. Shouldn’t be too much work, but I’d appreciate it."

And then they both went into the kitchen. There was no door separating the kitchen from the rest of the studio apartment, so he couldn’t give them absolute privacy. He did turn the faucet on full blast, though, and that kicked up enough noise to mask the conversation that was hopefully happening in the other room.

Dick didn’t realize that his hands were shaking until one of the plates fell through his fingers. He probably could have caught it, but he didn’t even try. He let it fall, because the sound of it shattering across the tile floor alleviated some of the pressure in his chest. It helped. Just a little bit.

"I’m fine!" Dick called, though nobody had asked him if he was okay. "Everything’s fine!"

Alfred rubbed his hand down his back, just as he’d done since Dick had been a scrawny little boy, because he knew better.

"It’s him. It’s really him. If Bruce doesn’t accept that, I don’t know what I’m going to do," Dick admitted in a weary mumble. "I just don’t know."

"You know Master Bruce’s ways. In matters such as these, he is cautious. He’ll only believe once he has ruled out any other option."

"I know," he said, kneeling to gather up the largest pieces of the broken plate. "I know."

"Ah," Alfred murmured in an undertone that was almost a sigh. "There we are.”

Leaning, Dick peeked around the doorframe separating the kitchen from the rest of the apartment, barely balancing on his toes. They were standing, and Bruce had his arms wrapped around Jason. He hesitated to call it a hug, because it was aggressive and desperate enough to be a strangle hold. He wished that he could have seen Jason’s face, but he had it pressed against Bruce’s shoulder. He had to stoop to lean into him like that—-he was as tall as Bruce now, Dick realized with a strange little jolt. Maybe even an inch or two taller. He didn’t look like a big man, though—-not when he was visibly shaking.

Dick glanced at Alfred. The butler discreetly wiped his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.

"He’s a mess, Alfie," Dick admitted. "But it’s him. He’s still our Jay."

"A mess you are uniquely equipped to handle, I take it?"

Dick hadn’t said anything about Jason staying with him, but his feelings must’ve been transparent. That, or Alf just knew him.

"I wouldn’t say that. I just don’t know if Gotham would be good for him right now—-for either of ‘em, honestly."

Alfred nodded absently, still watching Bruce and Jason. It looked like Bruce was basically holding him up. His hands were fisted against Jason’s back—-one clutching at a handful of his red hood, the other pressed against the curve of his spine.

"I wouldn’t say that, either. Forgive me for saying so, but you look positively mauled, Richard.” His tone was dry, but his eyes were warm with amusement. “Taking this opportunity to change into a shirt with more coverage would be prudent, I believe.”

Heat flooded Dick’s face. He’d been so worried about getting the broken furniture cleaned up, he’d forgotten about the most obvious evidence: the hickies that Jason had sucked into his neck. The World’s Greatest Detective was mentally preoccupied, but the incriminating marks hadn’t slipped past the World’s Greatest Butler. He was suddenly, shamefully reminded how barely-legal Jason was, and how Alfred must have translated the situation.

Oh, god.

"I—-we—-it’s not what you think."

"I think nothing about it whatsoever," Alfred said gently, patting his upper-arm. It wasn’t his opinion either way, and it wasn’t exactly approval, but it was acknowledgment without the sting of judgment. Dick would take what he could get, because no way in hell would Bruce be so tactful. “Do hurry and change, young sir. They won’t continue to embrace forever, despite their best intentions.”

For possibly the millionth time in his life, Dick thanked his luckiest stars for Alfred Pennyworth.

"Have I told you lately that you’re the best?"

"Not today. Feel free to elaborate on it once you’ve changed into something more suitable."

"Don’t worry. The collar of my work shirt is—-" Dick’s stomach lurched. He glanced at the clock, and realized that his shift had started roughly fifteen minutes ago. Amy was going to have his head. "I have work. I should be at work. I already used up my sick days when I had that Europe thing. I have to go.”

Yes, he had to go. He had to go and work his tedious daylight case. He had to go, which meant leaving Jason with Bruce until five o’clock or later.

"Duty calls," Alfred agreed. "I will make sure that the both of them remain civil until your return."

