Jason cursed and got back up, shaking his hand to dislodge the pain of landing on his wrist. Landings. They were the hard part. Everything else he could handle, throw himself into without thought, but landings took planning. They took precision and focus and all the things his fighting didn’t usually entail.
He breathed out his frustration. He was getting better. Even Bruce said he was.
“Ready?” Bruce asked the way he always and only did when Jason was actually hurt. If Jason was uninjured he usually carried on without warning.
Jason nodded and fell back into a fighting stance. Bruce kept telling him to plant his feet but not much else, don’t let your opponent know you’re ready to fight, fall into it when the first punch lands. But a lifetime of brawling in streets filled with the kids of low rent boxers and thugs was hard to break, and the landing was easier when he was positioned right to begin with.
As he was taught, Jason waited for Bruce’s attack before moving aside and bringing down an elbow, easily deflected by his mentor, and bringing up an arm to block a blow to his head.
His wrist was forgotten.
Dick rubbed absently at the sudden but fast ebbing spike of pain in his wrist and tugged at his hair in frustration. This lead was going nowhere fast. He’d have to go out again tonight even though he’d got a scant two hours sleep during the day. Unlike Bruce, he didn’t often go without sleep. He’d grab a few hours here and there to keep him going and preferred not to go out as Nightwing unless he’d had at least six hours out of the last twenty-four, but preferences meant very little when he was on a specific case. Especially a time sensitive one.
He could function well enough at this level, he just wouldn’t be quite as sharp. He’d have to compensate with wariness.
He’d be fine.
Jason cried out more from shock than the pain itself, though the pain was more than enough to justify it. It felt like someone had shot him in the thigh and the pain wasn’t fading. He limped over to his bed and pulled up his trouser leg, inspecting the unblemished skin, poking it for good measure. He focused on the source, wishing the pain would just go away already so he could go brush his teeth and get some sleep, and the pain vanished.
Warily, he focused on how the pain had felt, and it came back. A little less sudden but just as strong. He played with it for a while, pushing it away and bringing it back until he could control how much he felt of it. Eventually he got rid of it altogether, needing sleep and feeling too pissed off to think clearly about weird leg pain.
He’d been benched for not sleeping. Which was completely hypocritical as Bruce hadn’t slept either, they’d been training most of the day. But Bruce’s word, as always, was law. Jason would bet his favourite pyjamas that Bruce would have let Dick come out with him.
Dick knew what it meant, of course. The minute the pain in his leg stopped he knew. He’d suspected for a few days now, what with the random aches and pains he’d get and the way his actual aches and pains subsided. And it really didn’t take a genius, everyone knew about soulmates even if not everyone agreed with them. It was like sex ed, if it wasn’t taught in school kids learned it from their older friends and siblings. His parents had been soulmates, it’d even saved their lives or at least their bones a few times, the ability to take each other’s pain making it easier for the injured party to dismount safely.
He had to admit to being a little hurt at the fact his soulmate didn’t seem to try to keep the pain for long, but then bullets to the leg were a bit beyond the pain tolerance of the average person so he couldn’t exactly blame them.
The hard part was figuring out who it was. His night job meant meeting a lot of people, and his inability to hold down a day job only made it worse. It could be any one of a hundred people depending on when it started. Dick tried to remember when the first shared pain had occurred, but as an ex acrobat and current vigilante random aches weren’t exactly new even if the context was.
It wasn’t until he had a mission from Bruce and saw Jason take a punch from a goon that he figured it out, his own face throbbing while Jason seemed oblivious to how hard he’d been hit. Then he took a hard kick to the kidney while still distracted by the revelation and saw Jason crumble a little, face a picture of shocked confusion. The pain was back after only a moment and Jason hadn’t even looked around.
Dick elected to save thinking through the fact his soulmate was his twelve year old replacement who was seemingly unaware of what was going on for a time when he wasn’t liable to get hit in the head with a crowbar. He was pretty proud of himself for making such a wise decision.
When the fight was over, he snuck away before Bruce or Jason could corner him for any reason. He needed space to figure out what to do.
Back at his apartment it didn’t take long to wrap his head around.
It was simple. Ish. If your soulmate was a child then you weren’t supposed to tell them until they were of legal age, so that already took care of one part of the decision. Dick happened to agree with the law wholeheartedly on that one, it wasn’t something children should have to deal with. They shouldn’t have the pressure of knowing who their pain was hurting or whose pain they could be taking.
The less simple part was deciding whether to take Jason’s pain. On the one hand he was a twelve year old kid who’d already felt a whole lot more pain than any kid should, but on the other hand Jason wasn’t stupid. He’d figure it out pretty quickly if Dick took his pain on the regular. Plus if that fight was any indicator, without the consequence of pain to curb him Jason would end up seriously injuring himself sooner rather than later. Of course, Dick couldn’t help it the other way around but Jason hadn’t accepted any of Dick’s pain yet so that likely wouldn’t be an issue for a while. After weighing the options Dick decided to take the edge off any debilitating pain and nothing else. He wouldn’t be doing Jason any favours if he took his pain before he’d learned not to get hurt in the first place, pain existed for a reason. It served a function.
He didn’t need to think before deciding not to tell Bruce. Even through his hurt and anger he still loved the guy, but he wasn’t sure what Bruce would do with the information. Batman wasn’t exactly the most stable vigilante on the block.
Dick tried not to pay attention to the small voice in his head saying maybe his frustration with the whole Robin situation was affecting his judgement.
Jason’s arm didn’t hurt. He backed away from the creep that’d just done something that very much sounded like breaking Jason’s arm and tried to figure out why the hell it didn’t hurt. He was glad it didn’t. He was outnumbered, four other creeps were edging around him, circling him. The pain of a broken arm at this point would be a disadvantage he couldn’t afford.
Batman arrived eventually, looking disappointed at having to save Robin on top of a half dozen civilians. Jason’s ribs ached, so did his fists. But his arm was still pain free despite hanging limply at his side.
“Should I be worried?” Jason asked Alfred back at the manor, once the old man had set it and was staring at him with his head slightly cocked. “Is there nerve damage or something?”
“It seems unlikely. It was a clean break, didn’t pierce the skin or muscle,” Alfred mused aloud. “Has this happened before?”
“The pain of an injury being absent?” Alfred asked, “Or perhaps experiencing pain when you are uninjured?”
Jason frowned. “Yeah, actually. A few times.”
Alfred nodded. “It appears you have met your soul mate.”
Soul mate. Jason had a soul mate. He knew objectively what one was and he probably should have pieced it together, but the thought hadn’t even occurred to him. He’d never known anyone who had a soul mate before. “Are you sure?” He had to ask. Because how could he have a soul mate? One that he’d met. One who was willing to take the pain of a broken arm off him even though Jason had always pushed their pain away.
