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A Zoo For Canines

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Dick turned off the phone with a click. “We fucked up,” he said, turning to Jason. “We, uh, we definitely did not think this through.”

 

Jason, who was sitting beside the motel room door, on the ground with his head between his knees, said, "Hell no, we didn't."

 

Dick crossed over to stand in front of him. The orange streetlight behind him cast his shadow harshly over Jason, throwing him into inky black relief. "Alfred read me the fucking riot act, man. You should've heard it. I don't think I've ever heard him swear that much."

 

"Alfred doesn't swear."

 

Dick laughed—sharp, bitter, tasted metallic in his mouth, a sort of bloody tang. "He does now."

 

The first time Dick had ever heard Alfred swear, it had been Alfred swearing at him after a fight he’d had with Bruce, one not long after Jason had died; and it was a hellish thing, to be reamed out by Bruce only to get reamed out by Alfred for daring to pick a fight with Bruce. Later, Alfred had apologized for what he’d called his misconduct, and that had been the first time Dick had ever seen Alfred cry. 

 

(Alfred cried like a gentleman. I’m awfully sorry, he’d said, dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief. This is most improper of me, my boy. You’ll—you’ll have to excuse me. And Dick had, because he’d been unable to speak for the frog in his throat.)

 

Jason looked up, blue eyes—kind of a sea green, actually, and Dick thought of the brilliant green eyes of the al Ghuls and wondered if somehow the pit leached into the iris during the act of restoration, like an infection—slanted at the corners, mouth pressed to his kneecaps like he was twelve. Maybe, in an odd way, he was; Dick could never tell with Jason. The kid had been through so much, and trauma tended to stop and restart development the way a broken record player stopped and restarted songs. "Weird," Jason murmured, for lack of a better response.

 

Their trip hadn't exactly gone well. They'd been forced to stop just a few hours into the drive because Bruce had gotten to the stage of withdrawal that most closely resembled taking a dose of ipecac, and that led Dick to the realization of how bad it truly, truly was, which had led to Dick getting frazzled and taking the wrong exit and getting them hopelessly lost. So Dick decided it was high time they pulled off somewhere and got a room for the night, found a shitty Red Roof Inn, and then Bruce promptly kicked them out of his room by shattering a ceramic lamp on the ground and swearing a blue streak several miles long. Dick had done the last thing he could think of doing, and that was calling Alfred—and once he explained, he immediately received a Master Richard, I adore you, but you are a bloody fucking idiot, blind-as-a-bat bloody tosser that devolved into formless, deeply British swearing.

 

Alfred had promised to take care of Damian and Tim and Cass and Steph in their absence, though, and that was enough. It had to be. Alfred's only advice had been for good Christ's sake, leave that man alone, or you will only make it infinitely worse by intruding. Dick knew Alfred was speaking from experience, so he obeyed, albeit reluctantly, for the moment. But only for the moment.

 

"Shit, I have to feed both of you," Dick said. "Fuck. Do you want pizza?"

 

"I'm not fucking ten, you don’t have to feed me," Jason grumbled.

 

"Do you want pizza?" Dick repeated, evenly. He was, he approximated, seven more seconds of Jason’s stubbornness from losing his temper in a way he’d regret tomorrow.

 

"I'll feed my own damn self, Dickwad," Jason said. He kicked at a stray piece of gravel with his boot. He sure did look ten, with his sullen scowl, the half-circle slope of his shoulders, save for the almost-bruised skin beneath his eyes—that was the mark of a man. 

 

Dick rubbed at his temples. There was a headache boxing his ears, slaughtering its way from the base of his skull to fleshy, soft area behind his eyes, a jackhammer jacking away. "Listen, asshole, I'm just asking if you want me to call for fucking dinner, it's not a dick-measuring contest, or which kid is the most responsible. The answer to that one is probably Tim, unless you’re asking him to clean his room.” 

 

"You would know all about those, the dick-measuring contests."

 

Despite himself, Dick cracked a grin. The tension between them, rotten and thick, seemed to ease slightly. "Yeah, s'pose I would. I'm going to order pizza, ‘kay?"

 

Jason nodded.

