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Jason lit his third cigarette in a row. He’d mostly quit smoking a couple months ago, certainly didn’t do it with any regularity anymore, but the nicotine still helped him deal with stressful situations.

Anything that involved being within a hundred feet of Bruce counted as a stressful situation in Jason’s books. Unless he left Gotham he probably wouldn’t ever completely quit smoking.

He leaned back against his bike and looked up at the drawn curtains again. He could just go in. Walk up to the front door and ring the bell. Hell, it wasn’t like they didn’t already know he was here, since he’d parked his bike very visibly in the driveway. Fifteen minutes ago. No one had come out to greet him yet, and he honestly wasn’t quite sure he wouldn’t just flat out turn around and leave if someone did.

He inhaled another lungful of smoke. He wasn’t worried. That wasn’t why he was here. He didn’t worry about bats, as a rule. Not even one he—

He’d never liked not having all the information, that was all. He’d been— curious, when Nightwing hadn’t been seen in Blüdhaven for three days. It wasn’t like Dick to leave his city undefended, so Jason had reached out. Which had ultimately lead to him standing outside of Wayne manor for twenty minutes, making an honest effort to fall back into bad habits.

Staying at the manor for a few days to recuperate. I’d love to see you. It had been a fairly innocuous text to get, all things considered, but it had made Jason’s heart beat unreasonably fast. It was too vague, too ambiguous. Leave it to Dick Grayson to neglect to specify whether his night job had left him with a few bullet holes that required close supervision, or if he’d simply caught a cold and didn’t feel like riding it out all alone in his apartment.

And then there was the second part. I’d love to see you. That could mean anything. That Dick would like for him to come to the manor so he could make an attempt at reconciling with Bruce, which gave him such a visceral nope-feeling that he’d almost blocked Dick’s number on impulse. Or maybe that he was just bored out of his mind and wanted some company, any company.

Or maybe he wanted to see Jason specifically. That option was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. Jason exhaled a cloud of smoke and closed his eyes. His mind immediately filled with images of flushed skin underneath his hands, slick with sweat that made it difficult to peel off the clingy fabric of the Nightwing suit, but he didn’t even care, too busy getting his mouth on any exposed spot he could reach, could press his lips to with a desperate fervor, just to hear Dick make that high, breathy noise again and—

Jason heard the creak of the large entrance door opening. It had been years since he’d last heard it, though it hadn’t been all that long since he’d been to the manor. He preferred windows, or the underground entrances to the cave, was all. Doors were official. Walking through a door was intentional, a declaration that he wanted to be there, that he was welcome. It felt like far more than Jason was willing to commit to.

He deliberately didn’t open his eyes. He hadn’t seen Bruce out of costume for months and he honestly didn’t know what he’d do if—

“Master Jason, how wonderful to see you.” Jason’s eyes snapped open instantly. Alfred looked just the same as the last time he’d seen him, about a month ago.

“Good to see you too, Alfie,” he replied, because it was. Alfred had never betrayed him, had never made him feel like he wasn’t good enough, like he wasn’t worthy enough to—

“I had been wondering if you wished to come inside. Master Dick has expressed a desire for your company. Regardless of the reason for your presence here, I have been experimenting with some new dishes for tonight’s meal and would appreciate your opinion, if you were so inclined.”

It was an invitation, exactly the kind Jason had been trying to avoid, but it was as oblique as it could possibly be. And it was Alfred. Still, Jason hesitated until he added, “Master Bruce will not be home for the rest of the day. Urgent business at Wayne Enterprises that requires his attention, I’m afraid.” That settled it.

“Sure, that would be great,” Jason conceded, dropping his cigarette to the ground and grinding it into the dirt with the heel of his boot. He could feel Alfred’s eyes trace the movement, but to Jason’s great relief he didn’t comment.

“Right this way, sir,” Alfred said, holding the door for him, and Jason suppressed the urge to correct him, to tell him it was unnecessary. Years of living in the manor had taught him that Alfred clung to his formalities, that they were a comfort to him. Jason didn’t get it, but it wasn’t really his place to question it.