Dick nodded numbly. Eight hours. It would only be eight hours.


*


So, he’d fucked up. He’d fucked up big time. Jason had realized that the night before, when Dick had pinned him on the rooftop. The hours between that initial mistake and breakfast had been one long, continual reminder of how solidly he’d blown it. This Dick thing had really screwed things up, and he’d decided that the only way to find an opening out of it was to be patient. No, confronting Bruce the way he’d wanted to was no longer an option. Getting mixed up with Grayson had been the equivalent of plucking one card from the bottom of a towering house of cards—-one slip-up, and all of his carefully constructed plans had collapsed.

The meeting with Bruce hadn’t been on his terms. There’d been no talk of vengeance, no knives or bullets. He’d planned to ask him—-to demand to hear the explanation from him—-and he’d almost done it, too.

But when Alfred and Dick had left the room, Bruce had looked him in the eye and said, “Welcome home, son.”

And what was he supposed to do with that? What the fuck was he supposed to say? He’d shut down. He’d lost it. It didn’t change anything—-he was still wrong, he was still antiquated, and Jason was still angry—-but those three words had slipped beneath his ribs and cracked them open.

Fucking Bruce. Too little, too late.

Alfred and Bruce hadn’t stayed long after Dick rushed off to play pretend with the BPD. Bruce had taken samples from him—-blood, hair, tissue—-and Jason had gone along with it, even though it’d made the banked coals of his temper flare up hot and bright. He’d said that he would be back to check in with him in a few days, which Jason translated as I’ll be back for a thorough interrogation after I’ve found holes in your story large enough to punch you through.

Bruce would uncover some of the nastiness. He was positive of that. How much dirt he stirred up hinged on whether or not Dickiebird shared notes with him.

And he wasn’t sure if he would or not. He wasn’t sure if he’d keep his big mouth shut to try to ‘protect’ him, or if he’d blab to Dad to protect him. Jason didn’t like that he didn’t know. It itched at him.

Jason prowled around the apartment. If he stayed, he’d have a solid block of eight hours to himself every day, and he was torn on how he felt about that. If he decided to do something—-and oh, some corner of his brain just screamed to get away from this situation, disappear, and clear his head—-those eight hours would be his best time to get the things accomplished that Dick wouldn’t want to see. Or the things that he didn’t want Dick to see, at least. He tried not to think about the semantics of it all.

It seemed like there wasn’t a single safe corner of the apartment. It blared Dick Grayson from all angles, mess and clothes and artifacts of his overbearing love. He had a poster of the Flying Graysons on one wall—-and Jason didn’t like that he could tell that Dick had his father’s jawline and his mother’s smile—-and pictures of people everywhere.

Why would anyone have so many pictures? Did it make him feel less lonely, stuck in this shithole of a city? To Jason, it made his apartment feel haunted—-haunted by a host of dead friends with frozen smiles. He looked at the photographs with morbid curiosity, cataloging how many of the faces that he recognized, and how many of them were gone. He frowned at a weirdly familiar snapshot of a younger Dick Grayson with his arm slung around the shoulders of a kid that was grinning just a little too widely.

It took him a full half a minute to realize that the kid was him. Dick had kept a snapshot of the two of them together, a good memory that he’d wanted immortalized. Jason scraped his memories with frantic urgency, because he didn’t remember.

He didn’t remember this. He remembered owning that down parka vest, and he remembered thinking that Dick’s haircut was stupid, but he didn’t remember going to whatever snowy mountain that loomed in the background.

Fuck.

Sometimes, Jason found holes in his head. People, places, and things that he should remember, but didn’t. He could feel around the edges, but he could never tell what had been there. The Joker had taken a crowbar and had beaten this day in the snow with his brother out of him. It was gone. Dick had photographic proof, but he had nothing.

Jason briefly considered asking him about it. He could explain that brain damage was no joke, and Dick would launch into a colorful retelling of the memory he’d lost. He’d tell him where they’d been, what they’d done, and who had taken the picture. Had it been Bruce? Had the three of them gone up to the mountains together? Was that why it’d been important enough to memorialize on film?

