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yours for the weekend

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This fanfiction is hosted on Archive of Our Own, where you can read it for free. If you’re reading this on a different website, it was posted there without the author’s consent.

 

Dick Grayson as Nightwing and Jason Todd as Red Hood in a diner, post-patrol.

 

It was later, months later, towards the tail end of a stake out. There was light drizzle falling from the sky, and the streetlights looked soft and hazy through it. Dick and Jason sat across from each other beneath the glaring, artificial lights of Batburgers, exhausted from what would hopefully be the end of one long string of stake-outs.

“Been meaning to ask,” Jason said, fiddling with a stray piece of lettuce that had fallen out of his burger. Normally, Dick wouldn’t have thought much of it, except this time, there was the slightest hesitation in Jason’s voice, the sort of pause he made when he was about to ask something about the time he’d been dead.

“Yeah?” Dick said, glancing over at him for the briefest of seconds.

“You and Kory… are you guys still… y’know. Going strong?”

Dick almost choked on his mouthful right then and there. No, he wanted to tell him. We broke up months after you died.

 But a million memories swept through his head. Jason being utterly starstruck by Kory the first time he had met her, the million and one questions Jason had to ask Kory, taking photos of the two of them as Kory gave Jay a piggyback ride… the way that Jason, at one point, had rather memorably said, man, you guys are so perfect together. If you ever break up, that’ll be it, I’ll just stop believing in true love.

And there was a… rather significant part of Dick that knew that Jason had been all of fourteen at the time, and being utterly dramatic (he’d been knee deep in his Shakespearian phase), but the fact that he was bringing it up now, after so many years, and after all this time of not seeing Kory around… he didn’t want to give Jason a reason to not believe in true love.

“Yeah, no, we’re going good,” Dick said, lying through his teeth. “Long distance, y’know?”

Jason seemed to relax beside him. “Glad one thing hasn’t changed,” he commented, mouth turning up at the corners a little. “If you guys ever break up, that’ll really mean the end is nigh.”

Dick laughed, high pitched and nervous, and stuffed his burger into his mouth. Now he had to do damage control.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

The first person he called was Barbara, because if there was anyone who was going to spill the beans on him in the most unavoidably honest way possible, it would be her.

“Babs,” he said, sliding in through the window of the clocktower. His voice was just the slightest bit out of breath from playing rooftop tag. “I need a favour. Please don’t laugh.”

Barbara turned towards him, raising an eyebrow. “Oh?” she said. “I’m not making any promises on the laughing part till I hear what it’s about. Did someone manage to get footage of you slamming into a building again?”

“No, th—hey!” Dick protested, making his way over to her. “That was one time, and you promised you’d never bring it up again.”

“Um, it was several times, and you owe me many times over for wiping those videos so thoroughly that you didn’t even know about them!”

Dick opened his mouth, then shut it again, frowning slightly. Then he shook his head. “You know what, never mind, back to my problem,” he said. “You need to pretend that Kory and I have been dating. This whole time.”

Barbara tilted her head. “This whole time?” she repeated. “As in… pretend you two never broke up? Why?”

Dick squirmed. “It’s a long story,” he said in a rush, wanting this horridly humiliating conversation out of the way as soon as possible. “But Jason asked if we were still together…”

“And you told him yes?”

“He told me he’d stop believing in love if we ever broke up! What was I supposed to do?”

Barbara looked as though she were moments away from bursting into laughter. “Dick, as… sweet? misguided? hilarious? as this may be, you do realise you can’t keep the charade up forever, right?”

“I admit, I panicked.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Barbara snorted. “Okay, I’ll lie about it,” she said. “But you really gotta get to Alfred. He and Jason talk more than he talks to anyone else in the family.”

“Oh, shit,” Dick said, horror dawning on him at the thought of that conversation.

“Yup,” Barbara said, looking as though she was enjoying this a little too much. “As a favour to me, for my deception, would you be so kind as to wear a button camera for that exchange?”

Dick threw the little Batgirl plushie at her before leaping back out the window.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

Dick didn’t end up talking to Alfred next. Instead, he pinged Tim’s communicator, to see if he was still out on patrol. Tim was in Gotham for the fortnight – normally, he was over at the Tower on weekends, and on weeknights he could get away with it, especially with his early graduation.    

Tim was waiting for Dick on top of the little ice cream shop they frequented. It was late enough now that it was closed – you had to get there in the first half of patrol if you wanted anything, and the first quarter if you wanted the good toppings – but the roof was one of their meeting spots.

“Robin!” Dick said, ruffling Tim’s hair from the back as he dropped down to sit beside him. “Thanks for meeting me.”

“’Course,” Tim replied easily. He looked up at Dick, somewhat concerned. “Everything’s okay, right?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine!” There had been way too many instances where they’d met up because of less than fortunate occasions, and Tim’s mindset, lately (and for good reason) tipped towards the pessimistic. “Just… a bit of a favour I wanted to ask you for.”

Tim squinted at him. “A favour,” he repeated. “Is this about the thing Bruce wanted to talk to you about? Because I know nothing about that and I’m a neutral party.”

Dick opened his mouth, and then frowned. “What thing Bruce wanted to talk to me about?” he asked suspiciously.

Tim’s eyes widened, noticeable even behind the milky lenses of his mask. “Nothing! You didn’t hear that from me, okay?”

“Neutral party, my ass. He’s already bribed you with some shiny new gadget, hasn’t he.”

Tim let out an indignant squawk and proceeded to argue rather vehemently about his integrity, and Dick leaned back, part of him just amused at how Tim, Tim who’d grown so much since Dick had first met him, could still resemble that little kid so much.

And then he let the kid out of his misery. “Don’t worry, I’ll act sufficiently surprised when he does ambush me,” he reassured Tim. “This is… different. It has to do with Jason.”

Tim immediately tensed. “If this is you asking me to try getting along with him again,” he began, but Dick cut him off smoothly, having anticipated this.

“Not this time,” he interrupted. “Long story short, Jason thinks Kory and I are happily dating and never broke up. And I need him to keep thinking it.”

Tim blinked, clearly not having anticipated this. “Why would he think that?”

Dick sighed. “I… might’ve told him when he asked me?”

Why?”

“I panicked! And he said he’d stop believing in true love if we ever broke up! I can’t be responsible for that kind of shit!”

Tim stared at him. “You realise,” he said, “that the fact that you and Starfire broke up is literally public knowledge? There are, like, articles about it. It’s a part of pop culture. You can’t just delete TV shows from the world. Not to mention all the people in the superhero community who know!”

“It’s fine,” Dick reassured him. “I asked O to help. Jay has no reason to look us up, and if he does for whatever reason, Babs will be able to handle it. Hopefully. And it’s not like Jason interacts with many people in the community. Or watches much TV. I’ll get Alfred to recommend a crateful of books that’ll tide us over till all his hair turns white.”

“This is the worst idea I’ve ever heard of,” Tim commented, and Dick, now that the initial panic of the conversation with Jason was wearing off, was slowly beginning to agree. “I don’t even talk to him.”

“Just covering all my bases,” Dick said.

He should probably talk to Bruce and Alfred at the same time; that would save time. Even though Jason didn’t really see the Titans very much, he’d have to let them know, even Garth, because Garth liked, in his words, ‘land drama’. The thought of it was making him tired to the bone; he was seriously considering just sending a text to the group chat and then muting his phone for the next week.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

“So,” Alfred said, peering at Dick over his cup of tea. “You wish for me to lie to Jason, when he’s only just rejoined the family? And risk breaking his trust with us? For the sake of you not letting his childhood notions of romance down?”

Dick squirmed, the biscuit in his hand crumbling as he bit little chunks out of it. “I know it’s a big favour,” he began.

“Why did you lie to him in the first place?” Alfred asked, looking at Dick disapprovingly. “It can’t simply have been in an attempt – a very foolish attempt, mind you – to spare his feelings.”

To this, Dick had no response. In all honesty, he had no idea why he’d jumped so quickly to pretend that everything was fine, that everything had always been fine. Or why he’d felt so guilty, that his relationship would let Jason down – that whole notion was utterly ridiculous! And yet.

When he didn’t say anything, Alfred put his teacup down onto the saucer, and leaned forward, hands clasped between his knees. “If it means this much to you, I will… be deliberately obscure about it. But I will not outright lie to him.”

A wave of relief washed over Dick. “Thank you, Alfred. I know it’s a lot to ask.”

Alfred raised an eyebrow. “There’s another person who you’re asking a lot from, as well,” he said. “What does Miss Kory say about all this?”

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

Dick paced in front of the apartment door for fifteen minutes. In his hands was a box of pastries, from that corner shop a block away. Donna, at the very least, would appreciate them, even if Kory refused to take what was practically a bribe. For dating him. What had he been thinking?

“By Hera,” he heard a voice mutter. “Dick!”

He’d deliberately tried to come at a time when he’d thought Donna would be out, but clearly, he’d miscalculated. Now, as he turned around at the sound of her voice, it was a relief that he had.

“Hey, Donna,” he said weakly, trying for a casual tone. The smile on his face at the sight of her was very real, though. “Good to see you.”

“It’s always good to see you too. There a reason you’ve been pacing a hole in the floor for the last… ten minutes?” Donna asked, leaning against the doorframe. Her eyes lit up when they saw the box in his hands, and Dick handed it over gladly.

“It’s… I’ll tell you inside,” he said, kissing her cheek as he stepped inside her and Kory’s apartment.

It was clear, from the interior decoration, that there were two forces at play. Indoor plants lined the sides of the room, and there were more on the balcony outside. Some of them were wilting, while others looked perfectly fine. There was an array of scented candles on the little coffee table, right beside what looked like a shoe that someone had taken apart, with a hammer and a sewing kit positioned beside it.

The entire apartment smelled nice, which immediately made Dick suspicious. He eyed the strange substance that was bubbling in a little saucepan on the stove. Surely no food was supposed to be pure black and… glittery?

There were little bundles of photographs all over the place – Dick spotted the Titans group photo among them. There was a whole section dedicated to Kory and Donna, the two of them in a variety of costumes and clothes around the city. Some of them Dick had seen before, but most of them were completely new. It all highlighted just how long it’d been since he’d visited them here.

The apartment had one bright orange couch amongst two puke green armchairs, and seeing them and the way they still clashed horribly, after all these years of Donna and Kory sharing an apartment, made something in him feel better about the distance.

“Is Kory home?” he asked, toeing off his shoes and nudging them out of the way.

“She just got out of the shower,” Donna told him. “Sit. I haven’t seen you in ages.”

Dick smiled softly at that, looking downwards. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry. I kept meaning to visit more, but things kept cropping up—”

“Hey, you don’t have to apologise,” Donna told him, leaning over the kitchen island. “I get it. Coming back… it’s been a lot of catching up, let alone keeping up.”

Dick winced inwardly at that, guilt churning in him at not having been there to help her reacclimatise after being resurrected. A simple apology would feel cheap, but he wanted to make one anyway.

Except, at that moment, a door to the right swung open, and Kory stepped into the living room. She was wrapped in a towel – she’d probably heard voices, and hadn’t wanted to make anyone uncomfortable with nudity.

