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Surcease of Sorrow

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Burning, crawling pain woke Dick up, like a buzzing bee was dragging its stinger around Dick’s skin while walking up and down his arm. The owie got worse when he moved, so he called for his mother. “Daj . . . daj.”

In seconds she was there, just steps away in the larger bunk of the trailer, and his father too, large rough hands soft on his back, smaller but still calloused hands smoothing the hair back from his forehead, then a warm puff of air as a kiss was dropped to his face.

“What’s wrong, gugli?” his mother asked.

“Hurts.” Dick shoved the sleeve of his favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pjs up and shoved his left arm at his parents. His daddy turned on the light with a click, and the three of them gazed at Dick’s arm. Where clear, soft skin had been at bedtime, a black shape fluttered.

“It’s your soulmate tattoo,” Dick’s daddy said. The bed creaked as he sat down next to his son.

Mommy gasped. “Múndro! Let’s see.”

The three of them peered at his small forearm. The wiggling, fluttering lines of the tattoo were still blurry - full clarity and detail wouldn’t arrive until mid or late puberty, and colors even later - and surrounded by angry red skin, but the tattoo was clearly that of a dark bird.

“A blackbird?” Dick said, frowning at the restless shape. Daddy and Mommy sang him a lullaby about a singing blackbird. Daddy said a group of bugs or beetles sang it first, which confused Dick but always made him giggle.

“A crow, or a starling, or a raven. It’s too early to tell. Maybe even a grackle,” Daddy said.

Dick wrinkled his nose. He’d never heard of that kind of bird and it sounded made up. “Is not!”

“It’s beautiful. Another bird for my little bird,” Mommy said, petting the four-year old’s hair.

“Where is your hawk, drágo?” Daddy shifted on the bed as Dick jumped to his feet on the mattress, lifting up his shirt with his right hand to show off his own tattoo - the one representing his own spirit. A juvenile hawk, still fluffy and soft, had his head tucked under his wing along Dick’s ribs, but at the scrutiny shifted, looked at them, and then hid his head again. Dick now had two bird tattoos - his own soulmark of a hawk, and the new blackbird or crow that represented Dick’s soulmate.

Mommy chuckled. “Your hawk is not too impressed, but don’t worry. One day, he will be.”

“So we know your soulmate is about four years younger than you. That’s fine - your mother and I aren’t the same age either.” Daddy’s red panda tumbled down his bicep towards Mommy, while her lemur, visible on her shoulder next to the strap of her nightgown, stirred and sat up.

“Is today my soul mate’s birthday?” Dick asked with eyes wide with wonder.

“Not today, no,” Mommy answered. “Babies are usually at least a few months old, sometimes even a year, before the mark appears. Then their mark shows up on their soulmate, and usually there’s another delay. Seems like the tattoo artists of fate don’t move very quickly.”

Daddy chuckled. Dick didn’t quite get the joke, but focused on the important part of his explanation. His soulmate was probably still a tiny baby, which meant that . . .

“I’m the oldest! Does that mean I’m gonna be bigger?”

Daddy’s low chuckle filled the small space a second time. “Maybe, shav. But only if you start eating your broccoli.”

“John!” Mommy said in a scolding town, but then laughed and hugged Dick close. “And your protein. Acrobats need strong muscles.”

Dick stuck out his lower lip and looked up at his parents with big, limpid eyes. “It still hurts a little.”

“Oh, my robin, it will for a few days.” She gave a soft kiss to the skin next to the inflamed tattoo. “Would you like to sleep with us for tonight?”

Dick nodded his head solemnly. “I think that would be a good idea.”

Daddy gave the little snort that meant he was trying not to laugh. Dick glared at him. Daddy immediately looked more serious, but a twitch of his lip gave him away. “Of course you can, drágo.”

Dick studied Daddy for a moment before deciding that Daddy was taking this seriously enough, even if not quite as seriously as he would like. “It’s just so you don’t worry about me, cuz my arm hurts and maybe you’d be worried I wouldn’t sleep good.”

“Such a clever boy,” Mommy said. “And so sweet, thinking about his parents.” Her voice sounded like light and laughter.

So Dick ended up snuggled between his parents in their bunk, nestled in the warm valley between their large, strong bodies, surrounded by the scent of chalk and makeup remover and the sounds of slow breathing. His new blackbird tattoo hopped awkwardly up his arm - too young to fly, even in living ink - to sleep on his chest, above his heart. Dick felt more than saw his hawk settle on the right side of his chest, near the blackbird but not touching. Dick knew that your soulmark always slept on the right, while the bondmark slept above the heart. Daddy put his big arm over Dick’s side and hugged him close. Mommy’s breath tickled his nose.