He followed Alfred’s wordless directions to the kitchen. Alfred hadn’t exaggerated, as usual. The counters were piled high with dishes. Jason could spot rice pudding, some chicken stew with suet dumplings, and homemade ice cream melting in a bowl. Alfred’s typical comfort foods. Alfred immediately busied himself with piling different plates on a tray, his back to Jason.

Jason waited, too aware of how he didn’t really belong in the pristine, comfortable kitchen he’d spent so much time in during his earlier years. “Due to his weakened state Master Dick has not been able to maintain his usual diet,” Alfred explained, and Jason felt a distinct urge to hug him for giving him such a perfect opening.

“So, what happened to the golden boy anyway?” he asked, trying for nonchalant, but probably missing by a mile if Alfred’s knowing look was anything to go by.

“Master Dick was hit by one of Professor Crane’s vile concoctions a few nights ago. He experienced some adverse reactions to the antidote, but I’m glad to say he is recovering as well as might be expected. His fever has gone down enough to make him a rather difficult patient, I’m afraid.” Jason almost laughed at the way Alfred’s brows furrowed. Even after years of dealing with Bruce and his entire stubborn brood, he somehow still hadn’t given up hope that his charges would actually follow medical advice to the letter.

“Did you honestly expect any different?” Jason asked, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice. Alfred sighed, but it sounded more exasperated than genuinely frustrated.

“Certainly not, but one can only hope.” When he turned around he held out a tray loaded with food, and there was an expression on his face that Jason couldn’t read at all. “Would you be so kind as to take Master Dick his dinner? I believe he would be delighted to see you.”

Something about the way he said it was off. Too knowing, somehow, but that couldn’t be true. Jason was just being paranoid. If anyone in this house full of invasive detectives had found out about their...their whatever, it wouldn’t be Alfred.

“Sure,” Jason conceded. He never had been able to say no to Alfred. And maybe seeing Dick would finally calm the swarm of bees that had made a home in his stomach since he’d first gotten the text. He grabbed the tray out of Alfred’s hand and left the kitchen without another word.

The manor was quiet and, for a moment, he wondered where all its inhabitants had gone. It was too late in the afternoon for Damian to still be at school and last Jason had heard Tim had quit school completely.

At least part of his question was answered when he finally reached Dick’s room. The door was ajar, which he took as his cue to simply walk in, only to find the room far more occupied than expected.

Dick was propped up in the large bed, right where he was supposed to be. His eyes were closed in content stillness, something that had always been rare with him, even more so when he’d been younger, if Bruce was to be believed. One explanation for his lack of movement was likely the large dog draped over his legs and successfully hindering him from getting up. A second would be the cat comfortably lying on his chest, purring softly as a hand stroked through its fur.

The third and most surprising was the teenager tucked snugly against Dick’s side, head resting on Dick’s shoulder with Dick’s arm loosely slung around his back in a display of affection Jason was fairly sure he didn’t usually allow.

Damian’s eyes snapped open as soon as Jason entered the room, and regarded him with a sharp look. To Jason’s surprise he made no move to disentangle and remove himself from Dick’s loose embrace. In fact, it was possible he pressed himself even closer to Dick’s side when he noticed Jason. Huh.

“What, you couldn’t bring your cow up here to join the party?” was the first thing that came out of Jason’s mouth. Dick’s eyes opened more slowly than Jason had expected. They were a bit glassy, not quite the same brightness to the usual blue, and the skin of his face was flushed enough that Jason couldn’t help but wonder how bad his fever must have been before if this was what he looked like now that it had gone down.

“Cows are not indoor animals. I’d expect even an imbecile like you to know that, Todd,” Damian said in his usual superior tone. It lost some of its effect due to the way he was still cuddled up to Dick, making him sound more like the spoiled little kid he really was than whatever figure of authority he was going for.

“Jay,” Dick said, before Jason could come up with a witty retort. “You’re here.” A smile spread across his face, the expression so full of wonder, so open and vulnerable that Jason had to look away.

“Yeah, well. You asked me to come,” he mumbled, fidgeting with the tray in his hands. He should put it down somewhere, should stop standing around in the doorway and do something, but nothing felt natural, so he just stayed frozen.

Damian snorted. “Like you’ve ever done anything not for your own benefit,” he sneered. He didn’t shift from his position, but Jason could see the way he was tensing up, as if preparing for an attack. Something about that, about the sheer amount of suspicion leveled his way, made Jason’s blood boil.

