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Bad Moon Rising

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Somebody, at any point, could have told him that Halo resurrected herself on Infinity Island. That Infinity Island, Ra’s al Ghul’s Infinity Island, the Lazarus Pit’s Infinity Island- that one. ‘Oh we didn’t think the immortality-obsessed supervillain would care about that one at all!’

But no. Nobody told him, and so here they are, ambushed in the middle of Detroit (and ugh, Detroit), surveillance mission, as usual, be damned. Ra’s isn’t even here, the self-important slug- just the laser-Bane wannabe and the Shadow-who’s-apparently-not-a-shadow with a smattering of completely unremarkable backup players.

Why Ra’s would even send out such a comparatively under-powered squad, Nightwing doesn’t know. But without Conner and M’gann (who for some reason have unchecked fence-mending privileges) there to reign things in, Dick has to admit the margin of unpredictability is considerably larger. Himself, Tigress, Black Lightning, three and a half angst-ridden teenagers, a Mother box, a rollie pollie, a Father Fucking Box… plus, Cassie and Tim (so, five angst-ridden teenagers) waiting in the wings.

That’s a whole other thing. Cassie and Tim shouldn’t even be here, but apparently Tim lacks the confidence to deal with relationship hurdles outside the context of his Robin suit and Powerful Utility Belt, and there’s no way Batman was going to let that happen, so Tim came begging to Richard John Grayson, the Sucker. Which, okay, whatever, fine- everyone uses surveillance missions to divert tension and patch up some drama every once in a while, it comes with the costume. But now it’s not at all impossible that ~Robin and Wonder Girl~ are too busy being hormonal to even notice they’ve been compromised.

But Nightwing’s been trying to think positively about working in teams recently, and so he keeps his frustration quiet.

“Alright, team,” He sets into a defensive stance, pulling out his escrima sticks and readying for the oncoming attackers. “Show ‘em what you’re made of.”

Fake-Shadow gets to him first. Nightwing settles into his opponent’s fighting style quickly, wondering if, maybe this time, the guy will actually talk.

“So tell me,” Block. Jump. Flip for flair. “What’s with the eyes?”

Local Shadow Assassin no. 95 says nothing. Just swings his stupid ninja sword again and leaves Nightwing to fill enough conversation space for the both of them.

“I mean-” Jab here, swing there.

“-if Ra’s left the Shadows-” Handspring.

“-and you’re still wearing them-” Nightwing and the assassin lock weapons, held in a block, inches apart.

“They’ve gotta have some sweet tech or something, right? Because they look ridiculous…” The block breaks down. Both men spin, reset. “…and plus, it’s not your brand anymore, pal.”

The assassin stays silent. Between swings and throws, Nightwing finds time to sigh.

“Do you speak English?”

The assassin lands a kick- solid, right in the chest. Nightwing skids backwards, but doesn’t fall.

“A little nativist, don’t you think?” The assassin finally chimes in, “And brand lessons from a knock-off bat?” He laughs, dodging a sweeping kick from Nightwing like it’s a jump rope. “That’s something.”

So he speaks. The growl in the bottom of the guy’s voice feels a little artificial, a little dramatic. Very Batman vibe. Dick wants to laugh, but Nightwing’s a talker, so he offers up a retort instead.

“Your jealousy is cute, but unbecoming,” He spins an escrima stick, then points to his chest, “And this? Is clearly a bird.”

“Sure, Jan.”

And the fight picks up another notch or two. Nightwing adjusts accordingly, and only for those brief accommodating moments does he remember it’s not a spar. It just feels like he’s dancing, something lighthearted and upbeat, and he’s done it a million times before. Maybe it’s the growl (probably the growl), but fighting this dumb assassin feels like home.

 

*/~*~\*

 

“I just don’t understand why you couldn’t have told me.”

Wonder Girl leans against the wall, halfway up her back on a rooftop in the city. Beside her, Robin stares ever fastidiously through some binoculars, unflinching.

“We’ve gone over this.”

Cassie rolls her eyes.

“No, what we’ve gone over is how you do whatever Batman tells you to-”

 “You know he could kick my ass for even bringing you on this mission, but please, go on-”

“I’m just saying, Tim-”

“Names.”

Robin,” Wonder Girl practically hisses, nearly able to feel the sheer goddamn, un-spying emptiness of the rooftop around her. Names. Jesus Christ. “Your lack of trust in me is pretty off-putting, I mean two years later…”

“Look,” Robin sighs, lowering the binoculars for a moment to look at Cassie, “I know. I’m sorry. But babe, Green Arrow couldn’t even tell Black Canary-”

“But I’m not on the League! It’s different, not like I’d have a choice to make or anything!” Wonder Girl tosses her arms about, talking with them as much her words.

“They’re married and he still didn’t tell her-”

“I mean that sounds like a ‘them’ problem more than an ‘us’ problem, so I dunno-”

“Ugh, can we just!” Tim drags a hand across his face, wearily lowering the binoculars completely. “Can we not do this now? We’ve got a mission to deal with, and…” He pretends not to hear Cassie’s scoffing, and brings the binoculars back up to eye level. “And, oh. Crap, they’re getting attacked. Time to go.”

Silently, Robin is thankful- so, so thankful- for the timing. He fishes out his grappling hook, and without waiting for Cassie to register she follows, leaps off the wall toward the greater fight ahead.

 

*/~*~\*

 

Nightwing is loving this guy. Super unusual for Ra’s (or the Shadows, or whoever sponsors this goon) to get someone with a real, active personality beneath their mask. And yet, here stands Assassin With The Good Hair taking cheap shots with both his elbow and his wit. It’s almost like training with Tim, except that Tim wouldn’t fuck with him like that if the world depended on it. All this time, and still too timid. It’s cute, but not as entertaining. And when it comes down to it, Nightwing lives for the brawl-side banter.

Maybe I can start working it into training exercises. Nightwing muses, bending beneath a sword slash like second nature. Like an improv game. He pops up with a roundhouse kick, swinging just narrowly outside the frame of his readily dodging target. Is that too stupid?

As if on cue, two new voices rocket into earshot, approaching from the edge of the rooftop: Robin and Wonder Girl, bless their angst-ridden hearts, mid-domestic-dispute in such a blissfully teenage way.

“Jesus Christ…” Nightwing sighs, and lands a hit that sends the assassin tumbling backwards. “Hey, could you two knock it off?” He shouts over his shoulder, taking advantage of the temporary reprieve in battle. “We’ve got things to take care of here.”

“Who the hell is that?” The assassin, the growl dropped from his voice, pulls Nightwing’s attention back to the fight- or, at least, back to him. But Nightwing’s distracted, because without the growl, his voice is… familiar. Familiar in a way that sends an ice pick through his gut.

Nightwing follow’s the assassin’s gaze, bewilderingly, to Tim.

“Robin?” Nightwing frowns. “You know ‘Sure Jan’ but not Robin?” He turns back to the assassin, “My guy, what kind of semi-permeable culture membrane has Ra’s been keeping you…”

“Robin.” Hoh boy, the growl is back. It could, in another universe, be comical; but the particular consequences of the assassin’s newfound focused rage could, in this universe, get messy.

