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Dysfunctional, But Still Family

Chapter Text

Jason crouched low to the roof window, silently scanning the gang's hideout. The Gotham Hunters - a new gang in Gotham who were beginning to make a name for themselves. It was their notoriety for targeting young teens which had brought them to Jason's attention.

Jason's eyes settled on the kid tied to a chair - couldn't have been older than fifteen. Eyes wide, the kid traced the languid stroll of the man who circled him. Jason scoffed. Gotham criminals were far too dramatic. Not to mention the lab coat that the man wore was stained with dried blood. He very well could have washed that thing if he had wanted to. Yep - definitely overdoing it, Jason thought.

He took in the rest of the room. There were a few muscled guys around. Odd, considering there was no need for them. Jason's eyes trailed back to the captive's trembling form. Ah, they were there to make sure the kid was thoroughly intimidated. It was probably why the recruitment among teens was so high for this particular gang. Tormenting a few kids ensured that they all remained terrified. Providing the Gotham Hunters with a steady stream of recruits.

Jason was brought out of his thoughts when the man in the lab coat paused behind the boy. Somehow, the lack of movement was more unnerving. The kid stiffened. Noticing the change, the man's face cracked into a cruel smirk. Wanting to avoid the man's gaze, the boy fixed his eyes straight ahead of him. That was a mistake. The man raised the tire iron, then whacked it hard against the boy's skull in a savage backhand thrust.

"Look at me boy!"

Jason flinched as the boy let out a sharp cry of pain. The ghost of a throbbing sensation was felt on the back of his own head as a similar memory pushed itself to the forefront of his mind. He clenched his jaw tight, fighting the urge to rush in. No, he had to do this right. The kid had to get to safety first. Then, he could be as reckless as he wanted.

He forced his eyes away from the kid and scanned the room again. Only three muscled men - not even armed. He could easily handle that. Jason reached to unholster a gun when something in the corner of the room stopped him. He focused his gaze. Concealed, in the shadows, was a large hulking figure. It was difficult to tell from his angle, but the figure looked at least nine feet - and bulked with muscle. Jason's eyes narrowed, a meta no doubt. That could be a problem. It was a wonder a relatively small gang had managed to nab an asset like that. Looked like he needed to reassess the situation. Jason carefully backed away from the window, hitting the speed dial on his phone.

"Hey Jaybird," the hushed voice picked up.

Jason sighed, exasperated. "Roy why are you whispering?"

"Uh, could have something to do with the fact that I'm answering this right before a drug bust."

Jason resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Yet you can pick up the phone? And you wonder why I question your priorities."

Roy let out an indignant huff on the other end of the line. "That's rich coming from a former crime lord."

Jason decided not to respond to that. " How long do you think you'll be Roy? I wouldn't mind a little backup."

"Like tonight?"

"And here I thought I'd have to point out the obvious."

Roy let out a sigh. "There is no way I'm making it to Gotham tonight, can it wait?"

The sharp crack of the tire iron replayed in Jason's memory.

"F'raid not, Roy."

"Ok - I know you're not gonna like this," Roy began cautiously. "But call Nightwing, Jay," he pleaded. "It's not as bad between you guys as it used to be, right?"

Jason remained silent. Perhaps his anger toward the bats had simmered down. But still, Jason would sooner swallow one of his own bullets before he turned to the pure and perfect Robin for help.

"Its fine I'll handle it myself." He finally answered Roy.

"Jason, wait! Don't be-"

Jason ended the call. He could manage this one. There was just no room to make a mistake. Although, it's not like there ever really was. Jason put on his helmet and relaxed his muscles with a deep roll of his shoulders. Then, with a sharp intake of breath to brace himself, he jumped through the roof's window.

Shards of ice rained down on the men below him. They let out a cry of surprise, bringing their arms up to shield themselves. Jason landed on the ground in a forward roll to help distribute the force of the impact. Still, jumping through roofs was never meant to be safe. He let out a grunt, feeling a sharp pang in his shoulder. Positioning himself behind the kid, Jason pulled out a knife and made quick work of cutting through the rope.

"Get out of here while they're distracted kid," Jason commanded.

The boy nodded dumbly before scrambling toward the exit. Jason watched him leave and nodded to himself, satisfied. With the kid out of the way, he could deal with these assholes properly.

The man in the lab coat had recovered first. He looked toward the figure who had burst through the roof, his eyes widened as recognition dawned his features.

"It's the Red Hood!" he exclaimed, "Get him!"

The instruction appeared to be directed toward the hulking brute in the corner. He immediately lunged at Jason.

"Glad you recognised me," Jason commented as he dodged the blow, "might've been pretty awkward otherwise."

Jason noticed that the other men in the room were giving the meta and himself a lot of space. They could've been counting on the brute to take care of him. Although, Jason noticed, as he evaded yet another blow, they were all still tense and alert. Jason flipped out of the reach of another

hit that had come far too close.

He briefly observed the meta's face. The creature's eyes lacked the usual gleam of intelligence. It didn't look like there was much of a brain left in there. The men holding back made sense now. No one wanted to get in the meta's way. Looked like he was a bit of a wild card. Although, no doubt, easy to manipulate - which explained how the Hunters had gotten their hands on him. Jason almost felt sorry for the brute.

He sighed. Damn it all, he was becoming soft. Jason ran up behind the meta and quickly launched himself at him, grabbing onto the brute's shoulders. The creature paused for a moment. He had difficulty registering Jason's fast movements. That was all Jason needed to activate the charge on his body armour.

"Sorry, big guy," he muttered, before electrocuting the meta with everything his suit had. Hopefully it was enough juice to knock him out.

The meta let out a loud howl before dropping to the floor.

"You better hope you're that lucky," Jason told the remaining men, stepping over the unconscious body as he unholstered his guns.

The three men ran toward him. Seeing as they were unarmed, close combat was their only chance. The Red Hood was not known for accepting surrenders. Jason fired his pistols wildly. Although, had any of the men realised the skill of the marksman they faced, they would have noticed that he was purposely avoiding fatal hits. As the bullets ripped through their thighs, two of the men collapsed on the ground. Jason shot the third one clean through the arm instead. It was nice to have a little variety after all. Besides, Jason may not have been aiming to kill - but he sure as hell was going to make them hurt.

Despite the wound in his arm, the third man lunged at him. It was a poor attempt. Jason easily knocked the man unconscious. He then turned his attention to the men groaning on the floor and delivered sharp kicks to their heads. Their groans fell silent.

The sound of a door handle alerted Jason to the lab coat man's attempt to slip away unnoticed. Jason rolled his eyes. Typical. He quickly aimed a shot at the man's wrist. He yelped as the bullet pierced him. Snatching his arm away to avoid another shot, he cautiously turned to face the callous figure in the Red Hood.

"Leaving so soon?" Jason asked, as he walked closer to the man.

The man eyed the approaching figure wearily.

"I thought I was rather good company myself," Jason casually continued.

The man clutched his bloody wrist and folded in on himself. He was afraid. Good. Jason had held back with the other men. He would do no such thing with this one. The bastard deserved what was coming to him. Jason wasted no more time with taunts. Lifting his gun, he aimed at the dead centre of the man's skull. Then, he fired.

An escrima rod hit the man hard. He was knocked to the floor, unconscious. Out of the path of Jason's bullet.

Jason turned his head to identify Nightwing, comfortably leaning against the wall. He casually played with the remaining escrima rod in hand. Jason scowled beneath his mask. When had he gotten here?

"I was handling it, Dickhead." Jason snapped, giving him a cold look - one that didn't have the opportunity to work however, seeing as it was buried beneath Jason's helmet.

Dick simply grinned at him. " That why you called Roy?"

So that's why he was here. Jason made a mental note to kill Roy the next time he saw him.

"Didn't need your help."

"Ahh, I could see that." Dick replied, ignoring the snippy tone. Jason eyed him wearily under his mask. Exactly how long had he been there? "But what sort of a brother would I be if I didn't help out?"

Jason snorted. "Help out? You mean get in the way of my shot."

Dick frowned. Although, he was pleased that Jason hadn't objected to the brother bit. Stepping toward Jason he spoke again.

" Jason, you know we don't kill,"

" No, you don't kill. I think you're forgetting that I'm not one of you." Jason retorted.

Dick's steps toward Jason were more cautious now, afraid of driving him away - again.

"Jay, that's not true. You're always going to be family."

"Yeah, right." Jason scoffed. " You all have a funny way of treating 'family'. I see even the replacement managed to get himself replaced. And you actually liked him."

"Jason it's not like - "

" Whatever," Jason cut him off sharply, "Just do me a favour and avoid making this a habit."

Dick let out a resigned sigh.

Jason walked back toward the exit. His body movements stiff. These run ins with Dick were taking a toll on him. He just wanted to leave the stupid bats behind. At least, that's what he told himself. He refused to acknowledge that some small part of him might envy the bond they had, the acceptance they found in one another, the love.

Jason pushed those thoughts down deep. He'd always be the black sheep of that 'family'. Jason's hand felt heavy as he pushed the door handle.

"Jay, wait!" Dick called.

Jason cursed internally at the way he stilled. Refusing to turn his head, he waited for Dick to continue.

"You do have a family Jason."

Dick hesitated before adding. "You have me."

Still, Jason made no movement to acknowledge him.

Dick sighed. "Just… try to remember that."

Jason heard the pull of the grappling gun as Dick made his ascent back up through the roof's window. A small smile crept onto Jason's face despite himself. It was typical of the former circus boy to choose the least conventional method of exiting a building. Jason let out a groan, resting his forehead against the door.

"Damn you, Dick." He muttered.

Chapter Text

"Master Dick!"

Dick froze, the scone still in his mouth. Swallowing the bite, Dick brought up his eyes to meet Alfred's sheepishly.

"Oh, hey Alfred,"

In his youth, Dick had developed the rather annoying habit of sneaking into the pantry in the quiet hours of the night. It was an activity that all the bats had indulged in at one time or another – even Bruce. Although, Alfred couldn't be certain about that as he did have yet to catch him in the act. Alfred brought his attention back to Dick – who to his annoyance had decided to push his luck reaching for another scone. Alfred sighed.

