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Once there was blood

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All Dick knew was that Alfred was desperate. He was swinging quickly and quietly from building to building in the night, feeling anxiousness grow from a pit in his stomach. On the brief phone call, Alfred told him the address and that Dick had to hurry before he hung up.

And Dick hurried. Alfred had never been one to stress or to agitate the rest on patrol – Alfred knew they already had enough to deal with than to add unnecessary baggage – so when Dick heard that he had to hurry, in that particular tone of voice… This was a life or death situation, or the closest thing to it. Not only that, but there was an explosion about a 30 seconds earlier that made Dick speed up even more and his mind raced through the hundreds of possible scenarios that awaited him as he moved closer to the address he had been given.

Almost there, he thought and tried to not imagine anyone dead on a rooftop as he shot his grappler and jumped.

He swung upwards in a nice arch, and just at the highest point, he saw someone on a rooftop up ahead, approximately where Alfred pointed him to. 

Dick squinted. Bruce? He released a sigh of relief as he descended again. It’s just Bruce. Good old Bruce with his cape and cowl and grim, unreadable expression.

 But… what had Alfred been so frightened of then? An uneasiness sent shivers up Dick’s spine. No, that can’t be all. Something’s wrong. Really wrong.

He grappled and swung upwards again. There’s movement and a second person, a man. Ok, Bruce is fighting someone. He has the upper hand as well and it doesn’t look like he needs help, so… what’s happening? Who is that?

On the third grapple, he’s close enough to see the red shards of a helmet and the oh-so-recognizable brown leather jacket.

It’s Jason. Jason, pinned underneath Bruce, not moving. 

Bruce’s fist hit Jason’s left cheekbone and Dick froze in the air as realization hit him like a train.

That can’t be, no way. No way. Bruce wouldn’t…

Dick snapped out of his disbelief and shot his grappling gun again, after falling for a second. Knuckles come down again.

 “Batman!” Dick screamed. “Batman, stop!”

If Bruce heard him, he didn’t show it signs of it. The fist came down again. “Batman! Stop!”

Dick’s getting closer, just a few more buildings, come on, come on…!

The fist came once more and Dick wanted to throw up and Jason’s not moving and Dick's too fucking slow.

Finally Dick landed on the right rooftop. He rolled forward into a sprint toward the two men in front of him, desperate to make it stop.

“Bruce!” Dick yelled again, and Bruce came to a halt right before another punch. Dick raged forward and he tackled Batman into the ground with enough force to send them both rolling. Dick paid no attention to Bruce, scrambled up and stumbled to where Jason was.

Oh God, oh God…

Dick fell to his knees next to his unconscious brother, taking in what Bruce had done with fingers fumbling across Jason to assess the injuries. Jason’s helmet was shattered, utterly broken, and the shard pieces lies around him. Blood trickled out of his nose, his mouth, cuts on his cheeks, his lips and nose, and a nasty gash over his right eyebrow. On his left cheek, a purple bruise was blooming and Dick winced at the thought of how swollen it would be the next morning. On his chest, the red bat symbol had been torn clean off.

“Jason? Jason, it’s me, Dick, can you hear me?” Dick puts two fingers to his neck and an ear to his lips. Pulse; weak. Ragged breath, he registered. His mind raced for what to do but he was nowhere near the medic Alfred or, ironically, Jason was, and he can’t think properly, Bruce was beating him, why did Bruce do that, Jason isn’t even conscious –

With shaking fingers, he found the lock mechanism for the helmet and pushed the button. With a pssht, the remnants of Jason’s once proudest invention fell off.

“Stay out of this, Nightwing,” Bruce snarled behind him.

Dick ignored it and pressed his comms. “Alfred, I need a pickup, immediately. It’s a medical emergency.”

“Already on its way, sir,” Alfred responded. His voice, usually calm and assertive during these type of situations, was shaking a bit – if it’s with anger or fear or both, Dick couldn't tell.

“It’s okay, buddy, I’m getting you out of here,” Dick said to Jason in a tone he hoped was calm, as he put his hand on Jason’s forehead. He was cold, and if not for the fact that Dick just checked his pulse, he would’ve thought Jason was dead, or at least dying.

“Dick, I said: stay out of this!” Bruce repeated and Dick felt a hand on his shoulder, pulling him away from Jason.

Dick ignored him again and smacked his hand away, trying to think how to get Jason down to the street as fast as possible. Should he go to Leslie? Or back to the Manor, to Alfred?

“Dick. Get out of my way,” Bruce snarled behind him.

“Or what? I’m gonna end up like Jason?” Dick hissed through gritted teeth. Anger was coursing through his veins and he clenched his fists so hard his nails dug into his palms. Jason's nose looked like it had taken a direct kick and there’s so much blood -

 “He’s dangerous, Dick. He –“

Something snapped in Dick, and his fist connected with Bruce’s jaw.

“Dangerous? Dangerous!? He’s fucking unconscious!” Dick screamed. “You beat him to an inch within his life, and you have the fucking audacity to tell me he’s the dangerous one?”

“You don’t know what he did, Dick. He-“

“I don’t care, Bruce! I don’t care!” 

Bruce was, as always, grim and stoic and towering above Dick like a gargoyle. He’s red where Dick had hit him, and normally, Dick would’ve felt a pinch of guilt, even if he was angry. Now he didn’t give a shit, and honestly? He wouldn’t mind throwing another.

“I’ll say it one last time: move,” Bruce ordered. They were inches away from each other, attempting to glare the other down through white lenses.

“And I’ll say it again: no,” Dick spat back.

To anyone else, the change in Bruce’s face would be invisible. A slight twitch in the corner of his mouth and the clenching of the jaws told Dick Bruce went from pissed to furious. Dick didn’t care. And he didn’t have time for this. He had to get Jason somewhere safe, now.

As Bruce took a step to move past him, Dick jammed a small needle into the only exposed part of Bruce’s neck and injected a strong sedative.

A grunt of surprise before Bruce shoved him away and clasped his neck. “What-“ He sank to his knees with lips parted in surprise. Beneath the cowl, Dick imagined an expression of confusion.

“What did you…what…?” Bruce slurred.

“You can get back on your own merit,” Dick said coldly as Bruce finally blacked out and fell to the ground, knocked out like a light. “Asshole,” Dick mumbled out of pure spite.

He returned to Jason and kneeled down to feel his pulse again. Still there, thankfully. Dick sighed a small sigh of relief. There’s a beeping in his comms.

“Alfred.”

“The ride is ready, sir. Please be quick.”

“I will.”

Dick turned the comms off and hooked one arm beneath Jason’s armpit to lift him up and put Jason’s own over his shoulders to support him, and stopped when there’s a glimpse of teal through purple and red. His left eyeball was bloody red, and Dick prayed his eye wasn’t damaged.