The assassin’s grip around his sword hilt tightens. Quickly, Nightwing takes inventory of the updated body language, runs through the voice again. It’s all so familiar. Some Gotham nut from years ago? Maybe he’s got the wrong Robin, maybe that’s why he was confused, maybe-

Focus.

Before the assassin can get anywhere, Nightwing jumps back into action, cutting off his opponent just before he could make a beeline across the battlefield to Tim.

“I don’t know who you are,” Nightwing warns, “But if you’ve got a bone to pick with Robin, you’ll have to go through me first.”

“Now that,” The assassin snarls, flying at his opponent with a new and terrifying fury. “Is fucking rich,” He tackles Nightwing to the ground, “Coming from you, Dickwad.”

Nightwing’s breath catches in his throat. He knows- he can’t- What?

His mind flashes back. Batcave. Years ago. Sparring. Manor. At breakfast- “Oh please, Dickwad.”- Alfred’s tutting, -“Language,”- green eyes, floppy hair, no growl, Oh my God, oh my fucking-

Nightwing grabs the assassin’s wrists, flips him and pins him down.

“Who are you?” Now it’s his turn to growl. “Clayface? A Martian?”

"Master Richard, this is-”

The assassin just laughs- once, real staccato. Through a constricting throat, Nightwing tries again.

“Who ARE YOU?” He hadn’t even meant to yell.

"I can do my own introducing. I heard people call you ‘Dick’- is that true, or just a joke?”

The emotion brings his guard down, and the assassin wastes no time. Twisting his wrists out of Nightwing’s grip, the assassin pulls his knees to his chin and slams his feet squarely into the center of Nightwing’s chest. The blow cracks his ribs, steals his oxygen. Sends him crashing into something hard, and he hits his head with a tinny bang before falling disoriented to the ground.

The assassin spits out his answer:

“Guess.”

“My name?”

Nightwing struggles to stand, but he can’t. Struggles to breathe, but he can’t. Struggles to see past the spots, to focus on the assa- on him. Struggles to call out, to protect Tim, tell him to get out of there. But he can’t.

"Jason.” With his famous smirk. “Jason Todd.”

“Light’s out, ‘Wing.”

 

*/~*~\*

 

Tigress hears the crash from across the rooftop and winces, hoping it wasn’t one of the kids. Holding an arrow steady in her bow, she follows the sound, momentarily stunned to see not Halo or Brion, but Nightwing slumped against a vent.

Yikes. Not his best PR move, for sure. Good luck ever getting Brion to listen to you again, buddy.

When Nightwing still doesn’t move, Tigress looses her arrow and makes her way to him, dodging a laser blast on the way.

By the time she skids up to the vent, Nightwing is groaning, and attempting to push himself up onto his hands and knees- attempting being the active word.

“Dude, what happened?” Tigress kneels down, looking Nightwing over for any obvious signs of gushing blood or impending death. Finding none, she helps him sit up. He keeps a hand firmly against his chest, which labors in what seems to be an extraordinary effort to breathe.

God, that hit must’ve hurt like a bitch.

“Ugh… I…” Nightwing’s breathing, and his words, catch very suddenly in his throat, and the whites of his mask grow impossibly wide. “Tim.”

Panic in his every move, Nightwing pulls himself to frantic and unsteady feet.

“What?” Tigress stands with him, catches him when he nearly falls over. “Nightwing, Robin is fine.”

Something is wrong- very wrong. But a glance-check confirms: Robin is fine, teamed up with Black Lightning against the hooded ninja from Infinity Island. From where she’s standing, it looks like they’re winning. So it’s Dick that’s the sole object of Artemis’s exponentially increasing concern. Frantic? Using names? Never in a million years. And the guy is shaking.

“No, you…” He sways again, even as he tries to push off Tigress’s support, “You don’t understand, Jason- ah…” Nightwing clutches his chest, his knees giving halfway out. Tigress freezes. “It- it’s Jason, and he- get Tim, you have to get Tim- get him out of here, he…”

“Dick, hey…” Artemis guides him gently back to the ground, “Everything’s okay.”

Ignoring his protests, Artemis taps into the com link.

"I’m getting Nightwing out of here," She signals for the bioship, which approaches from behind, "And watch out for the guy in the hood, I think he’s got, like, fear toxin or something in that belt of his."

 

*/~*~\*

 

Robin is significantly less charmed by the assassin than Nightwing was, and absolutely at a loss as to how this hooded idiot managed to take the team’s leader down. Sure, he’s a mad brawler, but really it just feels like a super dangerous spar. The guy’s all Shadow, the getup tells Robin that much, but if he didn’t know any better… he might just mistake this assassin for some kind of unhinged Bat.

But, at the same time, Robin isn’t quite impressed enough to take it that far.

“Did Ra’s seriously think you clowns could manage to grab Halo, just like that?” Black Lightning sends sparks flying, but the assassin dances deftly out of their way.

“Who?” The assassin looks around, seemingly following his opponents’ gazes to identify the girl in question, “Rainbow Girl?” He scoffs, “Oh, gee, you got me! You’re right, I’m here for a fuckin’ nightlight.”

“Then why are you here?” Robin takes a turn to question, and follows through with a strike, his bo-staff just missing the assassin’s shoulder, “Why did Ra’s send you if not for her?”

The assassin laughs again.

“Ra’s didn’t send me,” He catches Robin’s bo-staff with his sword, and sends it flying. "Talia did."

Black Lightning takes advantage of the assassin’s focus on Robin to disarm him in turn, sending a shock of lightning through the metal and out of its wielder’s hands.

The assassin glances back at Black Lightning.

“Touché.”

The momentary distraction isn’t enough to keep him from blocking Robin’s first kick, or the punch he follows up with. Robin glares, wondering if he underestimated his opponent.

“You think you’re gonna beat me?” The assassin taunts, as if reading his mind, “Because I already wiped the floor with Golden Boy, and you, Replacement,” Robin ducks beneath a high kick, feeling more uneasy with every word, “Are no Dick Grayson.”

Robin grits his teeth but refuses to let his guard down, managing to land a kick on the assassin’s side despite the shockwave running through his brain. It’s nothing new, he tells himself, Ra’s has always known our ID’s, this guy’s just a bigger asshole. Besides, everyone and their mother knows Dick’s the favorite. Hardly insider knowledge.

“But your focus is admirable, gotta give it to you.”

Before Tim can come up with a reply (because, at least in this regard, he really is no Dick Grayson), the assassin pauses, as if listening to something only he could hear.

“Hm. Terrible news, kiddo,” The other assassins stop their fighting. “Looks like I’ll have to kill you another day. It was super nice to meet you, though.”

The hooded assassin, and all those he came with, disappear impossibly into the city as quickly and as silently as they came.

Batman, Tim can’t help but think, is going to be pissed.

Chapter Text

“You’re not listening to me.”

