Jason arrives just in time to see Dick land hard on the hood of a car, arms splayed out like Christ on the cross. The car is a 1972 Chevelle SS in mint condition, or it was, anyway, and Jason takes a moment to mourn the damage before he realizes that Dick's not jumping back up with a quip and finishing off the douchebags who robbed the jewelry store.
He leaps off his bike and barrels down the street, lets loose with the taser on one thug and takes care of the other two before they know what's hit them. Dick is still spread out on the hood of the car like way too many of Jason's adolescent fantasies, and it takes him a minute to realize that the reason Dick hasn't gotten up is that the car's antenna is sticking out through his shoulder.
"Shit, that looks like it hurts."
"You think?" Dick grunts, his jaw clenched and Jason imagines his eyes are closed behind the lenses of his mask.
Jason bites back the laugh that bubbles up inside--sometimes, crazy works, but this isn't one of those times. "I'm gonna call 911--" Dick shakes his head, and Jason nods, tersely, biting back angry words. "Fine." He pulls out his knife, the weight of it comforting in his hand, and ignores the way Dick's whole body tenses. "I'm just gonna cut this so you can get up, okay?"
"You really think I'd gut you while you're down? I'm hurt, Dick, really." He keeps talking bullshit, because he is hurt, a little, even though he probably deserves Dick's suspicion, but mostly because he's a little freaked out at the way the antenna pokes right up through Dick's shoulder. For reasons he can't put a finger on, it's more unnerving than a knife or bullet wound.
"Just get it over with," Dick says, and he's never sounded more like Bruce than at that moment, in a way that straightens Jason's spine and stops his hands from trembling before they can even start.
"Sir, yes, sir." He tosses off a mocking salute before he slides the knife against the base of the antenna and slices. It comes free with only one hitch that makes Dick choke out an impressive curse. "Gonna have to wash your mouth out with soap when you get home." Dick raises his other hand to give him the finger, and this time, Jason lets the laugh out. It feels as shaky as it sounds, but his voice is steady when he says, "Okay, hold on. I'm pretty sure this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me." He waits until Dick steels himself and then grabs the antenna as close to the wound he as he can, and breaks off the part that's sticking out. He ignores the blood on his gauntlet and snaps what's left of the antenna like a whip. "As kids, we used to steal these off old cars and fence," he says, struck by how vivid the memory suddenly is. Sometimes, he forgets he had a life before Batman. Before Robin. "Man, I haven't thought of that in years."
"As lovely as this trip down memory lane has been--" Dick elbows himself into a sitting position, mouth in a tight grimace.
Jason pulls a bandage out of his pocket and wraps Dick's shoulder quickly, and as gently as he can, which probably isn't nearly gentle enough. "All right, princess, let's get you to the hospital."
"I'm not one to talk down my own skills, but I think doing more than slapping a bandage on this one's a little beyond me." He dips a shoulder and drapes Dick's good arm across, waiting until Dick gives him the nod before straightening up. "The clinic isn't too far."
"No. Take me to the cave."
"Since you can't see it right now, I want you to know that I'm rolling my eyes."
"Shut up, Jay, and take me home."
"Fine. I can drop you off and let Alfred patch you up."
"I'm sure Alfred would be happy to see you." Dick's voice is faint but sincere.
"That makes one of us." He feels around in his pockets for the keys to his bike. "You ready?"
"You're the one standing around doing all the talking."
It's his turn to flip the bird. "Must be weird for you, huh?" That wins him an amused snort. "All right, let's go."
He's glad that for once, he's parked right at the scene of the crime; it doesn't take long to get Dick situated on the back of his bike.
"I don't have an extra helmet," he says.
Dick wraps his good arm around Jason's waist, hooks a thumb into his belt loop. "I'll live."
Jason guns the engine and heads towards Wayne Manor. It's not a short trip, and it gives him a lot of time to think. And not about how good it feels to have Dick's chest pressed up against his back, which is a shame, because he doubts he'll get the opportunity again.
He'd spent a lot of time scoping out the lay of the land when he first got back to Gotham, but even he wasn't crazy (or stupid) enough to get too close to the house or the entrance to the cave. The only reason he's willing to drop Dick off now is because he knows Bruce is off somewhere with the Justice League, not waiting in the doorway for another failed reunion.
Alfred, though. Alfred is a whole different kettle of fish. Jason doesn't know if he can deal with that, especially not on a night when his hands are covered in Dick's blood, even though for once, it's not his fault. It feels like it is. If he'd gotten there fifteen seconds earlier, if he hadn't waited those extra seconds, sure Dick would get up the way he always does--Jason shakes his head, forces himself to focus on what's in front of him, not what might have happened if he'd done things differently. There'll be time enough for that later.
Everything looks the same, which doesn't surprise him, the road covered with stray wet leaves and skid marks, the trees looming ominously. He's seen pictures of the place back when Bruce's parents were still alive, and never could believe it was the same house, the same grounds. It's not that it's unkempt--Alfred would never allow that, even if Bruce had--but it's gloomy instead of gracious. Haunted. Makes sense that nothing's changed, because ghosts don't. Can't.
The secret entrance opens and he guides the bike down the curving ramp as easily as if he'd done it yesterday. He slows to a halt at Alfred's side and removes his helmet, jaw set and chin raised in defiance.
Alfred's hands are clasped behind him, and his expression is neutral. "I take it you're not intending to blow the place up?"