“Richard!” she greeted him with a wide grin. “I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hey, Kory.” Dick’s palms were sweating, and all of this, which had already felt like a bad idea the more people he’d talked to, suddenly felt like the worst thing he could do. He didn’t even know if Kory was dating anyone! What would he do if she refused, go through every person he’d just talked to and say, remember that favour I asked of you? You can pretend that never happened, because I was dumb and forgot to ask the person I was going to fake this whole thing with before I set it all in motion.

 That wasn’t getting at the crux of the matter, and he knew that. He didn’t know how long he wanted this thing to go for, and he didn’t know, after their history, whether Kory would ever even want to be involved with him again, but… he was already knee deep in this now.

 “Is everything alright?”

“Uh,” Dick ran a hand through his hair, “mostly, yes. But I did something stupid, and…” He blew out a breath, and restarted the speech from the beginning. Kory and Donna were staring at him, both with varying degrees of concerned looks. “So, the other night, I was patrolling with Jason. And he asked me about… us.”

Kory looked at him with an entirely blank expression, and Donna was still leaning over the countertop with her chin resting on her fists, watching him. As Dick recounted the whirlwind of events that had led to all of this, Donna’s eyebrows rose higher and higher, while Kory hid her face behind her hands.

When Dick finished, there was silence.

And then, the sound of roaring laughter.

Dick thumped his head onto the benchtop, part of him wanting to join in and release all this tension he’d been carrying the whole drive over, while the rest of him just wanted to sink into the floor and die of embarrassment at this whole situation.

Kory was shaking her head, forcibly swallowing down her laughter. “Dick,” she said. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“Only you, Boy Wonder,” Donna said, schooling her expression. “You realise that if Kory says no, this whole thing is going to turn so much worse than if you’d told Jason the truth?”

Dick grimaced. “I was planning on telling him we’d spontaneously decided to see other people,” he said, and that almost set the two of them off again. “Donna, can I talk to Kory alone?”

“’Course. I’ve got some errands to run, anyway,” Donna responded immediately, after a glance towards Kory. She wiped the corners of her eyes a little. “Hera, I haven’t laughed like that in years.”

Dick waited until she’d closed the door behind her to speak. “You don’t have to do this,” he began. “Jay might be a little confused – or pissed – about it all, but in the end he’ll probably just find it hilarious. I don’t want to pressure you into anything, Kory.”

Kory smiled. “Dick, it’s fine,” she said. “We’ve been friends for years. And this is something a friend would be okay with doing.”

There were a million things Dick could say to that. “But are you okay with doing it?”

“It may be… strange,” Kory said carefully, “but the hilarity of the situation far outweighs it.”

 Dick’s shoulders slumped in relief at her words, at the open look in her eyes. “Oh, very funny,” he said, trying to stifle the feeling in his stomach that this was going to end with their friendship in tatters.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

Dick didn’t know if he wanted to tell the Titans. After how his and Kory’s relationship had… tapered off, he could imagine the general gist of their reactions to them actually getting back together. Most of them probably thought it was inevitable, after having seen firsthand the two of them beginning dating, to almost getting married.

He didn’t want to imagine the looks on their faces at the thought of him and Kory faking it. So he told Kory that she could tell anyone she liked (as long as they promised to not let Jason in on it), and left it at that. A small handful of people. It was lucky Jason’s circle didn’t involve many people who were likely to be up to date with – or even care about – superhero community gossip.

In fact, a rather significant part of this whole insanity hinged on that. Should Dick try to get Jason to make more friends? Probably. Was he just glad that Jason tended to hang around only his bookclub friends and strange vigilantes? Undoubtedly so.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

The long distance thing was the best part of it all. New York and Gotham weren’t very far apart, but Dick rarely had downtime as it was, what with teaching classes at the local gym, volunteering at the local youth centre, and vigilantism.

But it’d look weird if he wasn’t in New York at least once every couple weeks, so Dick started to pack his casefiles into a backpack and drive there. The last time he’d spent this much time with the others was before Donna had died, before the Titans had officially been disbanded.

He knocked twice and let himself in, this time with three boxes of pizza that he’d picked up on the way over. “I bring greasy goods!” he called out.

“In here!”

“Your apartment has three rooms, Donna,” he said as he stepped inside, setting the boxes down on the small table in front of the TV.

“We have decided to have a slumber party,” Kory told him. She looked like she was already prepared, wearing a dressing gown with her hair up in a bun. Music played from the little CD played on the bookshelf, and Dick could smell scented candles from somewhere.

He raised his eyebrows. “Awesome. Haven’t had a slumber party since… we were teenagers, I think. I am still invited, right?”

“Of course,” Kory said. “It would be rude to ask a guest to leave.”

“Donna’s been rubbing off on you.”

“She has been,” Donna agreed. “In more ways than one.”

Dick automatically wrinkled his nose, making the exaggerated face of disgust that he always did when Donna brought up her sex life.

“You’d think after Roy and Gar, you’d be used to it,” Donna commented.

“Yeah, but that’s Roy and Gar.” Kory and Donna were bustling around all over the apartment, as though they had routines for slumber parties. Dick wandered around between them, not knowing where to help out and being told to sit down every time he asked.

“How’re the Titans going?” he asked Kory at one point.

Kory smiled. “They remind me of how we were, before,” she said. “They’ve come a long way.”

Was it strange, Dick wondered, to be essentially babysitting a group of vigilantes when the Teen Titans had always represented being away from adult supervision and control? It was different, he knew, when the people doing the supervising weren’t the mentors whose shadows you were always under, but he didn’t think any of them would’ve taken it well. (And he still remembered how Tim and his team had taken to Red Tornado when he’d been tasked with supervising their them.)

Then again, the reason Dick and his Titans had had to strike out on their own was because there was no one else like them. They’d been the first ones, the first sidekicks and partners. They set all the precedence, and took all the hits of trying to work in a world designed for adults who were making it up as they went along.

“I’m thinking we try out some of these potions that Raven wanted us to try,” Donna was saying. “I’ve been putting it off long enough, and the mixture isn’t going to last us very long.”

Kory nodded. “Tonight is supposed to be a full moon.”

Dick blinked. “Wait,” he said. “I thought this was a slumber party.”

“It is.”

“Isn’t this,” he hesitated, “work stuff? Should we even be meddling with it without Raven, or another magic user?”

Kory was shaking her head before Dick had even finished speaking. “Raven gave us very detailed instructions,” she explained. “And if anything goes wrong, there are plenty of magic users in the city who will be here in an instant.”

Donna ruffled his hair with her knuckles as she walked past him, an old frypan in her hand. “It’ll be fine, brainy. We’ll throw you out a window if anything catches on fire.”

“That fills me with confidence,” Dick said dryly, but got up to help clear the floor of the living room anyway.

“So what’s this spell supposed to do?”

Kory was glancing over a stack of paper that had Raven’s scrawl all over it. “It should show us all the bugs and insects from the spirit plane that may be close to crossing into our world.”

Dick blanched. “What?”

Donna shrugged. “It was one of Raven’s theories. That maybe my resurrection makes it easier for things around me – not whole people or even animals, mind you – to cross over into the land of the living.”

“Like bugs?”

Donna nodded. “Yes. Small critters, things that take less… soul energy.”

“So you’re telling me that your resurrection energy might make dead bugs come back to life around you? You might cause zombie bugs?

“Not at all, Richard,” Kory said distractedly, still flipping through the pages and earmarking certain ones. “They wouldn’t be zombies. They’d be perfectly alive.”

Dick rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Great,” he said. “Now every time I feel something crawling on me and there’s nothing there, I’ll know it’s the ghost of bugs about to cross over from the other side. And this spell just shows them to us? It doesn’t even send them all back?”

“It’s just Raven’s theory,” Donna told him. “She just wants us to confirm it.”

“Dick, I think your life has been very boring since you left the Titans,” Kory told him, “if this is surprising you in any way.”

“Kory’s right. This was just the average Tuesday for the team. You sure you’re okay, Dick?”

“Peachy,” Dick said. “Though I was peachier when I thought we’d be lying around with cucumbers on our faces.”

“We can always do that once we’ve finished the spell,” Kory offered.

“Now that you two brought up Raven’s theory, the thought of having my eyes closed in your place is making my skin itch.”

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

The morning after Kory first patrolled with Dick in Bludhaven, he received a text from her. Tell Jason I asked you for his number, it read. Dick looked at it for a moment, wondering what to respond with, when he realised that there wasn’t really anything to debate.

Dick couldn’t remember the last time it’d been just the two of them out on patrol together. But they’d worked as seamlessly as ever, anticipating the other’s movements and thoughts with a single glance. Dick had swung across rooftops using his grapple, and Kory had been a blur of light beside him; he’d had a flash of déjà vu to all the instances where they’d had to fly somewhere, and he’d ended up in Kory’s arms.

 

Starfire bridal carrying Discowing

 

Leaving me for a younger model already? he texted back even as he sent a message to Jason. Dick hadn’t had Jason’s number for very long – in fact, it’d only been a couple weeks now. He’d hesitated to use it at first, paralysed by the fear that the next text wouldn’t go through, that he’d try to call the number and it’d be unregistered.

Tim had suggested sending him a meme. To break the ice, he’d said. Dick would have to thank him at some point, though the ice breaking that had occurred wasn’t so much laughter and enjoyment of the meme so much as bewilderment leading to the sorts of conversations Dick had had with Alfred.

Kory wants your number, he texted Jason. He didn’t have to wait long for a response.

She finally realise she’s too good for you? And then a little thumbs up react appeared on Dick’s message, and Dick smiled.

Yup, he responded, tho she prbly realised it years ago.

He knew he’d certainly realised it years ago.

The conversation veered off track from there, but not before he and Kory suddenly had plans to meet with Jason for coffee that afternoon.

“Oh shit, this is really happening,” Dick murmured as he sank down onto the couch, after giving Jason the name of his favourite café. He was actually going to do this. He was about to lie to Jason, and worse, he was dragging Kory into it.

But he couldn’t figure a way out of this mess that didn’t make matters worse. Maybe they would stage a breakup, a very ‘private’ one that only got around to family and close friends. Either he or Kory would break it to Jason, and it’d be fine, because he was, what, twenty? He could handle it – Dick had definitely been panicking that night and overthinking this whole thing.

He spent his entire shift at the gym distracted and tense, and the kids could sense it no matter how hard he tried to fake it.

“Mr Grayson?” Ayo stood to the side as he packed everything up, hands fidgeting with the straps of her bag.

“Yes,” Dick looked up, “everything alright, Ayo?” She nodded, still looking nervous. Dick paused what he was doing, though he was running overtime as it was, and gave her his full attention. “If there’s anything the matter, you know you can tell me, right?”

“I know,” she said. “It’s just… me and a couple of the other kids, we were wondering the same thing about you. You’ve been really sad these last few classes.”

Dick sighed, smiling ruefully as he ran a hand through his hair. “I’m fine, Ayo,” he told her gently. And then he amended that statement, seeing that it hadn’t gotten past her bullshit radar. “Or, I will be. You know how it is. Sometimes you just have to let yourself be sad.”

She tilted her head, frowning. “Not if there’s nothing to be sad about.” It was a pointed question; when had eight-year-olds gotten this good at reading between the lines?

Dick grimaced. “You got me there,” he said. “I… told my brother something that might not have been entirely true, and I’ve been feeling guilty about it ever since.”

