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the second son

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He grows up in the shadows of the first dead Robin.

Sees himself growing into and filling that void of a ghost in full as he gets older and older, knows it from the sharp startling stab of guilt that forces Bruce’s hand when he has to physically pull away from an argument because it isn’t really about Dick anymore. It is never really about him in the first place if Dick wants to think those thoughts at all.

But when Bruce cements what Dick has always feared, no one can say he doesn’t like to face his fears head on.

 

Because Jason Todd is alive.

And, Dick Grayson intends to find him.

 

Even with the end of Jack Napier's influence over the city and Bruce's confession of everything he's strived for with them in mind: a world where they can give up the mask, there are past mistakes that do not ever really go away. Forgiveness a heavy thing weighed down by their history, and Dick recognizes that without fault.

"I'm all for finding him." Barbara says truthfully when Dick tells her just what he plans to do. She has her arms crossed over her chest, cape bellowing in flashes of black and yellow from where they stand overlooking the Bowery. "But what're you going to do once you find him?"

"Bring him home?" Dick supplies with probably what is false altruism in his heart.

Barbara is being deliberately nice when she doesn't laugh out loud. "And if he says no?"

Dick doesn't have a good answer for her, he is hoping whoever Jason Todd has become would have the answer for him. "Maybe I won't find him at all."

Barbara turns to face him because she knows exactly what this means to him despite how he sweeps it all underneath a smile so charming. Dick is Nightwing but he was Robin first. "Don't do this because you want to prove something to B."

Dick is unkind to himself, he lets out that laugh, gives up in the face of that look in Babs' eyes, and owns up to his misgivings.

"We both know I always have something to prove."

 

Jason Todd has gone by many names since his disappearance at the hands of the Joker.

Todd Peters is probably not one of the more creative alias he could've chosen for himself. But Dick can recognize a man that doesn't want to be found when it takes some very deep digging before Dick is even able to find the start of a paper trail that hasn't disappeared mysteriously in the meandering paper-pushing records of bureaucracy.

On the third floor of an apartment complex tucked within the depths of the Narrows, a nondescript building that almost goes out of its way to hide itself among the rest of the in between of midtown and downtown Gotham, he finds Jason Peter Todd living a life all on his own.

Dick isn't quite so sure what he is expecting so he settles down to watch: The man standing on his fire escape, cigarette dangling between two fingers.

 

Like some kind of batsignal in the night sky, Dick thinks he might be waiting for a sign.

A month into this on and off watch he's got on him, Dick is three rooftops away in his usual spot, perched precariously on the edge of a decrepit building in between land ownership. He drips ketchup down the side of it, mid-way through a late night snack before his patrol. Because the truth is that yes, he's found him all right but he also has no idea how to go from here.

Jason is in an oil stained Henley with his shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and in all the hot humid nights Dick has him under surveillance, he has never once seen this man strip down to anything that doesn’t hide the length of his back or the majority of his torso. Probably for a very good reason too. Dick's heard enough cackling taunts from the Joker during his run as the second Robin to know the gist of what was done to the first bird in green and yellow and splatters of red that he made on the concrete floors of that basement.

Horrific probably doesn't begin to describe what the array of damage must be sprawled across Jason's body.

Dick adjusts the binoculars as he takes another bite out of his greasy burger while Jason breathes out that final puff of smoke from between his lips.

He watches as Jason takes his time, stubs out the cigarette butt against the railing, waits those last few moments of orange ember to go black. Dick blinks, Jason turns, and there is that quick uptake where Dick goes:

"Oh fuck."

Because Jason is cocking his head to stare straight in the direction of where Nightwing has himself set up, facing him down.

Even from this distance, Dick knows just what this means. This is probably that sign he isn't quite so sure he's been waiting all along for, Jason making up his mind for him before he's ever even met him. Gig’s up, Dick thinks to himself as he finishes his burger and drops back down on to solid ground.

And, he has to wonder just how much leeway he's already been given.

 

He almost convinces himself that he is seeing a ghost the first time Dick comes face to face with Jason.

