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The Golden Ticket

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They’re about a hundred feet out when Jason spots it, the goldenrod envelope tucked under his bike’s wiper.

“Aw, Red Him got mail,” says Bizarro.

“What is it?” asks Artemis.

Jason limps out from under her supportive hold and shuffles over to his bike. He grabs for the envelope with blood-sticky hands, rips it open and draws out a small slip of paper, then scans its contents, the time stamp from the morning. “Unbelievable,” he says. “It’s a fucking parking ticket.”

Bizarro gasps, holds a hand to his chest and everything.

“Who would bother with such a thing at a time like this?” Artemis inquires as she turns her face out to the city skyline, smoldering and aglow in the aftermath of a foiled alien attack.

Jason narrows down to the digital signature at the bottom of his ticket, a spike of irritation deep down in his belly (although to be fair, that could also be the shrapnel, who knows). Says, “Oh, I have a pretty good idea.”

 

*

 

Two nights later, Jason is still in Bludhaven.

He watches Nightwing watch clean-up crews move huge, crumbling slabs of rebarred cement down Main. Rescue and first responders have mostly left the scene, to make room for the recovery teams and the cadaver dogs.

Jason fingers the ticket and considers. Fuck it, he thinks, and drops from his perch and onto the roof below. His boots crunch over chipped tar and old leaves, the only warning of his presence Nightwing’s gonna get.

It’s a testament to how distracted Dick is when he startles at the sight of Jason swinging down onto the rusted fire escape. There’s an escrima stick to his neck before he can even open his mouth. Nightwing might lack focus, but he certainly doesn’t lack speed.

Jason tries to shift his throat away from the weapon, can feel it crackle as it boots up to a non-lethal charge. As he moves, the old metal platform groans ominously under their combined weight.

“Hood,” Dick says, lowering the escrima stick at his neck and stepping back.

“Wing,” Jason replies with a bit of a sniff, makes a show of straightening out his collar. “You and I got something to talk about.”

“Oh?” Dick’s brow arches, one corner of his mouth twitching slightly.

Jason pulls the only slightly bloodied envelope from his inner jacket pocket and fans it around. “Yeah, what’s this shit about?”

“Oh,” Dick says. He plucks the envelope from Jason’s hand, holds it gingerly between two fingers and flips it over. “Looks like a traffic violation. Moving or non-moving?”

“Cute,” Jason sneers, snatching the envelope back from Dick’s prissy grip and shoving it back into his coat. “Non-moving, by the way.”

Jason leans up against the craggy brick and pops his face shield up for a good, hard glare. Dick smirks a bit, turning away from the street and leaning back against the handrail, arms crossed over his chest. He intones, “Guess you’re gonna to pay up.”

“I’m contesting it.”

Dick laughs. “Good luck with that, Hood.”

 

*

 

He enters the ticket information into the violations portal and clicks Submit. A message appears on the refreshed page:

P. Weller,

Thank you for using the City of Bludhaven Traffic Violations Portal. You are choosing the option to contest your ticket. This can be done via mail, online, or in person before an authorized legal party. Before you opt to contest, please review photographic evidence submitted by ticketing official. Photographs are attached at the bottom of this page.

City of Bludhaven

Jason clicks through the series of pics, all of which very clearly depict his bike parked in a fire lane. He pinches the bridge of his nose and holds, holds until the pressure behind his eyes subsides. This is so fucking obnoxious.

Turning back to the laptop, he swivels the cursor to Cancel, then clicks Ways to Pay.

 

*

 

Blue-haired and bespectacled, P. Weller strolls into BPD HQ and carefully hands to Officer Grayson about a dozen pickle jars full of briny pennies.

“We can count them together, just in case,” says P. Weller.

“Um,” Grayson says, looking down at his now-cluttered workstation.

P. Weller steps a bit closer and pats a light hand on the officer’s arm, pins him down with a patient gaze. “It shouldn’t take too long. There’s only fifteen thousand of them.”