It’s a memory he hangs on to, later.

 

*****

After his parents fell, Dick’s birds picked their feathers and stayed close to their usual spots on either side of Dick’s breastbone, listless and quiet. When they weren’t plucking at their feathers, they sat with the feathers fluffed and heads hunched.

But just as Dick’s own irrepressible nature slowly recovered, so did the birds. The hawk loved to fly just as much as Dick did, and Dick loved to wear tank tops so he could watch it soar from his hand, up his arm, across his shoulders, and down the other arm. There was something mesmerizing about the way his wings would beat a few times, powerful and almost slow, then it would glide, wings still, primary feathers spread wide. Sometimes the hawk would spiral across his back or chest, soaring on invisible air currents, before tucking his wings and diving towards imaginary prey. The hawk also liked to perch on Dick’s elbow if he was in short-sleeves or his neck if he wasn’t to watch the world with gimlet eyes. The crow, while more reticent and cautious, also seemed to enjoy spying on whatever Dick or the hawk was doing.

Like the juvenile hawk, Dick was super curious about everything in his new life, especially the soulmarks and soulmates of his new family. Baking with Alfred was the perfect chance to ask questions - the butler would never leave Dick alone with a hot oven.

“So let me get this straight,” he said, pouring the chocolate chips into the measuring cup. “You’re telling me that Bruce’s soulmark is actually a bat?”

“Indeed, Master Dick.”

Dick giggled. “He must have to keep that a secret, so no one gets suspicious.”

“Yes he does. Good thing he’s bonded to someone who already knew both identities.”

“Who?”

“Master Clark, of course.”

Dick grinned as so many things snapped into place - Superman and Batman’s excellent relationship, even though to an outsider it might seem like Batman barely tolerated Superman, Dick knew that they were great friends. Superman’s endless patience for the grumpy bat. The way Batman’s mouth would sometimes curve into a half-smile around Superman. One thing puzzled him.

“But I thought that Uncle Clark was dating the other reporter, and Bruce and Miss Selina . . .” his voice trailed off, not sure he had the vocabulary to describe Bruce and Selina’s relationship, and definitely not Batman and Catwoman’s.

“Master Bruce and Master Clark are platonic soulmates. They have the bond - and I do believe that feeling each other’s emotions has helped over the years more than it has distracted them - but they aren’t involved romantically.”

Dick wasn’t sure he knew what platonic meant, but he thought he could understand. “Does that mean that Bruce has Uncle Clark’s bondmark?”

“Admirable deduction. It’s a Kryptonian bird, and caused his dear parents and Master Bruce himself quite a bit of consternation, as no one could identify it as any bird on Earth.”

“I bet that really annoyed Bruce,” Dick giggled.

“Quite,” Alfred said, filling the word with sardonic amusement in a way that Americans could never manage. “I believe that it’s the namesake of a legendary hero of Krypton folktales.”

“That is so cool!”

 

*****

 

More than a decade after Dick’s soulmate tattoo showed up, Dick was living a life that his parents could never have anticipated for him. There had been good times, and times when Dick could barely believe that it was real, like when he first looked down at the Earth from the great windows of the Watchtower, gleaming blue and pristine white like a promise below him. There had been times of trauma and trouble, baseballs bats, blood on the floor, terror. But also elation, when his hawk and his blackbird spread their wings and soared, even as he did the same, those precious moments of flight or freefall between buildings. When he laughed even as he took down two mooks with a jump kick.

Now was one of the worse time. He was basically living in Titan’s Tower, his relationship with Batman strained to the point of fracture, barely seventeen. His legal relationship with Bruce was going to dissolve in less than twelve months, and the A word had never been mentioned since the first social worker basically laughed in their faces, saying that a single man in his twenties with the reputation of a dilettante and playboy - rich or not - would never be approved to adopt a preteen. One who was probably too old to be his biological child. It would be inappropriate. Of course Bruce never tried again, as far as Dick knew, and never mentioned it. The couple of times that Dick had tried to talk about, Bruce hastened to assure that no matter what, Bruce would pay for college. College! It was a generous offer, of course. The man didn’t owe him anything, the day Dick turned eighteen.