Dick seemed to notice the rising hostility in the air and for once didn’t ignore it. He sat up straighter, dislodging Damian’s head from its place on his shoulder and earning a betrayed look in return. “Dami, I think Titus needs a walk,” he said, as if it was the most diplomatic dismissal he could come up with on such short notice.

Damian frowned, shooting Jason a look of deep mistrust. “I don’t like leaving you alone with him,” he said, and, okay, Jason wasn’t gonna let that go without comment.

“Excuse me, asshole, which one of us saved his ass during a mob shootout last week? Not you.” That only made Damian frown harder, but before he could open his mouth, Dick chimed in.

“Dami, I really don’t need you to protect me from Jason, as much as I appreciate the offer.” The admission of trust clearly went some way toward pacifying Damian, but his eyes still lingered on Jason with an expression of severe disapproval as he got off the bed.

“Very well,” he said, rather stiffly, smoothing down his clothes where they’d gotten rumpled. “I’ll be just down the hall, should you require assistance.” He walked past Jason and out of the room, Titus obediently trotting after him. Jason took great satisfaction in kicking the door closed behind him. Then he just stood there awkwardly, same as before.

Dick cleared his throat. “Would you like to sit down?” he asked, and it sounded strangely formal. It was incredibly difficult to look at him, so Jason didn’t. He busied himself with putting the tray of food on one of the nightstands where Dick could easily reach it, and then hovered awkwardly at the edge of the bed.

There were chairs in the room, but they were set up in a classy sitting corner at the other side of the room, and the thought of being that far away from Dick caused an uneasy twinge in Jason’s chest. It would have been more prudent to simply sit on the bed, but that felt equally impossible, so he just remained standing. A moment of silence passed.

Dick exhaled. “Thanks for coming by,” he said, like a peace offering. Jason shrugged.

“Wanted to check if you were still alive. Your message was pretty unhelpful,” Jason said, looking back up at Dick. He really did look sick. His lips were too pale, his skin too red, and there was a light sheen of sweat covering his face. He was still the most beautiful person Jason had ever seen, which was exactly why he really should not be here. He resisted the urge to tuck the strands of hair that were clinging to Dick’s forehead behind his ear. That really wasn’t his place.

“I wasn’t really sure if you— I mean—” Dick broke off and looked down at the sheets covering his lap, color rising up his neck which Jason was pretty sure was not due to the fever. “I don’t really know where we stand right now,” Dick admitted, because in a way he had always been the bravest of them.

An uneasy feeling settled low in Jason’s gut. “Eh, it’s fine,” he said, and was very proud of how his voice didn’t even shake one bit. “Adrenaline. It happens all the time. Doesn’t mean anything.” The sun shining through the window was dimmed by majestic-looking long curtains that prevented anyone from looking in and Jason wondered if they’d always been here, or if they’d been installed when Dick had first moved into this room. They hadn’t looked quite this intimidating from the outside. “It doesn’t change anything,” he added unnecessarily, his heart beating uncomfortably fast in his chest.

He heard the bedsheets rustle as Dick moved, sinking deeper into the pillows he was resting on. “Right,” he said, but he didn’t sound relieved like Jason had expected. The awkwardness between them somehow got even thicker as the silence dragged on.

“It does though. For me. It changes things,” Dick finally said and Jason closed his eyes. Of course his mistake couldn’t go unpunished. This was why he could never allow himself any weakness, it always came back to bite him in the ass. “I mean, that wasn’t very...brotherly,” Dick finished weakly, and Jason bit his lip.

“Yeah.” His voice sounded thin to his own ears. “Guess not.” He allowed himself a quick look at the door, a moment where Dick couldn’t see his face. He’d genuinely thought it was worth it in the moment, was the thing. Had thought that getting to touch Dick, being allowed to kiss him, to hungrily drink in the noises he’d made when Jason had finally gotten his hands underneath his clothes, would somehow be worth risking what they’d been slowly working their way towards.

That being able to exchange occasional texts, maybe dropping by to share a beer every once in a while, and companionable conversation on top of rooftops during quiet nights were all things he could give up if only he, what, got to rub off against Dick that one time, pressed together in a dirty alley and high with the rush of survival? It always hurt to realize how much he’d been fooling himself. This time was no different.

