So this started as a what-if scenario for the Where’s My Goddamn Dinosaur series that quickly got out of hand. The point of divergence is actually prior to the start of the main series, so it can be read as a standalone story. Warnings for temporary character death and attempted non-con, both of which Jason quickly shuts down.
What if… Tim wasn’t the person who traveled back in time?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Red Robin's shaking as his gauntleted hand closes on the device, lifting it out of the triple-locked box with all the reverence and care he has time for, which is to say, none. This is it, the one chance to avert disaster, to stop it all from ever happening.
His vision is going dark around the edges and he wobbles a bit, but Red Hood’s right there to steady him with a big arm around his shoulder. Hood practically carries him across the Cave and then gently lowers him into the seat at the Batcomputer, which is still displaying the file that gave them back a dim flicker of hope.
He turns the device in his hands, willing them steady and hardly daring to breathe as he checks the interface and power supply while Red Hood kneels at his side and lifts the bandages across Tim’s abdomen with trembling hands to inspect his injury, cursing with helpless fury at what he sees.
Red Robin winces at both the dull throbbing in his side and the raw pain in Hood’s voice, wishing there was something, anything else he could do to make everything better.
Sorry, Jay, but we both know I'm not going to be the one getting out of this Cave…
The device in his hands is the only possible chance, and even with it, he's calculated the odds. They're not good. The tech is risky, just as likely to blow them up along with a good portion of the eastern seaboard as it is to successfully send Jason back in time one week. Red Robin forces his breathing steady as he acknowledges that will not be a problem. He saw the footage, heard the reports before the comms went chillingly quiet, and he knows, he knows, he knows, there's no one out there left to worry about.
His head spins sickeningly as hellish memories from the past few days start to play out in his mind again, but he reels it back and focuses on Red Hood, now muttering soft curses at his side in a slightly panicked voice as he uses up more of their first aid supplies desperately trying to delay the inevitable.
“Hey,” Red Robin whispers. “Hood. Stop.”
Hood whips his head back and stares up at him, fear and defiance in his wild teal eyes. “Fuck you, Red, I ain't gonna just sit back and let you do this!”
Red Robin sighs, reaching up to peel off his mask, and Tim bites his lower lip. “Jason.” He feels tears welling up in his eyes and wishes he had better control. Tim crying is the last thing Jason needs to see after everything, right before going on a dangerous mission into the unknown, alone. “…I'm so sorry.”
His breath hitches and then Jason's big, warm arms are wrapped around him tight. It hurts, his injury stinging and complaining at the pressure, but it also feels so good that Tim just reaches his hands around Jason's sides and squeezes him back.
After all, it won’t hurt for much longer.
“Ain't got nothin' to apologize for, Baby,” Jason whispers thickly, suspiciously wet warmth seeping into Tim's hair a pretty clear indication that he's crying too. “I just… Fuck! Why the hell can't there be a way to fuckin' save you, too, Timmy?”
Tim swallows painfully around the lump in his throat and forces a smile. “Well, present company excepted, even vigilantes generally don't come back from something like this.” He takes a shallow breath, trying not to think about the pain. “And anyway, once you use the device you'll just go back in time a week; I'll be right there waiting for you, along with everyone else we lost. And with all the plans we've worked out together, you'll be able to stop those invading alien assholes in their tracks, and none of us will ever have to get hurt.”
He squeezes his eyes closed, trying once more to block out the hellish memories of what happened. “And the rest of our family, our world…” Tim whispers as nightmare images sear across his mind’s eye again; himself taking a shot in the gut after swinging between Red Hood and the invaders’ weapons a bare second after Hood stepped in front of Batman; the look of utmost horror on a stunned Batman’s face as he realized two of his sons put themselves between him and peril, and one was paying the price.
Bruce’s face as he ordered Red Hood to get Red Robin back to the Cave for medical treatment and to research a potential save that didn’t pan out in the end, leaving them to watch helplessly on the monitors as Batman went down under one of the aliens’ energy weapons trying to protect civilians, as Nightwing brother my big brother no no no tumbled out of the air falling falling falling without a net, Robin’s scream of fury, resounding with rage and grief, holding a glorious and bloody last stand over his father’s and brother’s bodies and ending up a too-small too-broken form collapsed on top of the pile of invaders he brought down with him.
Black Bat halfway across the world going silent on comms and never checking back in she would have, she would have if she could. The smoking rubble of the Clocktower Babs no, blown up, along with half of Gotham, Batgirl almost back to the Cave and Alfred upstairs when the planet-killer bombs went off and vaporized everything above ground level across most of the continental United States and probably the rest of the world, they couldn’t confirm because the satellites had been taken out of the sky in the aliens’ opening salvo. God, Steph, Kon, Bart, no, we can’t raise any of the Titans, even the Watchtower is dark. What the hell is the point of metas being invulnerable if they can’t even survive the end of the world?
The Cave on lockdown is reinforced, resistant to every potential outcome a paranoid Batman could come up with over the years, and so Red Hood and Red Robin keep surviving, together.
He smiles a little at the remembrance of how quickly all the barriers between them eroded under those circumstances. Finding out Jason doesn’t hate him, actually cares about him the same way Tim does is an emotional high that’s been giving him the strength to keep trying to find a way out of this mess.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the wound in Tim’s abdomen is worryingly deep, the edges ominously puffy and inflamed, and his temperature is climbing. He’s getting worse, not better, and the thought chills him to the bone.
He can’t leave Jason here alone. That just isn’t an option. So Tim pulls it back, forcing useless emotion out and order in to his thoughts. If he gets this right, they can fix it. They can still fix it.
Tim focuses on the device, locking away all other thoughts and emotions. No need to process his grief, fear, and loss when in a few minutes he’ll cease to exist and Jason will either have everyone back, one week ago with foreknowledge to prevent this whole mess, or they’ll both be dead and beyond sorrow’s reach.
As an added complication, even if the device does work as advertised, the potential energy produced by rolling back everything for one week, the accumulated energy of every action that would have been during that week, will be immense.
According to Bruce’s recordings of the villain who originally had this device, that extra energy will be focused on the user… Jason. While the user and the original universe go back in time one week, an identical copy of the user will be created, like a reflection or echo, and that copy will be propelled much farther into the past, into a new alternate universe which will spin off and diverge from the original universe from whatever moment in time the copy lands. Tim’s head hurts thinking about the physics involved, but Bruce checked the math meticulously and it all fits.
Tim shakes his head, shoving down his pain and fear to be strong for Jason. “They won’t have to die.”
Jason inhales a deep, shuddering breath. “Fuck. I know.” He tilts his head back and presses a soft, careful kiss to the corner of Tim's mouth. “It's just… God, Tim. Why the fuck did it take apocolypse-level bullshit like this for us to get our heads outta our asses and admit we're fuckin' in love with each other?” His voice breaks into a gravelly whisper and he swallows, blinking hard.
Tim snorts a laugh, then quietly gasps because shit, that hurt. “Because we can never do anything the easy way? …Anyway, you just have to talk to me once you get there, explain what happened, confess your undying love for me and so on.”
He grins as Jason rolls his eyes, glad to see something on the other’s face that isn’t sadness. “…Then I’ll confess my embarrassingly sappy feelings for you, and after that we can pretty much pick up where we left off here.” He smiles at Jason as he tries to memorize that ruggedly handsome face and those gorgeous teal eyes, hating the pain he sees there but unable to bring himself to look away.
At least we'll still have a chance together. Everyone will have another chance. And… he's only going back a week, so that’s all I’m gonna lose. It's not all that different from short-term memory loss, and we've all dealt with that plenty of times before. It isn't really like I’m… dying.
I’m just… going back to the last save point.
“Jay,” Tim whispers, biting his lip because he knows what he's about to ask is selfish, but he has to do it.
“Hmm?” Jason hums, hands trailing over Tim's shoulders, back, and face like he's trying to fix him in his memory forever.
“Don’t wait till I’m…” Tim blinks rapidly, eyes stinging against the tears he won’t allow to fall. He shakes his head, takes a shallow, careful breath, and blurts out, “I want you to press the button now.”
Jason swallows, pulling back slightly in disbelief. “What? But Tim—”
Tim squeezes his eyes shut and whispers in a small voice, “I don't want to die.”
There's silence, and he opens his eyes after a moment to see Jason staring at him, heart breaking before his eyes. “Jesus, Baby Bird,” Jason whispers hoarsely, swallowing convulsively.
Tim exhales shakily. “…Please? Um. I don't want you to have to see that and have to live with that memory for the rest of your life, either.”
Jason stares at Tim with wide, wet eyes, then rubs a big hand roughly over his face and nods jerkily. “I… fuck, you're right, Timmy. I just don't wanna leave ya behind.”
“You won't be,” Tim assures him, mostly believing his own words. “As soon as you press that button, you'll travel back in time and this timeline gets erased. Nothing of the past week will have ever happened; we all just go back to the reset point. You’ll be the only one with any knowledge of this timeline because for everyone else, it never was.”
Jason looks like he wants to argue, but heaves a shaky sigh instead. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. Let's do this thing, Baby Bird.” He leans in to touch his forehead to Tim's, staring into his eyes. “I got you, Baby.” The corners of his mouth tilt down hard as he fights to keep his composure.
Tim shakily reaches out to take Jason's hand in his, twining their fingers together before pulling Jason’s hand up to press it to his lips for a long moment. He then moves both their hands to hover over the big red button on the device, waiting breathlessly for what is to come.
At the last moment, Jason leans forward, achingly slowly, and tenderly presses his lips to Tim's, putting everything he can't get into words into the soft pressure of their mouths moving together. It’s intense, wonderful and heartbreaking and passionate all at once.
Tim tastes salt and sadness and hope and Jason, and he wants this moment to last for the rest of his life.
Well, that can be arranged. He smiles into the kiss.
Slowly, Tim untwines their fingers and lets go of Jason's hand, allowing it to drop onto the button, and as the world falls away the last thing he feels is Jason's mouth moving on his, soft and sweet and desperate.
Jason opens his eyes and stumbles, disoriented to find himself on his feet in a dark alleyway with some perp he vaguely remembers from an attempted mugging he interrupted last week waving a knife in his face. He punches out the asshole in front of him on autopilot and then looks around, biting back the visceral scream at what just happened, what he fuckin’ lost.
The victim’s already run away so Jason drops the asshole on the ground and then he’s moving, on his bike and flying through the night, heart pounding at the thought of Tim, god Tim—
What if it didn't work the way we thought? What if Tim came back in time too even though he didn’t push the button and he’s still fuckin’ dying? Or what if I can't manage to fuckin' stop those alien fuckers from destroying the world anyway and it all happens again…
His bike roars into the Cave and he’s so out of it he doesn’t even notice the shocked, guarded expressions of watchful hostility at his really fuckin’ uncharacteristic presence there as everyone in the Cave falls into defensive positions, expecting an imminent attack.
Jason just yanks his helmet off and lets it fall clattering to the ground as he zeroes in on the most important person in the world and then rushes forward to where a startled but healthy, visibly unharmed, fuckin’ beautiful Tim is sitting frozen in surprise at the Batcomputer.
Jason slides right under Tim’s belated, hastily raised defenses to drop to his knees and fuckin’ envelop the smaller boy in a desperate, ecstatic, really fuckin’ relieved full body hug.
God, he feels so fuckin’ warm in my arms.
Images swim through his mind of the last time he saw Tim, his worrying pallor, drawn smile, and those tired but bright blue eyes, optimistic even after everything. Still hopeful, still tryin’ so damn hard to fuckin’ save everyone, even at the goddamn end of the world.
“Tim,” Jason chokes out. “Oh, fuck, Timmy, Baby Bird, you’re alive.”
He’s dimly aware of the others cautiously approaching, murmuring some bullshit about mind-altering drugs and pollen and what-the-fuck-ever, along with some half-baked plan to restrain him to get a blood sample, but he ignores all that nonsense to just bury his face in Tim’s warm neck and feel him breathing.
Jason clumsily shoves a glove off and presses his hand palm-down cupping the side of Tim’s belly right over where that godawful fuckin’ wound had been, the one Tim took for him. The little idiot sacrificed himself to save him, like Jason was fuckin’ worth saving, and just… gave it all away. His goddamn life, hell, his fucking feelings for Jason…
Way the fuck too late for Jason to do anything about it except confess his own long-hidden hopes and desires. All the joy in their mutual confessions was muted by the desolation of their world, Tim’s waning strength, and the terrible wound that started it all and promised to likewise end it.
It isn’t enough, so Jason shoves up Tim’s worn t-shirt, tuning out the alarmed exclamations from the peanut gallery surrounding them to caress his fingers oh-so-gently over the smooth, hot, intact skin where Tim’s firm muscles are twitching nervously at Jason’s touch.
Something warm tentatively brushes Jason’s cheek, and he looks up to meet Tim’s wide, wide eyes. “Hood…” Tim whispers disbelievingly, rubbing a careful thumb across the skin beneath Jason’s eye. “…Jason. You’re crying.”
“’S ‘cause I lost you, Baby,” Jason murmurs wetly and probably not very coherently. “I fuckin’ lost you.” He sniffs loudly, annoyed with himself but in no condition to restore his battered control.
“Um.” Tim blinks, takes a deep breath, and then hesitantly cups Jason’s cheek in his hand. His other hand drifts up to begin gently combing through Jason’s tousled hair. The action, along with the tender look in Tim’s eyes, is enough to settle some of the anxiety Jason’s been feeling that the other boy couldn’t possibly really care about him, no matter what they may have said to each other alone at the end of the world. “…Fear gas?” His gaze is sure and steady, concerned.
Jason can feel B and the others drawing closer, listening for his response. Leaning back shakily although everything in him is fuckin’ screaming not to let go of Tim even for a goddamn second just in case the other boy slips away again, he heaves a shuddering sigh and scrubs a hand over his eyes. “Yeah, I fuckin’ wish. No, Timmy, it’s motherfuckin’ time travel. Move over, I gotta use the computer for a sec.”
And it’s a definite mark of how far he’s come in his relationship with his replacement that Tim unquestioningly slides right out of the chair and lets him do it. The others watch, probably tense in readiness to dive forward and intervene should Jason do anything suspicious.
As Jason relearns the Batcomputer interface, he calls up the satellite feeds, revealing the cloaked invaders and beginning to send the observed tactics, estimates of their numbers, weapons capacity, and known and suspected weaknesses to every major superhero organization on the planet as well as a few of the shadier groups he’s associated with in the past, along with instructions for neutralizing the fuckers with extreme prejudice.
He and Tim had a good forty-eight hours together before Tim started getting too weak to keep going, and they came up with some damn good strategies to make fuckin’ sure history wouldn’t repeat itself.
Tim’s at his side, mouth working silently as his eyes flicker across the screen, and then he’s on his wrist computer, probably messaging the Titans to get them in on the battle.
Dick’s gaping at the display, turning to direct a concerned gaze at Jason. “What the hell, Jay?” At least he’s putting down the syringe full of what Jason strongly suspects is fear gas antidote, although now he’s eying him up and down like he’s expecting him to collapse at any moment. “How did you get all this data? …Are you okay?”
Jason nods so the other man won’t start patting him down to check for injuries and then rolls his eyes when Golden Boy does not look even slightly convinced.
Batman speaks from immediately behind them like the gigantic fuckin’ creeper that he is. He’s staring at the screen as though he can glare it into submission. “This is an extensive plan with details about the enemy you have no means of knowing, even with your contacts and skills.” His eyes narrow. “You used the doomsday reset device.” He turns to stare at Jason accusingly. “You almost destroyed the world.”
Jason laughs then, long and loud and jagged, sharp like broken glass. “Yeah, B, well, it wasn't like there was much of anythin' left to worry about. Just me and Timmy, and he was fuckin' bleedin' out—” His voice breaks and shatters on the word as Dick lets out a soft grunt of dismay, Tim sucks in a tiny gasp of air, and even Batman flinches minutely.
The room's spinning and it's all too much all of a sudden, but then Tim's right there, hands on Jason's shoulders and speaking softly and soothingly to him while B and Dick disappear into the background, presumably to follow through on all Jason’s instructions and deal with the alien invasion.
He allows his eyes to fall shut and just lets it all go for a while.
When he opens them again, he slowly realizes he's lying on a med cot in the Cave and his head seems to be pillowed on something warm and comfy. Looking up, his lips twitch into an almost-grin at the sight of Tim's worried, kind face staring down at him.
His head is in Tim's lap.
Tim, who is very fuckin' alive, and apparently already cares about him just as much as he did in that fucked up future which will never be, not if Jason has anything to say about it. The other boy looks tired and concerned and fuckin’ beautiful, like everything he wants.
Like a goddamn chance to actually have each other, build something together that just might turn out to be the best damn thing Jason ever had, in either of his fucked-up lives.
They have a hell of a lot to talk about now, a whole metric shit-ton of crap from their past to face along with the whole nightmare cataclysm Jason just survived… not to mention the fact that due to his use of the doomsday reset device, there’s almost certainly another Jason now, trapped in another universe at some point in the distant past. Well, maybe. Knowing Jason’s shitty luck, the sorry asshole might already be dead. Again. Shit.