“Jason, it’s me, it’s Dick. Can you hear me?”

Jason didn’t respond. He was looking at Dick with dazed eyes, and there was… a numbness there Dick has never seen before.

“I’m gonna get you out of here, ok? You’re gonna be fine, I just – “

“Leave it,” Jason rasped.

Dick came to a halt and blinked down at Jason. “What?” he managed to whisper in disbelief.

“Just leave me,” Jason exhaled before his eyes rolled back and he slipped back into unconsciousness again.

“Jason, what are you…I’m not leaving you!” Dick almost yelled to deaf ears. If not for the bruised and bloodied face, he would’ve slapped Jason awake and shake him back to the present.

“Jason! Jason!” he yelled instead and he pushed one eyelid up, feeling panic begin to bubble beneath his skin. No, no. Calm down, he thought. I can’t afford to panic, not now. Jason first. Stress later.

Dick took a shaky breath and closed his eyes. Counted to three. He opened them again. “You’re gonna be fine,” he said to Jason, who wasn't listening. His voice was quivering a little, despite his attempts to control it. “You’ll be up and fighting in no time. I'm - I'm gonna take you home and we'll patch you up, and you'll be up and running in no time, cause that's what you do, right? Get back up again when the world pushes you down, no matter what. And then I'll be looking after you to make sure this doesn't happen again, cause you're my brother, yeah? I take care of you, that's what I do, right? So I'm gonna take you to Alfred, and everything's gonna be fine, little wing, I promise. It's- Everything's gonna be fine."

Dick blinked away the tears. He felt Jason’s pulse again and to his horror, it’s slowing, just a little but still far too much.

“No, no, no, Jason, come on,” Dick muttered under his breath and pulled Jason up again, his arm around Dick’s shoulder and Dick’s arm on Jason’s waist.

“Stay with me, little wing, stay with me now.”

The fastest route would be to grapple and hoist the two of them down, but Jason’s heavy built and weight would be too much for Dick to hold with one arm, and if Jason fell from this height, he’d die with his injuries, even if it was just four floors.

Since Jason’s passed out, Dick had to drag them both to the door leading down. If it was Tim or Babs or anyone else, he’d carry them bridal style or on his back (with the exception of Bruce), but Jason was just too damn heavy and Dick would struggle under Jason’s solid mass.

Dick pulled the door leading to downstairs open and began to delve downwards. 

(“I’m taller and stronger than you now,” Jason sneered and stretched his arms. “It won’t be fair.” Dick rolled his eyes. “I’m still older, little wing.” But it’s true, he thought with an odd mix of melancholy and pride. Jason wasn’t an underfed kid anymore, but at what cost? What effect did the Lazarus Pit have on Jason’s growth? How much of Jason’s body was his real body and not a side effect, a combination of late growth spurts and whatever magic the Pit contained? Jason beat him four out of five rounds in arm wrestling, and Dick shoved dark thoughts aside to deal with Jason’s gloating.)

After what felt like an eternity, Dick finally stumbled out of the building and in front of the Batmobile with Jason on his shoulder.

“We’re almost done, little wing, I promise,” Dick whispered, out of breath from keeping Jason steady and them both from falling the past flight of stairs. Clumsily, he managed to press his comms again.

“Alfred, I need all the help I can get. Can you open the doors remotely?”

“Of course,” Alfred replied, and the doors opened soundlessly. Dick carefully settled Jason in the seat, put the safety belt on and he noticed Jason is paler than earlier. Shit. Dick slammed the door shut and ran to the other side, throwing himself in the driver’s seat.

“Setting course to the Manor,” Alfred said in his ear. “I’ll drive, Master Richard.”

The Batmobile purred as an invisible key was turned which started the ignition. Within seconds, the car was racing through the night, invisible in the dark streets and shadows of Gotham. While the wheel turned on its own, Dick leaned over to Jason and pulled him towards him to feel his vitals again. Jason’s head lolled from one side to another, like a ragdoll, following the movements of the car turning left and right, causing blood from his mouth to drip from side to side onto his lap.

“Jay, come on, stay with me,” Dick said and pat Jason’s cheek (the one without bruises) gently. “You’re not gonna let Bruce do this, are you? You’re –you’re gonna wake up and tell me what an asshole he is, right? Tell your side of the story? What happened and – and why he was-“

Dick couldn’t even bring himself to say what Bruce was doing. He swallowed, tipped Jason’s head back and felt his pulse and forehead again.

Dick cursed under his breath. He felt so ridiculously powerless, again. Even if he was taking Jason to medical attention, all he could do for him was to feel his pulse and try to coax Jason to wake up. No matter how hard he trained or how hard he wanted, once his family was in danger, Dick was, and forever would be, powerless.

Chapter Text

“Open your eyes, Jay, come on, just open them, goddamnit!" Dick yelled. "You’re so fucking stubborn, you know that? Always doing the most to freak us out, but this time don’t do that, just don’t, ok? I’m begging you, Jason, please open your eyes, please.”

“Master Richard, please keep calm. What is his status?” Alfred’s voice crackled over the comms.

“I think he has some internal bleeding and- and maybe a concussion. Alfred, he’s not looking good. He’s- Jason’s not-”

Dick started hyperventilating, and it’s so stupid to do that now of all times, when his little brother might be slowly dying and he’s losing the ability to breathe properly when he has to be the supportive, the one in control, the steady one.

Dick Grayson, everybody can rely on him, right?

Alfred said something, but it was muffled over the sound of the screeching tires and roaring engine, and Dick sensed the vehicle accelerating while doing breathing exercises to calm himself and force the panic to stay down. Dick’s eyes burned beneath the domino and he wanted to reach over and squeeze Jason, to reassure him things will be all right and that they’d fix this, whatever it was - it’d be okay again and Dick would be on Jason’s side no matter what.

Finally, the Batmobile pulled into the Batcave, and Dick tore off his own seatbelt before he did the same with Jason’s while Alfred opened the door on the passenger side. The butler bent down and upon seeing the state of Jason’s bloody face, his mouth turned to a thin line and his eyes wide.

“Dear God…” he whispered.
“We need to get him into the med bay,” Dick said.
“Right.” Alfred took Jason’s right arm over his shoulder to get him out, and Dick jumped out and ran to the other side to help him. Luckily, it was a little easier to carry Jason’s mass when they were two.

Neither Alfred or Dick spoke, working in silence and only uttering the most crucial words. They carried Jason to the med bay in the cave, and laid him down on the bed before Alfred started examining him and Dick assisting wherever he could. They pried off bloody Jason’s jacket and his broken armour until Jason’s in his boxers. Alfred checked his heart rate with a stethoscope, pushing and prodding gently on bruises to feel for broken bones and internal bleeding while Dick handed Alfred the tools he requested. When not playing nurse, he was pacing back and forth, ever the circus boy who never sits still.