"No." And then, worried that that might seem too definitive, and reveal his homesickness, he shrugs. "Not tonight, anyway."
"Then you might as well make yourself useful. Help him over to the table."
"I don't need help," Dick says, but he looks pale in the sickly light of the cave.
"Of course you don't," Alfred says, and it's positively affectionate compared to the tone he greeted Jason with.
Jason shrugs off Alfred's acerbity; to be honest, it feels as welcoming as any embrace. More, even, because it's not false. He moves automatically, and whatever else death and resurrection took from him, this place is still burned into his memory, imprinted on his bones. He ignores the ineffective slap of Dick's hands and his insistence that he doesn't need help.
"You have a piece of antenna in your shoulder, dumbass. Let Alfred take care of it."
Dick's mouth quirks in a half-smile. "I didn't know you cared."
"I don't, but it freaks me out a little."
Alfred gives him a sharp look, as if he can see through the lie, but is too busy fussing over Dick to lecture. Though he's probably the only person Jason would take it from.
"You know where the suture kits are," Alfred says.
Jason nods and lets himself be ordered around for a few minutes, ignoring the weird welter of feelings being back in this place inspires.
He hands over the suture kit with a mocking bow. "I suppose I'm your lovely assistant for the evening."
Alfred raises a skeptical eyebrow. "Do you remember what I taught you?"
Jason grunts in frustration. One day, he's going to be able to pack as much meaning into that one word as Alfred does. He mouths it silently. Unfortunately, today is not that day. "I never could win an argument with you."
Dick lets out a faint huff of laughter. "No one else ever can, either."
"I suppose that's comforting."
"Go and wash your hands," Alfred says, and maybe Jason's imagining it, but his tone has thawed slightly.
Alfred gives Dick something for the pain, which knocks him out. It's easier to peel off the top half of his suit and take care of his shoulder without his weak protests that he's fine. Jason's not squeamish about blood--he never has been, not even his own--but it was always worse somehow when it was Bruce's, because Bruce wasn't ever supposed to bleed. He hadn't expected to have that reaction to Dick being injured, but on some level, he does. His hands don't shake, though; they haven't for a long time, and even though he's always had a lousy bedside manner, it's easy enough to hand Alfred the supplies he asks for.
"That should do it," Alfred says, frowning for a moment at the gauze he's used to wrap Dick's shoulder before pulling off his gloves and tossing them into the biohazard waste container.
"Will he be okay?" Jason aims for brusque, too afraid he'll sound young and scared otherwise. It seems to work.
"He should regain full range of motion. I don't believe there was any nerve damage, either. But I'm not a doctor."
"I tried to convince him to let me take him to the emergency room, but you know how he is."
"I have absolutely no idea what you mean."
Jason snickers in spite of himself. This is familiar, comforting even, and for a few seconds, he can almost forget everything else. He washes his hands again, disliking the way the powdery residue from the latex gloves clings to his skin, and finally pays attention to the changes in the cave, the updated computers, the new trophies.
The case with his uniform in it. He looks at it, at the epitaph, and at his masked face reflected in the glass. He's as much of a ghost in this place as anyone.
He clears his throat loudly. "He knows I'm not dead, right?" His voice doesn't crack, but that's only because for once, he's lucky.
"Given your recent foolish behavior, I believe he is aware of that, yes."
Jason turns and crosses his arms. Dick's still passed out from the painkillers, so there won't be any witnesses or third-party contributions to what will likely be the worst scolding Jason's ever received, for all that it will also be the most polite.
"You might as well get it over with, Al," he says.
"I beg your pardon?"
"The lecture, or whatever it is you want to say to me. You probably won't get another chance."
"I believe you already know what I should like to say to you, Jason."
"Maybe. But I'd still like to hear you say it."
"So you can store it in your memory with all the other perceived slights we've committed against you, to be taken out and examined and used to fuel your foolish vendetta while you're wallowing in self-pity? I think not."
That stings more than he expected. More than the tongue-lashing he was bracing (hoping) for.
He was rarely successful at goading Alfred, even when he was a mouthy kid, but he has to try. "You don't understand."
"No, Jason, you don't understand." Alfred must be as on edge as he is, though he hides it better. His voice is tight and sharp. "You've turned your back on everything he taught you. You asked for the one thing he couldn't give you and then threw a tantrum like a spoiled child when you didn't get it. What happened to you--it changed him."
"It changed him?" Jason interrupts incredulously.
"It changed him," Alfred repeats. "And obviously, it's changed you, and I'm sorry on both counts." He purses his lips, a pained look crossing his face before that damned neutral expression is back. "You must know that if you cease your criminal activities, you'll be welcome to return. Until then, however, I must ask you to leave. Now."
Jason forces himself to meet Alfred's gaze. He nods and sets his jaw, because as much as he'd like to deny it, it hurts. "Fine," he says, and bites his lip so he doesn't say anything else, doesn't howl like the spoiled brat Alfred's accused him of being.
He stalks over to where his bike is parked. He grabs the helmet and is raising his arms to put it on when Alfred says, "Thank you for your help tonight."
"Don't mention it." He settles the helmet down over his head, glad he doesn't have to keep his expression in check anymore, and swings a leg over the bike. "He'd have done the same for me."
"Yes," Alfred says. "He would."
Jason guns the engine so he can pretend he doesn't hear. He roars up the ramp and out into what's left of the night, leaving the ghosts behind.