Title: Take the Heat Out of Me
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
Crossposted: At AO3
In a weird way, the sex ban was the best thing that could have happened to them, Dick thought. Since his sudden reappearance in his life, he and Jason had been using sex to circumvent having to talk about things. Despite being the chattiest ones in their family, neither of them were particularly good at knuckling down and really talking. Dick had too many questions that he wanted to ask, but couldn’t, and Jason had too many things to say that Dick didn’t want to hear. Jason’s problems hadn’t gone anywhere, the nightmares had yet to significantly improve, and Bruce had yet to dole out an ultimatum. When they screwed around instead of argued, they managed to peaceably coexist in his small apartment despite all that. But Jason’s injury had put a stop to that way of life, so they’d had to start doing two of the most dangerous things possible: talking and listening to each other.
It wasn’t easy. As Jason weaned himself off his painkillers—-which he did much sooner than Leslie recommended—-he went from being helplessly floppy and needy to being a cranky bastard who was simultaneously enduring pain and narcotic withdrawals. Their first fights were extremely loud and trivial, usually brought on by Dick catching Jason doing things that he wasn’t supposed to be doing. His little brother had no patience for his own healing process, so he pushed his limits every time Dick glanced away for a few moments. When he’d first moved in, he’d used working out as a way of passing time and keeping fit. Jason reopened his wounds two more times doing stupid shit like sit-ups before Dick finally threatened to tell Alfred. He wouldn’t have—-he didn’t want Alfred or Bruce thinking that he couldn’t take care of Jason when he was (supposedly) in an incapacitated state—-but the threat was strong enough to keep Jason from training.
They got to know each other. It was a slow process, peppered with squabbling and misunderstandings, but Dick was persistent. Jason couldn’t fight him physically, couldn’t derail things with sex, and was stuck with him during the daylight hours. Dick wore him down little by little, pestering until he started getting fewer swear words and sarcastic comments and more honest insight into the man that his little brother had grown into.
Because he definitely was a man, now. Sometimes, it blew Dick away that he was only a few years older than Tim—-Tim was unquestionably still a boy, but Jason just wasn’t. It wasn’t just his size, either. Life had aged Jason prematurely, so Dick had to remind himself that he was only eighteen—-and barely that. He had moments of teenagerly irrationality, but for the most part he was a man.
A good man, in Dick’s opinion. A good man that he was proud of. A good man that he was willing to work with, even when he made that impossibly difficult. A good man that he looked forward to seeing again when the Blüdhaven skies turned misty gray and he turned in from patrolling. A good man that he was determined to help, and that he openly loved.
But he’d learned his lesson when it came to telling Jason that. He wasn’t ready for the ‘L’ word, no matter how much Dick thought he needed to hear it. Half of getting to know Jason had been getting to know the things he couldn’t say and couldn’t do around him. It was a trial and error thing. The more Jason healed, the less Dick pressed, because the more Jason healed, the higher the possibility was that he’d simply get up and leave if he said the wrong thing.
And there were just too many wrong things available for Dick to say. Unfortunately, by the time Jason had stayed with him for two months, he’d ran out of small fights. He tried not to think about the things he was avoiding—-the small herd of elephants in the room whenever he was with Jason, and the echoing absence of Tarantula in the ‘Haven, despite Dick’s best efforts at locating her—-and the effort he was putting into not thinking was giving him a serious migraine. It didn’t help that the phone had been ringing off and on for most of the evening. The caller I.D. popped up the same number each time, and seeing it made Dick’s stomach pull into a progressively tighter knot.
After the fifth time, Dick slammed down the file he’d been organizing, got up, and unplugged the phone with a hard yank.
"What’s got you acting all Antisocial Annie?"
Jason arched an eyebrow at Dick over the top of his dainty little pudding cup. He was constantly eating. Dick had made the mistake of joking about how he should watch his caloric intake until he could work out again, but Jason had frozen up in that way he’d come to associate with thin ice. There was a certain stiffness in the roll of his fingers when he popped his knuckles that was an immediate warning sign. Jason’d muttered something about hating to sleep on an empty stomach, and Dick didn’t pry for more. He could put two and two together. Some part of Jason’s brain still feared going to bed with hunger gnawing in his gut, and Dick didn’t know what to say to that. There were no right answers, because Jay had it in his head that compassion was synonymous with pity—-and pity made him go from calm to dangerously livid at a snap.
"I’m not being antisocial. It’s just—-it’s Gannon. He keeps calling, and I don’t know what to say to him. He wants me to protest my dismissal. Apparently, the police have been having trouble. They’re seriously stretched thin, and I wish I could go back, but…” Dick sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “You know what Amy said.”
"You’re lucky you’re pretty," Jason said, scraping the last of the pudding out with his spoon. “‘Cause you’re sure as hell not very clever."
Dick frowned at him. “What?”