“It seems the most likely explanation. I’m surprised you didn’t mention any of this before,” Alfred verified. “You had to have known what it meant?”
“No. No, I, uh. I didn’t think…” Jason couldn’t think straight. Who was it? He had to know who it was.
“Master Bruce could likely assist in discovering the identity of your other half if you so wished?” Alfred proposed.
Jason shook his head. This was his. He couldn’t risk Bruce telling him to forget about it. “Don’t tell him. I’ll figure it out myself.”
He hadn’t meant to do it. He’d meant to stick by the decision he’d made and only take enough off that Jason was still able to protect himself. But dammit, that broken arm had hurt and Dick couldn’t bring himself to give the pain back. He’d left the other various points of pain alone, but the arm… He couldn’t knowingly let a twelve year old feel it when there was a choice.
Jason must have been taking enough pain killers to take the edge off as the pain dulled after a few hours, but it was still damn painful. His arm still functioned fine, he could only take the pain after all, not the injury, but it was a pain in the ass to convince his body of that. It took three days before he was able to go out as Nightwing again.
Jason’s arm was still broken the first time he took Dick’s pain. Nightwing had been captured. He’d got free easy enough, but not before taking a blow to the head. The pain on top of the wooziness and queasiness was distracting enough that his attempted kidnappers got a hit in to his solar plexus, and he went down for a moment before suddenly his pain was gone. All of it.
He still had the pain from Jason’s arm and his head was still swimming, but nothing else hurt. The fight ended quickly after that.
He stumbled back to his apartment and sat staring at the phone for nearly an hour before he made the call. The dial tone had him fidgeting in place, wincing when he realised that doing so was likely jostling his injuries and making the pain worse for Jason.
Alfred answered but fetched Bruce straight away, catching some of the near panic in Dick’s tone even though he was hiding it.
“How is Jason?” Dick asked without waiting for Bruce’s greeting.
Bruce took a moment to answer. “Sulking. He wants to go back on patrol but his arm is broken.”
“But it isn’t hurting so he wants to go anyway?” Dick surmised. There was a time he’d have been the same, though he liked to think he was a little less reckless these days.
To his credit, Bruce barely took five seconds to reach a conclusion. “You’ve been taking his pain.”
“Yes. Well, not all of it. Just the arm,” Dick replied.
“He hadn’t said anything about it,” Bruce said, “But he doesn’t act like he has a broken arm.”
“Would you go check on him?” Dick asked. He wanted to know how much pain Jason was taking on and he wanted Bruce to stop him.
Bruce was having none of it. “What happened?”
“Nothing I can’t handle. But this is the first time he’s taken any of my pain. Anything big enough to notice, anyway.” Dick feels along his scalp, fingers coming back red with blood. “I’m not sure he knew what was happening.”
“Stop taking his pain.”
Dick frowned. “What? It’s a broken arm, Bruce. I’ve not taken anything else.”
“If you take his pain when it gets bad he will let it get bad again,” Bruce reasons, though his tone brooks no argument. “Stop taking it.”
Dick breathed out. Bruce was right. He’d had the thought himself before. Jason was too self-destructive, taking his pain would only mean he’d incur more. A moment’s hesitation and he gave the pain back.
“I’ll go talk to him,” Bruce said.
“He can’t know,” Dick blurted, and the panic he felt at the thought of Jason knowing they were soulmates nearly had him questioning his motivation. This was about more than protecting Jason. But that was something he would think about some time in the future when Jason was older and his age no longer worked as a reason.
“Of course not.”
“Make him stop taking my pain,” Dick adds, though he knows it’s needless. Bruce doesn’t believe in painkillers, let alone foisting your pain off on someone else.
Bruce hangs up without answering.
Jason wasn’t glad that his soulmate was hurt. He wasn’t. But he was glad to finally be able to repay them for taking the pain from his arm. He wanted them to know he wasn’t useless, he wanted them not to wish they had a different soulmate, one who didn’t get injured so much and who took being a soulmate seriously. Because he did.
Being someone’s soulmate meant there was someone out there who was supposed to be with Jason. It meant there was someone out there he’d always come first for, who couldn’t just leave him. If he ever figured out who they were and managed to find them again.
His head hurt and his ribs ached, but he felt the kind of satisfaction that came with the aches of a hard workout. The feeling fled when the pain from his arm came back in a rush. His soulmate had given back the pain. It felt almost like a rejection.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs not long after. Bruce did knock before entering, though he didn’t wait for an answer.
“What?” Jason snapped. He wanted to be on his own. If he was off patrol he may as well get some time to himself.
Bruce sat down at the desk but faced Jason. “You’ve met your soulmate.”
Jason wasn’t surprised Bruce had worked it out. He wasn’t surprised by much when it came to Bruce. “I don’t know who they are,” He replied, forestalling the question he assumed was coming.
“But you’re still taking their pain.” It sounded like an accusation.
Jason shrugged and avoided Bruce’s gaze. “They stopped my arm from hurting. Fair’s fair.”
Jason sighed. “A few months tops.”
“And in that time how much of your pain have they taken?” Bruce asked
He had to think on that one. He knew there were minor things he should have felt but didn’t, but he also knew it was likely that his soulmate hadn’t noticed most of them as it had taken Jason himself a while to catch on. “Just the arm. A couple of bruises near the beginning.”
Bruce nodded. “And how many times have you been injured?”
“That doesn’t matter. I never took any of their pain before,” Jason said desperately. He knew where this was going and he wasn’t about to let Bruce ruin this. “I never took their pain but they took mine. Now it’s my turn.”
“How’s your arm feeling?”
Jason was silent, jaw clenched.
“They don’t know you and you don’t know them,” Bruce said after a moment of letting his words sink in. “You owe each other nothing.”
“I’m not giving back the pain.”
“That’s your decision, I can’t force you.” Bruce’s tone said he very much wished he could. “But you have other things to worry about. What if an innocent dies because you were too distracted by your soulmate to save them?”
“What if my soulmate dies because I left them alone and in pain?” Jason retorted.
Bruce sighed. “You can’t take the injury. If they’re going to die, they will. You can’t save them by taking their pain.”
Jason had no answer for that.
“Your first duty is to this city. Not to a nameless soulmate you might never meet again,” Bruce pressed. “You can’t afford the distraction.”
Even the returned throbbing of his arm couldn’t convince Jason to give it back. Not now.
Bruce left the room without another word.
Dick called Bruce again the next morning. Bruce picked up before Alfred this time. “He’s still taking my pain.”