“So tell him the truth.”

“I should,” Dick said. “I really should.”

There was a flutter of movement behind Ayo, and Dick turned to see two very familiar figures walking in through the doors. His heart skipped a beat in his chest as two realities, two different lives, merged into the one, sending waves of déjà vu coursing through him.

Jason and Kory stood to the edges, taking in the gym. There were still a few children around, waiting to be picked up by their parents, or waiting for another class to begin; normally, Dick gathered them together and ran them through exercises like forward rolls, or did an extended cool-down session with them as they left. Today, he rolled up the last mat and put it to the side, and took the five remaining kids outside to the play equipment.

Kory and Jason had followed them out there; they approached him now. “Didn’t know you taught here,” Jason commented.

Dick glanced at him. “It’s recent,” he said shortly, and left it at that. Bludhaven was still a touchy subject between them. He turned to Kory. “Hi. Didn’t expect to see you here.”

Kory smiled back, and reached out to hold his hand. Dick almost jolted in surprise, mind suddenly working overtime to analyse their interaction in Jason’s presence. It was so much easier when it was with just Donna in her and Kory’s apartment, or when they were patrolling together. But the reasons behind that were obvious: Jason was the only one they needed to convince of their ongoing and very stable, very romantic, relationship. They didn’t need to pretend in front of anyone else.

Dick squeezed her hand back, and then yanked her forward, bending her over and kissing her on the cheek. He heard Kory stifle a sound in the back of her throat, and opening his eyes in alarm even as he held her in the awkward position, he saw she was trying not to laugh.

“Too much?” he whispered as quietly as he could.

“I don’t know,” Kory responded in the same tone. “Unless you held out on me the entire time we were dating.”

“Oh, very funny.” Dick pulled her back upright. In a normal voice, he said, “I missed you,” trying to sound as sappy and lovestruck as ever. It wasn’t very hard – he did miss Kory, like a limb in those early days after they’d gone their separate ways. Now, he was just reminded of it every time he saw her. It was going to be hard when they ended this charade, to go back to seeing her only on occasion, and usually in not so pleasant circumstances.

Then he turned to glance at Jason to see whether he was buying this. Jason was watching him in mild bewilderment, looking as Dick as though he were an imposter. “Did someone replace you with a clone while I was gone?” he asked with a frown.

“What makes you say that, Jay,” Dick said, shooting a glance towards Kory, who looked much too amused by this whole thing.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two do anything more romantic than hold hands,” Jason told him suspiciously. “When did you guys get so gross?”

Dick waved a hand dismissively, trying not to let show just how hard his heart was pounding in his chest, for multiple reasons. His lips were tingling; he hadn’t intended to kiss Kory, even if it was on the cheek; he hadn’t even really asked her what the boundaries were in this whole thing. “You were busy being dead.”

Kory froze beside him, but Jason only made a spluttering sound. “Hey! I’m the only one who gets to make dead jokes.”

It was surreal to see the version of Jason – Red Hood Jason, as Dick classified him – merging with the boy Dick remembered from before. Robin Jason. He hadn’t met up with Jason during the day very much, so maybe it was just being in the sunlight and wearing civvies that made him seem softer around the edges – though no one could never look at Jason, Jason with broad shoulders and hard muscles and the scars on his face, and ever think him soft – but there was definitely a part of him now that was lighter than it was at night.

Once the last of the kids had been picked up and Dick had finished waving goodbye to them, he turned to Jason and Kory. “So,” he said. “I’m going to get changed. You two drive here?”

“Jason did,” Kory said, following him to his bag. “I flew.”

Peeking behind the two of them and seeing that Jason was tapping away at his phone, still leaning against the fencing surrounding the playground, Dick risked talking about it. “Hey, I’m sorry if I overstepped.”

“Overstepped?” Kory blinked, and then seemed to realise. “No. No, you were fine. You just… caught me by surprise.”

Dick smiled hesitantly. “I caught myself by surprise, too,” he offered.

“So you weren’t waiting to sweep me off my feet?”

“I think you do that enough for the both of us.”

They left Dick’s car and Jason’s motorbike in the parking lot of the gym and walked to the café. It took about ten minutes, and Kory held Dick’s hand the entire time. He could feel her rings against his fingers, and it took him back to being a teenager, sure of everything in the world as long as she was with him.

“How’re the rest of the Titans?” Jason asked at one point, when they were halfway there.

“They are well,” Kory smoothly took over and saved Dick having to wonder whether Jason knew that the Titans were technically disbanded, “Donna told me to tell you hi. She called you her… ‘resurrection buddy’.” At that, Jason laughed softly, eyes going distant for a moment before the rest of Kory’s words brought him back. “Wally and Roy are doing well. They joined the JLA. I don’t suppose you would’ve met Roy’s daughter… And Vic and Gar and I… we’re still at the Tower, helping the newest Titans.”

At that, Jason’s face momentarily darkened, eyes flashing green. Dick’s grip on Kory’s hand loosened, ready to jump into action, but she gripped him tightly and shot him a warning look. And then, to Dick’s amazement, Jason took a couple of deep breaths, and the bright green glow faded.

Later, Kory mouthed to him, hair falling in front of her face and hiding it from Jason. Dick looked at her searchingly, then nodded. What had the two of them been talking about, while they’d waited for him? Jason and Kory had never had the opportunity to spend enough time together to become close, but they’d gotten on well enough. Jason had had her number in his phone, though Dick didn’t know if the two of them had ever communicated.

Jason was silent the rest of the way, Dick and Kory sometimes making offhanded comments here and there. Dick’s hand was clammy where it met Kory’s, but he couldn’t bring himself to let go.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

Dick would’ve completely forgotten about it had Tim not called to remind him, but his birthday dinner at the Manor was that weekend.

“My what?” Dick said, before memory hit him like a lightning bolt, and he gently hit his forehead against the doorframe. “No, Tim, I don’t have a concussion. I just forgot about it. Of course I’ll be there; it’s my birthday dinner.”

But that raised the question of whether Jason was going to be there – he and Tim still weren’t entirely okay with each other, and for good reason, particularly from Tim’s side of it – but this time, Dick wasn’t entirely altruistic in wondering about it. No, this time Jason being there meant that he’d expect Kory to be there, especially this long into their relationship. Hell, Jason probably assumed they weren’t married because they’d decided marriage wasn’t for them, not because they hadn’t been together long enough.

Dick called Alfred immediately after saying goodbye to Tim. “Hey, Alfred.”

“Good evening, Master Dick,” Alfred responded, voice sounding just as steady as it always was. “I presume you’re calling me about your birthday dinner?”

“Yeah.” Dick rubbed the back of his neck. “Is Jason coming?”

Alfred made a thoughtful noise, which could’ve meant anything from cutting right to the chase, are we to you’ve interrupted me as I was polishing the silver and you know how much I hate that. “I’ve asked him to come, yes.”

“And he hasn’t said anything?”

“It’s the first big ‘family’ event since he’s… been back in the family, Master Dick,” Alfred said. “I doubt any of us know how it’ll be.”

That was when Dick realised that it didn’t matter whether or not Jason was attending the dinner; if Kory wasn’t, he’d probably find out at some point. And that would raise questions, which he could answer easily enough, but the Kory that Jason remembered – and the Dick that Jason remembered – had been near inseparable. Granted, that had largely been because they’d been on the same team, so their work brought them closer together and not farther apart; but shouldn’t that mean that in this new life, they’d make more of an effort to make time for each other?

Now that Dick thought about it, Jason probably found it weird that Dick had decided to move to Gotham and not New York after Bludhaven had exploded. Did he explain it away by assuming that it’d happened under Bruce’s orders?

“Then I should probably let you know that Kory might be coming,” Dick said. “At least, I’ll ask her to come. I would’ve asked sooner, only I didn’t realise the dinner was this weekend.”

“Your birthday is this weekend, dear boy.”

“Yeah, that too.”

The conversation with Kory was a lot easier than it had any right to be, but that didn’t mean anything. Talking with Kory – being with Kory – had always come naturally to Dick. If anything, it felt like something in his life had been missing all along. Even though they’d become good friends, even after they’d stopped dating each other, that whole era of Dick’s life had so many separations. The distance from the team, him and Kory ending things… nothing had really been the same, after all of that.

But now, with Donna and Kory, it was nice. He liked it, the weekends he spent at their apartment. Kory would come over to his apartment on occasion, just to make it less obvious that Dick was spending more time over in New York than Kory was in Gotham. It would’ve made more sense, to an onlooker – Dick lived alone. But he didn’t want the speculation that would be brought on by the two of them being seen together so frequently; he didn’t – wouldn’t – make Kory live more of a lie than she already was.

“Dick,” Kory greeted him. “How are you?”

“I’m…I’m good, Kory,” he answered, honestly. The tension that had plagued Dick ever since Tim had reminded him of the birthday dinner seemed to die down at little, at the sound of her voice. “Better now that I’m talking with you.”

At that, Kory laughed aloud. “I don’t think you said that to me even in the earliest days of our courtship,” she said. “But you called at a good time. Donna wondered if you wanted to do something for your birthday.”

“Yeah, about that…” He’d begun pacing at some point. “I have those dinners, at the Manor. For my birthday. Bruce and Alfred started them up again when Tim came into the picture – actually, come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim had a role in it. Anyway, Jason only really had the one, so he probably doesn’t have much precedence for them, but usually even ‘extended’ family branches come, and I know it’s really short notice, but to be completely honest with you, I’d entirely forgotten what the date—”

“Richard,” Kory interrupted, sounding amused. “Breathe. And open your balcony door.”

Dick spun around towards the balcony just in time to see a cloaked figure climbing onto it from the fire escape. He half jogged over and unlocked the door, brandishing an arm for Kory to come inside, unable to fight off his grin.

“You flew here?”

“Mostly,” Kory responded, taking off her coat and shaking out her hair. “The Gotham smog is excellent cover, but I landed a few blocks away and climbed up here.”

“You could’ve just knocked on the front door.” What should he get her? Drinks? Did he even have drinks? Dick had no idea if he even had food in the house, let alone beverages. Normally, it was Donna here with them. Normally, when they’d been alone together before, it had always been… normal. Being with Kory was comfortable. This strange twilight of their relationship, however, was not.

“But where’s the excitement in that?” Kory said with a smile. “I was wondering if you would like to patrol together tonight.”

“Patrol together?” Dick repeated. “But… wouldn’t that be a little… soon? After last time?

“Yes,” Kory responded, tilting her head a little. Dick could see her fighting the urge to take in the rest of his apartment, to see how he lived now, alone, now that he hadn’t had the chance to freshen the place up before she got here. He remembered another visit that Kory had made to one of his places, though he couldn’t recall the city now – he’d been living there for about six months at the time, and there had still been boxes all over the place.

He wondered what she made of his ‘coffee table’: a cardboard box with the flaps taped shut. He made sure to move it when she and Donna came over, usually. Maybe she thought it was just a box, a package he’d received.

“People might assume things, if we’re seen together on patrol so often,” Dick said awkwardly. “And I couldn’t do that to you.”

Kory smiled at him. “I’ve spoken with some friends about it,” she said. “And I think it’d be better if we slowly spent more time together, rather than if I were spotted leaving the Manor after your birthday dinner.”

