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The Path to Our Descend

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It's an unfamiliar city. Dick has to move slower, jumping from one rooftop to the next. A map unfolds in his mind as he anticipates and assesses unknown variables in his path. He knows where he is. But, it means little when he can’t find what he’s here for.

His feet make squelching sound as he lands in a puddle of water, remnant of a long day of rain. He looks around the cracked concrete rooftop, then to the foreign skyline that surrounds him. A car alarm is wailing and he hears a baby cry from somewhere in the apartment complex below him.

“O, help me out here,” Dick says, tapping the comm.

“Nothing yet. Sorry,” Barbara's voice crackles in his ears. “Still tuning into the police network. Stand by.”

Dick grits his teeth. Oracle's magic can get him into places nearly impossible to break into by himself, but this is a city to get lost in, where little to no traffic cameras act as Oracle’s eyes and she has to resort to a more conventional way.

He entered the city two days ago, after driving for hours from the nearest international  airport. He has canvassed it, chasing ghosts, following a trail of organized crime busts that left a lot of dead bodies behind, and found a pattern to the kind of illegal dealings that these organizations specialized in--the kind that involved women and children. And the reports always left Dick with a heavy heart. All the perps are dead on scene. No survivor.

It’s Jason.

Jason is alive, and he is the Arkham Knight. Dick still has trouble wrapping his head around that fact, even after Bruce showed him the recording from the camera installed on his cowl from the last Halloween.

“Gunfight at the north industrial district, N,” Barbara says, interrupting his thought. “Maybe worth checking out.”

“Roger.” Dick walks to the edge of the roof and parkours to a ledge below,  then jumps downs. His bike is waiting for him a few blocks from where he’s at, covered by a tarp and rigged with shock alarm that will trigger if the bike is touched by anyone but him.

He mounts his bike and tears through the street. Barbara sends a marked location to his GPS that he follows religiously. On the way, the rain picks up again--water prickling the exposed part of his face. It’s painful, but Dick refuses to slow down.

The Arkham Knight works fast. If it’s really him , Dick has to be there before clears the scene.

But when Dick arrives, it is to the police sirens painting the neighborhood in red and blue. The building Barbara marked for him is up in flames. Whatever it was that had went down inside, it ended with an explosion. That much is certain.

Dick clenches his fists. He stops some distance away from the gathering of cops and civilians. The rain does it's part in making sure the fire doesn't spread. And he knows approaching the scene now would amount the same as wasted effort. Whether or not the night as a whole is a wasted effort as well, remains to be seen. Dick gets off his bike and surveys the surrounding buildings with his heart in his mouth.

His instinct is telling him to look to the rooftops, picking up shadows among the mess of soaring industrial chimneys and electrical cables that offset a night sky lit up by the fire--and yes, god. A bird far from home, but still a bird nonetheless.

Dick walks over to the side of a building and catches the end of an emergency staircase, using it as a leverage to scramble up. His anti-slip gloves give him sure grip around wet steel. Jason blends well, hiding behind a raised concrete roof and he would've gotten away if not because Dick knows where to look.

Dick lifts himself up to the edge of the roof, coming up behind Jason from the other side of the building. And for a moment, he stays there.

Dick’s chest tightens. Jason is bulky. And even from this distance he can tell that Jason is now taller than him. A far cry from the little runt that was the subject of his many fights with Bruce.

Dick's eyes are drawn to the lurid red of the bat symbol on Jason's back.

“Jason,” Dick says.

Jason doesn't tense, but Dick doesn't delude himself that his presence hasn’t alerted Jason the moment he stepped on the roof. Dick closes his distance to Jason.

Rain water falls like oily films down Jason’s leather jacket. He turns around and Dick has to draw in a sharp breath when he sees his own distorted face reflected back by Jason's helmet.

“Hey there, goldie,” Jason says. His voice is different. It's lower than Dick remembers, but it’s soft , deceptively so without the distortion from the voice changer. And Dick's heart gives a little stab of pain. “Coming to see me on Daddy's order?”

“I--” Dick is lost for words.

Jason snorts. “Can't he come to see me himself? Has to send his little minion after me?”

Dick gathers himself. He shakes his head. A part of him wants to just run there and catches Jason in a hug. But the rational part, the one that recognizes Jason's body language and speaking tone stops him.

“Nightwing,” Barbara's voice comes in from his ear bud, “you’re stationary. Do you find him?”

Dick ignores her. “He's in Gotham,” he says to Jason. “Cleaning up the street after the Scarecrow incident. Gotham needs him.”

Jason gives him a sarcastic laugh. “Gotham always needs him. But he is never there when it really needs him.”

Dick chews his lip and again, his heart clenches with pain and guilt. Jason was hidden right under their noses. Subjected to unimaginable torture and psychological stress for so long .

“I'm here to take you home,” Dick says.

“Blahblahblah, says he.” Jason waves his hand and Dick tenses as he points his gun to Dick. “No. You had your chance and you failed me.”

Jay .”