He's lived the majority of his life in the manor where locked doors are one thing but the unlocked ones bare grief-stricken secrets a nine year old kid could not be prepared for. Standing there on Jason’s fire escape, Dick finds that this feels a lot like he is pushing down hard on the creaking joints of an unlocked door that has been closed for a solid decade within the heart of what should've been a home.

Uncertainty is lined in every muscle pulled taut as he stands in a terrible mixture of caution and awe because.

“You're Jason Todd.”

Close up, Jason doesn’t look like what Dick imagines him to. Jason is tall, is broad, is skinny. Every trace of his time as Robin rubbed out in every way he possibly could.

There is no hesitation to the way he doesn't give Dick an inch when he cuts in. “And you're my replacement.”

Dick knows there is no good answer to that. Instead, he tugs the cap of his GTO uniform off to run a hand through his hair, looks away for the nervous energy that guided him all the way here. “It's nice to finally meet you, Jason.”

Jason snorts at that but he is also tipping his head behind him to the apartment Dick has been surveilling for the past month before he ducks his head and goes inside, leaving the window opened wide.

“It's nice to see not all robins end up with their stuffing beaten out of them.” And when Dick hesitates, Jason calls out from within, “I don't need the GTO crawling around these parts of my life.”

It is not exactly a welcome but it is an invitation as good as any other for Dick to step inside too.

The apartment is small, a bookshelf overflowing with worn paperback novels lining one wall, a hamper full of clean laundry sitting by the small crappy television at the ready to be put away. It is well kept, it is neat and lived in. And Dick has no idea why that surprises him when this is the life Jason makes for himself in the aftermath.

“You,” Dick starts, bites his tongue before continuing. “You are not GTO business, you are—” Dick wants to put this in words that convey what the first Robin means to the one that came after. After all, he cast a very long shadow. “This is personal.”

Jason laughs. It is a harsh sound, beaten into submission and grounded into glass and gravel.

“You're sweet, kid.”

Dick has no idea how he is supposed to feel about any of this, about the boy that turned the Robin mantle into a burden before he even turned fifteen. Robin meant hope, and Bruce lost that the same night he lost Jason. Dick was never going to add up to that. He settles for: "It's Dick."

 

Jason sits him at his dinner table and comes around the other side with an imposing stance.

It is an interrogation before Jason ever even asks the first question but Dick wants to make it clear that he isn't under orders, that this isn't a case.

“Bruce didn’t send me if that’s what you're thinking.”

“The old man can't be bothered showing up at all, that's nothing new. So, what’s your deal? Came digging to see if you measured up?” Jason has his arms crossed over his chest because yes, the answer is yes without a doubt. He's seen the kid in action and if Dick is looking for some quantifiable variable here, Jason knows he can say that Dick surpassed the first Robin probably within the first week as the new and improved birdie. He doesn't give him that though. “If it’s praise you wanted, you should’ve went with a different billionaire.”

“That," Dick frowns deeply, looks like someone that feels deeply and Jason has no idea how he survived this long out in a city that can gut him almost as an afterthought. "That’s not why I’m here.”

“If my opinion still means a thing, quit while you’re ahead.” Jason tells him, and there is regret in the lines around his eyes when he finally takes a seat down on the other side of the table. “You’ve already went above and beyond. You can’t take responsibility for a place like Gotham.”

“Then what do you call what you did?”

The laugh is still the harshest thing Dick's ever heard, but it is Jason's last words that sting like hydrogen peroxide on an open wound.

“From one ex-Robin to another, it was the biggest mistake of my life.”

 

That should've been it, some kind of closure for Bruce whether he wanted it or not.

Except he never goes to Bruce with it.

 

The second time he goes back to Jason's place, it is almost two weeks later.

The third, fourth time comes too, spaced out almost sporadically but planned just to fall within the days where Jason has the next day off. Jason doesn't ask how he knows, and Dick doesn't offer when he is standing at his window with a sharp little rap of his knuckles against the glass.

This night, Dick takes the long way home and shows up at Jason's front door holding out two extra takeout containers. There is a long moment of stalemate where he can physically see Jason fighting some kind of instincts not to simply slam the door in his face when Dick rings the doorbell like he doesn't have a penchant for watching people through their windows.