Dick knotted his fingers in his hair. “You were supposed to stop him.”
“How?” Bruce asked, and it sounded like a rebuke. “You took his pain first. He thinks he owes you.”
Dick hung up.
His soulmate didn’t take any more pain. Not even when Jason was stabbed. Only a shallow injury, nothing life-threatening, but damn did it sting. Jason tried not to think about why, and when he did think about it he told himself he was being unfair. By the amount of pain Jason took from them on the regular, his soulmate was dealing with enough trouble themselves that it was reasonable for them to avoid any extra problems.
Jason didn’t stop taking the pain for both of them for nearly a year. He hid it well, though Bruce sometimes gave him disapproving looks when he stumbled from a blow that hadn’t been dealt to him. He managed, even when the pain was bad. It didn’t stop him from doing his job.
It was hard, though, not to be bitter about it. His soulmate obviously didn’t care much about him. The arm was long enough ago that they may well have changed their minds about caring if Jason hurt.
He still didn’t know who they were despite using every skill Bruce taught him. Bruce refused to help him search and the one time he’d choked everything back long enough to ask Grayson for tips, the guy had looked at him like he’d asked him to kill a baby or something and run off.
Eventually he gave up. He wasn’t sure he wanted to meet them if they’d already decided they didn’t want him and he was running out of ways to search anyway. Every time he felt the pain of a major injury he’d checked all the hospitals for miles and never found anyone with a corresponding wound.
He constantly felt covered in bruises, either his own or his soulmate’s, Bruce seemed more disappointed in him by the day, and the day came when finally he’d had enough. Clearly he wasn’t good enough for his soulmate or for Bruce, and well, it was easier to let down the person he didn’t have to face every day.
So he stopped taking the pain. He pushed every last twinge away and very deliberately didn’t think about how lonely he felt without it.
Soulmates were stupid anyway. He’d probably never meet them again.
When Jason went down, a bullet in his belly, Dick nearly went with him. He didn’t see it, he wasn’t there. All he knew was that he could feel his life blood trickling away, the wound barely hurting through the shock for a good ten minutes. He could feel the burn in his throat as Jason retched from the blood pooling in his mouth and he knew he’d never make it in time.
The moment the pain stopped, Dick felt like throwing up.
The manor was empty when he arrived. Bruce and Alfred strangely absent. Dick stumbled from there to the hospital. The last resort. The place none of them went unless they were probably going to die anyway.
Bruce was waiting in the corridor, half-hearted disguise doing nothing to throw Dick off. He’d know that brooding posture anywhere.
They stood in silence until Alfred was approached by a doctor telling him his grandson had survived the surgery, not even glancing at Bruce and Dick. They stayed long enough to hear the prognosis and then left.
“What happened?” Dick asked, not saying why weren’t you with him? Why didn’t you stop it from happening?
Bruce didn’t stop walking to answer. “He thought he found where his soulmate was. I refused to help him find them before, so he didn’t tell me he was going.”
“But you followed him.” There was no way Bruce would have found Jason in time if he hadn’t been following him.
“I was in the area.”
Dick snorted and clutched his side in remembered pain. Kid was going to seriously hurt when he woke up, good drugs or no. And in a way it was Dick’s fault. Jason had been looking for him. “You’ve got to stop him looking for me.”
Bruce gave him a dismissive once over. “He did. For quite a while now. Joker was taunting him about it, how he found out I don’t know. It’s… troubling. But it set Jason off again. He thought Joker had his soulmate.”
Dick shuddered at the thought. “If Joker had me, he’d know by all the pain being thrown his way. He still takes it sometimes.”
At this Bruce gave him a sharp look.
“Not much. Just once in a while,” Dick explained. Once in a while was being generous. Jason had taken his pain twice in the past eight months.
“Don’t take his pain when he wakes up. Maybe it’ll be enough to get him to drop the search for good,” Bruce instructed.
“He could get himself killed next time,” Bruce cut him off. “If you take his pain again, he’ll want to find you with or without the Joker.”
Dick had to concede the point.
They reached Bruce’s car. The billionaire paused before opening the door. “Leaving won’t help.”
He knew that. It didn’t stop him from wanting to get on his bike and ride until he didn’t know where he was.
He stayed, though. Just long enough to feel as Jason’s bullet wound went from agonizing to a twinge. Just long enough to make sure Jason wasn’t going to go looking again.
Jason winced as his stomach pulled. The pain wasn’t as bad as it should have been but it was still bad. Ever since the hospital it was like he had a constant low dose of painkillers. Just enough to keep the edge off, not enough to help him when he moved around. He supposed he should be thankful for that much.
Training was hard, even after a month of lying and lounging and sitting and pretty much everything but walking around and a further month of nothing but light jogging. It was especially hard. He’d lost a frustrating amount of fitness and reflex in just that short time. The pain was a constant reminder of his limits, making his breath short and his movements far more careful than he intended.
Bruce, however, was done taking it easy on him.
Jason had been pestering to get back into the suit for weeks and Bruce was testing his resolve as well as his fitness. If he hadn’t wanted to hit something so badly Jason probably would have called it quits an hour ago.
He was stupid. He never should have let himself get shot in the first place. A glance at Bruce and he felt himself get angry again. It didn’t take a genius to work out that Bruce was disappointed, that he didn’t trust Jason anymore if he ever had. They hadn’t had a pleasant conversation since the hospital.
Jason threw himself into another punch and ended up on his ass clutching his side before Bruce even had to block. He wheezed in a few breaths and forced himself to stand.
“You’re not ready.”
Jason gritted his teeth. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not. You need more time to recover,” Bruce unwrapped his hands. “We’re done. Go and have Alfred check you haven’t made it worse.”
It was an order and Jason took it as such, even though he was spitting with rage inside. He thought bitterly that if his soulmate ever pulled their damn weight this wouldn’t be a problem. Training wasn’t going to damage anything at this point, he’d checked beforehand just so he could tell Bruce as much, but the pain made it difficult to keep up.
It seemed barely any time had passed before Dick was pushing away the pain of a bad fight again. A very bad fight.
He wasn't not even on the planet at the time, and boy was that still a trippy thought. Even if he knew where they were, Dick couldn't help Jason and Bruce now, so he tried to ignore it.
It worked for a few minutes and he relaxed into being just Nightwing, no soulmate and no distractions. Then a new burst of pain sent him reeling so hard the other members of the Justice League looked at him in concern. He started to push it away, but more pain erupted before he was even half way through the thought. Then more. More.
This wasn't a fight anymore. Whatever was happening to Jason, the pain was an onslaught too frequent and too strong to be reciprocal. He was being beaten.