 

Dick Googled the number for Pizza Hut and tapped it, pressing the green call button. As it was ringing, he bit his lip, remembering he hadn't asked Jason what he liked on his pizza—and what an odd thing to not know, about a brother. I buried him, he thought, I buried him, I grieved him, and I don't even know if he likes pineapple on pizza.

 

"Is pineapple and ham okay with you?" Dick whisper-hissed, after the second ring.

 

Jason shrugged. "I'll eat anything. I'm a human garbage disposal."

 

"Okay," Dick said. "Okay."

 

Cass was, too. Cass could eat anything. One time, Cass had eaten old leftovers that Alfred had missed on the fridge cleanout day because they’d been shoved behind the milk, and Dick had held her when she’d been violently sick later. Bruce had rushed home from work and Dick would maybe never forget the desperate way Cass had gasped out Dad and the even more desperate way she’d flung her arms around him. As Dick was backing away, Cass had mumbled, used to poison me, and Dick stalked off and beat a bag bare-knuckled until blood was running between his fingers. 

 

He ordered two pizzas—normally, he would've ordered three, because who could've guessed that vigilantes could really pack it away, right? But he doubted Bruce would be eating, as pale and worn as he'd looked when he'd stumbled from the car to the room, when he'd been howling get the hell out of my way like a wolf. He hadn't seen Bruce eat much in general, lately, and it worried him; but tonight Dick was picking his battles, for once. Later he’d needle Bruce about it. Even later than that, probably the night after Bruce would have a bitchfit about it, Dick would think about how he’d never had to talk Bruce into eating before Jason died. 

 

"It'll be here in ten," Dick said, sliding his phone back into his pocket.

 

Jason's face was hidden again between his knees. Dick didn't know what drove him to it, what spur-of-the-moment thought grabbed him by his hindbrain and twisted, but he leaned down and ruffled Jason's curly hair. It was soft, like the fur beneath the oily overcoat on a dog, the down next to the skin. 

 

Jason stiffened. "Don't touch me," he said.

 

Dick turned away. “Alright,” he said.

 

It was hard to look at Jason, in moments like this; it was hard to look at him because it was a macabre mess and Dick was the one holding the knife, gripped hard in his right hand and the blade gleaming with fresh blood. His brother, his baby brother, and they were only connected by the thinnest of threads, and maybe—maybe, maybe, Jason wouldn't have died if there'd been someone else running after him to Ethiopia. Maybe, maybe. Maybes were a real bitch, and they were the mark of a man, and Dick would swear on that. 

 

The pizza arrived and Dick and Jason sat outside Bruce's room, listening, eating in silence. It was tense, uncomfortable silence, because everything with Jason was tense and uncomfortable and infected and crawling with hateful maggots. 

 

When Dick was feeling particularly bored, he’d watched a World War I movie, and he’d never forget the sight of the mass graves for the dead horses. It had revolted him, because in the circus, he’d made friends with a number of sweet horses, horses he used to alternate vaulting off of and riding bareback in the open fields that surrounded the tent. One of them, a Lippizanner gelding named Salvatore, Dick used to gallop to the beach and trot him into the water, back during the summer they’d stayed in Murrells Inlet for a month and a half. Dick, and a kid he made friends with named John, used to use Salvatore’s back as a diving board. He’d been Dick’s best friend from the time the old woman who trained the horses purchased him, and up ‘til the time Dick left after his parents had died. 

 

But those mass graves, piled high with the twisted, muddy bodies of horses, and the sick and desperate feeling in his gut when he’d seen that picture, the way he’d had to slam his finger on the power button just to get rid of that image—it looked like the distance between him and Jason now. 

 

"Bruce is a monster, you know," Dick said.

 

"Shut the fuck up," Jason snarled. His teeth, even, were bared, like a feral dog. Dogs like that, they’re hungry all the time. 

 

"Let me finish, asshole, I was talking about the way he eats pizza," Dick said. Personally he thought such a desperate defense rich, coming from the Robin who’d stabbed Batman in the gut. "You're spoiling for it, jeeze louise. I was just going to say, Bruce folds his like a taco and scrapes all the toppings to the middle, like a monster.”

 

Jason glared at him. "You act like you're the only one who knows that. I know that. I’m sure your precious brothers know that. You’re not special.”