Dick knows what he represents when he stands here before him, he is the what-could-have-been. Jason is his what-should-have-been.

“I get it.” Dick says. “You hate him.”

Blood in his hair, tears in his eyes, knife to his throat, and Jason gives. He blinks, pulling the beer bottle dripping condensation in his hand from his mouth to say, “It’s a little bit more complicated than that.”

“Take it out on me.” Dick tells him like this is his sin to atone for.

And maybe it is, but Jason isn’t keeping count and the laughter that bubbles over is not so grating in his own ears. He rubs a hand at the rough scratchy stubble along his jaw because it's been a very long day and he's got a longer night ahead of him if the kid is deciding that they need to drag all of this out into the open.

Jason tips his head back to look at his water stained ceiling before he sighs out. “You're just like him, y'know.”

Dick isn’t sure how to take that, it feels like an insult sounding too much like there is a wistful praise buried deep in there somewhere. Dick hits him right back where it hurts. “Maybe we are both more like him than either one of us wants to be.”

Jason puts down his beer on the table with some finality. “I don't want to think about that.”

And they don’t.

 

Dick helps Jason move his couch up against the wall, clears just enough space in the center of Jason’s apartment for them to do this without knocking Jason’s bookshelves down on them both when a swing goes wild. The first time they tried this, it takes all of two minutes for Dick to pin Jason to the floor.

“Again.” Jason says with the breath knocked out of him, “and don’t take it easy on me.”

Dick obliges with a grin.

Forty-three seconds and Dick has Jason’s arm behind his back, his chest pushed against the ground while Dick sits on the back of his legs keeping him effectively still. They both know that if Dick applies a little more pressure at this angle, Jason’s wrist will break. The skin feeling paper thin in his grip.

“Again,” Jason rasps out with a sharp shove back while Dick moves with the motion and eases off.

“Okay.” Dick agrees easily.

Because none of this is for him even if their spars effectively put them both out of their heads and into a problem they can actually solve. When Dick gets up off of him, Jason lays sprawled out for a second longer, shirt hiked up to the small of his back, each lungful deep and heavy as he catches his breath. And then he is standing up, glaring down the kid that is good in every meaning of that word.

 

With Dick standing opposite to him, Jason beckons him to come at him for a third time in a row, sweat dripping down from his brow.

It feels like a win even if he doesn't actually land a single blow when Dick strikes at him like he's an equal.

 

"Going bird watching again?"

Batgirl's voice cracks over the comm link between them, there is soft static just underlying that but her message comes across clear.

He can choose not to answer but that is also an answer all on its own. "Just for an hour or so, it's on my way home."

He doesn't know how she is taking this but he knows she is keeping his secret from Bruce. Her answer comes slow, is low, and Dick can imagine the look on her face.

"Don't stay out too late, N."

It is garbled when he comes too close to a radio tower, and Dick's relief breaks apart in the transmission at her not quite approval.

 

It takes a couple more visits spaced out evenly across weeks that counting up to months.  A few more after-shift dinners heavy with weighed silence at times before Dick is sitting across from Jason, brows furrowed in concentration as he picks out the pork from his container of fried noodles with a pair of wooden chopsticks when he finally allows himself to ask the question he fears the answer to.

“Have you thought about coming back?”

“Back to Bruce?” Jason asks, teeth sinking down into the wood of his chopsticks until there is a deep dent. That last word sounding like he could take it all apart on that alone.

Dick shrugs because there’s that, there’s also everything else.

“I’d rather die for real this time.”

Dick looks up, blue eyes unblinking, genuinely surprised because, “I don’t believe that.”

“Doesn’t matter what you believe.” Jason tells him, putting his chopsticks down on the table before standing up. “Take out the trash when you leave.”

Jason doesn't stick around for Dick’s answer.

They take two steps forward and seven steps back. Dick isn't sure if he is making progress, isn't really sure what progress is supposed to look like in the face of Jason Todd.