But all that can wait. Right now, they have a chance. And really, that's all Jason needs. It's a fuckin' place to start, anyway.
He smiles up at those concerned blue eyes, trying for his usual cocky grin and probably missing by a damn mile but what the fuck ever, he just averted the goddamned alien apocalypse so he's allowed to be a little sappy.
“Hey there, Baby Bird,” he whispers, grin growing at the relief and happiness that kindles in Tim's eyes at his words. “Wanna get some rooftop pizza? ‘Cause I’ve got one hell of a story to tell you…”
Jason opens his eyes, instantly knowing something’s different because his arms are empty. His heart wrenches in his chest because Tim’s not there anymore.
He’s on his knees in the Cave and it only takes him a few seconds to spot the case with his tattered old murder-suit in it like a fuckin’ macabre trophy on display. With a rising sense of indignation, he realizes he is definitely not the Jason who was sent one week into the past to save the world and get the Timmy.
He’s the other one. Well, shit. Jason scowls. Where’s my goddamn happy ending?
Motherfuck, I’m the goddamn clone. Of fuckin’ course I am, why the hell did I think I was ever actually gonna get a real chance with Tim. He imagines original Jason getting to play the hero, saving the world and sweeping a starry-eyed Tim off his feet. In his imagination, original Jason meets Jason’s eyes, smirks, and flips him off. Damn, what an asshole.
He shakes his head to clear it. At least the fact he’s here means the device probably worked as advertised so Tim’s safe, along with the rest of his original world. And if nothing else, he can trust the other Jason to keep them that way. He needs to focus on his own situation right now.
Fuck it, guess I better figure out when I am, fix some shit, and maybe raise some hell along the way.
He looks around the Cave again, this time zeroing in on the display case and recognizing exactly what it must mean.
Well fuck. Little Jay’s already dead, then… He scrubs the leftover tears from his eyes and stands up, glancing around in search of other clues to the exact date. He’d hoped whenever the extra Jason landed, it would at least be early enough to fuckin’ save his kid-self, salvage something from this goddamn mess. Apparently that was too damn much to ask.
Whatever, at least I can go nab zombie-Jay off the streets, spare him the Pit. Always wondered if maybe the catatonia after I woke up in the coffin was more psychosomatic than physical, so this could be my chance to find out.
Jason spots a tidily organized workspace and feels a stab of affection laced with deeply aching regret and an overwhelming sense of loss. Tim. The corners of his mouth tilt up reluctantly at the thought that somewhere, in his original universe, the other Jason’s explaining things to Tim right now. Maybe they’re kissing already.
Hell, maybe they’re fucking. Jason’s expression slides into a glare as he crosses his arms over his chest. What-the-fuck-ever. Of fuckin’ course I saved the world, and now I don’t even get the fuckin’ Timmy. Stupid original Jason. Goddamn smug bastard’s probably laughin’ his ass off at me right now.
His mind helpfully provides him with the information that there actually is a Tim Drake here as well, as evidenced by the workstation, and he shudders in visceral disgust at the idea of ever even looking at tiny baby Tim in a romantic way. Yeah, nope. No more crushin’ on Timmy. That’s off fuckin’ limits from now on.
Which sucks balls, but it’s not like Jason’s ever gonna think about a goddamn thirteen year-old kid like that; he fuckin’ kills people who do that kinda shit, for fuck’s sake.
Finally he spots a desktop calendar, shoved off to one side and half-buried in case notes.
Sweet. So, how long do I got before Talia grabs zombie-Jay off the streets…?
Jason’s eyes widen as he takes in the date on the calendar.
…Fuck. Guess I can’t spare the poor kid the shitty dive into Ra’s al Ghul’s nasty bathwater after all…
Jason rolls his eyes in annoyance, grabs one of the spare motorcycles, and takes off. He can think of a few stashes of cash and weaponry in this time period belonging to various criminal groups totally deserving of him stealing all their shit. Once he’s hit those and taken care of another quick little errand that immediately springs to mind, he’ll probably have just long enough to make it over to the League’s base in time to catch Baby Jay after his rank little swim.
It’s not ideal, but if there’s one lesson Jason’s managed to learn from his fucked-up existence it’s how to play the shitty hands he’s been dealt by life.
Of all the fuckin’ days to come back to. He sighs, not particularly looking forward to wrangling his rabid little Pit-crazed alternate self until the crazy wears off. Well, whatever. Ain’t like I got anything better to do.
Jay glares up at his freakin’ huge doppelganger, aware his vision is wavering green around the edges in his fury and even more upset because what the fuck, what the goddamn hell is fuckin’ wrong with him—
“Why won’t you let me see the fuckin’ news?” Jay bursts out. He wants to throw himself at the taller man, stab and claw and bite him until he isn’t moving or talking anymore, and there’s something wrong with that but he can’t figure out what, and that really kinda fuckin’ scares him which just makes him even angrier. He’s trapped in a nightmarish positive feedback loop, his rage and confusion and fear feeding off of each other and all he wants to do is burn.
Whether the target is the other Jason, the world, or himself is a toss-up at this point. They’re all starting to look equally appealing, and that thought frightens him more than anything.
The older man, who by the way is a fucking mountain, no damn way he’s gonna grow up that big, just watches him knowingly with an understanding, sad smile on his rugged face. “Yeah, you don’t wanna do that just yet,” he says amicably.
“Why the fuck not?” Jay just wants to know, to find out what happened, when Batman finally killed the Joker, how the world must have celebrated the fall of that evil madman-
Just wants to know, to see, how much Bruce must have missed him…
Because he did…
The smug asshole, who Jay has now decided henceforth and forevermore to call Asshole Jason, shows a quick flash of rage in his teal eyes that rivals how he feels right now before it fades back into that stupid sad look. “You ain’t gonna like what you find out,” Asshole Jason says, shrugging and shoving his hands in his pockets as he glances around the shitty safehouse they’re holed up in while Jay detoxes from the Pit like a fuckin’ junkie.
His skin crawls at the mental comparison and he focuses on the idiotic breathing exercises Asshole Jason taught him until the green fades again and he has no more rage, nothing left to protect him from the grief and loss and fear.
“Fuck,” he whispers tightly, eyes filling with tears, and Asshole Jason looks vaguely alarmed at the sight. Jay scrubs a hand roughly over his eyes, keeping them lowered so he doesn’t have to make eye contact as he whispers, “I just… I need to know he’s gone, okay? I… I don’t think I can fuckin’ sleep unless I know he ain’t out there anymore. I wanna feel safe…” His last word catches on a shuddering sob and suddenly he’s being hugged tight, cradled surprisingly gently in Asshole Jason’s stupidly huge arms.
“I’m real fuckin’ sorry ‘bout all the shit that happened to you, Baby Jay.” Asshole Jason’s deep voice rumbles through his chest as the big man rubs his back comfortingly.
“Don’t call me that, ‘m not a damn kid,” Jay grumbles, lifting his head and blinking tear-swollen eyes to glare up at Asshole Jason.
“You’re fifteen, you’re a goddamn baby to me, kiddo.” Asshole Jason squeezes him a little tighter, and Jay snorts, rolling his eyes but not pulling away.
Whatever, dude, from what you said earlier you’re only nineteen yourself. But who the fuck knows, maybe you’re lying and you’re really a fuckin’ old man or something.
He then frowns, pulling back slightly as he considers exactly why Asshole Jason doesn’t want him reading the news or looking through the folder Talia shoved into his hands as she pushed him over the waterfall during the tumultuous moments after the Pit gave him back his mind, along with a whole new level of anger management issues and some skunk-hair.
It probably isn’t anything about his replacement; Jay was furious when Talia told him about that, but Asshole Jason spiked his rage against the new kid pretty quick by telling him stories and showing him some pictures of a tiny, lonely, timid little boy who used to follow Robin around and wished he could learn to fly too.
Not that Jay isn’t still fuckin’ livid at B for putting another kid in his cape, especially an itty-bitty baby bunny like little Timmy Drake, but that’s shit he needs to work through with B, not something that would be affected by watchin’ the goddamn news.
Which probably means…
Jay swallows, new hurt blooming in his chest like a deep bruise.
“Joker’s still alive, isn’t he,” Jay whispers, feeling the cracks in his mind and heart deepen and start to seep through with green, with rage, and he wonders for a crazy moment if that’s the only thing left he can use to glue his shattered pieces back together.
Asshole Jason’s next words stop him cold. “Naw,” the big man shrugs, grinning devilishly. “I fuckin’ killed that death-worshipping trash on my way outta Gotham when I came to pick you up.”
Jay stares at him with wide eyes, green receding as an unexpected feeling of warmth, and the beginnings of what might be safety, start to slowly fill the empty, broken places inside.
“Got a lot of practice breakin’ the fucker outta Arkham back in my old universe, so I figured I might as well just get that piece of shit outta the way. Knew it would be a big help for you, to be able to sleep for more’n an hour without the goddamn nightmares.”
Asshole Jason rubs the back of his neck and looks away, and Jay wonders how long Asshole Jason had to deal with the nightmares because no one would kill the Joker for him back in his original universe. Wonders how long the other man had to spend working hard to disentangle himself from the trauma, and the fuckin’ Pit; how long it must’ve taken him to figure out what was even left of himself once he managed to put all that shit away.
All without any help from anyone, because from what he’s let slip, Asshole Jason spent a lot of time on his own in the years after the Pit.
…Help he’s now freely offering Jay, trying to spare him from going through the same fucked up experience. Taking care of him, caring about him, even though based on his own story and Jay’s observations Asshole Jason has to be grieving his original universe and all the people he lost there.
Oh, Jay thinks, stunned.
…Guess maybe I should stop calling him Asshole Jason.
“Aw, fucknugget,” Jason curses as the headline scrolling across the screen proclaims Jack and Janet Drake, well known business owners and archaeological enthusiasts, were both killed during a hostage crisis in Haiti. “…Was that this weekend?”
Jay’s head pops up over the back of the couch to raise his brows at Jason, then look back at the television with more interest. “Wait, you know those guys?” He frowns, then his eyes widen. “Wait. Is that Timmy’s parents?”
Normally Jason would snort at the concerned, almost proprietary tone Jay’s voice takes on these days when he mentions his Replacement, because it’s fuckin’ hilarious as shit that Baby Jay is already crushing hard on Timmy now that Jason’s given him some solid info about the kid instead of the incendiary bullshit Talia fed him the first time around, but…
Timmy’s parents are fuckin’ dead, something Jason meant to prevent. Both of them this time, which…
Well, it isn’t the first time Jason’s well-meant interventions have made something worse by accident, butterfly effect or some shit, but it’s definitely the worst by far.
“Yeah,” he answers, dropping onto the couch next to Jay who yanks his feet out of the way just in time, sitting up to watch the newscast with a worried gaze.
If only Tim and I had more time to plan things out before we had to use the fuckin’ device. As it is, original Jason had everything he needed to stop the invasion, and I just had a quick bullet list of catastrophes to try to prevent, along with whatever I remember about important dates for the family.
Not for the first time since he arrived back in the past, he really wishes he’d bothered with following the Bats’ lives in more detail during the years immediately following the Pit. His interest at the time had been in identifying weaknesses and causing hurt, not preventing it, and that’s really fuckin’ biting him in the ass now.
Fuck, now I wish we hadn’t wasted all that time making me memorize places and times that wars and other major disasters happened historically; that shit’s fuckin’ useless now, but Tim was worried I’d blunder into some historical massacre or get avoidably blown up by a goddamn volcano or somethin’.
He smiles softly at the thought, for the first time since his arrival in this universe a year ago feeling more affectionate fondness and gratitude than pain at the memory of Tim, his Tim. It still hurts, and maybe always will, but somehow, what with all the planning, the secret anonymous messages warning the Justice League on how to prevent impending catastrophes, and the constant distraction that is caring for his younger self, which manages to be simultaneously the most infuriating and fuckin’ rewarding thing Jason has ever done, it’s changed from a constant vicious stabbing loss to a dull ache.
It actually helps to know that his Tim’s probably with Smug Bastard Jason now, and safe. Makes it a little easier to let him go, knowing the guy he cared about is happy with his other self and not slowly killing himself through overwork, consuming solely caffeine along with the occasional donut, and only sleeping when he passes out from sheer exhaustion.
Jason did not mean to get Timmy’s parents killed here. He pulls out his phone and thumbs through his case notes to see which of his various interferences might have resulted in this.
When he finds it, he buries his face in his hands, wincing.
Ah, hell. Of fuckin’ course it’s goddamn Damian, that little brat, always managing to be a fuckin’ nuisance. I sent B an anonymous tip about the kid a while ago and when he finally went to get him it just so happened to be the same weekend Timmy’s parents got kidnapped. So B didn’t go to Haiti, and I guess that meant they both died instead of just dead mom and coma dad.
…Fuck. That’s gotta sting like hell for Timmy.
Jason takes a moment to think about Tim’s parents, everything he knows about them from before and what he’s gathered during his research in this time period; those assholes were absentee parents at best, neglectful at worst. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact Tim clearly loves them, Jason wouldn’t even have bothered to try to save them.
…Not that he was very fuckin’ useful there anyway, good intentions aside. Whoops. Ain’t gonna shed any tears over those fuckers though.
His gaze travels over to Jay, whose hands are clenched into fists as he stares at the screen where a school photo of Timmy is flashing as a news anchor babbles on about the kid being cared for by his uncle now. Jay’s brow furrows. “Hey, Old Man.”
Jason rolls his eyes at the brat, but jerks his chin. “Yeah, what? Infant.”
Jay snorts, but continues to stare at Timmy’s photo on the screen. “…Tim Drake doesn’t have an uncle… does he?” His voice slides into a question at the end and he’s concerned as he looks up at Jason for confirmation.
And huh. Jason quickly goes through the kid’s family tree in his mind, and yeah, Jay’s right. His eyes narrow as he contemplates the situation, everything he knows about Tim’s self-sacrificing, I’d-rather-lose-my-goddamn-spleen-than-ask-for-help attitude, and he knows he has to do something to fix this damn mess.
An idea comes to mind immediately; it’s not something he was seriously contemplating just yet, but Timmy’s situation changes things. And he’s already got most of the arrangements in place so this will just move the schedule up a little. He’s got his gear along with a couple of ideas for new safehouses, and Jay’s stable enough to be trusted to wear the new uniform he’s had ready for the kid for the past six months. It’s a little earlier than he was planning, sure, but the kid’s ready, Timmy needs help, and plans are adaptable.
Decision made, he straightens, standing and reaching down to tug a startled Jay to his feet as well.
“Congrats, kid, you’re graduating today.”
“Huh?” The younger boy blinks up at him, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
Jason grins. “You’ve made a hell of a lot of progress on controlling the Pit rage, and done it way the fuck faster than I ever managed. Fuck, you got better control than me now, probably because you’ve been fighting it and not just marinating in the crazy for a few years. I’m pretty sure if you ever decide to kill anyone at this point, it’ll be your decision and not the Pit.”
Jay’s just staring at him, wide-eyed and jaw set to hide the tremble. “You’re fuckin’ leaving me now, is that it?”
“What? No! Fuck, no!” Jason shakes his head, reaching out a long arm to tug the smaller boy into his side and trap him in a rough hug. Reluctantly, Jay lets him, still holding himself stiffly as he waits because trust is hard to come by when you’ve been betrayed as many times as they have.
Jason sighs, shaking his head. Yeah, we’re some kinda fucked up. His lips tug into an unwilling smile.
“I’m saying we’re both leaving. I think it’s time to head back to Gotham, don’t you?”
Give them a week or so to set up those safehouses and get the lay of the land, and then Jason can pay Timmy a little visit and show him why it’s a bad idea for a kid his age to live on his own. Gently, of course, because he doesn’t actually wanna give the poor little tyke a heart attack.
Damn, kids are a fuckin’ headache. He experiences a moment’s unwilling sympathy for Bruce and is immediately horrified at himself. Ugh, freakin’ kids are a goddamn menace to my peace of mind.
Jason, moments after saving the world: *Sweeps a surprised but interested Tim off his feet for rooftop pizza and maybe some kissing* “I’ve EARNED this dammit”
Other Jason: *Wakes up in the past, bitter and alone* “Goddamnit, original Jason’s probably getting a happy ending from Tim RIGHT NOW” *Immediately wanders off to fix shit and raise hell, in whatever order*
Tremendous thanks to the lovely Chibinightowl for the wonderful beta that resulted in identifying a slew of areas to improve the timeline and relationship development, the entire fajita cheesesteak scene in chapter 3, and lots of general improvements. Also, thanks for delicately suggesting that 27K is a bit much for a oneshot and helpfully providing suggestions for chapter breaks for making this a standalone story as well as giving me the freaking title, which is so very fitting.
Huge thank you to salazarastark, ayzenigma, and strawberryjei for reading this over for me and providing feedback when I was having trouble with all the angst in the beginning! Your encouragement really helped me feel confident enough to keep slogging on through all the feels and make it to the end.
Tim closes the door with a soft click and stands there for a moment in the cold, dark apartment staring at the painted grain of the wood and wondering what it would be like to come home to warmth and laughter and the smells of food cooking.