"Amy said she hated to let you go, but she couldn’t protect you. And for some godawful reason, you just looooove being the good cop," Jason gestured at him with a roll of his eyes and a jab of his spoon. "So keep gumshoeing it up, but do it privately. The police can use a consultant, so be a private dick, Dick. Spin the story that yeah, you had specialized training the whole time, but you wanted to keep a low profile so that you could root out the corruption in the ranks. Which is the truth, right?”
"Oh. You’re—-you’re right."
"Of course I am," he said, faintly smug. "I’m the clever one. Clever Mr. Todd, crazy as a fox. That’s what a tod is, y’know. A dude fox."
Dick sat down next to him, wiping a smudge of chocolate pudding from the corner of his mouth with his thumb.
"My, Mr. Todd, what big eyes you have."
"The better to see you with, my dear," Jason said, batting his eyelashes.
"My, Mr. Todd, what big ears you have," Dick continued, straddling his lap.
"The better to hear you with," Jason growled, grinding up into him with a tick of his hips. Dick huffed a groan.
"Why, Mr. Todd, what big teeth you ha—-"
He didn’t get to finish that thought, because Jason brushed aside the collar of his shirt with his knuckles and bit down on the curve of muscle between his throat and shoulder. When Jay bit, he left marks. The throbbing, scintillating little sparks of pain made Dick groan. He kissed him, tasting menthols and chocolate.
Sometimes, Dick just wrapped him up and pressed close, like maybe he could keep him there in that moment, static and unharmed, if he held on tight enough. Clever Mr. Todd always seemed to be two shakes from rattling himself apart, and holding onto him was the only preventative measure he could think of. Of course, Jay was too big for that—-too tall, too broad, too many invisible cracks to press his fingers to and he couldn’t reach them all—-but Dick tried. Sitting still for any real stretch of time was maddening, but for his brother, he tried. He had to.
No. He wanted to. There was a difference.
"You look at the calendar today?"
Dick arched an inquisitive eyebrow at him. “Should I have?”
"S’been six weeks," Jason said, looking up at him lazily through the fringe of his lashes. The corner of his mouth curled with a grin.
"Oh," Dick said, and then "Oh," again when he realized what Jason meant by that. Six weeks since his accident, six weeks of healing, six weeks until the doctor said he could get back to normal ‘rigorous’ activities. Six weeks of imperfect abstinence. They’d cheated in small ways, but they hadn’t really made love since the afternoon before Jason had nearly been gutted. It had been a long six weeks, in so many ways.
He slid his hand under Jason’s shirt, pulling it up to the middle of his chest and examining him. The staples and stitches were long gone, leaving only shiny pink stretches of scar tissue. Dick stroked the ugly lumpy lines with his fingertips. He had put on some weight since he’d been forbidden to so much as lift ten pounds, but he’d be back to fighting fit in no time.
Which begged the question of what he would do now. Would Bruce okay him for re-training and patrol? Would he go back to Gotham? Would he just go? When Jason had been wounded, Dick hadn’t had to worry about whether or not he’d be in the apartment when he came back from patrols. He’d needed him, and they’d both known it.
"We should celebrate," Dick announced brightly.
"How about we start with leaving the apartment?" Jason said, and Dick’s stomach clenched. Great. "Honest to God, I will throw myself out a window if I stay cooped up in here for much longer. There are only so many hours per day that I can devote to Robot Unicorn Attack before I lose it."
"Hours per day?”
"What else am I supposed to do while you’re patrolling? I sit, swear at dolphins, and wait to get callbacks." Jason frowned, gesturing choppily with both hands. "Those fucking dolphins. You’d think that a robot unicorn would have like, shoulder-mounted turrets or something. Wish it did." He sighed wistfully. "I would shoot the shit out of those dolphins."
"I thought we had an understanding about your gun fetish, Jay," Dick said, sitting back. He could feel the mood teetering. Whenever the subject of his house arrest came up, Jason’s claws came out. He didn’t blame him, really. He’d been patient, but as of yet, Bruce hadn’t made a decision either way. The longer it dragged on, the more it seemed like Bruce had decided that Jason was unfit for vigilante work, and was waiting for them to figure that out. He understood his frustration, but Dick was getting sick of having it directed at him.
"Sure," Jason said with a smile that was all teeth. "I like shooting things, and you understand that whether you like it or not. That hasn’t changed."
"Drop it. I have a whole list of questionable personality traits for you to whine about, Richard. Spice it up a little, would you?”
He should have dropped it. He knew that even before he opened his mouth. This wouldn’t—-couldn’t—-be a small argument.
But he couldn’t drop it. Not this time.
"You’re not that person," Dick burst out, exasperated. "Why do you keep trying to be that way?"
"I am that person," he said evenly. Confidently. It made Dick’s palms sweat.
"Is that what you told him?" Jason laughed, low and unpleasant. "You didn’t tell him what I planned to do. Did you?"