Dick grimaced. He hadn’t thought that far ahead, nor about the disastrous consequences of that potentially occurring. The media didn’t know much about Dick – Bruce had done his best to keep all of them out of the spotlight, both for privacy and for Bat related reasons – but on certain dates, such as Dick’s birthday, they were notorious for hounding the family to get any scraps of gossip they could find.

“We’ve still got about an hour before I head out,” Dick offered. “You want to…” he racked his head, trying to think of something normal, something Kory would enjoy, “play a board game?”

Kory raised an eyebrow. “Alright,” she said, clearly surprised by the offer.

The Titans had taught Kory as many card and board games as they could manage. Dick could picture it in his mind, clear as day; weekends alone together, whoever the roster was at that current moment, in the Tower. It’d been nothing like boarding school, nothing like going away on camp with your classmates. There’d been goofing off, because they’d all been kids, but they were older than their collective years at the same time.

“It’s been a while since I’ve played anything,” Dick said, rooting through one of the boxes in his closet. He was sure he had at least some playing cards; after everything had burned down in his last apartment, he’d lost all the games that they’d played with together that he’d owned, but Alfred had gifted him a deck of cards at some point, and Tim had gotten him a battleship board for his last birthday.

“Same for me,” Kory said from the living room. “Donna and I will occasionally play a card game, but we’ve ripped apart three Monopoly sets and about five Scrabble boards.”

Dick frowned, hands momentarily pausing. “I get Monopoly, but Scrabble?”

“Donna began inventing words,” Kory began, “and didn’t anticipate my knowing all the languages she knew.”

Dick snorted, knowing full well that Kory was more than capable of cheating in board games. “What, you kiss her too?”

“Yes,” Kory responded simply, and Dick suddenly didn’t know what to say to that. “Our romantic relationship was brief, though we occasionally still sleep together.”

Dick had, in all honesty, never wanted to know. It should be fine, to find this out. He should’ve gotten to a point where he was okay with it. And no wonder Kory didn’t seem to mind the public finding out, if the only person she was involved with was Donna. Donna, who was clearly very okay with Kory and Dick being… whatever they were right now.

Dick stifled down the million and one questions he had, finally spotting the deck of cards lodged in a corner behind his old Hudson University hoodie.

“Found it,” he called, walking back into the living room.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

For a long time, Donna had been the person Dick would go to if he wanted to talk. But in this case, not only was Kory her friend and roommate, but she was also apparently her on and off sexual partner.

Barbara wasn’t an option right now, because ever since they’d broken up, conversations had been… less open than before. Dick had been reluctant to talk about Kory with her, even before they’d begun dating – there were things about their breakup that he wasn’t willing to share with an outside party, or even with the people who’d been around – and keeping things like that, things that had impacted Dick like that, had probably been yet another factor that had caused them to break up.

But Dick couldn’t go to any of the Titans, either, because they were definitely not unbiased in their opinions of his and Kory’s relationship. He couldn’t talk about it with Tim, and he definitely couldn’t bring it up with Jason. Bruce was out of the question – he normally went to Clark for these things, anyway.

That was how he found himself standing at Clancy’s window. It was funny, really, because she technically counted as one of his exes. Yet another relationship of his that had ended before it could really begin. But she’d always been good friends with Nightwing.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” she commented as Nightwing slipped inside, closing the blinds just a fraction.

“Sorry to barge in like this,” Dick said. “I brought donuts to compensate.” He was doing that a lot lately, it seemed.

“Hey, I’m always happy to see you,” Clancy told him, making a beeline towards the box he’d just placed on the coffee table. “But I won’t say no to these babies.”

Dick let out a chuckle despite himself, and grabbed one as well, and a napkin to go with it. He took a seat on the armchair in one corner of the room, the most hidden spot. It wouldn’t do for people to spot him here and target Clancy.

“So, what’s going on?” Clancy said, mouth half full.

Dick didn’t say anything at first, but then the story spilled out of his mouth. How his brother had come back from the dead – Clancy had heard weirder stuff – how he’d idolised his relationship with Kory – Clancy, just like most people her age, were all too aware of Nightwing and Starfire’s history – and how, in a wild moment of panic, he’d lied to Jason.

Clancy blinked at him for a long moment. “Damn,” she said. “That’s right out of a romance novel.”

“I hope your romance novels have a detailed instruction manual on how to fix this,” Dick commented, still looking at the floor between his knees. “It’s just… we have so much history, y’know? So much baggage. And the way we broke up… or, well, the way we ended things. It never really had any sort of closure to it.”

“Do you want to get back together with her?”

Dick hesitated. “I… I don’t know,” he admitted. It was a strange thing to admit. “It’s just… we did have issues, when we broke up. I don’t know how to be with Kory again without fixing that, not like how we were before it all went downhill. But I don’t know how to fix it, because…”

Now he had to get up and pace, because he’d never spoken these words out loud, not like this. Over the years, he’d gotten… accustomed to it, to the weight it had on his shoulders, to the alienation he’d felt from his friends because of it. But now that there was someone here who he knew wouldn’t judge–

But there lay the crux of the matter. He didn’t know Clancy wouldn’t judge, because he’d once thought the same of his friends, of even Kory, and while he understood Kory’s perspective of it all, he’d… well, he’d thought better of his friends.

Just as he opened his mouth, the comms unit in his hear pinged. Dick closed his eyes, body almost sagging, though in relief at being able to put this off, or at the disappointment of it, he didn’t know.

“Sorry,” he said to Clancy, finally meeting her eyes and offering her a smile. “I’ve got to go.”

Clancy rose as he went over to the window. “Nightwing,” she said. “I think you should talk to her about this. About closure. Even if it’s so both of you can move on with your lives.”

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

The birthday party dawned on a perfectly Gotham kind of day: gloomy, grey, and with looming rainclouds on the horizon. It matched Dick’s apprehension of this whole thing to a T. He and Kory were driving up to the Manor – she’d driven over from New York to his apartment, and he’d changed out his windows for tinted ones especially for this. They were entering the Manor using the Cave entrance, because that was about the only way they’d get around all the hidden paparazzi on the road there.

“It has been some time,” Kory commented. “And Bruce knows?”

Dick nodded, eyes on the road as the wipers went back and forth at alarming speed. “Everyone except Jason knows,” he said. “But it should be fine. We don’t even know if he’s coming.”

“And if he does not, then there’s no need for pretence.”

At that, Dick glanced at her quickly. “We don’t have to pretend to be anything other than friends,” he told her, mouth suddenly dry. “I mean… I’ve held hands with Wally and Donna in public. Slept in the same bed as… all the Titans, at this point. I’ve definitely seen all of them naked – at this point in this occupation, it’s impossible not to. I’ve had Gar inside me as a bug.”

Kory laughed at that. “So have I,” she said with a grimace. “You would think we’d grow out of Truth of Dare by now.”

Dick raised an eyebrow. “Mine was because of a mission,” he said. “An honourable cause.”

Kory sniffed. “Mine was for my own honour,” she said. A moment later, she added, “And for the last pizza slice,” and Dick laughed so hard Kory had to grab the steering wheel for a moment.

Tim greeted them at the door, a shit-eating grin on his face. Dick groaned at the sight, even before they’d left the car.

“What is it?” Kory asked, amused, waving to Tim from inside.

“That look on his face.” Dick shook his head. “What’re the chances he thinks we’ll get back together for real?”

Kory sighed a little. “Well, there’s only so much he could do,” she pointed out, opening the door and grabbing her bag from the backseat. “I doubt he’ll stoop to tactics like locking us together in a closet.”

Dick snorted despite himself, remembering the creative – and often very uncreative – methods that the team had resorted to whenever someone got it into their head to meddle in a relationship.

“Timmy!” he called, stepping out of the car himself and making his way over to where Tim stood, near the Batmobile.

He barely had to step forward before Tim was meeting him halfway, arms wrapping around his waist. “Happy birthday!”

Dick rubbed a knuckle over his head instead of hoisting him over his shoulder and marching him upstairs, which he’d done the last time, knowing Tim would be horrified to have Kory seeing that. “Thanks,” he said, not knowing what else to respond with.

“Hi, Tim,” Kory called with a wave. She had the trunk open, and was grabbing out the other bag she’d brought with her. Dick hadn’t even noticed her placing it in there.

“Hi, Kory!” Tim’s greeting was more muted than his to Dick had been, but still much more cheerful than it normally was. Dick narrowed his eyes at his brother.

“You better not be getting any ideas, you meddler,” he warned him, arm wrapping around Tim’s shoulder and yanking him along as he walked back over to his car. “Is Jay here?”

Tim tensed imperceptibly beneath Dick’s grip, and Dick fought the urge to react to it. “He hasn’t said anything yet,” he told Dick and Kory, “but Alfred’s set an extra plate and cooked some dessert that Jason apparently liked.”

If Alfred was cooking special things for Jason, then either the old man was very hopeful or very confident. Dick glanced at Kory, about to say something, and then down at the bags in her hand. “You didn’t have to bring all these!” he said. “It’s my birthday, technically. And you already gave me my present.”

“I wanted to,” Kory said, with a dismissive hand wave towards him. “Tim, this is for you. Don’t open it down here – it expands. A lot.”

“Whoa,” Tim said. “Is it a weapon?”

Kory pretended not to have heard the question. “Those are for Alfred and Bruce, and that one’s for Jason. I should’ve visited him when I heard he’d come back, or at least when I heard that he was on better terms with your family, but…” She shook her head. “It won’t make up for the past, but it might make him feel less alone in the world.”

Silences in the Cave were worse than silences anywhere else. The bats went quiet, and the air was still and musty, as though the very environment around you was pressing in, judging and finding you wanting.

Or maybe that was just Dick projecting – after all, he had been lectured here quite a bit.

“He won’t hold it against you,” Dick murmured.

“He was always too sweet for his own good,” Kory said, hand tightening on the handle of the gift bag.

Tim coughed awkwardly, shifting uncomfortably where he was still trapped under Dick’s arm. “Not to be insensitive, but I wouldn’t refer to him in the past tense. He gets real weird about that.”

Dick sighed. “Yeah, because to him, it implies we prefer him as he was before.”

Tim shrugged. “Just saying.”

Kory looked at Dick, a question in her eyes. Later, Dick mouthed. “C’mon, let’s go up,” he said out loud.

Alfred greeted them at the entrance, dressed in his dinner suit but with a bright blue bow tie that had green smiley faces on it. Dick grinned widely when he saw it, hugging Alfred loosely because he knew how the man hated crinkles in his outfit.

“Happy birthday, Master Richard,” Alfred murmured in his ear, gingerly patting him.

“Thanks, Alfie,” Dick said. “I can’t believe you wore it!”

“Well,” Alfred said dryly, “as a precocious boy once said, a promise is a promise. Good evening, Miss Kory. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“Hello, Alfred.” Kory leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “It’s wonderful to see you. I’ve missed our chats.”

“My dear, you’re welcome to come by and visit, or call, regardless of your relationship with Richard.”

“What promise?” Tim was asking. Turning to Dick, he said, “I’ve been trying to get Alfred to tell my why he’s wearing that eyesore for hours.”