What would it be like to be part of a real family? He swallows, trying to force the tightness in his throat to relax as he pushes those thoughts away, but they roll on anyway because he’s tired and hurt and the still emptiness of the apartment is getting to him.
When I started following Batman and Robin, I always used to dream about being part of their family, a real family. Never about being Robin, I knew I’d never be good enough for that. His current bruises are an aching reminder and proof of that fact, and he sighs quietly.
Well, here I am. I got everything I never wanted, and nothing that I did.
He shakes his head as if to clear away the errant thoughts and then straightens, pulling away from the door. It was a long, rough patrol tonight and even though he’s too tired right now to feel hungry, his body needs calories.
Maybe that’s why he’s starting to imagine the apartment smells like…
“…Pizza?” At the deep, unfamiliar voice speaking from somewhere in the depths of his darkened apartment, Tim lets out a highly embarrassing squeak and spins, falling into the best defensive stance he can manage.
Which is pretty decent, actually, considering the time he spent abroad training with the likes of King Snake and Lady Shiva.
Still, as he takes in the intruders, plural, who have invaded his apartment, he has a sneaking suspicion his best won’t be good enough if they decide to bring this to a fight. He’s seen the big guy in the leather jacket and full-face red helmet fight earlier tonight as well as a couple of other times since the pair showed up in Gotham a little over a week ago. The man’s style is brute force channeled into the kind of moves and strikes only years of rigorous training can achieve, mixed with melee blows that wouldn’t be out of place in a street fight.
And the smaller figure shrouded in shadows behind him, dressed in a bastardized Robin costume and wearing his own somewhat smaller red helmet, is also a talented fighter from what Tim’s seen, not to mention outstripping Tim in terms of height, reach, and weight.
The fact that they are here in his apartment and therefore almost certainly have knowledge they really, really shouldn’t about his secret identity is… super concerning, actually.
As is the likelihood they also know he’s living here alone under the care of a nonexistent uncle because his parents are… are dead, he can’t be Robin and help save Batman and Gotham if he’s stuck in foster care, and there’s no way he’s going to impose himself on Bruce Wayne’s actual family even more than he by necessity already has by pressuring the grieving man into taking him in as a foster kid.
Tim has plenty of money in the form of inheriting his parents’ company, particularly now that he’s managed to oust all the embezzling board members via the surprisingly useful proxy of good old Uncle Edward Drake. Too bad the courts would never agree to let a fourteen year-old live on his own, even a rich one. Maybe especially a rich one; there are bound to be plenty of unscrupulous people in the system who’d be happy to take him on in exchange for access to his funds.
Momentarily, he wishes he’d followed through on an initial plan to hire an actor to play his uncle, but he squashes the thought. There was no need to go so far. It’s not like Bruce has time to really fact check Tim’s situation right now; he has enough on his hands dealing with the violent, abused nine year-old son whose rescue took priority over trying to save Tim’s parents. Bruce didn’t say anything at the reading of the Drakes’ will, but he was most likely relieved not to have to deal with Tim on top of the brat.
Still, Tim’s living in a house of cards right now and these two intruders are perfectly positioned to send it all toppling down on him.
No, Tim would not want to fight either of these guys. Good thing he’s pretty sure he won’t have to do so.
For one thing, they probably wouldn’t have risked their lives earlier dropping into a brutal fight to save Robin when he was trapped in an ambush and losing badly against a dozen heavily armed, well trained men if they were just planning on hurting him later anyway.
For another, Red Helmet’s currently sprawled on the couch, tilting his helmet up just enough to take a huge bite of pizza and grinning as he chuckles, “Thank fuck I got a couple extra pepperoni and olive pizzas. That Canadian bacon, onion and artichoke heart shit you like is just wrong, kid.”
Tim narrows his eyes at this extremely misinformed stance on his pizza toppings of choice, but to his surprise he doesn’t have to defend himself.
“Don’t be such an ass, Old Man! Timmy’s pizza’s classy, like him. Here ya go, kiddo.” The smaller guy bends down to open another box on the coffee table and hand a slice over to Tim, who hesitates a moment, eying it carefully before accepting it.
Red Helmet Robin watches him awkwardly holding the slice of pizza that he’s definitely not going to eat, then shakes his head as he reaches up to loosen the catch on his own helmet and tilt it back enough to expose his mouth.
It’s a nice mouth, well-shaped lips curling into a playful, lopsided grin, with a firm chin and strong jawline that’ll probably only get stronger as the older boy grows into a man-
The grin morphs into a smirk as the older teen reaches out and catches Tim’s hand, pulling it toward his mouth as Tim’s eyes widen in surprise.
Red Helmet Robin takes a big bite of Tim’s pizza. “Mmm,” he says, still smiling as he chews. He lets go of Tim’s hand and casually grabs himself another slice of pepperoni from the other box, bumping his hip into Tim to knock him into a nearby armchair before sitting on the arm of the couch. “Now eat, Timmy, you’re fuckin’ tiny.”
Double Jason. Art by Kaworu.
Mechanically, Tim’s hand rises to his mouth and he takes a bite, only realizing after he’s done it that he put his mouth on the same place as Red Helmet Robin. He looks down, blushing furiously as he chews and swallows.
The whole slice is gone in no time because apparently Tim was starving and didn’t realize it until he actually had food in front of him. His hand isn’t empty for more than a moment because Red Helmet Robin’s putting another slice in it almost before he’s done with the first, and then eying him watchfully as though to make sure he’ll actually eat it.
Tim rolls his eyes and lowers his hand, ignoring the huff and crossed arms from the other vigilante. “I’ll eat more in a minute, if you guys answer some questions for me.”
Both Red Helmet and Red Helmet Robin sit up a little straighter, heads turning toward him in eerie unison as they give him their attention. “We ain’t gonna compromise our identities, kiddo, but besides that we’ll give you what we can.” Red Helmet leans forward to rest his elbows on his spread knees, waiting.
“What are your intentions toward Gotham?” Signs so far points to these two being new vigilantes, but it never hurts to gather more evidence.
“Same as you and Bats; catch bad guys, bring ‘em to justice.” Red Helmet shrugs.
“If you aren’t comfortable sharing your civilian identities, what do you want me to call you?”
“Red Hood,” says the big guy.
“…And Red Robin,” the teen finishes.
Well, it’s less of a mouthful than Red Helmet Robin I guess…
“You seem heavily interested in Batman, going so far as to copy portions of our costumes, emulating certain aspects of our fighting styles, and figuring out my civilian identity in order to accost me in my home. Why should I trust that you are not doing so for reasons of your own that may be contrary to Batman’s interests?”
Red Hood inhales and exhales slowly, apparently gathering his thoughts. “Kiddo, I can’t say I’ll never do somethin’ that’s at odds with the way you guys mighta done it. But I’m doin’ this because I fuckin’ care, and so’s Red Robin. You guys can watch us all you want, hell, I expect you to stalk the hell outta us. Be disappointed in you if you just fuckin’ took our word for it. But whether you accept it or not, I’ll tell ya right here and now, I don’t plan to hurt any of you. Gonna look out for you, watch your backs like earlier tonight whenever we can.”
He seems so sincere, but… “Why?” Tim bursts out. “You don’t know me, you have no reason to care what happens to me!”
It’s Red Robin who answers, voice gentle and almost pitying. “Why the fuck not, Timmy? We’re all riskin’ our damn lives saving people, it’s what we do. Do you really think you’re less worthy of being saved than all those assholes we put ourselves in danger for?”
Can lie to Batman, but somehow he can’t bring himself to answer that.
Red Hood sighs deeply, scrubbing a hand over the front of his helmet. “Well, fuck that. You matter, Timmy, and you don’t get to tell us that you don’t.”
Red Robin nods slowly, body tense like he’s angry but somehow, Tim doesn’t feel as though the emotion is directed toward himself. “That’s right, kid.” His helmet tilts as the pizza catches his eye again. “Now eat your goddamn pizza, you’re too fuckin’ tiny. Jesus, I feel like I gotta just follow you around on your patrols now, make sure you’re safe.”
Tim narrows his eyes at the other teen. “I can take care of myself.”
Red Hood just sits there, but Tim has the strong impression the other vigilante is rolling his eyes hard behind that helmet. “Of course you can, kiddo, but you shouldn’t have to. Why the fuck was B lettin’ you patrol alone, anyway?”
Tim furrows his brows, not answering. These guys may be working their way toward a position of trust, but they definitely aren’t there yet. He’s not about to tell them that he almost always patrols alone, a result of Batman’s state of mind when Tim started as Robin, the man’s initial desire to reject his offer of partnership, and his own not inconsiderable detective abilities which go a long ways to make up for his admitted deficiencies in physical strength and stamina.
Red Robin shakes his head at Tim’s silence, stacking another slice of pizza on top of the one already in Tim’s hand. “Whatever, we’ll just shadow you so we’ll be there anytime you need backup.”
“I don’t need two constant babysitters! I can patrol just fine on my own.”
At Tim’s glare, Red Hood starts chuckling. “Well, maybe after a few weeks, Red Robin and I can split up; I’ll run my own patrol and he’ll be your backup. That any better?”
Tim considers the offer carefully, then reluctantly nods. It’ll definitely be a good chance to gather information about the mysterious vigilantes, and another teen jumping in to help him with his fights will be less humiliating than a teen and a freaking tank.
Red Hood nods back, then sighs. “So… on to the less fun part of this visit.” He rubs a hand on the back of his neck. “Tim, you’re fourteen goddamn years old, you can’t fuckin’ live alone.”
Tim flinches, tensing, and Red Robin whips his head around to glare at Red Hood, who snorts in amusement. “Yeah, I know, I’m the fuckin’ worst. Don’t care. I ain’t gonna leave you here alone so you can overwork yourself until you collapse from exhaustion and poor nutrition or whatever.”
“You didn’t hafta be so fuckin’ blunt, asshole.” Red Robin turns his back on Red Hood to address Tim in a roughly soothing voice. “Tim, bad shit happens to kids on their own, I fuckin’ know. I mean, Jesus, besides the fact no one’s here to help if you get sick or have an accident, fuckin’ anyone could break in here and no one would goddamn know.”
Tim swallows, hard. “And you think Gotham foster care would be any better?”
“It doesn’t hafta be foster care—” Red Robin starts.
“Well, what are my other options?” Tim snaps, feeling like he’s being backed into a corner.
“We’d take ya in, except you don’t trust us enough for that yet. Also, Batman’d definitely beat the shit outta us for kidnapping first and ask questions later, while still kicking our unconscious bodies into the ground.”
Tim and Red Robin both give Red Hood mildly horrified, disbelieving looks and he scoffs, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back into the couch. “Don’t look at me like that, he’s an ass, but he’s a fuckin’ protective ass.”
“That was just… disturbingly specific, and kinda brutal? I mean, B might not even notice if I did move in with you guys. Not that I would! Just.” Tim shrugs halfheartedly and stares down at the pizza in his hand. It still smells stupidly good, but he doesn’t have any appetite at the moment.
“Trust me, he’d notice. B is kinda an ass, but Alfie’s the best, and Dickhead’ll take care of you if you ask him.” Red Robin tilts his helmet consideringly, apparently unaware of having stunned Tim into silence with his confirmation that the two unknown vigilantes are, indeed, fully aware of the Bats’ secret identities.
…Great. Okay, deal with the immediate situation now, panic about that little potential disaster in the making later…
Actually, as Tim’s mind slots the new information into place, an idea materializes which could explain a lot about the mysterious new vigilantes. Like their voices, vaguely familiar despite the distortion provided by their helmets. Their clear knowledge about Batman and his associates coupled with their oddly benevolent actions towards them.
The way Red Robin’s mouth and chin looked awfully familiar when he tilted his helmet back to eat…
I can’t say anything about this until I’m sure, Tim thinks, mind working rapidly. It would kill Bruce if I were wrong. Heck, even if I’m right it’ll still hurt.
It can’t be time travel… this guy is taller and older than our Jason was before he died, no matter how much he looks and sounds like him. So… fakes, or alternate universe. Fakes is unlikely considering they are to all appearances attempting to hide their faces, not capitalize on their resemblance. Alternate universe, then, one in which Jason survived. Holy Tesla.
He resolves to continue interacting with the pair, observing and gathering information to support or deny his hypothesis. But really… if I’m right, and these guys are Bats from another universe… Wow. It would definitely explain why they seem to be on our side.
And if the younger one’s Alternate Universe Jason… Well, I can see why they don’t feel comfortable just introducing themselves, not when everyone’s still grieving for our Jason here. Especially because the older one doesn’t seem to be anyone I recognize; maybe in their universe, someone else was Robin between Dick and Jason? So many questions still…
He’s been silent too long. Tim blinks himself back to the current conversation, setting aside wild speculations and revelations for later. “And if I don’t agree?”
Red Hood shrugs apologetically. “I’ll out you to the Bat, and he’ll drag you off back to his cave and hand you over to Alfie who’ll just look at you until you’re overcome with a sense of the magnitude of your shame.”
“It’ll suck,” Red Robin says, nodding solemnly before perking up. “But after that, he’ll make you some of his cookies! So it’s almost worth it.” He stares broodingly down at his knees, clearly remembering past transgressions of his own. “…Almost.”
Tim bites his lip, considering. He really, really doesn’t want to impose on the Waynes…
But it’s true that his living alone is unsafe, possibly even moreso than he thought considering the ease with which these two apparently broke into his home. And as one of Batman’s affiliates, Tim could easily become a target for anyone trying to get to Batman. He thought his security here was sufficient…
But the Reds managed to break in just fine.
He takes a moment to imagine Batman’s, Bruce’s face if Tim was hurt or worse, and Bruce found out only in the aftermath that Tim was living on his own and had actually invented a fake uncle to avoid potentially living with the Waynes.
It’s like a knife to his heart.
“Okay,” Tim finds himself saying, and both Reds immediately relax into relieved postures. “I’ll talk to B about it.”
But I won’t mention the Red Hood or Red Robin. If what I suspect is true… they’re not likely to present a threat. And I still need to gather more information about them before I bring it up with B. Tim nods decisively.
“Fuck, glad that’s over,” Red Robin sighs gustily before grabbing a now-cold slice of pepperoni for himself and yet another slice of the far superior pizza to add to Tim’s teetering stack. “Now eat, Baby Bird!”
Tim blinks as a sneaky thought occurs to him. “Actually,” he says timidly, biting his bottom lip and concentrating on not overdoing the innocent look, “would you mind taking the first bite again?”
Nightwing swings through one of his favorite routines, enjoying the sheer space and quality of the equipment in the Cave.
No matter how much I put into my own training gym, it’ll never live up to this, he thinks wistfully, knowing he’ll never manage it, not on a policeman’s salary and having to fit everything into the space within an apartment building.
Oh well, at least I can still come back here to visit with the kids and help train them. And it’s absolutely worth putting up with substandard equipment so I can live my own life and protect my city in my own way without butting heads with B every other minute over his innate inability to stop trying to micromanage everyone around him.
He glances over at the Batcomputer and the silent man at work there, experiencing a momentary surge of gratitude for Tim and Damian. The irresistible combination of their deep need for help coupled with how very strongly each of them tried so hard to be brave and independent is what helped draw him back into the fold, bridging the chasm of anger and resentment between him and Bruce that had only grown worse since Jason’s…
There’s guilt as well, for not even realizing Tim was all on his own there for a few weeks after his parents died.
It’ll be a long while before any of them truly gets over that.
At least Tim’s finally right where he should be, safe in the Manor. And it was a necessary wakeup call for Bruce, who had been surprised enough to actually show an emotion at the revelation that his own standoffishness had driven the poor kid to invent a freaking uncle just to avoid imposing on him.
It was sufficiently upsetting to shake a few emotions loose for all of them, and the talk that followed cleared the air considerably despite being a whole new level of horrifically awkward and uncomfortable. Even Damian, who Dick had worried would resent Tim moving into the Manor, greeted him in his own special, Damian way by sniffing disapprovingly at Tim’s fighting form and offering to train him.
For Damian, that’s practically a welcoming hug, at least from what Dick’s seen during his frequent visits over the past six weeks the prickly boy has been living at the Manor.
The little nine year-old has actually turned out to be fiercely protective of Tim now that the two have met properly after being kept separate up until Tim moved in for fear the violent younger child might attack the older boy. Damian actually seemed somewhat appeased by the discovery that the teen didn’t consider himself worthy of being family, which would be sort of horrific except the child then made it clear such humility was fitting and would serve Tim well in the future as part of their family.
Which is… well, pretty awkward, but worlds better than the outright hostility he was expecting from the autocratic, haughty child. Damian hasn’t said anything about it yet, but Dick suspects the boy feels some measure of totally undeserved guilt because Tim’s parents were killed while Bruce was rescuing him.
Either way, they’re pulling together as a family for the first time in what feels like forever, and it’s really working.
He can never feel anything but grateful to the kids for that, even if they’re annoying little brats sometimes.
He’ll always be there for his little brothers.
Dick will never fail them again, not like…
He almost misses his next catch and decides against trying for the quadruple tonight, not if his mind’s going to keep wandering to those places. Jason’s death is still an open wound, no matter how much they’ve all done their best to heal around it. He flips gracefully through the air, landing safely on the platform and making his way down to check out whatever B’s going over.
