It was 3:00 AM when Dick spotted the motionless body on the street outside his apartment.
He'd been hurt worse than he'd let on to either Bruce or Alfred. Bruce had enough on his mind—and if Alfred knew something then so did Bruce, so that was out. Dick didn't want to be fussed over, anyway.
Alfred drove him home in the near silence, Dick trying to keep the pain he felt from his expression. Alfred eyeballed him because Dick was never quiet, but refrained from asking questions (another of his many talents, knowing when not to pry).
At the apartment, Dick undressed, noting without surprise the massive black and blue bruising (matched his costume, how fashionable) all up and down the side of his body. But bruising was all it was, plus the leg injury of course. Looked like shit, but still nothing serious.
He stared at himself naked in the hallway mirror, lost in thought. He hadn't been able to brace himself in time for the body-meets-ground introduction the Red Hood had set up by blowing the train station. Dick was irritated—if there was anything he could do, it was stick a landing—but not this time. He'd definitely like a rematch with the Red Hood, make a better showing for himself. And let's face it, he was intrigued with the new mystery guy's skill set.
He shook his head. A man like that, trying to take over as Gotham's top crime lord, well ... it wouldn't be long before they'd meet again. Dick lived in the next town over.
He threw on a pair of worn black sweats and decided to give resting his best shot. All he needed was a little down time to heal.
Which was kind of the trouble, Dick conceded a half hour later. Lying around wasn't exactly his strong suit, especially after an adrenaline-filled night. Plus his body was sore as hell and stiffer than a ninety year-old's. Made it hard to get comfortable enough to rest.
He took some aspirin and settled on the couch, but sleep wouldn't come. He couldn't turn his brain off. As taciturn as Bruce was, Dick knew he was hiding something the minute the man had thanked him. For anybody else, sure, that was normal, but Batman the Impassive? No way, and he especially wouldn't bother to thank his first boy wonder. It's just not how Bruce was with Dick.
He stilled. Something—there was something there in that train of thought. Dick tried to follow it, but nothing.
What was Bruce keeping from him?
And that was the point at which Dick dragged himself restlessly to the window and looked out to see a body sprawled half-on, half-off the sidewalk of the otherwise deserted street.
He hoofed it out to the body, limping, concrete cold against his feet, air chilly against his naked chest. A man lay on his side, dark hair hanging over his face.
Dick slowed as he drew closer. He stared, blood roaring in his ears. Could it—no, it'd been five years—he was dead—
He strode closer and brushed the hair from the man's face. He fell to his knees.
It was Jason. Older, broader through the shoulders, lax body huddled to the pavement.
But he couldn't be here, the Joker had beaten him brutally and blown the damn building after—
"Jason?" Dick whispered. His hand hovered, lowered to Jason's chest. Felt the heartbeat beneath his hand. "How did—God, Jason, it's me, Dick."
Jason opened one swollen green eye, blinked and opened both, so slow. He couldn't seem to focus. He had a cut on his cheek and another on his hand.
"Can you move?" Dick asked. "Do you need an ambulance?"
"No, please no—" Jason's hand shot out, grasped the hand over his heart. Blood dripped from a cut. A smooth cut, so either a sharp knife or glass was the likely culprit.
Dick felt a tremor in the fingers closed over his own. "It's okay, Jase, it's all right. How badly are you hurt?" He brushed his other hand over Jason's cheek, felt him turn into it as if starved for touch. His chest tightened in sympathy.
"I gotta get off the street. Help me—" Jason rasped.
"Take it easy, I got you. First you have to tell me if anything's broken."
"Good. Head or spine injury, you think?"
"No! There's no time!" Jason gasped.
Dick turned his palm over, squeezing Jason's hand. "Okay. Hold on, Jason. I'm getting you up." Slowly and carefully, Dick hauled Jason to a standing position, supporting him with an arm around him. "Ready?"
Jason nodded, then staggered. "Just get me upstairs!"