“Don't call me that!” Jason shouts, suddenly, and despite himself, Dick flinches. Jason closes the distance between them,  looming over Dick. It’s a challenge and it's against Dick’s every self preservation instinct to let Jason push the barrel of his gun against Dick's chest, but Dick stands fast. “Tell me honestly, why are you here?”

Dick looks up to see his own eyes reflected back to him. He fervently wishes that he could see Jason's eyes. “I never stopped looking. I didn’t give up.”

A pause.

And then, Jason shifts. “Don't lie,” he says.

Dick feels, more than sees the punch that comes from Jason's free hand. It throws Dick off balance and he topples to the ground.

Dick breaks his fall with his elbow. Pain blooms from his left jaw and at the next instance when he looks up, Jason is gone.

Dick blinks. The rain water slides down his cheeks. He's let Jason’s punch connect. It’s as painful as it should be.

“Dick?” Barbara says urgently. “Are you there?”

Dick’s fingers shake as he turns on the comm. “Yes, O. I'm here.”

The rain doesn't stop falling until sunrise.

 

***

 

3 Weeks Ago

 

Dick observes the yellowing bruise on Bruce's jaw. The cave's ambient light doesn't hide the ugly remnant of the incident on Halloween's night, but Bruce's hunched shoulders tells Dick more of Bruce's state of mind than any bruise ever could.

"I'll find him," Dick says.

"I'm not putting this on you," Bruce says. His eyes shine with the reflected light from the screen, where a footage of Arkham Knight is playing over and over.

Dick has known Bruce for a long time, and he can read Bruce when someone might only see stubbornness. And right now? Bruce is torturing himself. Dick bits the inside of his lip. He'd offer Bruce a hug, but it would not be welcome. Not when he's like this anyway.

"You can't leave Gotham, and Tim doesn't know him as I do." Or rather did . "I'm the best option for this."

Logic. The best way to get through to Bruce is to batter him with logic.

"And," Dick continues, fisting his hand in his lap. "You're not the only one. I want to bring him back, Bruce. I need to."

Bruce doesn't say anything. For what seems like a long while, his eyes are glued to the screen. In it, Jason's face is distorted with rage. The scar under his eye stark and obscene. Dick has looked at the footage back-to-back three times. Each time less shocked, and has his mind spinning for action.

"He's dangerous," Bruce finally says. "Unpredictable."

"He's family."

A pause. "He is."

"I will set out tomorrow."

Bruce sighs. "All right."

Dick will try to find Jason, whether or not Bruce approves. Bruce knows this well enough and his acquiescence feels like surrender to Dick. But he also knows Bruce want to him to try as much as Dick does.

Bruce massages the spot between his eyes. The man is exhausted and looks it. He needs sleep above all else. Dick puts his hand on Bruce's shoulder.

He needs to talk to Bruce about Tim. Batman and Robin aren't on speaking term because Bruce's method of protecting his Robin leaves a lot to be desired. But that is a battle for another day.

Dick squeezes Bruce's shoulder and leaves him alone, his mind already planning for tomorrow. He goes upstairs, padding to his old room and stops before he reaches it.

Jason's room hasn't been disturbed for a long time. Alfred airs the room sometimes, but not a thing has been moved since the last time Jason used this room. Dick eyes the closed door, brushing his knuckles to the wood. The hard part, Dick knows, isn't finding Jason, but bringing him home.

Chapter Text

It’s a long series of nothing. 

Bruce pulls strings for him, and short of leaving Gotham, he’s doing all he can to help Dick. Still, it's not easy. 

He's read about Jason's time operating a militia in South America among Bruce's files. He wonders whether or not that explains Jason’s seemingly methodical ability to track down his targets and takes them down with little resources. Dick follows reports of an anonymous vigilante who wreaks havoc upon underground trafficking operations from cities to cities. Dick is always just a little bit too late.

Dick finds dead bodies in Monterrey, in Mexico, in Guadalajara. No survivors. Each operation dismantled in one night, and Dick knows, by one man. 

And the more Jason kills, the more Dick feels responsible for it. Intellectually, he recognizes that none of these deaths are his fault, that Jason is the one who makes the decision to kill. Judge, jury, and executioner. But, as the death toll rises, all Dick can think of is that he's glad Bruce isn't the one on Jason's tail—that Bruce doesn't have to see this. Some people have told Dick that he has a bad habit of shouldering guilt, but those people haven’t met Bruce yet. 

Even so, he still  reports to Bruce each time and the silence on the other end on the calls is telling.

***

A month in, Dick fucks up.

It's been a long month. He’s had days of living on the road, driving to remote cities with rented cars, and, he’s had longer nights of patrolling cities full of lights and people, the cities that never sleep. He is bone-deep exhausted and alone.

It's raining, again .

He blinks rainwater out of his eyes before giving it up as futile and just closes his eyes altogether. There is no Oracle in his ears and the absence doesn't hit him hard until now. Barbara and Tim are off for a honeymoon. Dick doesn't begrudge them. He just wishes he was smarter than this. 

Taking down a known den of human traffickers should require planning, but Dick has plans. He's careful, but… apparently his plans aren’t good enough.

He's losing consciousness. 

“Fancy meeting you here.” 