Nothing better for sublimating emotional pain than burying yourself in a case, right B? He shakes his head with an internal wry smile at his own hypocrisy. Jason would’ve laughed at us for that…
He swallows and then focuses on the screen, glad for the distraction.
The footage is at a bad angle so it isn’t totally clear, but… “Isn’t that the guy who showed up last month and keeps jumping in to save you and Tim when you get into hot water? …Red Hood, right?”
Batman ignores him, because of course he does.
Dick bounces on the balls of his feet, fidgeting at standing still too long as he watches the big guy in what looks like a whole lot of body armor under some civies, topped with a red helmet and armed with a heck of a lot of fire power. The guy is surprisingly light on his feet for being built like a tank, dancing sideways to avoid blows and flipping backwards off a catwalk to catch himself on the railing of a lower one and flip neatly onto it, landing in a crouch that turns into a smooth roll and takes out several more goons.
It’s really cool to watch. It’s also…
“Wait…” Dick’s brows rise in surprise as the man performs a sequence of movements that is absolutely one of Batman’s signature attacks, something he’s never seen anyone do unless they were trained by Batman. As he watches, the man fails to completely dodge a thrown knife which slices open his shirt and reveals body armor beneath, marked across the chest with something that looks suspiciously like a stylized red bat symbol.
“B…” Dick frowns, wanting to dismiss the explanation which immediately springs to mind but unable to do so, considering Bruce’s tendency to paranoia and secrets. “…Do you by any chance have another protegee you’ve been training to fight crime?”
Batman sits silently, continuing to work on compiling and updating an analysis of the unknown vigilante’s activities and skills. There are multiple windows open across the screens, documenting every incident in which the unknown intervened, usually to rescue Robin from a dangerous situation but occasionally saving Batman as well, or acting on his own, most often to intervene in cases of drug trafficking to minors or… Dick swallows, feeling sick. Human trafficking.
He’s starting to get a mental picture of the type of man they’re looking at, and considering the crimes the man seems most passionate about preventing… well, he’s probably walked through hell, and come out fighting on the other side.
Dick can definitely respect and admire that, not to mention the fact that the man’s saved his little brother and father figure multiple times predisposes him to like the guy.
That, and those thighs.
Hey, it’s been a while since Babs broke things off, and he’s lonely. A mysterious, fit vigilante seemingly predisposed to protect his family seems like a pretty safe bet for a little crush. Although he should probably figure out a little more about the guy first.
Dick shakes his head briskly, clearing away all thoughts of tall, thick, enigmatic, heroic men and forcing himself to focus on determining if Bruce has been training a secret vigilante and keeping him hidden from the rest of the family for some godforsaken Bruce-ish reason.
I mean, I can kind of imagine he might not have wanted any villains to know there was a connection between them, not after what happened to Jay… But still. If this guy’s one of us, he should be working with the support of the whole team. We should at least know he exists.
He squints, taking in the sheer volume of information Batman has compiled about the man’s movements since he first popped up in Gotham about a month ago.
You’d think the fact that Batman’s spying on him like this would be enough to prove he doesn’t know who the guy is and didn’t train him. You’d be wrong. I’m pretty sure B still spies on me at this level, too.
Oh, Bruce. As usual, the thought of Batman’s paranoia and lack of boundaries brings forth a mixture of affection and deep resentment. His anger at the interference is banked by the reluctant acknowledgement that such measures are how B shows he cares, because he’s broken inside. He’s just such a creeper, Dick thinks as he mentally plans to sweep his safehouse for bugs again tonight. Just in case. He gets that B worries, but he does have a life and job of his own and can handle himself just fine, thank you very much.
“So,” he leans against the desk by the Batcomputer, carefully planning his assault on Bruce’s dignity, all the better to needle the man into accidentally responding with the truth. “We’re not freakin’ potato chips, B, you can have just one!” Batman twitches slightly, excellent. “Does this one have blue eyes and black hair, too?”
Batman’s eye flick over to nail Dick with a brief glare before returning to the screen.
Oh, interesting. That means…
“You have no idea who he is either, do you?” He frowns and hops up to perch on the desk, bouncing his leg as Batman continues to type up his notes beside him. “Wait, then how does he know our moves?” That… could be deeply concerning, depending on a multitude of factors. Well, now it makes sense how much effort Batman’s clearly putting into this research.
An alert beeps softly and their attention is drawn to the screen, where the results of some kind of analysis are now scrolling. It looks like… multiverse data?
“B?” Dick tilts his head inquiringly as he watches the data slow and then finally stop.
“I collected this data during my last encounter with the unknown vigilante.” Batman narrows his eyes, studying the final conclusions, then nods. “A theory occurred to me shortly after Robin’s first meeting with him, and I subsequently modified my suit to collect data to either confirm or disprove said theory.” He falls silent, continuing to stare at the screen as Dick rises to his feet again expectantly.
“Well?” he finally prods. “Care to share with the class?”
Batman stands abruptly and moves toward the Batmobile. “My hypothesis that he is from an alternate universe has been confirmed.” He pauses, still facing away, and continues, “Based on his actions, appearance, and fighting style, and despite certain apparent… differences, particularly in chosen vernacular and weaponry… I suspect him to be another version of myself.”
Oh god ew, now I feel super-weird about liking his thighs! Still… how could any version of Bruce talk like that, and look so sexy in leather? Ugh, inappropriate thoughts!
Dick’s mind frantically works to recategorize Hot Helmet Guy to Alternate Universe Dad, and when his brain absolutely refuses to do so he has a gathering suspicion he’ll find it more difficult than it should be to shut down his growing attraction to the dashing, heroic stranger.
Maybe B’s wrong? It could so easily be an alternate universe version of someone else—after all, Batman might have other partners in a different universe, or even be a different person himself beneath the mask. Heck, maybe it’s another version of me, just pumped beyond all recognition and four inches taller because he always ate his veggies growing up. Wow, that would be… something.
He swallows. That thought is a little more enticing than it probably should be. No one’s ever been flexible enough to match him before and the idea’s definitely appealing.
But Bruce isn’t really wrong that often.
Dick pictures a scowling Bruce-face under the helmet, and suddenly it’s a lot easier to not be attracted to the guy.
“So… what are you going to do?” Odds are pretty high on Bruce just striding away dramatically without answering, so he’s kind of shocked when the man actually responds.
“Nothing.” Batman climbs into the Batmobile, clearly about to leave for patrol. “His actions will continue to inform us of his intentions; at the moment, there is no evidence to indicate he intends any kind of harm. He uses guns, but with rubber bullets. His strikes are calculated and precise to avoid killing or unnecessary damage. If he is another version of me, it is probable he will continue to pursue the Mission while assisting us as he feels is needed.”
He pauses, then continues. “Additionally, I have tracked the anonymous tips the Justice League has received over the past thirteen months back to him. And… the information about Damian.”
Batman’s jaw works before he goes on. “If nothing else, we owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Whatever this Red Batman has left behind in his own world, I suspect he did not leave by choice or… unbroken. If his world was as similar to ours as I suspect based on the obvious overlap in events and his ability to provide precise warnings regarding future catastrophes here, then helping us may be his atonement for his failure to save them.”
Dick tenses at the thought, chest tightening as he imagines anyone, but especially another Bat, stranded in a new universe and coping as best he can after surviving some unknown destruction taking away his own world.
Batman’s face is grave. “I will not interfere with that.”
And the Batmobile roars away, leaving Dick standing in the middle of the Cave, heart twisting over some other version of hopefully-not-Bruce, maybe-someone else, alone out there with memories of his dead family and nothing to console him but the cold comfort of work.
Well, that won’t do at all. The corners of Dick’s lips twitch up into the beginnings of a small, secretive smile. Whatever and whoever else he is, he’s definitely a Bat. And that means he belongs here, with us. I’m going to see what I can do to bring him home.
Robin twists, only just managing to pull his strike with the bo-staff as he recognizes Red Robin landing on the ledge beside him. “Red! A little warning next time, yeah? I could’ve hurt you!” This whole patrolling together thing would be a lot easier if they didn’t keep having to split up to avoid the Bats catching on about Robin’s new partner.
Red Robin shrugs, probably smirking like a jerk under that helmet, and drops down to sit on the ledge with his feet dangling over the drop. “Chilidog, Baby Bird?”
“Quit calling me that,” he grumbles. “You’re probably not that much older than I am, anyway!”
“I’m sixteen, kid. A little over two years older than you are.” The older teen pulls a messy-looking chilidog out of the brown paper bag in his hand, and Robin eyes it dubiously. A couple of chunky drips slide off and fall away to disappear into the night, presumably to add their substance to the ever-growing fetid mystery that is Gotham alley-sludge.
That’s almost how old Jason would have been, he thinks as he reaches out to take the offering. Not that he really needs the confirmation, but it’s good to have it. After all, details between their universes are bound to vary somewhat. The fact that the DNA sample he managed to extract from the pizza Red Robin tasted for him actually came up as a match for Jason Peter Todd was huge, but…
He still needs a heck of a lot more before bringing any of this up to Batman.
He’s really been enjoying the time he’s gotten to spend with Red Robin patrolling together over the past six weeks, and he doesn’t want that to change any time soon. While it’s been difficult to hide Red Robin’s existence from the others, it’s also been so worth it.
Tim’s… never had a best friend before, but he thinks this might be what it’s like.
He’s starting to realize that even once he has definitive proof of Red Hood and Red Robin’s origins and identities, he probably won’t share it with Batman. He… trusts them, now, and doesn’t want to risk losing their presence in his life.
“Need me to take a bite for you again?” Red’s already reaching up to unlock his helmet so Robin lets him even though he’s pretty confident it isn’t necessary, trying not to blush around his mask as the older boy takes his hand again and guides it to his mouth… where he takes a huge bite of Robin’s chilidog.
“Hey!” He snatches the food back and cradles it protectively against his chest, glaring at the older teen. “That’s mine!”
Red Robin cackles with laughter and turns back to the bag, shuffling through it to pull out a couple of cans of soda and… three more chilidogs. Robin stares at them for a moment in mixed hunger and horror before shrugging and leaning in for a bite of his own.
They’ve already taken down six muggers, busted two minor drug deals, and stopped a mob enforcer from brutalizing a shopkeeper for being unable to pay for the mob’s dubious protection.
And it’s only about an hour and a half into patrol. They’re definitely going to need their energy tonight. Besides, chilidogs are Jason’s… Red Robin’s… favorite food, they can’t be that bad. Robin sinks his teeth in, barely aware that Red Robin has stopped devouring his own half-eaten second chilidog to stare at him in expectant glee.
The flavors explode across Robin’s tongue and fill his mouth with awesome.
“Mmmm,” he half-whimpers, half-moans. “Why is this so gooood?”
Red clears his throat and shifts like he’s uncomfortable for some reason. “Uh. Um, wow. You… uh, you really like that, don’t you?”
Robin, in the act of taking another bite, turns to face the other boy with his mouth stretched around the thick chilidog. He can’t actually talk with his mouth so full, so he just nods and lets another little whimper of happiness slip out.
Red Robin stares at him for a long, long moment before abruptly standing up and stepping away a little farther down the narrow ledge. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, the fuck did I do to deserve this,” the older teen whispers for no discernible reason.
Baby Jay / Tim. Art by Kaworu.
Whatever, Robin has a chilidog to finish. Which he does, ignoring his patrol partner’s weird reactions.
Maybe Jason just really, really likes chilidogs? To the point where watching someone else enjoy one hurts him somehow?
Well, Jason’s the one who brought the chilidogs to share. If he’s experiencing emotional pain as a result, he brought it on himself.
Resolutely, Robin reaches for the forgotten bag and grabs a second chilidog for himself. Nearby, Red Robin whimpers.
Dick, making heart-eyes at Mysterious Hot Helmet Guy: “Holy THIGHS Batman, how is that guy so devastatingly attractive” *Begins planning elaborate rooftop courtship*
Batman, ruthlessly trampling over Dick’s hopes and dreams: “I believe he’s an alternate version of me” *Strides away, totally unaware of having viciously murdered Dick’s nascent crush*
Dick, repelled at thought of macking on Alternate-Dad but still hopeful: “…Maybe B’s wrong?” *Grins, continues to plan rooftop courtship*
Jay, handing Timmy a chilidog: “Eat this Baby Bird, you’re too goddamn tiny”
Timmy, deepthroating the chilidog: *Moans throatily* “Mmmm, so goooood” *Whimpers sweetly with satisfaction*
Jay, lightheaded because all the blood in his body just rushed south: “Oh Jesus god I did NOT think this shit through”
Updated because the wonderful Kaworu created some gorgeous art for this chapter! First is Red Hood and Red Robin confronting Timmy in his apartment, complete with unimpressed helmet stares and delicious pizza; the second work of art is Timmy eating a chilidog as Jay realizes he's made a terrible, wonderful mistake (both here). Thank you so much for creating and sharing this lovely art, Kaworu! :D
Red Hood heaves one bruised and groaning thug at the startled face of the second and roundhouse kicks a third right into the fourth, headbutting the fifth and only noticing the gun in the sixth’s hands when it clatters to the ground and a black and blue-clad shape tumbles neatly out of the Gotham night to land on the unfortunate idiot.
Of fuckin’ course Dickie’s here again… Hood’s torn between wanting the other man around as much as possible because he’s damn good company, and trying to get rid of him before he uses those impressive detective skills to figure out something he’s not ready to share yet. Well, it looks like pushing him away isn’t really having much effect. Stubborn, reckless, persistent idiot…
“Damn it, Nightwing! I fuckin’ told you to quit stalking me!” Not that Hood really minds spending time with Golden Boy, but he’s not dumb enough to believe Dick’s hanging out with him out of the kindness of his heart.
No, Pretty Bird’s almost certainly under orders from the big guy to follow him around, and depending on how big of a paranoid asshole B feels like being these days, that could be a problem.
I ain’t gonna let the Bats find out who we really are until Baby Jay’s ready to face ‘em… and fuck knows how long that’ll take.
It’s not like he can just look back at his own life to figure out how Jay will react to anything; they’ve diverged so markedly now that there really might be a possibility the younger boy will one day be ready to rejoin his family. After all, Jason guided him through the worst of his Pit rage and kept him from targeting his own loved ones so he’ll never have to live to regret it…
Like I still do.
It means Jay hasn’t destroyed any hope of going home someday.
But he isn’t going to push the younger boy into doing anything before he’s good and fuckin’ ready, and damned if he’ll let B’s fuckin’ nosiness do the job.
Nightwing crouches to retrieve his birdarang and starts tying up the groaning thug, glancing over at Red Hood with a bright grin on his stupidly handsome face. “It’s not stalking when I just happen to run into you on patrol!”
Hood rolls his eyes despite knowing the effect is lost behind his helmet. “Yeah, sure. Every few damned nights for the past month. Like we don’t all know your regular patrol is fuckin’ Blüdhaven these days.”
Seriously, that city should be more than enough to keep even an overachiever like Dickiebird busy. Not to mention the fuckin’ day job, and the time he puts in training the batbrats. When the hell does he even find time to sleep?
Criminals secure, Red Hood grapples up to a nearby rooftop and is entirely unsurprised when Nightwing follows, like a persistent itch.
Damn it. The fuck are the Bats up to anyway? Why can’t they just let me be since I ain’t been killin’ anyone… well, except the Joker, and I’m pretty sure B won’t link me to that. Not with the way I staged it to look like the fucker set off an explosion in his own cell while trying to escape, and with him being the only person I’ve killed in this timeline.
…Hopefully, he’ll stay the only person I kill here. I can’t fuckin’ set a good example of recovery for Jay if I’m shootin’ perps right and left. Anyway, he and Timmy have been ace partners on the detective side of things, buildin’ up air-tight cases to take down the fuckers who deserve it.
He makes a face as he considers maybe the boys have been working together too well. He’s seen the way Jay blushes when he stares at Timmy, and lately Timmy’s been staring back.
Watching them together is an achingly sweet reminder of what might have been, what probably is, somewhere in another life. But the sharpest sting has gone out of it over the year he spent taking care of Jay, and it’s settled into something softer over the course of the two months they’ve been in Gotham. Looking back on Tim and their time together in the other universe feels a lot like remembering his old crush on Donna from way back in his first life; bittersweet and faintly haunting, but above all, done and firmly in the past.
Jason’s just glad now. Glad original Jason and Tim are happy somewhere together, and amused Jay and Timmy seem to be heading the same direction here. He’s not selfish enough to be jealous of a couple of damned kids, for fucks sake.
Well, not much. He sure as hell wouldn’t mind having someone for himself, but fuck it, he’s spent most of his life alone, he can damn well manage.
At least whatever’s going on with the boys is nothing to actually worry about; the kids can flirt all they want, it’s not like Jay would ever take things too far. He’ll definitely wait till Timmy’s older before he asks him out or lets their attraction progress much past innocent flirtation.
And Hood will keep an eye on them, just in case. He nods slowly to himself.
Unaware of Red Hood’s thoughts, Nightwing alights on the rooftop at his side, pouting as he resumes their conversation. “I just want to get to know you a little better, Red. After all, we’re going to be working together more, right?”
What. Working together? Fuckin’ news to me, Bird Boy.
