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I Want It So Bad (I'd Shoot the Sunshine into My Veins)

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The metal door opens abruptly, creaking against its threshold and echoing loudly across the tile floor.

"Jason Todd," says a uniformed police officer and when the aforementioned boy tilts his head to the side, cocking an eyebrow, the man continues, "your bail has been posted and reviewed. Follow me."

"Right now?" Jason yawns as he casually stretches his arms, folding them behind his back. "And here I was just getting comfortable too."

"Perhaps we should extend your stay then?" A voice questions behind the officer and Jason instinctively straightens his back, immediately recognizing the authoritative tone.

"On second thought," he says sheepishly, scrubbing a hand through his thick dark hair as he eyes the approaching man, "my bed sounds like a better place to relax."

Bruce Wayne, as tall and methodically stoic as the business magazines and newspapers describe him to be, thins his lips but nods his head once and Jason scrambles to get out of the small cell.

The car ride home goes as intensely as expected.

Jason's staring out the window, the passing signs and buildings zooming by him in splotched blurs as Bruce guides his newest BMW car model through the streets. They haven't said anything since Bruce signed the release papers fifteen minutes ago back at the Gotham precinct house and Jason can feel the tension manifesting itself quite thickly between them. He knows if he doesn't say something — anything — now then the strain will inevitably spill over into dinner, maybe even the next day, and who the fuck knows how long after that. And that's definitely something he's not particularly keen on enduring, especially when he already feels like he's walking on eggshells around their household on a normal day.

"You want me to say something," he tactically announces once they merge onto the freeway, ensuring if Bruce's temper actually somehow decides to makes its rare appearance in this conversation, it would be kept under control as the older man fixated a majority of his attention on the multiple cars weaving in and out of the four lanes ahead of them.

Bruce's expression is tight and unreadable as he replies, "well, that depends — do you think you have to say something?"

"I'm not saying sorry to Jim," answers Jason, crossing his arms, "in fact he should be saying sorry to me for stopping me before I really started having some fun. Those shitheads deserved to get their asses beat and before you doubt me, it was definitely them. I checked the security cams for Larry and, well, hell Bruce — you saw what they did to his deli! You can't say they didn't deserve it!"

"They deserved to be arrested and convicted, Jason; not beaten by you. That's not an appropriate form of justice."

"Maybe not but I bet it'll be a little more affective than a fine and a slap on the wrist for vandalizing and stealing from the deli," the younger boy mutters and he thinks he sees the side of Bruce's lips twitch. From what exactly — like annoyance or some other hidden emotion akin to it, he'll never know.

Instead he's met with the unexpected words, "Jason, I believe it's high time for you to focus your vigilante-inclined free time to something more productive."

"Free time?" he repeats, eyebrows furrowed. "Cut me some slack, Bruce! You're acting like I go out and do this every day — for fuck's sake, I was on a lunch break!"

"There's no slack to be given here and I'm going to pretend you did not just decide to curse so openly in front of me." Bruce's tone is steady and hangs heavy above them, making Jason feel like the car is shrinking, like he really doesn't have much room to protest or argue.

But he's never been the one to give up a fight so easily, so (even if he knows he shouldn't) he still presses in, "if you wanna fire me so I'm not attached to Wayne Enterprises, all you gotta do is just ask—"

"You are more than an adept assistant account manager," the older man observes, blatantly ignoring Jason's blunt suggestion, "and all I can foresee is vertical movement within the company if you wish to fully apply yourself in this family business — or any other business, for that matter. However, I'm not blind, Jason. I can recognize this isn't something you want to do; rather something you think you ought to do."

Jason feels his stomach curl as the conversation heads down a relatively serious path with no side streets he can cut across and squirm his way out of. The manor looks like its rising ahead of them, all stately and aristocratic, as they drive closer to it and he feels like he's starting to shrink in his seat as the mansion and it's elegant black gates seem to grow taller and taller before them.

He inhales a steady breath before asking, "what exactly are you suggesting, Bruce?"

Admittedly, he's a bit uncomfortable because while this isn't his first fuck up, it is the first time Bruce has come down so heavily on him.

Not that Bruce should really be surprised anyway. What else did he expect adopting a street rat that used violence to weasel his way of things?

Probably for that young delinquent to grow up and while Jason did do that, did earn himself an MBA and excelled in his position at his father's company, there's a certain type of intensity that boils within his veins — something that kept him alive and fighting for his life when he was on the streets — and he doesn't think he'll ever shake it. He's not quite sure if he ever wants to, either.

It's something familiar, something safe, that he can cling onto when he feels the shadows of his adoptive father's estate, of the dark corridors within it, of Bruce's own shadow, that make him feel small and out of place. Like he's got a dirt brown tint to him while the rest of his universe is painted in silver pearls and champagne gold.

"Jason?" his father asks, reeling him back to reality. When he blinks, Bruce continues, "what are your thoughts?"

"Thoughts?" he parrots lamely and Bruce looks like he's refraining himself from rolling his eyes.

"Yes, on the bookstore near 8th and Dapple Street. More specifically, your thoughts on running it?"

Jason's eyes must look like they're nearly bulging out of their sockets because it certainly feels like they are. His ears are burning as he replays Bruce's words, particularly the 'bookstore' and 'running it' ones, over and over again as they rattle and churn against his skull.

The bookstore near 8th and Dapple Street is the same place he'd taken refuge in as an orphan more often than not on a rainy day. Even once he was adopted out of the system, he couldn't help but be drawn back to it whenever he was hanging around the area. It's changed somewhat from when he initially discovered it, but accounts half of the variations on him just growing up and not feeling as tiny and lost as before. The continuous rows of walls shrunk down to a mere 3,000 square feet store, and the endless amount of books turned to a countable number of mostly worn and secondhand books; some with covers and spines barely legible and intact. But it still has it's magic, no doubt, and Jason tries not to count the number of times he sporadically stops by and sees a few kids and teens that look as rough as he did when he was younger, wandering the small building with a wisp of a resigned smile on their faces.

He feels like his heart in his throat, fixating his stare ahead on the manor's massive green yards, not daring to spare his father a glance as he's unsure what he'll do if he manages to look Bruce in the eyes during this rather intense moment.

"I um, wow," he finally replies, dumbly. "You got me an interview?"

"I got you the entire bookstore," corrects Bruce. "I purchased it and would prefer you to operate it as I'm tied too closely to Wayne Enterprises to properly manage it myself. To answer your concerns, the owners were happy to sell it. Evidently, they've been planning on retiring for a while now. Some of the employees left during the transaction and some stayed. I trust you will find more than efficient people to fill their roles. That is, if you decide to accept my offer."

If excitement wasn't bubbling up Jason's chest, he'd probably roll his eyes at Bruce's formalities for something quite personal. Instead he reminds himself that this is the form that Bruce's love takes: Not buying things, but empirically studying what his loved ones are interested in, are devoted to, and presenting them an opportunity or an idea completely inclined to whatever their passions or interests are (as long as they're productive) to help them flourish and be the best version they can be.

He finally looks to Bruce, his face flushed at this sudden whirlwind of events. "I don't know the first thing about running a business, let alone a bookstore business."

"You can read up on it," his father deadpans, although Jason wonders if that was actually a stab at humor, "you'll have enough time and resources."

"You really want this?" Jason inquires, his voice low. "You really think I'll be, like, I don't know, actually good at this?"

Bruce does not make the slightest hesitation when he answers, "yes."

When his son's face strains with doubt, he adds, "whatever you choose to do, Jason, you'll be exceptional at it — whether it's staying in your position at Wayne Enterprises, operating this bookstore, or anything else."

"I mean, I just…" Jason pauses, raking a hand through his hair. "You really want your 24 year old son to quit your business to run a bookstore he liked to loiter at when he was a street kid?"

Instead of answering, Bruce counters with his own question, "would it make you happy? Running the store, that is."