"One would think," Alfred shot Dick a stern look. "That you would be able to procure a snack from your own home."

Dick merely grinned, fixing an especially charming smile on his face. "What can I say Alfred? Your food will always beat anything I've got at home."

Alfred raised a brow. "Only because you have nothing at home. When is the last time you went grocery shopping?"

"That's beside the point." Dick said, waving the question away.

Alfred's eyes flickered to the heavens.

"While you're here, you may be of some use, Master Dick." Alfred pushed a bowl of scones into Dick's arms. He looked at the butler with a confused frown. "For Master Timothy," Alfred elaborated. "The poor boy is slaving away on some school project and he does neglect to eat."

"Ah, don't worry Alfred," Dick was already heading out of the kitchen. "You can count on Nightwing!"

The corner of Alfred's mouth twitched upward as he watched the young man leave. Sometimes, it was as if the boy had barely aged at all.

"Oh, and Alfred?" Dick called, popping his head back into the kitchen. He took a scone out of the bowl, giving it an exaggerated kiss before taking a hearty bite. "These really are the best scones."

Alfred inclined his head, a fond smile on his face. "Thank you, Master Dick."


 

"Tim," Dick called, knocking relentlessly on the boy's door. Receiving no response, Dick tried another tactic. "I have food."

Dick heard Tim's scrambling before the door opened in front of him.

Tim's eyes immediately fell on the scones. He eagerly accepted the bowl from Dick.

"These smell great,"

He finally looked up at Dick, gesturing for him to enter. Dick carefully picked his way through the mess in Tim's room, before settling himself on the edge of the bed. He eyed the strewn clothes and scattered reports.

"Geez Tim, how does your room look like a nuclear disaster - when you have Alfred around?"

Tim took a bite of a scone and turned to face Dick.

"What do you mean?" He asked through his mouthful. "Alfred came in this morning."

Dick gave him an incredulous look.

"And he was fine with it?"

"Admittedly… it did look better then." Tim said, surveying his room sheepishly.

Dick balked at him. "You managed to make this whole mess - in one afternoon?"

"Like you can talk, Dick - I've been to your apartment."

Dick smiled. "Tim, I'm pretty sure my apartment could survive a nuclear strike and still manage to look better than this."

Tim huffed. "Everyone's a critic."

Taking another bite of his scone, Tim looked up at Dick again. "So, what brings you here in the middle of the night anyway?"

"Looking for a quality midnight snack isn't a worthy excuse?"

"Of course, it is - but that's not why you're here." Tim paused briefly, savoring the scone – It really was good. "At least, it's not the only reason."

Dick carefully avoided the scrutinising gaze that Tim fixed on him. Opting instead to scan the room's surroundings.

"Wait," Tim began, the realisation hitting him. "You ran into Jason again - didn't you?"

Slumping his shoulders, Dick sighed.

"And… how'd it go?"

Dick groaned. "About as well as you'd expect."

Tim nodded, he'd expected as much. Placing the scone on his desk, he moved to sit beside his brother.

"Maybe," Tim started, "You should stop trying."

"What?"

"No - I mean," He tried rephrasing, " You should give Jason some space,"

Dick looked down, clasping his hands together – tight. A small frown touched Tim's face as he saw Dick's knuckles start to whiten. Tim was not used to seeing Dick so uneasy. Quickly calming his features, Tim reached for his brother's shoulder.

"It's just…" Dick sighed heavily. "I wasn't - I didn't do very good job of being there for him."

Tim's eyebrows drew together in a confused frown "Dick I'm sure you-"

"No, Tim, you don't get it - I was distant. Being replaced…"

Tim gently squeezed Dick's shoulder.

Dick's eyes hardened. "It wasn't Jason I blamed." Swallowing, he continued. "But even when I had gotten used to it. I let my issues with Bruce stop me from making sure Jason was alright. Growing up with Bruce - only Bruce – well, sometimes it can be..." Dick trailed off again, his gaze drifting to the floor.

"Yeah, I understand." Tim agreed softly as his own eyes found their way to the floor.

Although none of them liked to admit it, Bruce wasn't perfect. When it came to parenting - to expressing love - he found it more difficult than most. That was not to say that Bruce hadn't gotten better over the years. The boys had wonderful memories with Bruce and they loved him fiercely. Yet, Tim had to admit, he was grateful that he could talk to Dick when things didn't go as smoothly with the man. Although, Alfred's services had been invaluable as well.

"You know…" Dick began again, breaking the silence they had settled into. " When Jason," he paused. "When he died. I blamed Bruce a lot - I was furious with him."

Tim brought his eyes back to dick, whose gaze was fixed intently on the floor.

"But Tim, I was furious with myself too - If I had been there, been more attentive, focused less on my anger…" His eyes locked with Tim's. "I might have saved him."

Tim's eyes widened. "Dick, you can't -"

"God, Tim - I wasn't even at his funeral!"

"But Dick, you were off world!" Tim protested.

" I know!"

Tim recoiled at the sharp tone. Dick saw the movement and softened his eyes, apologetic.

"I know," Dick said, gently this time. "It's just that - at every opportunity, I've failed to be there."

"Dick…"

Abruptly, Tim wrapped his arms around Dick's torso, pressing his face into his older brother's chest. Dick started at the sudden movement before wrapping his own arms around Tim.

"Dick, you've made it right since then." Tim insisted. "You were always there for me - even for the demon brat - who knows how you managed it with him. But Dick, you have been there for us."

Tim's grip on Dick was beginning to tighten. Dick almost made a move to protest, but he didn't have the heart to tell Tim to loosen it. Besides, he didn't want to let go just yet.

"And maybe," Tim continued. " maybe you weren't there for Jason. But you're trying to be now. That counts for a lot you know." Tim finally looked up at Dick " You're an amazing big brother."

Dick tightened his own arms around Tim, fiercely returning his hug.

"Thanks Timmy."

They stayed like that for a while, drawing strength from their embrace. Eventually, the tight hug was bordering on bone crushing and Dick had to pull away slightly.

"So," Dick started, opening his eyes. "Think you can keep the run ins with Jason to yourself, for your amazing big brother? - that is assuming you can," Dick grinned.

Tim pulled back, "Is that a challenge?"

Dick gave him a long look.

"Hey, I am capable of lying to the Batman you know!" Tim protested indignantly.

"Oh, is that so?" a new voice interrupted them.

The boys whipped their heads to face the doorway. Seeing Bruce walking up, their eyes widened. Dick recovered from his shock first.

"Hey Bruce!" he squeaked - so maybe he hadn't recovered entirely "I was actually just about to leave."

Bruce's face sported a puzzled frown as Dick got off the bed and headed to the window.

"Bye Tim! - and it was nice seeing you too Bruce!" he said hastily, opening the window now.

With an abrupt wave at them both, Dick grappled out of the window. He was suddenly very glad that he had his own apartment to retreat too. Bruce watched Dick's exit open mouthed. Oddly enough, that hadn't been the strangest behaviour he'd witnessed from his sons. Bruce met Tim's sheepish gaze.

"I meant – in a hypothetical situation." Tim defended weakly.

"Hrn."


 

Jason struggled against his binds, he couldn't move. He was frozen somehow – immobilised. He had control of the muscles above his neck at least. Not much, but it was something. Jason surveyed the room. Odd – it looked like the interior of the Gotham Hunters' hideout. Looking down, he saw that he was tied to a chair. It was a strangely familiar situation. Attempting to strain against the rope again, Jason cursed. If only his god damn muscles would move – maybe he was drugged.

Jason felt a sharp crack on the back of his skull. He gritted his teeth as his head throbbed. That was annoying.

"Look at me, boy!"

The man in the lab coat. He knew he should've finished him when he had the chance. Turning his head, Jason decided to give him a piece of his mind.

"Funny, where was this attitude when I was kicking –"

The words died on his tongue. His eyes locked with the maniacal gaze of the Joker. Jason's eyes widened, the colour draining from his face. Not this again. The Joker's deranged grin split wider.

"Ahh, Boy Blunder," he cooed, "I have missed you!"

The Joker brought up his crowbar, grinning savagely as he –

Jason bolted up on his bed, breathing rapidly. He idly rubbed the back of his head as he took in his surroundings once more. As the images of his dream faded, Jason recognised the familiar walls of his apartment. Inhaling a shaky breath, Jason lifted the covers off himself. He thought he'd gotten over those damn nightmares.

Jason reached for his phone, ignoring the missed calls from Roy. 3:36 am. He groaned. There was no going back to sleep now. The memories of the dream were still a haze over his mind as he lifted himself off the bed.

The Gotham Hunters unnerved him in a way other gangs did not. He clenched his fists. They unearthed unwanted memories. Jason reached for the punching bag under his bed. It served him well enough as therapy in times like this.

Hanging the bag up, he rolled his shoulders. They were unbearably tense. He wasn't finished with the Hunters. Not by a long shot.

 

Chapter Text

"Woah" Connor commented, eyeing the muffin in his hand with newfound appreciation. "These are pretty good."

Tim chuckled, moving the tray of muffins so that it rested between the two of them on the counter top. "Don't let Alfred hear the surprise in your voice."

"Hey," Connor shrugged, taking another bite, "living with Ma's cooking makes you harsh critic."

The boys were seated in the kitchen, stools pulled right up to the counter. It had been a while since they had done this. To simply enjoy the other's company - without the threat of danger or a crime to stop. Tim had missed it.

A familiar whirring sounded in the distance. Connor froze as he was about to take another bite of the scone, fixing his eyes on Tim.

"Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" asked Tim, feigning nonchalance.

He most certainly did. That noise meant that his peace was about to be very much interrupted. Tim resisted the urge to groan.

"It sort of sounds like - " Connor looked out of the kitchen window. Right there, landing in the ginormous front yard of Wayne manor, was…

"- a helicopter." Connor breathed.

This time, Tim did let out that groan. Thanks to a certain demon child, he had come to loath helicopters. Their sound alone had become enough to dampen his mood. Connor got off his stool, drawing near to the window. The helicopter was on the ground now. The smaller trees nearby bent back from the force of its blades.

"Wow!" Connor exclaimed, turning back to Tim. "Do helicopters land here often?"

Tim let out a long sigh. "Only when they're picking resident assassins up from school."