“I got it for him on his—” at a sharp frown from Alfred, Dick quickly changed tracks, “for his birthday about… fifteen or sixteen years ago. Give or take. I was nine. Alfie very obviously hated it, but he wore it for me anyway, and I think he thought I was sad that he didn’t like my present, so he promised to wear it on my twenty-fifth birthday. To be honest, Alfie,” he said, turning to Alfred, “if you hadn’t brought it out, I wouldn’t’ve even remembered.”

Alfred sniffed. “I have kept this in my calendar for over a decade,” he said. “Of course I was going to remember.”

“Y’know, for the first couple years, I thought you’d said twenty-five because it was hopelessly far away. Like, Bruce was barely that old, and Bruce was ancient.”

“Ancient, huh,” a voice said dryly. “I think I’ll go return your present.”

Dick wouldn’t have noticed Kory tensing just slightly beside him if he hadn’t been watching out for it. Kory didn’t… outright hate the man, but she’d never warmed to him the way Roy and Wally eventually had – though still not fully – upon joining the League.

“Hey, Bruce,” Dick greeted. “You didn’t make any promises for when I turned twenty-five, did you?”

“Nothing as horrifying as that bow tie,” Bruce said, stepping over to tug Dick into a hug. Dick blinked in surprise, hands momentarily hovering in the air before wrapping themselves around Bruce. “Good evening, Kory. Thanks for coming.”

“Thank you for having me,” Kory responded, “especially under such… unorthodox circumstances.”

Bruce grimaced. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to ask… do you both plan on briefing us before the dinner? Because we don’t have much time.”

“Briefing you?” Dick frowned, just as Tim stifled a snort.  

Bruce nodded sombrely. “We should all be on the same page for the cover story,” he explained. “Normally, I’d suggest you use the board in the Cave, but seeing how Jason will probably enter through the Cave, maybe it’d be best to use the board in Tim’s or my room. Those are the least likely places he’ll enter.”

“Bruce,” Dick said slowly. “There’s no need to… brief you guys. The story basically is that we just… never really broke up.”

“Yes, yes, but surely you’ve come up with holidays you’ve spent together, anniversary events, stories like that? And how to explain the rumours of your involvement with others?” Bruce said, looking at both Dick and Kory quizzically. “Ah. I see. So this truly is going to fail sooner rather than later.”

Tim was now silently laughing beside Dick, body shaking. Dick shoved him, but instead of flying into the wall like he used to when he’d been younger and much lighter, Tim merely elbowed Dick in the gut.

“It’s not like he’s gonna spend the entire dinner asking us about ourselves,” Dick said a little desperately, glancing towards Kory. “And we aren’t even sure if he’s coming. Besides, we’re all good at improv. It’ll be fine.” He got four pairs of questioning looks at that, which he steadfastly ignored. It was just that… he couldn’t stand there and coldly orchestrate a lie, not like this. Not to Jason.

Dick’s childhood bedroom was now Tim’s, so Dick led them down the hall to the one he used now. He noticed Kory pausing as he stepped past his old door, but she didn’t say anything, just followed him silently further into the Manor.

His new room had the scraps of mementos they’d salvaged from the fire at his old apartment, though there had barely been anything. The original poster of the Flying Graysons’ last show, his stuffed elephant Zitka, who’d been his companion far longer than Bruce and Alfred, the picture frames and photo albums… they were all gone. All that was left, really, was his Nightwing gear, which he’d had to go back for once first responders had cleared the place.

Kory stepped inside the new room and looked around. “It’s much more mature than your previous one,” she offered.

Dick turned around and grinned at her. “What, you don’t think the pile of stuffed animals on my bed was mature?”

Kory tossed her bag onto his bed, newly made and utterly pristine. “I was referring to the Superman bedsheets you used to have.”

“For the record, I still have those. Probably. Bruce might’ve ‘misplaced’ them like he did with my Superman pyjamas. And nightlight. There’s been a lot of missing Superman merch over the years.”

Kory went into the bathroom to freshen up, and Dick was about to step outside the do the same in the bathroom across the hall when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He looked at it, blinking at the caller ID.

“Hey,” he greeted Jason.

“Is the coast clear?” Jason hissed.

“What coast?” Dick said slowly. When it came to Jason, there were a great number of coasts to be cleared.

“All the cameras along the damn road to the house. I swear it wasn’t this bad last time you had a birthday dinner.”

Dick’s heart beat rapidly in his chest, hand growing slick where it was gripping his phone. “Kory and I came through the Cave entrance,” he said. He wondered if Jason could tell how shaky he felt all of a sudden.

“Oh, yeah? The waterfall entrance or the hillside one?”

This would be Jason’s first big… family event. He’d joined them on patrol – the bigger missions – on occasion, and he’d met up with them (individually) at cafés and parks. Dick knew that he came to see Alfred at the Manor, and sometimes he’d use the Cave to train or to stock up on supplies. Sometimes he’d come there to patch himself up.

But he’d never come upstairs for anything bigger than a hastily thrown together lunch. Dick would not screw this up for them, for Jason. He took a deep breath.

“Jay, the waterfall entrance got destroyed in the quake. Don’t try to use that one. Bruce was working on a new entrance to replace it, last I saw, but I dunno how far he got.” He could hear the sound of Jason revving his engine over the call, and then what sounded like thunder.

“The Manor has a helipad now,” Jason responded.

Dick wrinkled his nose, pulse now calming down and leaving him clammy and giddy. “I’m not sure what the point of that was. It’s not like the Batplane can just land there. B doesn’t even have a private helicopter.”

Jason snorted. “You hear yourself sometimes? ‘B doesn’t even have a private helicopter’ – Jesus.”

Dick hung up and looked up to see Tim watching him from his open door. Dick couldn’t read his expression for the life of him. He offered Tim a smile, and said, “Jason’s coming through the Cave.”

Tim nodded, not saying anything.  

Dick let out a slow breath, approaching him. “Timbo,” he said, placing his hands on Tim’s shoulders and looking him in the eye as earnestly as he could. “I promise you he won’t try anything tonight, okay? If he does, I’ll be there.”

Tim blinked, then barked a laugh. “For once, I wasn’t even thinking about that,” he confessed with a grin. “It’s just… you think you and Kory will get back together? For realsies?”

Dick snorted. “’Realsies’?” he repeated, amused. Tim shoved him a little; it was hard to tell when he was blushing, with his brown skin, but the tips of his ears went faintly red and it made Dick grin wider. “I don’t think so, Timmers.”

Tim frowned. “Why not?” he said. “You guys obviously really like each other. Still. And I read all the articles about you two and watched all the newsclips and YouTube videos and… and I don’t know why you broke up, not that it’s any of my business but—”

“You’re right,” Dick said flatly, all signs of amusement gone. “It isn’t your business.” And then at the guilty look on Tim’s face, he softened slightly. “Sorry. It’s… Sometimes it’s not enough to love someone. Sometimes it’s just… not meant to be. Or even if it is, sometimes it’s better, for both of you, if you aren’t together.”

“C’mon, you don’t seriously believe that?” Tim said. “There’s a reason Jason considered you guys to be like… the epitome of romantic relationships. And Kory’s awesome.”

Dick ran a hand over his face. “Tim, drop it. This is just… temporary. Kory probably never would’ve agreed to it if she’d though I had some ulterior plan to get us back together and used this as like… the Trojan horse to do it.”

“You want to know what I think?”

“Nope.”

“I think,” Tim pushed on, “that you’re so caught up in your side of this whole thing that you aren’t seeing Kory, not really. You know, the place Dana goes to for PT, it offers counselling, too. I brought a bunch of couples therapy flyers in case—Dick, no, what’re you—”

He broke off with a loud shriek as Dick grabbed him round the middle and marched into Tim’s room, carrying Tim like a log. He chucked him onto the bed, and tried to drown out everything Tim had said with the loud screech Tim made as he flew through the air.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

Dinner was a formal affair. Dick had a tuxedo he kept at the Manor (because the Manor was typically the only place he ever really needed it), and he slipped into it now. It fit a little looser – he still hadn’t regained all the weight he’d lost when Blockbuster had been ruining his life, but it was better than it probably would’ve been even six months ago. Fixing the bow tie took a WikiHow tutorial and a YouTube video, but he was determined to do it on his own this year. For once.

Tim took one look at it when he emerged and wrinkled his nose, and Dick grumbled but let him fix it.

He’d just straightened up when his bedroom door opened and Kory stepped outside. Had Dick not been expecting it, he would’ve stood there frozen. He almost did anyway, despite the amount of photos Kory had sent him, with dress after dress, as she’d hunted for the ‘right’ one.

It was deep purple and sleeveless with a sweetheart neckline, reaching down to Kory’s shins. All in all, it was a simple dress, elegant and formal. Dick couldn’t take his eyes off Kory, but he had to.

“You look beautiful,” he told her honestly.

Kory smiled. “Thank you,” she said. Her eyes glowed green as she took him in. “You look lovely, as always, though a little colourless.” She reached out and handed him a flower. “It’s a dendrobium orchid,” Kory told him. “The same shade as the dress. So we can match.”

“Like prom?” Dick teased, though his heart was pounding so loudly in his chest that he was surprised no one else could hear it. Was Tim still even here?

“I have never been to prom.” It was an old line, one that filled Dick with nostalgia.

He tucked the flower into his breast pocket, putting in a little too much focus on getting it in there without the petals falling off or getting crumpled for this to feel anywhere near normal. “Neither have I,” he responded, and by the look on Kory’s face, she felt the weight of the past too.

There was a moment’s pause, and then Tim was clearing his throat loudly. “Guys, c’mon. We should go downstairs.”

“I think we’re traumatising him,” Kory murmured to Dick as they made their way down the stairs.

“Y’know what, after the conversation I just had with Tim, he definitely deserves it,” Dick responded. “Besides, if we’d traumatised Jason a little more, we might not even be in this mess.”

“Or if we’d traumatised him a little less—”

“We never traumatised him!”

“Traumatised who?” Bruce said, appearing out of nowhere. “You two look good together. Koriand’r, you look lovely. Can I get a photo?”

Dick narrowed his eyes at Bruce in suspicion, even as Kory agreed and practically dragged him to the centre of the staircase. Had Tim somehow gotten Bruce in on this, too?

“Dick,” she muttered. “Act natural. You’re terrible at this.”

I’m terrible at this?” he muttered back through a tight lipped smile. “My entire family is acting insane.”

They,” she said through unmoving lips, looking much more natural than Dick had probably been, “are better at this fake dating than you are, and they aren’t even the ones doing the dating.”

The flash went off, and Dick turned to face Kory. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking up into her eyes. “I’ve been… not the best fake date. I should at least be showing you a good time.”

“I’ve been having a good time. I’m with you, aren’t I? And we’re friends. It just seems like you aren’t. Having a good time, that is.”

“Kory, being with you is the easiest thing in the world.”

These weren’t words meant to be spoken out in the open like this. Or at least, Dick wasn’t the type to say them like this, murmuring them quietly in the hopes that Bruce and Tim, only a few metres away fiddling with the camera, didn’t hear them.

Kory looked away. “Don’t say that,” she murmured. “Not like this. Not after… not after everything.”

“I mean it,” Dick said, unable to leave the conversation where it was. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bruce and Tim practically tiptoeing their way into the dining hall. “Doesn’t matter if we’re dating or friends or what. Being with you, whatever the situation, just… it makes everything better.”