When Jason can't (embarrassingly) say YES fast enough, the agreement is very apparent. The papers are signed in his name the next day.

The 'more than efficient people' Bruce mentions earlier to take over the positions a few of the other previous employees left behind turns out to be his friends, Roy and Kori, whenever they have the chance to break away from their other respectable jobs.

Surprisingly, they're not as bad as he admittedly assumed they'd be.

Okay, so Kori was always going to be fine. What he really means is Roy isn't a bad as Jason assumed he'd be.

He's friendly enough when he mans the lone cash register and likes to organize when he's got free time (and, okay, maybe when he smokes a bowl right before too). And Kori's been involved in several of her family's small companies and she's got enough experience to understand the basic inventory and AR/AP side of a business, so she assists Jason with the bookstore's billing and payroll until he feels like his skills are adequate enough without her double checking his work.

Also she looks super hot in overalls and a crop top when she offers to help him repaint the rather rundown walls of the store, and her appearance seems to perk up some of the other male employees interest and involvement in the small renovation.

Things are, surprisingly, coming together. And with the additional community services he started offering to kids in the system and book clubs, he thinks he'll eventually get things to the point when he can actually move out of the manor.

"You've got a sweet gig there, dude," Roy warns him, "and Gotham's rent is high. You're lucky Big B bought this store out outright or all revenue would probably go to that."

"What about your previous job?" presses Kori. "Did you not save anything during your employment there?"

Jason rolls his eyes at his friends as he opens a new delivery box filled with classic American literature. Evidently preoccupied, Roy answers for him, "he obviously made great money at his old man's place, but he spent half of it on gambling. You remember when he and I almost got arrested for fighting with the dealer in the Cobblepot casino?"

"Oh Jason, you did not fight the poor man!" Kori scolds lightly as she begins to help him sort the novels away.

"No, Roy's exaggerating. I got like, one good punch in before security came," he scoffs before adding, "and he deserved it. He definitely rigged the game."

The two redheads exchange a quick glance before Roy shakes his head, "it's always in the casino's favor, dude!"

"Well that guy was fucking smug about it!"

Just as things started looking up for Jason Todd, life, as always, seemed to enjoy taking an inconvenient shit on him.

His new annoyance comes in the form of Dick Grayson, an insistent customer that's always swinging by and keeping the air irritatingly light and lofty, like he's some damned witch that casts a spell over the place whenever he steps in.

It's not that he's a nuisance. Far from it, if Jason's gonna be honest with himself (which he totally isn't and instead vehemently claims Dick's more of a galling distraction from any potential costumers that actually want to buy a book, instead of browse for once) so he actually calls Kori and requests she look into how to appropriately 86/ban someone from a public establishment.

She doesn't ask why because, let's face it, history shows if he doesn't go off some sort of revised structure from her, he's most definitely going to use his fists instead.

"He actually buys your books, you know," Roy points out to Jason one day, his sloppy meatball sub coming dangerously close to the newest Charles Bukowski edition of his most celebrated poetry. "Kind of a shame to kick out a major source of your income."

"How can anyone else buy a fucking book with him around?" Jason hisses and Roy can't really answer that. Partially because he's got the overly greasy sandwich lodged in his mouth, and partially because he can't really argue with Jason.

Dick is all toned limbs and golden skin that's set uncannily ablaze under the filtered sunlight that seeps through the shades of the rather dull eggshell white store walls and dark brown bookshelves. He always sits near a window, never opens it though, because 'that would be sort of impolite considering I don't work here, ya know? And what about the others that could potentially want to read here, I mean—' and he's definitely a siren or devil or something akin to that in disguise who's been placed on earth with the sole purpose to destroy Jason.

At least, that's way Jason sees it, and tells Roy. Minus the whole 'siren' part, of course.

Initially, Dick came in by reference of some chick named Barbara that might've dropped in once or something. (Jason's not entirely certain, because he's seen a slew of tall, hot redheads — Kori being one of the many — in his life, and he can't really decipher one from the rest.) Dick was in search of a sign language book because his new roommate, a petite Asian girl, was relatively mute and preferred to speak through her hands rather than her mouth, and Dick was in need of some sort of reference book to assist his strange endeavors.

"Maybe in the Self Help section? We don't have much of a non-fiction collection here," Jason idly offers, his eyes cast downward and fixated on The Once and Future King, "You can try a library instead."

"I'd rather buy a book," Dick smiles.

"Barnes and Noble is down a few blocks over."

The sharp response doesn't seem to deter his grin the slightest, shooting back, "I'm more of a mom and pop shop kind of guy."

"Browse away," shrugs Jason, his gaze only shifting when he hears faint footsteps moving away. He doesn't see Dick's face at first, the aforementioned man already halfway down an aisle, but when he does eventually lift his stare he sees taunt back muscles and a thick head of black hair. When the dark-haired boy rounds the corner a few minutes later, Jason inhales a sharp breath at the sight of the aesthetically pleasing facial features.

Great, he thinks, not entirely surprised that the front of Dick Grayson looks equally as sinfully good as the back. Just fucking great.

Now everyone's gonna be distracted; someone might even walk into a bookshelf and sue. He can kiss his revenue good-fucking-bye at this point.

During Dick's third week straight in the bookstore, this time in search of Chinese translation dictionaries, Jason embarrassingly finds himself straining his eyes to follow the guy as he heads down a hallway but a small, scowling boy abruptly slams three books onto the countertop. He huffs loudly, diverting Jason's attention immediately to him and he cocks a dark eyebrow, his lips tightening and thinned.

"I'd like to purchase these."

Jason doesn't even bother to conceal rolling his eyes and instead of ringing up the heavy novels, he places them into a shelf in the back of him. "A little too young for these kinds of books, wouldn't you say?"

"I practically own these books," the kid snaps and Jason barks out a rough laugh at that. "This is Father's bookstore!"

"No," Jason corrects, "it's mine. Bruce gave it to me, remember?"

"Only to keep you preoccupied and off the streets!"

"Either way, it's mine," shrugs Jason, "and I don't think Bruce would be too keen on the idea of his ten year old son reading Crime and Punishment. Besides, if you really want to read any of these, I'm sure Alfred's got a copy or two lying around the Manor."

The spark that ignites in the young boy's eyes sends a clear warning that he might push the entire cash register over at any passing moment until a hand softly plants itself on the child's head and proceeds to ruffle the adolescent's hair.

"Damian!" Dick smiles down at the young Wayne. "What a coincidence seeing you here! How are ya, bud?"

Damian detangles Dick's large hand from his hair and scowls, "I was trying to purchase some books."

Jason shrugs again before tapping a sign hanging over the counter, reciting, "we have the right to refuse costumers."

"I'm trying to write a book report!"

"Not on Dostoevsky you are."

Dick laughs and Jason tries to ignore the pleasant sensation that balloons in his stomach upon the sound. "Why don't you give The Giver a shot? Doesn't really cover disastrous consequences and potential dangers of Russian nihilism, but it's got a nice dystopia feel to it."

The young Wayne considers his suggestion for a moment before stiffly nodding his head once, venturing off in the Young Adult section of the bookstore.

Jason blinks at their peculiar interaction, keeping his eyes determinedly off of Dick.

How in the hell did that guy tame the actual spawn of satan?

The hushed sounds of silver utensils clanking and scraping unintentionally against plates loft through the vast dining room's walls and high ceilings.

Dinner is always quiet in the Wayne house, mostly consisting of small noises of food being consumed and silverware clinking against fine china platters, and tonight's no different. There is an unusually cumbersome scowl that's present on Damian's face, however; one that's a little more weighted and deeper than the consistent glower that graces his otherwise youthful features.

"Anything troubling you, Damian?" Bruce addresses him once their main course is being cleared to make way for sweets and after dinner tea courtesy of Alfred.