Instead, Jason took the polaroid off the wall. He went to the bathroom, opened up the window, and fished his lighter out of the pocket of his jeans. He skated the flame beneath the picture until it caught fire, curling and smoking and eating them up. He held onto the corner with pinched fingers until bubbles and holes erased them, then dropped the smoldering remains into the toilet.

If he didn’t get to have it, nobody did.

After he’d had two cigarettes, blowing the smoke out the window so that Dick wouldn’t complain about the smell, he felt a little bit better. Jason continued his exploration, but carefully. He didn’t want to find any more surprises like that one.

Curiosity drew him to the closet. He knew that Dick had changed his costume, but he hadn’t seen it up close. The suits were hung up in his closet, right along with the rest of his clothes. It was a Dick kind of thing to do, he thought—-to him, there was no demarcation between his day clothes and his night clothes. When he put on the blue stripes, he didn’t become somebody else. He was still Dick Grayson, through and through. Still a birdbrain.

Jason ran his fingertips over the material, tracing the blue v from chest to shoulder. It was surprisingly thin—-it had give. It’d cling to his body, stretchy enough for all the goddamn flips Dick’s heart desired. Not very durable, though. It’d tear, and there was no way it’d deflect even small arms. He pulled it off the hanger, balling it up between his hands and smelling the collar. He closed his eyes, inhaling. Musky sweat, locker room-worthy B.O., and some kind of sandalwood cologne that he probably hadn’t purchased himself—-it was a spicy scent, something a woman would have bought because she’d wanted to smell it on him. The uniform smelled like running and fighting and Dick, a well-worn skin that he shed every day at sun-up.

Basically, the suit stank. Seemed like Dickiebird was flitting from one thing to another, not taking the time to land, so he couldn’t keep up with the small stuff, like cooking, cleaning, sleeping, and his more complicated laundry. Alfred had spoiled him rotten, and it wasn’t like a vigilante could take a costume to the dry cleaners. All of Dick’s stuff was a little bit ripe and a lot a bit wrinkled, worn too much and then shucked off hastily. He hadn’t been kidding when he’d said that ironing was hard for him.

Well, fuck. It was something to do. Better than driving himself crazy trying to figure out what judgment Bruce would mete out, or how to get himself out of this corner he’d painted himself into. Jason stripped his shirts and suits from the hangers, tossing them into piles. There was a pile for garishly colored laundry—-and christ, he had too much of that; Dick’s fashion sense had never escaped 1987—-a pile for whites—-how could one guy own so many socks?—-a pile for darks, and a pile for vigilante crap.

Dick had a surprising amount of clothes. Jason figured that he probably bought new stuff instead of cleaning what he already had, since he had a lot more money than time. What an idiot. Jason lived light, owning exactly one wash’s worth of laundry. He could fit it all in a backpack, and only switched items out when they got too threadbare, too bloodstained, or when he couldn’t be seen wearing the same thing twice. He got most of his clothing secondhand, since crisp, new clothes caught the interest of practiced eyes.

Jason liked thrift shops. He liked wearing clothes that someone else had owned, loved passionately for a little while, then discarded. He kept them until they wore out. He knew it was stupid, but it soothed some of the smallest aches inside of him.

Gathering up the enormous pile of socks, he decided to watch some tv while the washer ran its cycle. He didn’t like the sound of his own thoughts, all of a sudden, and there was no cure for thinking quite as potent as daytime television programming.


*


It was, without a doubt, the longest beat shift that Dick had ever had. He found himself rubbing his neck throughout the day, massaging some of the darker bruises with his thumb. Jason hadn’t left him with just a couple of hickies. No, a few of them were unmistakeable bite marks, and they reminded him of their existence with little twinges of pain whenever he turned his head or stretched. It wasn’t a bad thing, though. Embarrassingly, he liked the small physical reminders of Jay. His shirt usually felt stifling, but today, he’d been thankful for the high collar. It’d covered most of the bruising, thankfully. Good thing, since he looked like he’d gotten strangled. And okay, maybe he had gotten a little bit strangled. But only a little bit.