How had they gone from necking to this? Jason could swing from one extreme to another with dizzying speed.
"No. Should I have?"
"You asking my opinion, or are you trying to ask if I’ve still got ‘kill the Batman’ on my bucket list?”
"If I thought you still wanted him dead," Dick said, with perfect honesty. "You wouldn’t be here."
"What if I’m just winning you over to get a better angle at him? What if I’m letting you do the hard work of breaking down his guard for me? What if I let myself get injured?”
Jason had two flavors of argumentative. The usual one—-the one that was relatively easy to deal with—-was loud and brassy and explosive. The other was a low simmer, calm and scarily persuasive. Dick hated it when he got like that, because he knew where he’d picked it up from.
Bruce. That was how Bruce argued, and Dick had a long history of losing arguments with Bruce Wayne.
"I won’t let you do that without a fight."
"You’d die for him." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes," Dick said, with absolute surety.
That scenario was, unfortunately, something that he’d put a lot of thought into. He always wound up with the same answer. Babs had said it best: they all jumped at the chance to throw themselves in the line of fire for each other.
"Yeah? Well, I did," Jason snarled, and the sudden venom in his voice made the fine hair prickle on the back of Dick’s neck. "Fat fucking load of good that did me. Wise up, Dickiebird. You’ve got to live for you, or you’re going to let the Bat drive the rare Flying Grayson into extinction."
Pushing him away, he stood, straightening to his admittedly impressive full height. Without another word, he turned toward the door and started walking.
Dick felt throttled.
"What?" He asked, flicking a sharp look back at him.
"Do us both a favor and take your own advice. You have to move on. I can’t bury you again."
"Do us both a favor," Jason said, his hands curled into white-knuckled fists. "Next time, cremate me."
"No," Dick snapped, louder than he’d intended. When Jason just kept walking toward the door, he grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled hard. "No."
A strange mix of guilt and anger flashed hotly in Jason’s blue-gray eyes. This was about something else, wasn’t it?
"Why are you doing this?" Jason demanded.
"Why am I doing what?"
"What you think I want. Pretending like we’re not doing anything. Maybe even having sex. You tell me."
Jason might as well have punched him square in the gut. The accusation took the wind out of him.
"I’m sharing a bed with you because I want to!" Dick said, his eyes wide. He couldn’t believe he’d said that, thought that, felt that. "I told you, Jay. I love you.”
"Yeah, but see, I keep asking myself if it’s that kind of love, of it it’s some truly fucked up kind of brotherly love, where you’ll screw yourself up if it’ll keep me on the side of the angels."
Dick exhaled shakily.
"If I’m screwing myself up, it’s not your fault."
“‘Cause if you are—-I mean, be honest with yourself—-I’ll—-”
"I want you to stay," he interrupted, because he just could not have this argument with him. He didn’t want to think about it. His feelings were what they were. Why try to dissect them? "I’m not doing anything that I don’t want to do either way.”
"Then you’ve got to stop being a dick, Dick, and let me help you fix whatever’s fucking your head up.”
"And what about you?" Dick challenged before he could stop himself—-before he could think about what he was saying and how much deeper he was digging. "What about your head?"
Jason went silent. Seconds dragged by, cloyingly thick, but he didn’t say a word. His cheeks flexed as he clenched his teeth angrily, but he didn’t respond.
"Hypocritical or not, Bruce doesn’t want you patrolling because of where your head is at," Dick said, when it was clear that he wasn’t going to get a response. His throat felt too dry, too tight, to roll with a proper swallow. He breathed in hard through his nose. "You’re not in a good place. I know you know that."
Still, nothing. Dick almost wanted to beg him to say something, anything, even continue the fight if that was what he wanted. But then Jason shook his head. Just once, slow and small. He looked so resigned, Dick’s chest bloomed with an ache that felt as deep as bruised ribs.
"Can’t fix that," Jason mumbled finally, brows pinched.
"Yes, we can,” Dick insisted, lightly touching his shoulder. When he didn’t shrug him off, he squeezed reassuringly. “You’re not the only one with nightmares. You think Bruce doesn’t get them? You think I don’t get them?”
The anger visibly drained out of him. It didn’t leave much left.
"What do you do?"
The question ran through him as a ripple of surprise, then relief. He nodded, sitting back down on the couch. After a moment’s hesitation, Jason joined him. It was a good thing that they dropped out of fights almost as quickly as they fell into them. There was always a little bit of emotional whiplash, but it could have been worse. Jason hadn’t left. Jason was asking for help. Dick could work with that.