Dick opens his eyes a fraction. He might be dreaming. The edge of his vision is fuzzy and the noise is awful. Water hitting concrete. Jesus. He's going to hate the rain after this. 

The Arkham Knight is standing like a vengeful angel over him. Dick stares at the end of a barrel, pointed to him.

“Thought if I get to them first, I'd save you the trouble,” Dick says hoarsely. 

“How's that working out for you?” 

Dick doesn't answer him. Not sure he can even if he wanted to. 

The spot where Jason's face supposed to be is dark, obscured by his mask and hood. He crouches down. The end of his gun touches Dick's chest. 

Dick at least is sure that Jason doesn't shoot him before he passes out.

***

Dick drifts.

He dreams. There was a time, after things went sour with Bruce and he packed his ass to Bludhaven, that Dick felt absolutely miserable. He didn’t know what he wanted to do in life—he eschewed Bruce’s offer to pay for school and he wasn’t secure enough yet in himself to understand why Bruce needed a new Robin. He found out about the new Robin from a newspaper clipping, and he was furious and hurt, feeling utterly betrayed. 

It was his mother’s name for him. Bruce had no right. 

The new Robin looked so young—he had wide grin and cocksure attitude, captured in the black and white photograph. Dick hated that this kid got to stand beside Batman, and he was alone in Bludhaven.

“Fuck!” Dick hears someone curses and unscrews his heavy eyes. 

Everything is foggy. He's at the tail end of his dream, chest filled with disappointment, but he also remembers something else. The rain. He thinks that he’s finally out of the rain, and that’s a good thing. 

A hand touches his forehead.

He slips under again. 

Another dream. And this time, he was in the manor. A year after Jason became Robin. It was summer. There was Jason—little Jay, who was only seventeen and driving Dick crazy. He flirted with Dick, lounging at the pool side with low slung shorts and a ratty t-shirt that showed a strip of skin under the hemline. His grin was as arrogant as the one Dick remembered from the newspaper, the morning after Batman and Robin made the headline after a big drug bust.

Dick didn’t kiss him—didn’t even touch him. He wanted to, but he knew Bruce wouldn’t understand. And his relationship with Bruce was already on enough precarious balance. 

He saved the thought though, brought it back to Bludhaven with him and said to Jason to call him whenever. Dick would be there if he ever needed help, or just some time away from Bruce. 

Jason never took him up on the offer, never had the chance to. The Joker blew him up just a month after Dick’s offer. 

Dick searched for him. Bruce was consumed. He was consumed. But there wasn’t a trace to be found. And then, the video was delivered to their doorsteps. 

It was, literally and metaphorically, the nail in the coffin. 

***

Dick recognizes the feeling of being drugged. Unfortunately, this is a fact in his life—that he has been injured enough times to know, the moment he wakes up, that his system is full of pain killer. 

His head is heavy, his skin clammy and everything is weighing him down. For a long while, it's all he can do to just lie there and stay awake. 

And then, the memory trickles in gradually. The stark bruises on his jaw for days after Jason punched him. The long frustration of chasing Jason. Him lying on a rooftop, too weak to bring himself to safety.

He remembers… he remembers taking a flight to Belize—remembers renting a car and driving out of town. He was infiltrating a known trafficker’s den, probably upsetting weeks and months of interpol investigation that Bruce had intercepted. 

It was a small operation. Dick could infiltrate and single handedly subdue dozens of Penguin’s goons with enough preparation. And this wasn’t supposed to be any harder. Except, the mafiosi had hired an assassin to guard their wares. Someone good that he’d never fight before. And that , he wasn’t prepared for. 

Dick won, but it came at a price. 

And Jason showed up. 

Dick licks his chapped lips, and finally… he thinks to look to the side and realizes that there is someone in the room with him. Dick is lying on a mattress on the floor, shoved to one corner of a bare room. The lighting is bad and there's no window in the room. He can barely see Jason’s face. 

Jason is sitting on the floor at the far side, his back to the wall, watching Dick like a hawk. Dick’s head swims, but he squints, trying to make more of Jason’s feature.

“Jay—Jason,” Dick slurs. “Where am I?”

Dick tries to make sense of things. If he's honest, he's not sure if this is a dream or reality. It has felt like he was in a series of very long dreams. This might be another vivid dream.

Jason doesn’t answer him, although he pushes back from the wall and stands up. His movement is fluid despite his bulk. His tread is nearly silent as he crosses the room to Dick. He reminds Dick of Bruce—Batman is the only other person with the same built Dick knows who can do that. 

“Where is your dermal tracker?” Jason says. His voice still has the same soft quality that Dick remembers from their encounters, weeks ago now. 

Dick is too busy looking at the brand on Jason's face. He has seen it before, but even the high definition footage in the Batcomputer couldn't prepare him for the reality. The already claustrophobic room suddenly seems to lose more air. 

“Dickie. Answer me,” Jason demands. 

Dick meets Jason's eyes. Jason is closer now, crouching beside Dick's head. His eyes look more mud brown than the blue Dick remembers under the dim lighting. 

“I—” It's hard to focus on things. 

“Dermal tracker, Dick,” Jason says. 