Tigress refrains from an eye-roll and stands her ground between Nightwing and the Bioship door. It takes some shuffling and quick reflexes, but so far she’s thwarted his efforts to pass her and return to the fight outside. Pushing Nightwing to the back of the ship, or getting him to – God forbid – sit down has been harder.

“This is your first full sentence, pal, so,” Tigress catches Nightwing’s shoulders and manages to push him a full two steps toward the ship’s posterior compartment, “You’ll have to cut me some slack.”

“Full sentences…” Nightwing regains one of those steps before Tigress can move to block him, “Get in the way…” Next block: successful, “Of conveying information in a succinct and efficient manner in a time-sensitive environment.”

Tigress stops the dosey-doe routine just long enough to quirk an eyebrow.

“Did you intentionally pad that sentence to trick me into thinking you aren’t losing it right now?”

“Pad the-? No way! I am very-”

“Look at me, I’m Nightwing and I convey information in a succinct and efficient time-sensitive SAT vocab list to overcompensate-”

 “Artemis-”

“-when I’m acting crazy!”

They pause. Nightwing sets his jaw, tilting his chin to stare at the floor. He’s pale, should probably be sitting down. Tigress relents, recalling a day in the cave, seven (Seven!) years ago, when the roles of the traught and distraught had been reversed. Robin hadn’t mocked Artemis then.

“I’m sorry,” Tigress says first, looking away. “That was harsh.”

Static from the com-link cuts off their conversation, followed by Black Lightning’s voice.

"All assailants retreated. No idea where they went. Should we pursue?”

Nightwing answers without conferring.

“No. Don’t bother, we’ll follow up by other means.”

“Got it. We’re on our way back to the ship”

Nightwing stumbles back a half-step, hand on his head. Tigress juts her hand out to land on his shoulder, no longer even trying to hide her concern.

“Sorry,” He brushes her off, voice heavy as he speaks into the com-link, “Can you repeat that?”

“I said, we’re on our way back to the ship.”

Nightwing sighs, with… relief?

“Got it. See you soon.”

“Soon?” Artemis raises an eyebrow, and Nightwing rolls his eyes.

“Yes, soon,” He scoffs, “I’m not going to be their leader one minute and then hide out in the… what is this you’re guiding me to, the storage bay?” Artemis refuses to respond. “Whatever. A good leader allows his team to learn from mistakes- including his own.”

There’s a pause, while Tigress looks her teammate up and down. And he doesn’t look great. Concussed, clearly- pupils small. A cut, jagged but small, peeking out past his hairline. But he seems lucid enough to rule out fear toxin, which possibly makes everything, somehow, worse. An all-natural, organic mental break. Cool cool cool.

“Dick, I…” Tigress shifts, uncomfortable, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Right away, anyway. Maybe you should start with-”

But the ship door opens, and Tigress runs out of time to state her case.

 

*/~*~\*

 

Nightwing stands at the front of the bioship, arms crossed as they soar across a city skyline. He smudges a smile onto his face, which Tim assumes is supposed to look authentic. Typical Dick Grayson coping mechanism. Robin nearly rolls his eyes at the gesture, wondering who Nightwing thinks he’s fooling. In general, the whole strength-in-nontoxic-fallibility thing would be more effective if the guy’s head wasn’t, like, actively bleeding.

But, because Tim hates confrontation even more than he hates being alive what, he makes no personal moves to call Nightwing out. And from Tigress’s unimpressed deadpan at Nightwing’s whole… thing, Robin surmises that talking him out of it has already failed, so there’s no need, anyway. So, he sits back- and hey, if anyone can make this look charming, it’s Dick. If it works out, maybe Tim can, at the very least, take down some pointers on how to recover with grace without having to actually fail himself.

“You guys did good work,” Nightwing begins, before tossing a hardened look towards Robin and Wonder Girl, “Overall,” Ouch.

A few years ago, such a comment would have sent Tim into at least a week of restorative self-loathing. Not to say it doesn’t still let the air out of his balloon. It does. But the List of Flaws and Shortcomings to Address is longer now, so this’ll have to wait its turn in the rotation.

In the meantime, Tim decides he should focus on pretending that Cassie is not glaring at him. As if he were the one that just directly insulted her, and not Nightwing. It’s fine.

“Forager did good work?” The bug pops in, and Tim has to smile at the sincerity.

“Great work, Forager,” When Nightwing grins at him, it looks solid, authentic, and Forager clicks (is that descriptive?), basking in the affirmation, and Tim takes note. So, okay, at least one person (?) (Wait, is that offensive?) (Does calling Forager a person neglect Foragers’ Bug identity?) (is not calling Forager a person even more offensive?) (Oh God) (It definitely is) (Oh God) one LIVING BREATHING INDIVIDUAL WITH A SOUL AND COMPLEX SENSE OF SELF is unaware of the awkward tension.

Tim catches Cassie staring at him with one eyebrow raised an inch higher than the other (which he both loathes and absolutely desires at all times), and realizes that his head has tilted no less than thirty stiff degrees and he hasn’t breathed in, like, a minute. This is embarrassing for several reasons. But, principally, it means that he’s missed a good deal of Nightwing’s closeout chat. And so he tunes back in.

“Anyway,” Nightwing continues, slow and with such deeply masked insecurity that Tim wonders if he’s imagining it, “There are always going to be people who know how to push your buttons…”

Tim lasts exactly that long before zoning back out, caught on ‘push your buttons’. So that’s what had happened. But what kind of buttons…? He thinks back on what the assassin had said, how he’d said it. The shadow – well, not shadow anymore, Tim supposes – knew Dick’s ID, but that wasn’t so wildly uncommon these days. Especially not with Ra’s’ inner circle; and if the shadows really are gone, it would make this new guy one of just a few people on Infinity Island. So, not at all outlandish. Presumably, Dick knew that, too.

So then, what? True, the guy seemed to have it out for the whole Batfamily – and maybe the Robins in particular, but hard to say – but who didn’t? On the one hand, this guy could’ve been any random rogue who one time, years ago, had a run-in with some bats and really holds a grudge. Or, honestly, given the Ra’s al Ghul influence, he could just be trying to recreate with Nightwing what Ra’s has with Batman. It would explain why he called Tim ‘Replacement’, and ‘No Dick Grayson’.

Tim almost feels ready to settle in with that theory. It’s simple, but not too simple; not anything wild. Very few logic jumps required. But why would Dick be so thrown off guard by the concept that he straight up lost his mind in the middle of the field?

The specific way he’d lost his mind, too… he’d called Tim by name. Like, name name. Tim had been too focused on his adversary to tune in much more, but that much he’d heard. And Artemis saying something about a fear toxin; it must’ve been pretty bad. But, not even a half-hour later, Nightwing is calm and collected and facing the team without as much as a hint of chemical imbalance.

No artificial chemical imbalance, anyway.

So Tim folds his arms and frowns up at his predecessor, who, in turn, does seemingly everything he can to avoid the eye contact.