 

Dick's mouth twisted sourly, and he dropped his pizza-less crust into the box. Dick never ate the crusts. Usually, Bruce ate them for him, or Ace, back in the day. "Why the fuck," he said, "did you come if you hate me so much, huh? I could've done this without you. I don't need you.” And then, after a moment, Dick added, “And you forgot Cass. She does it, too, she picked it up from him."

 

Jason recoiled, and then jabbed his thumb at the door; he dropped his pizza back into the box, and wrapped his arms over his knees, burying his head. Always with the hiding, like an overgrown goddamn hermit crab. "Fine," he said in a small voice that gutted Dick, end-to-end.

 

Christ. Talking to Jason was walking through a minefield with snowshoes on, talking to Jason was swimming through shark territory with your arm ripped off, talking to Jason was playing poker with see-through cards. 

 

"I'm sorry," Dick said. "I didn't mean it that way. I just meant, I could've done this alone. You didn't have to come."

 

"Why don't you just go the hell away, huh," Jason said.

 

There were two options, for what he could say next, and the option Dick truly wanted to go with was the latter —he wanted to snarl back, you’re angry because you’re violent and I don’t fucking trust you, not after you stabbed Bruce in the gut, not after you let him down. I don’t fucking need you because I don’t fucking need the stress of handling a feral dog and an injured wolf that are just going to rip each other to shreds all the time. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s the Pit. That’s not enough of an excuse for me.

 

But he couldn’t say that. So he went with the first option: "Jay," Dick pleaded. 

 

"I'd say no one needs you, either, but everyone fucking does," Jason mumbled. "Even Superman needs you. Superman. That’s what’s so great about being you, y’know, everyone’s up your ass. M’just the gutter trash, don’t mind me.”

 

He didn't respond, but he wanted to say, yeah, everyone needs me. The big guy in there needs me, the big guy in the sky needs me, Gotham needs me, 'Haven needs me, this whole fucking family needs me, all the time. I sleep six hours on a good night and my good nights are once in a blue moon because everyone fucking needs me, all the time. Everyone needs me, except for you, and thank fuck for that, because if one more person needed me I might just crack like an egg on pavement.

 

He didn't say anything, though. Jason was not the person to say it to—the only person he could say it to, the only person in the world who could do a thing about it, was vomiting into a trashcan in that motel room.

 

After half an hour, Dick rose. "C'mon, get some sleep. I'll keep watch over him, don’t worry. He’ll be fine. He always is.” 

 

Dick had visited Alfred, once, after Bane, just to make sure the old man was alright. Alfred had said one thing on the subject, one whispered thing; he begged to be left alone in the dark. Then Alfred had turned the conversation back on Dick, and Dick was left holding a skeleton from a closet he didn’t want to know existed. 

 

Jason's eyes were hard as flint when they fixed on Dick, but he stood—and it was then that Dick realized with something like a jolt of electricity running through him that Jason had been crying, completely silently.

 

"Jay," Dick said, before he could stop himself. "I really didn't mean it like that. C'mon, man."

 

"Don't call me that," Jason said. "No one fuckin’ calls me that anymore."

 

And he stood. A broad-shouldered shadow slanted down beneath him. He disappeared into the motel room beside Bruce's, the one he and Dick were supposed to share, with a slam of the door.

 

Dick wrapped his hands in his hair and pulled until there was satisfying pressure against his scalp, and then released, hands slapping against his thighs. "Christ on a fucking pogo stick," he muttered to himself. He kicked idly at the bottom of a column propping up the overhead, leaving a scuff mark from the bottom of his sneakers. 

 

He focused on breathing straight and even for five minutes, until the knot of nauseous tension in his gut had lessened some. Some. Not all, never all. Then he knocked on Bruce's door.

 

"Can I come in?" he asked.

 

There was no answer, so Dick waited for a moment and knocked again. "Bruce, I know you can hear me. I know you were listening through the door.”

 

For good Christ's sake, leave that man alone, or you will only make it infinitely worse by intruding.

 

Shuffling. The knob turned. Bruce swung open the door, squinting so hard against the streetlight outside that his eyes were almost closed. The shadows beneath his eyes were deep as ravines, he was sweating bullets, and his hair was mussed and sticking upright in the back. His mouth was shiny with spit, from where he'd thrown up and hadn’t wiped his mouth off yet.