Dick shakes his head. “I don't have it.”

Jason frowns as if something doesn't compute with his assumption. 

“I'm thirsty.”

The lines in Jason's forehead deepened and his mouth flattened. Dick's too out of it to read too much into Jason's body language, and dismisses the thought entirely when Jason leans in to help him, props him up against his body and shoves a glass of water that has been sitting on the floor to Dick's face. 

“Drink. And I'll give you more happy drugs.”

Despite himself, Dick snorts. He drinks dutifully and swallows the pills that Jason hands him. It occurs to him that he shouldn't be this trusting of Jason, given that he was trying to kill Bruce not that long ago. But, Jason has had so many opportunities to harm Dick when he’s unconscious and he hasn’t. 

Dick lies back down and Jason lets him go. Drowsiness rushes in on Dick the moment he sets his head on the mattress. Jason makes to get up, but Dick's hand shots out to stop him. 

“I’m sorry,” Dick mumbles. 

Jason flinches. He looks at Dick with hard eyes and Dick's heart lurches, wishes he hadn't said that.

“I should have left you to die,” he says and stands up. He leaves the room without looking back.

Dick presses his cheek to the mattress, watching the door. However, it doesn't open again and it takes a long while for Dick to fall asleep. 

***

When he wakes again, Dick is more aware of his surrounding. The effect of the drugs in his system is fading and along with the clarity, various aches and pain in his body are saying hello to him. 

Though more importantly, his bladder is pressing on him and getting more unbearable by the minutes. Dick struggles, but eventually he manages to hoist himself and stands. Straight away, he realizes that he doesn’t have anything on. As the sheet that has covered his body falls, Dick shivers, his skin making contact with air. 

He props one hand against the wall for support and for the first time, inspects the dressing around his torso. A dull ache spiders it's way down his side. He remembers getting stabbed there, and the immediate panic and near automatic disregard until the threat was contained. He had ignored the red edge of pain until it couldn't be ignored, but by that time, Dick was barely able to stand. 

Dick doesn't know how long it has been since then. Jason has taken care of him and dressed his wound, but hasn't bothered to give anything for Dick to wear. And his briefs probably had to be cut off from him judging from the nasty scrape at his left hip. 

Dick contemplates taking the sheets with him, to cover up some parts of his body before he ventures out to look for the toilet. But, just the thought of having to crouch or even bend his body at all makes him shudder, so he stumbles to the door gingerly and opens it. 

Light assaults him. After god knows how long he's been in that room, the natural light streaming in from the windows makes his head pound. He's in some kind of house. The wall is dirty, with some patches of bricks left uncovered by broken plaster and peeling paint. It's small, about the size of Dick's not so well appointed two bedrooms apartment in Bludhaven. The furnitures are as sparse as the room he emerged from. This place screams safe house, a place to hide and lie low for a while with disregard for creature comforts. There’s a wooden dining table with four chair and a small pantry. In the corner, not far from the door to Dick's room is another mattress on the floor, pushed to the spot where the occupant can monitor all the doors and windows. There's a dark pile on the mattress that Dick's pretty sure is his uniform and a duffle bag beside it.

Dick wants to check them, but he has more pressing matter to attend. Dick swallows a whimper at the twinge of pain as he moves and continues his trek to a door that he guesses is the bathroom, using the wall as support all the way. 

Inside, it isn't better than the main room, but at least it's clean, with a shower and a working toilet. He does his business as quickly as he is able to and comes out again. 

He has reservations about lowering himself to the mattress on the floor. He wouldn't be able to get up again, not for a while at least, but needs must and he kneels on the bedding to sit down slowly. 

He grabs his uniform first and skims his fingers over the communicators and various trackers planted in the special made kevlar and fabric. Predictably, Jason has removed them, some with cuts that leave holes behind, some plainly crushed in place.

Dick chews his lip. He did send a distress signal to the Batcave before he passed out and it should be enough for his family as a starting point to find him. But, he knows Jason almost certainly has made the effort to erase their trails. 

And to tell the truth, he doesn't want them here yet. Jason is… here with him—although Dick hasn't seen him yet since he woke up—and, Dick is sure that will change the minute Jason sniffs out another Bat in his vicinity. 

God . Dick would do the searching and the frustration trying to find Jason all over again. He would do it a thousand times over, but if there is a chance that he can talk to Jason here, he wants it. 

He doesn't even understand why Jason rescued him. Dick hopes it's because Jason still cares for him, for Bruce. And if that is true, there is a possibility that he can get through to Jason—perhaps gets him to come back to Gotham.

As if summoned by his thought, the front door opens. Dick fists his hand around the fabric of his uniform. He still hasn't put on anything and he figures it probably doesn’t matter as Jason opens the door wider and walks into the room. The concept of modesty is too late when Jason has seen everything as he tended Dick's wounds. 

Jason pauses when he finds Dick sitting on what in all likelihood is Jason’s bed. His helmet is nowhere to be seen, but his face is shadowed by the hood of his jacket, drawn up fully. It's a different jacket from the one Dick has seen him wear during his vigilante activities. This one is made of gray leather and doesn't have a bat symbol spray painted anywhere. Probably Jason's equivalent of civilian clothes. Although from the bulk, Dick would bet it's lined with kevlar.