Still, when Alfred called, Dick picked up. Whatever the situation with Bruce, Dick’s relationship with his grandfather figure had never faltered.

“Master Richard, might I enquire as to when you’ll be returning to the Manor?”

Maybe never, Dick thought uncharitably, even though Alfred’s headmaster's voice reassured him.

“Um, I’m not sure if I’m really welcome right now.”

“Nonsense! I think you’d quite like to meet Master Jason.”

“I don’t think Bruce would want me to, I don’t know, get in the way with bonding with his new son.”

The silence on the other end of the line meant that Alfred was frowning, moustache stiff with disapproval. “None of that now. The adoption has merely been initiated. Master Bruce is also aware that I am making this telephone call.”

Dick noted that Alfred didn’t actually say that Bruce approved of the call, but he’d take what he could get. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do. The Titans have been busy lately, but maybe in a few weeks?”

“This Sunday, I should think. I’ll make a beef Wellington.”

Even as Dick’s mouth watered at the thought of Alfred’s cooking, he felt a prickle of suspicion. “What’s the rush?”

Alfred cleared his throat. “Well, you see, Master Dick, I became aware last night of the nature of Master Jason’s tattoos.”

Dick didn’t think it was odd that Jason had been at the Manor for a couple of months so far and Alfred hadn’t seen them yet. Some people were more private about their soul marks, and some animals themselves more shy than others.

Dick’s own hawk constantly moved, and seemed to have a bit of an exhibitionist streak. In fact, Bruce had added long sleeves to the Robin suit because the hawk loved to peak his head past the short sleeve and look around, sometimes hopping down to his forearm to pop his head above the gauntlet - hanging around for hours as if he enjoyed watching Dick take down mooks. Not so conducive for a secret identity. The crow that belonged to his soulmate was less of a hyperactive show-off (Bab’s description), usually staying in the spot above Dick’s heart, but would fly up and down Dick’s arms several times a day.

“Um, interesting?”

“He has a smallish black bird and a larger bird of prey.”

Dick froze, forced himself to swallow, his heart to beat steadily, to breathe. His soulmate! Dick tried not to get too excited. His own raptor remained in frustrating grey-scale, lines still a bit blurry and ill-defined, as did the other bird, so identifying which species exactly was still difficult. Didn’t help that the hawk was never still unless it was asleep, and then it would tuck up small and cover his head with a wing. Besides, black birds were common, and birds of prey not entirely unusual.

Doing his best, and failing, to sound casual, Dick asked, “So, what time Sunday?”

 

*****

 

Their relative ages lined up - Jason was four years younger than Dick, and the animals matched as best as they could tell, given that the exact species of their birds was still unknown. But Jason’s bird - Jason insisted it was a raven - was still very juvenile, and shy, so coaxing it to submit to an examination was difficult. The only way to know for sure if two people were actually soulmates was skin to skin contact - with 7.5 billion people in the world, even matching animals weren’t a guarantee. Because both Dick and Jason’s animal tattoos were immature, they couldn’t even sure that they did match.

Though Alfred hadn’t mentioned that Clark was invited for dinner, Dick wasn’t surprised to see him there. Dick strongly suspected that it was through Clark’s intervention that Dick’s relationship with Bruce wasn’t even worse. At least he had moved on to Nightwing voluntarily when it became clear that the Batman and Robin partnership wasn’t working any longer.

“Uncle Clark, so good to see you again,” Dick said as he got his customary bear hug of greeting. A quick shoulder squeeze from Alfred, and small nod of greeting from Bruce, and then Dick paused awkwardly in front of Jason. They’d met before, once, but hadn’t touched. Hadn’t even sparred. If he was being honest, Dick had been in a little bit of a mood then. Finding out that his father-figure and legal guardian had taken in a new orphan, planned to turn him into Robin (Dick’s mother’s name for him!), and had intentions to legally adopt him all at once had been a lot to take in.

Despite Bruce’s overall neutral opinion of soulmates - that they were nice enough if it worked out but not a huge priority - Dick could feel Bruce’s scrutiny. Clark was grinning in anticipation. Even Alfred, who’d never found his soulmate and professed that he didn’t really see what the whole fuss was about, gazed with interest as Dick held a hand out to Jason to shake.

Dick had worn short sleeves for the occasion. He reached out to Jason, slouched in an oversized red hoodie, and shook his hand.

Nothing happened.