If Dick is still being honest with himself and he hasn't been for a bit now, he knows this. He's barely been forthcoming with Barbara unless she really asks, words and pointed looks and all. He is having a hard time figuring out what he is trying to achieve in the first place when he has no inclination to push any further than Jason is willing to give.

 

Dick knows it would be easier on them both if he is deterred.

Except, he isn't.

Despite every setback, Dick comes back to the first Robin's nest almost night after night. Drops down on Jason’s fire escape after his patrol with sweat beneath the rim of his cap and climbs in through the opened window with sweat soaking down the back of his uniform shirt.

“You got my message?” Jason asks without turning around from the stove.

Dick blinks because he has always been attuned to his emotions, known them inside out and learned to ignore every single one in true Bruce Wayne fashion. But all of this creeps up on him in this moment alone when he is faced with the line of Jason's back as he is stirring what looks like ground beef into the simmering pasta sauce.

He doesn't stumble even if he probably should.

Falling is not new, it comes with crossing a cityscape like this with nothing more than a grappling hook at his disposal but recognizing that they have fallen into a routine is.

Jason turns around with a furrow in his brows when he doesn't hear an answer. "Dick," he says again, "you didn't get my text?"

“Oh, no. I got it." Dick tells him, drawn right back into the surreality this is all shaping into. His heart hammering in his chest. "Eggs.”

“And orange juice?”

“With pulp.” Dick says while he puts the plastic bag down against the kitchen counter, takes out the carton and the 2L jug of juice Jason asked for.

“It's opened.”

“I got thirsty.”

Jason narrows his eyes at him, and Dick doesn't let himself shrink back, just smiles blankly for the longest time until Jason is rolling his eyes and scrunching his nose to motion vaguely in the direction of the rest of his home. “Food's almost done. Go take a shower, you need it.”

Dick goes gladly, heads for the bathroom in this apartment he knows almost better than his own. His face going flushed from the heat in his veins before he ever even gets underneath the spray of hot water.

 

This is about bringing Bruce’s son home, he keeps telling himself.

Except intentions change and Dick is standing in Jason's shower. The scent of his shampoo filling this narrow space, has him surrounded even as the water continues to wash off of him. Because this is about bringing Bruce's son home, this is also about Jason Todd as he lives outside of Batman's influence.

Dick has always faced his fears head on.

He is hardly about to do this any differently.

 

“Jason.”

The first ex-Robin turns around at his name, sees Dick dripping water across his floorboards as he comes up to him in a towel and nothing but.

Jason raises an eyebrow to ask. “Did you need spare clothes?”

Dick shakes his head.

It is neither the question to ask nor the answer he is looking for because they both know Jason has shown Dick right where he can grab an extra set of shirt and sweatpants from inside his closet. This is hardly the first time Dick has used his shower when he comes in through his fire escape reeking of a long night through the worst of what Gotham serves up.

Jason knows, without a doubt, there is something here for him to play catch up on. They are not ex-Robins because they are slow. It has always been the opposite, they are too quick on the realization and he only cements what Jason now knows when Dick simply takes another step closer.

“You know I'm holding a knife, right.”

Dick huffs out a soft laugh, glances away just to look right back at his predecessor. Run right into danger and all. “Yeah, I can see that.”

Jason tightens his grip on the knife he's been dicing green onions with and he wants to think he can't have fallen so low as to drag this kid down with him too.

“Want to put it down?” Dick asks, and Jason almost wants it to come out a little bit condescending just so he can at least react to that.

“Not particularly,” Jason bites out.

Dick laughs again, eyes wane and he is barely a step away from the other. Everything he does from this point onward is drawn out for Jason's benefit. Reaching out, Dick gives him all the time to turn on him but Jason doesn’t move, lets his fingers untangle his grip, lets Dick ease the knife from his hand. He feels like he is baring his throat to him.

“You really think this is a good idea, fucking around with the Robin who betrayed the Batman?”

When Dick lays the knife next to the chopping board and down on the kitchen counter, Jason lets him into the last breath of space between them.