“So, sleeping beauty finally awakens,” Jason sneers.

Dick tenses. He doesn't answer Jason immediately. The memory of Jason walking away from him after a few wrong words still lingers. 

But he hasn't … he hasn't left Dick to die yet so far, and he came back from wherever he went to when Dick was asleep. That must say something. 

Jason steps closer and crouches beside him. For a fleeting moment, Dick pictures what a ridiculous image they must make to an invisible observer. Jason in armored jacket and Dick as naked as the day he was born. He isn't shy about showing his skin to people. However, Dick is aware of his disadvantage here and he draws his legs closer to his body, his grimy uniform covering his crotch. 

“What do you have with you?” Dick asks, calling attention to a covered earthenware pot that Jason is setting down beside the mattress.

“Food. Simple food from the village that I fucking hope doesn't offend your rich heir's sensibilities.”

Dick refuses to flinch or react in any way to Jason's crass wording choice. 

“Oh,” Dick says. He must have not eaten anything since he passed out, but just the mention of food makes his stomach churn, and not in a pleasant way. Still, he must eat. “Thanks, Jay.” 

It's a deliberate slip. He looks up to study Jason's face, schooling his own expression.

Jason’s eyes are intense. He doesn't react explosively like the last time, though he doesn't take his gaze off Dick's face either.

Dick licks his chapped lips. This Jason feels different from the one he remembers. His presence is stronger, heavier, and being in the same room makes Dick hyper aware of him. 

What did it take to turn Jason this way?

Dick knows the answer of course. 

“I need to borrow your clothes,” he says, instead of giving in to his guilt and saying something Jason doesn't want to hear again. 

Jason quirks up one corner of his lips. “I don't know Dickie, I think I like you as you are.”

“I'm getting cold.”

Jason scoffs. “Whiny as ever.”

Dick half expects Jason to ignore his request. However, he digs out a stained t-shirt from his duffle bag. The bag is the only thing in this dismal place that looks remotely personal. Jason has condensed all his belongings into that one bag. Guns and ammos peek out from within.

Jason doesn't give him pants and to be fair, Dick feels too exhausted to even think about standing up to put them on. 

He needs Jason's help to get into the right holes with the t-shirt. Dick shivers when Jason's hands touch his skin. His body temperature must be lower than Jason's right now, maybe on account of him not wearing anything for a while. Jason's coarse hand feels like a brand on Dick's side.

Jason's clothes is too big on him, but it beats not wearing anything.

After that, Dick tries to eat. Jason brings him watery porridge that barely has any taste, though even then, Dick can barely keep it down in his stomach. Jason gives him a glass of water and he uses it to force the food to stay down. 

When it's all done, including another dose of antibiotics and painkiller, Dick lies down on the mattress at the main room. Jason is… unexpectedly attentive of his needs. Dick doesn't understand what this means, and the burn in his side is too much for him to think properly. 

He closes his eyes and doesn't expect to fall asleep so fast, but he does. 

***

It rains in the middle of the night. The smell of wet earth permeates into the house and Dick opens his eyes to the dim lighting of the main room. For a moment, he thinks he’s back at his Bludhaven apartment, but the thought quickly dissolves when he spots Jason sitting at the dining table and the rest of the bare interior resolves into view. The lights are off, safe for the ones at the kitchen.

Dick tries the breathing technique he learned from Barbara when they’re still Robin and Batgirl. It helps when he gets too angry, or too emotional. And that’s all he does for a long moment. In and out. In and out.

Jason has covered him with sheets from the previous room he woke up in. He lets Dick sleep in his bed and takes up a vigilant position at the dining table. Those fact is giving Dick hope. Jason's back is rigid and although Dick can’t see his face, he can imagine Jason’s intense stare off with the kitchen cabinet.

Finally, when he feels like he can face Jason again, Dick kicks off the sheets and struggles to get up. Jason turns to him the moment Dick creates noise. But he doesn’t move to help Dick. Neither does his attention leave Dick as he falters to the table. 

After what feels like twice the amount of effort and time than it should take, Dick reaches Jason and draws a chair across from him. The harsh overhead light paints a relief of shadows over the raised scars on Jason’s face. Dick lingers on the letter under Jason’s eye. 

He doesn’t know if he will ever not be anguished whenever he sees it. Dick swallows. No one says anything for a long moment. Dick studies him and in return, he studies Dick, perhaps seeing the changes in Dick as he keeps finding in Jason.

Dick wants to reach out, touches Jason and holds his hand which rest on the other side of the table. But, it won’t be welcome. Not this time, and Dick doesn’t want to consider about not ever

“Contact Daddy Bat,” Jason says, finally breaking the silence. “Go home.” 

“You took out my communicators and locating devices.”

Jason works his jaw. He slips his hand off the table, takes out a satellite phone from his utility belt and sets it in front of Dick. “Use this.”

“No.” Dick doesn't spare the phone a glance.

“I don't need your sorry ass burdening me down.”