Dick wasn’t entirely sure what that said about him. The whole…thing with Jason had come out of nowhere. Hell, Jason himself had come out of nowhere. He hadn’t really thought things through in the moment, because keeping him with him and keeping him close had edged out rational thoughts. Dick was more reactionary than anything else, so when he’d seen his dead brother bird in a tailspin, he’d done what he could to save him. He hadn’t lingered over the consequences of his actions, or the emotions that powered them.

But with eight hours of paperwork and mindless patrol between him and seeing Jason again, he’d had way too much time to sift through the ramifications of what he’d done—-what he’d offered, and what he’d implicitly promised to continue to offer. Malloy ribbed him for his rare pensiveness, but Dick didn’t even know how to explain away his quiet introspection. He settled on a thin smile, telling him that tragically unavoidable periods of brooding ran in his family. His partner had laughed and left him alone with his thoughts for the rest of the day.

He didn’t like to be alone with his thoughts. Didn’t like to be alone with himself, period. But he understood the need, and knew that if he didn’t sort himself out before he got home, he wouldn’t be able to handle the Jason situation.

He wasn’t sure if he’d done the right thing—-not for himself, and certainly not for Jason. He’d seen what a self-destructive, devastated mess he was, and had recognized that if he’d given him what he’d wanted—-a fight, confirmation that he was capable of hurting the people who he’d loved in his past life—-he’d be risking not only himself, but Bruce as well. And it’d hurt, seeing him that messed up. Dick hadn’t weighed the pros and cons—-he’d just wanted to make him stop.

On that front, he’d been successful. He’d broken through, and Jason had broken down. As far as he could tell, he’d set aside that nasty plan to unseat Bruce by any means necessary. But for how long? And what had changed his mind—-had he not been fully set on homicide, or had he only dropped it because Dick had offered him…

Dick rubbed the prickling heat of the bruises wrapped around his throat.

He’d offered himself. And judging by the cautious interest that Jason had displayed before Bruce’s arrival, he wanted more. Maybe even expected it.

And Dick wasn’t as opposed to the idea as he should have been.

Eight hours of thinking, and he still didn’t feel like he had a handle on the situation. Dick resigned himself to just rolling with it, figuring out what it all meant as he went, and hoped that it wouldn’t blow up in his face. He had a spotty track record in that regard.

Bruce had left an incredibly short voicemail on his cell. He’d gone back to Gotham, but he’d be in touch. Dick was relieved, if only because he felt like he needed to talk with Jay—-and it had to be the kind of talk that Bruce would not be included in.

As usual, he started loosening his uniform as soon as he walked into the main foyer of the apartment complex. By the time he got up to his floor, he’d undone half the buttons of his shirt, and felt like he could breathe again.

Jason was there when he opened the door. For a second, he’d worried that he might not be.

"Hey."

Dick pulled at the knot in his tie, toeing off his uncomfortable work shoes. Jason sort of hovered in the entryway for a moment, his mouth tight with lines of strain.

Jason surprised him by leaning down and kissing him. It wasn’t a very good kiss, teeth pressed hard, but he’d initiated it. And that? That was something. When he straightened, he very clearly looked like he wasn’t sure if he should have done that.

“You, uh,” Jason said, taking a half step back and popping his knuckles distractedly. “Bust some baddies and make the tax payers proud, Officer?”

“You bet.” He took off his tie, unbuttoning his uniform shirt the rest of the way. “Want to order in? I don’t feel like cooking, and I’ve got to get something in me before I put on the ol’ fingerstripes.”

“Chinese,” Jason answered promptly. He popped a couple more knuckles, not looking at him. “We patrolling tonight?”

Great. He’d hoped to have this conversation over food, not fresh off eight agonizing hours of Officer Graysoning. The hopefulness in his voice was painful. He could basically hear the just like old times hanging, unvoiced, at the end of his question.

“I’m patrolling tonight,” Dick clarified, searching for a reaction from Jason.

He gave him zilch. Nada. He could pull a hell of a poker face when he needed to.

“So. I’m on house arrest?” Jason said, flat and low. “Too dangerous to turn in to the cops, too dangerous to release into the wild, and good gravy, has Bruce ever got a thing for not getting rid of his problems.”

