In the years since Dick first took Jason and Damian there, the Fly-By Gym has changed not one bit. It’s still the same ugly building it always was. Still barely visible as what it is to anyone looking at it from the outside, and at the front desk, there’s still the same elderly receptionist sitting there, wearing variations on the same ugly paisley sweater Jason first saw her in every time they visit, almost like she’s part of the building’s decor herself.
The only difference is, she now knows and greets them all by name, not just Dick.
“Slow down, Damian.” Jason says, as his son, eager as always to be here, starts trotting off down the corridor ahead of them to the trapeze room without so much as a by-your-leave.
At eight, he’s definitely changed since the first time they came here. Still bigger than most kids his age, taller and stronger, too, he’s a far cry from the small babe Jason first held in his arms, or even the overexcitable toddler he was four years ago. The top of his head now reaches Jason’s chest, while his face has grown sharper, more angular, losing a fair amount of the round softness it once possessed.
Just like his biological sire. A fact made even more apparent when Damian turns back to look at him, jade eyes bright against the warm brown tone of his skin.
“Why?” he asks, impatiently, leaning back on his heels at the same time.
“Because,” Jason says, jerking his thumb back behind him at where Dick is talking to the receptionist. “Your dad still needs to finish paying.”
Damian pulls a face. “He doesn’t need me there to do that.”
Jason raises an eyebrow. “No, but you do need him with you if you think you’re getting up on that rigging, so hold your horses, mister.”
This time, Damian scoffs, but also doesn’t move any further. Shaking his head, Jason turns back to his mate (officially) of over a year now and asks, “Done yet, Dick?”
“Just about.” Dick takes his receipt from the receptionist. “Thanks, Magda.”
“No problem, Dickie.” she smiles at them. “You three have fun in there.”
“Oh, we always do.”
The moment Damian sees that they’re done, he takes off again, and Jason sighs, shifting the bag of clean clothing ready for after their workout he’s carrying over his shoulder as Dick steps up beside him to take his hand. “That kid is getting worse every day.”
Dick chuckles, “Nah, he’s not so bad. Just excited, like always.”
“Well, maybe he wouldn’t be this excited if someone hadn’t put the idea of doing a quadruple somersault in his head.”
“Hey, that you cannot blame me for.” Grinning, Dick rubs his thumb over the modest bonding ring wrapped around Jason’s index finger. “It’s Tim’s fault for telling him the story of how he figured out the identities of Batman and Robin.”
“The little twerp,” Jason grumbles. “He’s lucky he has Kryptonian protection again, else I’d kill him.”
“So much love.” Dick leans over as they walk to nose his temple. “You really have turned into a big brother. Now, c’mon, before Damian makes a comment about us being old and slow again.”
“Speak for yourself, Mr. Almost-Thirty-Year-Old.”
“Urgh,” Dick groans, “Please don’t remind me.”
Inside the trapeze room, Jason takes a backseat as his mate and son clamber up onto the rigging. This is always their time together more than his. It has been since the start. When he comes here with them, it’s most often just to be an observer to the fun rather than take part. Which is no bother to him, since it’s always a delight to watch Dick in his natural habitat, as well as Damian grow ever more skilled at following in his footsteps by the day.
Though hopefully he won’t follow in them too far.
“Okay, Dami,” Dick is saying from his side. “We’re starting with some simple swings and passes to warm up, all right? Nothing fancy.”
“I know, Dad,” Damian says impatiently. “You say the same thing every time.”
“Never hurts to remember the basics, buddy.”
Jason smiles. Even now, hearing Damian call Dick ‘dad’ puts a warm feeling in his chest. There’d been no push or encouragement for him to do so after they got together. Indeed, he knows Dick would have been quite content to go on being ‘Uncle Duck’ to his son forever if he’d had to. But then, one day, the word had just slipped out from Damian’s lips over dinner, and after a small amount of flustered reaction on all sides, stayed for good. To the point where Uncle Duck is now just a fond memory to tease them both over whenever the opportunity comes up.
In front of Jason, practice begins, and after a few minutes of watching them work, he takes a seat nearby on an unoccupied mat and pulls out his phone to check his messages.
There’s one from Tim, asking if Jason still needs him to babysit next week, and if so, would he mind Conner coming along with him. Jason considers it for a brief moment before replying yes. He trusts Tim, and knows that for him at least, Conner’s return to the land of the living a year ago is still so raw and new that the pair of them take every chance possible to be together. Conner’s not a bad kid, either, from what assessment of his character Jason’s been able to make on the few occasions they’ve met. And besides, Damian loves seeing Krypto (even if Jason finds it a tad annoying that they have to have the ‘Reasons we can’t have a flying dog of our own’ discussion with his son every time he visits).