“You can leave me whenever, but you haven't. Why, Jay?”

Don’t call me that,” Jason hisses through gritted teeth.

“All right,” Dick says, trying for a placating tone and refraining from pointing out that Jason hasn't answered his question.

He holds Jason's eyes. Jason is tense, his face closed off, and Dick reminds himself that he has to walk on eggshells. 

“Why are you so stubborn?” Jason asks.

Dick presses his tongue to the roof of his mouth. He considers his answers, but in the end, with a shrug, just says, “Have you met me?”

Jason narrows his eyes at him. “Dickie, stop playing games.”

“I'm not. I want to stay with you, that’s all.” That isn't all that Dick wants. He wants to bring Jason back, makes him come home with him. But, it's a battle that he has to take one step at a time.

Jason faces away. His hand curls into a fist on the table.

“I didn't stop looking for you. I wasn't lying when I said that before,” Dick says and he’s got Jason's attention now. Dick continues, hoping it won’t turn ugly, “After—after the explosion, we couldn't find any trace of you and we concluded that the Joker must have captured you. We looked for you. Bruce was a man possessed—” 

Jason snarls at the mention of Bruce. So, okay, no Bruce.

“—we searched everywhere. And then, the video was sent to us. I didn't believe it. Barbara said I was in denial because I felt guilty for what happened, but it wasn't like that. I believed you're still out there and waiting for us to find you.”

Dick presses his lips together hard after finishing his story. Jason stares at him and Dick wishes for the hundredth times he could just get up and draw Jason in for a hug. Dick isn't good with words. He's tactile for a reason. 

But Jason doesn't say anything, and the sound of his chair scraping against the floor as he stands is loud in the silent room. 

Dick hides his face in his hands and curses silently as the front door bangs shut. 

***

Jason comes back after what seems like hours. Dick hasn’t moved much. He went to the bathroom, which wasn’t in a better shape than the last time he saw it, and came back to sit at the dining table. He thinks about going out, perhaps looking for Jason, but just the thought of walking to the front door daunts him. 

When Jason comes back, he brings supplies with him in a plastic bag. Another pot of porridge from god knows where, a roll of clean bandage, some first aid kits, and clothes—clothes that look as if they would fit Dick. 

The rain stops a while ago, but Jason’s hair is still damp, and when Jason approaches him, silently offering to help Dick tend to his wound, Dick smells cigarette on him. And it’s so familiar that Dick nearly forgets himself and reaches out to Jason. He doesn’t do that, although he lets Jason lift his t-shirt as Dick remains sitting on the chair and cuts his old dressings away. 

Seventeen year old Jason used to smoke in secret. He didn’t admit it—but, anyone with a functioning sense of smell could sniff the lingering scent on him. Bruce used to be exasperated and Alfred disapproving, but no one could get him to quit. When Dick visited the manor, Jason’s room always smelled like cigarette.

Dick grimaces when his dressings fall away. His flesh is burnt around the wound. Jason has used the crude but effective method of cauterization to seal his wound, clearly expecting Dick would get better treatment later and it was only for emergency. He's careful when applying the cooling salve over the damaged flesh. And Dick has to swallow as he extends his attention onto the few scrapes at Dick’s left hip, kneeling by Dick’s side so his head is level with them.

Jason doesn’t seem to be affected by his nudity, although he avoids looking directly at Dick’s crotch. Dick has had plenty of time to think when he was left alone. And he's uncomfortably familiar with some of the more uncouth interrogation and breaking techniques that has been used by Batman's rogues gallery to their victims—one of them involved disrobing said victims completely, to discourage escape and play to their psychological state of vulnerability. 

It may be Jason’s initial intention and admittedly it’s working, a little. 

When Jason helps Dick into a pair of loose pants and t-shirt that fits him better, Dick feels much better and grateful. And after, they’re back to looking at each other over the expanse of the dining table. 

Jason has been quiet through the entire process of helping Dick and even though Dick tried to engage him in a conversation, he was unresponsive.

And now, he watches Dick as he force-feeds himself the disgustingly bland congee. 

Out of all of the members of their little dysfunctional family, Dick used to be the one closest to Jason, despite not actually living in the manor. Even more than Alfred, he'd like to think, because Jason and him shared something no one else did at that time. They were Robin.

He has to find a way to contact the Batcave and tell them somehow, that he's not dead in a ditch somewhere and that he's not in any dangers to discourage them finding Dick. 

Although, after Dick's refusal earlier, he's not sure how Jason would take it if he requests to contact the Batcave now and Jason keeps the satellite phone with him.

Dick decides to delay that for the time being and when he's done eating, Dick is a little sick of walking on eggshells around Jason. He’s miserable and cranky, and although he loves Jason he also can't take a minute more of this silence.

He gets up and walks to the room he first woke up in. If nothing else, Dick could definitely use a little more rest. 

***

Time stretches weirdly when all he does is sleep. His internal clock is out of whack, but Dick’s pretty sure it's the middle of the night.

Jason is in the room with him and he guesses that’s what woke him up. 