"I’ve had this one reoccurring nightmare for…two, maybe three years, now," Dick said, rubbing his jaw. He could see it in his mind’s eye, the lurid charivari of the damned. "It starts out with me up on the board again, waiting to start the show. I’m back to being a kid, so I’m—-I’m small. Weak. I watch my parents fall. Then, I fall. But I never hit ground. It’s like that one scene in Alice in Wonderland, where she falls through the rabbit hole and things whiz by—-but it’s stuff like Bane breaking Bruce in half like an accordion, and Joker at a shooting range where all the targets look like Babs, and then him hosting a cooking show, and he’s tenderizing the stuffed Robin with a—-" The word stuck in his throat. He swallowed. "—-crowbar, and—-and I’m always falling. And I can’t save anyone. Not Bruce, not Babs, and especially not you."
"You have nightmares where the Joker hosts a cooking show with me as the main course?"
"When you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous."
"Something is seriously wrong with your head, man," Jason said with the ghost of a smirk. "And this is coming from the guy with brain damage."
"Anyway. I chose to focus on changing the dream, not dreaming about something else. I know myself. I’m stubborn, even when I don’t want to be.” Dick scrubbed his hand over his eyes. “So I give my parents somewhere soft to land.”
"You don’t try to catch them?" Jason asked, frowning.
"No. Like I said: I’m stubborn. I know that I’ll never be able to catch them. I know that they’re gone. So I just…imagine that they never felt the landing."
Jason fell back into pensive silence. It absolutely set his teeth on edge. Dick hated silence. He always felt compelled to fill it, but he never knew what to say. Too often, he chose the wrong things, and not even his best intentions could keep it all glued together.
"Two nightmares," Jason said, his rumbling voice so quiet, Dick thought he’d imagined it at first. "I’ve got two main ones, at least. They’re both the times I ‘woke up’, but in the nightmares, I just wake up to die again. I used my belt buckle to dig out of the coffin, but in the dream? The weight of the dirt and worms and shit just comes crashing down and suffocates me. The other dream’s the Pit. Drowning in it. Dying, but not being able to really die, since that youth juice just brings me back. Over and over. Not scared of dying anymore. I do it all the time."
Jason stared at a fixed point on the ceiling. His eyes were glassy, wet.
"I think." Dick cleared his throat, then tried again. Suddenly, his nightmares seemed so childish in comparison. His were fears. Jason’s were much, much closer to reality. "I think maybe we should just train you to have a different dream. Nightmares can be learned behavior, so if you teach yourself to dream of something else instead, you might be able to break the cycle. So. What would you choose to dream about, if you could dream about anything?"
"The first time I put on the suit." Jason closed his eyes, exhaling slowly. "Best day of my life. Bar none."
There was a longing in Jason’s voice, but it was strained. It was his best memory, but one that hurt to even think about. Dick understood—-hell, he’d never forget the first time he’d stood at Batman’s side. The difference was, he’d had a pretty good life before his parents’ deaths. Those memories had never been trampled or changed. He’d had good things before becoming Robin, and good things after.
Jason had loved his mother, but then found out that she wasn’t his birth mother. He’d found his birth mother, and then she’d sold him out to the Joker. The Joker had not only beaten him to death, he’d killed his belief in Batman and Robin.
Robin had been the best thing Jason had, and even that had been taken from him.
Dick decided that he was going to fix that. Getting up, he opened up the closet and yanked his spare suit and domino mask off the hanger. He dropped the oily-dark fabric in Jason’s lap.
"Put it on," he said as Jason pulled the suit between his hands and stared at it dumbly.
"It won’t fit me," Jason said, though he could tell that he was testing the stretch.
"It will," Dick insisted. "It has a lot of give. Put it on."
"We’re going out. Maybe if we can jog your flying memories, it’ll be easier to dream about it."
"Bruce’ll have kittens," Jason said, tracing over the brilliant blue v across the suit’s chest. “Fucking litters of kittens.”
"This isn’t Bruce’s city," Dick said. "It’s mine. And I’m telling you to put it on and lace up your boots. We’re not going to patrol, and we’re not going to look for trouble. We’re just going to go on a walk. A celebratory walk."
The celebratory walk didn’t stay a walk for long. His reaction time was a little slower than usual and he wasn’t quite as sure-footed, but Jason was basically healed. As soon as that clicked over in his head—-and Dick could almost see the realization, since it made him grin—-walking was the last thing that he wanted to do. He flew like only a former Robin could have. So Dick lead him through his city, loving that whenever he flicked a look over his shoulder, his little brother was mirroring his movements as seamlessly as a shadow.
It reminded him of when they used to patrol together. Back then, Jason had tried so hard to prove to him that he was ready, that he was good, that he was capable, and that he was a hero. He hadn’t always gotten it right, but he’d poured every ounce of himself into it.
That hadn’t changed. Jason was still trying to prove most of those things to him, and to Bruce. Dick wondered if he ever got tired of it.
More than that, he wondered what would happen if he stopped trying.
He pinched that thought off like an artery, drying it up. It wasn’t worth thinking about, because it wouldn’t happen. Jason was ready, was good, was capable, and was a hero. Dick believed that with every part of himself.