That question answered, Jason moves onto the next message after rolling his eyes at the grateful string of emojis Tim immediately sends back at him in response. Stephanie, the only other member of the Dead Robins Club as Jason likes to call it, wants to know if he’ll join her on patrol tonight in the East End since he’s in town, which honestly Jason’s not sure about. Sometimes they end up staying the night in Gotham, but most often not. He sends her an emphasised maybe, just to make sure she doesn’t go getting carried away on the possibility.
Unlike Superboy, Steph’s return to the land of the living had been far more contentious among the family. Mostly because, as it turned out, she’d never actually been dead, but instead smuggled away by Leslie Thompson to Africa so she could recover in peace from the torture Black Mask put her through during the great gang war in Gotham.
As a third party to all the grief and pain everyone else had suffered in the wake of her ‘death’ and then return, Jason had at first been antagonistic towards her for Tim’s sake, but then after a little while he’d spoken to her, gotten to know her and, eventually, empathised with her decision on more levels than one.
Now he likes Steph a lot. She’s a kid from the worst parts of Gotham, like him. Grew up with a shitty dad, like him. They both have a similar sense of humour and preference for forthright communication, and it’s nice sometimes to have someone else out there who knows where he’s coming from. Why he is the way he is, and vice versa.
Plus, it had been a lot easier to be angry at Bruce when it also came out that he’d know the truth about her whereabouts all along, and Tim ended up sitting in Jason’s kitchen in the middle of the night when Dick was away, filled with a powerful need to rant at someone who would not in any way be inclined to excuse their shared mentor’s actions on principle.
The last message he has outstanding is from Donna Troy, regarding the not-so-surprise birthday party they have planned for Dick next week. She’s handling the side of things that involve wrangling all the eligible Titans into being at the right place at the right time, while Jason keeps his attention wholly focused on the family in Gotham and Bludhaven. At least as much as Alfred will let him, anyway.
Going over details with her occupies Jason for the next ten minutes, until an angry shout pulls his attention away from his phone and back to what’s going on in front of him.
Damian is in the net, and the frustration is clear in his face as he fights to sit up. “I almost did it that time!” he cries up at Dick, who’s pulling himself back up onto his bar from a hanging down position. “I could’ve done it!”
“I know, little D.” Dick tries to soothe him, while Jason looks on, “You just need to keep on practicing and you will.”
“You could already do it when you were my age, though.” Damian complains, and again, Jason feels a hot flush of irritation at Tim for telling Damian about the quadruple somersault in the first place.
“That’s because Dick didn’t just do this for fun once a week, Damian.” he intercedes, putting his phone away and standing up from the mat to approach the rigging. “He did it every day at the circus. It was a job for him back then, not just a hobby.”
Damian pulls a face at his words, which is not unexpected. “Then I want to do it every day, too.”
“Would that we could, Dami.” Now dropping down from the bar, Dick lands in the net beside him. “Unfortunately, me and your mom have other jobs we need to do these days.”
“Then let me come by myself.”
Jason snorts. “A: that’s against the rules of the gym, and B: even if it wasn’t, you’re eight. Not happening, monster.”
Damian growls, ducking Dick’s good natured attempt to ruffle his hair. “That’s not fair.”
Life’s not fair, Jason almost replies, but refrains. It might be true, but it’s not a helpful statement either. “I know,” he acknowledges instead. “But that’s the way it is. When you’re older, you can come practice by yourself, but for now you need your dad with you. Or me, if you want to join one of the actual classes they have here.” Which honestly, Jason can only imagine Damian would find frustrating. He’s not the most social around other kids even at the best of times. “You’ll do it either way, but you need patience first.”
His son doesn’t look impressed. “I hate being patient.” he says.
“Yeah, well, me and you both, kiddo.” Jason smiles at him.”Now c’mon, you’ve still got some time left. Get back up there and try again.”
Damian hesitates, which is enough time for Dick to successfully ruffle his hair on the second try. “C’mon, Dami, your mom’s right, and Graysons never give up.”
Jason snorts, “Neither do Todds, you ass.”
Dick winks at him, but the words are enough. Rolling off the net, Damian makes his way back to the ladder to try again with Dick in tow, and with peace at last restored, if only temporarily, Jason heads back to his customary position to keep watching them.
Later, they’re all sat in the nearby ice-cream parlour, enjoying a well earned cone of their preferred treat, as is also now tradition after Dick and Damian finish their practice.