Damian stabs his lemon pie — his least favorite dessert. "I'm writing a book report," he says instead of answering his father.

The older man takes a small sip of his tea. "Oh?"

"I wanted to write it on Crime and Punishment or War and Peace, but Jason wouldn't let me buy them," the young boy adds as he tears apart the pie with his fork.

Bruce lets out a noise that sounds like a cross between an ill-concealed snort and a sort of sniff, but nods to Damian for him to continue.

"I'm writing it on the Giver instead."

"I believe the Giver is more age-appropriate," comments Bruce, "did Jason suggest it?"

"No," Damian responds quickly before Jason can even get a word in. "He was too busy drooling over Dick Grayson. Grayson was the one who told me about it."

Jason inhales his tea sharply, coughing roughly as he barks out, "First off, I wasn't drooling over him, you little shithead—"

"Language!" Alfred admonishes him before Bruce can say anything but Jason ignores the butler, snarling as he continues,

"—second off, he's been loitering around the bookstore. And how the hell do you even know him?!"

"He volunteers at my school," Damian replies, a smug grin pushing his scowl away at the exasperated expressions on his father's and Alfred's faces that Jason managed to provoke. "He's Ms. Gordon's friend."

"Barbara Gordon? Commissioner Gordon's daughter?" Jason frowns to which the young boy nods.

Oh so that's how he knows Barbara, the girl Dick blabbered on about when he initially came into the store — the girl who incidentally referred him over to Jason's bookstore in the first place. Also, respectively, the daughter to the head police officer who got him arrested in the first place.

Fucking fantastic.

"Yes," Damian confirms even further with an eyebrow raised high. "If you paid any attention to our nightly dinner discussions with Father, you'd know she's my English teacher. But as usual, it appears that there's literal rocks in your lumpy head that are clearly blocking out—"

"You've taken quite an interest in that subject, Master Damian," Alfred calmly interjects before Damian can continue or Jason can respond with a caustic remark.

Bruce nods, adding, "your grades are also immensely improving. Quite a change of events from our last parent-teacher meeting."

"I take most of the credit," the young boys announces, "but I must admit, Grayson as been of some… assistance."

"Has he?"

"Yes," he nods, "he's offered to tutor some of us during our break period. He said he may not be able to continue, however, due to his job's shift change but may offer his services after school."

Bruce assesses his son for a moment before leaning a little forward, "would you like to continue to see Mr. Grayson for tutoring purposes, Damian?"

"I hardly need it," scoffs the young boy and Jason snorts loudly at that.

Ignoring his eldest son's snark response, Bruce reasons, "yes I suspect you don't. But perhaps you can benefit from his knowledge of the Giver, considering he suggested the book to you."

Damian seems to regard his father's words carefully before muttering lowly, cheeks flushed, "well… that report is my biggest grade for the year…"

"Didn't Master Damian say he also frequents Master Jason's bookstore often? Perhaps they can meet there after school for the tutor sessions?" Alfred chimes in and Jason's eyes widen at the possibility of having to see Dick's annoying ass on an actual set schedule.


"Excellent," Bruce finalizes the deal before Jason can even protest, "I'll contact Ms. Gordon to relay the message to Mr. Grayson and see if we can arrange something."

Upon the agreement, Jason wonders what kind of fire insurance policy Bruce has for the bookstore.

Jason already knows Dick is most likely going to unknowingly somehow fuck up one aspect of his life in one way or another — and he thinks its gonna be his nerves first.

Kori is all smoldering looks when she initially meets the infamous Dick Grayson that Jason's been griping about for weeks.

Naturally sultry with legs that go on for days and an elegant Afrikaans accent, she charms him enough to convince him to be a little late to his tutoring session with Damian.

And yeah, okay, so it's a free world and everything and it's not like Dick hasn't spoken with Roy or any of the other employees before too, but Jason can't quite subdue the small but very apparent burning sensation in his stomach when he watches Kori tuck her hair behind her ear and Dick's eyes settle on her neck for a moment.

When she puts her delicate hand on his shoulder and he can see her rub his arm a little bit, Jason unintentionally drops whatever's being held loosely in his hand and it scatters. Everywhere.

He looks down in alarm to see pink pills dispersed randomly about the cash register's desk and Roy groans loudly next to him.

"What the hell dude, I just bought those Pepto Bismol pills!" he whines.

"Shut up and help me clean," Jason harshly barks out as he ducks behind the counter and picks up the medicine that rolled off the top and onto the carpet beneath them, "I don't even know why the fuck you gave me these."

"You said your stomach hurt," the redhead shoots back, gathering the loose pills back into its container. "So I figured this would help. Excuse me for offering any assistance to you in the first place."

"Fuck off," is all Jason can grate through his teeth, still hidden behind the desk. "I don't need your help."

Roy just smirks at him, a rush of realization dawning upon him as he screws the top shut tight. "If you say so, Jaybird."

Apparently, Roy doesn't take what Jason says to heart and tries to help anyway.

Albeit in his own fucked up away, of course.

It's during a lull of costumers and browsers, right before closing time a few nights after the whole pill fiasco that Jason's almost already forgotten about as Kori approaches him innocently in the middle of the nearly empty store.

Initially he doesn't assume anything of it. It's not like he's mad at her. (And if we're being honest here, he can't really ever be mad at her because she's so damn sweet and compassionate with him. Not that he'd ever let that slip to her or Roy. He knows they'd definitely use it to their advantage, those cheating fucks.) And, well, he most definitely knows that she's a breathtakingly beautiful girl so of course even Dick Grayson wouldn't be immune to her ethereal looks, and it's not like he even likes the guy. Dick's just an irritating distraction that won't get out of his life until the end of Damian's school term. And now Jason's just, um… worried that Dick may want to hang around here even more if he's interested in Kori. Which he would totally be an idiot if he wasn't already interested in Kori. But, y'know, still.

"Jason, why don't I close tonight? You have not taken a day off in two weeks," Kori reasons and Jason almost takes up her offer until he sees Dick fucking Grayson lingering outside on his phone. When he catches Jason's gaze, he gives the boy inside a friendly wave.

What the fuck.

"If you're trying to rush me out so you can bone Grayson in the back storage room, you can fuck off right now," Jason snaps at her, eyebrows furrowing.

She looks slightly taken back by the uncharacteristic cruelness that sharpens the edge of his words and glare but recovers quickly, feigning almost reputable innocence as she says, "Jason, I do not understand your accusation."

"First off, princess, that is totally against company policy," he warns her, "and second off, if anyone's going to break company policy it's obviously going to be me."

"I understand that," she tells him, "but what I do not understand is why you involved Grayson in my offer to close for you."

Jason, never taking his unwavering gaze off her, side steps a few feet and when he reaches the window that Dick's looking in, he pulls on the blinds and lets them close on Dick without breaking eye contact with his friend. His point seems proven because her eyes light up with ascending comprehension but what she says next is not what he's expecting.

"Oh Jason," she nearly croons, "you are mistaken. I invited Richard here for you."

He almost pulls the blinds back up to tell Dick and Kori face-to-face to stop fucking with him, but he just kind of splutters in his place.

Kori smiles gently at him, wrapping her arms around one of his and leans into him. "Jason, Richard is very handsome, and your wandering eye has always been very apparent throughout our friendship."

Okay, so talking about his 'apparent' bisexuality is probably not something to be discussed in the middle of the store with a few other employees finishing up closing tasks but Kori's never been too gifted with subtleness. He forgives her though, because this is obviously all Roy's doing, and she's totally pushing her impressive breasts against him in a calculating way to maybe help distract him and dispel his building anger. (It works a little bit.)

"Alright," he sighs, "my bad. I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions and while I appreciate you trying to help me, I'm not interested in getting to know Grayson outside of trying to find a way to legally ban him from this place."

"You cannot," she reminds him, "he's tutoring Damian, remember?'