He couldn't let Jason feel that. He didn't care about the consequences for now. For whatever reason, Jason couldn't fight back and Bruce wasn't coming to help. The only way Bruce wouldn't help is if he wasn't there. Jason was alone. Helpless.
Dick gasped as he felt ribs crack, then a shoulder bone. Cheek bone. Jaw. Bones breaking, not just bruises. Jason couldn't possibly survive an attack like that for much longer.
There was no pain.
He was dying, but Jason's fear was wrapped up in wonderment. He could see the damage, could feel how unresponsive his body was becoming. He should be in agony.
Jason didn't want to die. He knew that more clearly in those last few minutes than he ever had before. He wanted to go and find his soulmate, resume the search. He wanted to tell Bruce he was sorry for not listening to him more. He wanted to tell Bruce he hated him for not listening to Jason more. He wanted a plate of Alfred's best brownies and a hot chocolate to take to bed.
Dick couldn't breathe. His rib cage felt as though it was made of splinters set on fire. He couldn't think about what was happening. His mind shied away from it, denied it. Maybe he was ill? Maybe this was some alien virus and not...
Maybe Jason wasn't dying.
Most of all Jason wanted to tell whoever was taking his pain, whoever had changed their minds and decided he was worth the pure agony they must be feeling on his behalf, that he was sorry for before and that he was so very very grateful.
He didn't want to die, but mostly he didn't want to die alone.
His fingers crunched under a heavy boot and it didn't hurt. And Jason didn't feel alone.
The moment the pain stopped Dick screamed.
Back on Earth some weeks later, Dick sat in the kitchen with Alfred. Both of them quiet, grieving. Dick felt almost guilty, Alfred knew Jason so much better than Dick ever did, soulmate or not. Alfred lost something close to a grandson. Dick lost an almost stranger.
Bruce was inconsolable. Mostly because he wouldn't admit that anything was wrong. The devastation was writ large on his face, in his walk. In the bloody costume Dick knew he hadn't disposed of.
"Master Dick?" Alfred asked eventually.
Alfred paused. "Did you...?"
No one had dared ask him yet. This was as close as anyone had come. Dick smiled reassuringly, though he could feel the brittle edges that must have been visible. "Yes. All of it. I didn't know what was happening at first, but when I did..." Dick swallowed and looked down at his hand. He could still feel a phantom ache where Jason's fingers had been shattered. "He didn't die in pain. He didn't feel any of it."
Alfred sighed and took a seat at the table, abandoning wiping down the counters for the time being. "I wish I could say you shouldn't have."
"It's alright. He was a child, and my soulmate." Dick poked at the cookie crumbs on his plate.
"Neither of you should ever have had to go through that," Alfred said. He sounded regretful, as if it were his fault that Jason and Dick had been pulled into Batman's whirlpool of pain and death. "And to lose a soulmate that way..."
Dick couldn't bear the sympathy. Not for this. "I barely knew him. He hated me."
"He was jealous of you," Alfred corrected. "You know that. He also admired you a great deal, though he would never admit it."
"I should have been there," Dick said. Irrational though it was, the thought of Jason alone, scared, dying and Dick not even on the same goddamn planet. It made him feel sick. He should have been where he was needed.
"Why? So the Joker could murder you, too?" The words were said calmly, but Alfred's face talked of anger. "There was nothing you could have done."
Things somehow went back to normal after that. Grief was a fuel not a setback in the vigilante world, and all of a sudden Dick had rather a lot more of the stuff than he'd already had. His productivity skyrocketed. He supposed that was as good a silver lining as any.
Bruce was more distant than ever. Doubtless blaming himself. Doubtless coming as close to breaking his own rules as he'd ever come.
Already training a new Robin.
Dick liked the kid. Tim, he was called. Smart boy, sweet and good and disciplined. So very different from Jason, who was firey and rebellious with a dirty mouth and a temper to match the natural shade of his hair. Dick really liked Tim, cared a great deal about him already. Tim was almost a brother to him from the start. He was a great Robin.
Sometimes Dick wished Tim would disappear.
Not into danger, not die. Just... Not exist. Not be a reminder of how Dick failed, of what he had lost.
He was in the middle of a fight when it happened. For a moment he thought he'd misjudged, that he'd been stabbed. But the pain was different. Different to anything Dick had ever felt.
He fled the fight before he could lose it, clutching at his chest and gasping in breath like he'd just been strangled.
The pain stopped abruptly before he could reach his apartment.
Dick waited, sat at home doing nothing. He couldn't risk it happening again in the field, and he didn't want to go for help unless it came back.
An hour later he felt the skin over his uninjured knuckles break.
It took a week before he was certain. A week of phantom bruises and gashes. A week of impossible hope.
Bruce looked at Dick, gasping on the stairway, Alfred just behind him.
Dick leaped down the rest of the stairs. His shoulder was aching like he'd just caught himself on a ledge one armed and he reveled in the feel of it. "Jason. He's alive. I don't know how, but he is! I can feel it."
"You can feel it?" Bruce asked, voice a reluctant mix of hope and grief.
"Right now he's running. I can feel the twinge in my knee when he lands on it. He twisted his knee in a fight about an hour ago, when he took a hit to the side and injured his shoulder," Dick rambled between rushed breaths. "He's alive!"
After that it was all searching. Computer algorithms and surveillance cameras. Questioning anyone and everyone. Running around the streets of Gotham. They went to his grave first and it was empty as Dick knew it would be, so they fanned out from there.
They didn't find him.
Jason finally returned home so long after his death and resurrection that Dick hadn't really believed he would ever come back. The fact that he went to Dick first, not Bruce, was something of a reassurance of their status as soulmates. Jason should have gone to Bruce, Dick had always assumed he would.
The pain was dull and normal the day Jason arrived. Nothing throbbing or stinging with fresh trauma, just the dull ache of old injuries. Dick had thought maybe Jason was laying low for awhile. Maybe Jason had been in a bad position and was finally getting out of it. In a way he was right.
Jason had been regrouping.
That's what he told Dick, stretched out on his sofa like he owned it, begging for Dick's help. He wanted Bruce to join them. Wanted the whole family to take care of the Joker once and for all, he said.
Dick couldn't get over the fact that he was there at all. "What happened to you?"
Jason shrugged like it wasn't important. "I was dead. Now I'm not. Are you gonna help me take out the bastard that killed me or not?"
It took a moment to realise what Jason was saying over the relief and overwhelming feeling of right of having him back, sat plain as day in Dick's living room. When the dots finally connected Dick felt like his stomach was trying to exit his body. "We don't kill, Jay. You know that. We're the good guys."