He stands beside Dick's mattress, towering over him from Dick's position on the floor and scowling. It also seems like he hasn't been sleeping. He hasn't changed out of his clothes. His eyes are red rimmed and the shadows under them are pronounced.

“I don't trust you,” he says. 

Dick isn't ready for this confrontation. His mouth tastes like something has crawled in there and died. His brain is slow from sleep and he’s cold. If he shuts his eyes, he knows he will sleep again in a heartbeat. Still, hoarsely, he replies, “I’m not going to stab you in the back, if that's what you're worried about.” 

“I wanted him to die. For the longest time, that was all I could think about,” Jason says. “I didn't care for you. I was so angry. I would’ve killed you given the chance if I saw you in Gotham that day.”

The weight of those words presses on Dick. “You did—you do care, Jay. You wouldn't have brought me here otherwise. You wouldn't have stopped Scarecrow that day.”

Jason narrows his eyes, but Dick will not take any of what he said back. 

“I get it,” Dick continues, “why you’re angry with us. Just…,” Dick pauses, gauging Jason's reaction and finding only deepening frown, “if you think for a second that you don't a have a place with us, you’re wrong. You can go home anytime.”

“It isn’t up to you.”

“Bruce will tell you the same thing.”

“He won't. I’m sick of his ideology. He's ineffective and a hypocrite. I will not stop killing, Dickie. Not for him.”

Dick is fully awake now. He puts his elbow against the mattress and pushes himself up to sit. His gaze stays glued to Jason. Knowing that it would be difficult to persuade Jason and hearing the fact from the man himself is different. It brings a lump to his throat. He grips the edge of the mattress.

Jason shifts. His powerful arms cross in front of his chest, fists tucked on the other’s inner elbows, then he relaxes again, hands falling back to his sides.  “And I have... killed—many.”

This time, Dick reaches up. He telegraphs his movement clearly and rests his palm on Jason's hand, the one he can reach. Jason is standing close enough to his bed that Dick doesn't have to lean forward too much.

The touch earns himself a look from Jason—something heavy that Dick meets head-on. 

“Jay,” Dick says. “You think I don't know that? I'm not saying I don't care. But, you're family. I love you. What you have done and you have become doesn't change that.”

“Is that why you're here?” 

“Yes.”

Dick can feel Jason's skittishness and he wonders if he may have gone too far. But, Dick doesn't know how many chances he has with Jason and he wants to make sure Jason hears what he needs to say. 

Dick slips his fingers in between Jason’s, feeling the calluses and the warmth there. Jason is alive and as long as that remains a fact, Dick will not give up on him. Jason deserves someone to not give up on him after what he has gone through.

Jason is looking at where their hands are joined. He hasn't shaken Dick off and Dick takes it as encouragement, tightening his hold around Jason's hand.

“Jason,” Dick says after a long while, voice low. “Stay here, please. Sit with me.”

The words seems to draw Jason back from his thoughts. Dick audaciously tugs him, but this time he’s definitely overstepped the invisible boundary. Jason recoils, retreating a few steps and Dick's hand falls away from him. 

“Go back to sleep, Dickie,” he says.

Dick watches him go. The red bat insignia on Jason's back glints as he opens the door and the dim light from the other room hits it. The door closes and Jason disappears out of view, but for the first time Dick feels like he has made progress.

***

Dick wakes up feeling a little bit better. The various aches in his body are muted, though only by a small degree. But, the biggest difference is he feels well-rested in what seems like the first time in ages. 

He walks out of the room to find Jason in the kitchen, standing in front of the stove. The jacket is gone, but the under armour and camouflage cargo pants are still on. Dick wonders if Jason slept at all. 

As Dick approaches, it surprises him to find the stove is on and there’s a kettle over it.

“What are you making?” Dick positions himself a few feet from Jason, mindful of his injuries as he leans against the dining table.

“Coffee.”

And now that Jason mentions it, Dick notices two mugs sitting on the pantry. Dick hasn't had the opportunity to search the cabinets, but he doubts this place has anything resembling coffee before. Jason must have gone out again at some point when Dick’s sleeping. 

“Are you making one for me, too?” Dick asks, with deliberately light tone. 

Jason shrugs. He turns around to face Dick. 

The morning light—or afternoon, Dick’s not sure—that streams in from the windows lights up Jason’s face. The brand is even more obscene in daylight, though Dick tries not to focus on that. He keeps his eyes level with Jason’s.

“You can’t fix me, Dick,” Jason says, out of nowhere. 

Dick lets the statement hang in the air between them for a second. Jason clearly expects to continue their conversation from last night. Dick bites the inside of his lip. 

“I don’t need your pity. I don't need you staying with me just to assuage your conscience.”

That last one hits too close to home. It’s true, after all. But when it comes down to it all, it isn’t only that. 

“I want to do right by you, Jason,” says Dick. “I don't see anything wrong with that. You don't know how it was after you went missing,” Dick pauses, “I love you, Jay. I think we can help if you come home to us.”

Jason scoffs. He takes a step forward and Dick recognizes the intimidation techniques, looming over him, using his height to make Dick feels smaller. He cages Dick in, both of his hands bracketing Dick’s sides against the dining table. 