“Jay, can you look at me?” Jason was very tempted to say no and simply walk out of the room, but he wasn’t quite that much of a coward. He turned back to face Dick, forcing his shoulders downward so he would look less like a scolded schoolboy. The expression on Dick’s face was gentle, and that was so, so much worse than any range of anger or disgust he had been expecting.

I don’t need your pity, Jason wanted to spit at him, but that would be a lie, which made the writhing, painful mess in his chest pull even tighter.

“I was surprised,” Dick started, and Jason couldn’t keep looking at his face, couldn’t let Dick see his reactions. “I didn’t know you— wanted me that way.”

“Doesn’t everyone?” Jason bit back, regretting it instantly. Of all the stupid, revealing things he could have said…

Mercifully, Dick ignored him. “It wasn’t a bad surprise, Little Wing,” he continued and Jason’s head snapped up, his whole body going rigid with a new kind of tension. Dick fiddled with his blankets until the cat still perched on top of his chest raised its head in protest at the excessive amount of movement. Jason knew he should say something, that this was his moment to agree, to give Dick an inch now that he’d made the first move.

“Right,” Jason said, and his mouth felt far too dry to talk. “That’s— that’s good.” God, he was pathetic. His cheeks were getting hot. He was gonna ruin this before it even had a chance to start. “Maybe we’ll do it again sometime.” And that wasn’t at all what he’d meant to say, but Dick smiled back at him anyway, even if it was only a small, hesitant thing, nothing like his usual radiance.

“I know I don’t exactly make the prettiest picture right now,” Dick continued with a self-conscious little smile, and it was objectively true and the biggest lie Jason had ever heard at the same time. “But, maybe once I’m feeling better we could…” he trailed off, looking far too unsure, like there was any way in hell Jason would tell him no. Like anyone would.

“Yeah,” was all Jason replied, and got another smile in return. It was enough. It was way more than Jason had expected, holed up in his apartment, replaying the noises Dick had made, the look on his face when he’d come, over and over again in his head. It had to be enough.

“Is the near-death part a requirement? Because I think I could to do without that,” Dick quipped and Jason let out a snort. If he never had to see a person aiming a gun at Dick ever again he’d throw a fucking party.

“I’m sure we can find other ways for you to get your adrenaline fix beforehand,” Jason joked, but his own smile melted off his face when he saw Dick wince in response.

Dick looked down at the cat using him as a pillow, his fingers softly carding through the fur as he avoided Jason’s gaze. “It wasn’t just the adrenaline. For me, I mean. It wasn’t just that.”

Jason’s heart skipped a beat. He had no idea how Dick could do that, could just roll over and show all his most vulnerable parts to someone without any prompting, when it wasn’t even necessary. Jason had always known Dick was a reckless idiot, but he’d figured living with Bruce for over a decade would have at least taught him some emotional self-preservation.

“I know this isn’t— This probably isn’t what you were aiming for but I didn’t want to just leave things like that. I just wanted to say— ” He paused, and his fingers digging deeper into the cat’s fur. “I care about you, Jay, and—”

“Stop,” Jason said, his mouth moving before his brain had given any permission. It was like his entire system was overloaded. He’d had dreams about Dick saying those exact words to him when he was younger, but it wasn’t even something he allowed himself to think about nowadays. It was too much, too vulnerable, too— The thought alone of anyone ever seeing those pathetic, squishy feelings filled him with cold panic, and Dick just— Dick should know better than to be that vulnerable around him. Should know better than to trust Jason that much. The only thing Jason ever did with trust was colossally fuck things up even more than usual.

Hurt flickered across Dick’s face, just for a second. It was gone so fast, replaced by a mask of attentive blankness that Jason wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t just imagined it. “Right,” Dick said. “Of course. I just— Is the other part still on the table or—”

Jason couldn’t listen to this. “You fucking idiot.” It sounded horrifyingly besotted to Jason’s own ears, but Dick flinched back as if he’d lashed out at him.