"Another reason to not get involved," he says, waving a dismissive hand, "someone who actually likes that demon without being forcibly obligated to via family relations is not someone to be trusted."

Kori leans into him closer, peering upward with furrowed eyebrows and lines that strain her pretty face. "I will not meddle further with this but can we at least let him in? I have invited him all the way down here already. It would be cruel to let him stand outside as we finish our closing duties."

He eyes her coldly, even though he knows he'll eventually crack under her blinding empathy and reason, and frowns as he asks, "what exactly did you tell him?"

She bites her bottom lip, not quite meeting Jason's gaze anymore as she answers, "that he is quite kind and funny and that you and I wanted to hang out with him tonight. Possibly to discuss Damian's grade development in his English class."

Jason almost barks out a harsh laugh at that.

Talk about Damian? When pigs fucking fly.

"I'll tell him that I am tired and you are feeling under the weather," Kori offers hastily. "But his next work shift starts in an hour and he'll have no where to stay until then."

Not my problem, Jason wants to tell her but knows better than to say something so caustic to Kori of all people. Instead he considers her words for a moment and checks his watch. 8:43pm.

Okay, so the latest he'll get out is like 10 if Dick's shift really does start in an hour. Maybe the guy could even help out if he's as kind as Kori claims him to be.

"Fine," Jason eventually relents, pulling himself from his thoughts, and he notices Kori's already walking to the door before he even says anything. 

Either he heard wrong, Dick's work schedule magically changed, or Kori's just a dirty fucking liar because the aforementioned guy's next work shift is late tomorrow afternoon and Jason's only made aware of this after his redheaded she-devil friend and the other two employees clock out and leave. Jason's definitely gunning it on the third option and he's probably going to strangle her next time he sees her.

"Um, this obviously wasn't discussed," Dick smiles uneasily at the very apparent situation both he and Jason have found themselves in, "so I'll head out after I help you unload the last box of books."

"Not necessary," Jason huffs out as he picks up the notably heavy cardboard container and hauls it to the storage room. When he drops it to the ground and notices Dick's trailing behind him, he almost picks a handful of the paperback books and hurls them at his counterpart.

Why does no ever fucking listen to him?!

"This is free labor, man," reasons Dick. "Besides, I feel guilty for showing up without confirming it with you."

Jason's lips thin at the sincerity that weighs down Dick's words and he shakes his head. "Nothing you could've done. We've been fucking bamboozled here by my dumbass friends."

"Kori's sweet," Dick smiles as he starts to grab handfuls of the novels and begins stacking them on an empty space in a nearby bookshelf, "I know you act like you don't care about Damian but she said you really wanted to talk to me about his grades and I think that's really cool of you."

Well, Jason muses, pigs really must be flying somewhere over Gotham because here he is, an unwilling participant in a discussion regarding Damian.

He kinda wonders how Kori was even planning on hinting to Dick she wanted to somehow contort this into an actual date between him and Jason. With Dick seemingly as thick as his head of hair, it probably wouldn't have faired out well for any of them. Jason wants to laugh at himself and his stupid generosity. He really didn't have to let this fucker in; could've just left him to rot outside for all he cared. In fact—

"That company policy you mentioned earlier," Dick adds offhandedly, "does Damian know about it?"

Jason chokes and then repeats a little hoarsely, "company policy?"

Did Dick really hear that? Of course he fucking did because Jason's got a loud fucking mouth and Dick was literally separated from him by just a thin piece of insulating glass. Oh my god he's a such fucking idiot.

The other boy, just a few inches shorter, nods his head casually as he peers upward through a curtain of hair and hands some books to Jason to put away with him. Jason blinks, realizing that he hasn't really moved since he'd put the box down a few minutes ago upon the beginning of their conversation. Oops.

"O-of course the fuck not," he answers sharply, almost breathlessly, and Dick unexpectedly laughs and damnit, it sounds nice. Especially since its being evoked by him, even if its just because he's being a crude jackass. "That was a joke and — and, well. Yeah. Just a… just a stupid joke."

Dick hums as he appears to consider Jason's vehement insistence, arching an eyebrow as he comments, "hmm."

"Hmm?" parrots the taller boy, slightly exasperated.

"Yes hmm."

Jason rubs his temples, keeping his nerves and impending headache filled with embarrassment at bay, and grates out, "okay, then what the fuck does hmm mean?"

Dick shrugs, that stupid dimple on his left cheek that Jason's only really noticed in the past hour reappearing on his cheek as he grins. "Nothing," he says, all charm and long eyelashes, as his fingers dance on the spine of the book within his hands. "I mean, I think they're actually both really solid policies."

"Well with Roy's dumbass and — wait," the taller boy starts but his throat suddenly runs dry as he regards Dick's words, barely croaking out, "both?"

Tilting his head to the side, Dick observes, "yeah, I think it's totally justifiable if the only person who can bone in here is you. You own this building after all. What's your notion on making out? Heavy petting? What about—"

Blood is roaring in Jason's ears and everything is starting to become drowned out and all he can think,see,hear is Dick's lips moving at an impossibly fast rate. He doesn't even know that he's moving forward, doesn't realize he's got both of his hands against the bookshelf in back of Dick, caging the other boy in, until it's too late and the book in the shorter boy's hands is pressed tightly between them.

He wants to pull back in utter embarrassment, unsure how his primal instincts just took over and the rest of him went into autopilot, but Dick's leaning closer and he thinks that's a good sign, right?

Still, he aims for an apology, "sorry. It's just you wouldn't shut up and—"

Dick laughs again, cutting through Jason's excuse with his assurance: "Jason, I think books are neat and everything and tutoring your brother is always an adventure. But do you really think I'd be hanging around your store this often and that I'd actually offer to put a hundred copies of Wuthering Heights away, completely unpaid by the way, on a Friday night if I didn't want something like this to happen?"

Jason almost wants to ask Dick, are you like, positively sure about this? because he doesn't know much about Dick, besides the discernible fact that the guy's really pretty, an obvious pain the ass, and probably has some fancy job with other attractive and viable coworkers and friends to that are obviously way better options to kiss than him.

But before he can utter a word out, Dick's already dropping the book in his grasp and runs a hand through the back of Jason's head, guiding his head down so their lips can finally meet.

Chapter Text

Jason refuses to meet Roy and Kori's curious gazes the next day both of his friends are conveniently working together. He doesn't recall ever scheduling them on the same day this entire week but he's not necessarily surprised if they rearranged and switched or picked up an extra shift to ensure they all ended up at the store on the same day. If he wasn't already one himself, he'd probably call them manipulative assholes but what's the point of the pot calling the kettle black?

But at least by being a scheming jerk himself, he manages cheat his way a few steps ahead of them, and renders their efforts ineffective by locking himself in his office for the majority of the day.

That is, until Kori rings him in the back to let him know there's a customer complaint.

"I'm being the upmost serious, Jason," she tells him and by the weighted tone of her voice, he begrudgingly believes her and leaves his windowless office dungeon to rectify whatever issue his store or employees (most likely Roy) may have caused. He's expecting an older woman with one of those short, choppy overly-highlighted "May-I-Speak-to-Your-Manager" haircuts probably bewailing about the lack of the Fifty Shades series in his store, but instead it's a gawky teenager standing near the cash register with a steely expression that could possibly rival Bruce's with a few years of practice.

Jason approaches the adolescent with a curt smile before asking, "what seems to be the problem here?"

"Is that kid your brother?" the boy asks, thumbing off to the side and Jason inwardly groans.

Fuck. Of course he'd inconveniently forget Alfred was dropping Damian off for the afternoon to run some errands while Bruce's preoccupied by a small business seminar he has to attend a few cities away. Usually, Jason's a little more prepared to entertain and distract the demon but the normal precautions he traditionally preps the store with must've momentarily slipped his mind last night. (Well, if we're being honest here, he couldn't think about much of anything the minute his leg slipped in between Dick's thighs and Dick made that noise in the back of his mouth.)