 

“How,” he said, snappishly. “I was perfectly quiet.” 

 

“Because you wouldn’t leave the two of us alone if you can help it,” Dick replied. “Not after Christmas. You look like shit, you should be in bed.”

 

Instead of responding, Bruce's brow arched in the middle, and then he was dragging Dick into a sweaty, gross hug.

 

"Oof," Dick said. He was unable to keep the ridiculous grin off his face. "You're ripe, B-man."

 

Bruce rasped out a wordless noise. The rasp turned into a chuckle, like a bullfrog with a sandpaper throat, at the end. A laugh, for today. At some point in the hug Bruce's knees gave out beneath him, and Dick half-dragged half-carried him to the nearest bed. 

 

“You’re gonna have to help me here, B, I can’t pick you up,” Dick said. “You’re the size of friggin’ Texas.” 

 

Bruce arms were tight as a vice around him, but they were shuddering, like a horse’s flank when a fly lands on its skin; a bone-deep, all-consuming shaking. He’d been shaking since that morning, when he’d elbowed Dick awake from where they’d fallen asleep on the roof of his treehouse in the Manor’s forest.

 

“I’ve got you,” Dick said, softly. 

 

Bruce sucked in a breath. Another one. Then he stood on shaky, coltish legs, and crawled onto the bed, lying down face-first. 

 

“Wasn’t so bad, huh, Brucester.”

 

Bruce nuzzled his face deeper into the pillows. “You don’t call me that anymore,” he said, and he said it casually, as if he had no idea how that one sentence hammered a train spike into Dick’s sternum and through his heart, nice and slow. He could feel the blood gushing out of him, almost, if he closed his eyes and focused—a swath of it, an ocean of it, all down his front. 

 

“I don’t, do I,” he said, absently. Absently, because he was still thinking of the blood.

 

Bruce grunted in response. Dick swallowed hard and slid on the bed beside him, running one hand through Bruce’s oily hair. “How’s it feel,” he asked, and it was part concern, and part genuine curiosity. 

 

“Venom,” Bruce rumbled. He flinched, briefly, and said more loudly: “Like coming off Joker venom.”

 

Dick winced. “That bad, huh, that bad. Can you sleep at all?”

 

Bruce was silent. Dick took that as a no the fuck I can’t, why are you even asking. 

 

Dick snuggled against him and laid his cheek on Bruce’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said. 

 

Bruce twisted his head so he could stare groggily at Dick. His neck was at an angle that couldn’t possibly be comfortable, but Dick didn’t want to lift his head just yet. “For what,” he said. 

 

“Just that it’s rough.” 

 

“I did it,” Bruce said. His expression was blank. His mouth was perfectly straight, if a little thin-lipped, his eyes were half-lidded with exhaustion but his eyes were gray and only gray and nothing else. “To myself.” 

 

Dick closed his eyes. “That you did,” he said, voice throaty and hoarse. 

 

Bruce rolled over, upending Dick—who felt rather grumpy about it, because he was comfortable—and laid flat on his back. He wriggled an arm beneath Dick’s shoulders and then tugged him closer, tucking Dick beneath his chin. Dick’s eyes slid closed again. 

 

Home had once been the taste of sea salt and his feet on the warm, solid back of a horse—white fur speckled with darker gray flecks, a dark muzzle nibbling at his hair. Home had once been sequins and the sound of his mom’s sewing machine as she made their costumes—always red, green, and yellow, always glittering; the taste of chalky foundation that his father rubbed into his face, the heavy feeling of stage makeup, the swirl of a bird’s wing painted on in glitter down his cheek. Home was the air. Home looked different now—moments like these, pressed close to family he’d loved and lost, family he’d die for in a heartbeat, in a fraction of a heartbeat. Home was between the air, now. 

 

“I’ll get us to the cabin by tomorrow night,” Dick said. “Promise.” 

 

A hand ruffled his hair. “You’ll need more sleep for that.” 

 

“I am the king of sleep. I get all the sleep, I have reserves of sleep. I’ll be fine.”

 

“Then stop talking,” Bruce said, “and go to sleep.” 

 

Dick moved so his ear was above Bruce’s heart, listening to the tha-thud-tha-thud, and he didn’t sleep a wink. 