 

*/~*~\*

 

Barbara wakes up, slow and warm, to sunlight playing over her eyelids and Dick Grayson’s head on her shoulder, his arm around her torso. Her eyes open, and for a minute Babs watches Dick’s bare back rise and fall in the steady rhythm of sleep. Peaceful, and rare. He looks young like this. Or maybe it’s just that he looks his age. Regardless, Barbara opts to enjoy it while she can, before Dick wakes up and spends the next twelve hours at eighty adorable miles per minute.

She doesn’t quite frown when she notices the neat and tiny stitches atop his forehead, blending in so convincingly with stray strands of Dick’s messy dark hair. There should be a bandage there, keeping the threads from being damaged. Softly, Barbara runs her fingers just below the sutures, barely grazing his skin. Everything she couldn’t see when he’d crawled into bed with her last night, unexpected but so welcome.

“You should see the other guy,” Dick mutters without opening his eyes. Without moving at all. Barbara wonders if he’s been awake this whole time, but settles on no. She would have noticed. Highly observant, and all that. Right.

“You rough him up?” Babs cracks a grin, and hears it spread to her own voice.

Eyes still closed, Dick he rolls over, arms up and behind him, into a stretch. Relaxes, opens his eyes, returns Babs’ smile with one that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. At the edge of the newly repositioned covers, deep blues and blacks and reds splotch across Dick’s chest, mottling the outline of his ribcage. Oof.

“Barely even landed a hit.”

Barbara lets him wallow in it, for a minute, before allowing herself a smirk and a quiet (totally not gleeful):

“I told you.”

Dick sighs.

“Yeah, yeah, I-”

“I leave you alone for one night-”

“You deserved a night off-”

“-and you come back to me a broken man,” She lectures playfully, “Void of all promise-”

“Okay, Babs, thank you.” Dick drags a hand down his face, holds it there for a minute. “Believe me, it’s not a mistake I’m looking to repeat.”

Barbara falls back on the banter, taking him in. Body language, tone.

“As long as you’ve learned your lesson,” Barbara pulls Dick’s hand away from his face, holds it in hers, “Hunk wonder.”

He runs his thumb along the edge of her hand, staring at the circles he makes.

“Here’s hoping.”

Barbara pauses, allowing room for Dick to decide on his own volition to explain the mild angst in which he seems to have found himself. He doesn’t. Ostensibly, they’re past the whole “always sunny in Graysonadelphia” stage of their relationship and it feels deceptively like a backslide – but probably best not to take it personally.

“Dick…” She relents, “Are you gonna tell me what happened?”

“There’s not much to tell,” He shrugs, “I just got… flustered.”

“Huh,” Barbara raises an eyebrow in faux-contemplation, “Do I have some villainous competition?”

“Please, not that kind of flustered,” Dick scoffs and rolls onto his side, wincing a little but settling in to face her. “My superpower, remember?” By the time he winks, Barbara’s eyes are already rolling with such resolve she wonders if by the end of this relationship they’ll just be stuck like that.

“Yeah, yeah, no need to flatter yourself. Anyway, don’t derail the-”

“Regardless,” Dick goes on as if he hadn’t heard the insult, “Bruce has done enough villain romancing for the entire League and all subsidiaries combined.”

Barbara’s jaw drops a little, and she finds herself staring.

She knows Dick is just trying to change the topic so that he doesn’t have to do any emotional labor. She knows he’s totally playing her. But Barbara did not know that Batman was a hoe for villainesses (how did she not know??) and, okay, fine, she’ll bite. Trauma later, hot tea now.

“Are you serious?”

“Dead serious,” He asserts, “I made the mistake of going in for three-am ice cream the other night while I was staying at the manor, and Selina freaking Kyle was standing in the kitchen,” He covers his eyes, as if to will the memory away, “Attached to Bruce by the mouth.”

“Oh my god,” Barbara doesn’t know whether to choke or laugh. She winds up somewhere in the middle.

“Catwoman has seen me in my underwear, Barbara,” Dick whispers, tortured.

Honestly, Barbara thinks, the tea could actually be the trauma.

“Apparently,” Dick continues, “The absolute only thing that Brucie, Bruce, and Batman all have in common is that they cannot at all contain the-” TMI TMI TMI TMI TMI.

“Dick-!”

His name isn’t even halfway out of Barbara’s mouth before she realizes what she’s done. For a full thirty seconds, neither of them speaks.

“I’m changing my name,” Dick breaks first, “I’ve built up a pretty thick skin, but I think this is my breaking point.”

“What were you even going to say?” Barbara groans, squeezing her eyes shut.

“I was gonna go with ‘the playboy within’ but, man, Babs,” Dick’s tone is dripping with fake awe, “You really went for it.”

“I was just trying to stop you before you said something that made me wish I’d been born without the capacity for imagination,” Barbara laments, “You set me up.”

“I absolutely did not. This one’s on you.”

“Whatever,” Barbara huffs, “Joke’s on you, boy blunder, because-”

Besides the falter in her sentence, Barbara pretends not to see the microscopic tremor pass across Dick’s perfectly slanderous smile. But his gaze catches suddenly on something, and Barbara follows his eyes to the corner of her room between the door and inside wall. The empty corner. And that, she chooses not to ignore.

“Uh,” She frowns, “Is everything alright?”

No response.

“Dick?”

“What?” Dick shakes out of whatever brain-trap he’d fallen into, meeting Barbara’s eyes again with a distracted excuse for attention, “Yeah, I, uh- sorry, I just forgot, that I… told Alfred I’d help with the…” She watches him search for something to say. Does he seriously thing she-? “With the weeding. Today. And, um. I’m already late. So I better go.”

The weeding?

“Seriously, Dick?” Barbara pushes herself up in bed as Dick throws his feet on the floor, “The weeding?”

“Yeah, it’s an arduous task,” Dick digs through the bottom dresser drawer, the one Babs cleared out for him months ago. It’s filled with his t-shirts now, a pair of jeans, a few socks. “And Alf’s getting old.”

“It’s also six am,” Barbara deadpans, eyebrows raised.

 “Well,” Dick tugs a dark shirt over his head, “You know Alfred. Early bird.”

 Barbara, again, rolls her eyes.

“Ah yes,” She pulls her hair back into a ponytail and eyes her wheelchair, wondering if she’s going to have to chase this idiot down, “Alfred, the only early bird who recognizes that if you don’t catch the weeds before noon, an actual landscaper might get to them first.”

“That’s the one.” He doesn’t miss a beat, pulling on the pair of pants he’d left in a heap last night on the floor. “And God forbid, Babs. Alfred would have a heart attack.”

Barbara crosses her arms, waiting for Dick to give this up already, even as he’s tugging on his shoes. As if she hasn’t learned the essential and day one lesson that Dick Grayson will never explain himself unprovoked.

“So you’re telling me that if I call Alfred right now…”

“He would be upset with you for interrupting his breakfast preparations,” Dick pulls the finishing bow taut on his left shoe, and follows up with a quick kiss to Barbara’s scowling lips. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

He’s gone before she can get in the last word.