“I'm not Bruce, Jason. Stop treating me like I am.” Jason breathes out at that, uneasy, eyes clenching shut for half a second before he settles it somewhere past Dick’s shoulder. Finds himself thinking that one disgraced Robin is more than enough. Dick doesn't let him stay in that thought alone. “I'm not here because I think you owe me.”

When Jason finally moves, he cranes his head down to put his forehead into the junction where Dick's neck stretches into his shoulder. The frustration is easy to surface here when there are plenty of ways Jason can twist this into, not all of it intentional.

“Then what’re you here for?” Jason asks, almost resigned, turning so his breath brushes across Dick's collarbones.

Dick doesn't need to stand up on his toes to reach him but when he brings a hand up to touch Jason’s chin, tips his face up to his, the first Robin follows the direction of his motion. There might be actual wonder in his voice when Dick replies. “How can I make this any clearer, Jay?”

When Dick kisses him, Jason opens his mouth beneath this faintest pressure.

 

They both know the force it takes to bruise.

When Dick backs Jason up against the kitchen counter, he doesn't go easy on him. His mouth drags from lips to jaw, bites down on his ear lobe to have Jason keen. It makes him painfully eager to please. His hands go from their grounding point at Jason's hips to the hem of his long sleeve shirt to underneath, touching and leeching the heat from his skin.

This is where Jason reels back, just an inch because there is not a lot of room to give.

Dick almost gives himself a heart attack because he knows he is expecting a no, having taken this too far and too fast. Instead, Jason asks with his mouth wet and swollen from how hard Dick bit down on them. "Stove's off?"

Dick glances behind Jason to make sure the sauce on the pan left simmering is not bubbling and all the stove tops are off, and nods.

"Bedroom?" Jason asks next, tipping his head to the last remaining door.

Dick nods again, this time taking the lead to drag Jason right where he's wants him, and holy batman does he want him.

In between losing his towel somewhere along their way from the kitchen to the bed, Dick watches as Jason tosses his own shirt halfway across the room. The mattress is not soft beneath his back, it is thin and firm and every bit Jason if Dick allowed himself to imagine this little bit of detail too when Jason climbs on top of him.

“If you're doing this to get back at Bruce, I'm strangely okay with it—”

Dick's eyes go wide at that.

"Wait, wait, wait, what?" Dick sits up, puts down both hands on top of Jason's thighs to steady himself before he continues. "I, Jason." He breathes loudly through his mouth because patience, Dick reminds himself. "I went looking for you because of Bruce, yes, that's true. But this isn't some kind of revenge."

Jason looks at him, his gaze searching for something to prove him wrong. And Dick lets him because Jason can read into this all he wants, he has every right to but Dick isn't going to give up quite so soon either.

“What if I'm doing this to get back at Bruce?”

Dick doesn't look away from the serious expression over Jason's face, his eyes going soft as he sees the little divot on the bridge of his nose that is telling of one too many broken noses healed over not all right.

"Then that's going to be on me for falling for it." Dick tells him with conviction.

 

Jason matches him, kiss for kiss, with fervor and shoving hard enough to leave bruises on top of bruises.

He takes Dick's hands from his thighs to drag them to his chest, lets Dick touch every scar he's hidden with reverence, trace the stretch of those scars as he grew up and out of the Robin that disappeared all together.

Dick isn't gentle with him, he scratches his blunt nails down his chest, pinches and pulls at a nipple before he is leaning down to drag a wet tongue over it. Jason pushes, braces himself over Dick as he sits straddling him, rocking his hips a little to rub his jeans against Dick's bare skin. He lets Dick's mouth follow where his fingers go, the rough callouses rubbing and Jason whines into it when Dick sinks his teeth into him, leaving an imprint delicately around the abused nipple shiny with spit.

"I think I want you in me." Jason tells him, eyes half-lidded and jeans almost unbearably tight.

Dick makes a noise, a little bit choked off and quite a bit aroused because Jason's hair is wild and the curve of his mouth is doing several things to him all at once. "As much as I love that, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to last."

Jason's mouth only curls into a smirk when he beckons Dick back for one more kiss.