Dick cracked his knuckles back and forth, ground his teeth and pushed his hair back as he studied Alfred’s examination and if Jason showed any signs of waking. He always paced and fidgeted when anyone was hurt, and normally Alfred would have to ask him to leave because Dick would only stress out the patient (if awake) and distract Alfred. Dick chose to leave most of the times, to give Alfred space and to clear his own head. He’d still walk around in the cave, just hang out by the computer or trace his fingers along the many trophies in there, waiting to hear Alfred call him back. This time, Alfred didn’t ask him to leave, and Dick felt gratitude because he knew Alfred knew Dick would refuse anyway.

Alfred sighed deeply and put away the flash he used to check Jason’s pupils.

“How bad is it?” Dick asked. He stopped next to Jason’s upper arm.

Alfred’s breath was shaking, and he placed a hand on Jason’s shoulder and then his forehead to push away Jason’s dark locks. A tender and soft touch, and Dick’s heartstrings tugged at the sight. Jason’s tendency to stand out of reach at all times used to make Dick wonder why. The only exception was Alfred and occasionally Tim.

“He has a concussion, I believe,” the older man explained quietly, and Dick can tell he was tired and grim. “He has four broken ribs, a fracture in the ulna on his right arm and his left ankle is sprained. At the moment, I can’t tell if he has internal bleeding. He might have swelling in his brain. And then there’s the bruises, the cuts…”

“Jesus…” Dick whispered. He peeled off his domino to rub his eyes. “When, uhm. When will he wake up?” Alfred softly pushed Jason’s bangs back again and turned away, dipping a washcloth in clean water.

“Alfred?” Dick stared. “He’s gonna wake up, right? He’s not – he’s strong, he’ll come back, right? Please tell me he'll wake up.”

Alfred pushed the cloth on Jason’s face, washing off the dried blood. “I believe he will come back, yes. When or how, I don’t know.”

Dick sighed in relief and nodded. “He’s gonna be fine,” he whispered to himself. “You’re gonna be fine,” he told Jason. While Alfred washed off dried blood, Dick changed out of his Nightwing suit and returned to help Alfred put on bandages.

(“No, don’t give me the Hello Kitty ones,” Jason groaned. He’s 13, and bleeds from a scrape on his knee from patrol. “Those are the only ones here right now,” Dick grumbled. Bruce had gone on his solo patrol and shoved Jason over to Dick. Not wanting to argue at that moment, Dick complied. Now they were back in the cave and Dick was left to make sure Bruce didn’t see a scratch on the kid, because if he did, Bruce would raise all kinds of hell and Dick would explode too, because that was his suit Jason was wearing out there and Bruce was a controlling asshole, treating everyone and everything around him like dirt. Jason hissed through his teeth when Dick pressed the band-aid on. Dick mumbled a sorry, and stomped up the stairs, leaving Jason alone. He wasn’t in the mood to be a babysitter. He decided to go back to Bludhaven after a shower.)

Dick squeezed Jason’s hand gently. He’d be here this time. For all the times he failed.

Chapter Text

“All done,” Alfred said quietly. He squeezed Jason’s hand, before he faced Dick.

“I think we should move him upstairs.”

“Upstairs?” Dick asked. He frowned, looking back into Alfred’s tired and somber eyes. “Isn’t it better if he stays in the med bay?”

“We’ll bring an IV drip, heart monitor and anesthesia, and other equipment necessary. And I think we should do it immediately.”

“Ok,” Dick said slowly. “Why?”

“With all possible respect to Master Bruce, I don’t want him within ten feet of my unconscious grandson. I want Master Jason in a room with one door that can be locked, and the key will only be on my person at all times.” Alfred takes a breath to compose himself. “I want Master Jason out of Master Bruce’s reach, where he can’t harm him any further.”

Dick let the words sink in to process them. He knew what Alfred was saying was true and it made sense, yet it still felt like a small betrayal. Dick nodded and pursed his lips.

“Yeah. I get it,” he said. “We’ll move him, and then you tell me what happened.”

“I will. Let’s get started. You bring the equipment up, I’ll arrange the room and we’ll carry Master Jason upstairs last, as gently and quickly as possible. I’d like to get done within half an hour, supposing your drug lasts that long.”

About 20 minutes later, Jason was lying on the bed in an unused bedroom in the Manor, hooked up to an IV drip, painkillers and a heart monitor. He looked almost peaceful in the white sheets, wiped clean of blood and dirt.

“He’s sleeping soundly at least,” Dick sighed.

“Sedatives and painkillers have that effect,” Alfred said dryly, before he stopped and apologized.

“It’s okay,” Dick smiled. “We’re both exhausted.” Dick doesn’t have it in him to start a sarcastic banter, even if just a playful one, when Alfred looked that drained. Truth be told, Dick felt just as tired and empty. 

They walked back to the cave in silence. Alfred had a deep frown, his mind no doubt filled with worry for Jason while Dick followed, unsure if he should follow his instinct to say something witty to lighten the mood or stay silent. He chose the latter as he didn’t have it in him to make jokes right now.                                         

 “Should I be scared?” Dick asked nervously as Alfred stoped in front of the batcomputer.

“No, I don’t believe scared is the right word, Master Dick,” Alfred says quietly. His gloved fingers ran across the keyboard, searching for something.

“I hacked a nearby security camera to… oversee the development. I needed to make sure things went smoothly, perhaps a bit controlling, perhaps an influence from Master Bruce, perhaps this old man’s desire to protect his grandson. When I watched Master Bruce drive out of the cave, I had a bad feeling. I couldn’t turn away and pretend nothing was happening. I…” Alfred took a deep breath and clicked on a video. “I had to find out how this was going to end, because based on earlier clashes between the two, it has never ended well.”

“Do you have audio too?” Disk asked.

“Unfortunately, no. But that may be for the better,” Alfred said quietly.

“Oh.”

Alfred was tense, his mouth in a tight line and movements precise and controlled, like they always were when he was angry. Properly angry, not just you-didn’t-clean your-room-angry.

Dick sat down in the chair while Alfred straightened up, hand resting on the mouse and ready to click.

“This is the entirety of their confrontation. Are you sure you want to watch it, Master Richard?”

Normally, Dick would roll his eyes ever so slightly and give a quippy response – what else had he been waiting for? Of course he’s gonna watch it! All he can do is nod, and brace himself as Alfred pressed play.

The video started, showing footage of the rooftop Dick had found Bruce and Jason on earlier, a little low quality, shot from the side. There’s flashes of gunshots and then Jason entered the screen, wrapped in Bruce’s rope, falling on his face. Normally it would be funny. Batman landed in front of him while Jason got up.

It seemed Jason said something, because like lightning from blue sky, Batman’s boot connects with Jason’s helmet and Dick recoils at the sight.