“How you figure that?” Red Hood’s tone is guarded; if Batman is suspicious of him, which he is, it’s just in his nature, then he definitely wouldn’t put it past the man to send Nightwing in to try to win his trust and then turn around and spy on him.
It’s a solid plan. Nightwing’s charming and easy to like, and so genuinely good you can’t really hate him even if he is a spy.
Hell, it’s fuckin’ working. Nightwing’s visits are the high points of Jason’s nights right now, especially with Red Robin spending so much time patrolling and hanging out with Robin. He’s starting to get used to the companionship and banter, not to mention the occasional timely assist in a fight. Whatever, so he’s a little fuckin’ lonely on his own and the Bats are probably taking advantage of the fact.
And Nightwing’s so damn fun, and way too fuckin’ friendly, and pretty…
Hood shuts that train of thought down hard. Yeah, he’s been alone a little too long if he’s starting to seriously notice fuckin’ Dickie, who is definitely way the hell outta his league, even setting aside their goddamned tangled history and the fact that at least for a few months back when he was a kid the older man was like a big brother to him, right down to the well-meant teasing and playful noogies.
He determinedly does not think about the humiliating crush he had on the handsome older teen back then, before he wised up and realized what a goddamn embarrassment of a human being the first Robin actually is. Seriously, Discowing.
And… damn, Nightwing’s answering Hood’s question, he should probably fuckin’ pay attention.
“Well, you’re here, working in our city, following our rules, and you seem to have this habit of jumping in to save the day whenever one of us is in trouble. Don’t you want to work with us directly? I mean, it would save effort if you and Batman could just give each other updates instead of wasting so much time creepily stalking each other.” Nightwing grins playfully and Red Hood can’t suppress his snort of laughter.
“Listen, ‘Wing, that’s really fuckin’ sweet but there’s reasons I ain’t—” Red Hood’s voice dies in his throat as a cry goes up from somewhere nearby and he and Nightwing both turn as one, then race to the source of the disturbance.
It’s way too easy for the pair of them to take down the trio of young, clearly nervous and inexperienced teens awkwardly holding up a tired-looking businessman who seems like he’d almost prefer to just hand over his wallet right then and there if it will get him home to bed any sooner.
Hood’s a damn softie on kids, so he barely roughs ‘em up at all before sending them on their way with a growled warning as Nightwing quickly checks the businessman over and then calls him a cab once it’s clear he’s uninjured. One of the teens slows down to leer at Nightwing’s admittedly very impressive posterior, so Hood makes a show of tossing the switchblade he confiscated, spinning it in the air and allowing the flashing blade to reflect the light before he catches it and takes a menacing step toward the little asshole.
The kid goes pale and runs after his cohorts, leaving a small puddle of shame on the ground that makes Hood snort in amused disbelief as he folds the switchblade and tucks it away.
“…Did you just make a kid cry?” Nightwing sounds torn between disapproving and highly entertained as he follows Hood back up the nearest rooftop.
“Naw, but I’m pretty sure he wet himself.” At the other vigilante’s incredulous look, Hood scowls beneath the helmet, folding his arms defensively across his chest. “Little pervert was starin’ at your ass!”
Nightwing blinks, turning to look after the long-departed young thugs in what appears to be genuine shock. “Um. My butt?” He seems a little confused, so Hood helpfully clarifies.
“Yeah, your ass. Had to teach the little fucker a lesson in respect.” He tilts his head, considering. “Ya think I was too harsh on the kid? I mean, your ass is fuckin’ distracting in that skin-tight costume of yours. Hell, I’d give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.” The regret hits before the words are even fully out of his mouth, but it’s already too late.
Nightwing twitches in surprise, twisting to stare at Red Hood with wide, surprised eyes, and—the older vigilante's blushing. He fidgets and looks away, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and rubbing the back of his neck, a tiny, uncertain smile on his face as he lets out an awkward little laugh.
Hood replays what he just said in his mind so he can mentally writhe in excruciating embarrassment at what he totally accidentally implied.
Oh my fuckin’ god, did I just fuckin’ proposition him, what the hell? Jesus Christ, I think I just offered to finger Dickie. Damn, I've gotta apologize quick before he takes offense…
He doesn't get the chance, because the shorter man has already recovered from his flustered confusion and is smiling brightly at him. “Um, that's very flattering, Hood, but I’d prefer to get to know you better before we do anything like that.” He winks as he pivots in place and then jumps off the building with an extra flourish and what looks like a totally unnecessary shimmy of his glorious ass.
Hood gapes after him for a long, long moment before following, mind awhirl with new possibilities.
A soft grunt is the only sign that anything’s wrong and Nightwing doesn’t have time to investigate it immediately because he’s far too occupied with countering and immobilizing the half-dozen pathetic excuses for human beings who chose to make their living trafficking people.
Hood’s fine, he reassures himself as he follows through to bind the last thug before finally turning to where the other vigilante is currently slamming his fist into the leader’s jaw, sending him to the floor where he lands with a dull thud on the pile of criminals the big vigilante had already brought down before Nightwing dropped in on the fight. Flooded with relief at the sight of the other man still up and moving and apparently fine, he flashes a smile before quickly calling in to report the crime scene and then moving to help free the girls.
It’s only after all the action’s died down that Hood’s stiff movements and awkward grip as he grapples up to the roof send all Nightwing’s protective instincts into overdrive. “Where are you hurt?” he growls, all but wrapping his arms around the bigger man to catch him as he fumbles the landing. He doesn’t wait for an answer and begins sliding his hands over the other man’s body, mentally cursing the layers of material and thick body armor which make it all but impossible to locate any injuries.
“Fuck!” Hood tries to jerk back, startled, but freezes as the movement jars whatever wound is slowing him down right now. “Damn, ‘Wing, back off and lemme fuckin’ breathe, yeah? I swear, it ain’t that bad!”
But he’s found the place where the other vigilante’s jacket is seeping red at the shoulder. He’s already gripping it in preparation to tear when a big hand over his stops him and he looks up challengingly. “I’m not leaving you until this is taken care of,” he warns.
To his surprise, Hood huffs a laugh and shakes his head almost fondly. “Yeah, that’s fine I guess. Just didn’t want you to fuck up my jacket. I got a safehouse nearby, wanna come and play nurse?” From the sound of his voice, he’s almost certainly leering and Nightwing rolls his eyes.
“Yes, actually, that’s exactly what I want to do.” He smiles brightly, ignoring Hood’s snort of laughter as he dips a shoulder to draw the taller man’s uninjured arm over his and take some of his weight while they awkwardly, and with lots of accidental body contact, make their way a few blocks across the rooftops to a nondescript warehouse that turns out to contain a utilitarian but functional safehouse.
Having our arms wrapped around each other would be so much more romantic and enjoyable if he weren’t groaning in pain every time I unintentionally jar his injury, Nightwing thinks wistfully, feeling slightly guilty for enjoying the sensation of Hood’s big, muscular arm wrapped around his shoulders and the way even though he’s not a small man himself, the larger vigilante towers over him.
His heart rate is faster than usual and it isn’t just because of adrenaline from the fight and worry over his friend’s injuries. No, Nightwing’s man enough to admit when he’s got it bad. And after four months of swinging by a few times a week to share patrol, enjoying rooftop picnics involving every kind of street food Gotham has to offer, and watching the occasional cult classic playing at the drive-in theater from a nearby rooftop on the slow nights, he’s definitely gotten to know the other man well enough for his little crush to grow into something a whole lot more.
He follows Hood’s directions to retrieve the medical supplies while the injured man shrugs awkwardly out of his leather jacket and body armor amidst much muttered cursing, fending off Nightwing’s attempts to help pull it all off over the helmet. As he follows the now topless and very fit vigilante into the small bathroom, he eyes the surfaces distrustfully and wishes he could’ve taken him back to the Cave, or at least one of his own safehouses. This can’t be sanitary.
“Tis but a scratch,” Hood murmurs in a warm, deep voice which contains a hint of laughter, and Nightwing realizes with a thrilling jolt that even though the other man’s still wearing the helmet, the synthesizer’s off.
Damn, even his real voice is hot.
He laughs at the reference even as Hood perches on the edge of the tub so he can reach the wound. He switches out his gloves for a pair of nitriles after washing his hands, and begins cleaning and disinfecting the area before inspecting the injury. It looks like a sharp blade managed to penetrate right through one of the seams of Hood’s body armor and left a narrow but moderately deep cut in his thick, sculpted deltoid as an undesirable souvenir of the night’s work.
“Just a flesh wound, huh? Now I’m even more worried. You’d totally say the same thing if you were down an arm and a leg, wouldn’t you?” Nightwing says teasingly as he irrigates the wound to flush out any foreign matter that hasn’t already been removed by allowing it to bleed freely, relieved beyond measure the injury isn’t worse and the other man’s apparently feeling well enough to quote one of the movies they’ve watched together at him.
Hood shrugs unrepentantly. “Yeah, probably.” He’s chuckling under his breath and Nightwing grins at the rich, mellow sound of his laughter, undisguised by the filters he usually runs. “So, do I need stitches, doc?”
“Hey, I thought we were playing nurse here, quit changing the script!” He teases as he digs through the kit to find the steri-strips. “Butterfly stitches should be fine, I think, but you need antibiotics, and just remember to keep an eye on it? Who knows how clean that blade was…”
“No worries, I know the drill; clinic if there’s any sign of infection or the edges open up again while I’m moving around. As for the nurse thing… you ain’t dressed for that, Pretty Bird.” And there’s that leer in his voice again, making Nightwing flush as he carefully places the stitches. “…Unless you got a nurse costume on under that suit?”
“Maybe I’ll bring some scrubs next time.” He grins playfully before leaning down to carefully press a kiss to the warm skin beside the injury. As he does so, he both feels and hears Hood sucking in a breath and holding it, body suddenly tense. Embarrassed, he pulls back, feeling wrongfooted at the reaction to his automatic gesture. He’s probably just spent too much time dressing Tim’s wounds lately; that kid needs a lot of hugs and kisses to make up for years of lacking parental affection, and he’s gotten pretty good at slipping them in whenever possible in an attempt to remedy that. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking…”
Hood turns to face him, shaking his head and clearing his throat. “Naw, ‘s fine. It just… felt good.” He shifts awkwardly, looking down before glancing back up and shrugging lightly. “Just… been a long damn time since anyone but me really touched my skin like that.”
Nightwing moves, removing the nitrile gloves and dropping them in the trash before slowly reaching out and taking the big man’s warm, rough hand in his, weaving their fingers together and squeezing lightly when the other only sighs. “Hey,” he says after a while.
“Yeah?” Hood doesn’t seem to be aware that his thumb’s moving, lightly rubbing circles on the back of Nightwing’s hand.
“You’re planning to burn this safehouse in the morning, right?” It’s basically a given considering how meticulously careful the other has always been about preserving his identity and independence.
“Oh hell yeah. Probably tonight right after you leave.” Because no matter how close they’ve grown, there are still barriers they don’t cross with each other. Yet.
He shakes his head, smiling ruefully. “Right, I figured as much. Before you do that…” He hesitates because they’ve never really hung out together while not on patrol, but… Tonight’s been a night of firsts already, hasn’t it? So why not at least give it a shot?
“…You wanna order some takeout and find something to watch for a few hours first?” It’s always fun trying to catch glimpses of Hood’s face when the other man tilts his helmet back to eat, although he’s never seen more than a flash of strong jaw and determined chin. And he’d spotted a small television and pile of dvds in the front room on the way in, probably a remnant of whomever owned this place before Hood got a hold of it. “The previous tenants leave you anything good?”
Hood’s grip tightens on his hand for a moment before he releases it and stands, rolling his shoulders and wincing as he checks his mobility. “Fuck it, it’s still early but I’m done for the night, so why the hell not? Sure, the Thai place down the street is fuckin’ amazing. But the movies ain’t from the last guys who lived here—” Nightwing can hear the grin in the other’s voice as he continues. “Those are mine. Hey, how many versions of Pride and Prejudice have you seen?”
His mouth drops open slightly and the other man clearly reads the answer on his face because he starts to laugh.
“None? No worries, Pretty Bird, we can start with the oldest and work our way forward.” And he places a big hand in the middle of Nightwing’s back and leads him back out to begin their night of delicious food and witty English period romance, which…
Well, actually sounds pretty damn good, honestly. Although… “Um. I have work in the morning, are we planning to watch all of them tonight?”
Hood nudges him down onto the rather questionable-looking couch and huffs a laugh as he thumbs an order into what’s almost certainly a burner phone. “Oh, ‘Wing. We’re not even gonna get through the six-hour miniseries tonight, let alone any of the newer stuff.”
As Nightwing chokes slightly at the idea of watching quite that much English period romance all at once, Hood continues, sounding excited, “Guess we’ll hafta schedule more of these meetups till we get through ‘em all.”
And whatever he says after that is lost because Nightwing’s heart is racing and he’s grinning like a stupid kid, all because the guy he likes wants to see more of him. It’s not exactly dating, but really, while his interest is leaning that way pretty strongly, he’d be happy just to have this man as a friend with a chance to be there for him when he needs support.
“Sounds good to me,” he says, leaning back on the couch and getting as comfortable as possible while still in the suit. Hood starts the movie and sprawls next to him, groaning as he relaxes.
One thing’s for sure, Nightwing thinks as he takes the opportunity to eye up the bigger man’s really impressive body again, this time taking in the sheer extent and magnitude of the scars that mark his well-muscled torso and arms. If this is an alternate universe Bruce, I’ll eat a batarang. No version of B has so little body hair.
He smiles, finally setting to rest the tiny voice that’s been screaming quietly in horror in the back of his mind ever since Batman suggested Red Hood might be a version of himself from an alternate universe.
Anyway, I don’t care who he turns out to be. I know him and care about him as he is, no matter what face he’s hiding under that helmet. And for right now, that’s good enough.
Nightwing feels a little nudge against his hand on the couch and glances down to see Hood’s hand is lying next to his now, palm up. He smiles and shifts his own to cover the other which immediately tightens to hold on to him. More than good enough, he thinks happily as he leans slightly closer to Hood so their shoulders are pressing together.
…Still. I’m so glad he didn’t turn out to have a Bruce-pelt.
Yay, no Bruce-pelt here. Art by Kaworu.
“I swear they’re up to somethin’,” Red Robin mutters darkly, handing the binoculars over to Robin so the younger boy can get a look at their targets on the rooftop opposite the one where they’re currently crouched behind a low wall, observing.
“I still think they’re just patrolling together and you’re being weird about this because you’re so uncomfortable with the idea of being around the other Bats again.” Robin stiffens immediately after speaking and whips the binoculars down to turn wide eyes toward him. “Not that you should be around them if you don’t want to, or…”
Damn, I’m glad Timmy finally came clean and admitted he’d figured out who I really am. It’s so much better being able to just talk to him about all this shit.
Although that little revelation had come as quite a shock, causing Red Robin a momentary burst of panic when Robin brought the subject up two months into their secret joint patrols. The panic didn’t last long due to how quickly the younger boy had reassured him that he would be there to support him in whatever he wanted to do, and his promise to keep the knowledge secret.
Dunno why I was even fuckin’ surprised he figured most of it out on his own, anyway, he thinks fondly. Baby Bird’s way the hell too smart to fool for long.
He chuckles, waving off the other boy’s stuttered apologies. “Naw, you’re right. I know I gotta face ‘em eventually, just wanna get myself a little more established in my new vigilante identity first. I mean, I ain’t the same bratty kid who died, y’know? I can’t go back to who I was then, no matter how much any of us wants me to. So if I want ‘em to see me as more than just who I was before, the best way to do that is to figure out who I am now before tryin’ to explain it to them.” He shrugs awkwardly, hoping he’s managed to put how he feels into words clearly enough for his friend to understand.
“That… actually makes a lot of sense. Only… you guys have been back in Gotham for six months now, and I don’t think our luck’s gonna hold out much longer. I’m positive Oracle knows something, and it’s only a matter of time before Batman catches on. Especially with Nightwing spending even more time with Red Hood lately than they were before. I mean, what is this, the fourth night this week they’ve patrolled together?” Robin falls to muttering, apparently trying to calculate some kind of pattern to explain the increased joint patrols between the older vigilantes.
Red Robin takes the binoculars back, snorting. “I don’t really care if it’s just a joint case or whatever, but if Hood’s planning to reconnect with the Bats without even telling me… well, that’s bullshit.” He’s aware he’s probably being unfair, but the idea of having any of his decisions taken away from him sends his heart racing and his vision green, so he figures he’s allowed to be a little touchy about the idea of his big brother ganging up on him with his other big brother to drag him home before he’s made that choice for himself.
Scowling, he peers through the binoculars, then gawks at what he sees. “Holy shit!”
Robin immediately grabs for the binoculars, trying to see for himself. “What? Are they being attacked? Is Batman there? Red, answer me!”
He swallows, still just staring because this does not fuckin’ compute, okay. “They’re… holding hands.”
He tears himself away from the binoculars and hands them over to the smaller boy, who takes a deep breath before peeking through them, quickly setting them down afterward. “Huh. That’s… weird.”