Connor gaped at him, his mouth wide open. "Damian goes to school – in a helicopter?"

"Yeah," Tim answered, resting his cheek on his palm. "The brat demanded it."

"Well," Connor glanced back at the helicopter appreciatively, "the kid may be a prick, but he travels in style."

"Huh?" Tim's head snapped up, "You do remember that you can actually fly right?"

Connor shrugged, making his way back to the stool. "Never been in a helicopter," he answered simply.

Alfred walked into the kitchen. Seeing Connor there, a small smile touched his face. He was glad to see Tim pulled away from case files and acting like a normal teenager – well as normal as it could get living with vigilantes.

"Will you be joining us for dinner, Mr Kent?" Alfred asked, making his way around the counter to start his preparations for dinner.

"Tempting – but I'll be home before then." Connor grinned, sending an appreciative nod at the tray of muffins, "Ma will want to know that she has competition."

Alfred inclined his head, a noticeable smile on his face. It was not every day that one had the honour of being compared to the Ma Kent. "I'm glad you like them Mr Kent."

"Pennyworth!"

Tim barely stopped the involuntary eye roll that occurred when Damian was nearby. He was wondering when the little brat would make an appearance.

"I demand an explanation!"

Damian paused as he entered the kitchen, registering that Alfred was not alone. Seeing only Drake and his inane super friend, he continued.

"I almost had to endure Jon flying me home!"

Tim raised an eyebrow at Alfred, the question clear in the gesture.

Alfred decided to respond. "The young Master Damian is greatly aggrieved that I was later than usual in picking him up from school today."

"He almost carried me home." Damian cried, fixing his steely gaze on Alfred. "You would have been responsible for the great indignity to befall the Wayne household."

"Oh dear." Alfred answered dryly as laid out vegetables on a chopping board. "I would never live down the shame."

Connor let out a snort. He couldn't help it. Connor had never seen the kid riled up over something so... childish. He quickly smothered it into another bite of his muffin as Damian sent him a withering glare.

"Actually," Tim pointed out, "Jon flying you home would be more efficient."

Damian shifted his glare onto Tim.

"Despite your obvious need for it," Damian scoffed, "I have managed to refrain from mentioning that someone ought to fly you around during missions Drake."

Tim rolled his eyes. "Taking you home from school hardly resembles a mission – well accept for Alfred"

"I appreciate the acknowledgement Master Timothy."

Connor didn't even bother to hide his snort this time, earning another glare from Damian. It was worth it though, Wayne family bickering tended to be rather entertaining.

"Besides," Connor added, deciding it was time to enter the conversation. "I do carry you around during missions."

Tim gaped at his best friend, betrayed. "That was one time!" he cried.

Connor grinned, raising an eyebrow. Tim pointedly ignored the look. So maybe it had been more than one time.

"Of course, he does," Damian sneered, turning to Tim. "At least now you cannot further tarnish the Robin mantel."

Tim's eyes narrowed. "Listen here you little –"

"Ah, Master Bruce," Alfred interjected. "how nice of you to join us."

Bruce froze in the entryway. Reluctantly, he entered the kitchen sending Alfred a dull look as he did so. His usual approach upon stumbling into one of the many arguments that his two younger sons found themselves in – was to quietly slip away. Alfred pushed a second tray of assorted baked goods toward Bruce.

"Now that Master Dick has refrained from paying his nightly visits to the kitchen, I actually have snacks to offer." Alfred commented.

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "he does that often?"

Alfred sighed, moving back to his dinner preparations "Often enough – although he hasn't since he came to see Master Timothy."

Tim squirmed in his seat, ignoring Bruce's gaze. He remembered all too well how that visit had ended.

"Grayson has been here?" Damian asked, failing to keep the surprise out of his tone.

Alfred nodded.

Damian's brows furrowed together slightly, "To see… Drake." The last word came out flat, making it sound more like a statement than a question.

"You got a problem with that, brat?" Tim challenged.

Bruce sighed inwardly. Even five minutes was too much to ask for. Connor noticed the look. It was a little odd to see the Batman's frustration over quarreling kids. Maybe his friendship with Clark wasn't such a mystery after all.

"I am merely questioning his taste in company," Damian scoffed.

Tim rolled his eyes. "You can start questioning it when he goes out of his way to see you."

Damian paused. There was a slight flicker behind his eyes. He covered it up instantly with a scowl and a haughty scoff.

"I will take my dinner in my room this evening Pennyworth." Damian said, stalking out of the kitchen.

Alfred's eyes followed Damian as he left the room. Although he covered it up well, Alfred had noticed the flash of hurt that had crossed Damian's features. It appeared the young master was not as adept at hiding his emotions as he liked to believe.


His muscles ached. The sweat had long since drenched his shirt. Still, he kept going. If he was lucky, eventually he'd exert himself enough to pass out. After a particularly forceful hit, Jason reached his hands out to steady the punching bag as he caught his breath.

"That can't be healthy,"

Jason spun around quickly, launching a knife in the direction of the intruder. Roy flinched as the knife buried itself deep into the wall, inches from his head. He looked at it wearily before turning back to Jason.

"Still mad, huh?"

"Did you have to enter my apartment through the window?" Jason chastised, walking past Roy to close the window he had left open.

"Did you have to ignore my calls?" Roy countered.

Jason ignored the question. He walked over to his towel and wiped his neck. Roy's eyes drifted to the case files on Jason's bed.

"How'd you get these?" He asked, flipping through the files.

"I'm resourceful."

Roy sighed. Jason could be really difficult when he got in one of his moods. He fixed his focus back on the files. It was a collection of intel on the Gotham Hunters. Looked like there was still a lot that was unknown about the gang - other than they were small and targeted kids. Roy paused. They even sold drugs to kids too. His eyes narrowed. Jason had information on their next transport at least.

"So, you're gonna hit the next transport?" Roy asked.

Jason nodded.

Roy peered over the files at Jason, "And then what Jay? You're going to obsess over this gang forever?"

Jason walked over to him, taking the case files from his hands.

"Just planning a few hits. It's a small gang. I inconvenience them enough; the other gangs will do the work for me."

"So, you're giving an opportunity for other gangs to snuff out their competition - I doubt they'll be kind Jay."

Jason shrugged. "It's Gotham. No one's kind."

Roy studied his friend carefully. He looked tired - not just from his weirdly timed workout. If the bags under his eyes were anything to go by, Jason hadn't been sleeping. Roy had endured his own share of sleepless nights, but somehow, it seemed so much worse for Jason. Despite everything, there were some things he wouldn't ever get to understand about how Jason's past affected him. Oh, he knew the whole getting murdered and coming back thing probably wasn't a lot of fun. Not to mention the family issues – although, for Roy, that at least he could understand. But at times like these he couldn't help but feel that there was a lot that was hidden from him. From everyone.

Jason raised an eyebrow, "Any particular reason you're trying to memorise my face?"

Roy quickly covered up his thoughts. Pushing past Jason, he headed for the kitchen. Jason sighed, putting the case files away before following him. He found Roy buried in the fridge, inspecting its contents.

"Jay, you need to restock."

Roy absently threw a beer back at Jason. Jason held back a groan as he saw that the bottle's arc was going to land it a great distance in front of Jason. He quickly moved to catch it before it hit the ground.

"Do you need to throw things around?"

Roy finally pulled his head out of the fridge, turning to face Jason with a soda can in hand.

"No harm done,"

"Easy to say when you didn't pay for it."

Roy merely shrugged before placing an arm around Jason to purposefully usher him out of the room. Jason glanced sidelong at his friend. Roy was being oddly deliberate with his movements.

"Have something in mind Roy?"

"Oh, not really," Roy grinned, "just a good old-fashioned guys night."

Yeah, maybe Roy couldn't entirely understand what Jason was going through – or how to help exactly. But for one night at least, he could take his friend's mind off things.


"Dick, this really isn't what I thought you had in mind."

Red Robin trailed close behind his brother, swinging through the streets of Gotham. When Dick had suggested some time to hang out, he had thought maybe a night in at Dick's apartment. Although, as Tim recalled the time Dick had taken him train jumping – with blindfolds no less. He realised he should have expected it really. Dick's ideas of hanging out usually involved something unusual.

"Of course not," Dick replied, effortlessly gliding through the air, "This is more fun."

The sound of an explosion surprised the young heroes. They swung onto a nearby rooftop. Tim landed simply on his feet. A practical landing. He turned around to see Dick swing off his line and execute a flawless flip before landing on the roof gracefully. Show off.

The heroes examined their surroundings trying to figure out where the explosion would have occurred. It sounded small – so they wouldn't be able to see any damage on the outside. An explosion sounded again.

"It came from that building," Tim said pointing a block down.

"Way ahead of you Tim."

Of course, Nightwing had already begun swinging toward the building. Tim had to admire the grace with which he moved through the air. Sure, all bats were familiar with the skill of navigating Gotham with a grappling gun – they had to be. But Dick, he made it look like an art. He was at home in the air.

Tim launched his own grappling gun and followed after him.

"You won't be for long."


 

Jason exhaled slowly from under the truck he was trailing, careful not to make any unnecessary movements. It was unlikely that anyone would think of looking under this truck. Still, it always paid to take every precaution – that's what Bruce used to say anyway.

They were slowing down. Jason lowered himself slightly. He could see better from this angle – even if it left him a little exposed. The truck was rolling into a hanger. The transport location?

"Pete, about time!"

Jason quickly pulled himself up, hiding himself in the heavy shadows of the truck. Alright, a transport location – with company. Pete must have been the driver of the truck he was under. Jason's eyes followed his footsteps as he got out to greet the group.

"Relax would ya? Five minutes won't change anything."

Deciding it was safe, Jason lowered his body again to get a better look at the place. Pete had parked his truck to the right most side of the hanger. Looking to his left, Jason spotted two more trucks. That made three trucks altogether. It was a substantial load of drugs. Most of which would be sold to kids. The thought sickened him. Even in his brief stint as crime lord, Jason had never targeted kids.

Jason continued to scan the room. Strange. There were only three trucks. Which meant there should only be three drivers. So why were there three extra men? – armed men at that. A slow grin crept onto Jason's face. Looked like the Hunters were riled up from the last time. Interesting. Jason placed a small bomb under his truck. He'd give them something to rile up over.