It was so much harsher than he imagined. Pieces of Jason’s helmet scatter in the air, mixing with drops of blood. Bruce’s lips were twisted in a snarl as he grabbed Jason’s collar and pulled him up from the ground. Blood streamed from Jason’s nose and neither of them seemed to care. They spoke, Jason with an indifferent expression while Bruce looked more and more furious, and Dick could only imagine what he was saying; nobody knew exactly what buttons to push better than Jason. When he really wanted to, Jason’s words were like knives coated in poison, thrown at already open flesh wounds. This time was no exception. 

 Bruce roared, and his backhand hit Jason’s jaw and Dick, in a frantic move, hit pause just as Jason stumbled back with a second spray of blood in the air. He didn’t want to watch anymore of this. This wasn’t who Bruce was. Who Batman was supposed to be.

Alfred puts a warm hand on his shoulder and squeezed. He has to continue, he knew that. Dick took a deep breath before he pressed play again.

Bruce held Jason by the throat now, more words was being exchanged, until Bruce gave Jason a headbutt. A punch, and then another and before Bruce could land a third, there’s a flash of blue and red and light gray, and a hole where Bruce was. At first, Dick thought it was Clark – but it’s Bizarro. One of Jason’s teammates. The giant clone carefully scooped Jason up, and it was weird seeing Jason letting someone else cradle him so easily when he was so vulnerable, and it was even weirder to see Jason be the small one.

For the next 45 seconds there’s nothing, and then a rumble started to build up, more and more until suddenly Jason fell – or was he tossed?- back to the roof. Immediately he scrambled up and limped to the edge, clutching the shoulder he landed on.

The continuous rumble off-screen ended with a boom, the same explosion Dick heard and Jason stretched out towards something off-screen, like he was trying to reach someone, screaming what looked to be “No!”.

And for a moment amidst the smoke, the rubble and the quiet Jason looked…broken. Shocked and terrified and distressed and heartbroken, all at the same time, replacing the numbing indifference on his face earlier. Jason’s arm fell down to his thigh, his wide shoulders slumped together and his hand covering his eyes. Was he…crying? Dick was taken aback a bit. He had never seen Jason cry, ever. Jason didn’t cry. Jason was snarky and sarcastic, defensive and guarded. Strong. Jason never cried. 

His knees buckle for a moment, and Dick half expects Jason to fall apart right there and then. He looks small, Dick thought. Just small and scared. Like a child...

While Jason stood on the edge, about to crumble, Bruce appeared behind him, large and ominous. Dangerous.

Looking at the screen, it was a window to the past, and a foolish part of Dick thought that if he hoped hard enough, the end result would be different than the present.

Bruce walked closer to Jason. “Put your hand on his shoulder, ask him what’s wrong, come on Bruce,” Dick almost begged to the screen. He’s digging his fingers so hard into his thighs his knuckles were white. Bruce said something Dick can’t make out, and Jason’s demeanor changes in the blink of an eye - from shocked and scared and in disbelief - to angry.

He spun around and attempted to kick Bruce in the face, a kick which Bruce grabbed and used to his advantage to give Jason a punch in the stomach. Dick winced again at the impact. Without pause, Bruce slammed his fist into Jason’s chin, right cheek, left eye and his throat before a kick to the chest sent him backwards before Bruce picked him up again by the collar.

They talk again, and Dick cursed the distance that kept him from reading their lips. Jason said something, and it’s the equivalent to tossing gasoline on fire. Bruce’s mouth twisted into a snarl as he headbutted Jason hard enough to leave a third trail of blood in the air after him. Then Bruce pinned down Jason’s arms and legs and punched Jason again, hard, on the left side of his face. Again, and again, and again. And one more time until finally, finally, Dick saw himself enter the screen and do a clumsy landing that turned into a fumbling sprint and a tackle that brought Bruce to the ground.

Alfred pressed pause. Like when he saw in real life, Dick felt nauseous. He wanted to cry and scream and break something all at the same time. His hands were shaking, and he leaned back in the chair while clenching and unclenching them to regain feeling, staring at the frozen image of the three of them on the roof.

“Why did-“ is all Dick can say, and then, “Oh God, I feel sick.”

He lurched forward to rest his forehead against his knees. He had seen Bruce be brutal before, many times, as Robin and even more as Nightwing. Brutality was often a necessity against dangerous criminals like Penguin or Mr. Freeze or Two-Face and always, always against the unpredictable and threatening Joker. Brutality was a necessity.

But Dick had never seen Bruce be brutal just because he could. Self-control was one of the most important aspects of being Batman – without it there was nothing separating Batman from a villain. And that level of anger and violence against someone who wasn’t a threat?

To Jason? Jason, who read Jane Austen and always did the dishes with Alfred after dinner? Jason, with the Hello Kitty band-aids?

A hand rubbed circles on his back.

“I always thought Jason was just exaggerating. When he said Bruce was a liar. When he said Bruce didn’t want him to come home, or when he said Bruce hated him. I thought – I thought he was just imagining it.”

Was this a common thing between the two? How often had Bruce done this? How often had they all rolled their eyes at Jason refusing to come to the Manor or disappearing after patrol before they could do a group report, or scoffed at Jason’s cold remarks?

“…I must admit, I sometimes thought so too. You boys have always been very melodramatic. Especially Master Jason. I believe Master Bruce does care for Master Jason. But I cannot blame him for questioning it.”

“What the fuck have I been doing, Alfred? I’m supposed to be there for him.”

Dick looked helplessly up at the butler. “I’m supposed to be there. I’ve told myself I’m his brother and – and I’ll be there for him, but…”

Alfred softened up and he smiled warmly. “I think you have done exceptionally well considering the circumstances through the years, Master Richard. Please stand up now.”

Dick stood and Alfred put his hands on Dick’s shoulders.

“You and I are going to get a cup of tea, and then we will keep your brother company while we wait for-“

The sound of a soft rumbling interrupted Alfred. An engine echoed throughout the cave, coming from the other side of the tunnel, and there’s no mistaking it.

Bruce was back.

Chapter Text

The engine got louder as it approached them where they stood. Lit up by the computer screen, Bruce came driving out of the darkness of the tunnel in the Batmobile, a different than the one Alfred controlled remotely earlier.

Dick grabbed a hold of Alfred’s forearm and squeezed, and based on the tension he felt in Alfred’s arm, he too had the overwhelming feeling of wanting to be anywhere else.

“Alfred,” Dick said in a low tone, a warning; there he is and I don’t know if I can control myself – I might lose it.

While Dick glared at Bruce in hopes to light his car on fire, Alfred fixated on a spot to the right of Dick’s face with lips in a tight line and clenched jaws.