Dick shrugged. "You're the boss," he said, and swung Jason over his shoulders into a fireman's carry, nearly staggering himself. In the heat of the moment he'd forgotten his own injuries. He squared his shoulders and straightened.
Jason's body tensed against his, but he didn't speak beyond a soft oh shit uttered under his breath.
Dick grinned and carried him upstairs, trying not to let the injured leg give out beneath him. In the apartment he placed Jason gently on the living room couch.
Jason glared up at him. "I'm not breakable."
"I don't know what you are. For God's sake, we thought you were dead! What's happened to you?"
Jason winced and closed his eyes wearily. His skin was pale, his black hair messy, but aside from the paleness he looked in good shape.
"Hey, sorry. You, uh, need some water or something?"
"Sure, thanks." Jason kept his eyes closed. His body curved in on itself as if he couldn't relax. He looked oddly vulnerable—uncommon with the ordinarily outspoken Jason.
Dick looked him over. Jason wore jeans, boots, T-shirt and a jacket. They were well-worn, faded. From what Dick could see, Jason carried no weapons or items of self-defense. It wasn't possible to know for sure with the army jacket, but Dick couldn't spot any tell-tale bulges.
Jason's eyes opened, grew wider and glassy as he looked over the apartment. It wasn't until he looked at Dick again that he relaxed. Something was very wrong.
"Sorry. Water," Dick said, and went to the kitchen to bring him a glass.
Jason sat up in the corner of the couch when Dick returned, seeming to shrink back into the cushions. He looked at Dick with haunted green eyes.
Dick sat down on the coffee table across from him, handing over the water glass. He hesitated. "You're not—you're not afraid of me, are you?"
Jason glared at him, sputtering water. "Stupid question, Grayson. You think you can get the jump on me?"
Dick grinned. "That's better. Now tell me what happened to you."
Jason drained his glass, glancing at Dick. "How in hell do I even begin? Five years, I—" he shrugged.
"The warehouse with the Joker. Start there."
Jason tensed. "I died."
"And yet here you are," Dick said in measured tones.
Jason looked up. "You glad of it or not?"
"Stupid question, Todd. Really damn stupid. Now talk."
Jason nodded, a trace of a smile flitting on his face. "Ra's Al Ghul tried to screw with the European economy, but Batman and I were onto him. So he hired the Joker to distract us. It worked. You know what happened next." Jason shuddered. His face wrenched, a rubbery, horrific grimace, passing in a blink.
Dick did a double-take, drawing back. Too late to suppress his reaction. For an instant Jason had looked like a cartoon caricature, barely even human.
What the hell happened to you, Jason?
Jason watched him, eyes dark. He'd seen Dick's reaction.
Dick gave him an apologetic look and nodded, encouraging Jason to go on.
"It wasn't part of Ra's plan for me to die. He said it was unnecessary," Jason said bitterly. "So he stole my body and took it with him to the Lazarus Pit, a place where he rejuvenates. It literally gives him life. He thought it might do the same for me, and it did, except—" Jason looked away again, miserable. "It—something about the place—it was too much. Next thing I know, I'm waking up with a thousand memories in my head shouting at me all at the same time. My head just fucking exploded, Dick. I was, you know, kind of … batshit." He looked at Dick and smiled.
A shiver ran down Dick's back. He'd never seen anything deader.
"I ran. Right through Ra's' window and off the cliff. Ra's couldn't find me. I guess he thought I was dead." He shrugged. "I wasn't dead, I was crazy. For a long time. Years. I don't know anything much after that. Just vague impressions. Then the Red Hood found me. He's fed me, gave me meds. Kept me captive. Tonight I escaped. Jumped through another window, how's that for fun?"
Dick shook his head grimly. "Not much. The Red Hood? That guy's all over the place lately. How did he find you?"
Jason shook his head, eyes pleading. "I don't know."
Dick frowned. "What does that mean?"
"Just what I said. But he means to use me against Bruce." Jason's face hardened at Dick's expression. "I wouldn't hurt Bruce, dammit. The Red Hood knows who I am—a bargaining chip. He'll try to kill him." He stood. "And we can't let that happen."