Just to be sure, Dick held on to Jason’s hand for an extra beat. If they were soulmates, Dick’s hawk and Jason’ raven would meet where their skin touched. If the bond was especially strong, then all four marks would meet. Dick’s hawk came winging down Dick’s arm, and Dick held his breath. But the hawk just circled his hand once and headed back to Dick’s shoulder. Jason’s bird didn’t even peek out from underneath Jason’s shirt.

“Ah, that’s that then,” Alfred said. “Never mind. You’re both young, yet. Plenty of time to find the right person. Now I have small appetizers set up in the lounge. Shall we?

Dick told himself that he wasn’t disappointed. Alfred was right - they were both young. Even though Dick knew that his soulmate was about four years younger than him, the reality was he would be happier to meet them when they were both safely legal. Much less awkward that way.

 

*****

 

Dick saw Jason occasionally; he tried to get to the manor at least once a month for a day or two, spend time with all of them, go on patrol. He and Jason never became especially close, but they got along well. Especially when the kid relaxed enough around Dick to talk about his passions - literature, motorcycles, being Robin, really excellent chili dogs. Dick had a purely in good fun fling with Roy, and a slightly more serious relationship with Wally. He got involved with Kori, who never got a soul mark at all.

Dick relaxed into being Nightwing and it no longer hurt to see Jason in his family colors.

And then Jason died.

Dick missed the funeral.

 

*****

 

Some months after Dick got back to Earth, he woke up to the sensation of one of his marks thrashing and flailing across Dick’s skin. He flipped the light on and peeled off his shirt to look.

It wasn’t unusual for his hawk to be awake when Dick slept, but Dick couldn’t remember the mark ever moving frenetically enough to wake Dick up. Despite that, Dick was surprised to see that sensation was coming from the bondmark he’d had since he was four, not the hawk. The adorable but shy black bird writhed and flinched, little eyes squinted in pain. Dick watched helplessly. He still hadn’t found his bondmate, but they were in danger. Injured, sick, maybe even dying. Dick reached for his phone - maybe he could call Barbara. Bruce. Tim.

He dropped his hand when the bondmark’s struggles escalated, wings buffeting against unseen forces. Since he’d never met his soulmate, Dick couldn’t sense their feelings; for a short selfish moment that made Dick feel sick, he felt glad the bond had never formed. He didn’t really want to experience what seemed to be mortal agony, much less whatever terror and other emotions they must be feeling.

Even if Dick called Superman, he knew he was already too late.

The crow’s thrashing slowed, then stopped.

Dick turned off the light.

He sat for hours unmoving in the dark.

His soulmate was dead.

They hadn’t even met.

 

*****

 

The small crow of his bondmark didn’t move again. It looked like a normal greyscale tattoo of a crow in flight, wings wide spread but frozen above Dick’s heart. Dick couldn’t mourn a person he’d never met, but sometimes he grieved for the loss of possibility. Something precious had been taken from him, before he’d even had a chance to see it.

Kori and Dick broke up, after almost getting married. It was rough for a while, but they ended up being friends. Not as close as before, but they were strong. Kori was the first to notice that the gray markings on Dick’s hawk were slowly turning blue, his beak yellow with a blue tip, eyes bright amber, but Barbara was the one who identified the bird as a Chilean blue eagle. Despite the name, it wasn’t a “true” eagle, but the real life animals were huge for hawks. Many of them had black or greyish markings, but some of the males had the stunning blue tone that Dick’s bird was developing.

Kori was also the first to notice that the crow was slowly starting to move again, about six months after dying. Though it seemed it had never died in the first place. All of the experts that Dick consulted - and he even unbent enough to ask Bruce to help him research - agreed that there must be a reasonable explanation for what happened. Coma was the most plausible suggestion, and there were a few documented cases of something similar happening to others. Raven suggested that Dick’s soulmate had gone to an astral plane and then returned. Other reasonable hypotheses included some kind of major life upheaval, or mental breakdown, or even their heart stopping but then being restarted. Until and unless Dick found his soulmate, they wouldn’t know for sure. Dick hated thinking of them going through such a terrible trauma alone, but at least they weren’t dead.

The crow’s personality changed too, over the years. One day Dick noticed that it’s eyes glowed green. He liked to terrify Tim with it sometimes.

The crow also grew larger, its movements sure and strong, wing beats bold and swift. No longer a juvenile in any way, the crow seemed fierce and vibrant, with a glittering intelligence in its flight patterns and sharp face.