The car stopped and Bruce got out of it, still in full Batman-gear. He marched toward Dick and Alfred while pulling the cowl off and even with how pissed off Dick was, Bruce somehow managed to look even more menacing. “Where is he?” Bruce growls. “Where is he, Dick?”

Alfred turned to Bruce, positioning himself between Bruce and Dick and while looking straight into Bruce's eyes with a hard glare, he stated coldly: “Your parents, God rest their souls, would be ashamed at your abysmal behavior tonight. I know I am. And if you ever, and I mean ever approach that boy with the intent of harming him like that again, know that I will lose every ounce of respect I have for you. I have no doubt Master Richard can handle himself if necessary but I am frankly hesitant to leave him alone here with you because in all the years of fighting crime and criminal masterminds and villains and whatnot - I would never imagine you being a threat to the ones you have the audacity call your children. I will always be of assistance when it comes to your insane crusade out of love for you and for respect of your parents but if anything like this happens again, I will leave this house and do so from afar.” Alfred’s voice rose as he spoke and his nostrils flared.

Dick quietly thanked the lucky stars he had never been on the receiving end of Alfred’s scorn because he would without a doubt crumble. There’s a flicker of hurt and surprise on Bruce’s face that Alfred ignored as he turned to Dick. 

“I’ll be upstairs, Master Richard. Please bring the tea when you join us.”

“Will do,” Dick nodded and pat Alfred’s shoulder as he walked past. He could feel the frosty air emitting from the older man as he left.

Bruce was back to being his stoic self, the glimpse of hurt and surprise gone as quick as it came. “Us?” Bruce looked from Alfred’s back to Dick with narrowing eyes. “You brought him here?”

Dick crossed his arms defiantly. “I did.”

 “He’s going to Blackgate. Tonight.”

Dick didn’t mean for it, but happened; he shoved Bruce, quick and hard enough to make him take two steps back. “Don’t you dare,” he snarled. For a second it looked like Bruce was going to push back, but he instead he turned away and said, “He’s going to Blackgate.”

Ok. Ok. Dick took a deep breath for what felt like the umpteenth time that night and rubbed his eyes. The situation was a bomb, and being angry while diffusing it would guarantee failure. Although he kinda wanted to, giving Bruce another punch would accomplish nothing. For Jason’s sake, he had to be rational. Or at least try to.

“Bruce-“

“What the hell is this?” Bruce glared at the paused video.

“Alfred hacked a camera and saved the video. I think you should watch it.”

“No.”

“Goddamn it, Bruce!”

Just as Bruce began to walk away, Dick grabbed his shoulder. “Can you listen to me for one minute? You owe me and Alfred and all of us an explanation on what the hell happened tonight. Why did you decide to beat Jason into a near coma? Because for the life of me, I can’t figure out what the fuck he did to deserve what I saw on that roof,” Dick shouted.

Bruce turned again to face him, face half illuminated by the computer.

“He killed Penguin.”

Dick’s hand fell from Bruce’s shoulder. “What? No. No. No, he’d been – he’s played by your rules for a long time, he wouldn’t –“

“He did. Jason shot him in the head, point blank.”

“Was it fatal? I mean, are you sure it was Jason who did it?”

“He did it on live TV, Dick. The entire East Coast saw it.”

“I don’t give a damn about the numbers, I’m asking if you are sure! What’s your evidence? Motive? Could there be a clone? Brainwashing? Some sick trick or illusion? Toxins? A set-up? Doctored footage?”

Bruce’s jaws snapped shut and he looked away and on the screen, and realization dawned upon Dick.

“…Oh my god,” he whispered. “You didn’t check. You don’t know. Which... means you didn’t even give him the benefit of the doubt, you just –“

Dick cut himself off, staring at Bruce in horror. The red drops of blood and the shattered helmet and Jason’s lifeless body flashed in his mind, and he felt sick again.

“You just beat him to a pulp without warning. If it really was the real Jason pulling the trigger, at least tell me you asked him why? Why Cobblepot? Why now, after all this time of following your rules? What happened? Did you ask him anything at all?” Dick pleaded.

Bruce remained quiet. Dick threw his hands in the air. “Jesus Christ!”

“I saw what he did with my own eyes,” Bruce says in a low tone, but there were traces of uncertainty in his words.

“You saw something anyone could have done! Someone could’ve dressed up as Jason! He wears a fucking helmet, it could’ve been anyone with similar build! Manipulated the footage! You didn’t have any evidence, you just assaulted him without warning!” Dick was shouting now. Fuck being calm.

“If you’re gonna go apeshit on everyone who might’ve killed anyone in this godforsaken hellhole of a city, you’re gonna have to come for the entire police department – fuck, over half the citizens in Gotham might’ve killed someone, intentionally or in self-defense. I know I killed. I beat the Joker to death, and you can shove your arguments up your ass, he was legally dead before you resuscitated him. Cass killed a man when she was a kid. Damian killed multiple. Alfred was a soldier, who knows what he’s hiding? Kate just killed Clayface, for fucks sake! Why the fuck is Jason always on the receiving end and singled out when, like it or not, we’ve all taken lives?”

“It’s… not the same,” Bruce said, but even he wavered now. The sneaking guilt and shame on his face made Dick a little glad that his words were breaking through, and even more pissed because Bruce did not get to whimper now with his tails between his legs.

“How is it not the same?!” Dick screamed. It echoed in the cave and Dick could hear the faint flaps of batwings in the distance, echoing back at them from far away. Dick was itching for a fight now. It felt good to scream and have and outlet for the ball of white hot in the pit of his stomach. Bruce didn’t give in, and instead looked at the paused screen, his mind processing beneath all those layers Dick had tried to pry away for years. Before Dick could continue with his rant, Bruce sat down and pressed replay on the footage. Dick shut his mouth, stood by and crossed his arms, glancing at Bruce to see any visible reaction to the scene unfolding.

When the video ended with Dick walking with Jason off-screen, Bruce presses pause.

“That explosion. What was it?”

“Really? That’s all you have to say?” Dick snapped.

Bruce gave Dick a look.

Dick sighed. “I don’t know. Fuck, Bruce.” Based on Jason’s reaction, nothing good. But there was no debris falling over the city so nothing exploded in the air either, and Dick didn’t see any spaceship or airship or whatever else when heading Jason’s way.

“And he didn’t say anything to you?” Bruce asked.

“No, I forgot to ask about that in the tea party we threw on the way back,” Dick replied sarcastically. “Of course he didn’t say anything, he couldn’t keep his eyes open, much less talk.”

Silence wrapped itself around them again, leaving both in deep thought. Dick made a note to himself to message the others when upstairs and to remember to bring Alfred tea and some water for Jason, in case he had woken up or was going to (hopefully soon).

Dick rubbed his neck and glanced at Bruce again. “He’s not going anywhere. He’s staying here until he wakes up or his condition worsens. If the latter, I’ll take him to Dr. Thompkins. In the meantime, you’re gonna have to find another punching bag.”