 

*/~*~\*

 

Dick leaves his cell phone at Barbara’s, not because he thinks this will actually prevent her from tracking him down, but because he figures he could use the hour’s head start it might leave him with. His com-link, suit, and contacts- all at the Watchtower. If someone wants to follow him, they’re really going to have to try.

He hopes they don’t. It wouldn’t look great to go gallivanting off to the same island he’d chastised Brion for daring to visit, and for more or less the same stupid and emotionally charged reason. And, bonus! He’s doing it completely alone and without communication or backup.

YoU hAvE to bE PaTieNt

At least if anyone asks, he will be able to honestly say that, yes, he is just as annoyed with himself as everyone else.

But he can’t just… let this go. Sure, this assassin probably isn’t Jason. There’s no way.

There’s the Lazurus-

Dick slams the thought down, shovels it, buries it with a scowl before it’s even fully formed. He knows it’s possible. But acknowledging that is hopeful. It’s dangerous, it’s… a lot. And if he loses his cool again, who knows whether or not he’ll get it back.

I’m not even sure I got it back this time, He sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose as the unmistakable features of his dead… brother? Successor? Teammate? Flash across the face of a stranger down the street. When Dick opens his eyes, the stranger turns back into an old man, hunched and unassuming and not Jason.

Other Not-Jasons are everywhere. Taking over Jefferson’s voice in the com-link, smirking in the corner of Barbara’s bedroom, laughing at him all night every time Dick tried to close his eyes and sleep. It’s ridiculous and dramatic and so not him and Dick thinks that maybe the worst part is the fact that he doesn’t even feel like himself.

It’s like he spent all this time developing effective and “almost-healthy coping mechanisms” for nothing- just for some random Ra’s al Goon to hack into his psyche with a concussion and a dash of snark. Which, by the way, is supposed to be his thing.

Once Dick tosses reaches the Blüdhaven warehouse, he’s so caught up in his internal grumbling that he doesn’t even bother to check whether or not it’s empty. He should – because security cameras are one thing, but having to explain his motives to a live person in real-time is another – but goddammit he’s earned a little internal stewing and he just doesn’t check.

So, when he turns around and comes within an inch of crashing into Tim fucking Drake, Dick yelps (yes, he yelps, and yes he will later make sure Tim knows to keep that strictly off the record), stumbling backwards a full step before catching himself.

“Hey, Dick.”

“Jesus, Tim,” Dick breathes, his heart still pounding, “You scared the hell outta me.”

“Sorry.”

He’s not. Dick misses fourteen-year-old timid Tim every day.

“Dude, what’re you doing here?” Dick sighs, going about his business of collecting the duffel bag he came here for.

“Oh, you know, just uh…” Tim shrugs, “Popping into say hi.”

“Well, hi,” Dick sends him an exaggerated wave, “If that’s all you wanted, then-” Wait, what time is it?

The digital clock on the wall says 6:30. The Team left the Watchtower no earlier than two. Dick frowns.

“Tim, do you ever sleep?”

“I honestly haven’t slept since I became Robin,” Tim says, not even blinking. Should Dick, like, talk to Bruce about that…? “And if you’re going to Infinity Island, I want in.”

W h a t.

“If I’m going to…?” Dick stares, actively refraining from hiding the duffel bag in his hand behind his back. Be cool. “I’m not- I mean, I’m not going to-”

“Oh, okay,” Tim nods, “So you’re taking a duffel bag and your secret passport- you know, the one that Bruce and Barbara don’t even know about?” Tim raises his eyebrows, “To go help Alfred with the gardening?”

This KID.

“Tim, were you listening-

“It’s the excuse you give every time, Dick.”

And how did he know about the passport?? Is there no privacy anymore?

“Look, Tim, as much as I am dying to have a serious talk with you about invading my privacy-”

“It’s not invading your privacy if I’m just trying to be prepared-”

There’s a lot of implication unpacking to do with that statement.

“Tim, do you have a contingency plan for me?”

Tim at least has the sense to look embarrassed.

“No,” He pauses, “I mean, you know, not in the sense that, like-”

Dick waves a hand and rubs his forehead.

“Enough, Tim, don’t hurt yourself,” Dick sighs, and runs a hand through his hair, “Look, it’s fine. Batman, I get it. But you still can’t come with me to Infinity Island.”

Tim perks up immediately.

“So you are going!”

“Yes, I’m going,” Dick resigns, “You can’t tell anyone. And if you came it would be too risky. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

Tim shifts uncomfortably.

“Shouldn’t… shouldn’t that be my call?” He bites his lip for a moment, visibly unsure of himself. “The risks, I mean.”

No,” Dick counters, “You’re staying here, and that’s final.”

If Tim is intimidated (which, knowing Tim, he is), he recovers quickly.

“Dick, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go by yourself,” Tim presses back, a harder edge in his voice than Dick is used to hearing, “It would be stupid to go to Infinity Island alone in any condition-”

“I’m not expecting Ra’s to attack me.”

“- but you got wrecked last night,” Tim goes on as if he hadn’t been interrupted, “And it’s not Ra’s I’m worried about.”

“You’re not coming.” Dick can feel his fuse getting shorter, and it’s the last thing he needs right now. Besides, of course, Tim coming to Infinity Island.

“You need someone to watch your back, keep you grounded-”

Dick’s eyes narrow.

“Have you been talking to Will?”

“What?”

“Never mind,” Dick swings his duffel bag over his shoulder and heads, stomping, toward the door, “You’re staying here, Tim. You don’t know Ra’s like I do. It’s too dangerous.”

“I can take of my-”

“No, you can’t!” Oof. Fuse blown. “Goddammit Tim, you’re supposed to be the smart one!” Dick whips around, his voice too loud and too angry, “The one who doesn’t do stupid shit to get himself hurt, or get his team hurt,” Tim’s eyes get wide, and Dick knows he should stop, but he doesn’t, “But here you are, ready to jump right into something you know nothing about,” Which wasn’t really fair and wasn’t really true, “That could get you killed.”

For a moment, neither of them says anything. Then Dick takes a deep breath, and goes on.

“Last time we went to Infinity Island, Sensei killed Halo,” Dick says softly, “She can come back. You… can’t.”

Dick’s chest feels heavy, and all he can do is be thankful his voice didn’t break.

“Dick…”

“You’ve gotta be smarter than me,” Dick forces himself to make eye contact, “Smarter than…”

He can’t bring himself to say it.

“Smarter than Jason?” Tim offers, quietly.

Dick looks away, not trusting his control over his own facial expressions.

“Stay here, Tim.”

When Dick walks away, Tim doesn’t follow him.

Chapter Text

Smarter than Jason?

Leaning against the outside wall of the Blüdhaven warehouse, Jason flips a page in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and resists the urge to scoff. Smarter than fucking Jason?

It’s so cliché, he could die again.