"And where has that got us?" Jason practically spit. "I'm sat here a zombie because Bruce just keeps locking Joker away instead of dealing with him permanently. He knows Joker always gets out. They all do. When was the last time you remember someone we put away staying put away? And what happens when they get out? You expect me to sit back and let that sick fucker run around free again? He beat me to death. He's done worse to others. The freak hurts anyone and everyone, doesn't care about anyone or anything. Even that bitch girlfriend of his gets the beatdown from him, and worse. He's hurt so many people, will hurt so many more, and we're supposed to what? Put him in time out and tell him not to do it again? No fuckin' way. This ends with me."
"Jason, we can't. Once we cross that line-" Dick tried.
Jason laughed loudly and bitterly. "Once we cross that line nothing. Cops kill people. Soldiers too. Hell, everyone gets to kill in self defence without an issue. Bruce wouldn't think twice if a regular person killed the Joker in a fight and you know it!"
"We're not regular people. There are rules," Dick insisted. He didn't back away when Jason stood. "Come back to the mansion with me. We'll get you checked out, you can go on patrol again. Do some good."
Jason left without another word.
The rage was breathtaking, overwhelming. Jason had always known anger like a brother, but this was something different. More pure. The drive it gave him was irresistible and unstoppable. Every other emotion drifted through the storm in his head like wispy clouds over a deep blue sky, thin vapour he couldn't grasp onto.
Since coming back to Gotham the rage had coalesced, taken shape and intention: Revenge.
He could do it. He was better than he used to be. Stronger, smarter, tougher. The Joker may have been crazy, but Jason now had his own brand of madness to compete. But that wouldn't be enough. Not for Jason. His death wasn't just down to the Joker. It was down to the so called guardian who was supposed to have protected him, at the very least avenged him. Jason needed Bruce to do the killing, to prove that Jason was worth more than a short vacation in the loony bin.
If he wouldn't, Jason would. And Jason would never go back to the so called family that had made him a target and left him to die.
The sting of Dick's refusal was stronger than he'd have guessed. He'd known going in what the answer would be, he'd just thought it was worth a try. It would be so much easier to convince Bruce if the golden boy was on his side. Or so he'd told himself.
It didn't matter. Dick Grayson was only ever a loosely held ally. Jason remembered feeling several times that Dick couldn't bare to look at him for long, let alone get to know him, as if he begrudged the little care Jason got from Bruce that didn't go into the devotion Bruce had for Dick himself. He might even have been a little relieved when he heard about Jason's death.
Bruce, predictably, refused his request, adding on a, "What have you become?"
Jason rolled his eyes and pretended he couldn't see the vivid green of them reflected back at him in the glass holding his tattered uniform. He was surprised Bruce kept it, but it did fit with the Batman's pattern of self-flagellation. He wasn't as surprised to find he'd been replaced. "Where'd you pick up the new Robin?" He asked, because Bruce's question didn't need him to answer.
"No, you're right. I don't really care where or how, or even why, really. How long did it take you, Bruce?" Jason asked instead. "A year? Less?"
Bruce's clenched jaw was answer enough.
Jason nodded. "Sure. Does he know who he's replacing?"
"Of course," Bruce said.
"Really?" Jason turned to face him full on. "Does he know all of it? How I died? Who did it? That he could be next and you wouldn't lift a finger against the monster that did it?" He paused. "Would you kill him if he killed Dick?"
"Get out," Bruce said, and Jason stopped for a moment at the slight tremble in the man's voice.
"Hit a nerve there?" Jason couldn't help but press.
"We don't kill. No matter how much we want to," Bruce told him. "That doesn't mean we don't want to."
"So if it was Dick whose bloody, broken body you'd had to bury?" Jason pushed, stepping closer. "What then? Would that break your self-control or would you just shake your head, say 'oh well' and add another trashed uniform to the collection?"
"I asked you to leave, I won't ask again," Bruce said.
Jason laughed. "And here I was thinking you might have missed me. I'll show myself out. Wouldn't want to upset Alfred."
The plan came together perfectly. He knew the Joker wouldn't be able to resist coming back to finish the job once he knew Jason was alive, especially since Jason promised him a whole Batfamily reunion. Of course, whatever bones he had to pick with the former and current Robins weren't worth putting them at risk of the same fate Jason had faced. He kept them out of the way. It was easy, knowing as he did the way Batman operated. He hadn't even had to ask Bruce to show up. Whether it was the trail of murdered rapists and drug lords that led him to Jason's perfectly planned finale, or if it was something else like the Joker himself or Bruce keeping tabs on Jason, Bruce showed up just like Jason knew he would.
"Stop," Bruce warned him when he caught on, the Joker watching on with amusement from his place tied to Jason's homemade bomb. "This isn't how we do things."
"This isn't how you do things," Jason corrected. "There hasn't been a 'we' since I died alone and afraid at this sick bastard's hand. And you let him live. How many people have died since me because of your stupid rule?"
"If we kill, then how are we any better than him?" Bruce asked, and really, was that the best he could come up with?
"How are we not? Killing a murderer who you know is gonna kill more people if you don't stop him is a whole other game to the one he's playing," Jason answered easily. "We can't lock him up, he always gets out again. We can't fix him. That bitch Harley tried and look what happened to her. The only way he stops?" He held out the remote to Bruce. One last try. "Is if we make so he can't hurt anyone else."
Bruce just stares at him, not even glancing at the remote in his hand. "You need to stop this."
"Or what?" Jason asked, though he already knew the answer.
"Or I'll have to stop you."
Jason pulled the remote back in towards himself. "You can try."
The fight that followed was short lived and brutal, and Jason lost as he knew he would. He didn't attempt to get back up off the floor, letting himself look beaten and incapacitated. "You know, I don't know why I ever thought you'd care enough to put him down. There's only one person that ever cared about me, and thanks to you I don't even know who they are. You could've helped me find them."
To Jason's surprise, that actually made Batman falter.
"You know who it is, don't you?" Jason asked.
Bruce didn't answer.
"Shit!" Jason said. He watched, tense as Bruce got closer and closer to the pressure plate. He'd searched after he came back to life. The second he'd remembered he had a soul mate and what they'd done for him, he'd searched. But there was only so much to go on, and eventually the rage had taken precedence. It still took precedence. Joker had to die. It was the only way to make the anger stop, the only way to end the nightmares he woke up from every time he closed his eyes. But once Bruce set off that pressure plate, once Joker died, Jason would lose any chance he had at getting a name from Bruce. Once he made Bruce a killer, if he even survived the blast, he would lose the only lead he had on finding his soulmate.