 

At around six in the morning, four hours later, he pulled himself out of Bruce’s arms, and Bruce’s eyes flicked open immediately. His response time, as ever, was impeccable. 

 

“Rise and shine, big guy,” Dick said, thumping his shoulder. “How do you feel?” 

 

Bruce rolled over, tugged a trashcan nestled between the nightstand and the bed closer, and vomited into it.

“Duly noted,” Dick said, dryly. “I’ll go wake up Jason, and let you, uh, get it out of your system.” 

 

Dick left Bruce behind. The morning was gray, the clouds low and hanging in the sky like a blanket, and it was chilly enough in these early hours that Dick shivered. He knocked on the other door, calling out, “Good morning, sleeping beauty.” 

 

The door opened. Jason studied him cautiously from the other side. “You never went to sleep.” 

 

Dick shrugged. “Made sure Bruce didn’t choke on his own vomit, buddy. Gross job, but I’m the designated man for it. S’what I do.” 

 

Jason looked at the ground. The joke, clearly, had not landed with him, because he looked vaguely sick to his stomach himself.

 

“Sorry, by the way,” Dick said. 

 

Jason’s eyes jumped to meet his. Sharp like dog’s teeth, they were. “‘By the way?’” Jason repeated. 

 

Dick nodded. 

 

“You’re an asshole,” Jason said roughly. He brushed past Dick, knocking into Dick’s shoulder, and his duffle bag was already in his hand. “Give me the damn keys!” he shouted, from the car. One elbow was braced on the hood of the SUV. 

 

“What, gonna leave us stranded?” Dick asked. “No fucking way, man.” 

 

Somehow, Jason looked like he was roasting on a spit. Somehow that statement had cut him, and cut him deeply, and Dick shook his head and thought, why’d I even open my idiot mouth, and pushed open the door to Bruce’s room. 

 

Bruce was up, and changing shirts. Dick averted his eyes. Seeing the scars made him sick to his stomach. But it was good that Bruce was up and getting ready—Dick had anticipated needing to drag him out of the bed. 

 

He had to go back out to the car to get his bag because he’d forgotten it last night. Jason spat near his shoe, and Dick stopped for a moment, considering how angry Bruce would be if Dick just punched him, but decided he didn’t have the energy to muster up for a fight. He’d win, he could win against Jason even now and it’d be easy, but Dick didn’t have the will to see that heartbroken look on Bruce’s face again. So he just said, “Gross,” and took out his bag, brushed his teeth, took a quick shower and changed, and by the time he was out Bruce was leaning against the car hood, staring at Jason. He wasn’t speaking, just staring, and he was dressed like he was going to a funeral, and Dick didn’t blame Jason one bit for not staring back. Bruce had these fits, sometimes, where his brain would break and he’d forget that you couldn’t communicate with intense eye contact with anyone who wasn’t Cass. 

 

“Ready?” Dick asked, raising his bag. “I’m driving.” 

 

“You didn’t sleep,” Bruce said. 

 

“You only know that because you didn’t, either, and I’m not letting you drive right now,” Dick said, opening the driver’s door so he could open the trunk. “And Jason doesn’t have a legal driver’s license, and no one wants all that hassle, so I’ll drive. No biggie.” 

 

Bruce looked wounded. He looked wounded most days, if someone knew how to look for it—it was in the tilt of the mouth, not the eyes. Bruce’s eyes were as unreadable as metal sheets. But his mouth had degrees of scowl, and today the approximate degree of scowl was heartbreak, and dammit, Dick had ignored Jason’s bullshit to avoid that expression, but he was getting it anyway. The mark of a man, Dick supposed, was to duck and get hit anyway. 

 

Silently, Bruce climbed into the backseat, and Dick thanked every deity he could think of that at least Bruce was being reasonable. It was odd, how reasonable he was being, but back when Bruce had overdosed on Oxy after his spine had been broken, he’d acted much the same way. Similar circumstances.

 

Dick jerked his head to the front. “C’mon, Jason. You get to pick the music.” 

 

Jason nodded. He opened the car door and then stopped. “Sorry, by the way,” he said. 

 

Dick looked at him. He sighed, loudly. “Jesus Christ, Jason, I’m sorry I worded it that way, okay?” 