Ignoring the way his ears are burning as he keeps the rather pleasing distraction of a memory at bay, Jason clears his throat and says, "depends. What did he do?"

"He's being disruptive," answers the boy and Jason quirks an eyebrow.

"Disruptive," he repeats, slightly bemused, "can you be a little more descriptive?"

The boy thins his lips before exhaling a sharp breath through his nose and Jason can almost hear what the teen's clearly thinking and adds as an explanation, "sorry, I need to know in case this is brought up with our old man, y'know?"

"If you need to know he was trying to read some of my practice SAT essays," the boy huffs, "and besides that being an extreme violation of my privacy, he has no idea what he's talking about. I mean, seriously? What eight year old reads a Dante Inferno essay and says it 'sounds bit derivative'?"

"For your information I'm almost eleven and I meant what I said, Drake!" Damian claims hotly across the store and for a split second, Jason truly considers chucking a book at the kid.

But instead Jason quickly pivots around the teenager, acting as a physical barricade between the two, and intervenes before the situation escalates any more out of control, "if this is any consolation, the kid was failing his English class earlier this year."

His stab at levity doesn't seem to get him far at all when the teen doesn't smile, doesn't even crack a grin, and Jason feels his stomach twist uncomfortably. Great. This kid seems like a real stiff he almost wants to ask the teen if he's looking for a new family because he'd sure as hell fit right in at the steely Wayne manor.

But instead Jason refrains himself and just cracks another strained smile as he presses forward, "um, listen uh, Drake? Is that your—?"

"Tim Drake," he corrects.

"Right, Tim," Jason repeats, "um so, I honestly apologize for Damian. He can be a real shithead sometimes and what he did was obviously out of line so uh, can I offer to pay for your purchase today? Or if you're not buying anything, maybe a future purchase with a gift card?"

The teenager shakes his head. "No, I don't want anything for free," he tells Jason earnestly, "just to have someone contain that kid."

"Damian normally has a tutor when he is present in the bookstore," Kori chimes in and Jason wants to roll his eyes. Leave it to his friends to try to come to his aid. Not that this nerd is much of a threat.

When Roy swings into the conversation, there's a strange smile curled at his lips as he adds, "in fact, I think that's his tutor right now."

Jason follows Roy's gaze and, of-fucking-course, in walks Dick Grayson with a smile that's all teeth and charm.

He approaches Damian first and the kid's already animately complaining about Tim by the way he's waving his arms around and pointing a finger roughly in the direction of where Jason's standing. Like some compassionate fool trying to soothe a snarling rabid animal, Dick just pats the young boy's head and whispers something quietly to Damian; his head dipped low enough that Jason can't make out what he's saying. Whatever he says seems to do the trick, however, because Damian's suddenly subdued and slumped low into his chair, no longer resembling some bristled dog with its hackles raised.

Like the true creeps that they've always been whenever it involves Jason's love life, Kori and Roy are practically breathing down his back when Dick appears to be finished speaking with the young preteen and waves at them, pivoting to move toward their direction.

Normally Jason would've told his friends to fuck off but at this moment he can't seem to find his voice, a lump tightening in the base of his throat.

Admittedly, this impromptu visit catches him by surprise. Sure they exchanged numbers the night before after their rather spontaneous date (if getting handsy and making out in the back storage room counts as a date) with a promise of hopefully some more future rendezvouses during actual business hours at food establishments or other socially-inclined businesses, but he didn't think he'd be seeing the guy not even 24 hours later than their last meeting. Not that he's complaining or anything. Especially since it looks like Dick just went for a run or quick workout, clad in a training shirt and almost unjustly tight joggers.

Jason hears Kori practically purr in appreciation behind him and he miraculously finds his voice again — and almost tells her to fuck off — until Tim peers around his broad shoulder, greeting enthusiastically, "Mr. Grayson!"

What the fuck.

"Hey Timmy!" Dick grins and Jason nearly topples over when Tim zooms past him to formally regard the older boy. "Nice bookstore, huh? I told you it's quiet enough for your studies."

Tim warily eyes Damian before twisting a smile to his face and nods without hesitation. "Oh definitely, Mr. Grayson. What brings you here today?"

"I actually came to see the store's owner," Dick answers, his hand finding one of Jason's shoulders, that stupid dimple forming on his cheek. "Sorry, are you busy, Jay? I can just text you later."

Kori and Roy's eyes are as wide as the moon upon his latter suggestion and Jason feels heat rising on the nape of his neck, quickly shuffling Dick aside as he grates through his teeth, "uh no I'm not, Kori can you handle Tim if he needs anything else? We'll be — Roy, I swear to god if you give me one more look like that I'll kick your knees in — um, I mean we'll be right back."

"Are you sure I'm not interrupting anything?" Dick asks with a frown as Jason pulls him into a more private, secluded corner of the store away from his friends' prying stares.

"You're fine," Jason says unconvincingly before attempting to shift the subject, "how do you know that kid?"

"Tim?" blinks Dick and when his counterpart nods, he explains, "oh, he works part-time at a coffee shop I guess you could say I'm a regular at. I've talked to him a few times and we got on the subject of him studying for his SATs and ACTs recently. He said something about hating studying at home and in his school library for whatever reason so I told him to give your bookstore a try. He seems like a good kid. I hope he's not giving you any trouble?"

"No," Jason dismisses quickly, "just hope the kid doesn't waste his entire Saturday in the store, is all. He seems too bright to have to study so much."

"He's a smart kid," Dick grins, "and he's got a social life, trust me, I've heard it all." Pausing, his smile turns a bit crooked before he continues, "speaking of a social life, that's actually why I stopped by."

The taller boy cocks an eyebrow at that. "What? You don't have enough friends, pretty boy?"

"Pet names already, Jay?" he quips, "I'm blushing. But to be frank, I'd say I have a few. In fact, I'm meeting one — Babs, actually — tonight near a bar around here and wanted to see if you'd join us."


O-oh shit.

They lapse into momentary silence as Jason registers Dick's words and the boundless amount of underlying questions his casual offer holds. Does this mean Jason has to include Kori and Roy? Is this usual date etiquette — to meet the daughter of the police chief that arrested you literally a month ago? Will there even be any opportunity during this social engagement to kiss Dick again? Does Dick even have a fucking job?

"I do," Dick answers and the taller boy feels his ears grow hot.

Oh fuck he definitely said that last one out loud.

"I deal cards at the Cobblepot casino." Huh. That explains Dick's relatively erratic schedule and abnormal start times. "I thought I had a shift this afternoon but it was just an on-call one."

Jason runs a hand through his hair, his cheeks flushing as he says, "oh, um, lucky you."

"So is you avoiding my question a no?" Dick cuts straight to the point, foot tapping, but doesn't look overly impatient with his warm smile still etched across his face. "It's a little last minute so I understand if you can't. Babs won't be able to stay too long; she's got a few projects she has to grade over the weekend so she said she's only hanging around for a bit. Just figured you and I could finish off the night at some other bars around here if you came."

Hmmm. Alcohol, Dick and his full lips and soft hair, alcohol, a night away from the Manor, probably kissing Dick's full lips and touching his soft hair at one point, and alcohol. What a promising night full of possibilities.

But is it truly worth meeting Barbara Gordon face-to-face though?

If Kori's all fiery looks, burning so ethereally like an asteroid hitting this planet's surface and turning into a wild luminous body, then Barbara Gordon's like an icy tendril. Perpetually aloof with certain type of elegance that's as sharp as diamonds and it contours her green eyes, high cheek bones, and full lips into a classically beautiful face.

Jason eyes her wearily, noticing the tight lines that strain her features upon his arrival, and he almost considers sinking back into a corner of the bar but Dick's already waving him over. Fuck.