They ran the Spine from the Melville section of town to Gotham Bay, following the lewd and dirty core of the city until it broke into the stink of the docks. When he caught his breath, laughing, Dick turned to tell Jason that he’d earned a couple of pudding cups with that run. But his shadow abruptly disappeared. Dick wasn’t positive where he’d lost him, but the realization made him stop dead in his tracks.
Panic crackled in his veins, and he looked around wildly. The housing perched on Avalon Hill was one of the nicest parts of town, built when Blüdhaven still had a little cash and hope to rub together. The brick buildings had probably been stately and prim a hundred years back, but decades of pollution and disrepair had eroded them into long, jagged silhouettes. The buildings looked less like a skyline and more like rotten teeth jutting up out of the horizon.
Jason couldn’t have taken off. He wouldn’t have. Yes, he’d loaned him his spare suit, and yes, the gauntlets and gloves had tools in them, and yes, that was as close to outfitted as Jason had been since he’d locked his dangerous handful of worldly belongings in a safe, but he wouldn’t have taken it and left. He wouldn’t. Despite claims to the contrary, he wasn’t that person. He knew him. He knew he wasn’t.
The thought spun in Dick’s head, slick with denial. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t.
Dick flicked down the starlight lenses in his mask, illuminating his vision. Maybe he’d lost him by accident. Maybe if he just stood still and waited for a few seconds, he’d show up.
But there was nothing. Just the disproportionately nice homes up on the Hill and the mess of a city at its feet. He couldn’t see the blue slash of his borrowed Nightwing uniform anywhere.
"That’s cheating, Dickiebird," a low voice said in his ear, richly amused. Dick lashed out on impulse, purely reactionary, but Jason caught his fist. He grinned impishly, looking far too pleased with himself. It was strange, seeing him in his costume. Strange, but not bad.
"Don’t do that again," Dick warned, but he was too relieved to make it sound like a real threat. Jason must have gotten a stitch in his side from running hard after so many weeks without exercise. He shouldn’t have instantly jumped to the worst case scenario—-it wasn’t fair to him.
Jason stooped to kiss him. If there was one thing that six weeks without sex had improved, it was his kissing technique.
"Thanks," he murmured.
"For what?" Dick asked, wondering where that had come from. He wasn’t in the habit of giving out thank yous willy-nilly. Or ever, really.
"This." Jason closed his eyes, spreading his arms wide and breathing deeply. “‘Cause this was worth my spleen.”
Bathed in the milky moonlight reflecting off the bay, he looked peaceful. Peaceful and Jason Todd were two things that rarely crossed paths, so Dick took a moment just to enjoy the sight. When he was like that, he looked more like a boy than a man. It stirred up a sense of wistfulness in Dick—-and a little bit of sadness, too, because the only time Jason looked truly young was when he was out in the night.
That wasn’t how life was supposed to work, but the night had claimed Jason a long, long time ago.
As it turned out, Gannon Malloy was a very determined man. Failing to return calls and unplugging the phone weren’t enough to dissuade him, as Jason found out firsthand. He’d been working on his little personal project, since Dick was out running errands and he was guaranteed at least two solid hours to himself. Working on it had become difficult since Dick had started spending most of his days in the apartment, but he was still making steady—-if slow—-progress.
The knock at the front door made him swear in surprise. Despite being popular around the complex, Dick didn’t get very many visitors. As such, they didn’t have a preset agreement on whether or not he should let anyone in when he was away.
Curiosity got the better of Jason. Pulling on a pair of sweats, he answered the door.
Officer Malloy blinked rapidly. “Uh—-I’m sorry, I must—-“
"You’ve got the right apartment," Jason cut him off with a wave of his hand. "But Dick’s not in right now. Should I tell him you stopped by?"
Gannon had the good looks and wholesomeness of a Ken doll. He smoothed back his hair, smiling at him awkwardly.
"That’d be great. Do you…live with Dick?"
"Yeah, he’s my—-uh." He didn’t have an answer for that. Dick was his awkward, label-defying ‘uh’.
"Brother?" Gannon prompted, but something about his tone didn’t match up. Jason ran his tongue over his teeth, trying at a negligent shrug.
"Sure, something like that."
"I thought Dick said he was an only child."
Jason just shrugged again. He did not want to be having this conversation, especially without Dick present. He was usually a pro at playing the fuzz—-he had to be; his glib charm had been carefully cultivated from a young age—-but he didn’t have it in him right then.
"Look, if you and him—- mean, not to assume anything, but…”
This guy totally thought that he was Dick’s boyfriend, Jason realized.
Shit. Was he Dick’s boyfriend?
The thought hadn’t really occurred to him.
"Yeah," Jason said, just to try out how it’d sound if he said it aloud. "He’s my boyfriend."
And it didn’t sound half bad. A little weird, but he could get used to it. He wouldn’t wave it around much—-not in front of Bruce, that was for goddamn sure—-but it…yeah, he could get used to the way it made the corners of his mouth pull up into a reflexive grin.