Dick put a hand on Jason's shoulder. "We won't. We need to call Bruce."
Jason stepped away from the touch. "Don't you think the news of me being alive, of Red Hood threatening to kill me all over again, might be a distraction? A very dangerous distraction? We can't risk it. I need to lay low until this is over."
"And what if the Red Hood finds you again?"
"He won't if you'll let me stay with you." Jason's eyes widened, roving over Dick's torso, finally noticing the mottled, deep bruises down Dick's chest and side. "What happened to you? And you're limping!"
Dick made a wry face. "Speaking of the Red Hood."
"He did that?" Jason stepped closer, inspecting the bruises.
"He's a busy guy. He blew up a train station with Bruce and I as part of the fallout."
Jason grabbed Dick's wrist. "Bruce is okay?"
"He's fine. We're both fine."
Jason huffed. "Wow. You're fine, huh?" He looked pointedly at Dick's bare chest.
Dick ignored the look. "I don't agree with you. Bruce should know." He held up a hand, forestalling Jason's answer. "He can handle the Red Hood. But I'll go along for now." He stepped closer slowly, giving Jason time to draw away. Jason stayed still. Carefully, Dick wrapped his arms around Jason and hugged him. "I'm glad you're home, Jason."
Jason held Dick's arms beneath his hands. "Me too." He pulled Dick closer and kissed him on the mouth.
Dick's body stiffened in shock. He stepped out of the circle of Jason's arms. "Jason, what is this?" he asked, low.
Jason flushed. For a moment he appeared near to panic, uncomprehending. "You don't want—that?"
Dick opened his mouth. He didn't know how to respond. "When have I ever?" he said at last.
Jason stepped closer. "Don't you remember—"
Jason looked as if he'd been slapped.
Dick raised a placating hand. "Jason—yeah, I remember a kiss. A long time ago when you were too damn young, all right? But we both decided to put that behind us. We're brothers."
"We're not," Jason said, slow and deliberate, eyes dark with anger. "We were always something else. I knew it, and so did the Joker. So did you."
It was like a thunderclap filling the room, massive, unexpected. "Why would the Joker say anything?"
Jason avoided Dick's gaze. "We were in the warehouse a long time. He told me lots of things. Told me you loved me. Said he could tell."
"Of course I do. I'd do anything for you. We're family." Dick stared at him, incredulous and beginning to panic. "What did he do to you, Jason?" He stepped closer. "Jason?" he whispered.
Jason leaned in, speaking in Dick's ear. "He said he was lonely. He kept me in there a long time." His voice wavered. "And I've been gone a long time, too, you know? You think you missed me, but you don't know how I got through it. The warehouse." He touched Dick's mouth with his, a light caress. "The whole time I thought about you. Wished he was you. Your face, your body." He circled his mouth just above Dick's, slow and dreamlike, breath puffing warm against his skin. "Please," he breathed. "I was still sane when I died. Because you were with me." He pressed his mouth to Dick's again.
Dick's brain was slow, couldn’t catch up or didn't want to. He was distracted by Jason's mouth, soft, full lips pressing against his, asking Dick to open to him—Jason's body pushing into him, erection obvious, stiff and urgent, grinding into Dick' stomach—
Dick had waited years for this thing inside him to die, kept it trapped and still inside him. His body contracted with want, a slow roll that swamped him. He grabbed handfuls of thick dark hair in his fists, pressing closer, gasping, rutting—
He's hurt and scarred, so broken. And you, you're no better than a rapist—than the Joker—
Dick stumbled backward, clutching his stomach. "I'm not. I'm not." His back hit the wall and he sank to the floor.
Jason tried again. Dick didn't fight him, but he didn't respond.
After Jason gave up, head bowed in his hands, Dick led him to the bedroom. Jason curled up and fell asleep almost immediately.
Dick slept on the couch. Though sleep wasn't really an accurate description.