“Right?” Red Robin probably shouldn’t be surprised exactly that Hood might want to find romantic companionship in this world, but his choice of companion is a little fuckin’ unexpected.
…So damn weird.
Meanwhile, Robin’s picked up the binoculars again and is gamely peeking through. “And… um. Now they’re spreading a blanket out on the roof?” The younger boy’s voice breaks in a squeak and Red Robin immediately reacts to the note of discomfort by reaching over and snagging the binoculars out of his hand, dropping them on the ledge and running a soothing hand up and down the blushing smaller boy’s back.
“Damn, sorry kiddo, rooftop sex was so not what I was expecting to see tonight. Don’t those assholes have any sense of goddamn decency?” If they’re managed to traumatize his younger partner with this, he’s gonna put itching powder in their suits for the next month.
“So…” Robin bites his lip, looking a little uncomfortable. “Do you… want to, um… keep… watching?” He squeezes his eyes closed and hurries on, cheeks flaming. “Because I really don’t want to see if they decide to, um, do more than hold hands? But I guess I’ll look if you really want me to, only please don’t because Dick’s kinda like a brother to me and yeah, ew.” He shudders, an adorable little grimace on his cute face.
“Oh fuck, of course I won’t make you do that, Jesus no! I’d never make you do anything you didn’t want, Baby Bird.” Still, it would be nice to have a little more confirmation Hood and ‘Wing are just engaging in some adult extracurricular activities and not plotting Red Robin’s involuntary outing and eventual confrontation with the rest of the family.
It’s not like he would really mind the Bats finding out about him soon, just… not like this. Hell, he’d rather have it found out by accident than face even a minor betrayal by someone he trusts.
They both eye the binoculars resting on the ledge between them distrustfully. Red Robin swallows, straightening his shoulders and covering the binoculars with his hand. “I’ll do it,” he says manfully, preening as Robin looks up at him with gratitude and awe shining in his pretty blue eyes.
“Thanks, Red,” he whispers bashfully as Red Robin lifts the binoculars and looks through them, wincing at what he might be about to see that he will never be able to unsee.
“Oh hey,” he says, surprised and relieved to find the older pair has spread out food and drinks on the blanket and appear to be occupied with what looks like a very sweet, perfectly innocent rooftop dinner date. “Is that… fajita cheesesteaks?” He squints, trying for a better look.
“Fajita cheesesteaks?!” Robin practically rips the binoculars out of his hand, little mouth dropping open as he stares through them intently. “It is,” he hisses, turning to face Red. “I want one,” he says in a little growl that should not be affecting him this way, damn it.
Damn, I’ve never seen him quite this excited about food before. Guess fajita cheesesteaks are somethin’ special.
Red Robin clears his throat, buying himself a moment to regain his composure and frantically trying to think of a way out of this that doesn’t end with him awkward and uncomfortable as Robin innocently eats something long, thick and cylindrical in front of him, all the while making those delectable, sexy little noises that should be fuckin’ illegal, damn it.
He doesn’t find one. “Uh, I’ll go down and buy us a couple,” he says, defeated. He perks up a bit at the way the younger boy glows at his capitulation.
“Buy at least four,” he says, still in that cute as fuck little growl, and yeah.
He’s fuckin’ whipped, and the next half hour’s gonna be excruciating. But it’s also gonna be awesome, just like any time they spend together. He’s grinning as he hits the street, comfortably resigned to his doom.
This is shaping up to be a good night, all in all.
His big brother’s just dating Nightwing, not involuntarily outing him to the Bats, Timmy’s adorable and it’s not that many years till they’ll both be eighteen, and yeah.
Life fuckin’ rocks.
Jason, accidentally flirting: “Your ass is great! Two thumbs up!” *Immediately realizes double entendre, unsuccessfully attempts to implode through sheer embarrassment*
Dick, blushing but considering it: “I think we'll have to work up to that, but okay!”
Jason, injured and half-stripped but still managing to quote Monty Python: “I've had worse”
Dick, gently tending his wounds while surreptitiously feeling him up, whispering: “I'm SO glad you don't have a Bruce-pelt”
Jay, spying on Dick and Jason: “OMG” *Flings down binoculars in horror at sight of brother-figures making out*
Timmy, innocently: “What's wrong?” *Looks before Jay manages to stop him, spots cheesesteaks* “I NEED THAT INSIDE ME”
Jay, handing him one: “I'm gonna fuckin' regret this” *Prepares to suffer, knowing it'll hurt so good*
The marvelous Kaworu created some gorgeous art for the last chapter, so if you missed it go back and check out the link in the end notes for Chapter 2. Thanks for sharing your beautiful work, Kaworu! Also, huge thank you to everyone who has read, commented, or given kudos to this story so far! :D
…Updated because the awesome Kaworu has once again created some glorious art for this story! Check out Dick and Jason during the shirtless scene at Dick's moment of realization that his mysterious stranger does not, in fact, possess a Bruce-pelt (here). I adore this. Thank you so much for once more creating and sharing your wonderful art, Kaworu! :)
The lovely Kaworu has once again shared some absolutely wonderful art for this story, so go check out the previous chapter end notes for the link if you missed it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Red Hood’s distracted brooding over his relationship with Nightwing when it finally happens.
Sure, Dickie’s gorgeous, smart, charming, and kind, along with a whole damn list of other virtues. The desire to just throw himself into whatever it is that’s growing between them is so damn appealing when they flirt, or beat up assholes together, or even when they’re just hanging out—but the older man has no idea who he is.
He definitely wouldn’t be flirting if he knew.
Maybe once the kid’s ready to talk to the Bats and he can come clean about who he is as well, then if Dickie’s still interested… He flushes involuntarily under the helmet, imagining smooth golden olive skin and dark blue eyes, joyful grins and teasing laughter and hours spent together just fuckin’ reading, or cooking, or watching stupid movies… and fuck, it’s a pretty picture. Just a dream, though, because there’s no way…
He isn’t gonna go for it. Not once he knows it’s me under here, and what I’ve been fuckin’ keeping from him…
The guilt twists in his gut like a knife because he knows just how much Jay’s death affected Dickie, changed the whole landscape of the family and not in a good way. Even though he has his reasons, the fact that he kept Jay hidden from them for so long is gonna go down like a goddamn lead balloon.
Fuck it, at least I can make the most of whatever time we still have before Jay decides he’s ready to face the Bats. Resolved, he shakes it off and focuses back on the much more enjoyable task of patrolling with Nightwing.
So obviously that’s when they stumble onto the fuckin’ kid on patrol. Because Red Hood’s life is just a series of times fate dangled happiness within reach of his grasping fingertips right before snatching it away, setting it on fire before his stunned eyes, and then blowing him up for funsies. Fate is a goddamn bitch.
“…Robin?” Nightwing sounds confused and questioning as he catches sight of the uniformed teen currently laying out muggers in the alley below them. A furious-looking prostitute the assholes were apparently roughing up kicks each prone, unconscious body hard in the balls before spinning on his heel and hurrying away with a quick nod of thanks to his rescuer.
Fuck! I knew Robin was staying in tonight to study for a test, it seemed like a reasonable time to have Jay take a night off so I could run routine diagnostics on his damn helmet. I shoulda known better than to think he’d just sit around at home all night. Of fuckin’ course he’d sneak out and patrol by himself anyway, in a damn domino no less…!
There’s no way Nightwing could mistake the young vigilante for Tim; for one thing, he’s already got about six inches on the diminutive third Robin, and around fifty pounds of muscle. For another, that’s not exactly the Robin suit he’s wearing. And… the kid glances around at the sound of Nightwing’s voice, face beyond the mask devastatingly visible in the moonlight.
“Jay?” Nightwing whispers hoarsely, leaning out over the edge of the rooftop and freezing, just staring down into the alley as below, Red Robin finally looks up and spots them, freezing as well.
“Aw, fucknuggets,” Red Robin curses as Red Hood facepalms right into the helmet. This is not how he’d intended to reintroduce Baby Jay to the family.
Well, whatever. Nightwing’s as good a place to start as any, and it’s probably better to quit delaying the inevitable. They’ve been in Gotham eight months now, after all, and it’s just gonna hurt more in the end the longer he and ‘Wing keep up this dance. Maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and come clean.
“C’mon up here, kid,” Hood orders and Red Robin obeys with alacrity, the regretful, slightly scared expression on his face probably more due to being caught than any guilt over sneaking out to patrol in the first place. Nightwing lifts his whiteouts and stares at them with wide, wet eyes as Hood quickly checks Red Robin over, relieved to find no noticeable injuries. The kid’s plenty competent, but he’s used to patrolling with a partner so it’s a damn relief nothing seems to have gone wrong while he was on his own.
“Oh my god,” Nightwing whispers, half-reaching out to Red Robin before pulling his hands back to wrap tightly around his own midsection. He sounds like he’s about to start yelling or maybe burst into tears, and Hood has a stupid urge to fold him up in a tight hug until his voice stops sounding like that.
He keeps his hands to himself, figuring a hug would be very damn far from welcome right now.
Nightwing’s running a shaky hand through his hair, still staring at them and muttering under his breath. “This is why, isn’t it? Why you didn’t just come to us when you landed in our universe, why you’ve resisted working any more closely with the Bats than running patrols with me. B thought you were trying to atone for not being able to prevent whatever disaster happened in your world, but… you didn’t come here alone. You’ve got your Jason here too…”
His eyes widen slightly, a mark of distress bleeding through his iron control. “Oh, hell—and you saw that we… we lost ours… we messed up… and then of course you couldn’t trust us to keep yours safe when we couldn’t even save our own…” His voice is tight with self-recrimination.
Fuckin’ what? That… is not how I expected him to react to this. Red Hood makes eyes contact with Red Robin, who looks back at him with mixed confusion and trepidation. He gives him a little shrug and nods toward Nightwing, who’s spilling closely guarded Bat theories about Red Hood right and left. Might as well let Dickie finish before setting him straight, find out if B has any other little theories about him. Apparently he figured out the multiverse side of things at some point along the way, because of fuckin’ course he did. Damn Bats.
…Unless Dickie actually starts to cry, in which case Hood won’t be able to hold himself back from instantly comforting the other man and telling him fuckin’ anything to get him to smile again. Just the idea of a crying Nightwing gives him hives; he never wants to see Dickie’s control break that badly and he sure as shit doesn’t wanna be responsible for causing that kind of reaction. Whatever, ‘Wing’s a lot more likely to start throwing punches anyway, and Hood knows exactly how to deal with that.
Nightwing lowers his hands to his sides, squaring his shoulders against Hood. “I can never, ever make amends for failing him in this universe…” He breaks off for a moment, jaw tightening. “…But I swear I will never make the same mistake again. You guys can trust us, okay? And I’ll keep trying to help you both, until you can believe that.” The corners of his lips lift in a valiant attempt at a reassuring smile.
Red Hood sighs. Jesus, Dickie. He reaches out a hand and rests it on little Red’s shoulder. “Nightwing, this is Red Robin.” Unthinkingly, he reaches out his other arm for Nightwing, curving his hand around the shorter man’s lower back and gently drawing him closer. The other man doesn’t immediately protest the touch so he enjoys it while he can.
Nightwing sniffs loudly and scrubs a hand across his face, then brightens. “Oh, hey, he’s Red Robin, because you’re Red Hood? That’s different, but I guess it’ll be convenient not to have two Robins operating at the same time.” He tilts his head. “…So, since the cat’s out of the bag… any chance you’ll give me a name, or at least a hint about who you really are?” He scrunches up his face. “Because while the fact that you don’t have a thick hairy pelt has gone a long way toward reassuring me that Batman’s theory is wrong and you aren’t actually an alternate universe B, a little actual confirmation would be tremendously appreciated as otherwise all our flirting will seem retroactively weird.”
Hood just stares at him, dumbfounded, as Red Robin starts laughing so hard he chokes and starts coughing, bending over at the waist to wheeze as he continues to gasp out rasping little crows of laughter.
What the fuck B, are you fuckin’ insane?
Nightwing takes his silence the wrong way and makes a face, shifting carefully away from Hood. “Oh.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Well, damn. Sorry about all the flirting, then? I mean… if it’s been bothering you or anything.” He shrugs, looking conflicted. “Although I gotta tell you, I’m really into you and I’m pretty sure at this point you could take off the helmet and no matter who you look like I’d still want you.”
Holy shit. Red Hood’s never taken off the helmet so fast in his life. “Oh Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Dickiebird, I am not B. I got no idea how the fuck you guys even got that idea, holy shit.”
Nightwing’s staring at him with those huge eyes again, blinking back and forth between the two versions of Jason in front of him. “Um.” He blinks some more, then reaches out to carefully poke first Red Hood, then Red Robin in the shoulder. “Well. Actually, this was pretty unexpected. It may… take me awhile to get used to this.”
Red Robin snorts a laugh, having just barely recovered from his earlier fit. “Damn, I think you broke him.”
Hood feels kinda bad for laughing at that.
After a few more blinks, Nightwing tilts his head. “So… it appears B’s theory about Red Hood being a version of himself from another universe might need a little work.”
Red Hood chuckles, grinning at the other man. “Eh, he was right about the other universe thing. But why the fuck did you guys think I was him?”
Nightwing shrugs. “Similar build and fighting style, obvious Bat family insider knowledge. I didn’t buy it, but I didn’t have a better alternative to offer, so I couldn’t toss the idea out entirely either.”
“And all the fuckin’ profanity and guns, not to mention the totally different costume?” He lifts a challenging brow.
“We just figured you came from a harsher reality! I mean, you may use guns, but those are rubber bullets. And you still have a bat on your chest. It was a reasonable assumption!” A frown gathers at Nightwing’s brow, and he turns to look at Red Robin again, breath catching. “So… are you both refugees from other worlds? How did you even end up together, anyway?”
Red Robin sobers quickly, biting his lip as he shakes his head slowly, not taking his eyes off Nightwing. “I think… we should head back to a safehouse if we’re gonna talk about this bullshit tonight. But… I’m not from another world.” He takes a deep breath and then slowly releases it. “I’m from this one. Hey there, Big Bird.” He gives him a crooked, rueful grin. “Missed you.”
Nightwing stops breathing. “Little Wing? …Jay?” He looks torn between doubt and hope. “But… how?” His eyes are tracing the white streaks in their hair and there’s a stricken look on his face and a gathering knowledge and pained denial in his eyes.
“There was a fuckin’ Pit involved.” Red Hood doesn’t like the expression of horror or the way Nightwing takes his words like a blow to the chest. He gets a hand on both Dickie and the kid and herds them toward the nearest safehouse.
Fuck, all this emotional bullshit is gonna give him indigestion, but it’s sure as hell gonna be a relief to get it all off his chest. Even though it probably means whatever’s been going on between him and Dickie’s over now. Whatever, it’s not like he’d planned for any of that to happen anyway, and Dick probably never would’ve flirted with him in the first place if he’d known who Jason really is.
He can’t lose something that was never really his in the first place.
Dick runs a thumb over his phone, willing it to chime with a new text from Red Hood. Jason. He still isn’t quite sure what to think about the identity of the ruggedly handsome, rough-around-the-edges, hilariously awkward, but above all kind-hearted man who dropped into their lives almost nine months ago and changed everything.
He’s the one who pushed Tim back into the family and rescued Jay from whatever hell on earth the al Ghuls were planning for him. Even if he wasn’t open about any of it, the fact remains he’s been saving them all this time in more ways than any of them knew.
…Although apparently everyone had suspected something, considering the family’s reactions once the truth came out. Dick’s a bit annoyed with himself for not noticing Robin’s patrol partner earlier, especially since Batman turned out to have been aware of Red Robin’s existence for months now and apparently only refrained from confronting him because he, too, assumed the boy was Jason from an alternate universe. Of course, Bruce’s reaction to that little theory had been to brood over it while telling no one, overcome with his own guilt over the boy’s death in their universe.
And Oracle had been aware of the young vigilante’s existence as well and kept silent for her own reasons. Dick suspects she had her eye on the kids more often than not and had hoped the boys’ partnership, as well as the friendship growing between Nightwing and Red Hood, would help draw the two new vigilantes into the fold better than any confrontation and interrogation involving Batman.
At least it all seems to have worked out. He’s so glad Jay’s been visiting the Manor regularly since the night the truth came out, spending time with the younger boys and renewing his family ties with Bruce and Alfred.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s…
Lonely. Missing Jason.
It had seemed logical at the time to take a step back and rethink his relationship with the other vigilante. He’d thought he was ready to find any face under the helmet, but seeing another version of Jason was an unexpected blow that struck him hard. The other man may be only a year younger than Dick himself now because of time travel shenanigans, but they still have a shared history that isn’t exactly conducive to romance. Not to mention the whole hiding Jay from the family issue, however mitigating the circumstances.
Well, it’s been a month now and he’s pretty sure at this point his attraction to the other man isn’t just going to disappear.
In fact… he doesn’t want it to go away.
Wherever he came from, however close it may have been to this world… things are different now. We’re different now. I know him and care about him, and I’m sure he feels the same way about me. And if we can be happy… together… why not at least try?
He slowly smiles as the resolve crystallizes in his mind. I told Hood I needed some time to come to terms with everything… I guess that time is up. I can’t wait to talk to him in more than text messages; they’re okay for the basics but I think it’s time we had a real talk about what we’re doing and where we’re going from here.