“Um,” Grayson says, flushing a deep dark red as his colleagues cackle in the background.

 

*

 

P. Weller,

We regret to inform you your payment for Ticket No. 684392 was not able to be processed. Please retrieve your attempted payment from the cashier’s office and review accepted forms of payment. This information can be found at ‘Ways to Pay.’

Thank you,

City of Bludhaven

Jason shuts the mail app with an angry jab of a finger and shoves his phone back into his trouser pocket.

Dick leans over and says in a creepily accurate impression of Jason’s P. Weller voice, “You were a few pennies short.”

“That’s bullshit, we counted.”

Dick pats his arm, pulls his grapple gun out and says with a grin, “See you in Bludhaven?”

 

*

 

“Duck!” Artemis shouts.

“Where?” Bizarro shouts back.

Jason hits the crane deck just as one of the stabilizing cables on the crane snaps, through the air like a crack of lightning and just as fast. There’s a whoosh of air and the heavy metal cable cuts through the space Jason’s neck had occupied not even a second prior.

A creaking sound rips through the night sky, impossibly loud, and the platform Jason’s standing on rumbles and shakes. The whole machine starts to tilt, back and back and back. And Jason watches as his two team members – standing on the helicopter pad – disappear from sight.

The crane, he realizes dumbly, is slipping off the side of the building.

The crane is slipping off the side of the building.

“Oh,” Jason says, then makes a mad scramble on all fours up the slick metal. All he can hear is the blood rushing in his ears, the fierce pulse in his throat. His gloves scrabble for purchase.

Fifteen feet and he can throw a line.

Five.

Jason deploys his line right as the crane falls off the building in a deafening crash, whoops with laughter as the grapple catches and the crane falls into the harbor with a massive splash.

The grappling device tugs violently in his hand and Jason looks up just in time to watch the landing net his line’s twisted in tear and give way. The gun's ripped from his grasp, and then he’s falling.

It’s a strange feeling, falling.

Breathless and disconnected, he watches his own hands flail and reach out for something to grasp onto, for something that’s not there. Some sort of last ditch survival instinct, not that it matters.

He screws his eyes closed and waits for the end.

 

*

 

Hell shouldn’t be this bright, is all he can think when he comes to.

“Ugh,” he says.

The light fades and a woman’s voice speaks, “Well, hello to you, too.”

Jason’s vision is blurred, but he doesn’t need his sight to know exactly where he is. The Cave. He’d recognize that broody, self-loathing bat shit smell anytime, anywhere.

His eyesight clears and sees it’s Selina at the foot of the gurney, holding a cup with a bendy straw poking out the top. She shakes it a bit and he nods, takes a few blissful sips of cool water before the pain in his head sends him back into the pillows.

“What happened?” he croaks. “Feels like I got hit by a semi.”

“Lucky for you, a support beam broke your fall.”

“Artemis and B?”

Selina smiles tightly, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Fine. Out on an assist. With Bruce and Dick.”

“Ah,” Jason says. Grateful they’re okay, but a little disappointed they’re not here – Artemis and B or even Dick, at least. No, not disappointed. Hurt, maybe, or something. He winds his fingers up in the crisp sheets and turns his face away.

Selina comes around the side of the gurney and perches herself on a tiny medical stool, says, “It’s been a rough couple weeks.”

“Least you didn’t fall off a building,” Jason replies, a bit more sharply than he has any right to be. Christ, no wonder people don’t stick around.

“No, you’re right,” she says, voice firm but not unkind. “But we all watched when you did.”

 

*

 

The video is . . . unpleasant.

He doesn’t remember the GCTV vulture-copter being there, but they apparently had been.

Captured it all in high-def.

Six seconds in free fall (funny, because it’d felt like ages) and the loud thwack as his body hit the support beam and just stopped. Fuckers hadn’t even cut the feed when the blood started dripping, zoomed in and everything. Even threw up on the ticker tape in big, bold type:

RED HOOD DEAD??