Dick has to crane his neck to look at Jason in the eyes, and the scent of cigarette is there again, mixed with sweat and musk that is all Jason. Both of them doesn’t smell pleasant, he hasn't seen a shower in days, but it seems like a trivial thing to worry about. And Dick’s pulse jumps when Jason brings one of his hand up to grasp Dick’s jaw. It dawns on him that he may have misread Jason’s intention. 

“Talk is cheap,” Jason says. 

Dick parts his mouth. He wants to reply, but Jason cuts him off with a vicious kiss. A hard bite that is pure pain and Dick gasps. His hand shots out, trying to shove Jason off. 

Jason complies, drawing back a little and ending the kiss. He’s grinning and his lips are stained red with, Dick realizes, his blood

“What was that for?” Dick asks. Jason hasn't let him up all the way. He's standing close and Dick suddenly remembers seventeen year old Jason again. But seventeen year old Jason wouldn't kiss Dick this way. 

“Proof it to me,” Jason says. “You love me. Show me how much.”

Dick is struck. Dick meant what he said. He loves Jason, as something platonic . He gauges Jason's sincerity, but there is no tell that he can read off Jason's face. He begins to suspect Jason might do this for the shock value, something to drive Dick away, and the sincerity is buried under all that. 

Dick licks his lower lip, tasting his blood and the sting. Jason watches his mouth, follows his tongue. 

Dick has been thinking, all this time, that he needs to show Jason how much he still care for him instead of just saying it. And that is why he's here. And perhaps, Jesus, perhaps this is how it should be. This is how Jason will finally come back. God. Is it?

Before his thoughts resolve themselves, Dick brings one hand to the back of Jason's neck and draws him in. Jason's eyes widen in the fraction of a second before Dick tilts his head and kisses him. 

It's a proper kiss, this time. A gentle meeting of lips and Jason is almost shy that Dick feels a stirring in his heart, something protective for a kid he knew a long time ago. But that impression is quickly erased as Jason rests his hand on Dick's side and tilts Dick's head further with the other hand on Dick's jaw. He takes control of the kiss and Dick guesses this will be something of a theme with Jason—feeling in control. 

He doesn't know how long they kiss. But two things happen at the same time that startle them out of their little world. The kettle whistles a shrill note and there is a crash just outside the window. Jason reacts first. He lets go of Dick and turns around. His hand goes to a gun that is holstered on his thigh. 

He doesn't realize how warm Jason is until he misses his heat against Dick. However, there is no time to mourn that. Dick's heart contracts as he sees a black gauntlet peeking out from the window's corner. 

He acts quickly. Jason didn’t harm him when he first saw Dick—but it doesn't mean that the treatment will be extended to his other pseudo-sibling. And he has a feeling that Jason will not take kindly to Robin's presence. Dick grasps Jason's gun arm. Then he moves to Jason's side and tries to bend the arm so the gun points upward. 

Jason looks at him the entire time. It's a look of surprise that morphs into a fleeting rage and then smooths out to become the closed off and hard countenance that Dick is painfully familiar with. 

“Dick?” It's Tim, calling out from the window, sounding uncertain. The wailing kettle hasn't settled down.

Dick ignores Tim, keeps holding Jason's steady gaze. His eyes are posing a questions to Dick: is this how it is? 

Dick swallows and knows he's losing Jason by the seconds if he doesn't act soon. He tightens his hold on Jason. “He's not going to harm us,” says Dick, deliberately using the word 'us’ instead of 'you’. 

“Did you contact him?” 

“I didn't,” Dick says. “I’m missing for days without checking in, Jay. He must be looking for me.”

“He can't stay.”

Dick nods. 

Despite that though, Jason isn't persuaded. He tugs his hand free from Dick, moves backward a few steps. Dick's face falls. 

Jason freezes in place. He's thinking, gun held up in the air. And Dick can see the moment the decision is make. Jason shifts his gaze to Tim behind him, and then levels it back to Dick.

“Go back with him, Dickie,” he says. 

“What? But, I—”

“Dick,” Jason cuts him off. “Don't follow me. I will be in touch with you. But only on my own terms. Do not look for me again.”

“...Jason.” 

“Say yes.”

And again, Dick thinks Jason is trying to be in control and this is something that Dick should give him.

“Yes,” Dick says, because really, there is no other option. 

So Dick stays rooted in place as Jason heads to the door, knowing that he will not return to this place again. Jason brings nothing with him. His jacket is hung on the back of the chair by the kitchen table. The bag containing his only possessions is still on the floor by the living room's mattress.

When Jason has gone, Tim climbs in from the window. Dick doesn't know how to feel. He can still taste the kiss, the salty tang from his own blood on his tongue. 

Dick walks over to the stove to switch it off, cutting off the screeching wail. And then, in the suddenly odd silence, he faces Tim. 

Tim is looking contrite, his brows drawn together. “I'm sorry, Dick.”

“It's okay,” Dick says, with a small smile. He steps forward and draws Tim in for a hug, and he’s promptly reminded of his injuries as they make contact with Tim. As he grimaces, Dick realizes how careful Jason has been with him.