It’s almost morning when he walks into the cave expecting a good, big, fat fight. Screams and accusations thrown at him with deadly intentions, and then fists and kicks and bo staffs and daggers to finish the job. He’s ready to take it too, honestly. Well, not the daggers maybe. But insults and a couple of fists? Yeah, he’ll give the kids that. He knows he deserves it.
But the cave is quieter than ever, only a distant beeping of machines and the lazy flapping of wings from a couple of insomniac bats to fill the silence, and as Jason carefully ventures towards the med bay it becomes pretty evident that there are no little birds hidden in the shadows trying to kill him. How weird.
The only thing that hits him the moment he sets a foot in the infirmary, is the strong smell of blood. It’s not a strange occurrence, and it’s definitely not an unfamiliar one, but his stomach turns anyway.
He finds Dick exactly where he expected him to be, strapped to the gurney in the middle of the room, wrapped in bloodstained bandages quite literally from head to toes. Five bullets, Tim said. One grazed him just above the right ear, one in the shoulder, two - the worst ones - in his chest, and one in his left leg. A big, blue, Nightwing-shaped bull’s eye, that’s what his brother looks like. And it’s Jason fault.
“Hey”, a tired voice says, and Jason shifts his gaze to look at Tim, currently sitting crossed-legged on the floor of the room at the feet of Dick’s bed, hands tinkering with a device Jason doesn’t recognize. He takes in the dark circles under his eyes, the messy hair, the rigid posture, and his brain immediately conjures a red neon sign flashing the words not good into his mind.
“So?”, he asks anyway.
Tim bites his bottom lip and shrugs before he answers.
“We did all we could, we just have to wait for Leslie.”
His voice is flat and just above a whisper, no detectable emotion behind it. Jason knows better. He knows pain, and he knows worries, and he knows his family. But pain and worry are one thing, and anger and betrayal are another and those emotions they usually do not hide.
“Look, Tim...”, he starts, clearing his throat, but his brother immediately shushes him with one hand, gesturing towards the bed Dick’s resting in with the other.
Confused, Jason turns around, and that’s when he notices Damian curled up into the chair next to Dick’s gurney, Tim’s cape wrapped around him. Asleep.
Well, at least that explains the silence and the lack of violence, Jason reasons. Damian is in no better shape than Tim, looking tense and angry even in his sleep, and granted, being Damian, this could be just the normal way the kid naps, but Jason has his doubts about it.
As already stated, he knows his family, he knows which people are important to them. And Dick’s been at war with Bruce for the first place in every Robins’ heart for a long time now. Winning, for the most part.
He wants to say I know it’s my fault your brother’s dying, and I’m sorry, and so much more. Instead he keeps his eyes on the sleeping boy and softly asks: “Shouldn’t he be in bed? I don’t remember that chair being particularly comfortable.”
Tim raises an eyebrow at him but has the good grace not to call him on his bullshit. He’s a good person like that.
“I need to be at WE in a couple of hours”, he explains in the same low voice. “And we don’t know when Bruce and Alfred are going to be back.”
And, of course, neither of them want to leave Dick alone. Jason sighs.
Tim tilts his head and looks at him.
“Yeah. You two catch a couple of hour of sleep.”
Tim wants to say something. Jason can see it in the way he bites the inside of his mouth, can feel him considering the pro and the con of the argument that will positively arise if he decides to make a comment on it.
“Just make Dick proud and get the kid to bed, Red”, Jason says, offering an easy way out for both of them.
“I can stay with you”, Tim offers back. “I don’t think I’ll sleep anyway.”
He could stay and they could talk and Tim could prove to Jason that he’s not angry, that he doesn’t blame him, that he’s welcomed and wanted and unblamed, and Jason really, really doesn’t want to hear any of that right now.
“Then just lay down on your bed and pretend to be dead. It’s a good exercise”, he snaps.
Tim considers him carefully, furrowed brow and attentive eyes. He’s weighing his options again, trying to decide whether it is worth to push or if it’s best to leave it alone. Sometimes he’s so similar to Bruce it irks Jason for no other good reason.
But unlike Bruce, Tim usually makes the good call in this kind of situations, and this time is no exception. So Jason watches him standing up with a sigh and approach the sleeping Robin, and finds himself not really that surprised to see him gently brush the kid’s hair from his forehead before settling his hand on the little shoulder to shake him.
“Damian? C’mon brat, let’s go to bed.”
Damian moans - a very childish, very sleepy and very cute moan - but gives no other indication that he’s awake or that he plans to wake up in the nearest future. Tim sighs and decides to play dirty.
“Damian? If you don’t get up I’ll carry you.”
That does the trick.