Dick would’ve liked it a lot more if he’d drawn up to his full height and boomed it at him. He knew how to deal with aggression when it was loose and loud. Jason was outwardly calm, but his eyes had darkened to a frightening gunmetal gray. That kind of aggression—-that kind of rage—-was toxic. It was anger that had been held so long, it’d been compressed and sharpened. It was calculating and so, so lethal.

Frankly, it scared the crap out of Dick.

“No,” he blurted out immediately, then sucked on his teeth and regretfully amended, “Well, okay, yeah. Kind of. But it’s only temporary. Bruce asked me to keep you under observation for a while, to make sure that the Pit didn’t—-” There was no good way to say it. He fumbled with the words. “—-that it didn’t…you know…”

“Drive me crazy,” Jason finished, so evenly that it gave Dick an instant stomachache.

“I don’t think that it did,” he said, with every ounce of surety he could muster up.

Jason’s jaw set stubbornly, but the rest of him relaxed.

“Fine. I get it. The Pit is bad, so nobody but a dumbass like you is willing to welcome me back with open arms.”

“It’s just for a couple of weeks. Just until Bruce calms down. He doesn’t handle surprises well, and this was a huge one.”

“Yeah. I know. Like I said, I get it. But I still want some fucking Chinese food,” Jason said, almost sulkily.

Dick beamed at him, palpably relieved. This was good. This was very good. This was proof that he had read the situation correctly—-that Jason was a damaged, raging mess of a man, but he didn’t actively want to kill anyone. Maybe he’d convinced himself that he did, but just the fact that he was willing to stay under observation and be patient showed a flicker of the old Jason Todd. That Jason had been damaged and raging, too, but he’d had more love in him than hate. He wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t equalize again. Dick truly, deeply believed that.

And maybe that made him crazy. But it made him Dick Grayson, too.

“The menus are in the top drawer to the left of the stove. Lemme change out of my work clothes while you call it in, okay?”

“Sure,” he said shortly, turning back into the kitchen. He looked about as relieved to move past that tense conversation as he was, but neither would touch on it. “What’ll you have?”

“If you’re ordering from Wok This Way, I’ll eat just about anything on the menu,” Dick called over his shoulder, unbuttoning his shirt the rest of the way and tossing it on the bed. “Believe me, I’ve tried it all. So get whatever. Just get a lot of whatever. I’m starving.”

“Living dangerously, I see.”

“I trust you,” he said, and pulled open the closet doors. Instead of being assaulted by the questionable aroma of his own dirty duds, he smelled…nothing? Baffled, Dick leaned in, carefully inspecting his clothes. His Nightwing costumes smelled like mild soap, not all of the sweat that a straight week of heavy use had worked into the fabric. His beat uniforms were clean, too—-and they’d been ironed. “Jay!”

“What?” Jason asked, reappearing with a thick, colorful stack of delivery pamphlets. “Man, we need to talk about how many menus you’ve got in here. If Alfie finds out you’re ordering in this often, he’ll slap the shit out of you. And I want to be there to watch.”

“Did you do this?” Dick accused, holding up his slacks. The front crease was neatly pressed and everything.

“It stank,” Jason said, jerking his wide shoulders toward his ears in the approximation of a shrug. “So I cleaned it.”

“You did my laundry,” he said, grinning. Jason was stiff and defensive, busying himself with thumbing through the menus.

“Look, daytime television doesn’t do it for me. I watched America’s Most Wanted for a while, but I think the hotline people were starting to get antsy about all of the tips I was calling in. Seriously, I solved three of the cases while I was waiting for the laundry to finish. So if you’re on the FBI’s watch list now for knowing a wee bit too much about the busting of crime,” Jason shrugged again, the corner of his mouth crooking up into a smirk. “My bad. I was bored.”

“The lovely lady watching them can clear any warning flags that might pop up,” Dick said, unbuckling his belt and shucking off his pants. He switched out his work clothes for a pair of sweats and a t-shirt—-something comfortable to wear while they ate. He’d put on his other work clothes after he’d wolfed down enough Chinese food to keep him full for at least an hour. “Thanks. I mean it. I really appreciate it. You didn’t have to do that. You don’t owe me anything, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jason said, flipping open the menu for Wok This Way. “Whatever. Don’t expect it to become a thing, ‘cause it won’t. I’m not going to be your Alfred while I wait for Bruce to decide whether or not I’m a zombie nutcase.”