 

Jason pulled himself into the car. “Okay,” he mumbled. He had a look of self-reproach on his face, and viciously Dick thought he damn well ought to. 

 

“Off we go,” Dick muttered, slamming his door shut. He plugged the aux cord and the charging cord into his phone and tossed it Jason. “Password’s nineteen forty. Go to Spotify, pick what you want.” 

 

Jason started at it. “Uh. Spotify?”

 

“You miss out a lot, huh, holed up like you are. App with a black background, green circle.” 

 

It took tedious instruction but eventually Jason got Elton John playing and Google Maps routed to the cabin. Every so often Dick reached up and tilted the rearview mirror to check on Bruce—Bruce knocked out about a half an hour into the drive. 

 

“Mute it, mute it,” Dick whispered, about two hours in. 

 

Jason fumbled with the phone and paused the music. From the back, they heard a soft snore. 

 

Jason covered his mouth and giggled. Dick grinned at him, and for a moment, just one, he felt like a brother to this weird, hurting man in his front seat—they weren’t Nightwing and the Red Hood, and the man in the backseat wasn’t Batman. They were just two brothers making fun of their dad. Just two brothers on a roadtrip with their dad, and maybe it could even be a normal roadtrip, and maybe their dad could be a dad that didn’t look wounded if only you knew where to look.

 

The trip was a little less tense, after that. But it was still quiet. 

 

“Did I ever tell you about Salvatore,” Dick said, once he was sure Bruce was knocked out hard enough that even the talking wouldn’t wake him. 

 

“No,” Jason said. “You, uh, you haven’t told me much about anything.” 

 

“Well, we’ll fix that. Salvatore was a horse, I grew up with him. We had vaulting horses, a team of gorgeous white horses. All geldings. Salvatore was my favorite, he was my best friend—I used to bring him vanilla ice cream after the good shows, y’know. Bad ones, not enough money, and I was like, six. My parents handled my money, so it’s not like I could pay for it.” 

 

“You were paid,” Jason said. 

 

“What? ‘Course I was paid, I was a performer. And I was a damn good one. Salvatore was a weird one, because he wasn’t just a vaulting horse, he was trained to ride. We had no saddles, so I rode him bareback with his halter and lead, and one summer when we were stuck in town for a while, I kept taking him to the beach. I’d ride him there, and he was a patient, good horse, y’know. I rode him straight into the water, used to jump in right off his back and climb back up and God knows what, I was eight and I did what eight year olds do, and that was be buckwild.” 

 

Dick looked to Jason for some understanding, but he didn’t see it—only mild confusion. 

 

“He died,” Dick continued. “The year after I left, they put him down. An’ sometimes, sometimes I think he might not have died if I’d gotten the courage to talk to Bruce about buying him, but I never did. I could talk to him about everything but that.” 

 

“Oh,” Jason said. 

 

“I think,” Dick said, haltingly, “you remind me of Salvatore.” 

 

“Because you can’t talk to Bruce about me.” 

 

“No,” Dick said. 

 

The ride was, predictably, silent until they stopped. Even when they stopped, they exchanged the bare minimum of words. Jason ducked into the Sheetz to use the bathroom, and Dick shook Bruce’s shoulder and asked him if he needed to go in, and Bruce growled and rolled over. It was so typical Bruce that Dick couldn’t help but laugh. So Jason hopped back in the car, and the silence resumed. 

 

That left Dick’s mind to wander, and the wandering was unpleasant; Dick hated any mindless, thoughtless, menial task. It was not something he had hated for his entire life. It was not something he had beloved in childhood and scorned in adulthood, either—it was a schism at a specific break in his life, a fault line called Darkseid killed my dad. Dick had screamed at Bruce’s grave, he had wailed at Bruce’s grave, he had craned his head and sobbed into the dirt before Bruce’s grave, but he had never walked away from it. When it came to incessant, all-consuming grief—the kind that a young child can’t feel for their parents, because a young child doesn’t know their parents the way they will when they’re older, the kind of grief that comes from knowing every piece of someone and not comprehending life without them—Dick took all of his plays out of Bruce’s playbook. He worked hard, harder than he ever had before, as he poured himself into Bruce’s crusade and Bruce’s son. He learned how to move on by forgetting how to stop—but Bruce was alive, Bruce was with him in flesh and bone, and Dick couldn’t remember how to hit the break.