Like any good flavor connoisseur, Jason pairs his eye roll with a chew Hubba Bubba, now growing tough and bland between his back molars. He blows a resigned bubble, letting it balloon halfway up his vision before collapsing it with silence and little fanfare. He flips another page, tapping along the cover.

It’s unsatisfying, and his fingers almost twitch for a lighter.

Almost.

Narrowly, he stops them. Because-

“You can’t sneak up on someone if you smell like a cigarette from a mile away.”

“Fuck you, B.”

Jason’s vision falls out of focus.

Deep breath.

Anyway.

Because the craving itself is gone.

A cackle over his earpiece brings Jason back to the present, reminds him that he is here to listen, not to dwell, and that Botulism Wonder and Sorry, Who? unfortunately still exist.

He tunes in just in time to catch the end of Dick telling the new kid to stay put, and Jason almost laughs, because really? Stop trying to make ‘Stay put’ happen, Dick. It’s not going to happen. But the garage door to the warehouse grumbles open, and Jason is resigned to readying himself for the ~encounter~.

Showtime.

Jason slips a bookmark between the pages of the novel and nestles it in his sweatshirt pocket.

Deep breath.

“Nervous?”

Jason peers over the edge of the building, grappling hook at the ready in a definitely-not-trembling hand.

“No.”

 Jason grits his teeth. No. He shoves away the memory and the nerves and-

Nightwing laughs, squeezes his shoulder. Leaps off the edge-

Fuck. Jason thought he was past this.

Remember how it ends.

 Deep breath.

Remember why you’re here.

Jason holds his course and keeps his head down, right up to moment he rams his shoulder into Dick’s. The wingnut and his big ears (ugh he grew into them) stumble, affronted, to the side, and Dick’s arm wraps around his ribcage in a wince. Souvenirs from the night before, Jason assumes. Shouldn’t he be proud?

Dick looks up, and their eyes meet and he sucks in a breath so sharp Jason wouldn’t be surprised if Bitchass Wonder’s throat is bleeding. Dick says nothing. Just stares. Face to impossible face, and for a second (not even) Jason hesitates. For a second (not even) he-

Stop. Remember how it ends.

Jason squares up his shoulders, filling in the whole goddamn 6’3” frame he woke up in a year ago. Make your size useful.

“Watch it, Dickwad,” Jason spits all his anger into it and saunters backwards a step, soaking it in for one last microsecond. Dick Grayson, wide-eyed and ashen and speechless.

But, because greed is the death of every good plan, Jason cuts it off with a wink and leaves Dick behind.

 

*/~*~\*

 

Dick feels like it’s different this time, like he’s not seeing things- when he blinks, this Jason is still there. God, he’s so tall, how did he get so-

No, focus. This isn’t Jason. This can’t be Jason. Oh, my God, this can’t be Jason.

Chest tight. Air. Breathe, Dick. Get a grip.

Dick breathes. Jason – no, not-Jason, imposter, assassin… Jason? says something. Dick can’t hear him. He leaves. Dick can’t follow him, feet glued, heavy. Jason is leaving. He’s losing- he’s losing him again?

That’s not Jason.

“Dick?”

Tim. Yesterday, this guy wanted to kill Tim. Get a hold of yourself.

A hand on his shoulder. Directly ahead, the assassin ducks into an alley. Dick straightens.

“Dick, what’s-”

And takes off running.

Vaguely, he hears Tim behind him, calling his name again. Dick doesn’t respond. No time.

Alley. Turn. Red sweatshirt, lighting a cigarette, it’s Jason, it’s not Jason, this person is dangerous, he-

Red sweatshirt, bunched in Dick’s hand. Against the wall. Dick is holding him against the wall. Seething.

More footsteps.

“Dick, what are you doing?” Tim again, panicked, “Who is that?”

“It’s-” Dick stutters. It should be obvious. Why isn’t it-?

The face. The guy’s face.

He isn’t Jason, he- he isn’t Jason. Features twisted in fear, sputtering, hands up and shaking and he isn’t Jason.

Dick relaxes his grip, lets the sweatshirt slip out of his fist and the guy falls.

The world comes back to him, suddenly and overwhelmingly, tunnel vision giving way to a damp and rancid alley with a stranger scrambling away at his feet. The stranger runs the other way, deeper into the alley, before Dick can say he’s sorry.

“I… thought he was someone else,” Dick offers lamely when he remembers that Tim is there, standing wide-eyed and rooted to the sidewalk. Holding a helmet.

“I just wanted to, um. You…” Tim shifts the helmet off between his palms, back and forth, in sync to his hand-offs between quiet sentences, “You forgot your helmet.”

Dick stares, looking between Tim and the helmet.

“And I thought you might want backup. With- whoever.” Tim clears his throat. “Whoever that was.”

Dick says nothing. Doesn’t know what to say. At least Tim is trying. And Dick is just standing there like a kitchen appliance. A refrigerator.

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to- you know, tail you, or-” Tim exhales, looks to the ground. He stops jostling the helmet. “Or anything.”

“I know,” Dick gets his voice back. Tim doesn’t look up, and Dick can’t tell if that’s a relief.

Silence. Tim nods. Kind of.

Dick closes the distance between them. His had hovers, for a second or so, above Tim’s shoulder, unsure what to do. Your social skills are rubbing off on me, pal. Finally, Dick drops his hand, squeezes Tim’s shoulder and doesn’t let go when he probably should.

“Thanks, Tim.”

Tim raises his eyes and sets his jaw, keeping his two-handed hold on the helmet.

“He’s gonna find out, you know.”

Dick almost tries to smile, and gives Tim’s shoulder a final squeeze before taking the helmet from Tim’s part-unwilling grip. Slowly, Dick turns it over in his hands, considering all the ways he could respond.

In the end, he chooses none of them.

 

*/~*~\*

 

Keith Thomas, 43, of Crown Point, Gotham City, New Jersey, is dressed in a red hoodie and black jeans because some punk said he’d pay him fifty bucks to wear ~matching clothes~ and stand in an alley for a half hour. Thinking it through now, Keith acknowledges that he should have recognized the inherent seediness of anyone requesting a body-double in Blüdhaven, and he’s lucky to not be behind bars.

But Jesus he did not sign up to risk his life at the hands of some coked-out pretty boy before seven in the morning. So he ran away, fifty dollars be damned, and fully expected the kid to be gone when Keith finally came sulking back an hour later.

He’s not gone.

The kid – nineteen? Maybe twenty? – is still sitting behind the dumpster in that shithole of a sidestreet, leaned up against the wall where Keith had run past him earlier – just after the narrow escape with his life, for reference. And he’s just…

Staring.

Keith waves his hand in front of the blank green eyes. They blink. Otherwise, nothing.

“Hey,” Keith tries, “Hey, you. Kid.”

Nada.

Maybe if Keith nudges him with his shoe.

Keith tries it.

Keith fails.

“Listen, buddy,” Keith sighs, “I dunno what kinda stuff you’re on, and I’m not mad,” He puts his hands up, “You know? I get it, it’s tough, but listen, kid, I need that fifty bucks.”

Silence.