Dick had to bite the inside of his cheek, hard. He absolutely could not start laughing, but Jason looked like such a sullen teenager, it struck him as hysterical.

He smoothed down his shirt—-much-worn and much-loved, it had a few holes in it, but he couldn’t find it in him to toss it out—-and joined Jason back in the kitchen. He arched up on his toes, wrapping his palm around the back of Jason’s neck and pulling him down for a thorough kiss. It was better than the one he’d tried to give him in the entryway—-slow and gentle and practiced, not quick and awkward with a click of teeth. Jason lifted him—-and he did it so easily, so effortlessly, that it made his belly bubble with unexpected warmth—-and sat him down on the kitchen counter. He settled himself between Dick’s thighs, tossing the rainbow of takeout menus aside. They fluttered to the floor, momentarily forgotten.

And okay, maybe Dick would be going out for patrol a little later than usual. But he deserved an hour or two for himself, didn’t he? Everyone had been on his case about not allowing himself any downtime between the day gig and the night gig, so all he was doing was taking their advice to heart.

This was good for him. Of that much, Dick was positive.


*


Even in the middle of the night, the ‘Haven skyline had smears of hazy artificial light. It was never truly dark, but then again, most cities weren’t. Gotham sat to the north, the glow visible even from such a distance. It looked kind of beautiful when it was nothing but diffused gold and twinkling points of neon—-if he hadn’t known better, he would have thought it was the land of promise. To the most busted and desperate ‘Havenite, it had to look like a better option than their current situation. The gutter was always cleaner on the other side.

Maybe that’s what Jason had been doing in Blüdhaven. Maybe he’d wanted to see Gotham with enough of a buffer to pretend that it was beautiful. Nightwing perched on the edge of a rooftop overlooking the Spine, keeping his ears sharp for the inevitable sounds of laws being broken down below. The Spine was a fat artery stretching diagonally through the city, the main street and uncontested center of sin. If he wanted action, he was guaranteed it on the Spine. Between the pushing, the prostitution, and the creative debauchery, he was never left bored for long.

"You’re late."

The shadows rearranged behind Nightwing, pulling into the rippling folds of the Batman’s heavy cape. He’d been so preoccupied with thinking about the problems below—-and the problems locked into apartment 3A of 1013 Parkthorne Avenue—-he hadn’t had his ears tuned for the slither of the shadows that the Bat liked blending himself into. He was so used to being the top dog in town. Too used to it. And Batman had just reminded him of the fact.

"Didn’t realize I had a punch-in time for my solo patrol in my own city, but yeah, okay," Nightwing said, the flippancy inching toward the surface. It was difficult for him not to feel little prickles of resentment when Batman doled out those gruff put-downs. "I had to tuck in my little brother. Didn’t know you’d stick around for the night shift, Bats."

The Batman straightened, his expression impassive. Nightwing would have sworn that the events of the day had just shut his emotional output down entirely. That’s what Batman did when he was overloaded with thoughts and feelings he couldn’t easily compartmentalize. He knew that—-knew him—-because he’d been his partner for longer than either of the little birds that’d taken his place after he’d left the nest.

"We should talk."

He would’ve made a quip about never expecting those three words out of him, but he couldn’t quite push himself to hit that note of levity. His ears were ringing faintly. He’d figured that they’d discuss the Jason situation eventually, but he’d hoped that it would be as Bruce and Dick, not Nightwing and Batman.

But that’d been wishful thinking.

"I’ve always got my listening ears on," Nightwing said, because when Batman said we should talk, he usually meant I’m going to talk.

Batman’s head tilted slightly toward the neon-lined gutter below them. He locked on a fixed point, unmoving.

Oh, yeah. He’d hit his limit. He’d seen him stand like that, vacantly staring ahead for hours on end, whenever he had to really think about a situation. He shut down the world around him and retreated into the relative safety of the mind of the Greatest Detective. As a kid, he’d wondered what it was like in there—-if the topography of his inner landscape was a neatly organized cave full of bats, too.