It was a close thing, the rage inside him howling for vengeance louder than the remnants of a twelve year old boy that wanted to know who saved him from the worst pain of his life. Bruce's foot was over the pressure plate.
Then Jason caught sight of his left hand, two fingers broken from a badly landed punch. He couldn't feel it. "Stop!"
His cry was sudden and loud enough to make Bruce turn.
"Damn it!" Jason cursed before pushing out the warning. "There's a pressure plate. You'll set off the bomb."
Bruce nodded. "How do I defuse it?"
Jason glared at him stubbornly.
"Fine." Bruce set about figuring out how to safely defuse the bomb, leaving Jason cursing himself on the floor.
Eventually they were joined by Robin and Nightwing, who'd worked their way through Jason's distraction. Surprisingly, Dick all but threw himself at Jason, checking him over a little frantically.
Jason brushed him off in annoyance. "I'm fine. Go pester someone else."
"Did Joker..?" Dick asked breathlessly.
"No," Jason said irritably. "This is Batman's handiwork."
Dick looked horrified for a moment before he finally took in the situation, Joker tied to a bomb, Bruce trying to defuse it. "Oh."
"We're not on the same side," Jason said needlessly.
Dick's mouth thinned, but he didn't leave Jason's side. Instead he took Jason's hand and reset his fingers, pulling out materials for a makeshift splint from his suit. He winced as he did it, but Jason's pain was still gone. He felt a little regret at the pain his soulmate must have felt, but foiling his own revenge because of them made him a little too bitter to care.
Jason watched as Bruce gingerly lifted the pressure plate. "I'll tell you how to disarm it if you tell me who they are."
Bruce flickered a glance at Dick then went back to the task at hand. "Why?"
"Why? Really? I searched for them for months before I died! Years after!" Jason said, pushing himself to sit up straight. "You know who they are and you didn't tell me! Now's time to come clean. You owe me that."
Bruce sighed. "Have you ever considered that they might know who you are?"
Jason froze. He hadn't. All those years and he hadn't ever thought of that. That they might know who he was and want nothing to do with him. He snarled and went to stand, went to finish the job before Bruce could stop him. If he couldn't have his soulmate he'd have his revenge. His ankle gave way and he looked at it in confusion for a moment. He hadn't heard anything break, it must just be sprained. He was ready to shrug it off, already stepping forward onto it again, when his brain filtered Dick's pained gasp into his awareness.
He scanned Dick, eyes latching onto a scratch on Dick's face, just below his mask. He raised his hand to the same spot on his own face that had been stinging for the last ten minutes or so. There was nothing there. He'd assumed it was his own injury, but he hadn't really thought about it either way. Since he remembered his soulmate he'd been taking all their pain. It seemed fair, they seemed to be doing the same for him apart from when the lack of awareness of injury could be dangerous. They seemed good at judging that. They also seemed to get hurt a lot. Jason let his eyes track down further, to a faint and fading bruise on Dick's chin that Jason had been feeling for three days now.
Dick's mouth dropped open a little, not in shock but as if he wanted to speak but didn't have the words.
"It's you," Jason said. His head whirled, putting together the pieces that he felt should have been obvious in retrospect.
Muffled laughter came from the direction of the Joker, near hysterical as his laughter always was, and sharp even through the gag.
"You were twelve," Dick began.
"Yeah, sure," Jason said. "I was twelve. I took so much pain for you and you just let me have mine right up until I died. You knew I was twelve. You knew I was a kid, and you let me take the pain for both of us."
"I thought if I didn't take yours you wouldn't take mine," Dick tried to explain. "I thought it was safer that way. You were a kid, I didn't want you to have to deal with that stuff yet. And then you died and I never got the chance to explain."
Jason scoffed. "Safer? I ended up in the hospital because I looked for you. If you'd told me then I never would have been in that situation."
"I told him not to tell you," Bruce said.
"Of course," Jason said. He should've known. "Couldn't let us get attached, huh?"
"It wasn't about that," Bruce claimed.
"Precious, just precious," Joker said, gag loosened and shoved down somehow while they were distracted. "The two Robins are lovebirds."
"Shut up," Jason warned.
Joker adopted a false expression of surprise. "Does this mean that when I did the little bird in, the big bird was in on the game?" He slipped a hand loose from his bindings and wagged a finger at Jason when he made a move towards him. "Ah ah ah. Wouldn't want to set off that pressure plate."
"I disabled it," Bruce said, though he stood between Jason and Joker. He looked ready to approach the villain himself.
"Not that one," Joker said. He took in their expressions with glee. "You didn't really think I'm that easy to cage, Batsy? You think I didn't know what I was getting into coming here? Why, the second I heard Robin number two was back in town I knew there'd be a party, and I couldn't bear the thought of missing it."
"Batman," Tim said from his position by the door.
Jason had all but forgotten about his existence.
"What is it, Robin?" Batman asked without taking his eyes off Joker.
"He's not bluffing. The floor is a minefield. It's a miracle nothing's exploded already," Tim told him.
"No miracle, I just didn't want the party to end too early," Joker said with his stupid creepy grin.
Jason felt the rage surface, felt it creep over him with a feeling of inevitability. This ended now. Whether it was him or the Joker that kicked it, he wasn't living with the clown's presence hanging over him anymore.
Dick reached out a hand to settle on Jason's shoulder. "If you move you could kill all of us."
"I don't care," Jason snarled.
"Robin's just a kid," Dick said softly.
"So was I!" Jason snapped already moving forward. He felt a panel give beneath his feet and the wall to his left exploded, throwing debris across the room. Jason didn't falter, kept walking.
"You'll be letting him kill you again."
"You'll be letting him take away everything that you have left, and you do still have us," Dick continued. "You still have me. And if you do this we'll never get a chance to know anything but each other's pain."
Joker's smile faltered before coming back full force. "Awww, adorable. I wish my own sweetums was here to share the moment. Just like she was for the last special moment we shared. I can tell ya, we had a special moment or two all to ourselves as soon as we'd done with you. And I mean as soon as."
"If you play his game, you will always lose," Bruce said.
"Listen to Batsy," Joker said in a mockingly understanding tone. "You can go home with him and try to find a corner to sleep in that isn't already occupied by other teenage boys."
"Robin," Bruce said, clearly addressing Jason and not Tim.
"Does that not get confusing?" Joker asked.
Jason grit his teeth and raised his foot to take another step.
Something sharp hit his neck.
Dick stared at his unconscious soulmate. Tim's tranq dart had taken him down at a truly impressive speed. Dick hadn't even known Tim had tranq darts. It was a good thing he did, because Dick doubted anything else could have stopped Jason in that moment. Not love, not reason. Not the soulmate bond sending spikes of pain through Dick's hand and ankle.