 

Once, desperately, Dick tried to start up another conversation with Jason. 

 

“So,” he said. “New phone.”

 

“I know shit about it,” Jason said, flipping it over, glancing at both the front and back of the thing. “I got a passcode, that’s about it.” 

 

“You need a case. A strong one, phones these days break like spiderwebs.” 

 

Jason looked at him. “That’s a good thing. Spiderwebs are strong, relative to their size.” 

 

“I mean, to spiders, but at our size they’re just—okay, you don’t have to look at me like that, I know I’m an idiot.” 

 

Jason grinned. “Damn straight,” he said. 

 

There, the conversation died off. Dick didn’t try to start a new one. Speaking with Jason didn’t come naturally to him, and he was tired, bone tired. At six o’clock in the evening Dick almost suggested stopping for the night, but there was daylight still. Dick had promised, and Bruce still didn’t look great. 

 

They pulled in, finally, around ten thirty—they stopped twice more, and Bruce finally shook himself awake and snaked a hand over the headrest of the seat to run his fingers through Jason’s hair. Dick had to grip the steering wheel tighter to hide how his hands shook. He kept his eyes carefully on the road, and did not look over, and he repeated to himself, I am not jealous, I am not jealous, I am not jealous.

 

“Thank fuck,” Dick said, twisting the knob to turn off the headlights. He leaned over and poked Jason in the shoulder and Jason jolted awake. “Whoa, tiger. Just waking you up, we’re here. You can sleep in a bed.” 

 

Jason grumbled something beneath his breath. He swung the car door outwards and half-fell out of the car, groggily stumbling towards the door. 

 

Bruce squeezed Dick’s shoulder. Dick’s hand came up to cover his. “I’m beat,” Dick said. 

 

“Thank you,” Bruce said. 

 

Dick turned around and flashed him a grin he knew must look awful. “I’m pretty amazing, huh. Got us all here in one piece.” 

 

“Yes,” Bruce said. Bruce’s eyebrows pushed together and folded the skin between them. “You are. I am lucky, Dick, that I met you. You save me.”

 

The words looked like they hurt to say, so Dick shut his open mouth so fast his teeth clicked together, and pressed a kiss to the top of Bruce’s wrist. “I think,” he said, “it’s the other way around, Brucester.” 

 

Bruce turned away, but Dick didn’t—he watched the corner of Bruce’s eye grow shiny and wet. “I missed—I missed that.” 

 

“What?” 

 

“That name. I missed that.” 

 

Dick squeezed Bruce’s hand. “Not as much as I missed saying it. Oh my God, you used to get so annoyed. Remember that?” Dick tried on an impression of Bruce’s voice; “‘Why are you making my name rhyme with rooster, Dick?’” 

 

Bruce chuckled. That was Dick’s laugh of the day. With his other hand, he wiped at his eyes. “Yes. Yes, I do. I would never forget.” 

 

The conversation paused. Dick leaned his cheek against Bruce’s wrist, and said, “You’re gonna be okay. You will be. It’s gonna suck ass, it really is—I mean, I have no idea how it feels, but I can guess that it’ll suck ass because nothing that’s worth getting to is easy. I think that’s the mark of man, doing things that are hard because they’re worth it. You’ve done hard things. You can do another one. I believe in you.” 

 

Bruce bowed his head. “Five days after my son died,” he said, “I went to sleep for the first time, after. Strong sedatives. Getting out of that bed the next morning is the hardest thing I have ever done. It will be the hardest thing I ever do.”

 

Dick swallowed. “I’m sorry,” he said. 

 

“Don’t be,” Bruce said. “You have done more than anyone could’ve asked of you. Thank you, Dick. I mean it.”

 

Dick glanced at the front door Jason had left open for them. Bruce couldn’t always be right, he supposed. 

 

Bruce opened his door and was halfway out before he said, “Dick.” 

 

“Hm?”

“I believe in you. To do the same,” he said, and he rose stiffly, and shut the front door behind him.

 

Dick stayed in the car so long he fell asleep there, and he dreamt of white horses with gray flecks and seafoam and soft, velvety lips nibbling at his hair.