In a fast sequence the kid opens his eyes, yawns, stirs and hops off the chair while grumbling all the time. Jason waits for Damian to see him, bracing himself for the kid’s reaction - the first proper reaction of the night, he thinks, because when it comes down to fighting, Damian never disappoints.
But be it the drowsiness from the interrupted sleep, the fatigue of the long night, or the vivid concern for his favorite person’s well-being, the kid barely spares him a glance before focusing his entire attention back to Dick.
Damian moves closer to the edge of the bed, fingers outstretched towards but not quite touching his older brother’s hand, a silent confusion on whether he’s allowed or not to claim it for himself.
And yet, a hand for a hand they say, and Tim’s one is quick to find again its place on Damian’s shoulder. It lingers there for a moment, then moves to the back of the child’s head, rubbing softly the nape of his neck, and the gentleness of the gesture followed by the resounding lack of violent reactions feels like a punch right into Jason’s throat.
Tim says something, Damian answers, Jason puts his hands in the pockets of his jacket and doesn’t listen to it. He knows what it’s about, and he leaves it to Tim to convince the kid to do the smart thing. He’s ready to undergo a fight but he’s not going to provoke one. Not tonight. The voices start soft, then grow in harshness but not in volume. An entire fight made out of whispers, surely a novelty for both his younger brothers. But Tim never withdraws his hand, and Damian never steps away from the comfort it offers, so - again - Jason really knows better.
When they leave, walking side by side, Tim’s hand is back on Damian’s shoulder, and the kid is rubbing his eyes with his own.
Jason’s not used to associate his family with tenderness - or with anything that is not blood and sacrifice and a bittersweet homesickness, to be honest - but he knows he’s at fault there. There are good memories somewhere in his past, warm nights and simpler days. Years worth of brotherly resentment put aside the moment a soft touch was required, a hand always offered easily and unconditionally, no matter the past.
He takes the chair Damian’s just left and forces himself to look at Dick again. After that first and only glance at him, his eyes have been wandering on everyone and everywhere else, grateful to the distraction Tim and Damian provided. Now he has no more excuses.
Dick’s profile in the dim lights comes out more authoritative than Jason would’ve ever thought. All sharp angles and straight lines, no smile and no baby blue eyes to soften his brother’s features.
Not good, yeah. Bad. Bad enough for Bruce and Alfred to leave everything else and go fetch Leslie from the other side of the world. Bad, but hopefully just not the worst kind of bad, although it’s hard not to be fatalists when you start the day knowing that every night can be the last night. When there’ve been so many last nights already.
“I think I broke the kids, Dick”, Jason starts, leaning forward as if he were whispering a secret. “I mean, you broke the kids - or at least you being like this did - but since you are my fault I guess that for the associative property of guilt multiplication they’re my fault too. Three siblings out of four in one night must be some kind of record, don’t you think?”
Dick keeps what he thinks to himself, and Jason sinks back into his chair, nervous fingers tapping against his knees. He is suddenly very self-aware of having hands and not an idea on what to do with them.
“Look, I don’t want to be the moron who gets all monologue-y in front of a hospital bed - this is not even a hospital bed, by the way - but I...”, already am, his mind supplies. Jason shakes his head, looks up at the ceiling, rubbing his face with one hand. He feels stubbles under his fingertips and tries to remember when was the last time he took a shower. He lets his thoughts wander far away from the room for a moment or two, lulled by the soft beep of the machinery around Dick’s bed.
“It was my case”, he finally says, closing his eyes because for some reasons there are words that need to be spoken in darkness. “And I know I asked you to take a look between one thing and another, but for fuck’s sake, when did “take a look” become “get yourself trapped with a bunch of bad guys when you’re not in your costume” in your head? I mean, what the fuck Dick, you were- are supposed to be smart. You were the goddamn Batman.”
Silent consent from Dick. Maybe dismayed ascertainment that life is bullshit sometimes.
“If you die”, Jason whispers, eyes still closed. “It’s going to be my fault. They’re gonna say it isn’t, but we know better, don’t we?”, so you’re not gonna die, are you?, but that he doesn’t ask.
There’s the soft sound of a dipping mattress, and Jason freezes because he knows Dick’s not the source of it. Knows that if he opens his eyes there’s going to be a Robin sitting at the foot of the bed, and is not going to be Damian.
Bullshit. So much bullshit in his life.
“He’s not going to die”, he says, louder this time, and his voice fills the room with anger and fear. “He’s not going to die, so back the fuck off, kid.”
Just like Dick, Robin keeps his opinions on the matter to himself.
Blindly, almost unconsciously, Jason reaches out for Dick’s hand, the one Damian was too scared to take before. He holds it fiercely in his own, and the warmth reassures him more than a thousand words could have, but not as much as the eight that follow his outburst.
“Jay?”, Dick asks groggily, sounding like he’s not sure about what direction the real world is. “Who the hell are you talking to?”