"Oracle gave me her personal assessment," Batman said, his voice lowered to an authoritative throb. Nightwing had to keep himself from instinctively straightening, conditioned response to being briefed by the Bat.

Poor Babs. As soon as he’d left the apartment, he’d called her—-and had been rewarded with a scalding crabbiness from his ex-batgirlfriend. Nightwing had asked her to do him a favor and make sure that nothing left the perimeter of his apartment until he got back from patrol. He’d been braced to explain the situation, but she’d already heard that Jason was back and crashing on his couch for the foreseeable future.

That hadn’t surprised him too much. Oracle had a knack of getting information, so he’d stopped asking how she knew what she did. Apparently, Bruce had been talking with her on and off all day, asking for her to dig into a half-dozen things related to Jason. He’d been short and less than sweet about his requests, in typical Bruce fashion. His demand for a detailed report of the first mission that she’d joined Jason on had pushed her over the edge. The team-up had been small stuff, five years past. She’d been Batgirl then, and there weren’t many things that dissolved her patience faster than being forced to comb through the memories of the life the Joker had shattered with a single bullet.

"And?" Nightwing prompted, when Batman didn’t go on.

"She believes that he is who he claims to be."

It was crap like that that made Nightwing want to punch his mentor, sometimes. Okay, more than sometimes. He wanted to punch him a lot.

"I told you that. You saw him yourself. You know that it’s him,” he said, an edge to his tone.

"With the resources available to our enemies, we can’t be sure of anything," Batman replied, and it had the snap of a rebuke. "But tissue, blood, and hair samples all back up his story. He surrendered samples, as well as his prints."

"Of course he did," Nightwing said, heat rushing up to his face so quickly, it made him dizzy. He was suddenly and blindingly angry with himself for choosing to go to his day job. He should have been there—-should have been a buffer between Jay and the mad, all-consuming paranoia of the Bat. Bruce’s disbelief had to have rankled. It had to have hurt. God, and then he’d come home and told him that he was on house arrest. No wonder he’d been pissed. "He wants you to believe him. He’d let you take chunks out of him all day if he thought that it would convince you!”

Batman said nothing, but that silence was its own pointed criticism. He hated that he could shut him up by saying nothing at all.

"He’s alive. According to him, there is no explanation for his spontaneous reanimation."

In Bat-speak, that was a question. That was, and what do you know about it?

"I believe that he believes it, too. I don’t know whether or not it’s the truth, but it’s what he believes."

Nightwing paused. He’d lied to Jason, earlier. He’d told him that this talk had already happened, and that Bruce had decided that he should stay with him.

That’d just been hopeful projection. He didn’t know what Batman would decide, but he was prepared to appeal the hell out of his case if he didn’t agree with his preemptive ruling. Jason would be okay with him. He knew that he would.

"This is what we do know," Nightwing said, finally. "A few months after he died, he ‘woke up’, then dug out of his grave."

"Yes," the Batman interrupted, "The alarms on the casket were primed to trigger if someone tried to get into it. Not out. The groundskeepers feared losing their jobs, so they covered up the disturbance."

"He had brain damage, so he’s fuzzy on everything that happened immediately after digging his way out. He said he was on the streets for a while, and—-"

"Already swept through some of my contacts. A boy matching his physical description was a member of a small group of homeless children. He stuck out in their memories, since he was nearly catatonic, but able to defend himself with training no normal boy should have. He did not speak, did not engage with others, and only met his base needs." Batman paused. His voice dipped lower, softer. "He shared whatever food he stole. He was well-liked by the other children."

Dick’s heart pressed against his ribs with bruising pressure.

"Sounds like him, yeah."

"Go on."

Nightwing cleared his throat. “And those acrobatics and fighting skills didn’t go unnoticed. Information trickled down, and…and Talia found him and took him in.”

He felt Batman coil a little bit tighter. "Talia?"