“I mean, geeze, it’s not even gonna begin to cover the therapy I’m aboutta need to get over my encounter with your pal back there,” Keith thumbs back toward the entrance of the alley with a chuckle.

He’s pretty sure hoodie is too out of it to snap to life at the first sign of a joke, but hey. Worth a shot, because he really does need that fifty bucks. Rent is up, his kid needs a jacket, and Keith is looking to avoid Blüdhaven less savory cash schemes if he can.

Shouldn’a run away. Shoulda stayed, before goonie here could-

Keith sighs. Whining ain’t gonna get me my fifty bucks.

“Look,” Holds up his hands, “I’m not gonna, you know, go rifling through your pockets’r anything. But, come on, guy. I’ve got a kid at home.”

And he stirs. Ho-ly shit.

The kid’s eyes come into focus, the pupils get bigger. His shoulders perk up a little, and Keith offers a little smile as the kid frowns up at him, hoping he looks non-threatening.

But the kid tenses suddenly, and leans forward to peak around the dumpster.

“Relax, kid,” Keith considers kneeling to his eye-level, but rejects the notion in favor of his personal safety, “He’s gone.”

Red-hoodie nods, several times, and seems to consider what that means for him.

“He on what you on?” Keith asks.

“What?”

“Your friend,” Keith gestures to where the assailant had pinned him earlier, “The dazed and violently confused one?” He hovers an open palm in circles by his face.

“Dazed and violent…?”

Keith stares.

“…ly confused, yes,” He nods emphatically, “And you- same stuff?” Keith mimes putting a needle in his arm, pushing his thumb against his forefinger. The kid flinches. His eyes glaze over again.

“Aw, shit-” Keith mutters, now resigned to kneeling down, “Hey- I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… freak you out, or anything,” He asserts, “I’m just- trying to figure out what I’m dealing with here, is all.”

The kid keeps staring just past Keith’s shoulder.

“Hey. Come back.”

Keith snaps.

The kid comes back. Looks at Keith again.

“There we go,” Keith starts to clap his hands together once, as the kid runs a hand across his face, “Anyway, kid, you got a name?”

The kid seems to hesitate, looks Keith up and down before answering. But he does answer.

“Jason.”

“Well, Jason,” Keith holds out his hand to shake, “It’s nice to meet you. My name is Keith, and you owe me fifty dollars.”

 

*/~*~\*

 

When the earpiece in Dick’s helmet alerts him to an incoming call, after two hours on dirt road in Venezula with hardly another car to keep him company, Dick almost drives into a ditch. Because this helmet doesn’t have communication tech, and that was an intentional choice, and-

Someone switched the helmets. Tim switched the helmets.

“Absolutely exceptional…” Dick mutters, “Reject call.”

 The phrase “CALL ACCEPTED” flashes in green across his visor.

“What? No! That’s not what I-”

“Dick.”

It’s Bruce. Because of course it’s Bruce.

“Uh, hey, B,” Dick tries to keep the edge out of his voice, “Now’s not-”

“Explain.”

Oh, boy.

“Explain?”

“Don’t play dumb with me.”

“Uh..?”

Okay. Okay. So, Bruce knows. But how much does Bruce know? Like, on a scale that starts with “lost in hand-to-hand combat” and ends with “solo-storming the secluded island home of one of the most dangerous men on the planet on the grounds that he doesn’t always kill intruders on-sight” (woof, mouthful)… well, there’s a lot of gray space. Ergo: there’s still a chance Dick can get out of this one.

But how to-

“I’m waiting.”

-do this tactfully. Ugh, goddammit Tim.

“Look, I’m not sure what Tim told you-”

“Tim? You told Tim about this?”

Bruce’s voice escalates to a higher pitch, and it clicks: Dick isn’t talking to Batman.

So, okay.

Things just got significantly less lethal; but also, more confusing.

Dick presses forward, a now-authentic bewilderment behind his words.

“Bruce, what are you talking about?”

“I just want to know why you told Barbara that you saw something we both know you didn’t see.”

Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Ah hah. Yeah.

“Well, for one,” Dick offers after a pause, “I didn’t think she’d tell you.”

Bruce scoffs from the other end.

“That’s your reason?”

“I just needed something to change the subject, and it’s not like it never happened-”

“It didn’t.”

“Yes, it did, Bruce, two years ago-”

“Ah, yes, when I was on Rimbor, how could I forget-”

“Before Rimbor.”

Several seconds pass in silence.

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Bruce clears his throat, “Anyway, that’s not the same as happening yesterday,”

 “You’ll have to forgive a little embellishment there, B, I was busy when it actually happened,” Dick passes a sign marking his exit, coming up in two kilometers, “I still can’t believe… I mean, you and Babs talked about this?”

“No,” A weary sigh, “She mentioned something to Alfred who, besides being a gossip, claimed to be concerned.”

“For you or for me?”

Dick should end the conversation. He should end it soon. If Bruce may isn’t suspicious yet (and you can never really tell), he will be any minute.

But, they never just… talk, anymore. It’s empty, and nice. And it’s possible that Dick actually, really, needs this. A little bit.

 “It’s unclear,” Some papers shuffle in the background, and Dick pictures Bruce at the big mahogany desk in his office at the manor. Coffee, bathrobe. “Speaking of Alfred, he’s wondering when you’re coming by.”

“For what?” Dick scrunches his eyebrows and narrowly dodges a pothole.

“Gardening, apparently.”

Thank you, Barbara. So much.

“You’re already quite late, Master Dick,” Alfred pipes in, somewhat muffled, “And I’m afraid my azaleas are being choked to death as we speak.”

That’s Alfred for, ‘I see you and I’m allowing this to continue, but you are on the thinnest ice in the world.’

Dick winces, “Sorry about that, Alf, I-”

“I didn’t know you grew azaleas, Alfred.”

“It seems, Master Bruce, there is much you don’t know.”

“What do you-”

“Anyway!” Dick forces his way to the forefront of the conversation, highly fearful of the chaos he can practically see dancing across Alfred’s face, “Something came up today, but how about tomorrow, Alfred? After lunch?”

You know, assuming Dick lives that long.

“Humph,” More papers, some porcelain clanking.

“Alf?”

“He left.”

“Ouch.”

A pause. They’re out of things to distract themselves with. Dick’s smile slips away, as he racks his brain for things to fill the silence, to get there before Bruce does, but-

“Dick, are you… alright?”

He’s too slow.

Briefly, Dick considers all the things he could say. The things he probably should say, and that Bruce should probably know.

But he shakes it off.

He’s fine.

And Bruce would have an aneurism.

So, Dick settles on, “Fine, why?”

“I heard you had a rough night.”

“Babs again?” The bite in his voice was, maybe, a little too honest. Now Dick can probably add ‘relationship issues’ to the things Bruce will worry about.

“Multiple sources.”

“Oh,” Ugh, “It’s no big deal, B. I’m fine.”

“I heard something about broken ribs.”

“Bruised,” Dick amends, “You heard something about bruised ribs.”

Another sigh.