Kory looked at him searchingly for a moment, a long moment, before she placed a hand on his cheek. Dick held his breath as she leaned in and gently kissed his cheek. “I love you too,” was all she said, before following after Bruce and Tim into the next room.

Dick was alone in the hall, alone for what felt like the first time since they’d arrived here. Their absence felt like a tangible presence around him.

Dick took in a breath and was about to follow, when there was a series of taps on the front door, and then the sound of someone trying a key. He stood there, frozen, but only for a moment. Jason. It could only be Jason. He must’ve parked in the Cave and then circled back around – he probably hadn’t wanted to venture so deep into the Manor, or maybe he hadn’t wanted to enter Bruce’s study, not when he was barely okay with entering the house. But there were no reporters here, this far into the Manor grounds; it’d be fine.

Jogging slightly, Dick ran to open the door, shoes squeaky and slipping on the marble floor. He opened the tall wooden doors just as Jason had turned the key.

“Hey,” Dick said, taking him in. “Your timing is perfect. We were just going in to eat. No awkward conversation necessary, not unless you count dinnertime small talk.”

Jason huffed a small laugh, standing there fidgeting awkwardly. It was clear he hadn’t known quite what to wear – or he had, and then decided he didn’t want to deal with the stiffness of a tux or dress pants. He had on slacks and a collared shirt, which was more than Dick had expected. He knew that Alfred and Bruce – or anyone else – wouldn’t give a damn about what Jason chose to wear, just grateful that he’d shown up at all. Grateful that he was here, both at the dinner and in the land of the living.

Dick remembered back to three years ago, Tim new in his position as Robin and the three of them, Dick and Bruce and Alfred, still freshly grieving Jason. That Dick would’ve given anything, anything, to know that it would all be okay, that Jason would one day be okay.

And he would’ve given anything to wrap Jason up in one more hug. So Dick, Dick in the present time, did just that. He yanked Jason in through the doorway and closed it behind them, and then, hand still on Jason’s shoulder, he wrapped his brother in a tight embrace.

Jason let out a muffled noise of bewilderment, struggling slightly in Dick’s grip like he’d always used to do, before he grumbled something in Dick’s ear that made Dick laugh, and gingerly hugged back.

“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it,” Dick commented, trying to lighten the mood and hide the fact that his eyes were wet.

“I could have you on the floor before you draw in another breath,” Jason said. “Happy birthday, Dickhead. God, you’re so fucking old now. Quarter of a century.”

This time when Jason moved back, Dick let him out of the hug. And then he instantly had a square box, wrapped with shiny black paper and tied with multicoloured neon ribbons, shoved at him.

 

 Jason Todd going to give Dick Grayson a present for his birthday

 

Dick blinked. “You didn’t have to get me anything,” he said, staring down at it. “You being here is, like, the rest of my life’s present quota all filled up.”

Jason shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll remember that for next year,” he said. “Open it before you go in.” And with that, he disappeared into the side door, probably intending to head to the kitchen and see Alfred before greeting the rest of the family.

Dick watched him go, and then stepped into the hallway and up towards his room. Now that Jason was here, he shouldn’t dawdle, but he wanted to open it in private. He closed the door behind him and placed it on the little table by the corner of the room, hands working quickly to undo the wrapping as quickly as possible without ripping it, though he very much wanted to.

Inside was a replica of the Nightwing insignia that he wore on his chest, though this one looked like it would just fit over the breastplate. Dick picked it up carefully and turned it around, examining it. It folded open to make the entirety of the stripe of blue across his chest, tapering off when it got to where he assumed his collarbones were. A piece of paper fell out of the back; even at a glance, Dick could see the schematics on it, along with what appeared to be an instruction manual.

A taser. Jason had built him a giant taser in case anyone tried to touch him after he was knocked out, like the one he had in his suit. Dick stared at it for a moment too long, a giant lump in his throat. And then he swallowed hard and put it back in the little box it had come in, and walked back downstairs.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

There was strained chatter going on when he stepped into the room; Bruce and Jason looked visibly relieved when Dick entered. They’d left a spot for him opposite Kory. Tim was next to him, with Bruce at the head of the table and Alfred at the other end, and Jason, for better or worse, positioned opposite Tim.

Tim at least was holding strong, and Jason just seemed intent on not making eye contact with anyone except Alfred. He was speaking with the older man in hushed undertones, while Tim was leaning half into Dick’s empty chair to talk with Kory about something to do with the team.

“Sorry to keep you all waiting,” Dick said as he slipped into his chair.

“No need to apologise,” Bruce said easily. “I just wish I’d had the foresight to give you your present before we all sat down.”

“My present.” Dick narrowed his eyes. “A… weapon upgrade? Suit upgrade? An attempt at an apartment upgrade?”

Bruce speared a piece of steak with his fork and didn’t answer.

“Clothing? Something sentimental – though you’re really bad at that… did someone help you? Tim?” Dick whirled around towards Tim, who looked like a deer caught in the headlights at the sudden interrogation.

“Don’t look at me,” he said with a full mouth, resulting in both Alfred and Bruce chastising him from both ends of the table. Tim glared at Dick. “It may be your birthday, but I’m not above changing all your security codes.”

“Hey, what did I do?”

Maybe it was just easier to fall back on trying to keep everyone distracted with his antics, though Dick was definitely not used to doing it to keep Tim and Jason apart, and field any questions Kory might get.

But the moment Dick had spooned a mouthful of food and was busy chewing, Bruce leapt in. “So, Kory,” he said. “What have you been up to since we last saw you? Dick, really, you should bring her around more often.”

Dick contemplated the pros and cons of sticking his fork into Bruce’s thigh. “You know how it is,” he said. “We’re both so busy we barely get time to see each other.”

“Living in two cities is certainly an issue,” Kory said. “I’ve begun volunteering at a local community centre. Donna was doing photography to raise awareness for it, and I would go with her most days, and they needed the extra help.”

Alfred nodded in approval. “Yes, I imagine it’s very fulfilling work,” he said.

Dick hadn’t expected Alfred to be on his side of things, but he’d never been more relieved that he was. When he caught Alfred’s eye, he gave the man a grateful smile and nod, and Alfred responded in turn with a twinkle in his eye.

Jason was silent the entire meal, as though he was just listening and digesting all that was going on around him. How must it feel, Dick wondered, to suddenly be placed right back into a family that you’d left years ago? With Kory here, it surely couldn’t be that far removed from what Jason remembered. But to Jason, did it feel as though everything was stuck in time, almost as he’d left it? Or could he see all the little cracks in the mortar, the ways in which they’d all tried to move on and fallen short?

After dinner, Bruce took Dick downstairs to the Cave. Not being given any explicit instructions to not follow, Tim and Jason joined them, while Kory signalled to Dick that she was going to stay upstairs and talk to Alfred.

Alfred would like that, Dick knew. The old man had taken a little bit of time to get used to Kory – though Dick suspected it was more the idea of Kory, the idea of him dating anyone, much like it’d been with Bruce in the early months – but once he had, he and Kory would chat for longer than Dick did with him on visits where they both stayed at the Manor.

“Were any of my guesses right?” Dick asked as they descended down the stairs to the Cave.

“You’ll see,” Bruce replied cryptically.

“You’re enjoying this,” Dick said in mock accusation. It was getting more and more difficult to stay between Tim and Jason and not let either of them know what he was doing, but he was determined that they’d have at least this one positive normal interaction.

“Of course I am. I’ve been planning this for years.”

“Years?” Dick repeated, voice quieter.

Bruce led them over to a sheet covered car at the edge of the garage space in the Cave. “I was going to have it parked outside, but with this weather, I figured it’d be better down here.”

“Oh no,” Dick said.

“Oh, yes,” Jason said with relish.

“What?” Tim looked between the two of them, brow furrowing. “I thought it fit Dick’s aesthetic nicely. Please don’t tell me you spent you know how much on a prank.”

“I wouldn’t call it that, Tim,” Bruce said. “More like… a moral lesson. Be careful what you wish for, and how annoying you are.”

“B!” Dick squawked. “I was a kid!”

 “If Jason remembers it, then clearly you weren’t,” Tim pointed out. “Can we unveil it already? This place smells funky when it rains.”

Jason clicked his fingers and pointed at Tim, and Tim just barely restrained himself from moving his head back. “See?” he said to Bruce. “Even he smells it.”

“Don’t bother,” Tim told Jason glumly, the first time he’d spoken to him since Jason had arrived. “He’s deeper in denial than this cave is.”

“I’ve half a mind to send you two upstairs,” Bruce said with a frown.

“I hypothesised that all the training he did in the sewers fucked with his olfactory system,” Jason said to Tim. “But the old man wouldn’t let me test it him.”

“I said the same thing!”

“Hey, you said you wanted them to bond,” Dick said to Bruce. “What better way for siblings to bond than to complain about a parent?”

Bruce only grunted, but he didn’t look as put out as Dick knew he could be. Finally undoing the ties that held the sheet over the object in place, Bruce nodded to Dick. Dick took in a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut, pulling off the cover in one smooth go.

And there, sitting in the Cave, was the ugliest car Dick had ever seen. “You really did it,” he said in horror. “I can’t believe you. I’m just glad you didn’t include the face part.”

It was a Volkswagen Beetle Foxy, and it technically could’ve been a gorgeous hunk of metal, had it not been for the faded orange of the exterior. Bruce smiled, an expression that Dick was slowly starting to associate with evilness, and said, “Don’t be so sure.”

Tim was poking his head inside the window, muttering under his breath. Suddenly, he reared back and almost tripped over Bruce’s feet. “That’s terrifying. How’s it worse than the photo was?”

Jason and Dick instantly looked inside. There, imprinted onto the car seats, were some extremely realistic depictions of Dick’s face. Dick slumped against the car, upper body still hanging inside.

“Bruce,” he moaned. “What do you expect me to even do with this?”

Bruce hummed a little. “I didn’t paint your face on the car doors like you suggested because I thought this might be more driveable.”

Jason was frowning. “Dickbreath is short, so he probably won’t have any trouble fitting, but normal people won’t – or Kory, for that matter.”

“This is an actual car, Jay,” Bruce said.

“Yeah, Jay.” Dick elbowed him in the ribs, surprised when Jason practically bent over in half; he hadn’t expected him to still be ticklish. “Just ‘cause you got huge and won’t fit in this… god, I can’t even tell if I should call it a masterpiece or a monstrosity.”

“It can be both,” Tim said. “It’s definitely an antique. Is it haunted?” Turning to Jason, he asked, “Can you see ghosts still?”

“With his neon vision?” Dick asked, peering at Jason. Jason stared back, unblinking and very put out. Why did everything seem to be coming back to ghosts, all of a sudden?

’Still’?” Bruce repeated.

“Hey, Jay, you ever feel anything crawling on you?”

“What?” Jason frowned. “No. Why?”

Dick shrugged. “Raven has a theory that the resurrection energy on Donna might be leaking out and reanimating really small stuff around her. Like bugs.”

“What?”

Bruce was studying Jason suddenly, scanning his body. “Jason, have you experienced anything that might be like what Dick is suggesting?”