Bruce didn’t reply. Instead he played the footage again and again, and God knows how many more times. Dick didn’t bother to stay after the second replay and he walked upstairs, looking forward to that cup of tea and a nap with Alfred next to Jason’s bedside.

Chapter Text

Dick had settled in the chair next to Jason’s bed with a blanket around him, dozing off as the sun came up slowly across Gotham skyline. Alfred was next to him in his own chair and reading the newspaper, occasionally glancing at Jason to see if there were any changes. There were none. Jason remained still, only his chest going up and down indicating he was still alive.

After Dick left the cave, he’d made the tea (as promised) and checked his phone to see missed calls and panicked texts from Barbara, Tim, Duke, Steph, Cass and Damian. After sending a brief update in the group chat and promising to keep them updated, Steph, Tim and Barbara told him they were going come to visit in the morning and although he wished to assess the situation in person and not because he was worried about Todd or anything, Damian was busy with the Teen Titans - which Dick didn’t mind, having Damian away from this entire thing might be good. Duke was working with a new project Dick didn’t know too much about, so Duke would visit if he had time, which was unlikely.

Dick was hesitant about accepting visits so early – on one hand, they had a right to be updated on the situation, to know what happened and to see Jason, but on the other… if Jason killed the Penguin, would it be the smartest thing to invite crimefighters here? What if it made everything worse? But he wasn’t really in a position to deny them visitation rights to someone they considered a brother as well. Not to mention, they would 100% ignore him if he even tried to stop them. There was no winning this one so he gave an ‘ok’.

The clock on the nightstand showed him it was 7 in the morning, and Tim said they’d stop by around 12, a little late to not be too invasive, Dick assumed. And maybe to let Dick and Alfred collect themselves before visitations. 

He dozed off for a while longer, until he got hungry and too fidgety to sit still any more.

“I’ll go make something to eat. Do you want anything?” he asked Alfred, who looked up and blinked.

“Oh dear. I forgot the time. I have to make breakfast,” Alfred said, more to himself than to Dick. He started folding the paper Dick was sure Alfred had read back to back two or three times by now and began standing up, until Dick placed a hand on his shoulders and firmly pushed him down again.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll whip something together. You sit here and watch over him.”

“The word ‘whip’ is not a word I want to hear when talking about the kitchen or making breakfast,” Alfred smiled dryly. “But thank you, Master Richard.”

“It’s the least I could do.” 

Dick closed the door behind him and almost immediately after, he heard the click of the lock. He walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge, scanning for his options and settled for something within his skill range; scrambled eggs and rolls. Dick, unlike Alfred, had never been good in the kitchen. He was too impatient and didn’t care for measurements and recipes, because why have rolls in the oven for 15 minutes on medium heat when you could turn it all the way up and have them done in five?

As he got older and moved to Blüdhaven by himself, he wished he paid more attention to the times Alfred tried to teach him – bless him and his patience – before he admitted Dick was a lost cause. Dick quickly gave up on trying to maintain a healthy eating schedule in Blüdhaven and resorted to take-away more than he would ever admit to a living soul.

Even now, the rolls came away a little burnt and somehow, the scrambled eggs had a peculiar shade of green and had been burnt as well. No surprise there, Dick sighed and threw it away. Rolls would have to do.

What made everything slightly more bitter when it came to being utterly lackluster in culinary skills, was that when Jason came to the Manor, he, in record-time, earned a spot as Alfred’s partner when making dinner. Not a helper that fetched milk or a pan when asked for it, a partner, trusted with making side dishes and making the dessert when Alfred took a break or became occupied with something else. 

Dick wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but at the time, he was petty and jealous of Jason, which was ridiculous, because Jason was 12 and he was 17. Everything Jason did was better than what Dick did; school work, chores, Robin duties, being Bruce’s partner. Bruce's son.

Alfred beamed whenever he mentioned Jason’s grades. Dick tried to not think about his hate for school and his barely above average grades.

Dick tried to not let his own sour whining get the better of him, and he tried to be there for Jason. Dick knew how being Bruce’s partner could take a toll on one’s mind and sanity, so he gave Jason his number once and told him to call if he wanted to talk. He never did call, of course. And they hung out maybe three or four times in the years Jason was here.

Dick was a member of the Titans, their leader, too focused his own life and independence to check in on Bruce and Jason and Gotham and be the bigger man, because his shitty relationship with Bruce was 90% why he didn’t want to be anywhere near either of them. 

And then Jason died. A tragedy made of blood and blackness and grief that burned and left scars that still ached.

The feud Dick had with Bruce was washed away in heartbeat, and from one moment to the next, it went from being fueled by a need and want for independence and his own life to silly arguments about something sillier that shouldn’t have mattered in the first place. Dick’s personal problems with Bruce had bled onto Jason’s life and mind and drove him away and indirectly, Dick was responsible for Jason’s death, a burden he had taken in stride and a responsibility he had embraced with Tim and especially Damian.

And now things were just too screwed to ever set things right. Jason had killed and tried to kill Tim, Damian, himself and Bruce. He’d grown up and Dick couldn't be a babysitter for a grown man.

Things had changed.

Or maybe they hadn’t at all. Dick still had Blüdhaven and the Titans. Now with more siblings than before. Damian. Jason wasn’t among his top priorities. 

No more. He’d do better. He has to do better.

Dick balanced the tray as best as he could when walking back upstairs. Rolls with strawberry jam and orange juice and water on the side. Not anywhere near what Alfred made but it would make do.

He knocked on the door twice. “It’s Dick. I’m alone. And I got a shabby excuse for a breakfast.” 

A couple seconds pass before Alfred opens.

“I’m sure it’s not shabby. It’ll do both us well to eat something,” Alfred smiled wearily and warmly as he closed the door after Dick.

“I burnt the rolls, though, and some eggs went to waste, so sorry about that,” Dick sighed and put down the tray.

“Nonsense,” Alfred smiles. “Tell me about your week while we eat. It’s been forever since you last visited.”

“It’s been two weeks, tops,” Dick laughed. He glanced at the still-unconscious Jason. Once he was up and running they’d have a proper family dinner. All of them.

Chapter Text

“…and that’s how I caught the robbers,” Dick grinned in satisfaction.

“Quite the feat, Master Richard. I’m impressed you used that maneuver. Master Timothy has had troubles with that.”

Dick snorted heartily. “I bet he has.”

While eating breakfast, he and Alfred had been chatting and catching up – which, in all honesty, was nice despite the prominent tiredness and the still unconscious man in the bed in front of them. Jason still looked fresh off the beating, with the swollen face and the bruises dyed 50 shades of purples and blues. His breathing remained stable so that’s something at least.

Dick’s phone dinged in his pocket and he took it out to see what it was.