He quickly rolled out from under the truck. With the truck still shielding his movements, he moved further right, out of the bomb's blast radius. The loud blast reverberated through the room. The truck's windows shattered. Jason had to bring his arms up to shield himself from the large shards of metal. The fire was already beginning to die down. It was a small bomb, but it did the job – and it was enough to spook the gang members.

"What the hell?" Pete cried, turning around to see his truck up in flames.

"Well, that Pete…" Jason said as he emerged through the wreckage, pistols in hand, "would be me."

The armed men growled, seeing the red mask.

"The Red Hood."

"One and only," Jason affirmed. He idly spun a gun on his finger before letting it stop aimed straight at the guy who had spoken. "But then again, you already knew that."

The man pulled his gun up to shoot. Jason was faster. In an instant he had shot directly into the barrel of the man's gun. It exploded in the man's hand. He cried out in pain, reflexively dropping the weapon.

"Use the smoke bombs you idiots!" One of the other men shouted.

Jason managed to shoot one more man in the shoulder, before they were engulfed in smoke. Damn, looked like the gang had grown some form of a brain since his last visit. The smoke cloud would dissipate soon enough. He'd be ready then. His main targets were the drug transports anyway. Jason shot into the smoke cloud to keep them on their toes, before sprinting toward the truck on the other side of the hanger. While the cloud obscured the men from his vision, it meant that they couldn't see him either. He intended to take full advantage of that.

Before he made it to the other end, a stray bullet caught him in the shoulder. He avoided two more that had come out of the smoke. Jason grunted. It was a lucky shot. He could feel the bullet as his muscles tensed. Repressing any further noise of the injury, he continued his dash across the hanger. It wouldn't do to let the guys know that they had landed a hit.

He reached the truck on the other end and climbed on top of it, gaining a vantage point. He winced, feeling the bullet again and made a mental note to go easy with that arm. He quickly threw a bomb over at the third truck. It went up in flames, pieces of it scattered around the hanger - just as the smoke cloud dissipated. Finally. Jason brought his pistols up. Now he could see his targets.

Of course, it had to be at that moment that two throwing discs knocked the pistols out of his hands. Once again, the criminals were engulfed in smoke. The kind that Jason was very familiar with.

"Which one of you idiots set off another smoke bomb?" he heard one of the people complain as a flash of blue and red entered the smoke.

Jason groaned inwardly. It seemed that no matter what he did in this damn city, he was doomed to fall into some sort of family reunion. Deciding to let the intrusive bats take care of his guys, he placed a bomb on his truck before jumping off. So much for that vantage point.

As he re-holstered his pistols, the second smoke cloud dissipated. It cleared to reveal Nightwing and Red Robin with the gang members knocked out and cuffed. Of course, they'd do it the boring way. They looked behind Jason eyes widening, realising the incoming explosion. They brought their arms up to shield themselves as the last bomb went off.

Dick looked up first. "Is that really necessary Jason?"

"I thought I told you not to make this a habit."

"Well," Dick said, looking around at what remained of the trucks, "you were making a lot of noise."

It was then that Jason's eyes fell onto Tim. The kid was studying him intently.

Jason scoffed "Take a picture Replacement, it'll last longer."

"Your arm," Tim pointed out, ignoring the dig.

Oh, right that. Now that Tim had mentioned it, the pain was flaring up again. He'd be damned if he let them know that though. Dick snapped his eyes to Jason's bullet wound.

"Jason, you're hurt!" he said, concern clouding his features.

Jason rolled his eyes. One would think the circus boy would freak out less - especially considering that Jason had survived literally being dead before.

"It's barely grazed."

Tim wore an incredulous expression at that remark.

"Jason, don't be ridiculous," Dick told him "We've got to get you patched up."

Jason backed away. "I can take care of myself, Wingnut."

"Jason," Dick groaned, exasperated "Just let me help."

"I don't need it." Jason said turning to walk away, "I've got everything I need at my apartment."

"Great," Dick started following, "We'll come with you."

"Uh, Dick?" Tim began, growing a little uncomfortable. That was definitely the opposite of giving Jason space.

Jason stopped. No way were they going anywhere near his apartment. He could probably ditch them somehow on the way there. Although, Dick could be pretty damn persistent when he wanted to be. Jason sighed deeply. Why did he have to be so difficult?

"Fine," Jason groaned, "but you're not coming to my place – And we're not going to the cave."


Chapter Text

Tim didn't know how he'd done it. But Dick had finally managed to convince Jason to remain on the couch, while Dick examined the wound. Not that it meant Jason was being entirely cooperative.

"Damn it, Jason!" Dick groaned, trying to settle his patient's arm. "Hold still."

Jason glared at Dick. Tim almost scoffed. It's a wonder he wasn't buddying up with Damian. They both liked to use that glare. He'd been on the receiving end of it, more times than he could count. Seeing that Dick was immune, Jason reluctantly complied. Grumbling as he did so. Tim sat on one of the empty chairs in Dicks apartment. He observed silently as Dick examined the wound. Tim raised an eyebrow. Dick was certainly being very thorough. It wasn't the worst wound they had ever seen, yet Dick sure was taking his time looking over it.

By the look of the steadily growing annoyance on Jason's face, Tim figured he thought so too. It was odd though, that Jason hadn't commented on it. Then again it wasn't as if Tim knew Jason all that well. All he had to go off were the few memories Dick or Bruce had deigned to share with him - and they weren't really all that informative. All he knew was the Jason he had seen so far, was nothing like the boy that had been described to him. But then, he supposed, death could do that to a person.

"Alright," Dick concluded, "It's not too bad, mostly a flesh wound."

Jason spoke through his teeth, the annoyance not as well contained anymore. "That's what I told you."

Dick dropped his arm pulling back. "No, you didn't. You said it was just a flesh wound." Dick corrected him.

Jason rolled his eyes, "Same thing."

"Nope," Dick said, his grin teasing. "One is more accurate."

Jason huffed.

Tim inclined his head. Curious, that was almost banter. It was funny to see how Jason acted with Dick. Maybe Jason's issues were just with Bruce, and of course… with him. Tim's run ins with Jason in the past had not been very pleasant. He hadn't known Jason as anyone other than the person who had been resurrected from the Lazarus pit. But right now, with Dick bringing it out. he could almost see a glimpse of the boy that Jason would have been before he was murdered.

"Okay, wait here. I'll just grab the supplies from the bathroom," Dick announced walking out the living room.

Tim sat up. Wait, Dick couldn't seriously be leaving him with Jason. It might only be a few moments, but they would be agonisingly painful. What was he expected to say?

"I'll help you!" Tim offered quickly, before Dick left the room.

Dick gave Tim a knowing smile. "I think I can handle it on my own, Tim."

Tim slumped down into his seat. Stuck with Jason. Why did he agree to come back to Dick's apartment too? He would've been better off in the manor, he had absolutely nothing to add to this interaction. Tim leaned against the arm rest, resting his cheek in his hand. With Dick gone, an uncomfortable silence settled on the two. Maybe he should try to say something? Tim made to open his mouth when he saw that Jason was lying down on the couch now, his eyes closed. Ok then, maybe conversation wasn't the best idea. How would he start it anyway? 'so, I see you're not trying to fight me anymore'?

"Quit staring kid - it's weirding me out."

Tim's head snapped up. He was pretty sure Jason's eyes were closed.

"Not staring." Tim responded, eyeing Jason carefully. Yup the eyes were definitely closed.

Jason lazily popped open an eye to find that Tim's eyes were indeed on him. "Looks an awful lot like staring to me," he declared, drawing the eye closed once more.

Tim gaped. That was unfair!

"Yeah," Tim scoffed, "well most people tend to look when someone is speaking to them."

Eyes still closed, Jason shrugged his good shoulder. "I only spoke because you were staring."

"I was not staring."

"Picked up the art of denial from Bruce, huh?" Jason responded, throwing his good arm over his eyes to block out the living room light.

Tim gave up, settling back into his seat. Jason was obviously gifted in an art of his own – winding people up. Tim was not going to let Jason toy with him. Besides now that he thought about it, maybe he had been staring, just a tiny bit.

"Open your eyes Jay," Dick instructed, walking back with his supplies "I brought along some of your favourite band aids!"

Jason opened his eyes to look down at the box of band aids in Dicks hand. He narrowed his eyes at the box, before bringing them up to meet Dick's teasing grin.

"You put those on me and I'll stab you."

Well, that sounded familiar. Oddly enough, Jason didn't look entirely prepared to follow through with that threat. Tim was willing to bet that Jason's stance would change if it had been him in Dick's position. Funny, he could probably say the same thing about Damian. Not for the first time, Tim mourned the extreme lack of sanity in the Wayne family.

Dick patched up Jason's arm in relative silence. He didn't try to make too much more conversation apart from the occasional light-hearted remark, most of which, Jason would shut down. Tim itched with the need to leave. He really did feel like an outsider here. He'd be willing to bet that Jason was grappling with the same need. But no, Tim would stay. Despite feeling just a tad useless in this interaction, if it meant that he could show some form of solidarity with Dick's efforts to reach out to Jason, then it was probably worth it. Although, Tim really hadn't been doing the best job of that.

"All done," Dick announced, satisfied with his handywork.

Jason moved his arm experimentally to check the tightness of the bandages. He seemed to approve of the results.

"Finally," Jason sighed, making his way to the door. "Now, if you would please leave me in peace," he said, giving Dick a pointed look.

"Maybe," Dick responded. "When you start staying out of trouble."

Jason scoffed, closing the door behind him.

Tim turned to Dick, "Well, that went well."


 

"Order 27!"

Jason didn't know what prompted him to try this place. Maybe because he knew he wouldn't run into any bats here. They usually didn't snack on patrol.

He stood toward the back of the joint waiting for his order, taking care not to lean on the arm Dick had patched up. Jason had to admit, Dick had done a pretty good job – not that he'd ever tell him that.

Jason had woken up from another one of his nightmares. Driving himself to exhaustion just wasn't working. The scenes in his mind still plagued him. Realising sleep was not an option, he'd decided to follow some advice Alfred had given him when he was younger. 'Food actually has healing properties, Master Jason'.