“I might—” Jason stops and starts on a groan, almost lets Dick steal the words from the flat of his tongue when Dick is fucking into his mouth like that. Jason touches a palm to the center of Dick’s chest to slow them both down enough to catch a breath, murmuring to him on a shared one. “I might know something that could work."

Dick helps to undo the button and drag the zipper of Jason's jeans down, the sound almost too loud in this narrow space between them. He lets out, “Whatever you say, Jay.” 

Jason falls back on the mattress, leaves the length of his body angled to Dick. He is cooperative, lifting up when Dick reaches to pull his jeans over his hips, peeling his underwear along with it the rest of the way off of the stretch of those legs. When the last article is dropped over the edge of the bed, Dick takes the moment just to look, marveling at the expanse of skin beneath his fingertips and every sign of trauma he's had to face.

"So,” Dick asks, touching again, not quite able to pull his hands away, “what'd you have in mind?"

"I want you to fuck my thighs, Dick." Jason has the corners of his mouth quirking upwards, gesturing to the bottle of lube somewhere in this tangle of sheets on the bed. "Think you can handle that, kid?"

Dick isn't sure how much blood is left in his head to think straight because he is hard and there is so much he wants from this man lying beneath him. He bites down on his bottom lip to stifle a very loud groan, breathes out with a very pretty flush dusting his cheeks.

"Fuck, Jay. Yes."

When he turns on him, Jason's answering grin is all teeth.

 

Dick is panting while Jason is letting out noises from his throat, and they both know they are not about to last at all.

Jason is so wet from the lube spilled into his lap, downright soaked when Dick holds his legs together at the knees to push the head of his cock into the tight dripping mess.

“You won’t break me this easily.” Jason breathes out, a terrible glint to his half-lidded eyes, mouth parted, and looking like the better part of wrecked.

He has him pinned on the bed, against the tangled sheets, his legs resting over one shoulder as he nearly has the other man bending right in half. There is a possessive little thought that nags at Dick’s baser instincts, has him wanting Jason to know the slick drive over and over but not inside of him, to feel the sensation of his cock rubbing the skin between his thighs raw with every thrust despite the easy slide.

Most of all, it has him wanting Jason to think of him long after they are done, and if that isn't telling at all then Dick has no idea what is.

“I know.” Dick tells him, and it leaves them both running ragged.

In any other circumstances, there are some awful parallels to be drawn here when they both know exactly what it takes to break a man like Jason Todd. It comes with experience and history, and there is an empty grave with his name on it as cold, hard proof. When he tips his head back, bares his throat to him in every manner there is, Dick gets close to press the lightest kiss as Jason swallows hard.

 

When Dick comes, he comes between Jason's thighs still clutching him tight.

And when Jason follows, he splatters white on the flat of his abdomen while Dick’s release is dripping in the vee of his legs. He is sticky and messy and looking so well used.

“Is it too much if I ask to stay the night?” Dick murmurs into the crook of Jason’s neck when their breathing has slowed and the sweat is cooling on their skin.

Jason is looking up at his ceiling, sees water stains in every corner of his bedroom and tries not to let reality catch up. “Maybe, but I don’t have the strength to kick you out yet.”

It’s not a yes but it's not a no either.

 

"Are you nesting?"

Barbara's voice is not disjointed, it is clear and it carries when she drops down behind him along the usual route he takes.

Dick turns around when the police sirens from one street over finally deters the man that has walked by the convenience store on this corner for the fifth time in the last hour now. "I feel like there has to be a better word you can call it."

Batgirl ignores him. "Does B know?" 

"Have you told him?" Nightwing answers, not willing to lose out quite so fast just yet.

"Have you told him?" Batgirl bumps her shoulder with his, they are standing on the ledge breathing in the Gotham night air. "I might not like all these secrets but I can respect what you're doing."

Nightwing turns to her, smiling as he does. "You do?"

"Maybe it's because of him, maybe it's personal growth," she sways and her shoulder bumps against his once more, a little bit harder, "but you are nowhere as reckless as B is anymore. That's a good thing."

"...Do I hear a praise in there?"

He has never needed her approval but it has never once been need between them. It is why they work at all.