"Wow," he said, then, "Wow," again. “Dick kind of pinged my radar, but I didn’t think…”
"He was the new guy. Got enough heat as it was, I heard. You’re…" Jason feigned ignorance, frowning. Then he snapped his fingers. "O’Malley, right?"
He was Gannon James Malloy, age twenty-six. He’d moved to the ‘Haven shortly after completing his Academy training. His partner was a man named Ellis, and they’d been together for three years. Gannon had been Dick’s partner for four months. He was good—-one of the best rookies, and a genuinely honest man. He was a Capricorn. He liked romantic comedies.
Jason was in the habit of knowing things that might be relevant. The very attractive gay police officer that Dick had spent half his day with was definitely relevant.
"Malloy," he said, crinkling a smile and offering his hand to be shaken. "Gannon Malloy. It’s great to meet you—-?"
"Jay," Jason said, because if he ended up using a fake name, Jay could be hung on any number of possibilities. "And Dick and I haven’t been together for too long, so don’t beat yourself up about not knowing about me, Gan my man. Want to come in and have a soda or beer or something?"
"You twenty-one, Jay?"
"Underage drinking has landed me in cuffs a couple of times already," he said with an exaggerated wink. "If you know what I mean."
Gannon didn’t stay long. He nursed half a diet soda, peppered him with all kinds of well-meaning and intrusive questions, and then left Jason to stew in his juices. He was a decent guy, but pretending to be Dick’s dumb jock boyfriend—-the easiest identity to assume; he wasn’t expected to answer any deep questions or facilitate the conversation in any meaningful way—-had left a weirdly bitter taste in his mouth.
He didn’t get much work done after that. He couldn’t concentrate past the singing note of tension that was making his fingers tremble. It shouldn’t have gotten to him. He hated that it’d gotten to him.
"Psst. Hey. Jay. Over here."
Jason looked up from the laptop at the sound of his name. Blinking, he glanced to where it’d come from—-out the living room window, which got more use in the apartment than the front door did.
Dick was hanging upside down from the rungs of the fire escape, a bouquet in hand and a stupidly wide grin on his face.
Jason slowly closed the laptop, scowling.
"You’d better be joking."
"Heard something interesting today," Dick said as if he hadn’t heard him, crawling in the window. When Jason continued to give the bouquet the stink eye, he just set it on the coffee table and shifted his weight from foot to foot like a kid that had to pee.
This did not bode well.
"I went and talked to Amy about consulting, like you suggested—-she said she’ll think about it, but I’ve got a good feeling about it. Anyway, I ran into Gannon on my way out. He congratulated me on having netted a ten."
Dick paused meaningfully, clearly searching for a reaction. What kind of reaction, he wasn’t sure. Did he want him to spill the entirety of the conversation he’d had with Gannon, like it was some kind of guilty secret? If Jason took the time to feel guilty for every little lie he told, he wouldn’t have much time left in his day for all of the other noxious feelings he couldn’t seem to get rid of.
"He said that he’s glad that I found someone," Dick continued, emphasizing someone like Jason just wasn’t getting the picture. “Because he’s been worried about me ever since I broke up with Babs. He said that with the force being what it is right now, we all really need to have someone to come home to—-otherwise, we’re on the fast track to burnout.”
"That’s awful sweet of him," Jason said, stretching out his legs and crossing them at the ankle. "Calling me a ten."
"Look. Did you tell him that I’m your boyfriend?"
"Is that why you brought me flowers?” Jason deadpanned, looking at the bouquet distastefully. Sometimes, he wondered if Dick forgot that he was sleeping with someone with a penis—-someone who didn’t need or want romancing via flowers. He couldn’t imagine how he could forget that very important, impressive detail.
"I asked you a question first."
"He said you don’t have any brothers. What was I supposed to say?" He put a hand to his cheek in mock horror. "Goodness gracious, does this mean that we’re homosexuals?”
"That isn’t funny."
"It’s a little funny," Jason countered, which seemed to incense Dick all the more. He huffed a hard breath, color climbing in his cheeks.
"Can we be serious about this for a few seconds? We can’t avoid talking about this forever."
"This," Dick repeated, gesturing between them. "Do you want me to be your boyfriend?”
Jason just shrugged.
"We do a lot of fucking for being ‘brothers’."
"Don’t say that."
"What? We do." He folded his arms behind his head, glancing up at the ceiling. "You’re in a lull between gooey relationships with leggy ladies, so you’re fucking me. I don’t have a problem with that."
"Don’t say that,” Dick repeated plaintively, and he sounded more hurt than anything else.
"Say what? Fucking? Stow your tender sensibilities, Grayson. We’re fucking, you and me."