Dick hoped it meant that his soulmate was thriving.

Dick got together with Barbara, then they broke up. Then a rooftop in the rain, and Blockbuster, and a gang war in Gotham, and Dick got shot in the thigh and passed out for a few days. When he woke up, Alfred told him that Steph was dead and Babs was gone. Dick’s life was an empty, derelict shell, just like his apartment building in Bludhaven. Dick was barely back on his feet again in both senses of the word when Bruce called him for help with Gotham - a new villain showed up calling himself the Red Hood.

 

*****

 

Nightwing arrived just in time to save Batman’s ass from Amazo, then they chased Red Hood through a train yard. Red Hood blew up a train to buy some time, and escaped.

“Why does there always have to be an explosion?” Nightwing quipped. They had avoided the worst of the blast and Nightwing narrowly avoided reinjuring his stupid leg. Batman helped him stand and surveyed him with narrowed eyes.

“You’re still off your game. Head back to the cave.”

“I’m not leaving you. This guy clearly has some kind of personal grudge against you, and he’s good. I’m fine.”

Batman’s grip on Dick’s arm didn’t withdraw, but he allowed Dick to shake his hand off. Dick took a few steps to show that he could move without impediment. “See? I had the wind knocked out of me but the leg’s okay.”

Batman growled but didn’t press any further. “Come on, then. I think he’s heading towards Ace Chemicals.”

Nightwing fell in step beside Batman as they headed to the rooftop to follow Red Hood. “Isn’t that where the Joker got his start? Fell into a vat of chemicals?”

“Rumored to be, yes.”

“What do you think the Red Hood is doing here?”

“Let’s find out.”

 

*****

 

Batman and Nightwing chased Red Hood through the factory, dodged between smoking vats and gleaming stainless tanks over twenty feet tall. Even with bat-training, their footsteps echoed, bouncing off of the metal vessels. Red Hood was fast and agile for a big guy - he wasn’t quite as tall as B but Dick wouldn’t be shocked if Hood outweighed the bat. Out of the three of them, Dick was the fastest. He shot his grapple to a catwalk above them and swung over Hood in an effort to trap Hood between the two bats. It was a good strategy, but the catwalk cracked and broke as Dick released the line. No one could follow that way.

Hood pushed a bubbling vat over to block Batman’s path. B dodged back from the corrosive liquid, but some of the acid splashed back towards Hood, catching his gloved hands and forearms. The ever-expanding puddle of acid blocked Batman off from the criminal, but also Dick. Hood whirled and ran in a third direction.

“Nightwing, pursue from your side and I’ll circle back.”

“Will do.”

Dick followed Hood through the factory and into an even-larger warehouse, with towering shelves and high ceilings. He slowed to move with caution through the maze, escrima sticks held ready.

A flash of movement glimpsed between shelves. Dick followed, this time on noiseless feet.

Hood was well-trained. He spun when Dick was just feet away, aiming. Dick knocked the gun out of his hand with a blow from one of his escrima. Hood charged.

Red Hood had taken his acid-eaten gloves off, which made sense. His hands didn’t look burned, which Dick noticed even as he dodged them.

Without the guns, Hood fought like a brawler. A skilled, fast, accurate brawler. He wasn’t completely devoid of tells though. The fight was a draw at least initially. Hood coped well with Dick’s fast, acrobatic style, in a way that even well-trained fighters rarely managed. Just a slight movement across the guy’s chest and shoulders told Dick that a punch was coming. He swayed back but not quickly enough. Snap of the guy’s shoulders and hips, rotating through at speed, fist clenched at the last moment, connected with Dick’s jaw. He staggered back, almost falling on his ass.

It was a great punch. But Dick could take a hit, and he dodged the worst of it. He couldn’t explain why he felt so woozy.

Dick had become so used to his hawk’s near constant movement over the years that he usually ignored it, unless the hawk was being especially energetic. And the hawk seemed to get that when Dick was fighting, a distraction could be disastrous. So Dick, already dizzy, was shocked to feel powerful wing beats across his skin, up his torso, his neck, until the hawk reached his jaw, right where he’d been hit.

Dick backed up. He stared at Hood, who instead of pressing his advantage was rubbing his fist with his other hand.

The pain on his jaw intensified and focused, delineating into hot stinging needles in his skin, crawling and writhing, and Dick realized he’d felt this pain before. Over twenty years ago. Soul mark.