"Don't make me take it back, birdbrain."

 

The two of them are sitting on Jason’s couch, close enough to touch even though there is more than enough room to keep to their own space. There are rings of condensation left on the coffee table in front of them, their beers almost finished and Dick half dressed for patrol.

“What would you do if you show up one day and I'm not here to answer the door?”

Dick thinks he knows where this is going but he doesn’t mind playing dumb if he can get Jason to think of himself in a better light. “Let myself in?”

“Not what I meant.”

“In that case, what’re you going to call yourself next?” Dick asks, turning to face him, playing right into that hypothetically game with Jason if the first Robin wants to pursuit it. “You're running out of middle names to use as a last name.”

“Don't be a dick.”

“Let me remind you again, Jay. I'm not Bruce, so stop treating me like I am.”

To face down the shadow he has grown up under, to learn everything about the boy he’s only ever known in whispers, Dick knows this is deterrence. The kind of self-sabotaging that Dick is familiar with, not because he knows Jason but because he’s known Bruce first. It is a familiar feeling that twists inside of him too. This topic of Bruce has always been able to invoke something strong in him even if it isn't good most of the time, and Dick's the one Bruce could never really see as a son without being reminded of the first son.

He can only times it by ten folds to imagine what Jason might even begin to feel.

Jason might be older but he is hardly wiser. It’s a very terrifying thought to think he gets to be content with this life despite every regret. He asks again. “What would you do, Dickie?”

“I would look for you,” Dick tells him without a hint of hesitation, “and I'll find you every time.”

“Cocky of you to think you could.”

“I didn't know anything about you when I found you that first time.” Dick points out, reaching to him to tuck an unruly curl behind Jason’s ear. “What makes you think I wouldn't be able to find you now that I know you?”

“Like I said, cocky.”

Jason rolls his eyes, and Dick laughs, taking that at face value.

“That's what they call me, don't wear it out.”

 

He's young but not by much.

But he is not any wiser either.

Dick goes into this whole thing thinking he is bringing Bruce’s rightful son home. Beyond that, Dick doesn't think about it at all when he only knows of Jason in the stale silence that follows an off remark from Alfred. With an overgrown gravestone above an empty coffin on the edge of the manor grounds, he actively goes looking in the aftermath of Napier because Bruce won't.

His once mentor thinking himself something of a martyr if he never finds out how. Dick isn’t that, and he refuses to become that.

 

Jason lays down close to Dick, and Dick doesn't turn into him to feel the rise and fall of his breathing going through him like it's his own.

“He protected the city in place of me.” Jason says evenly. “I don’t begrudge him for it anymore but I can’t live with that either.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“What did you think I would say to that?” Dick says into the dark, and the tactile soul in him yearns to reach out to pull Jason into him. They have taken leap after leap and the fall is always the same but the drop of it never fails to surprise them even when they expect it. This is probably a lot like that. “I don’t have to know that feeling exactly to understand it, Jason.”

“You don't think he deserves to know?”

“You mean how you are?”

Jason lets out a deprecating laugh and it fills the room. “If he cares at all.”

“He does, more than anything. I can promise you that. But that isn't up to him, you get a say in this too.” This is the harder lesson to learn, Dick knows this almost as well as Jason does. He turns on his side so he can find the outline of Jason's profile in the dark, when he reaches out to brush his hair from his forehead, Jason doesn't flinch. “You can come home if you want.”

“And if the answer to that is never?”

“Then it's never, this is your choice to make.” Dick tells him. “But if you want, I can take you to visit Alfred.”

Fears are hardly new.

There is no right way to go about it, they can take every path and still end up right back here even when there is a wish to heal at all. But to face them, that's the first step. Jason has his eyes closed in the dark, his breathing even and pulse steady. Dick is waiting for something, a sign perhaps, and he can only imagine how long he can wait with baited breath. Dick doesn't see the smile, he feels it curling over his mouth when Jason turns and kisses him.

“I think I’d like that.”

Jason blinks his eyes open, slow and Dick knows this is that sign because Jason Todd is alive, and it's nice to be reminded of that.