"No. Maybe you are, but I’m not. I don’t do that. I don’t do that to anyone. I could. If I wanted to have sex, it wouldn’t be hard for me to find someone willing to get in bed with me," Dick said, pacing. It was hard for him to keep still under good conditions, but when he got his emotions running he rattled all over. "I’m not being egotistical—-I get offers, you know? But I don’t do that. That’s not who I am."
"Oh, right. You make love,” Jason said, framing it with exaggerated finger quotations.
"You’re damn right I do. Because if I’m sleeping with someone, it’s because I love them. Because I want them to know how much I love them. Because—-" He searched for the right words, pressing his lips into a hard line. "—-because I want to be with them, and have a future with them, and have them love me back."
"Like I said," Jason muttered. "We’re fucking.”
"Is that what you want? You want this just to be sex?"
"C’mon, Dickie. You know I’m not the type you take home."
"Lucky for me," Dick said, voice tight, "Your home is mine, too."
Jason laughed. His brother flinched like he’d physically struck him.
"You really think that. You really, honestly think that," he said, almost amazed at the strength of his denial. Too bad he couldn’t weaponize that. "Christ. If he wanted me back, I’d be in Gotham. I’m not. There’s your answer."
"I want you back!” Dick shouted, arms flung wide. Dick was getting angry. Really, truly angry. It was kind of beautiful to watch. He was righteous and incandescent. "I want to be with you! I never asked because—-because I knew you’d be like this!”
Jason took slow, even breaths. In through his nose, out through his mouth. He wouldn’t let it get to him. It could, so easily. That’s what Dick wanted, probably. He wanted him to take the bait, to believe him.
"You want to be my boyfriend."
"Let’s talk endgame," Jason said, for once the calm and patient one. He had to be. If he lost it, they’d build against each other until they started fighting or fucking. And according to Dick, they weren’t doing the latter. "Let’s pretend you’re not going to drop this and move on when I don’t ‘need’ you anymore."
"Nuh-uh. Listen," Jason said, shaking his head. "You’re the kind of guy who wants to make a family. You want to find ‘the one’, and you want to settle down. Sooner or later, you want to hear the patter of little pixie boots and know that you’re not the only Flying Grayson anymore. That’s the plan." He worked a hand through his hair, agitated. He didn’t want to have to say this, but he wasn’t about to let Dick stay with him because of…because of what? Pity? Obligation? Guilt? “And I’m not mommy material.”
Dick’s arms dropped to his sides, loose and relaxed again. He offered him a watery smile.
"Then I’ll be the mom."
"I’m not kidding," Jason warned.
"Neither am I," he said, shaking his head. "I don’t know of many people I’d trust more around children. And you’ll get there. I believe that. You’ll get past the nightmares, and Bruce—-Bruce’ll get there, too."
"This conversation got real serious real fast, didn’t it." Jason wasn’t sure if he was upset or mad or both. His heart slammed in his ears. "Problem is, you’re talking to yourself. This is nothing but a pretty little story you’ve built up in your head. You want Babs, man. You want someone you don’t have to paste back together."
Dick didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then, he sighed.
"You through playing devil’s advocate? Because I think I’m enough of an adult to decide what I want."
"You never know what you want."
"Today, Gannon told me that I have a hell of a partner," Dick said, looking at him steadily. "I want him to be right, Jay."
Jason angrily smeared at his eyes. They’d gotten all hot and itchy. Cutting the distance between them in two long strides, he kissed Dick before he could convince himself not to—-once again clumsy and messy and doing it too hard and with too much teeth, but he was shit at this. He just needed some kind of closeness, and that was the best he could do.
What was he supposed to say? He didn’t know. He was shit at this. Just shit.
He wanted to say yes. To say whatever someone whose head was in a good place would say.
"Fuck me," was what came out, half-strangled and high.
Dick drew back, obviously confused.
"…I’m pretty sure we just had this conversation."
"I just." Jason’s teeth clacked as his jaw clenched. "I mean—-"
"I know what you mean. C’mon," Dick said, wrapping a loose hand around his wrist. He tugged gently. "We’re gonna go make love."
"Do you really have to call it that?” He asked, sounding like a whiny teenager even to his own ears.
"Yes, I do," he said, and unbuttoned Jason’s jeans.
And, well, he was less inclined to complain about things when his pants were off. They made their way to the back room, shedding clothes as they went. By the time they got to the bed itself, Dick had a single sock left and Jason had his boxers hooked around one ankle. Both were forgotten as Dick grinned widely and pushed him down on his back.
"We’re going to do something a little different," he announced, reaching for the lube. Popping open the cap with his thumb, he squeezed a liberal amount into his hands.
"How different?" Jason asked, regretting his stupid request. He’d just blurted it out. He wasn’t sure if he’d really meant it. Wasn’t sure if he was ready for that. Even with Dick. Even now.