It could be considered odd for a joint to be so busy at this hour. However, Jason, had long since learned that the real Gotham came alive at night. He idly scanned the crowd in the building. There were a few recognisable faces. Jason was no stranger to the Gotham underworld – Or more accurately Red Hood was no stranger to it. Jason was only here for a snack.

His wondering eyes paused on a small figure huddled in the corner. Jason's eyebrows furrowed. Probably a kid. Their oversized hoodie was pulled up, covering their face well. Clearly, they were trying to avoid notice.

"Order 37!"

The kid's hood snapped toward the counter. Jason watched as they stilled then, the movement under their hood suggesting they were scanning the joint carefully. Jason subtly re-positioned his head, to look as if he were studying the menu. Curious, he kept an eye on the kid through his peripheral vision. Seemingly satisfied with their assessment of the room, the kid rose slowly from their seat and moved toward the counter. As the kid moved, Jason caught a glimpse of the firm set of their mouth. Clearly, a lot of effort was going into remaining unnoticed. Jason cocked his head to the side, trying to study their face. The hood made it difficult, but after catching another small glimpse of their face, he concluded that they were probably on the younger side – maybe twelve. Jason couldn't be entirely sure, but there was something decidedly feminine about their features. His eyes narrowed. What was that little girl doing in a place like this?

Finally reaching the counter, the kid reached out to grab the order. A heavy hand gripped her shoulder. Jason's eyes snapped to the man now. His brows drew together as he realised that this was someone he recognised. Tobias Scott. Not exactly a big player in Gotham. Although, recently it had seemed that his gang had been gaining more street rep. Tobias' reputation in particular had become more pronounced. Apparently, he was becoming notorious for being quick tempered, brash and cruel. In Jason's experience, that sort of behavior usually came about when someone was deliberately trying to send a message on the street.

The girl stilled instantly under the man's firm grasp. This was clearly not an interaction the kid wanted to have. She didn't seem surprised though, at least - not entirely. Her reaction was reminiscent of the way Jason used to act when he'd get caught red handed. But that was back when he used to…

steal.

Jason's eyes widened, the realisation dawning on him. He brought a hand up, pinching his forehead. This kid could not have picked a worse person to nick an order from.

The burly man forcefully spun the kid around to face him. She tensed up. At least her hood was still up. For some, having a recognisable face among those in the Gotham underworld could be dangerous. Tobias let out a chuckle as if amused. There was an odd sound that underpinned that laughter though. That meant trouble. Poor kid.

"Look whelp," Tobias shrugged. The movement almost came out as casual. Almost. However, Jason has long since learned to recognise the language of hidden aggression. "obviously, you need to be taught a thing or two about who not to mess with around here."

Jason fought back the urge to cringe. He had a pretty good idea about how men like Tobias imparted their lessons. He quickly took stock of the room. The scene unfolding was not quite enough for anyone to bat an eye. Jason bit back a frustrated sigh. That was sure to change if he interfered. As the Red Hood, he wouldn't hesitate. But with this face, Jason needed to make sure it didn't become too familiar on the street. He fixed his eyes on Tobias again. Perhaps a drunken brawl would be a good excuse. His eyes roamed the joint again, before locking onto Tobias once more. No. It was too risky. With Tobias' growing notoriety, it would only draw attention to himself – and the kid.

Swallowing uncomfortably, Jason opted instead to pay close attention. Bruce would've given anything for Jason to display this level of patience during his time as Robin. His mouth set to a thin line at the thought.

The kid's body had noticeably relaxed now. Jason however spotted the firm set of her chin. The corner of his mouth twitched upward despite himself. He knew that trick. She was getting ready to bolt.

Tobias leaned in a little closer to her. "I'm going to make sure – "

He didn't get to finish that sentence as the kid was already speeding toward the door.

Tobias' face clouded, and he quickly shouted at some of his men. "Someone get that damn kid!"

Jason saw that this situation was getting noticed now. He turned around quickly to eye the exit behind him. Two men had moved closer to the door, ready to intercept the little runaway. Jason cursed. The kid was not making it out.

As the kid ran past, Jason reached a hand out to stop them. The kid thrashed violently against him. Yeah, he probably could've thought of a better way to go about this. He quickly caught the kid's hood before it slipped down from all her movement. She was surprisingly persistent, but Jason was far larger. He managed to restrain the kid beside him. Still, that didn't stop her squirming and he saw her hood in danger of creeping down again.

"Keep the hood up," Jason commanded quietly, making sure his voice would only just be audible to the kid.

The kid faltered. Her struggle slowly calmed. With a quick shake of her head, the hood fell back over her face more completely. Good. She was still tense though, ready for the chance to bolt at any moment. Jason's eyes quickly flicked over to Tobias' men by the door. He gripped the kid tighter. Jason couldn't give her that chance. As Tobias approached him, Jason moved his body in front of the kid's slightly. He knew Tobias had a reputation for being cruel, but it was a recent development. Surely propagated to keep up his image on the street. He was certain that making this kid pay was more a pride thing. Well, mostly certain. All he had to do was get this kid out of here, in a way that wouldn't ruin his pride. Jason groaned inwardly. Perhaps he should've picked up a lesson on how to walk around people's feelings from Dick.

"Damn kid, he's been pulling this shit all week!" Jason growled. He gave the kid a rough little tug for good measure. "You wanna teach him a lesson?" he let out a bitter chuckle. "There's a line."

Tobias paused, eyeing the kid almost curiously. Jason felt the kid tense further. He could've imagined it, but Jason was sure he felt the kid make a minute movement to hide behind him a little more. Hopefully the hood covered her face enough. Tobias returned his gaze to Jason, eyeing him up and down.

"And who're you?" Tobias asked him roughly.

"The last person he tried to pull this crap with." Jason made sure to look suitably annoyed. "Got away from me that time though." Jason gave the man a feral grin. "You can deal with him when I'm through."

"Order 41!"

Jason's eyes snapped to the counter.

"That's my cue," Jason said, moving to collect his order. "Don't worry," He called over his shoulder, "You can have what's left."

Tobias made a dismissive gesture, "Whatever, just give him an extra hard one from me."

As he picked up his order and made his way to the door, Jason tried not to let relief wash over him too soon. Bruce must've cautioned him at least a hundred times against celebrating too early. As they passed Tobias' men at the door, he gripped the kid a little tighter. Once they were out, Jason still refused to relax completely until they were a safe distance from the joint. He dragged the kid into a nearby alley.

Jason quickly scanned the area. Making sure it was empty, he finally brought his eyes back to the kid in front of him. She hadn't uttered a word. He let go now, and stepped back, giving the kid the opportunity to leave. She didn't budge.

"You don't need to keep your hood up kid, I already know you're a girl."

The kid jolted at his words. Slowly, the hood came down. Deep brown eyes studied Jason warily. Her hair was haggard and choppy. She must have cut it to that boyish length herself. His earlier assessment had been right. She couldn't have been any older than twelve. A little late, Jason realised that it was probably a little intimidating to be towering over her. He leaned down, resting his weight on his knee so that his face was level with her.

"Kid," he shook his head, amusement creeping into his tone. "You really need to pick your targets better." He held out his bag of food, "here,"

The kid's eyes widened slightly, although she was quick to cover it up. Slowly, her eyes moved between Jason and the bag. She swallowed, before raising her eyes to meet his squarely. She had some grit in her then.

"What do I owe you?"

Her voice was soft, but untrusting. Jason was struck by the memory of him uttering those very words to Bruce. He hadn't understood the softening of Bruce's face, the way his brows had furrowed together gently. Meeting the girl's weary eyes once more, he saw that kindness was a foreign concept to her. He understood now. It had been a look of pity.

"Well…" he stalled, covering up his momentary lapse. "I expect a snack the next time I see you."

Her brows drew together, confused. Still, she nodded slowly. She reached for the bag, keeping her eyes on his as if waiting for him to snatch it away. He held it out further toward her until she finally took it. Once she had the bag, Jason got up and turned to walk out of the alley.

"Take care of yourself kid," He called out behind him as he turned the corner.

Jason let out a deep sigh. He should probably keep an eye out for that one. He shook his head. Gotham. He'd hate this city if he didn't love it so much. Jason kept walking, looking out along the empty street. Now that his late-night munch plans were a bust, he'd have to find a new distraction from his insomnia. His eyes drifted to the rooftops. A familiar gargoyle came to mind. Maybe it was time to see an old friend.


 

He needed to stop doing this.

Dick stood still, clothed in the shadows of the rooftop ornament. The young acrobat's eyes were fixated on a building two down from him. More specifically, they were trained on the individual perched upon its roof. Jason.

Dick sighed. He really needed to stop doing this.

Dick had first spotted him like this a week ago. On his way to a fire that had spread half a block, he had spotted Jason, right by that same gargoyle. Dick hadn't stopped that time, focusing instead on rescuing people from the fire.

This was the third night Dick had found himself out here. The second night, he'd found his brother perched with that gargoyle just the same, running his haunted gaze over Gotham City. Dick's every instinct had screamed to join him. Dick sighed. Maybe he shouldn't have hesitated that night. But how many times had had Jason pushed him away?

Now, he was out here again, battling with the same question. Surely Jason would have reached out himself if he'd really wanted to. Dick let out another sigh, running a hand through his hair. Why wasn't there a manual on navigating relationships with angry people who came back from the dead? Dick's eyes wandered back to Jason. There weren't many instances where he could remember seeing Jason look this… helpless. His eyes narrowed taking Jason in more carefully. He ignored the voice in the back of his head which told him he was being overbearing. He was allowed to be concerned, wasn't he? Dick studied his brothers form a little more. There was something definitely off about Jason. Dick readied his grappling gun. That made his decision for him then.

Dick approached slowly, mirroring the caution one might take with a frightened animal. After a little debate, he decided to settle in right next to Jason on the rooftop. An annoyed sigh was the only acknowledgement Jason gave him. At least he hadn't told Dick to go away. That was somewhat reassuring. Still, Dick would have to tread carefully here.

"You know," Dick started slowly, "I really thought Bruce was joking when he said you have a favourite gargoyle."

Jason closed his eyes, inhaling a deep breath. As if responding to Dick was an annoyance he had to mentally prepare for. Dick tried not to feel affronted.