He could let the pain go, but the fact it was there at all told him how close to consciousness Jason was. That and Dick really needed a reminder right now of what Jason was to him.
Jason was silent when he opened his eyes, so much more green than Dick remembered. Did he even have green eyes before? It was hard to picture the twelve year old Jason with the seventeen year old version in front of him. Was he seventeen? Should Dick have counted from when he came back to life instead?
"Everyone's alive," Dick told him. He didn't know if Jason would care one way or the other, but it felt important to say it.
"Fantastic," Jason drawled. "Where are my boots?"
"You don't need them," Dick said.
Jason shot him a dangerous look. "I'm leaving. I might not need boots, but this is Gotham, I'd be risking diseases walking on these streets without them."
Dick didn't know how to tell Jason he wasn't going anywhere. It'd taken a full hour of arguing and Bruce's guilt over what happened to Jason to get Bruce to drop his plans to send Jason to Arkham. It made Dick shudder to think of Jason there. Especially considering the Joker's sporadic residency there.
"Dick, where are my goddamn shoes?" Jason demanded.
Dick reached under the bed and pulled Jason's boots out. "You're not well, Jaybird," he said softly.
Jason grabbed the boots from Dick's hand and swung around on the bed to put them on. "I know what you think. That I didn't come back right, that there's something wrong with me."
"And?" Dick said. It was pointless to deny it.
"And who the hell cares? I'm not your problem. Yours or Bruce's."
"You'll always be my problem," Dick reminded him.
Jason snorted. "Never worked that way before. I don't think we ever had a conversation longer than five sentences."
"That's not true."
"Oh yeah? Do you remember us hanging out even once?" Jason questioned.
Dick couldn't. He'd avoided spending too much time with Jason, at first because he was jealous and still angry about being replaced, then later because he didn't want Jason to figure out they were soulmates. "So spend time with me now."
"What?" Jason said skeptically. "Why would I?"
"Don't you even want to know what your soulmate is like?" Dick pointed out. "If you want to pretend we're not, then I can't stop you, but don't you at least want to know if it could work? Or what you'd be giving up?"
"I already know what you're like," Jason answered after a beat. "Bruce talked about you enough. How fast you were, how much less trouble you were than me, how smart. God, I hated you."
Dick swallowed and stood up, not liking being still for that long, especially with the conflicting emotions waging a war that he felt in his limbs.
"Look, I don't know. Maybe things coulda worked out," Jason said awkwardly while Dick tried to move around without appearing to pace. "But that was before. This is now, and I'm not the compromising kind. What you want me to be... I can't, okay? It's different now."
"What if I didn't ask you to be any different than you are now?" Dick asked.
Jason gave a wry smile. "As fun as it'd be to find out, I think we both know it wouldn't work. I kill people. Have already killed people, Dick. You can't save me, and you can't save the people I'm going to go after, and it'd kill you to be there with me and not stop me."
"Bruce will stop you either way," Dick told him.
The smile dropped to be replaced with something far more dangerous. "He'll try. Might even do it for awhile. But, see, I can do what every other person he 'stops' does. Break out and do it all over again. And eventually he's gonna have to make the choice to keep going after me, or turn a blind eye while he deals with people worse than me. I don't kill anyone who doesn't deserve it. Given a choice between stopping me or stopping Joker, or Penguin, or Bane or any one of a hundred other monsters, what do you think he'll choose?"
"He won't let it get that far," Dick said.
Jason stood and made for the exit, and Dick moved to intercept him. "You ain't gonna stop me. Bruce won't either. You let me go, or I get myself out, but the only way to stop me is the only thing you and the big guy won't do."
"Jason, don't do this," Dick pleaded. Maybe Jason was right in the long run, maybe keeping him here or keeping him at Arkham wouldn't work, but he was wrong for the moment. Dick could and would stop him.
Jason held his arms out open to the side and smirked as he moved towards the medical room door backwards.
Dick let him go.
Jason's face was equally surprised and smug as he continued on towards his bike.
Dick waited until Jason was in a clear area before he followed. His first hit was blocked with an upraised arm, a glint of green flashing at him as he moved fluidly through a combination of kicks and restraints that Jason fought off with increasing difficulty and frustration. It was a strange fight, each unwilling to take each other's pain when they were the ones dealing it, but each feeling that slight shadow of it before they were able to push it away.
"Swear to God, Dickie," Jason panted. "You don't let me go then you won't like what happens."
Dick couldn't stop. He couldn't let Jason go, not like this.
Jason gave a shout, his next hits stronger, faster, until Dick struggled to keep up. This wasn't a fight to incapacitate anymore, it was something bloodier, and Dick couldn't match that. Wouldn't.
So Dick landed on his back, with Jason's hands around his neck and his too green eyes glowing and unrecognisable above him. And then he felt it. Impossibly, the rage he could see in Jason's face filled his mind, white hot and overwhelming him, drowning him.
Jason let go.
Jason felt the anger ebb, falling away for the first time since his resurrection, felt it drain from him along with all the energy and hatred it brought.
Underneath him Dick gasped in a breath.
Jason looked down at his soulmate in horror and froze. Dick's eyes were green. And just like that it made a strange kind of sense. It shouldn't apply to emotion, but Jason was beginning to suspect the rage he'd been feeling wasn't natural, wasn't the same as the low, bitter current of it he could feel if he thought about it. Maybe it was a kind of pain.
Shaking off the shock, Dick began to struggle.
"Dickie," Jason said shakily. "Dick, stop! You gotta give it back. C'mon, push it away. You know how to do this, just push it away."
Dick glared but gradually his struggling subsided. The rage crept back a little at a time, the green draining from Dick's eyes until they were a murky, smoky teal. They didn't go all the way back to blue, and Jason's rage wasn't as intense as before. It simmered there, feral and hungry, but it didn't eclipse everything else the way it once did.
"Jason," Dick gasped, hands gripping at Jason's jacket and expression so very lost. Jason could relate.
"It's alright, you can give it all back," Jason reassured him. He didn't want it back. Not really. For all that it had made everything so simple, so easy, the thought of losing himself in it again terrified him.
Dick shook his head. "Can't."
"Yes you can."
A grin Jason remembered from before with a twinge of something wistful and wanting. "You can't make me."
Jason rolled his eyes and climbed off, reaching down to help Dick to his feet. "Such a goddamn martyr."
"I'm not the one who died," Dick shot back, then looked a little guilty about it. "Sorry. Too soon, probably."
"Does this mean you're not gonna kill me now?" Dick asked. He didn't exactly look in fear for his life, but there was a wariness to his stance that said he was ready for any eventuality.