“Bruce, don’t tell me you actually believe this crap he’s shovelling!”

“Maybe Jason isn’t leaking resurrection energy,” Tim said with a shrug. “Maybe his all leaked out into the Lazarus Pit.”

Jason stared at the three of them. “I’m going back upstairs, where the normal people are.” And with that, he turned on his heel and stalked towards the entrance of the Cave.

“Yeesh,” Dick commented, still examining the car. “You’d think he’d say thank you for the heads-up. What if he woke up one day and there was a cockroach in his ear?”

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

“Thank you,” Kory said that night, when Dick handed her a spare pair of sleepwear. The storm was too bad for them to drive home, and Alfred wouldn’t hear of Kory trying to fly in it. “Dick…”

“You take the bed,” Dick said to her, “and I’ll go sleep in Tim’s room. I’ve shared a bed with him loads of times; it’ll give us a chance to catch up.”

“We’ve shared a bed plenty of times,” Kory said, looking down at the clothes in her hand. “Even after our relationship ended.”

Dick chewed on the inside of his mouth, unsure of what to say. “You don’t think it’d be… weird? Since we’re… y’know, pretending to be dating?”

Kory gently placed the clothes by the edge of the bed. Dick didn’t know how he felt it, but he knew, somehow, that this wasn’t going to be a conversation.

“I need to apologise,” Kory began. “About… the circumstances around our breakup.”

Dick frowned. “Kory, it was… about as mutual a breakup as you could get.” He let out a little laugh. “Hell, it was so mutual, we didn’t even need to talk about it.”

“Not about that,” Kory murmured. “Let me explain.” When Dick nodded, she cleared her throat, as though vying for courage, and continued, “I told you that I began volunteering at a community centre a while back. What I didn’t tell you was that the group I mostly work with are people who have escaped domestic violence. It… You know my history with abuse, with assault. I fear… in the past, my history with rape led me to diminish yours.”

Dick stopped breathing. There could only be one thing Kory was talking about, but that… he’d accepted it, accepted the fact that she might never see it in that light, because their experiences of assault and rape were so very different from each other’s. But other times, he’d lain in bed, wondering and trying so very hard not to imagine, just how it’d be for her – for the team – to understand, to no longer be a cheater in their eyes.

He couldn’t deal with this, not now. Not like this.

Kory was still speaking, looking at him with that warmth that’d been a gaping hole in his life for so many years. “I have much to make up for, I know that—”

Dick shook his head, because this? This he was certain of. “You have nothing to make up for,” he said, speaking through numb lips and hoping he could get this one message out, before his brain gave out on him altogether. “Kory, you have nothing to be sorry for. It was… we were kids. We didn’t know shit. I don’t blame you, for anything.”

“We may have been young,” Kory said quietly. “But that does not excuse my reaction, nor the others’. Especially not after all we had seen. We—” She forcibly stopped herself, shaking her head slightly. “But that’s a discussion for another time. What I wished to say tonight is… I hadn’t thought about her, not in a long time. It was only after we started this whole thing, this pretence, that I looked back on it and realised just how much of a fool I was. For more than one thing.”

Dick forced himself to breathe. “What’re you saying?”

Kory stood up. When Dick didn’t move back, or outwardly react, she hesitantly took a step towards him. “Dick, I still love you. I never stopped loving you. I still… it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as happy – as carefree, as young – as I have with you these last few weeks. I want to try again. And I think you do, as well.”

Dick was stepping backwards before he could even begin to process her words. “Kory, no,” he said desperately. “We just got back to being friends with each other, to being close. And we were having issues even before Mirage happened. You say that now, but we’ve barely spent time together – Donna’s always been the buffer between us, or Jason, or my family. If we start dating again, you’ll remember all the reasons we broke it off, and I don’t know if I can—” He broke himself off, running a hand over his face. Wetness smeared against his palm; when had he started crying? “I can’t do this, not right now.”

He didn’t run towards the door, but it was a near thing. His vision was blurring as he stepped outside. The hallway was dimmed, only a table lamp lit. It was enough light to show the figure that stood frozen just outside Dick’s door.

Dick’s stomach dropped right down to his toes, travelling down into the mortar of the foundations beneath him and sinking farther still. He couldn’t deal with this, not now. He pulled his gaze from Jason’s shellshocked face and slipped past him, not caring about where he was going, just that he wanted to be alone.

His feet carried him through the familiar halls, treading a path subconsciously known to him. Dick could hear his breathing coming in harsh inhales and wet exhales, but the house was mostly asleep now. He was definitely far away enough from the bedrooms that they wouldn’t hear him.

When Dick blinked away the moisture in his vision, he almost groaned at the room his feet had led him to. He was in Bruce’s office. The curtains were still a little parted, and the sound of rain pelting the glass drowned out everything else.

Dick nudged the door behind him with his foot, and stepped into the room. It smelled the same, that leather from the furniture and the cleaner that Alfred used all over the house. But Bruce’s office had always smelled different to Dick, somehow. Maybe it was from all the times he’d hid under Bruce’s desk, or the times when he’d crept in here to have some company when Bruce was up late.

Instead of going to the couch and sitting there like a normal person, Dick gave in to the urge to sink down to the floor and crawl under the high backed chair until he was in the little cranny beneath the solid structure of the desk. There he drew his knees in tight and buried his head in his chest. He wished he could go home, so he could lose it in the comfort and safety of his own apartment.

Hadn’t this been what he’d always wanted? Hadn’t he, even all those years ago reeling from what Mirage had done, and how everyone around him had reacted, wanted nothing more than for someone – even one person, among all those friends, his girlfriend – to understand?

But regardless, Kory deserved better. She deserved better than the duct-taped mess that Dick was trying to build a life out of. And she deserved someone who hadn’t gotten so many of his friends – teammates – killed, someone who hadn’t gotten a whole city blown up. It didn’t matter that Dick loved Kory, had never stopped loving her – didn’t know how to stop loving her, didn’t know who he was without loving Kory. That didn’t matter because love didn’t always matter.

The kneecaps on his sweats were wet. Dick rubbed his eyes against them again, trying in vain to get his body to stop producing so many tears. All it did was smear the wetness on his face; he was going to have red eyes in the morning, and Bruce and Alfred and Kory would all know he’d been crying.

Normally, if he was here alone, he’d just sneak out before anyone else woke up, as early as he could. He wouldn’t sleep at night, just lie in wait until the rain stopped. No, scratch that, Dick thought; if he were here alone, he wouldn’t be in this mess.

But he couldn’t blame Kory for it, not when he’d been waiting to hear those words for… almost a decade now. It wasn’t her fault that he was having a reaction like this; hell, even Dick had no idea why he was having a reaction like this.

That was when he heard footsteps approaching. Bruce. He’d recognise that pace anywhere. Dick clamped a hand over his mouth, trying to calm his breathing and silence his very unhinged sobbing, but something about being in the Manor, hiding under Bruce’s desk, made him feel all the more like a child again.

“Dick?” Bruce said his name in an undertone, not coming any closer and not turning on the lights. He remembered, then, Dick thought. It’d taken only a couple of crying fests down here for Bruce to get a hang of what Dick wanted. “Jason sent me.”

That finally got his brain to still. “Jason sent you?” His voice sounded terrible, all scratchy and hoarse, made worse by his stuffed nose and the strange way sound bounced around in the little hollow nook he was in. “I thought he’d be mad for sure. Maybe run out of the house cursing the family and me and never wanting anything to do with us again.”

Maybe that’d been a little too pessimistic, he reflected, when Bruce didn’t say anything for a moment.

“Would you like company?” Bruce finally said. He didn’t sound as awkward as Dick remembered from his childhood years. Had Jason, perhaps Tim, also hid in places like this?

Dick sighed. “Why not,” he said, and then automatically shifted to make room, because when Bruce asked him if he wanted company, Bruce typically intended to join Dick beneath the desk. He blinked a few more times when he realised just how cramped the space was. “I don’t think we’ll both fit here anymore, though.”

“I’ll sit out here, then.” Bruce moved the chair a little away, and his knees clicked as lowered himself, leaning against the row of drawers and facing the wall. Dick was suddenly, overwhelmingly, glad. “Something happen with you and Jay?”

Dick shook his head. “Kory says she wants to date again, for real this time. Jay just… overheard the conversation.”

It’d been one of the perks of having a parental figure who was only about a decade older than you – Dick had only stopped sharing details about his romantic life with Bruce after Jason had died, and he’d… well, after he’d been kicked out. But Kory had been well before that. It felt natural, normal, for him to be open about this.

Bruce hummed. “I never asked you,” he said, “why the two of you ended things. It seemed like all of a sudden you were dating Barbara.”

Dick scrubbed at his eyes with the palms of his hands. “It’s complicated,” he said. “And I’d rather not talk about it.”

“But you’ll talk about it to someone?”

Dick remembered Clancy, how he’d been so close to finally verbalising even a little of all this, and nodded in the darkness. “Yeah,” he said, and realised he actually meant it. “I have someone.”

Bruce exhaled. “Good,” he said, awkwardly reaching back till he found Dick’s bare foot, and patting it. “That’s good.”

They sat quietly like that for a moment, before Dick sighed and shuffled out. “Aren’t you gonna sleep?” he asked, nudging Bruce to make room for himself against the drawers.

Bruce shrugged. “Aren’t you,” he responded. After a moment, he said, “Alfred prepared the guest room – the butterfly one – in case the two of you didn’t want to sleep together. It’s beside the one Jason’s staying in, but I thought you might prefer that to going back to yours. Or Tim’s. Though mine’s always an option.”

Dick slid down until his head was level with Bruce’s shoulder, and leaned against it. “You ever think,” he said, in lieu of response, “of how your life might’ve turned out if just one thing had been different. ‘Cause, for a while, the one thing was my parents. But lately, it’s like there’s a ‘big thing’ every couple months. What if the things that ended me and Kory hadn’t happened? What if I hadn’t moved to Bludhaven – it’s only destroyed because of me. It—”

“Stop,” Bruce said, voice firm. “Dick, there’s no point in going down that rabbit hole. Nothing good comes out of it. All it does is—is make you obsessed with the past, and stop you from looking at the future, from moving on. There’s nothing you can do to change what happened, so don’t go down that road. It’ll just consume you.”

Dick fiddled with the thick rug beneath them. “Y’know, I think I gave you this exact speech at one point or another.”

Bruce huffed a breath, and shifted his arm until it wrapped itself around Dick. “Then you should take your own advice.” Dick hadn’t realised how cold he was in just a thin T-shirt that had seen better days and feet sockless. He shivered a little, and the tears came once again, unbidden.

“Sorry,” he muttered, angrily swiping at his face. Bruce whipped out a handkerchief from somewhere and handed it to him – he was becoming scarily competent at this whole thing. “Hey, you sure you aren’t possessed or a clone? You never handled this as well as you are.”

Bruce started to make an indignant sound, then stopped, probably remembering, as Dick was, the numerous instances where he’d been utterly terrible at managing crying children (namely, himself) and their volatile emotions. “I’ve had a lot of practise since you were last in here,” he said. “Jason preferred the library, though. And Tim… well, I think he still hasn’t really fixated on a particular spot. I’ve found him in about three or four so far. Although it’s definitely a good thing Barbara’s handling Cassandra’s emotional needs.”