"Old man doesn't joke," Jason responded finally, still not turning to face him.

"Yeah," Dick snorted, "that probably should've been my first clue."

"hmm"

It wasn't much of a response, but Dick was certain he saw the corner of Jason's mouth twitch slightly. He didn't completely detest Dick's company. That was a small victory at least. Dick settled back on his arms opting to follow Jason's suit and cast his gaze over the Gotham rooftops. There was something calming about Gotham from this angle. He cast his eyes to the side to observe Jason. Did he find this calming too? He would've thought that Jason was more the type to beat something up to calm his emotions, not unlike Damian. Dick remembered walking in on that particular form of therapy quite a few times when Jason had been Robin.

Dick continued to let his gaze wonder Gotham. There was a surprising number of food places open at this time of night. He often made visits himself while on patrol. Damian had chastised him for being unprofessional when he'd discovered his older brother's habit. Little did Damian know, Dick had picked up that habit from Bruce. The man had been different when he had first taken Dick in.

Dick's eyes were drawn to a small fast food place on a street a few blocks down. It was easy to miss. It had only caught Dick's attention because of its name. He grinned. What were the odds?

Dick nudged his brother's shoulder lightly.

Jason glared at him, "Dick do you really have to –"

"No, look!" Dick interrupted him, gesturing to the building that had caught his attention.

Jason sighed following Dick's gaze. He shook his head, annoyed. "I don't see what's so -" He paused when he saw the name, letting out a groan. Jason turned back to face Dick "Really? Little Wings?"

Dick's grin widened. "Think I could get Bruce to buy it?" Jason rolled his eyes. Dick continued as if he hadn't noticed. "It'd be great! We could have some angry Red Hood toys to give away… although Bat Burger's already doing that I suppose."

Jason glared it him. "You know, Dick isn't a name you should try to live up to."

Dick burst out in laughter. Yeah, he had heard every joke in the book. But they still got to him sometimes. When he'd calmed himself enough to look back at Jason again, Dick noticed that his face looked more relaxed now. Whatever Dick had come here to distract Jason from seemed to have left his mind – for now. Dick would have to get him to talk about that soon.

They both leaned back to relax, a companionable silence settling over them. Perhaps Dick should consider pushing for why Jason was up here. Bruce had said that Jason only came up here when something was bothering him. Dick's brows drew together, contemplating speaking up. He glanced at Jason and decided against it. Now was not the time for that. Jason would just close off again.

The flash of the Bat signal interrupted his thoughts.

"I think that's your cue," Jason told him.

Dick repressed a groan. He was just getting somewhere here. Burying the disappointment, he turned to Jason.

"You could always join me?" Dick offered, raising an eyebrow in challenge.

"Nice try," Jason smirked, "But I think there's a more than enough bats to answer the signal."

Dick tried not to look defeated. Of course, Jason's walls would still be up. He chewed his lip contemplating a thought. Before he could talk himself out of it, he quickly pushed a small piece of paper into Jason's hands. Jason flinched at the abrupt movement, before looking down to examine what Dick had given him. Dick rubbed the back of his neck, starting to look a little sheepish.

"It's uh… it's an invite to my birthday."

Jason eyed the fancy lettering and raised an eyebrow at Dick.

"Yeah," Dick cringed a little, "Bruce decided to turn the event into one of those society bashes," Dick explained. "Alfred thought that the Wayne's were becoming a little too reclusive in the public eye."

Dick kept his eyes on Jason trying to gauge his response. Jason's was hesitant. It looked like he was about to utter an abrupt refusal.

"At least think about it," Dick hurried out, before Jason could say anything.

Dick fired his grappling gun, swinging away. He had delayed getting to the signal long enough. He trusted that either Tim or Damian would be there though. They were usually extra vigilant when Bruce was involved in some Justice League mess. He cast one last look back at the rooftop Jason was on. Hopefully he had made the right move there. Dick had reached out. He just hoped that Jason was willing to meet him half way.

 

Chapter Text

It should be easy.

Jason let out an exasperated sigh. It couldn't be so bad if he broke it down. All he had to do was walk up to the manor, go inside, make an appearance, then leave. There, simple. He slumped his shoulders. If only it was that simple.

His eyes drifted up to the black iron bars that loomed high above him. Even open, the manor gates were far from welcoming. Jason traced the pathway leading up to the manor. One foot in front of the other and he'd be at the entrance. He only had to take the first step.

Jason's feet didn't budge.

He didn't have to go in.

Jason rested his eyes on the invitation in his hand.

It's not as if he'd told Dick that he would come.

Jason sighed unable to stop the manor from drawing his gaze once more.

As they roamed over the grounds, his eyes softened. The lawn always did have a way of pulling him in. Jason had never experienced the luxury of a front lawn before he had met Bruce. Many nights had been spent with Jason exploring routes through the cover of the trees and the shrubbery. All these years later, Jason still knew every inch of this lawn. The shrubbery was as well-groomed as it always was. Trees he had climbed in his childhood still stood tall around the manor grounds. A small smile slipped through Jason's features. Even the flower bed he had helped Alfred plant was still there. Bruce had never been fond of change.

Jason ripped his eyes away, stopping the wave of memories threatening to overflow. There may have been a time when he would have woven seamlessly into the scene before him. He shut his eyes, pushing the thoughts back. That was before he had been murdered. He opened his eyes to glare down at the invitation in his hand. It was that Jason they all wanted back. Not him.

Jason turned his back to the manor, facing the road stretched out before him. Again, Jason found his eyes lingering on the invitation. Part of him had the urge to crumple the infuriating thing. Instead he carefully tucked it back into his suit pocket.

"Shit!"

Jason snapped out of his thoughts, whipping his head in the direction of the whispered curse. How had he not realised someone else was here? He squinted his eyes, trying to see better in the dark. Everyone should have been long inside the party by now.

Once his eyes adjusted, Jason could make out the form of a woman a little further down. Jason shrugged to himself. Maybe she couldn't find the open gate. He shook his head to himself, dismissing the thought. It was a pretty hard thing to miss.

Jason trained his eyes straight ahead of him. Nope, he wasn't investigating. He was going home. As if operating with a mind separate of his own, his eyes crept back the side. Alfred had once told him it was healthy to indulge his curiosity. Sure, he had been talking about Jason's more academic pursuits back then. But still, it could apply to this too couldn't it?

Jason turned toward the direction of the woman. Yes, it could.


 

He wasn't coming.

Dick scanned the room for what may have been the fiftieth time that night. His shoulders fell. Perhaps It was time to take the hint. Jason had no desire to be involved with the family. Or maybe… he just wasn't ready yet. Either way, Dick couldn't force him to come back. It had to be a decision that Jason made on his own.

"Brooding does not become you, Master Dick."

Dick brought his eyes to Alfred. Tray of refreshments in hand, Alfred's demeanour was proper as ever. To most, this would have appeared as a natural stop in the Butler's rounds of the party. However, the niggling concern that Dick caught in his gaze betrayed him. Dick gave Alfred a wide grin to put him at ease.

"Should leave it to Bruce huh? Wouldn't want to steal his thunder."

Alfred arched a brow. Without doubt, he would have recognised Dick's attempt to divert the conversation from himself. Thankfully, he did not comment. Alfred always did have a gift for knowing when to speak his piece. Instead, the Butler nodded over to the other side of the room.

"Apparently, he is stealing yours."

Dick followed Alfred's eyes to find Bruce surrounded by a small group of people laughing at some story he was telling. Dick shook his head. If only the Justice League could see the big broody bat actually being social. It still amazed him sometimes – the way Bruce could play the role of carefree billionaire so perfectly. Bruce met his gaze and Dick caught the hint of irritation seeping into in his eyes. Dick grinned. Well, almost perfectly.

"Even young Master Damian appears to be more social than you are tonight."

Dick snapped his eyes back to Alfred. A social Damian? That was an event worth celebrating in itself. Alfred smiled, the barest upturn of his lips. He nodded over to Damian's position surrounded by a few women. Dick smiled. Alfred's description had been a bit generous. They watched as Damian attempted a polite exit from the group of ladies doting on him. Until one of them decided to pinch his cheek. Dick winced. That was not going to go down well. Damian glowered at the lady with a ferocity only the direct decedent of the Bat would be able to manage. It had its intended effect. She recoiled from him, and the little group dispersed.

Dick stifled his smile. Despite how it appeared, that was an improvement. Upon his initial arrival, Damian might well have responded by fetching his katana. When Damian caught Dick's eye, he didn't bother to hide the smile anymore. Damian threw him a look suggesting he was more than happy to reuse the glare on him. Dick shrugged it off, beckoning his little brother over. Damian rolled his eyes but made to move toward his end of the room anyway. Dick turned back to Alfred plucking a treat from the tray of assorted biscuits.

"They are doing pretty well." Dick agreed. His smile turned mischievous as he added. "Makes me wonder if I could slip out early? As a birthday gift?"

"Certainly not, Master Dick!"

Dick grinned. "Somehow, I figured you would say that."

Tim joined the two by whisking away two of the biscuits from Alfred's tray. Dick shook his head. How was it possible for him to have such a large appetite? And Alfred said he was bad.

"Since it's not my birthday," Tim began though a mouthful, "no one will miss me if I leave, right?"

Alfred shook his head, his eyes flickering to the ceiling.

"Hermits, the lot of you," Alfred muttered, as he moved away from the boys to return to his rounds of the party.

Dick chuckled, turning to Tim. "Nice try - if I'm trapped here, so are you."

"You're just as bad as Alfred," Tim complained.

The teen caught movement on the other side of the room. His eyes narrowed.

"Apparently, "Tim said, nodding his head to where he was looking, "the little demon child can storm out whenever he wants."

Dick's brows furrowed together, confused. What was he talking about?

Dick followed Tim's eyes to see that Damian was no longer making his way to join Dick. The young boy instead had made a complete course correction in the direction of one of the room's exits. Dick frowned. Despite the neutral expression that Damian had plastered on his face, it was difficult to miss the urgency in his steps. A few people hastened out of Damian's path as his movements toward the exit increased in their aggression. Dick cocked his head. Sure, Damian wasn't very fond of social occasions, but something had to have happened to have brought on a reaction like that. Apparently, Tim came to the same conclusion.