His soulmate was the Red Hood. The criminal, the murderer, the gang lord. Severed heads in a duffel. Dick’s heart stuttered and shattered in his chest.

If any doubt remained, it crumbled when Dick felt the crow stir from its customary place on his left pec and fly once around his chest, as if it sensed the presence of its other half nearby.

Red Hood sunk to his knees, presumably in the same kind of pain that Dick was in, not to mention the emotional turmoil. A spark of humor flared - the criminal probably wasn’t any more thrilled to find out that his soulmate was a superhero than the reverse.

The bond unfurled into existence, like a limp hanging flag caught in a sudden gust of wind. Nothing, and then snap. Color and patterns and sensations flared. Feelings.

Dick felt them like he felt his own emotions, but with a distinct flavor of otherness. Just enough that he could tell that the rage and burning loss wasn’t Dick’s.

He knew one thing. Hood couldn’t kill him - not with such a newly created bond, still raw like a wound between them - without risking killing himself from the backlash and trauma. In time, they would learn to control it, to step away from the feelings enough to create distance, but it would take time. Until then, every feeling would be doubled and redoubled across the link.

Dick straightened and pulled off his glove, took a few cautious steps forward. He reached out to Red Hood. For a moment, the criminal didn’t move, head tilted in a way that suggested he was staring at Dick’s face, trying to read whatever he could from his expression behind the mask. He had an advantage over Dick - Dick couldn’t see a single inch of the other man’s skin except his trembling hands. Dick watched them clench and unclench once, then the right hand reached up and took Dick’s own hand.

Dick’s hawk immediately reacted - wings snapped back and he stooped, diving down to Dick’s hand. Dick felt the crow moving with more caution, but started to spiral down Dick’s arm. Dick watched in an uncomfortable boil of awe and fear and trepidation as he saw the mirror image of his own hawk peek out of Red Hood’s sleeve and fly across the back of his hand to rest where their hands touched. Seconds later, Red Hood’s own soul mark joined the others, and Dick started when he realized that it wasn’t a crow. A raven. He’d been wrong this whole time.

The raven on Red Hood’s hand leaned into the space where their hands met and pressed its brow against Dick’s hawk. Then the hawk on Red Hood joins them, followed by the raven on Dick. The four birds - bodies stretched across the backs of the men’s hands - nuzzled each other, with small wing flaps and hops of contentment.

The moment lasted just seconds, and yet Dick felt stretch to the end of time and back. Then, breaking the spell, as if they were reacting to a signal perceptible to only them, the soulmarks took flight at the same instant. All four bird tattoos flew around their joined hands, not crossing over on the other’s skin but skirting the edge. The birds’ wings brush occasionally each other, wingtip to wingtip. Dick stared in awe at the beauty, the grace, the elegant spiralling forms.

Only in the closest and strongest of bonds could the marks move from one body the other at the point of contact, and then only in moments of intense emotion. Still, to have the four living tattoos so active, at a first meeting, for all them to touch each other - it was a sign of a powerful bond. He struggled to process that it was a bond with the person he’d just been trying to beat up. And was also trying to beat Dick up.

Too much to take in. Dick dropped Red Hood’s hand, and though his palm was dry he rubbed it against his suit anyway.

“Where do you we go from here? I don’t suppose you’re going to let me arrest you now?” Dick said lightly, attempting and almost managing to hide the gruffness in his voice.

“No, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Red Hood drawled. “This is not how I wanted to reveal my identity.” He sounded sardonic, amused, maybe a vein of frustration there too.

“You’re going to show me your face?” That was something Dick hadn’t considered yet, in the entire two minutes he’d had to think this through so far. Nightwing wasn’t sure if he wanted to reciprocate - was he ready to share his own identity with a crime lord?

For a moment, Hood stood frozen, and Dick thought he really was about to reveal himself. Finally, the voice rasped through the modulator, “I don’t think so, Nightwing.”

Dick never should have let his guard down, even a little. Hood crashed a foot into the side of Dick’s bad knee - and how did he know - and ran as Dick dropped to the floor.

Dick tried to stand but his knee refused to bear his weight.

Moments ago, Dick felt he could separate his own feelings from those of his soulmate. But now all he felt was a torrent of sensations, and he couldn’t tell what belonged to him, what belonged to Red Hood, what was merely mirror images bouncing and bouncing between the two. Pain, anger, panic, denial. A burning neediness.

Two hearts hammering against two sternums, four sets of wings beating, unable to take to the sky and fly.