Double question marks to really get the point across.

Shows as Bizarro, Artemis tucked into his side, lands on the support beam and picks up his body and cradles him to his chest with a kind of gentleness that makes Jason’s heart ache.

He sets his phone down on the rolling tray. “You said weeks. A rough couple weeks.”

“Yes. Twelve days. That’s how long you were under. It’s funny, you know, how fast your body’s healed.”

“Has it,” he says, voice flat. He is not ready to talk about that, not even fucking close.

She fixes him with an odd stare, then rises to her feet. “But I guess that’s a story for another day. I’ll be at the computers if you need me.”

 

*

 

He drifts for some time, wakes only when the urge to piss grows unbearable.

After, he spies a tri-folded letter on his rolling tray. He snatches it up and flicks on the reading lamp.

P. Weller,

Your account is past due for Ticket No. 684392. Please make a payment immediately to avoid further fees and penalties. Be advised, if this payment is not received within 60 days, your account will be sent to a debt collection agency.

City of Bludhaven

There’s an opened envelope on the tray as well, ‘first notice’ stamped on the front. He snatches it up, about to crush it in his fist when he feels its weight. Tips the open side into his palm and almost laughs when three very shiny pennies tumble out.

 

*

 

After, way after, when he’s out of the cave and back at his own below the GCPD, he takes those coins out and warms them in his palm.

One by one like little copper soldiers, he lines them up on his heartline and snaps a pic. He captions it with, this is sabotage, and clicks send. His heart’s in his throat and stomach at his feet.

The response is almost immediate.

Warily, he peeks at his phone and opens the message. It’s a photo of Dick at his workstation, sliver of a starched blue shirt collar flush at his neck, monitor glowing and distorted behind him. He’s got a hand up by his face, palm flat and facing up. International gesture for what the fuck are you talking about. But there’s a smugness written across his face that’s got Jason’s eyes narrowing.

“Handsome,” Artemis comments.

“Who, me? Thanks.” Jason clicks his phone dark and turns to her.

Artemis rolls her eyes. “Him. Not you.”

Well.

She nudges him then. “You know you’re beautiful.”

“Um, no,” Jason says, feeling disrespected. “I’m handsome.”

“Hmm.”

“Rugged and shit.”

“You am beautiful,” B says.

“Whatever, whatever.” He slides his phone back into his pocket and tries to keep his pout on.

“Aren’t you going to send a selfie back? That’s how it works, is it not?” Artemis asks, but she’s already turned her attention back to the dog and baby videos she’d been watching with B.

Jason shrugs. “I have no idea.”

 

*

 

P. Weller,

Your account is 45 days past due for Ticket No. 68 . . .

Blah, blah.

Jason deletes the email but sets a reminder on his phone to alert him in fourteen days.

 

*

 

Three weeks later and summer’s coming to a close.

It’s still muggy as hell, but the heat’s starting to lift, proof in the slight chill on the air he feels prickling his skin.

A quiet night in Gotham doesn’t mean much of anything, but Jason tries to appreciate the moment while it lasts. Watches the odd car and taxi wind through silent streets, occasional whooshing drone of planes taking off or touching down at the airport across the bay, a siren wailing far off in the distance.

There’s a creak of leather plated armor and Nightwing comes up beside him where he’s leaned up against a low wall, resting on his forearms. Jason doesn’t turn to him, lest he ruin his sulky pose.

“Quiet night,” Dick says.

Jason pushes up on one arm and glares. “Just had to say it, huh.”

“Well, it is.”

“Whatever,” he mumbles back. “You get my payment?”

“Oh, you mean your grocery bag full of Box Tops for Education?”

“That’s the one.”

“Yeah, I may’ve donated that to the school across from the precinct. Might have to try again.”

“What happens if I don’t? You gonna take me downtown, officer?”