“Whatever you say.”

Dick slows down as he passes a farmer and his herd of cattle, crossing the road like mooing molasses. Places to be, people.

“Is that mooing?”

“Uh,” Shoot, think of something, “Yeah, I, uh-”

The farmer gestures angrily between Dick and the cattle.

“¡Tu moto está asustando a mis vacas!”

“Where are you?”

Dick smiles sheepishly at the farmer and waves, pretending not to understand.

“Just getting some fresh air,” He tells Bruce, then back to the farmer: “No hablo Español!” Dick gives the man an exaggerated shrug, and the farmer groans. The man continues his gesturing, growing more and more irate. The mooing intensifies.

“What do you mean ‘no hablo Español’? You absolutely-”

Dick closes his eyes and tunes out both Bruce and the farmer, silently counting to five.

 “Bruce. Relax,” Dick revs up the motorcycle again, navigating carefully around the back of the herd, “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Dick-”

Dick taps the button on beneath the side of the helmet, and the words “CALL ENDED” flash on the screen before settling somewhere heavy in his chest.

 

*/~*~\*

 

Bruce sighs, staring at the phone in his hand and wondering, not for the first time, where he went wrong.

“So that he would end up like you?”

“So that he wouldn’t.”

He places the phone face-down on his desk and leans back, pensive. Calmly, Bruce assures himself of the following:

-Dick has friends.

-Dick, when necessary, has been known to ask for help.

-Dick knows his limits.

-Dick is logical.

Therefore, Dick is fine.

And yet… well. And yet.

Bruce stands, gathering his coffee mug, and heads swiftly toward the grandfather clock in the hall.

It never hurts to be cautious.

 

*/~*~\*

 

“I thought you had plans today.”

Tim shrugs and sips on his tea as Bruce approaches from behind, both staring up at the Batcave computer.

“Fell through.”

“Common theme today,” Bruce takes a seat without explaining further and nods to the mouse, “May I?”

“Sure. I was just reading through some old cases,” Tim lies, hoping he’d closed his real tabs quickly enough when Bruce had first walked in. No need to discuss his sudden interest in Lazarus pits and Blüdhaven security footage.

“Thanks,” Bruce navigates to the familiar location icon and pulls up his tracking program, “It’ll only take a minute.”

Dots light up all across a map of the world, each the location of someone, knowingly or otherwise, carrying a piece of Bat tech around with them. Oracle’s tower, the Blüdhaven warehouse, and the Batcave shine like beacons.

“What’re you looking for?” Tim asks as Bruce pulls up a call-log and types in the code of the most recent caller. Tim takes another sip of his tea-

“Well, I just got off the phone with Dick, and-”

-and chokes on it. Dick is gonna kill him.

 “Sorry,” Tim coughs out, “Wrong- wrong pipe. I’m fine. Sorry.”

Bruce raises an eyebrow, first at Tim and then at the splotches of Earl Grey now decorating the desk and keyboard.

“Anyway,” Bruce looks back to the monitor while Tim tries not to die, “His behavior gave me reason for concern. I’m just checking in.”

“Oh,” Tim purses his lips, nodding with his whole upper torso, “Okay.”

Dick is gonna kill him so much.

“Huh…” Bruce frowns as the computer hones in on a singular red dot, “What is he doing in Venezuela?”

“Helping Alfred with the gardening?” Tim offers weakly, unprepared for the way Bruce whips around to stare at him in response.

“Alfred doesn’t grow azaleas,” Bruce declares, like it’s both some kind of grand reveal and a fierce accusation. He keeps Tim under his iron gaze.

But. What?

“Uh…”

The computer beeps, and both bats turn to see “SIGNAL LOST” blinking over the map in red. Tim’s stomach drops. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Oh man,” Tim breathes, “He must’ve smashed the helmet.”

Bruce stops typing.

“What?” He growls.

“I mean…” Tim fumbles for a recovery, “That’s what you’re tracking him with, right?”

“How did you know that I’m tracking him with a helmet?”

“Uh…” Fair point, Bruce, “I… memorized the ID prefixes?”

Bruce holds his gaze for another five seconds, as if waiting for Tim to give in under the pressure. He doesn’t.

Bruce looks back to the computer. Tim tries very hard not to audibly sigh.

“Why would he smash his helmet?”

Tim leans back, adopting his most perplexed expression.

“Who knows?” He shrugs his shoulders all the way to his chin, cupping his tea and taking a far-too-noisy sip.

“I know you’re a better liar than this, Tim,” Bruce mutters without looking away, “So what are you doing?”

Half a beat.

Tim stares furiously at his tea.

“Well?” Bruce cocks an eyebrow.

And that’s all, folks. The total extent of Tim Drake’s ability to cover for Dick Grayson’s dumb and death-defying newfound martyr complex in the name of brotherly companionship. At least I tried.

“Dick’s going to Infinity Island confront Ra’s al-Ghul one-on-one about someone under Ra’s’ command- the one who attacked last night,” Tim explains, “I had a plan to short out his bike with an EMP I rigged in his helmet, but he beat me to it.”

Signal lost.

Tim adds, “Hopefully. But we still might be able to…”

Bruce is gone, his chair still rolling at eighty miles an hour across the Batcave floor. Look up ‘dramatic’ in the dictionary, and you’ll see Bruce Wayne in half a cowl.

“Bruce, wait!” Tim jumps up from his chair, following close on Bruce’s heels as the latter makes haste for the armory.

“Tim, I need you to stay here and work with Oracle to help-”

“Oracle doesn’t need my help,” Tim interrupts, standing now between Bruce and his suit, “You need-”

“I need you safe,” Bruce counters, stepping past Tim with little hesitation, “I don’t know what Ra’s has done to draw Dick to the island, but it can’t be-”

“I do.”

Bruce stops, halfway through punching in a code, moving only his head to look thunderously down at Tim.

“Excuse me?”

Tim straightens, swallowing every basic fear instinct he has ever had, and soldiers on.

“I was at the fight last night, and confronted Dick this morning,” Tim holds his voice steady, makes it strong like he’s talking to his squad and not to Bruce, “I know why Dick is going to Ra’s, I know why he’s doing it alone, and I know why he didn’t tell you.”

For ten whole seconds, Bruce doesn’t even blink. It’s possible he doesn’t breathe, either, but from Tim’s position it’s hard to tell. The guy just… stares at his computer, unmoving, fingers frozen over the keyboard. Looking closely, Tim can see Bruce’s jaw twitching and his eyes narrowing at a nearly imperceptible pace.

“I have information you need,” Tim continues, moving toward his Robin costume without waiting for affirmation, “And I’m coming with you.”

Tim just lost, he’s pretty sure, at least ten years off his life; and once this is over he will likely need several months of intense emotional rest (ha) before he can muster up enough confrontational energy to ask a waiter for ketchup. Meaning, he might never again be able to ask for ketchup.

But Bruce makes no moves to stop him as Tim collects his gear.

And so, whatever the cost, Tim and Bruce are going to Infinity Island.