“Popular, aren’t you, Master Richard?”

Dick chuckled. “Uh, no, sorry to disappoint. It’s from Babs. The others are on their way; they’ll be here in 15.” Dick replied with a thumbs up and slipped his phone back into his pocket.

“Ah, I see,” Alfred said, his frown back.

“You worried?” Dick stood up and collected their mugs, plates and glasses onto the tray.

Alfred hesitated for a second, looking at Dick and then away. “You all have such strong personalities and wills. I love you all because of it and in times, in spite of it. Emotions are running high and the situation is difficult. I fear how this all will end, I suppose.” 

He folded and unfolded his hands. “Master Jason’s place in this family has been a sore spot for years, for him and Master Bruce especially. And now, more than ever, things are fragile. Rough. Difficult.”

He looked up at Dick with uncertain eyes. “Call it an old man’s worry, but I fear the damage done this time is irreparable.”

Dick put the tray down and pulled Alfred into a hug.

“It’s not irreparable,” Dick muttered softly as he rubbed soothing circles on Alfred’s back. “Jason is strong. Bruce will come to his senses. Barbara, Tim, Steph, Cass, you and I – we’ll make sure things gets fixed, ok? The two of them are morons, so we’re the ones who have to act like adults here, and we out-stubborn the two of them.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Alfred chuckled softly. “But thank you, Master Richard.”

They let each other go and Alfred smiled a little. “It’s astounding indeed; how ridiculous they can be considering they are some of the smartest men I know.”

“I know what you mean. Sometimes I think they got their good grades through pure, dumb luck.”

Dick picked up the tray again and stopped halfway out the door.

“Just –“

“- let you know if there are any changes. I know, and I will, Master Richard. Say hello to the others for me.”

Alfred closed and locked the door after Dick, who made his way down to the kitchen again where he washed the used plates and mugs, lost in his own thoughts until he heard the familiar sounds of the front door opening and the chattering of his siblings.

Dick dried off and quickly jogged out to meet them with the chipper smile he had plastered on so many times. Tim was the first one to greet him.

“Hey,” he nodded. He looked as he always did; a little too tired, a little too pale and wearing clothes a little too baggy. His long hair was gathered in a knot on the back of his head, something Dick had to take a picture of so he could tease Tim about it sometime in the future. 

“The girls are still –“ Tim gestured to the entrance hall where Dick recognized the shuffling sounds of people taking off their shoes.

“Hi. And I figured,” Dick grinned.

Tim closed his eyes and sighed at himself. “Of course. Sorry. I’m a little loopy, it’s been a long night with everything’s that happened.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

There’s a bang followed by an ow! and a giggle. Steph stepped out of the entrance hall, rubbing her elbow with Cass closely behind her.

“…not funny, Cass. Hitting the funny bone is the opposite of funny. It’s the worst and – oh, hey, Dickholas.”

Dick grinned again, gave Steph a high-five and wrapped his other arm around Cass to give her a greeting hug. “How you guys doing?”

Steph’s smile faded a bit and she exchanged glances with Tim and Cass, who had now let go of Dick.

“Well…”

“Kinda shitty, honestly,” Tim sighed.

“Which shouldn’t be surprising, all things considering,” Babs chimed in as she joined them.

She and Dick greeted with a brief hug.

“Blank,” Cass said and gestured vaguely around her and Dick knew she meant the situation as a whole. Steph nodded and hummed in agreement.

They all looked exhausted and slightly hunched over, except for Cass, who instead kept rolling her shoulder in a clockwise motion as if she’d been sitting in a weird angle for a long while. Barbara’s eyes were bloodshot behind her glasses, meaning she had probably been glued to a computer screen all night, trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together while Tim’s eyes looked glazed over and Steph yawned loudly, repeatedly. They all looked awful. He probably didn’t look any better himself.

“So, Dick,” Barbara said and clapped her hands together, making them all jump. “Update us. What’s happening? What’s going on?”

“Oh, please give us something. The last hours has been chaos to put it mildly, and nothing has really given us any clear picture of what’s been going on,” Tim said.

Straight to business then. Dick sighed. “Follow me. I think it’s easier if I just show you.”

“You’re just too tired to give a long winded explanation, aren’t you?” Steph said and cocked her eyebrow.

“Shut up.”

Well, it was true, but it was also the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to explain what had happened. He’d throw up if they asked him to describe in detail how Bruce beat Jason up or in what condition Jason was in now.

“Wait. First thing’s first. Where’s Jason now? Bruce?” Babs asked.

“Jason’s with Alfred upstairs. He’s…all right, all things in consideration. I don’t know where Bruce is right now but he’s around somewhere.”

He led the little group down to the Batcave (luckily Bruce wasn’t there – Dick didn’t know where he had gone the past hours) while passing over regards from Alfred and how sorry he was that he wasn’t there to greet them all. When Tim asks why, Dick said he’d explain more afterwards.

They stop in front of the computer, which Dick turned on and started to search for the correct file.

“Why are we down here? I didn’t come here to review cases, Dick.”

“I know, Babs, I just… It’s not cases or anything like that. It’s a video.”

“A video? Surveillance footage, an interview, interrogation, what?” Tim asked, looking a little sharper than before. His curiosity had been piqued.

“Surveillance footage, yes. But before that, tell me what you guys know.”

“Well, we – myself, Cass and Babs – hung out at the Clocktower, winding down after patrol with pizza and flipping through tv-channels when we saw the news. We’ve been trying to figure out what happened ever since, but after the incident, there’s been dead silence from Batman and Red Hood. We know about as much as the average Gothamite right now.”

“I was working on some Wayne Enterprises business when Steph texted me the news and I tuned in as well. I didn’t find anything either,” Tim said.

“Shit,” Dick muttered. They were blank, as Cass said, all of them. They didn’t know. For a second, Dick wanted things to stay like that, for them to not see that side of Bruce and for Jason to keep this matter to himself for as long as he wanted.

“What happened?” Cass asked. “After…the news? What did Batman do?”

How was Dick supposed to explain Bruce kicked Jason in the face for no reason, proceeded to beat him black and blue without letting Jason defend himself and that there was a mysterious explosion that left zero traces that apparently broke Jason's heart - and instead of doing what any sensible person would, Bruce continued to beat Jason until he couldn't move? 

“Dick, you said Jason was here, upstairs with Alfred, yes? Meaning they sorted things out?” Babs asked, snapping Dick out of his thoughts.

They all stared at him, questions consuming them and hunger for answers in their eyes. Answers Dick didn’t have and answers Dick didn’t want to utter. 

He rubbed his eyes. He wanted to sink into a soft bed and sleep and wake up in his apartment in Bludhaven and think to himself: Oh wow, what a crazy dream...

This wasn’t a good idea.