Dick’s smile softened, and the knowing in his eyes made Jason’s guts squirm unpleasantly. It wasn’t pity, but it was close. He had an objection primed on the tip of his tongue, but then Dick ran his slicked palms up the insides of Jason’s thighs, from the bend of his knees to his already flushed cock. His breath caught in his chest and he shivered reflexively as his hands made sure his erection was slick and hard. He’d started to soften, but Dick took care of that with a few practiced tugs.
"If you don’t like this, we’ll stop," Dick said, blue eyes earnest. "I just—-your thighs—-“
His fingers dug into the thick muscle, kneading his slippery skin. Dick rocked into him, thrusting into the wet cleft between his thighs, and Jason groaned. No penetration, but he still got the friction of his cock against sensitive skin.
Something different. A compromise. Jason squeezed, hips bucking up to match him. Dick set a lazy rhythm, like he was in no rush to hit orgasm—-like he was happy enough just to rock slotted against him, comfortable and close.
No way in hell was he ever going to call it making love, but it was difficult to call it fucking when Dick crooned sweet, stupid little praises in his ear, the flash of his teeth bright as he beamed at him.
Dick fell asleep a very contented man. Not only had he gotten Jason to take it slow and relax, he’d managed to get some post-coital spooning out of him before they’d dropped off. He hadn’t said that yes, he was basically officially his partner, but Dick knew that it was like the ‘L’ word—-he’d get there eventually. Terminology tripped him up, even when the desire and intent was there. Jason’s snoring was proof enough that he was truly relaxed, his guard down, and that rush of protective warmth had permeated Dick’s subsequent dreams. For one rare night, they both slept all the way until morning, undisturbed. Neither jerked awake, gasping or thrashing, and that was a small blessing.
Unfortunately, their morning started too early. Dick was startled awake by the peeling ring of the telephone. He tried to grasp at the shattered bits of his dream before it dissipated—-it’d been a good dream, a really good one; he knew that much—-but the telephone’s obnoxious ringing drove it out of his skull.
He swore tiredly. Jason grunted his agreement.
Sighing, he reached over and dragged the phone off the hook.
“‘Lo?” Dick croaked, squinting at the clock on the bedside table. It solemnly reported 4:48 in lugubrious red numbers. Four was an ugly hour—-too late for the night owls and too early for the early birds. Nobody liked four in the morning.
"Dick! Thank god!" The familiar voice ran a jolt through him. It was Irving, Haly’s current manager. There was no good reason for him to call at four in the morning. Plenty of bad ones, though. "Listen, I’ve got a real emergency here and I don’t know who else to call!"
Dick sat up, instantly awake. There was a knot in his stomach as big as his fist, but he managed to keep a smile pushed up into his voice. The thick arm that snaked around his waist helped. Jason rearranged himself, pillowing his cheek on Dick’s thigh with a drowsy snort.
"Irving? What is it? What’s wrong?"
"We’re in Saratoga," the manager said quickly. "How fast can you get here?"
That answered his question well enough. Too sensitive to discuss on the phone, too important to wait until daylight.
"Pretty fast," he said, which was the truth. Following the speed limits, it was about a five hour drive. Dick figured he could make it in under three. If Irving said it was an emergency, it was an emergency. The panic slurring his words together was enough to shake all of the grogginess out of Dick’s system.
"Okay. Okay. Thank you. I—-I just didn’t know who else to call."
"No problem, he said, his tone soothing. "I’ll see you in a few hours. Sit tight."
"S’matter?" Jason asked, yawning. He really regretted the timing, since he was less than excited about leaving a warm bed full of sleepy second Robin.
But the circus was home. It would always be his home. So when they called, Dick answered. It was that simple.
"Haly’s," Dick said shortly, reaching over him to hang the phone up. "Something’s wrong. Irving didn’t want to get into it over the phone. He just asked me to come, and I can make it up there in three hours if I really step on it. Want to come with?"
"I, uh." Jason’s adam’s apple bobbed visibly. "I would, man. But. Fuckin’ clowns."
Instantly, Dick kicked himself. Of course he’d have some lingering clown-related phobias. And of course he wouldn’t want to come out and say that he did. The Joker hadn’t taken from Dick anywhere near as much as he’d taken from Jason, and yet he still hadn’t been able to look at clowns the same way he had as a child. He got a weird kind of nauseous whenever he caught sight of his own reflection under greasepaint. If it was that hard on him, how bad was it for Jason?
Worse than the way he reflexively winced every time he heard a baseball bat crack something solid, that was for sure.
"I’ll bring you home an elephant ear," Dick promised, disentangling himself and slipping out of bed.
"And a corndog," Jason mumbled sleepily. "If you know what’s good for you."
The uncomfortable moment passed. Dick breathed a sigh of relief, leaning over and kissing him. Jason was a minefield of a person, but he was learning to navigate his hidden tripwires fairly well.
It hadn’t blown up in his face, at least. He’d gotten worryingly close earlier, though. Sometimes, all he could do was take steps forward, hold his breath, and hope that Jason didn’t detonate.