"What do you think has gotten into him?"

Dick's eyes were still trailing Damian's steps. "I don't know."

But he was about to go find out.


 

Jason kept silent as he observed the woman's rather poor attempt of climbing the fence.

He cocked his head. Thief? Perhaps an assassin. No. He shook his head at himself. Definitely not the last one. An assassin would have noticed him standing there. He brought his eyes back up to the woman. That didn't rule out thief though.

Jason cast a critical eye on the woman's movements. Her arms strained with effort as she placed one above the other on the bars. The woman's slow ascent lacked the practiced skill one would expect of a thief. It was kind of amusing really. Her legs were quite active though. The slits in her dress allowed her to wrap them around the bars to aid her climb. It didn't help much. She clearly was unused to the art of breaking and entering.

Not a thief then. A tension Jason hadn't noticed building up, melted from his shoulders. She was harmless - not that it should have concerned him. Jason didn't take it upon himself to protect anything Bruce owned. With this assessment, he should have been content to leave well enough alone. Jason chose instead to remain in his spot, watching the scene unfold before him.

The woman slipped down the bars a little before reaching a shaky hand to stop herself. A small grin pulled at the corners of his mouth. Maybe it was a little sadistic, but the woman's attempt to scale the fence was rather entertaining. His eyes moved lower. Especially with that long emerald dress.

Jason took in her appearance properly. Unfortunately, he couldn't see her face from where he was standing. This made is a little difficult to determine her age. Although, anyone trying to climb the manor fence couldn't be very old. What Jason did get to see however, were the long bronze legs showcased by the high riding slits in her dress. Clearly, she valued movement in her clothing. His eyes trailed up the expanse of skin. Or perhaps, she just liked showing off her legs – he certainly wouldn't have blamed her. Jason dismissed the thought. Considering the nature of her current activity, it was more likely that ease of movement had been the deciding factor in dress choice. Now that he thought about it…

His eyes drifted up. Even her hair was done up to service practicality. She had styled it in a winding bun. The silver pins that adorned it added an extravagance to the updo. They had a particularly striking effect when they caught the light of the moon and glistened in the deep brown of her hair. Fancy yes, yet it was still functional. Not even a strand threatened to fall into her face and obscure her vision.

The Woman's attire was a combination of style and practicality that she wore well. Very well in fact. She would have looked perfectly well placed inside the manor doors. So, what was she doing climbing the fence?

He watched as she made another awkward arm movement. An amateur … trying to sneak into a party.

Of Course. A slow smile split his face as he shook his head at himself. All his training had led him to automatically assume the worst when there was a much simpler answer in front of him. She was a gate-crasher. Jason should have figured it out earlier – he'd done it himself enough times. With Wayne events as popular as they were, it was not an unusual occurrence.

The woman's frustrated curse interrupted his thoughts as her hand slipped again. Unable to regain her hold this time, she was sent sliding down the bars. She landed on the ground with a satisfying thump. Jason failed to hold in the small chuckle that escaped him.

The woman jolted at the sound. Her head snapped back too look at him, unmindful of her undignified position on the ground. With her widened eyes she bore a distinct resemblance to a deer caught in headlights. Jason found himself laughing harder. Her eyes promptly narrowed to a glare. He probably deserved that.

Jason recovered himself, hiding any last dregs of laughter with a cough. Alfred would probably have a few choice words to say to him right now. It was best not to think of how close the butler would come to a heart attack if he witnessed Jason's less than gentlemanly behaviour. If it was possible, Jason was sure he felt the woman's glare intensify further. Okay he probably shouldn't have laughed – or at least tried harder to hold it in. He cleared his throat, drawing closer to her.

"Not invited huh?" he asked her, holding out his hand in an offer of peace.

The woman cast a dubious look at it, before lifting her eyes to read his face. He could see now that she was very young - probably not much older than he was. Jason thought she might refuse his hand completely. To his surprise, she took it.

While getting up, she used a little more force than Jason had been expecting. This caused him to stumble a bit, but he managed to catch himself. She probably hadn't noticed. Jason looked up to find her smirking at him. Oh, she'd noticed alright. In fact, it was entirely plausible that she had caused that on purpose. Fine, he'd let her have her small revenge.

The Woman let go of his had before smoothing over her dress. She performed the movement leisurely, in no hurry to give him any response. Finally, she looked up at him, a relaxed smile on her lips.

"That's an interesting assumption to make."

Jason raised an incredulous eyebrow.

"Invited guests normally use a more conventional form of entry."

She merely shrugged, admitting to nothing. The way she brushed off the subtle accusation was almost admirable. How often did she get herself into situations like this?

"I expect they might." She responded, her eyes making a miniscule movement that allowed her gaze to sweep over him.

"So…" The woman started, surprisingly at ease for a person caught in the act of breaking and entering. "What kind of a person turns down an invitation to a Wayne event?"

Jason's eyebrows almost flew up. She couldn't possibly know he was invited. The event was scheduled to have started at least two hours ago. For all she knew, he could have been another gate crasher. Something in his expression must have given him away because she grinned. He needed to stop relying so much on that damn helmet.

"The invitation is poking out of your pocket," She told him, by way of explanation.

Jason looked down to see that it was. He reached up to push it all the way in, ignoring the little smirk the woman sent him. She reminded him of Roy when he got a little too pleased with himself. He brought his eyes back to her, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"What makes you think I was turning it down?"

"Because the entrance is back over there," She nodded to the open gates behind him. "unless you were looking for better way in."

Jason smirked. "Well, you certainly seem to have found one."

She narrowed her eyes but otherwise didn't respond to the thinly veiled jab. Jason found himself a little disappointed by that. He was curious to see how she handled when her calm response failed her. Some slightly twisted part of him rather enjoyed provoking reactions in people. Sometimes, there was a particularly special brand of entertainment to be gained when you could see the agitation on a person. Especially with Bruce.

Jason's eyes drifted to the manor. Attending this thing would be sure to rile the old man up at least a bit. And annoying Bruce was practically his brand, wasn't it? He brought his eyes back to the woman. Maybe he could help her into the party. It could be his good deed for the day – or bad deed rather. It depended on the way you looked at it. Jason let the thought settle for a moment before coming to a decision.

"I can get you in."

Her eyes snapped back to his. She cocked her head to one side, searching his face for something.

"How generous," she drawled. "and how am I expected to repay this gallant act of goodwill?"

Jason grinned. He'd half expected her to refuse. She seemed like she had a bit of an ego.

"One dance should do the trick, Princess."

Her eyes narrowed at the name, but she didn't comment. Jason hid his smug smile. She must have been battling with that fence for some time. Slowly, she nodded.

"One dance it is then."

Jason's eyes slipped back to the manor with some trepidation. So, he was attending after all. He couldn't stick to his resolve for anything. At least yanking Bruce's wings was always a worthy cause. And if he happened to run into Dick in the process – it wouldn't be entirely terrible.


 

Dick found Damian outside, seated on a bench with his back to the manor. He took a step forward. Damian tensed, sensing he wasn't alone.

"Tim's inside" Damian told him, without turning around.

Dick's brows drew together. Damian's voice sounded odd. It was laden with a tone far too bitter to be used by someone so young. What had brought this on?

"I know kiddo," Dick responded, keeping a close eye on Damian's form, "I was just there."

Damian remained still at his spot on the bench, refusing to face him. Dick was reminded of his last encounter with Jason. With careful steps, Dick moved to take a seat beside his brother.

"What's got you out here little D?"

"I felt like being alone."

Something in Damian's tone convinced Dick that wasn't true. He shook his head. This family would be the death of him. Getting any of them to talk about what was bothering them was harder than convincing the Justice League that Kite Man was a real villain. It usually involved a little bit of deception.

"Hmmm" Dick muttered, "That's a shame – I was hoping we could spend a little time together," he got up to leave, "but if I'm just going to be intruding…"

Damian's head snapped up.

"Wait!"

Dick masked his victorious smile and turned back to face his brother. Damian looked away again as if mentally berating himself for how weak he let himself sound. Something was definitely bothering the kid if Dick's little ploy had worked.

"I mean, "Damian corrected himself, looking up to face Dick. "you are permitted to stay… If that is what you wish."

Dick allowed a soft smile to grace his face. There was a time Damian would never have admitted to wanting his company.

"Well," Dick grinned, returning to his seat once more, "since I have permission."

They sat in silence for a little bit, simply casting their gaze out to the manor grounds. Dick glanced over to Damian. The boy was perfectly still. It had unnerved them all at first when Damian did that – Tim still thought it was weird. Eventually though, Dick had come to realise that it was comfortable for him – in a twisted sort of way. Damian hated to appear unsettled in any situation. Controlling his body helped him to mask his emotions, giving Damian some semblance power in situations he would feel otherwise powerless. Dick's heart fell a little. He hated that Damian felt the need to hide his emotions from him.

As if the dam burst, Damian let out a frustrated sigh.

"You left."

Dick started at the outburst.

"Damian?"

"As soon as Father came back." Damian continued. His voice laced with a false calm. "you left me with him."

Dick's face drew into a confused frown. He decided it was best not to interrupt. It had clearly been something Damian had been wanting to say for a while. Forcing himself to remain silent, Dick waited for him to continue.

"You gave me the title of Robin. You put me through the extra training, took me with you on your missions." His eyes hardened "you made me believe that you cared."

Dick cocked his head trying to figure out what Damian was getting at.

"That's because I do care."

Damian sighed then. Turning away so his face was hidden. Dick recognised the motion for what it was. His last line of defence. It was a little difficult to decipher, but Dick was beginning to understand.

"You miss me."

Damian froze.

"Grayson," he warned, keeping his voice low. "I swear if you tell another living soul…"

"Woah!" Dick's arms came up warding off Damian's threats. "Don't worry little D – it'll be our secret."

Although Damian settled back down, he didn't seem entirely placated. He turned away again. Dick frowned. There was something more here.

"Wanna know a secret?" he decided to bait Damian.

For a moment the boy remained still, keeping his eyes well averted from Dick. Then, he carefully turned back to face his older brother.

Dick gave him a little nudge. "I've missed you too."