Barbara is perched upon a barstool, her eyes searching and appraising as he approaches, and as he goes to greet her with a hand extended — a blonde girl that looks way too young to be in an establishment like this pops in between them and takes his hand instead.

She smirks, giving him a once over, before cocking her head to the side to look at Dick and say, "oh is this him? Mr. Grayson, I must say I'm very impressed."

Relatively bewildered, his eyebrows knit together as he replies, "um, thanks…?" He trails off, offering her an opportunity to formally give him her name and she makes no hesitation to take it.

"Stephanie," the blonde winks at him, her coy grin wavering a bit when Barbara's firm hand finds one of her shoulders. "…And I was just about to leave."

"Goodnight, Stephanie," Barbara says, giving her a pointed look, "try to stay out of trouble the rest of the night, hmm?"

"Oh yes definitely, Ms. Gordon. Hope you all have a great night as well!" she beams before giving Jason another firm handshake and shooting an appreciative look at Dick.

As she scurries off the redhead shakes her head, pinching the bridge of her nose with her index finger and thumb, while Dick just laughs. Clearly not included in whatever weird-ass exchange that was, Jason gazes at both of them until Dick explains, "Stephanie was one of Barb's students—"

"About six years ago," Barbara adds in a disapproving huff. "How on earth do teenagers get their hands on fake IDs?!"

Jason thinks to his drawer in the Manor that has his three — all of which had identify him as 21, 23, and 27 with a poorly edited version of his high school sophomore picture — fake IDs hidden under a mound of his socks and he just shrugs his shoulders.

"If there's a will, there's a way," breezily replies Dick, "but now that formalities are over, what's everyone having?"

By their third drink in, Dick takes a break to the bathroom and a few dollar bills in his pocket with the intent to look through the bar's jukebox and find some of his favorite 80s singles to play over the speaker system in the already bustling bar.

Jason's gaze trails Dick's lithely backside maneuver about the gathering crowd, his eyes narrowing as the shorter boy completely disappears.

What a convenient time for him to retreat elsewhere — when the alcohol has already begun to loosen Jason's nerves and the conversation was already somewhat flowing between the three. Well played, Grayson, well played.

"I have to admit," Barbara comments abruptly, pulling Jason's attention toward her now, "you're not exactly who I pictured between my dad and your brother's descriptions."

Probably because her dad found Jason with a black eye, flushed face, and his arms wrapped around one of the vandalizing punk's neck in a perfectly executed chokehold the last time they saw each other.

Not too keen on bringing that meeting up, Jason instead offers, "Damian tends to tell people I'm short for some reason."

The redhead laughs. "His description of you has changed over the years. He's changed quite a bit, actually."

Jason feels his chest tighten at the slow lull of the subject's mood. He eyes her margarita and wonders if he proposes another round, he could stay clear of where this conversation is clearly heading.

But it's too late and there is a sudden heaviness to Barbara's words when she comments softly, "he's had a very… difficult life."

Difficult is an understatement. Produced as a result from a fragmented moment during an oversees business conference, Damian was kept a secret from Bruce for years due to Bruce not accepting a rather dubious offer and contract while in Dubai. Well, that's what the old man says, at least. Jason only partially believes that reason. Mostly because he did some digging of his own and unearthed a few nasty rumors regarding Damian's mother, Talia al Ghul. Apparently the woman was affiliated with mob connections back in Dubai and went into hiding for a handful of years when a notably shady politically-inclined deal went sideways. How she's exactly tied to it, Jason doesn't know, but chalks it up to probably the only she has that politicians care about: Money.

Then things must've gotten increasingly bad enough to drive her to the point to reach out to Bruce and fly Damian worlds away from her and into his father's care for an indefinite amount of time. And just like that, after nearly a decade of it being just Bruce and Jason, in comes a mouthy brat with a chip on his shoulder and an attitude like he owns the damn world. Jason claims he probably would've kicked the kid's ass the first time the brat stepped in his house if he was the appointed guardian, but knows deep down Damian reminds him a bit of himself; smart-mouthed, snarky, and with a quick and unforgiving temper that laments a haunting past even more awful than his own.

Jason snorts into the head of his beer, scoffing, "don't I know."

"Still," continues Barbara, "like I said, I've seen him grow and improve immensely over the past couple of years; especially this year. I know you all think it's Dick's doing, but he's only met Damian a few months ago. Damian's changed so much, and for the better, because of you, your father, and Alfred."

At the arch of his eyebrows, she presses, "believe it or not, Damian does look up to you."

"Can I get that in writing?" Jason quips and Barbara grins.

"Do you know why he wanted to write his book report on something by Dostoyevsky?" When he shrugs, she answers, "because he found an essay you wrote on Poor Folk."

Jason almost chokes on his beer. "I wrote that in high school," he tells her with a frown, "he's probably just trying to one-up me."

Barbara sighs and shakes her head. "Think what you want, but his curiosity in Russian classic literature seems to reflect a lot of your interests. Of course he's still a bit too young to read and fully absorb those kind of books, but it's nice to see him inquisitive about them."

"Oh yeah, he's real inquisitive," Jason mutters, the day's previous events of the demon taking the liberty of reading Tim's essay and berating the nerd cycling into the forefront of his mind.

"I think it stems from knowing your childhood," she says offhandedly and he shoots her a fixed look so she continues, "not to delve too deep, but you being very honest where you came from has helped Damian quite a lot. In fact, watching someone from your background thrive in an entirely different world has really inspired him. He admires you, you know." She smiles at him again, a finger delicately tracing the rim of her glass, and Jason's mouth is suddenly dry.

However, he doesn't have much time to let her words register, to settle and seep into the crevices of his brain, because there's a sudden commotion coming from a section of the bar top a few seats over and they both snap their necks to the side to see the source of the abrupt disorder.

A poor girl is rebuffing the advances of some sleazy guy and when another bar patron mouths off at him, the latter man receives a cheap blow to the head courtesy of the creep. Jason jumps so quickly to feet he knocks his barstool over, Barbara following suit with a little more grace behind him. But before either of the two can even advance a step in, in comes Dick Grayson with a seemingly 'throw caution to the wind' mantra and a precise uppercut that sends the scummy guy's head reeling backward. When the guy slumps over either from his head spinning or maybe even too much alcohol consumption, there's no time for celebration because the creep's friend a few feet away joins in and throws a nearby stool at Dick in retaliation.

Oh fuck no.

Jason sees red as he leaps forward and does the first — and, admittedly, only — thing he can think of: He literally punches the seat midair in attempt to divert its direction away from Dick. A bit impractical but it works for the most the part. In fact, it would've fully missed Dick if he hadn't jerked to the side a split second too late, one of its wooden legs clocking him in the side of the face as result of the minor miscalculation.

"Shit!" curses Jason in panicked apology, eyes wide and his face pale. He just gave his — boy that's a friend? Boy that he likes to get handsy with? Boy that he makes out with in his storage room? — whatever friend a fucking split lip, by accident on all accounts, but still. He literally helped burst Dick's mouth open and the sight of it knots his stomach.

Except Dick doesn't look the least bit upset. In fact, he actually flashes Jason a strange smile and he almost swears he sees a silhouette of something akin to excitement pass over Dick's handsome features and wow, okay, that probably shouldn't turn Jason on.

He doesn't have too much time to entertain that raw look that flickered across Dick's face only moments ago though, because the aforementioned boy hip checks Jason to the side so he can punch the guy who threw the chair at him. The sound cracks through the air and Jason would probably be impressed if he wasn't fixating his attention on another man advancing towards Dick's back instead.

Jason chest expands as adrenaline buzzes in his body, the tingling feeling glimmering within the crevices of his bones, and he feels a shadow of his old life spill over into present time, his brain going into autopilot, and it's almost like he's 12 again on the unforgiving alleyways of Gotham. He can't remember the last time he fought guys like this — usually most of his teenaged year scuffles involving some whiney prep kids that backed down the moment he got a few swings in. But these creeps, they were just like the grimy lowlifes he dealt with when he was on the streets, and that just meant he'll cheat his way to the top if necessary.