"Nah." Jason looked around the Batcave, feelings welling up that had been submerged by rage and revenge before. His eyes caught on the costume cases and his chest tightened.
"He was devastated," Dick told him, following his gaze and moving to Jason's side. "I think he was closer than he's ever been to breaking his code. He just couldn't do it, though."
"I know." And he did. It still hurt.
"I was devastated."
The words were soft, almost introspective.
Jason didn't look at him. "Thanks. For... you know."
"I'd do it again."
"It must've hurt," Jason said stupidly. For the first time, he connected the person who took his pain in the worst moment of his life, who was there when no one else could be, to Dick. Of course it was Dick.
"I wish I could've been there," Dick said instead of replying to Jason's statement.
Jason whirled on him. "Don't be dumb. We'd both have been dead. What you did... I wasn't alone."
"But you were," Dick said, uncharacteristically solemn. "And I was..."
"You were taking my pain," Jason finished for him. "You were making damn well sure a scared shitless kid didn't feel a thing while a psychopath laid into him, that he knew someone gave a shit."
Dick looked at him like he wished that was true, that what he'd done was enough. It wasn't. They both knew it. But nothing would have been.
"And when I came back," Jason continued. His voice cracked a little then, embarrassingly raw, and he couldn't finish the thought.
Neither of them could.
They gravitated a little closer to each other, not yet reaching out. Not sure if they could.
"I'm not going back to Bruce's way of doing things," Jason warned him.
Dick nodded, not looking happy about it but not letting anything past the now grim line of his mouth.
"It's not that I don't get it," Jason explained anyway. "I do. I know we can't be the good guys and blur that line. But I'm not a good guy, Dick."
Dick opened his mouth to protest, but the words didn't come. Instead he shook his head. "Only when necessary. Promise me that at least. Promise me you won't go out looking for people to kill."
Jason thought about it. He nodded.
This time when he tried to leave Dick didn't stop him.
Dick stumbled as he felt a random pain across his calf muscles. He cursed and caught himself on the drainpipe to his right, going back to the task at hand.
A zip line and some (partially unnecessary) acrobatics and he was back to back with Jason in the ally below.
"What's a guy like you doing in a place like this?" Jason jokes, pressing back to take some of Dick's weight. He'd long since given up trying to make Dick give him back his pain, but he was always mindful of it.
Dick eyed the unsavoury types surrounding them and tried not to think about why the Russian Mafia was targeting Red Hood. The attempt failed. "I could ask you the same."
"You could," Jason said, and struck out at their nearest opponent.
The fight was over if not quickly then at least with minimal injury. They'd both got a hell of a lot less reckless about that sort of thing now they both knew the other would be keeping any pain thrown their way. It was weirdly easier to keep his own welfare in mind when it was also Jason's.
They disposed of the mafia goons in the usual fashion (Bruce and Dick's, not Jason's) and ambled aimlessly around the city for an hour under the vague appearance of patrolling.
Nights like this one were getting more common now. Bruce didn't like it, but Dick had tried very hard to put his days of giving a shit behind him and most days he succeeded. Jason... Well Jason was still Jason, and no matter how much of his strange Pit induced rage (Dick had finally wheedled that out of him after about a month) Dick took on, he would always be an angry son of a bitch, but Dick had yet to hear of any deaths at Red Hood's hand.
That didn't mean there weren't any, Dick was in willful denial, not stupid. But it did mean Jason was at least holding to his promise, and that would have to be enough. For now at least. Dick could feel from the half that he kept with him that the rage was settling. It might never leave, but if it calmed enough Dick thought he might have a chance at talking Jason around. Willful denial was his friend here.
"You hungry?" Jason asked.
Dick snapped out of his reverie. "Hmm?"
Jason stopped walking. "Food?"
"Oh, right, um," Dick thought. "I have pasta at my place?"
Something about that amused Jason. "You gonna cook for me?"
Dick shrugged. For some measure of cooking. It was all packets. "Sure, why not?"
Now Jason seemed even more amused. "Why not?" He repeated.
Jason's amusement only grew as they made their way back to Dick's apartment. He leaned on the counter while Dick prepared everything, and spent the whole time watching Dick with a head tilt and a wry smile.
"Okay, what's so funny?" Dick asked at last.
"Nothin'" Jason said, smile stretching wider.
Dick eyed him skeptically and put the pasta in the pan.
Jason shifted. "D'ya know what today is?"
Dick squinted. "Saturday?"
"Jeezus, Dickie," Jason laughed. "For starters, it's Sunday."
Dick shrugged. "So?"
"So, anything you can remember about this Sunday?" Jason prodded, clearly not expecting Dick to reach the answer.
After a long moment of thought, Dick accepted defeat with a sigh. "No. What's this about?"
Jason didn't answer with anything but a shiteating grin.
It wasn't until they were sat down eating and watching teleshopping that it clicked.
"You're eighteen," Dick said.
Jason carried on chewing.
Dick looked at him and thought about his reaction to Dick inviting him back. "Were you..."
"Wha?" Jason asked through a mouthful of part masticated pasta.
"Did you," Dick started again. Stopped. Forced himself to follow it through. "Did you think I was inviting you back here for a booty call?"
Jason struggled to contain his laugh, a few bits of pasta escaping his mouth in spite of his efforts. "No. I thought it might be a birthday thing. A surprise party or something. Then I realised you had no idea what the date is."
"Oh." Yeah, that one was probably on Dick. He'd felt all kinds of dirty the last couple of months when it'd fallen into place in his head What Jason's next birthday would mean. Like those weird creeps that ran internet countdowns to when pretty young actresses would be legal. In his defense, Jason was not only his soulmate but had also spent the last year since his return blatantly checking Dick out at every opportunity.
Honestly, Dick had been surprised he hadn't had to do some careful negotiating to get Jason to wait this long to make a move. Thinking about it Dick's countdown to Jason's birthday (neglected though it was in terms of exact dates) might not have been as internal and secret as he'd thought.
"I wouldn't say no to a booty call though," Jason said once he'd swallowed. "Not much for parties anyway."
There wasn't a lot Dick could say to that.
Instead, he opted for putting down his almost-finished pasta and turning to face Jason face on. "Better be more than a booty call. I cooked for you."
Jason scoffed. "Barely." Then he let the humour drop, green-grey eyes meeting Dick's with hesitant honesty. "So we're really doing the soulmates thing, huh?"
Dick smiled. "Guess so."
The kiss, when it came, was sweeter than Dick would have expected. The rest of the night was.... not so sweet.
The morning after, wrapped around a sleeping Jason and mapping out the scars he sometimes felt the ghost of on his own skin, was everything.