They had a right to see it and they’d see it eventually either way – the problem was that it felt like a heavy and rude intrusion of Jason’s privacy. If it was Dick in Jason’s position, he’d want to be in control of who knew what or at least tell the story himself. And what happened between Jason and Bruce was raw and extremely personal, and definitely not something that needed or wanted an audience.

Jason had always been private about himself and things he did, so showing off a video of him getting beaten up by Bruce when he already was at a low point felt wrong, like stomping on Jason’s personal boundaries.

Not long ago, Jason suffered a bullet wound in his shoulder. He bled too much for Dick to just leave it, and him, so Jason begrudgingly told him where his nearest safehouse. Dick was secretly thrilled Jason had told him – it meant that at least Jason trusted him enough to let him know one of his homes. Jason let Dick stitch him up and stay until morning before Jason kicked him out. Dick had thought it was progress until he knocked on the same door three days later with some Chinese food, only to find the apartment barren.

Thinking about the surveillance footage - the fact that Dick alone had seen it would probably set Jason off. Dick seeing it and showing it to others like they’re meeting for movie night? Jason wouldn’t speak to them for months, at least, and probably give Dick a black eye (Dick would let him at this point, God knows Dick deserved it.)

Dick wanted to laugh at the irony of how much of a control freak Jason was, how similar he was to Bruce yet he being the one with the rockiest relationship with the man. They were two toddlers fighting for the remote control in front of the TV to stop the other one from changing the channel. 

“Hello? Dickholas? Are you dissociating?” Steph waved a hand in front of his face and Dick snapped out of his thoughts.

“No, no.” He forced out a chuckle. “Sorry. I just…uh.” 

He had to show them. He had to let them know what’s going on. He had to watch it again, with them. He felt sick. He was tired. He had to keep it together.

“Sorry. I’m gonna show you.”

Cass had already taken the chair and let Steph sit on her lap while Tim and Babs stood on each side of them; Tim leaning on the chair and Babs with her arms crossed.

Dick pressed play and stepped back. He wished he had the chair so he could sit down and not use all the strength he had left to keep himself up while he watches the video of his little brother almost getting beaten to death by their father again.

In the corner of his eye he saw the faces of the others, progressing from confused and tired to focused and then, as Bruce kicked Jason in the face for the first time, shocked.

Tim turned stone faced, Babs bit her bottom lip so hard Dick worried she’d start bleeding, Steph clasped her mouth in shock and Cass clenched her jaws tight.

Eventually the screen turned black, and after a minute, Tim reached forward and pressed replay.

It played once more, mostly for Tim’s eyes this time, and Dick could see the gears creak in his mind. When it ended for the second time, Tim started typing and searching through the video, pausing it here and there to analyze the scene. Always the detective, Tim was.

“Dick. Explain,” Babs said with a quiet and demanding voice, staring at him with wide eyes “What was that? What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Dick responded quietly.

“Oh God,” Steph whispered, breathing shakily and rubbing her arms while Cass, pale and with a deep frown, stroked Steph’s back in attempts to calm her.

“It doesn’t seem to be doctored. It’s real footage,” Tim muttered under his breath, eyes glued to screen.

“You don’t have to check, Tim, it’s real. The footage as well as the people in it.”

Tim mmm-ed but continued studying the footage. Dick wasn’t surprised Tim wanted to be thorough, and Dick didn’t blame him. He knew that if anyone could find traces of it being fake or doctored, it would be Tim. A small part of him hoped he would.

“So you’re sure that Batman is Batman? And Jason is Jason?” Babs demanded. Clearly she had the same thoughts as he did, that it was some trick played on them as it had been a thousand times before.

“Yeah." 

Even though they didn’t show it, Cass, Steph and Tim listened in every syllable Dick spoke. 

“How do you know? For all we know, that Jason -” Babs gestured to the screen, “isn’t Jason. It could be someone who just dressed up as him. Hush, or - or Joker hired someone, playing some sadistic game – “ 

“It’s not a trick or a play or a clone or someone else, it’s them.”

How do you know?” Babs demanded. “Did you do DNA samples?”

“I know it’s them, Babs! Have we ever been so lucky that it isn't the worst case scenario? It’s them and I know because Jason asked me to stay away, to let me let Bruce beat him into a coma and Hush doesn’t operate like that and no one who works for Joker has that much loyalty to him, so yeah, Jason’s Jason and Bruce is Bruce because he’s an ass and no one can impersonate being the most constipated jackass on the planet!”

They all blinked at him with surprise at his outburst and Dick took a breath to collect himself.

“All right, I believe you. It’s them,” Babs said softly. She stepped forward, gently placed hands on his shoulders and pulled him into a hug. “Jesus, Dick, you’re shaking.”

Tim straightened up and rubbed his eyes. “All right, now that we’ve established Jason is Jason and Bruce is Bruce – let’s untangle this stupid Gordian knot. Let’s look at this like a normal case.”

“But it’s not a normal case,” Steph sighed. She had calmed down a bit, but she was still pale.

“Let’s try to approach it like it is. An assault case. Let’s start with the motive. Why did he do it?”

Babs stepped back and leaned against the desk next to Tim. “Has anyone said anything to you?” She looked at Dick, who shook his head no.

 “Since Jason’s unconscious I haven’t gotten a chance to ask him why he killed Penguin yet. I thought that he should get a chance to explain himself before we do anything else.”

Babs frowned. “What?”

“I mean, I don’t know what Jason’s been doing lately or what made him shoot Penguin on live TV, but it must’ve been big since he’s been playing by Bruce’s rules for the past months. I didn’t get the chance to ask before he passed out on me.” 

A stunned silence wrapped itself around them. Tim and Steph exchanged glances, and suddenly Dick has the oh-so-recognizable feeling of being on the outside. Like watching the companionship and the synchronized wavelength between Jason and Bruce as Batman and Robin, as father and son, it stung. It was exhausting and it left him sullen and empty.

Tim shifted uncomfortably. Cass bit her lip and looked at Babs.

Dick rolled his eyes and threw his hands up into the air. “I can physically feel whatever you’re keeping from me and that you’re mentally arguing about who’s going to be one to spill. So one of you; spill!”

Tim lost the battle, it seemed. He cleared his throat and rubbed his neck absentmindedly. “You, uh, haven’t been watching the news, have you?”

“No,” Dick said, now annoyed. “I’ve been preoccupied with other stuff.” Obviously, he thought. 

“Well, we were referring to Bruce earlier. Like… why would Bruce attack Jason? What’s Bruce’s motive?”

“What do you mean, ‘what’s Bruce’s motive’? Jason killed Penguin. He broke Bruce’s rule. It’s a clean-cut motive.”

Tim hesitated for a second. “Um, Dick?”

“What, Tim?” Spit it out already, he was tempted to add.

“Penguin isn’t dead. You really haven't been following the news?"