“Sorry, I didn’t—”

“No, don’t be— Of course I want you,” Jason said, and it was the most obvious thing in the world, because it was. There was no reason for Dick’s eyes to go that wide, for the way his whole body seemed to unfold itself like a flower blossoming in the sun, turning to Jason. His face went through a whole range of emotions so quickly Jason had trouble identifying even a single one of them.

“Oh. Okay.” He shifted, straightening up a bit so he wasn’t drowning in his pillows quite as much anymore, his sweaty hair flopping in his face again. The movement dislodged the cat, who gave a displeased wriggle and then settled back down in Dick’s lap. Dick barely seemed to care. “So, does that mean you’re up for the sex or…what does that mean, exactly?”

Jason opened his mouth, but no sounds came out. The quick, frenzied fuck in a Gotham alley had left him wanting more, hungry for another chance to get to touch Dick, maybe with a bit more time, just a bit more, so he could remember it better. He could still recall the taste of Dick’s skin under his mouth, could hear the cut-off moan Dick had let out when Jason had pressed a thigh between his legs and given him something to rub off against.

As much as he wanted that again he also wanted other things, wanted to see what Dick looked like sated and happy instead of just exhausted and surprised, wanted to know the noises he’d make when Jason didn’t just rush to get him off but took his time, drawing out all the reactions he could and—

Jason’s hands balled into fists. He hadn’t ever gotten farther than that. Hell, even the part where he got to press Dick down into a bed as opposed to up against a cold brick wall seemed like the most ludicrous fever dream. It belonged in the part of Jason’s mind responsible for wishful thinking, and he never ever ventured there unless he felt the need to punish himself for some naivety.

And then there were the other things he wanted, the things he’d also just barely gotten a taste of. Eating a burger together after a long patrol, knowing he could call for backup, not that he ever did. Having Dick tell him stories from his day job or the exploits of the younger bats, sharing information that could so easily come back to hurt him.

Jason had never dared to combine the two things, didn’t even know what that would look like but—

“I’ll make you dinner,” he blurted out, rupturing the silence in the room that had stretched on for far too long. Every muscle in his body tensed on an instinct that had been honed long before he’d ever been Robin. His heart kicked up a notch, beating overtime and he needed to leave, needed to get out of here—

“Wait, what?” Dick sounded incredulous and looked it too. His eyes were almost comically wide as he stared at Jason. He’d even stopped petting the cat in his shock and Jason felt his face burn as every single fibre of his being braced for a battle that wouldn’t come. “What do you mean you’ll make me dinner?”

Jason just couldn’t. “You should rest,” he said quickly, and his voice sounded too loud, too harsh but he didn’t even care, walking backwards to the door, unable to turn his back on the only potential threat in the room.

“What? No! Jay—” Dick’s hand was stretched out towards him, trying to lure Jason back in, get him to come close, and—

Jason slammed the door behind him with more force than necessary, the thick wood effectively cutting off Dick’s protests. He resisted the urge to lean back against the wall and catch his breath like a Victorian novel heroine freshly escaped from peril. He wasn’t safe here, couldn’t let his guard down, not when—

“If you’ve harmed Grayson in any way, I will make you suffer,” the Demon Prince declared, melting out of the shadows where he’d been lurking like a suspicious cat and Jason barely managed to stop himself from swiping at him on reflex. If he’d had his guns with him— He shuddered at the thought.

“Why don’t you go in and make sure,” he snapped, pressing his back against the wall. He couldn’t be here, in this house, surrounded by these people who knew too much already and—

Damian shot him a deeply skeptical look, but didn’t comment, just slipped quietly back into Dick’s room and firmly closed the door behind him. Jason couldn’t stick around any longer.

He climbed out of a window in a first floor sitting room, not caring how many alarms he set off in the process. Being back on his bike calmed him down a bit, but he couldn’t truly relax, not even when he was finally back in his safehouse at the other end of town.

What the hell had he been thinking? Whatever Dick wanted from him, it wasn’t like—

Jason’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he froze. After a minute of silent dread, he pulled it out, his fingers careful like he was handling a venomous animal, and opened the message. It wasn’t long, or particularly complicated. I’d love to have dinner with you.

Jason waited for the panic to set in again, but it didn’t. Instead he felt a smile creep up on his face without his permission. And here in his own space, he didn’t feel the need to suppress it either.