Damian's eyes widened – a miniscule amount, but Dick caught it. The expression disappeared when the boy's face quickly contorted to that carefully crafted mask of neutrality. Dick's brows drew together. It wasn't a mask he wanted to see worn for him.

"But…you have Drake."

Oh. Dick's face softened. He had been spending more time with Tim lately. It was therein that the problem lay. Dick should have figured it out earlier. Damian had to grow up competing for scraps of attention. The kid had been through so much, sometimes they all forgot how much of a child he still was. One that was healing. Damian had made progress, but some things were harder to undo. Even after all this time, the boy still felt the need to compete for love.

"Damian…"

Damian turned to face him again, some of the defences falling. Dick felt a pang in his gut. Even after all this time, he was still so cautious. Dick took in his brother's vulnerable eyes. No matter how hard Damian fought to hide it, he bled the need for acceptance. He hated the thought, but sometimes Dick wondered how much they could really do to combat Damian's harsh upbringing.

Dick pulled himself away from that dangerous line of thinking. Instead, he reached an arm out and pulled the younger boy closer to him. Damian didn't resist.

"No one out there is a substitute for you." Dick told him firmly, tucking the young boy under his arm.

"-tt-"

If asked Damian would deny it vehemently, but Dick felt his brother pull closer to him. A small smile slipped onto Dick's face as he gripped Damian tighter. He would always be there to reassure Damian. No matter how often the kid needed it.


 

He probably should have expected that his gate-crashing buddy would wander off. Jason took a sip of his Champagne. Wherever she'd gotten off to, she had to be having a better time than him. So much for company.

It had been Jason's natural inclination to place himself toward the corner of the room. Not exactly the most social of spots – which is probably why his company had wondered off, but it was a good vantage point. Here, he could observe.

Jason cast his eyes about the room. There were quite a few couples moving along the dance floor. He scoffed. Trust the Gotham elite to keep alive dancing styles that were centuries old. How could anyone ever have fun at these things? They did look graceful though, as they glided across the floor. Almost like ethereal beings in their stunning dresses and tailored suits. Watching them one could almost forget the city that rotted beneath their feet.

Bruce was off the floor, engaging one of the older guests in what looked to be a boring conversation. Jason had noticed Bruce sending subtle glances his way since he'd entered the manor. Even when he posed no threat, the old man felt the need to watch him. Bruce sent another glance his way and this time Jason caught his eye. Eyes locked with Bruce, Jason raised his glass in a mock toast. There was a flicker in the old man's eyes. Jason was pretty sure he caught Bruce tense before he ripped his eyes away. He smirked. Bruce was riled up alright.

Fun as it was to set Bruce's panties in a bunch, Dick was the person he would much rather see. God, he had to make sure the circus boy never found that out. Jason scanned the room. Where was he? There was no way Alfred would let someone weasel out of their own birthday event. Jason had endured enough events of his own when he had lived in the manor to know that.

His eyes halted on Tim. He looked different in the suit. Less like an awkward kid and more like the young adult he was growing into. Tim met his gaze. To Jason's surprise he couldn't detect any hostility in those eyes. He seemed more… curious? Tim gave him the barest hint of a nod before returning to his conversation. Jason blinked. Well, that was uncomfortable.

Bruce must have finished his conversation because he was moving now – to Jason's side of the room. Shit.

Jason focused on keeping his hand steady as he took a calming sip of the Champagne. Maybe Bruce was going to talk to someone else. Slipping his eyes back to the other side of the room, Jason saw the man turn yet another guest away. He was making a beeline straight to Jason's position. Damn. Jason's eyes darted around the room in search of an escape. Yanking Bruce's wings was fun and all – but not if he had to talk to him.

At that moment, Jason's eyes landed on the sight of a familiar emerald dress. There she was. He chugged back the rest of his Champagne. She was his ticket out of this confrontation – for now anyway.

Placing the empty glass on a passing tray, Jason made his way to his gate-crashing companion. Avoiding Bruce's eyes, Jason weaved through the throng of people to approach her. He knew that he was moving faster than what was strictly necessary. An imminent confrontation – with the father figure he had a lot of complications with, could be one hell of a motivator.

"How about that dance?" Jason asked as soon as he had approached her. He was acutely aware of Bruce's eyes on him.

The Brunette raised a questioning eyebrow before looking down to his outstretched hand. Her gaze flickered behind him momentarily. Slowly, she brought her eyes back to his and took his hand.

"Of course,"

Jason continued to avoid letting his eyes wander anywhere near Bruce's side of the room as he led his partner out onto the dance floor. Instead, Jason focused on positioning himself as the next song began. The music began in a softer melody to the last. Jason led the two through a leisurely swaying motion. It wasn't too fancy. He wasn't about to utilise the full force of the dance lessons he had received in his youth. Another guest approached Bruce. Jason watched as Bruce, reluctantly let himself get pulled into the conversation. His shoulders relaxed, and Jason was able to sway to the music more freely.

"I'll try to not to feel offended about being your escape attempt."

His eyes snapped to his dance partner. Had Jason really been that obvious? She gave him a playful smile.

"What has you avoiding the Bruce Wayne I wonder?"

Jason's eyebrows flew up. He really did need that helmet. How could he have been so revealing? Or perhaps, his dance partner was more perceptive than he had given her credit for. Jason led her through a series of intricate twirls before spinning her out. It wasn't a move strictly required as part of the dance, but it allowed him a little time to compose himself before thinking of a response.

"You know," Jason started, deciding to avoid her question completely as he spun her back into him. "It occurs to me that you never gave out your name."

Her eyes narrowed slightly. Jason had not been subtle in his change of topic. He wasn't trying to be. It was a chance for her to drop her line of questioning. She must have seen the look in his eyes because she decided to go along with this new line of conversation – for the time being.

"Figured you'd ask if you wanted to know,"

"Fair point," Jason shrugged. Letting himself relax further into the dance, Jason rested his eyes on hers. "I am asking now though."

"I suppose you are," she smirked. "Annoying when your questions are brushed off huh?"

Jason let out a sigh, shaking his head at her. "Is it always like this with you?"

"No," she chuckled, amused by his frustration. "Only when I'm talking to difficult people."

He raised an incredulous eyebrow.

"I'm the difficult one?" Jason spun them around, so he didn't have to catch the look Bruce sent him. "You are the one who thinks it's so fun to keep their name such a mysterious secret."

"Oh, and yours is all out in the open?"

Jason had been able to have smoother conversations with a pot plant. He held back the urge to groan.

"Alright," Jason relented. "Hello, Miss gate crasher – I'm Jason. Nice to meet you." He gestured to her. "Now, your turn."

She shook her head but gave in anyway.

"Thyma."

"See, that wasn't so hard was it?"

Thyma rolled her eyes. Jason saw her grinning though.

Feeling a chill go down his spine, Jason stiffened. He could feel eyes on him. Bruce.

Thyma's eyes snapped up. She must have felt the change. Her eyes searched behind him before returning to his.

"He's watching you, you know."

So, he hadn't been just imagining it. He slipped on an easy grin to mask his face.

"Maybe he's watching you," Jason leaned in to whisper to her. "You're the gate crasher after all."

"Yeah, but you're my accomplice," she scoffed, pushing him back lightly. "There's no two ways about it. Those eyes are definitely on you, Jason."

Oh, he knew. It was impossible not to feel them bore into the back of his skull. Like a snake lying in wait of its prey.

As the song came to a close, Jason led their swaying to a stop. Taking a step back from him, Thyma gave him a sympathetic smile before turning away.

"Good luck with that conversation you're not trying to avoid." She called out behind her, before disappearing into the confusion of people entering and leaving the dance floor.

Jason took a breath to steel himself. Yeah, he'd need it. He turned around to make his way to the drinks again. A miracle would be preferable to luck. The universe didn't offer them to people like Jason very often. Just this once would be nice though.

He could see Bruce approaching him in his peripheral vision. With each step Jason's dread grew. He felt like the little kid in the ally all those years ago. Jason braced himself for the inevitable.

To his surprise, Bruce never reached him. Tim had decided at that moment to drag a reluctant Bruce into yet another conversation with a group of old men. That had to hold him for a while. Jason's heart calmed down. He looked back toward the group conversing. As unlikely as it seemed, his miracle had come in the form of Tim Drake.

An arm wrapped around Jason steering him away from the drinks. Conveniently enough, they were leading him away from Bruce too.

"Glad you could make it," Dick told him.

The cogs turned in Jason's head. Dick's timing – even Tim's, had been too perfect to be a coincidence. He had half a mind to thank Dick for the rescue – but then that would mean having to admit that he needed it.

"Well," Jason replied, "I happened to be in the neighbourhood…"

Dick chuckled lightly. He dropped his arm and turned to face Jason. There was a smile on Dick's face that Jason hadn't quite seen before. It reminded him of the overenthusiastic grin that his dog used to give him when he came home. Right before she would race over to give him a big lick. Jason wished Dick would wipe it off.

"Whatever the reason," Dick told him. "I'm glad you're here."

Dick's eyes moved beyond Jason's shoulder. He winced.

"Guess I should have thought through the Bruce situation." Dick muttered.

"Ahh," Jason shrugged, pretending he hadn't been in a panic only a few moments ago. "Didn't even notice that the old man was here."

Dick raised an eyebrow, clearly not buying it.

Jason coughed, turning away. "But… I really should be on my way."

Jason pretended not to notice the amused smile on Dick's face at that comment. Instead he turned toward the exit. He was probably best to leave now unless he wanted to spend the rest of his night actively avoiding Bruce. Dick's arm reached out to stop him. Jason halted, turning back to face him. The arm dropped quickly, though Dick's eyes still held an earnest warmth.

"I really meant it Jason," Dick said, with that infuriating smile Jason didn't deserve. "I'm glad you came."

Despite everything, Jason was alarmed to find that he might have shared the sentiment. Unsure of how to respond, Jason merely nodded before turning away again.

Jason could have saved himself a whole lot of trouble if he'd just stayed home tonight. He sighed to himself as he made his way toward an exit. despite the fact that he detested events like these, Jason knew that he wouldn't be able to consider this occasion a complete waste of time. He shook his head at himself. He really was turning soft.