Not that he has too — not with the kickboxing lessons Bruce forced him to take when he was younger to channel his hormonal anger elsewhere. He knows how to properly fight and between him and Dick's finesse, this brawl comes to an end almost too quickly but at least Barbara's oddly impressed with him

And when they leave her to fill out the police reports (Jason not too keen on sticking around to see the cops) he thinks, with the shorter boy's legs wrapped around his waist; pinning his back against his car as their lips slide salaciously against one another, Dick is too.

"So it seems like you're hooking up with a guy that has a worse temper than you," Roy observes idly as he pauses their video game to take a hit of weed from his brightly colored pipe. "Why am I not surprised?"

"I wouldn't say he has a worse temper than me," frowns Jason. "Just I guess… more um, reactive? Besides, those creeps deserved to get their asses kicked."

"Well yeah definitely, but getting into fights while you're on probation isn't the smartest thing to do."

The tall boy shrugs. "Barbara stayed behind to report the incident. I figured if the fight effected my probation and they had to haul me away to jail or something, I'd at least get a call from the precinct beforehand or Dick would show up to the bookstore to send me off."

"Oh I bet he would," Roy wiggles his eyebrows suggestively as he props his pipe and lighter gingerly on his nearby coffee table. "I'm impressed, Jay. It's been three weeks since your little storage room makeout session and you're still letting the guy text you and poke around the store."

"He's still a paying costumer," Jason mutters, feeling his cheeks flush.

"Awh Jaybird," the redhead croons, "you're blushing. You really do like him, don't you?"

Like Dick?

He wants to laugh. Never really the one to ever commit; sure, Jason 'likes' Dick if that means he likes getting coffee with the guy during his lunch breaks, likes hanging out at bars with Dick after work, fishing his hand into the back pocket of the shorter boy's jeans when a stranger's curious gaze remains a bit too long on Dick, likes kissing the guy — split lip and all — likes…

Fuck. He really does like Dick.

He thins his lips at the realization. Not that it's really a surprise. The concept has been pooled around his feet since the first day he met Dick, he just didn't think the unknown waters would rise so quickly he's barely keeping his head above its swirling surface now.

He's pulled back down the present when he hears a distinctive high-pitched computer generated noise and flicks his gaze to Roy's television screen in front of him, watching Peach zip by Bowser in a flash of pink and yellow.

"WHAT THE FUCK!" he bellows in betrayal, his thoughts immediately fixating onto more important matters. "YOU DON'T JUST UNPAUSE MARIO KART WITHOUT TELLING YOUR OPPONENT YOU PIECE OF FUCKING SHIT!"

The next time Jason sees Dick it's at the latter boy's apartment.

When Dick initially suggests it over a FaceTime chat while running in between errands, Jason must've grinned a bit too wolfishly because he's quickly hit with the added explanation, "I really want you to meet my roommate, Cassandra."

And well, Jason can't really say no to the request because if he's being truthful here, she's one of the main reasons he was able to even meet Dick in the first place. Plus, the idea of hanging out with Dick on a couch — or a bed, he enticingly hopes — is a rather appealing bonus. Not that their coffee or dinner dates, or getting a bit handsy in the backseat of their cars or the bookstore's storage room isn't nice to begin with but it's a welcoming change of pace if not a bit terrifying.

Does this mean he should invite Dick to the Manor soon?

He doesn't know but by the calculating way Cassandra's looking at him at the moment, he's not sure if he'll make it out of the apartment alive to have the chance to even inquire if the other boy wants to meet his family.

"Well, here she is, my infamous roommate!" Dick beams, slinging an arm around the short girl, "I'm glad you two could finally meet — you guys actually have a few things in common."

"Oh really?" Jason says, quirking an eyebrow but maintaining the nervous grin stretching his mouth.

"Mhm," the shorter boy confirms, "she's an expert in a couple martial arts and I know you like kickboxing in your free time so if you ever need someone to do a couple of rounds with, Cass said she's totally up for it."

Jason gives Cassandra a once over and restrains himself from smirking at Dick's absurd offer.

She's this petite little thing with a pretty face that's smoothed over by predominately soft asian features and honestly looks like she weighs maybe 115 lbs soaking wet holding a brick. He practically towers over her, twice as wide, and he pretends to consider Dick's words for a moment before nodding with somewhat enthusiasm.

She arches an eyebrow, signing to Dick and he furrows his eyebrows together before gazing back to Jason. "Jay," he warns, his voice light but his face weighted down by a somber expression, "I'm not kidding. She can kick your ass."

"I believe you," insists Jason and she signs something again.

"She says no you don't. Try to punch her," Dick translates, "and don't hold back."

Jason rolls his eyes at the ludicrous demand. "You really want me to humor you guys? Like, I don't doubt she's skilled. Believe me. But I'd never punch her full force—"

Her hands are moving in a swift motion and by the way Dick's eyebrows raise into his bangs, she must've said something rather enticing because he signs right back. Jason feels impatient and slightly shut out, waiting for the two to exchange what feels like a secret handshake between them, and Dick finally says, "she said if you don't punch her, she won't leave you in my room alone with me."

Jason's vision flicks to the girl and she's smiling rather smugly back at him before his gaze falls on Dick again. "You can't be fucking serious?"

"Not my apartment technically since everything's under her name so, theoretically speaking, she's in charge of the house rules," Dick just shrugs, running a hand through his hair and leans his neck to the side slightly, the barely hidden hickey resurfacing within Jason's eyesight.

The fucker is really egging him on. What the fuck.

Dick adds, "she also said if she thinks you're holding back, she'll hurt you more."

"Oh my god, fine!" Jason relents as he rotates his wrists, clenching his hands into large fists. "If something happens then this is your fucking fault, asshole, and nobody better press any charges!"

Pleased with his terms, Cassandra nods in agreement and Dick takes a few steps back, observing the scene with bright eyes. Jason just sighs to himself and falls into somewhat of a fighting pose, wondering how the fuck he got into this position. When he thinks she gives him something akin to a signal to proceed, he swings at her with half-force, never truly agreeing to punch her with all his strength and—

Shit. Maybe he should've.

Because before he can fully register the following events that occurred after he swung at her, he finds himself lying flat on his back as the air forcibly escapes his lungs. He splutters out a strange, painful noise that sounds like a cross between a cough and gasp and peers blearily up at Dick and Cassandra's faces that are looming over him.

She signs something to Dick as he drops to his knees, gingerly combing Jason's bangs back with his hand, and he nods in agreement before looking back down at the tall boy, interpreting, "you definitely could've punched her harder. You've got potential though."

"Duly noted," wheezes his counterpart.

"C'mon," Dick soothes as he carefully begins to guide the dazed boy upwards, "first time she did that to me, I was down for the count for a few hours. You can lay in my bed for as long as you'd like."

"If is this how you planned on getting me in your bed," Jason leers as Dick pulls him to his shaky feet, "I'm going to kick your ass the minute I feel better."

Dick smiles and hums pleasantly into his neck, "this was definitely not the plan but I promise I'll make it up to you."

Normally that'd peak his interest at a humiliatingly alarming rate, but all he can focus on now is trying to breathe properly and just moans out in agony when his back hits Dick's bed.

When he moans again a couple hours later, it's notably for an entirely different reason.

As promised, Dick's definitely making it up to him with his pretty mouth wrapped around Jason's cock.

The aforementioned boy's entire body still aches, still feels like he hasn't quite caught all his breath yet, but damn is he happy he complied to Cassandra's earlier demands because if he didn't, he probably wouldn't be in a position like this. Maybe he could've gotten away with being a little handsy, but to have Dick drooling on his prick like the guy's life depended on it?