“Aunt Cass told me they have cat cafes and an owl cafe in Tokyo.” Damian is saying. “How come Gotham doesn’t have any?”
“Because we’d never get you out of them if it did, little D.” Dick says, mint chocolate chip running down his chin. “It’s a public service.”
Jason rolls his eyes before handing his mate a napkin to clean himself off with. “More like Selina would rob any cafe of cats two hours after it opened.” He eats another mouthful of neopolitan. “Don’t know about the owls, though.”
Dick chuckles, “Maybe they’re afraid the Court will get them.”
“I wouldn’t stay that long,” Damian says, as Jason kicks Dick under the table. None of them need reminding of that mess, even now. It was bad enough when it happened. “Pennyworth would get jealous if I spent too much time with other cats.”
“True that, he is pretty possessive over you.” Jason smiles, tucking a strand of coarse black hair back behind Damian’s ear. It’s getting long again, and he makes a mental note to ask Alfred if he’ll cut it for him later.
“That’s because I take such good care of him.” There’s a sly tilt to Damian’s head as he looks up at Jason. “Just like I’d take good care of a dog.”
Dick audibly snorts into his ice-cream. “Smooth, kiddo.”
“Oh yeah?” Jason says, fighting not to smile himself. Damian really is growing up to be the child of all his parents. “Cos, y’know, dogs are a lot more work. You gotta walk them at least twice a day, rain or shine. No excuses.”
“I could do that.” Damian says immediately.
“And pick up their poop every time they go,” Dick joins in. “Dogs aren’t like cats, they can’t go in a litter box like Pennyworth can. You’d have to take it outside whenever it wants to go. Even in the middle of the night.”
Damian predictably looks a little less enthusiastic at this argument. “I could do that.” he still says.
“You also need to consider Pennyworth may not like having a dog around. He’s never met one before.”
“Tt.” Damian snorts, “He’s my cat. If I like the dog he will, too.”
“Doesn’t quite work like that, Dami,” Jason says, dryly.
“Can I please get a dog?”
Jason sighs internally, meeting Dick’s gaze across the table. His mate raises his eyebrows.
“... we’ll think about it.” Jason reluctantly says.
It’s a non-answer. The kind Jason himself used to hate hearing as a kid, but now that he’s a parent himself he’s coming to understand its use more and more. It’s hard to say no to Damian directly when he really wants something. Even when that something is a thing Jason can’t just immediately say yes to, either.
Damian doesn’t look happy, an emotion backed by the sour note note his scent takes on. He’s soon distracted, though. “Can I have some money to play Cheese Vikings?” he asks, pointing at the arcade machine in the corner of the store.
“Sure thing, Dami.” Dick is reaching into his pocket before Jason can say anything and passing Damian some coins, who wastes no time in taking them and dashing off with a muffled “Thank you!” shouted back over his shoulder.
“Dick,” Jason says, reproachfully.
“What? It’ll distract him from thinking about the dog.” Dick shrugs, then moves chairs to sit directly next to Jason on his side of the table. “Kid is getting more demanding by the day.”
“Tell me about it.” Watching Damian feed the coins into the machine, Jason sighs again. Out loud this time.
“You okay?” Jason closes his eyes as he feels Dick brush their heads together, subtly scenting him. He smells faintly of soap from the gym’s showers, and Jason feels a familiar urge to cover it all up with his own in a way that would be highly inappropriate for where they are.
“Yes,” he says, managing to restrain himself. “Just… wish he’d stop growing up so fast, you know? Everything was so much easier when he was smaller.”
“I know.” Dick kisses his temple. “I miss when he was little, too. But you can’t deny he’s growing up well. I totally think he’ll master the quadruple somersault if he keeps at it.”
“You better be,” Jason grumbles. “I don’t want you giving him false hope if he won’t be able to do it, Dick.”
“When have you ever known me to give anyone false hope?”
“With the Titans, sure, you’re a drill sergeant. But with Damian,” Jason nods in their son’s direction, “You’re soft, Dick. You know you are. That’s why I always end up being the disciplinary parent whenever he does something wrong.”
“Not always.” Dick chuckles, “But okay, yeah, guilty as charged. Sometimes the whole dad thing still feels new to me, I guess.”
“Mm.” Jason leans his head back against Dick’s. “Well, you need to hurry up and get used to it, because when he hits puberty, my plan is to let him be all yours.”
“Ouch.” Dick grins, turning his face to nuzzle his cheek. “Sometimes I forget how vicious you are, Mr. Todd.”