Dick sighs as he reluctantly lowers the phone, but can’t quite bring himself to put it down yet. Jason had looked so resigned when he left them in the safehouse that night, like he never expected him to come back. Even reassuring him over text messages that he definitely plans to start patrolling with the other vigilante again once things calm down hasn’t seemed to reassure him.
I probably shouldn’t ask him out over text message. That kind of thing deserves an in-person talk.
But he’s neck deep in everything going on in Blüdhaven right now and he really has to get down to business so he can finally bring down Blockbuster’s criminal empire and free the city from the villain’s stranglehold. Despite his best efforts, the BPD still isn’t clean, and now he’s been fired so he can’t even keep working that angle anymore.
Everything’s a mess, and Dick wishes he could hop a train over to Gotham and bring Red Hood some tea, beat up a few bad guys together, catch a movie at the drive-in, or maybe just sit on a rooftop under the nonexistent stars and watch the city while talking about everything and nothing.
I hadn’t realized how much a part of my life he’d become until I had to take a step back. I want… I really want to get to spend more time with him again. As soon as Blüdhaven’s cleaned up…
The phone in his hand rings, and he glances down at it, hopeful and then startled as he recognizes the number. Haly’s Circus? I wonder what they want… He thinks about it for a moment, then smiles, glad for the distraction from the circular mess of his thoughts. “Hello?”
Jason, angsting over secrets he's keeping from Dick: *Decides to treasure the time they still have together before Dick finds out about Jay and blows up like an angry but attractive volcano*
Jay, waving at a stunned Dick: “Hey guys!”
Jason, done with everything: “Goddammit!”
Dick, still caring about Jason despite all the layers of deception: “Aww I can't stay mad at him!” *Phone rings ominously* “And I'll tell him, as soon as I've dealt with whatever this is!”
Jason, elsewhere but somehow sensing a disturbance in the Force: “Goddammit!”
Warning this chapter for brief attempted non-con.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Red Hood growls as his motorcycle roars, flying across the miles that separate Gotham from Blüdhaven. The pouring rain runs down his helmet in torrents and he fucking hates that he can’t just punch it and go even faster. No one knows where Dick is or if he’s injured or even if he’s alive, and he is not okay with that.
Screw givin’ Dickie a little space, he’s fuckin’ had space, I gave him all the goddamn space! And now he’s fuckin’, fuckin’…
Jesus please don’t let him be fuckin’ hurt. Or…
Hood sets his jaw and keeps going, internally castigating himself for not keeping a better eye on Dickie over the past couple of months while the other man was thinking things over. He’d known Nightwing was facing some pushback in Blüdhaven, but not like this…
I shoulda goddamn known how bad it was, why the hell didn’t I ever realize…? But, as he recognizes with a sick upwelling of guilt, he already knows the reason. Up until his arrival in the past, he’d always thought of Dick Grayson as the Bats’ Golden Boy, the one who never really fucked up like the rest of them, who always managed to skate through it all so fuckin’ effortlessly without any of life’s shit ever sticking to him.
It wasn’t until they grew close here without the obstacles of their personal history and expectations and all the other goddamn bullshit getting in the way that he really learned to see through all of Dickie’s true masks. Fucking Golden Boy is a goddamn mask, and Jason never knew it before. All the Bats are better at wearing masks than he is, hell, that’s half the reason he wears the damn helmet, but that doesn’t make him feel any better about missing so much about Dick the first time around.
Sure, integrating teams and working with the Bats lately has been a hell of a distraction, not to mention Spoiler showing up in the field right in the damn middle of everything. At least he was able to convince B not to be a complete asshole there and the boys have been looking out for her.
And he’s spent the past two weeks undercover and out of touch with anyone, but… If he’d just kept track of the older former Robin better back in his original timeline, he would’ve fucking known and been able to protect him here, regardless of their relationship drama.
I shoulda fuckin’ kept a better eye on him. BRUCE shoulda fucking kept a better eye on him. Even as he thinks it, Hood knows he isn’t being completely fair. Dick can be so damn stubborn and self-sacrificing, he should’ve just fuckin’ asked for help.
When Hood returned to his safehouse after completing the undercover portion of his latest case and filing the report with the Bats, he’d been goddamn floored to see the news reports of Haly’s Circus, fuckin’ burned to the ground. And of fucking course, there were clips of Dickie Goddamn Grayson performing, flipping gracefully through the air right before motherfucking Firefly started to burn the hell outta everything.
Trying to check on his cameras around Dick’s safehouse, and finding his whole goddamn apartment building fucking blown up.
Oracle was some help, filling them in on what Nightwing’s been working on, but she’s pissed as fuck for some reason. Hood’s pretty sure she and Golden Boy haven’t been a thing for a long while now, but damn is she still mad as hell at him about something. Either way, she’s been too damn busy taking care of Cass, who they finally managed to get a fuckin’ lead on and bring in a few weeks ago, to do much in the way of lookin’ after her wayward ex-boyfriend.
Whatever, Dick’s the most important thing right now.
Everyone else is tied up in Gotham, handling the usual ever-escalating criminal element, but they’ve got it under control, and they’re all trusting Jason to save Dick from whatever the fuck is going on in Blüdhaven.
Dickiebird, I’m so fuckin’ sorry. We all really let you down on this shit, but I’m comin’ for you now, I swear. And if anyone fuckin’ laid a goddamn finger on you…
He almost loses control of the damn bike as he careens around a corner on the slippery streets, following the steady blip of the trackers in Nightwing’s uniform and abandoning the bike when he finally approaches the building where the tracker is stalled.
Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, please for the love of fuck don’t be dead Dickie…
Even if whatever was between them is over and gone now, he can’t handle anything happening to the other man, needs him to be alive and well and happy, even if it will never be with him.
Hood’s instincts take him to the roof; from there, he can infiltrate the building, locate Nightwing, ascertain the situation and take down any enemy combatants before—
He’s on the roof. Nightwing is on the roof.
Nightwing, who’s lying there all beat up and exhausted on a goddamn rooftop as some bitch climbs on top of him, intentions obvious.
“No,” Nightwing whispers, voice so small and choked and hoarse, and Red Hood can’t move.
Can’t even breathe.
This fuckin’ can’t be happening. Not to him, not to Dickie…
“Don’t touch me—” Nightwing’s voice reaches him and the goddamn hopelessness in that soft, tremulous, helpless plea ignites a volcanic rage that burns through Hood like a consuming fire.
That goddamn piece of shit touches him, and that’s it.
Hood’s incandescent fury carries him onto the roof and slams him into that rapist bitch before she has a chance to do more than start to open her own costume.
“You fuckin’ goddamn monster, how fuckin’ dare you—” Hood growls, slamming the unknown costumed woman’s head down on the roof just hard enough to stun her despite his own consuming need to rip her shriveled black heart right outta her goddamn chest.
How the fuck could anyone wanna hurt Dickie like that? The hell is wrong with you…
He crouches over her, trembling with fury and the need to rid the world of her filth, his mind a storm of rage and horror as he thinks through what was about to happen, what almost certainly did happen here on this godforsaken rooftop, back in his own original world.
Jesus Christ. Dickie—
If he hadn’t been here to stop her…
He squeezes his eyes shut, biting back the shout of rage and grief at knowing this worthless piece of shit fuckin’ raped Dickie back in his original world. And knowing Dick, stupid self-sacrificing Dickiebird… he never told anyone. Never got any help.
He really wants to kill her, but… he won’t.
The reason he didn’t shoot her the second he realized what was going on whimpers and curls in on himself slightly, blinking glassy unfocused eyes into the rain that’s pouring down his cheeks like tears. Hell, maybe he is crying. Goddamnit.
Ah, fuck, Dickie…
Clumsily, Red Hood secures the criminal and then moves to kneel beside Nightwing, who flinches and lets out a scared, sad little noise that makes his heart clench as a wave of helpless, protective tenderness rises up outta fuckin’ nowhere and threatens to overwhelm him.
He hates to look, but once he does a wave of relief sweeps through him like a flood. Dick’s uniform is intact. She didn’t manage to… Thank fuck.
“D-don’t—” Dickie stutters, breaking Hood’s heart a little more.
He stares down at the stricken vigilante, hands poised wanting to help but ready to back off if that’s what Dick needs right now. Realizing the helmet probably isn’t doing anything to reassure the traumatized man, he fumbles it off and tries to not notice the way the stricken man flinches as it strikes the roof.
“Dickie,” Jason whispers. “Dick, Dickiebird, shh, you’re safe now, Sweetheart, I ain’t gonna let her hurt you anymore.”
“Hood…?” Dick’s staring at him and blinking, a confused frown gathering at his brow. “What’re you doing here?”
Jason reaches a hand down and tenderly strokes the hair out of Dick’s eyes, relieved beyond measure when the other man doesn’t flinch or shrink from his touch. “Heard you were in a little trouble over here, Dickie. Woulda been here a lot sooner, but I was undercover. I’m so fuckin’ sorry…”
Jason Comforting Dick. Art by Kaworu.
Dick blinks a few more times, then shakes his head a little, wincing as it obviously aggravates some injury. “Not your fault. This was my case. It’s… it’s all my fault…”
To Jason’s horror, Dick’s eyes well up with tears again and he begins to tremble. “Fuck, Dickie!”
Whatever Dick’s feeling guilty about right now, be it the thwarted sexual assault, all the criminal actions assholes have committed in the city he’s taken under his protection, or something else, something Jason hasn’t learned about yet, he’s damn sure it isn’t actually Dick’s fault.
He’s sure as hell not gonna let him wallow in self-blame, either. “Dick… do you think you could hold onto me on my bike right now?” Dark blue eyes blink up at him, tired and hurt and way the fuck too close to broken, and Jason swears again, gently slipping his arms under him to hold him close and safe against his chest. “This okay, Dickie?”
“’S okay ‘f it’s you…” he mumbles, turning his face into Jason’s neck, a worrying hitch in his breathing.
Jason manages to get them to the ground where he quickly breaks into a decent car that’s easy enough to hotwire. I’ll put it back in the morning, he thinks, not even a little bit guilty about temporarily borrowing some asshole’s car so he can bring his hurt Dickiebird home and take care of him.
Dick curls into a ball when Jason places him carefully on the partially reclined passenger seat, his only response when he tucks his jacket around the other man being to sigh and nuzzle deeper into the warmth.
Jason takes a moment on the way back to Gotham to report in to Bats and let him know about the crime scene, the bound, costumed, very much unconscious attempted rapist asshole on the roof, and that they should keep Jay at the Manor for a few more days while he takes care of Dickie at his place, figuring the man probably wouldn’t want everyone to find out what almost happened to him.
Hell, he knows Dick won’t want to tell, considering in his original universe no one has any idea anything like that ever happened to their Nightwing, at least as far as he’s aware.
Throughout the whole drive, Dick is worryingly quiet and still; part of it is clearly that he’s fuckin’ exhausted, but Jason’s still concerned as hell for his mental state.
“Jason,” he whispers when they finally get into the apartment and Jason’s lowering him carefully onto the couch. “Jason… I… I killed him.” His voice catches on a sob and Jason blinks in surprise, leaving a careful distance between them as he sits down at Dick’s side. He has a feeling this conversation might take a while.
“What? Who? You killed someone… you mean, like… accidentally?” That’s pretty much the only way he can imagine Nightwing ever killing someone, honestly. That or not managing to save someone and then blaming himself for it. That would be too fuckin’ like him, actually.
Dick squeezes his eyes closed and shakes his head. “Blockbuster. Not an accident,” he breathes wretchedly, miserable.
Jason still can’t quite wrap his mind around Dick, Dick, ever actually going through with killing someone, even someone as legitimately evil as Roland Desmond aka Blockbuster. It doesn’t make any damn sense. He should probably drop this, he’s being a damn asshole pushing it now while Dickie’s in such a delicate state, but… “Didja like, yell really loud and he had a heart attack? Oracle said the guy had a bad ticker. Dickie, if that’s what happened you gotta know, it ain’t your fault—”
Dick opens his eyes again to glare at him. “What? No, he had a gorilla heart transplant, and anyway that’s not what happened, Jason—”
Gorilla heart transplant…? Jason mouths incredulously, then shakes his head. Maybe Dickie’s a little delirious right now. Which would make sense, considering how many hours the self-sacrificing idiot’s probably gone without sleep. Best humor him, try to figure this shit out so it doesn’t plague him while he should be resting and recovering. “Okay then, Sweetheart, how’d he die?”
“Shot,” Dick whispers wretchedly, and Jason’s eyes fly open wide.
“You shot him?!” Damn, I never woulda thought Dickie would actually bring himself to pull the trigger on someone like that…
Dick shakes his head slowly. “No, not me… Tarantula… that’s… she’s… the woman who was. Um.” He stops for a long moment, clearly very uncomfortable. Throat working convulsively, he manages to get the words out. “On the roof with me.” The corners of his mouth tilt down and he clutches harder at Jason’s jacket, still wrapped around him as he huddles curled in the corner of the couch.
He looks so fuckin’ small right now, and it really hits Jason that he’s a good couple of inches taller than him now and outweighs him by a decent margin. His hair is still wet from the fuckin’ rain and he’s shivering a little.
How the fuck could anyone wanna hurt him… wanna make Dick Goddamn Grayson look small.
Who the hell would want to diminish Dickie’s light when he’s such a rare bright point in this ugly, dark, fucked up world.
Jason wants to go back there and kill her, and the only thing holding him back is the sure knowledge that doing so would hurt Dick even more than everything else that’s already happened tonight. Instead he tucks the edges of his jacket more tightly around the smaller man, helping him warm up a bit.
Dick nestles gratefully into the jacket, giving him a little smile in thanks. “She’s… the one who shot him.”
Huh. Here I was expecting some big, bad confession… but why the hell is he blaming himself like he was the one holding the damn gun? Fuckin’ martyr complex.
Jason raises a skeptical eyebrow. “Dickie.” He leans closer, suddenly worried about concussion, but Dick’s pupils are both normal sized and appear to be responding to light correctly. Returning to his original spot to regard this gorgeous, sweet, warm-hearted man, so smart most of the time but so fuckin’ dumb when it comes to his own self-preservation, he scrubs a hand over his face. “…Sweetheart… you know, when someone else kills someone in front of you… that in no way makes it your fault, right?”
Dick frowns, turning his face away to hide in the folds of Jason’s jacket. When his voice comes again, it’s muffled and guilty. “I stepped out of the way. I let her shoot him.”
As he pieces together more of the events of the past hour, Jason’s fury only grows. The conniving monster up on that rooftop took advantage of Dickie’s exhaustion and state of guilt-stricken grief to try to hurt him even more.
She’s never getting outta jail. I don’t care what I hafta do to make it happen. Maybe I’ll recruit Babs to help, she’s so fuckin’ good with computers we can swing it no problem and even when she’s mad at Dickie, she’d never want him hurt.
Meanwhile, his hands are moving without his conscious volition, one soothingly stroking Dick’s hair back from his forehead and the other seeking and clasping Dick’s hand, which immediately turns in his and clutches at it.
What he needs to say here is difficult, and he’s never managed to find the right words to convince any of them, but he needs to try. For Dickiebird.
“Dick. I know we were raised and trained to believe in black and white morals, that there are no morally justified killings, and that the correct action to take when anyone around us points a gun at someone else is to step the fuck in front of it.”
He pauses, taking in Dick’s stillness and rapt attention to his words.
Please, fuckin’ let me get through to him…
“Dickie. That’s bullshit. There’s goddamn gray areas, okay? Fuckin’ self-defense, and soldiers in wartime, and legally carried out justifiable killings in retribution for crimes committed.”
Dick’s brow furrows, but he slowly nods, so Jason pushes on.
“And then there’s the goddamn death-worshipping garbage who do nothing, give nothing to this world but pain, murder and suffering. Who’ve killed enough people to fill a fuckin’ damn graveyard, and who’re never gonna stop. There’s some cases where the moral goddamn answer is lethal force, because it’s fuckin’ proportionate to the threat.”
Dick makes a noise like he’s going to argue, and Jason closes his eyes because he can’t watch this part. Can’t see the caring, open expression ice over into mistrust and hate. His morals are another barrier between them, just like his name and face and the secrets he kept.
But he won’t, can’t leave him wallowing alone in despair that he failed to live up to Batman’s impossible standards. At least Jason can let him know he’s not the only one who’s fallen short. Even if it ruins any shred of a chance he might still have had to have something good, something more with the beautiful, wonderful man in front of him.
“Joker’s like that,” he whispers hoarsely. “And I did more there than just step outta the way, Dickie.” He opens his stinging eyes and meets Dick’s shocked, dark blue gaze squarely.
“…You killed the Joker? But… B investigated, it was confirmed the Joker blew himself up during an escape attempt…” Dick looks stunned and unsure.
“Naw, was me. I never managed to pull the trigger on him in my original world, even after what he did to me, but I sure as hell worked out a shitload of detailed plans to do the deed even though I didn’t follow through. Designed to fool Bats, guess it paid off in the end.” Jason sighs and rubs a hand across his eyes, then shrugs. “So if you’re gonna hate yourself over this, you gotta hate me too.”