"Yeah, uh," he flapped his blue and black fingers, wanting to get past this part as quickly as possible. Bruce hadn’t known. The gravelly note of anger mixed up with disbelief in the Bat’s growl painted that story in broad strokes. "She recognized him, and picked him up off the street. She gave him medical attention, fed and clothed him, and tried to screw his head back on straight. I figure that she knew what he was to you, so she was trying to clean him up to give him back. Losing him hit you hard. Everyone who knew you could see it."

Again, Batman said nothing. Nightwing didn’t really care if he was being generous, embroidering Talia’s intentions. Better that Bruce think she had his best interests in mind than the worst. If he thought that Talia had attempted to turn Jason against him, there wasn’t a chance in hell that he’d trust him ever again.

"And in the end, medical science drew up short. So she briefly—-briefly—-immersed him in the Pit.”

He would’ve sworn that the temperature around him dropped a couple of degrees.

"—-but it was just for a few seconds, I think. I mean, you’ve seen him—-he’s still scarred up. I’m no expert in magic pitology, but I think that maybe it goes for the most severe internal damage first, which was his head. It sorted that out." Mostly. He was pretty sure. He hoped. "But you know Ra’s. He doesn’t like it when anyone else swims around in his personal hot tub of youth, so Talia had to smuggle him away. He bounced between handlers for a year, and now—-now he’s here. With us. And that’s all we know."

Lying by omission was still lying. He was only too familiar with the concept. But for Jason’s sake—-and Bruce’s, too—-he had to do it.

If Bruce thought that Jason wanted to seek revenge, he’d never let him back into the fold. And if Jason thought Bruce would never trust him again, he’d have every reason to let himself off the chain.

It was too dark to be a white lie, but all he wanted was to do was protect them. They could mend this, but not if either of them regressed into an unbreakably defensive stance.

Batman nodded, small and slow.

"Your assessment?"

Nightwing pulled in a shaky breath.

"He’s been through the wringer. I wouldn’t trust him wholesale—-" Another lie. He did trust him, but Batman wouldn’t want to hear that. “—-but only because the Pit’s been known to have adverse psychological side-effects. I suggest keeping him under observation for a while, in a non-threatening environment. If he feels like he’s been caged, he’ll react to it. So I—-I think that he’d be best off with me. Oracle can keep a watchful eye on my place, and he doesn’t know the ‘Haven the way he knows Gotham. Even if he did decide to leave, he wouldn’t have as many resources immediately available to him.”

Batman straightened, arms crossed over his broad chest. That signaled the end of a conversation.

"I’ll look into the connection with Talia," he said. "I’ll keep you updated with my findings."

Dick’s pulse pounded in his ears. Yes.

"So, he’s staying with me?"

"For now."

That was good enough for Dick. He could work with that. Jason just needed some time and TLC. He could give him that.

"However. Even with Oracle monitoring the perimeter, I don’t want him to be alone and unsupervised day and night." Batman glanced over at him, unreadable behind his white-out lenses. "Your patrol is nonnegotiable."

Ah. Of course. There always had to be a catch, and this one was a doozy. Batman was making him choose between Jason and the police force, and while he understood his reasoning, frustration still percolated in his chest.

"If I pull out before they finish the last of the inquests, some of the dirty cops might fly under the radar," Nightwing said, very carefully. "Rendering the work I’ve done null and void. So…give me a few more weeks. I’ll beef up my security, and when I know we’ve flushed the BPD, I’ll turn in my badge. You have my word."

People didn’t make demands on the Batman very often. Usually, he was the one who called the shots and decided how things were going to go. He epitomized the idea of ‘my way or the highway’. You did things his way, or not at all. For a beat, he thought that he might change his mind for—-essentially—-telling him no, I refuse.

But Batman nodded again, just a dip of his cowl’s pointed ears.

"Two weeks."

Nightwing couldn’t hold in his sigh of relief. That wasn’t much time, but it was time all the same.

"Okay," he said, as Batman pushed back his cape and readied his grapple line. He was done talking, which meant that they were through. Never one to waste words, his Batman. Before he could swing away, though, Nightwing added, "Tell me. Honestly. You know in your gut that Jason’s really back, don’t you?"

He stilled, bowing his head.

"Yes. That’s what I’m afraid of."

Then the Batman fired the line, and was gone.

And Dick had no idea what to do with that.