“Only as much as I have to be.”
They sit for the next couple of moments in comfortable silence while Damian plays his game, before Dick awkwardly clears his throat. “So, talking of missing when Damian was small, maybe now we could talk about—”
“Dick,” Jason closes his eyes. Just like that, they’re right back on the subject of questions he’s struggling to give either a clear yes or no to. “I told you before, I need some time to think about that.”
“I know, but—”
“You promised you weren’t going to pressure me about it.”
“I’m not.” Dick says at once, a little sharply. “I just… I want you to know I’m serious about it, is all. If you want it, too.”
Jason grimaces. “I’m not saying I don’t.” God knows, he should have expected the conversation to come up at some point the longer their relationship went on. “But it’s a big fucking committment, Dick. Bigger than letting Damian have a dog. And I’m the one who’d have to take a break from everything else in our lives to do it while you get to carry on as normal.”
“Hardly as normal, Jay.” Dick frowns. “I know the bigger part is going to be on you for the first year or so, at least, but I’ll do everything I possibly can to help you through it, as well. I’m not just going to, y’know, wham bam, thank you, ma’am. This is something we’d do together, the same as everything else.”
He puts his hand over Jason’s, rubbing the ring there again.
Jason feels his heart briefly soften inside his chest. “It’s not just about us. If we do it, it’d affect Damian, too.”
“You don’t think he’s mature enough to handle a younger brother or sister?”
“I don’t know.” Jason looks down at the table. What’s left of his ice-cream has now mostly melted in its little tub. “Maybe. He’s used to being an only child, Dick. At his age, it could be difficult for him to suddenly have to learn to share our attention.”
“He learned how to share you with me.” Dick smiles. “Remember when you were worried about that, too? Not to mention, you, me, Tim… we all learned how to have siblings at an advanced age after being only children for most of our lives. I think he’ll be fine if you just give him the chance.”
On some level, Jason knows Dick’s right. Damian might be jealous for a while, but he would learn to adjust in the end. Really, all the hesitation Jason’s feeling is coming from within himself. Concerns about the necessity of giving up being a vigilante if he goes through with having another child after fighting so hard to become one again, as well as the lingering memories of what he went through when carrying Damian before.
With all that in mind, the fact that he quite possibly — no, definitely, wants what Dick’s proposing doesn’t make it any easier to agree to.
(Why is he still like this? he wonders. Why still, after all this time…)
Jason leans back in his chair, then rubs his face. “Just give me a bit longer, okay, Dick? Until after your birthday, at least. Once that’s done, I promise I’ll have an answer for you.”
“Okay, Jay.” Dick’s expression is far too understanding, and his grip stays firm on Jason’s hand. “I promise, I won’t say anything more about it until then.”
“Hey,” Dick leans over to nose his cheek again, before kissing it. “You know I won’t do anything ridiculous like leave you if you say no, don’t you? Not now or later, or even if you decide you don’t want any more kids at all. I love you, Jay. Always.”
Jason knows. Or likes to think he knows. But it still feels good to hear Dick say it out loud. Still reassures the parts of him that will never stop fretting over whether or not he’s good enough for him.
With a jerk of his head, he nods his understanding, then bumps his own nose back against Dick’s as extra reassurance while breathing in his mate’s scent. That beloved sharp-sweet caramel does everything words can’t for him, even now.
“C’mon,” he mutters finally, “We should grab Damian and head up to the manor already. He can play more videogames there.”
“And play them on Bruce’s dime.” Dick agrees wholeheartedly, before drawing back and calling to Damian, “Hey, munchkin, finish up over there! We’re heading out soon as you’re done!”
Damian doesn’t answer him directly, just scowls at the screen, but the next time he hits a ‘Game Over’ he turns from the machine and dutifully trots back over to them. Then, a touch unexpectedly, also presses himself against Jason’s side once he stands up.
The rest of the tension Jason is feelings melts in seconds as he runs his fingers over Damian’s hair, then gently grips the back of his neck. It’s getting rarer for him to do this now, and every time it happens, he can’t help but feel like he has to make the most of it. At least as much as he can before Damian gets restless and pulls away again.
“Okay there, little man?” he murmurs, as together they follow Dick out the door.
Damian shrugs nonchalantly, but there’s a yawn that follows the motion that’s far more telling.
“Yeah, me too.” Jason squeezes his neck again comfortingly. “Don’t worry, there’s a comfortable couch waiting up at the manor with your name on it.”
And knowing Alfred, enough dinner to feed an army as well. That’s something they can all look forward to.