He blinks back the ache in his eyes and waits.
Not for long, because a moment later Dick’s surging up to wrap his arms around his shoulders. “Jason, Jason, oh my god, I don’t hate you for that, of course I don’t hate you for that. I don’t… approve… and I don’t think I ever really will. But. I think maybe I’m starting to understand.”
Jason stares at him, wide-eyed, and then tentatively slips his arms around Dick’s waist to hold him close as the man all but crawls onto his lap. “Gotta patch up your injuries,” he whispers after a while, hating the idea of moving but not about to let him bleed out from some unseen wound.
“I’m comfy!” He complains, somehow nestling closer to Jason before biting his lip and fidgeting. “Jason…” He looks up at him with trepidation and something softer in his eyes. “When you did that… When you killed the Joker, who was it for? And don't say yourself; you didn't kill him back in your original world, and you would have if it was just for you. So, who was it really for?”
“…Jay,” Jason whispers. “Jay, and all the others, so fuckin’ many others whose lives he destroyed. But I just… wanted Jay to have a damn chance to heal and not feel so fuckin’ scared all the time.”
He leaves it unsaid that he didn’t want Jay to have to live with the same constant, unrelenting fear and toxic belief that no one cared enough to try to protect him from the Joker which Jason himself shattered under, again and again until he finally learned to cope out of goddamn necessity.
Dick looks like he's about to cry. “Oh, Jason…” He reaches out and cups the big man’s cheeks in his hands, then leans forward to carefully, gently kiss away his tears.
“Dickie you fuckin' sap,” Jason chokes out with a startled laugh, tilting his head back a little in surprise. Well, fuck. Maybe I didn’t ruin everything between us after all?
Dick leans back enough to grin up at him, face still tired but alive again in a way that makes his heart swell. “You like it,” he teases, and Jason shrugs. Well, yeah. Not like he's in any position to deny that.
He runs his fingers lightly through Dick's hair, then frowns. “Dick,” he says slowly, “When the fuck did you last take a shower?”
Dick looks away guiltily. “Well… It's been a while.” He pouts as he continues defensively, “I've been busy! And my safehouse got blown up! I didn't have time for showers.”
Suddenly, the amount of filth and stains on the tattered Nightwing suit and Dick’s exposed skin make a lot more sense. Damn, Babe, that’s nasty, Jason thinks with a stupid amount of fondness. At least this is something he can fix.
“Right,” Jason nods, rising to his feet still holding Dick and carrying him easily over to the bathroom. “Shower and first aid, food, and then I want you to sleep for the next fuckin’ day at least. Christ, Dickie, I swear to god if you don't start takin’ better care of yourself—”
Dick loops his arms around Jason's neck and looks up at him with an unconvincing expression of innocence. “What, Jason? …You'll do it for me?”
And that's sure as hell a hopeful note in Dick's voice, which…
Is more than Jason hoped for. He damn well knows it's more than he deserves. But…
If Dickie’s looking at Jason like that, well, there's no goddamn chance in hell he's walking away.
“Yeah, Dickie,” Jason says softly, leaning in to boop their noses together because Dick's fuckin’ soft and it's apparently contagious. He’s disgusted with himself, but he rubs their noses together anyway and grins when he sees Dickie smile. Worth it. “Stay here with me, and we'll take care of each other.”
Dick, ranting: “I don't DESERVE love! I'm the kind of murdering, unlovable, depraved, disgusting MONSTER who would stoop to KILLING another human being—”
Jason: *Rubs back of his neck shamefacedly* “Well this is awkward. Yo, so, uh… I totes killed the Joker”
Dick, stunned: *Loses the ability to drown in ocean of self-blame now that Jason's in the same boat* “…Oh. Uh. That’s… um. Cool, I guess?”
Jason, tenderly rubbing Dick's back: “Sweet! So, wanna move in together?”
Dick, still stunned but with a growing smile: “Yeah, okay. Sounds good, Jase”
He’s so cold, and his face is wet. The rough surface of the roof is digging into his back, and she’s there, moving above him, crooning. “Shh… Querido.” The rain is falling from the sky onto his body, but nothing will ever be enough to wash him clean again.
“No,” he tries, knowing it will be futile. “Don’t touch me.”
She touches him.
She starts to, and then…
There’s a bright light in the sky as something… no, someone rapidly approaches through the storm. It’s Jason Motherfucking Todd, a look of so much righteous fury and love on his gorgeous face, it makes Dick feel warm, like everything’s going to be okay somehow.
Jason’s wearing Starfire’s uniform and carrying Roy’s bow as he attacks Tarantula with a ferocious barrage of fiery arrows, batarangs, and, bafflingly, something that looks a lot like Oracle’s computer, which is what finally knocks Tarantula right off the roof.
Just Revenge. Art by Kaworu.
He grins and helps him to his feet, the sky miraculously clearing as a winged motorcycle lands on the roof beside them. “Hey Babe,” he says, kissing the back of Dick’s hand. “Sorry I’m late.”
“No worries,” Dick smiles back, climbing onto the motorcycle. “…I feel like flying!” And they take off into the sky together on a marvelous if confusing adventure involving clouds made of marshmallows, sky pirates, and lots of very consensual touching.
The dream dissipates slowly, leaving Dick with a smile on his face and a buoyancy in his heart that he’s finally ready to believe he deserves. Jason’s been his anchor over the past two months, giving him steady support whenever his negative thoughts and guilt started to eat away at him.
And really, after Jason confessed to having killed the Joker, Dick had found himself unable to sink too far into self-blame for what happened to Blockbuster. Not when condemning himself would have meant condemning Jason too.
Not when doing so would grievously hurt the man he’s pretty sure he’s falling in love with.
Even his dreams are better because of Jason; as often as he’s dreamt of that night, not once has it ever gone any farther than it did in real life. The other man’s always there to save him, albeit sometimes in really weird costumes and with odd methods.
His favorite up until tonight was probably the time Jason leapt onto the roof, challenged Tarantula to a dance-off, and then tangoed away with Dick in his arms, a triumphant look on his handsome face and a red, red rose clenched in his smirking lips. Of course, Jason in Starfire’s uniform is definitely going to be his new favorite from now on.
The sound of Jason humming in the kitchen as he pulls something that smells amazing out of the oven makes Dick grin and speed up a little because it’s a travesty that he’s not already in there enjoying all of that. He hurries to pull on a soft pair of sweats, throws on one of Jason’s big, comfy t-shirts, and crams his feet into the novelty Batman slippers Tim absolutely only bought him as a joke, but he insists on wearing anyway because they feel like happiness on his feet.
“Hey there, sleeping beauty,” Jason greets him with a teasing grin, glancing back over his shoulder while chopping something fresh and crispy into the brightly colored salad he’s already got going. “Thought you’d be down for the count after that little bout with Scarecrow earlier.”
Dick scoffs, shaking his head. “You know they just hit me with some mild tranqs, not full-on fear gas. Not like I was in any real danger, anyway; I saw you and the boys dropping into the fight as I went down.”
Jason scowls, finishing up what he’s doing and dishing some salad onto a couple of plates already loaded with steaming portions of baked salmon, roasted veggies, and freshly baked pull-apart herb and parmesan-encrusted rolls that have Dick’s mouth watering. “They shouldn’t have been able to even do that. Your suit needs some more fuckin’ reinforcement, Babe.”
Kiss the Cook. Art by Kaworu.
Dick picks up the plates and carries them over to the couch, setting them down on the coffee table as Jason follows him with the drinks. “You know as well as I do it’s a give and take; any increase to the strength and puncture-resistance of my suit reduces its flexibility and therefore mine. Which means I can be more stab-proof, but only while limiting my ability to use my flexibility and acrobatic techniques to my best advantage.”
He takes a bite and forgets what he’s saying, moaning loudly at the glorious, rich flavors filling his mouth. Mmm, Jason-cooking. Even better than Alfred’s, not that I’d ever tell him that… Alfred, that is. I would never want to hurt his feelings. Jason totally already knows my preferences.
Jason gives a low chuckle, watching Dick’s expression with a hungry, intent look on his face. It sends a nervous thrill through Dick that gets his heart beating fast and makes him want.
So he leans across the space between them and pauses, a breath away, to make sure his boyfriend’s onboard.
Jason’s looking at him, eyes wide with surprise and dark with desire, but his brow is furrowed. They’ve definitely kissed before, but he can probably read the intent on Dick’s face and knows this is something more. “Dickie, Sweetheart, you sure…? I don’t wanna rush you, so if you need more time…”
Silly Jason. Dick climbs onto his lap and wraps his arms around his broad shoulders, enjoying the feel of those thick, strong thighs under him. “Jason, I know what I want. Or should I say, who…” He smiles, slipping his hands into Jason’s soft, curly hair and leaning forward.
Jason groans and then they’re kissing, Jason’s hands sliding around Dick’s hips and down to cup and squeeze his ass. “Oh fuck yeah,” he whispers into Dick’s mouth. “God, Dickie, you’re so fuckin’ perfect.”
And then they’re not talking much at all for a while, which is just fine by him. It’s when Jason’s just finished returning the favor that a thought occurs to Dick that makes him cringe and grin at the same time.
It’s just a joke, really; they’ve talked about it plenty, and neither of them feels at all like brothers despite what might have been in another universe and timeline, and the brotherly relationship they both have with Jay. Still… it’s pretty damn funny, and Dick can’t resist.
Well, might as well share the emotional distress. After all, sharing is caring!
“Hey Jase,” Dick runs his fingers through Jason’s hair as the man pants into his thigh, catching his breath after the truly incredible blow job he just gave him. He lifts his head, face flushed, a questioning look in his beautiful teal eyes. Dick grins. “So… do we call this a bro job, or what?”
Jason’s trying to glare at his ridiculous, terrible, wonderful boyfriend with whom he has just had sex for the first time, and it’s not working because Dickie’s looking so damn cute and pleased with his stupid, awful pun.
They’re both laughing, but he still manages to sputter out, “If you ever call it a fuckin' bro job again Dickie, I'll bite it off so help me—”
“Holy fuckin’ shit, what the goddamn hell did I just walk in on?” Jason’s voice says from across the room, and they both turn in shock.
There’s another Jason standing awkwardly nearby, blushing and looking both slightly repelled and completely fascinated by the scene.
“What the fuck,” Jason says, automatically pulling up Dickie’s pants to cover him and standing. “Who the hell are you?”
The new Jason shrugs, looping a thumb in his belt. “Original Jason, come to kick ass and whatnot. Though I guess that ain’t needed, considering you seem to’ve done pretty damn well for yourself here.” He waggles his eyebrows and leers suggestively to make absolutely sure they know exactly what he’s talking about, because every Jason is an asshole.
“Holy shit,” Dick says faintly. “Wait, you’re from Jason’s original universe?”
“Smug bastard Jason!” Jason’s eyebrows rise in honest surprise. “Never expected to see you here, man. How’d that work?” He experiences a moment of concern for his original universe; he’d assumed everything worked out okay there, because there was nothing he could do about it, but what if…?
Smug Bastard Jason laughs, loud and warm. “Nice. In my head I call you sorry asshole Jason.”
“You guys are kinda mean to each other for being the same person.” Dick’s tilting his head as he regards both Jasons with interest.
Smug Bastard Jason shrugs. “Eh, it’s cool. We get each other.” The two Jasons exchange a manly nod and Dick rolls his eyes so hard Jason briefly worries they’ll get stuck that way. “Anyway, yeah, saved the world, saved the Timmy, been together almost two years now. I see you got a good thing goin’ here too.” He nods at Dick. “Congrats.”
Dick blushes, still blinking slightly at the weird experience of talking to two identical Jasons. “Thanks.”
“So how’d you manage to find me?” Jason’s pretty sure they’d thought it would be impossible to track down the clone based on their understanding of how the device worked.
“Oh, Tim and B called in Zatanna, and she managed to track you down through some kinda spell. Turns out the time travel device was tied to the user, and, well, it fuckin’ sent you back to the moment in our life we most regret.”
Dick’s mouth is falling open and his eyes are widening in distress. “The moment you most regret is when you came back to life?” He sounds understandably horrified.
Smug Bastard Jason rolls his eyes, chuckling. “See, that’s what everyone else said. B looked like he was about to fuckin’ have an emotion, Dickie looked like he was about to cry or maybe just really needed to take a dump, Timmy did cry a little even if he denies it now, and even goddamn Damian looked more constipated than usual. But no, Sorry Asshole Jason didn’t go back to the day we woke up.”
Jason nods slowly. “Went back to the day we were put in the fuckin’ Pit.”
“Oh,” Dick says faintly. “I guess we haven’t talked about all the details of that part of your life yet.” He looks torn between curiosity and not wanting to ask if he isn’t ready to talk about it.
“Not really important, y’know?” Jason shrugs. “I managed to save Baby Jay from going through most of the hell we lived. And in helpin’ him, I ended up makin’ a few changes in my own life for the better. Funny how much less important killin’ all the assholes in the world seems, when my baby bro’s watching me and learning from what I do.”
Dick tucks himself into Jason’s side, beaming, and Smug Bastard Jason snorts, looking away with a smirk on his face. “Fuck, you two are goddamn disgustingly sweet, aren’t you? You’re gonna make me sick, all over your nice clean floor.”
In answer to this clear challenge, Jason grins and slowly leans down to boop a mischievously grinning Dickie on the nose. “Yeah. Yeah, we are,” he says as Smug Bastard Jason mock-hurls in the background and Dick rises up on his tiptoes to kiss him properly, which only works reasonably well on account of the way they’re both chuckling.
“Fuck, this is weird. Okay, I just wanted to make sure you were alright and not, like, desperate for assistance or whatever. I can go—”
Dick pulls away and spins to face Smug Bastard Jason. “Actually, we were just about to eat dinner, and I’m sure the rest of the family would love to meet you if you can stay a while.” He looks at Smug Bastard Jason so hopefully, the poor bastard caves almost immediately.
“I got a few hours,” he says, and Jason goes to fill another plate. He still seems undecided, until… “Oh, nice, you’re watchin’ Pride and Prejudice?” And he plops down on the couch, clicking to start the film.
Jason rolls his eyes, smiling faintly. It’ll be good to get an update on things back in his original universe, and give them the full story of his life here. And it’ll give him a chance to tell Smug Bastard Jason about what happened to Dickie, make sure the Dick back in his original universe has someone to talk to and help him deal with it, even if it’s a few years too little, too late.
Maybe a chance to hear about how Tim’s doing, too, which… damn, still aches a little, even after two years, especially with Smug Bastard Jason right there, having everything they thought they wanted. He briefly envisions a world in which he somehow ended up with both Dick and Tim and then mentally kicks himself for being a greedy asshole.
When it comes down to it, Tim in his mind represents a possibility, a chance at happiness and companionship.
He’s the real thing. More than a possibility or a dream, he’s the person at Jason’s side both in his civilian life and on patrol, inspiring him to be a better man, filling his kitchen with ungodly amounts of cereal, laughing at his own stupid puns, and just generally making his life fuckin’ better. Dick’s the man he loves and wants and has.
Smug Bastard Jason may have gotten the Tim, but I’m the one who got the Dick. He smirks at the thought as he sits down next to his alternate and Dickie immediately curls into his side, nibbling appreciatively on what’s left of his dinner.
He wraps his arm around Dick, rubbing his shoulder as the other man sighs in pleasure and nestles closer. Smug Bastard Jason rolls his eyes but he’s smiling, and Jason may have lived a fucked-up disaster of a life for the most part, but right now, in this moment…
He wouldn’t change a goddamn thing.
Original Jason, showing up to heroically rescue Other Jason: “Yo” *Walks in on Other Jason and Dick hooking up, has weirdest boner* “Welp I’m outta here” *Attempts to back slowly out of room*
Dick, adapting surprisingly quickly to presence of extra Jason: “Noooo stay! We’ll behave”
Original Jason, suspicious but considering: “Well…”
Other Jason, sweetening the deal: “We got Pride and Prejudice”
Original Jason, already watching movie on their couch and eating popcorn: “Shut up, Mr. Darcy’s about to confess his tortured love”
Other Jason, cuddling a beaming Dick: “Fuck yeah!” *Steals popcorn from Original Jason, shares some with Dick* “Damn I love my life”
Thank you once again to Chibinightowl for the immensely helpful beta, and to salazarastark, ayzenigma, and strawberryjei for helping me cope with writing angst in this story (I had trouble even reading through those first two scenes after I wrote them until you peppered them with your comments that made me smile instead of just feel sad at all that angst).
Also, thanks to the Capes & Coffee Tim Drake discord server for the sprints which helped motivate me to write the first few scenes for this story. Finally, thank you so much to everyone who has read, commented, or given kudos here! Your encouragement is very much appreciated and helps inspire me to keep writing. Thanks for reading! :D
…Updated because the wonderful Kaworu has once again created some glorious art for this story! Check out the beautiful art of Jason comforting Dick in the rain (from chapter 5), a fabulous depiction of Starfire Jason nailing Tarantula in the face with Oracle's computer, and Jason and Dick making dinner together (all here). I love all of these so much! Thank you for creating so much gorgeous art for this story and sharing it, Kaworu! :)