If Jason’s expecting a laugh at his lecherous crack, it’s not what he gets. Instead, Dick’s face is blank, turned towards the street below. The sharp angles of his face are lit in streetlight, dangerous and handsome and shuttered tight. A sticky something is coiling in the pit of Jason’s stomach and he desperately, hopelessly wants to take the words back. Even starts to say he’ll just pay the damn ticket.

“It’s not about the ticket,” Dick snaps, then pinches his nose below his mask. Says softer this time, but no less strained, “I’m sorry, but it’s really not about the ticket.”

 

*

 

Jason’s not dumb, okay.

He’s knows it’s not about the ticket.

Pays it anyway, late fee and everything.

 

*

 

Thx, Dick texts two days later.

Jason flips the phone around and around between his thumb and forefinger, contemplating a response. But there’s no words in any language he knows that’ll say what he means, what he needs and feels.

He clicks the screen dark and feels around for his keys.

 

*

 

It’s early evening when he rolls into Bludhaven and the windows of Dick’s gym/apartment are dark and silent. Still out on patrol, masked or otherwise.

He sits on the stoop and waits, eats a Snickers and chews through a whole pack of gum. He’s more than capable of letting himself in, resetting the alarms before they trigger an alert, but Dick doesn’t even have cable and sitting in the dark doesn’t really appeal. Not when he can agonize in public.

Because there is a very high chance – like maybe even a one hundred percent chance – that he’s misinterpreted this entire situation. That he’s jumped to a conclusion that will completely tear apart one of the only relationships he has with any of the other Bats.

Yeah, alright.

Time to leave.

He lets out an unsteady breath, and then another, and climbs to his feet to search his pockets for his keys.

When he looks up, Dick’s at the bottom of the steps, because of course he is. It’s hard to tell in the flickering streetlight, but he might be smiling. “You going somewhere, Jay?”

“Yeah,” Jason says, hands landing on his key fob. “Home.”

Dick nods and brushes past him up the steps, a jangling sound as he pushes his own key into the lock. “Well. See you later, then,” Dick says lightly, walks away into his building with the front door wide open.

Yeah, so Jason’s not dumb, okay.

He knows what the fuck that means.

With one last look at his bike on the street, he steps into the hallway. The door clicks shut behind him. The hallway is dark, the hand on his shoulder hot and firm, gently pinning him back against the door before it falls away. There’s a puff of warm breath against his cheek as Dick leans away to lock the deadbolt, fire spreading in Jason’s belly when Dick leans back in.

Just stands there and looks at him, shining eyes flitting across his face in small movements. Jason feels not unlike a spore under a microscope, but, like a spore that’s probably about to get laid. So of course he has to blurt out, “I’m not good at this.”

Dick huffs out a laugh, rocking back on his heels a bit. “Uh. Well, that’s okay.”

“Wait, no.” Jason palms his own face. “I mean. The sex part?” He holds up the OK symbol. “Great. Never had a complaint. But the other part, not so much.”

“Ah. The other part. The, ah, flirting part?”

Jason snaps his fingers. “That part.”

Dick’s mouth screws up into a half-smile. “I don’t think you’re as bad at it as you think you are.” A pause, and then, “So can we make out already or what?”

“Fuckin’ yes please,” Jason says.

Grabs Dick to him and brings his mouth down to his, face is smooth under his fingers, lips chapped against his. Jason kisses him thoroughly, a slow and slick slide that pops quietly between them in the dark. Dick breaks first, mouth slipping away as he nuzzles his cheek against Jason’s, breathing rapid but deep.

“So,” Dick starts, deep and a little unsteady. “No complaints, huh?”

Jason grins, runs a hand down the back of Dick’s jacket, slides under the hem and rests his hand on bare skin at the small of his back. Doesn’t miss the stutter of the other man’s body against his at the contact. “Never a one,” he says, skates a single finger back and forth on flushed skin. Dick makes a noise and turns his face in, the barest brush of lips against his cheek sets Jason’s blood ablaze.

“Well,” Dick says finally. “Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.”