Jason's never been much of a righteous man, but if angels really do exist then Cassandra's his semi-unconventional deadly, Asian one. He can totally live with that.

Dick seems to sense Jason's attention is diverting slightly from him and he does something with his throat that brings the taller boy's focus back down and fixated on him.

"Jesus, Dick," Jason curses, fingers curling around thick dark tresses, and he tries his luck out with tugging a bit hard. Dick responds with a moan of his own, and holy hell, this almost too much. The sight, the sensations, and the swirling possibility that Dick could definitely be a bit a masochist sends Jason a lot closer and quicker to his climax than he'd like to admit, and he abruptly yanks on Dick's hair again as he pulls the older boy off him as he comes.

He catches most of the aftermath in his hand and Dick peers upward at the tall boy with a smile smile stretched across his swollen lips before rolling over toward the nearest bedstead, grabbing the box of tissues laying atop of it. He hands Jason the box and lets him clean himself off before saying, "that was actually really polite of you to do."

"S'nothing," dismisses Jason, wadding up the ball of soiled tissues and throws it in the nearby trash bin next to the room's desk before settling his sore back down.

"Most guys and, well, girls too, just assume," continues the shorter boy, "personally, I don't mind but the choice is always nice. What about you?"

Jason feels his face flush at the rather blunt question but he figures all distant pleasantries disappeared between them the very moment Dick's mouth was around him. "Honestly not a big fan." He pauses before clearing his throat, wondering if there was a deeper overtone the older boy was implicating at. "I mean, that doesn't mean that I don't, well, you know, not like sucking di—uh, sucking someone off."

Dick laughs earnestly and kisses the side of the taller boy's mouth. "Jason, Cassandra just kicked your ass. Just because I gave you probably the best blowjob of your entire life doesn't mean you owe me one back. That wasn't why I asked your preferences; just being curious."

Jason's chest constricts lightly and he wonders if Dick's always been like this — so open and transparent and achingly candid. So unlike Jason who's been raised to be shut off, who lets snark and cruelty sharpen his words as a form of protection, who still likes to occasionally hide behind the corners of his books or the curves of his fists.

Who would rather focus on something crude than anything else.

"Best blowjob of my entire life?" he repeats with an arched eyebrow, a tenor of skepticism edging his voice, and Dick shoots him an annoyed glare but still leans over to kiss him again.

Kori eyes the roll of sushi perfectly balanced between the two chopsticks intricately held in between her hand before blinking in seeming satisfaction, placing the food in her mouth. She sighs in contentment before her vision falls back on Jason, inquiring once she swallows, "I've noticed Richard has not been tutoring Damian as of late."

It's been about two and a half months in since Jason and Dick's storage incident and it's been going just swimmingly up until two weeks ago when Dick's work schedule had become wildly sporadic, taking him away from Jason intermittently and Damian permanently.

"His work shifts are all over the place," he replies, taking a sip of his sake. "Don't blame him if it's something else though. That spawn of Satan is soul draining to be around."

Ignoring his latter comment, she observes, "Damian seems upset."

And she's somewhat right. If the brat being slightly more moody at home and less well-behaved with Dick's replacement, the blonde teenager Stephanie from the bar, means anything.

"You seem quite temperamental as well," she adds.

And she's totally not right about that. Because Dick having more shifts and only being able to see Jason one or two nights — a glaringly different routine than their first month of dating — a week is most definitely not a big deal. Certainly doesn't make his stomach churn when Dick's name doesn't flash across his phone's screen as often as it once did, and absolutely does not frustrate him when their prior hot and heavy rendezvouses turn to fleeting kisses. Yeah. Not. Upset. At. All.

"Perhaps he's being distant because he's invited you into his life and you have yet to," she tells him earnestly, plopping another roll of sushi past her full lips.

Jason groans, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "Kori, when you invited me to get sushi I thought you wanted to, oh I don't know, maybe actually eat sushi and not give me a lecture?"

"I am worried about you, Jason," she replies gently, "and I'm very fond of Richard. I am merely just concerned and suggested what could be a possible strain in your relationship."

"I'm saving this relationship by not subjecting him to Bruce and forcing him to spend more time with Damian," he snaps.

Kori quirks an eyebrow, unaffected by his scathing tone. "Do you really think Richard sees it as that?"

His jaw locks at a stiff angle and he looks down to his unfinished food. "I mean, no, not really. It's just a big ordeal to even bring the subject up. But you're right. He's been way more open than me. I guess dating rules aren't always by the book when you're 24 and 26."

"Well you've never been by the book, Jason," she smiles, pausing when another sake carafe is placed in front of her by their server. "Oh, I apologize but I don't believe I ordered this."

Their server shakes her head. "You didn't but those guys over there did." The pair follow their waiter's gaze to two guys seated a few tables over, their shark-like grins making Jason's blood boil. "Do you want me to take it back?"

"No," he answers before grabbing the carafe and begins drinking the sake himself, never breaking eye contact with the creeps.

Kori clicks her tongue in distaste, sighing, "I suppose I will drive us home then."

When Jason begrudgingly takes Kori's advice and asks Dick to meet his ambiguous dad, Bruce Wayne, he's honestly a bit taken back when Dick accepts but declines at the same time.

"I would love to, Jay, but my schedule is crazy this week — probably will be crazy the next upcoming weeks too." Dick smiles at him sadly, stress weighing the bags under his eyes down.

"You can just stop by for tea," frowns Jason, his throat tightening at his suggestive accommodation. It almost sounds like he really wants Dick to meet his dad and Alfred. Ugh. Great. He puts the book in his hands down, placing it aside of him on Dick's bed, as he fixates his entire attention on the older boy. "But I honestly understand if you're too busy or if the real reason is because you don't ever want to see Damian again."

Dick sighs, leaning his face closer to the dip between Jason's shoulder and neck. "You know that's not it. I'm really sorry, Jay. I'll definitely try to figure out something out this week or the next one. Now," he pauses, snaking an arm over Jason's chest, "how about we take a quick nap before my shift starts, hmm?"

The tall boy thinks about a multitude of other things they could do, most activities involving them naked, but his ideas all die on the tip of his tongue when he sees Dick's eyes already closed and a soft smile still on his handsome, tired face. When Jason catches himself grinning fondly at the sight, he narrows his eyes at nothing in particular and groans inwardly to himself.

Ugh. He's really in deep, isn't he?

If he's in deep then Dick's in deep fucking shit.

"Are you certain he's supposed to be here?" Kori frowns next to Jason, her eyes scanning the area.

Jason tries to maintain his neutral expression as he answers, "yes. We left his apartment at the same time. His shift started two hours ago."

"Well, wherever the hell Dick is, he's not here," Roy confirms, a bit jumpy as his vision quickly sweeps all over the place with the lingering fear the casino will remember how he and Jason are permanently 86'd. "Maybe he got sent home."

"No," the taller boy shakes his head, "the last text he sent me was thirty minutes ago saying work was busy."

Kori's soft hand finds his arm and the world sort of slows for a moment, everything happening in a dragging, disorienting fashion as he mulls over the situation. He thinks of his and Dick's conversation earlier, of his dawning realization of how much he actually likes Dick when the latter boy 'switched' his schedule around enough with the promise to make time to finally meet Bruce, and of how he honestly thought bypassing security and showing up for a few rounds of black jack at Dick's table was actually a relatively charming surprise. Yeah, some fucking surprise this is.

Jason doesn't say anything, he doesn't have to, and when he starts to pivot and move — forward, away, anywhere but here — Kori and Roy follow without question or hesitation.

The car ride back home is silent and he likes to say he initially refused to sleep at Kori's that night, assuring his friends he'd rather be back home at the Manor in his own bed, but instead he watches B-rated movies at her apartment for the rest of the evening. When he wakes up the next morning he finds Kori's head tucked neatly under his chin, Roy snoring on the floor a few feet away from her mattress, and a strange emptiness in his chest.