That’s right, Dick remembered distantly. The newest addition to their unit. Cassandra, the new Batgirl. Judging from what he’d heard about her from Babs, it was definitely a good thing that Bruce wasn’t trying to work out how to comfort her.

When Dick finally stood up, legs shaky and butt numb from the hardwood floor, Bruce said, “You know I’m always here to talk to, if you need to. I know I haven’t always been, but… I am now.”

Dick nodded, unsure of how to respond. “I know, B,” he said, and it may have even been entirely honest.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

He ended up in the Cave. It was cold and dank, and the air smelled musty, like it always did when the earth was especially wet. Dick remembered how much worse it’d been – or had seemed – when he’d come back to the Cave after being away at Titans Tower on weekends. Somehow, as a child, the oddness of Batman’s headquarters had never really registered, but when he’d returned from days spent in a (mostly) pristine building, the smell certainly had.

Dick had intended on going over some routines on the bars, but after the first round on them, he knew it wasn’t going to work. His body was too familiar with its motions, leaving far too much room for his brain to take over and dwell on things he didn’t want to.

He moved to the weights and doing floor work, intending on exhausting his mind into some peace and quiet. It was tiring work, that was certain, at the very least. Dick had slipped into a hoodie he’d found in the change rooms, but soon it became too drenched with sweat for him to keep on.

He wanted to date Kory again. He knew he did. He just didn’t know if the two of them knew how to take things slow anymore, not with the history they had together. He didn’t know if he was even capable of being in a relationship anymore, after how they all seemed to go.

But maybe, with time. With help. Maybe he’d go talk to Clancy again, see what she thought about this whole thing.

There was a clatter of footsteps on the staircase, and Dick jolted up from where he’d been getting his breath back, the bar of the weights suspended over his chest. When he realised who it was, he slumped back. Might as well get this over with.

At least he was too tired to start blubbering on Jason’s shoulder, like he had with Bruce.

“Is Kory okay?” he asked, when Jason came closer.

Jason stood at the edge of the training area, feet just touching the painted lines. “Just worried about you.”

Dick sighed. “She sent you to check up on me?”

“Nope,” Jason responded, hands tucked into his pockets and rocking back and forth on his heels a little. “Technically, I sent Bruce after you.”

Dick sat up. He didn’t want to be partially unclothed for this conversation, but he didn’t want to derail whatever was going to happen by pausing to grab a T-shirt from his stash of clothes down here. “I thought for sure you’d send either Tim or Alf.”

Jason shrugged. His face was still a blank mask that Dick couldn’t for the life of him read. Maybe Jason would only be mad at him, he thought. He could (eventually) deal with ruining his relationship with his brother, but he wouldn’t be able to handle knowing that he’d ruined things for the others. Bruce and Alfred didn’t deserve that. Not after how far they’d all come.

“The kid would probably have a heart attack if I broke into his room in the middle of the night,” Jason said. “And Alfred deserves to sleep in peace after how much trouble he went to tonight.”

“So B was the least shitty option.” Dick had to smile at that. He was about to open his mouth and say ‘hey, you remember that time when…’, but Jason wouldn’t thank him for reminiscing, not after how many lies Dick had told him. “Guess Kory told you everything.”

“She didn’t have to. I heard the juicy parts. She did, however, ask me not to be too hard on you.” Jason looked right at Dick for the first time since he’d come downstairs. “What I don’t get is why. What could you possibly get out of faking a relationship?”

Dick buried his head in his hands. “You’re gonna laugh. Or call me an idiot. Or both.”

“Not like I don’t already do that on a regular basis.”

“You remember that one time I was visiting the Manor, and Kory and I took you out for… I can’t even remember what it was. Ice cream, maybe. She had to leave early, so I took you back home. And in the car, you… you said, ‘you guys are so perfect together. If you ever break up, I’ll just stop believing in true love’.

Jason was staring at him. “Ice skating,” he muttered, glancing away to the side. “You guys took me to that ice rink by the theme park. Damn, I’d forgotten about that till now.” His eyes were glowing faintly green, but Dick couldn’t even bring up a dredge of worry. For the first time, he realised just how much it reminded him of Kory’s eyes. “Wait. You’re telling me you decided to fake dating Kory so I wouldn’t stop believing in true love?”

Dick shifted on the bench and didn’t say anything.

“Dick,” Jason said. “I mean this in the nicest way possible. What the fuck, man? I was maybe all of twelve when I said that—”

“Fourteen,” Dick muttered.

Jason waved a hand dismissively. “Yeah, fourteen, whatever. The point is, I died after that. If anything was gonna turn me away from love, it would probably be my mother turning me over to the Joker and getting both of us killed.”

Dick blinked, mouth parting a little. “What?” His legs urged him to move, to go and stand beside Jason, who all of a sudden looked so very lonely where he was standing, framed by the empty depths of the Cave, but he knew Jason wouldn’t appreciate that, either.

Jason blew out a breath, pacing a few steps. “Dunno why I told you that,” he muttered. “It’s not like I hold it against her. She didn’t even know me, y’know?”

Dick didn’t know what to say, but he was so very glad it was him here and not Bruce, who, for all the advancements he’d made in comforting and tact, was still terrible at it when it was personal. And this? To know that the woman who Jason had searched for, for so long, the reason he’d been in that warehouse, the reason he’d been in that country… was the reason he’d been killed? And so brutally at that, too. Bruce would probably have stormed out looking to punch something.

“Sometimes,” Dick began carefully, “parents are terrible people who don’t deserve the kids they had. Who make the wrong choices when it matters. Who don’t think about their kids. Your mother wasn’t… that woman–” drat, what was her name? “your mother was the woman who raised you, who loved you.”

Jason exhaled. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I know that. Trust me, I’ve had time to work through it. But,” he scrubbed a hand over his face, and paced back to where he’d been standing before, “my point was… maybe I don’t believe in love, not like I did before, when I was a kid, or the way I wanted to believe in it when I was chasing after Sheila. And this is gonna be rude—”

“Not that that’s ever stopped you from saying something before.”

Jason gave him the finger, and continued, “But you guys just aren’t that… consequential, in the grand scheme of everything else. Y’know? Maybe I would’ve been utterly devastated if you’d decided to break up and I’d just never gone through any of that, if my mother had died of things more out of her control or if Willis had just never been in the picture. But you two were younger than I am right now. If I think about it in those terms, it’s a miracle you lasted as long as you did.” He paused then. “Does that make you feel better?”

Dick made a noise in the back of his throat. He stood up, and the world teetered around him a little before he blinked it back into stability, and made his way over to Jason. “It actually does,” he said, before throwing an arm around Jason’s shoulders like he’d wanted to do ever since they began this conversation. “Jay, I had no idea.”

“Don’t go about telling people,” Jason muttered. “I’d rather Bruce and Alfred didn’t know.”

There were a million and one arguments that Dick could’ve given in response to that, but instead he just nodded. “I won’t.”

When he finally released Jason from the hug, Jason shifted his weight a little, just like he would when Dick had first started hugging him. It didn’t matter, Dick reasoned. He’d just have to get Jason used to hugs once more. This time would probably be easier. This time he probably didn’t risk a teenager biting his forearm and snapping his braces.

“So are you guys gonna get back together?” Jason asked, tone falsely casual.

Dick tried to shove him, purely out of habit, well beyond having any more serious conversations about himself for the rest of that day. It was about as effective as shoving a slab of concrete. “This is why you came and found me, isn’t it? For the inside goss.”

“Please. Who would I share my ‘inside goss’ with?”

“I dunno, Alfred? Bruce?”

Jason wrinkled his nose. “For what, another lecture on minding privacy and that gossiping is one of the darkest parts of society?”

Dick laughed aloud. “You got that lecture too?”

“Of course I did.” Jason frowned. “You’re telling me you got it? You gossiped?”

“I’d bring Bruce back all sorts of JLA gossip. I’d get a candy depending on how juicy it was. But then when Alfred caught on, he made us sit through a literal seminar – run entirely by him – about privacy and gossip and,” he squinted, trying to remember the exact wording that Alfred had used, “the immoralities of child labour to benefit one’s misguided attempts to manipulate their friends.”

Jason gave a low whistle. “Alfie doesn’t hold back his punches.”

“He does not.”

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.

Dick slept in the guest room that night, not wanting to talk to Kory without at least some sleep. All the crying and heightened emotions of that night had left him completely exhausted; he didn’t think he’d sleep at all, what with all the thoughts running through his head, but the moment he curled up under the covers he was out like a light.

Dick had set his alarm earlier than Alfred normally woke them for breakfast so he could talk to Kory before they had to go downstairs. Alfred would expect them to, with it being the weekend, and the two of them guests.

When he woke up, he could almost pretend the night – the entire day – before had been a long, strange dream.

But the words that Kory had spoken weren’t something he’d ever dream up. From the team, maybe, but not Kory, Kory who he’d never blamed or thought badly of or resented for her reaction to it all.

He hastily brushed his teeth using a spare toothbrush that Alfred had probably placed in the bathroom for Kory, and splashed water on his face to wake himself up. And then he took a deep breath and knocked on his bedroom door.

There was no response for a minute, and Dick’s mind quickly spiralled. She’s probably still asleep, he reasoned, trying to quash down the thought of her having left in the night after that disastrous conversation. She’d really only stayed because it’d be rude for her to leave after Alfred had insisted, even if she could safely fly back to her place; Dick wouldn’t blame her if that had all gone out the window (hah!) after everything.

He was just about to call her phone when the door opened to show Kory, still dressed in his sleep clothes and her hair tied.

“Dick.” Her voice sounded surprised, relieved.

“Hey,” Dick whispered. The speech (or rather, speeches, plural) suddenly vanished from his mind as he took in the sight of her. “Kory, I’m sorry.”

“Come inside.” She stepped away from the doorway, and once he’d followed her in, closed the door behind Dick. “Dick, I should be the one to apologise. I shouldn’t have sprung that on you like that. And I certainly should not have asked you about us.”

Impulsively, Dick reached out and gently took her hand between both of his own, rubbing his thumb over the back of it. Her skin was smooth, though not without its share of scars, and it fit in his just as perfectly as it always had. “It’s not your fault. It’s neither of our faults. I am sorry that I took off like that, though.”

She squeezed his hand, peering up at him. “I was worried. Though I didn’t mean for Jason to send Bruce after you.”

Dick snorted. “I didn’t expect it, either,” he said. “But he’s gotten better at the whole managing emotions thing.”

“I hope so.” Dick sighed, remembering all too well the qualms Kory had about Bruce. She would probably say that ‘qualms’ was too soft a word.

“About what you said…” Kory tugged on his hand and led them over to the little table in the corner, and Dick sank down in one of the cushioned chairs while Kory sat in the other. Their hands, still interlinked, rested on the table between them. “I don’t think I’d ever hear anyone say it.” Kory’s grip on his hand tightened, but she didn’t say anything, letting him continue. Dick took a deep breath. “I do appreciate – don’t think that I don’t. But Kory, I meant what I said about never blaming you, never resenting you. I’ve only ever loved you.” The grip on his hand was now almost painful, but Dick clutched back just as tight.

“What’re you saying?” Kory whispered, a mirror of his words from the previous night.

Dick shook his head, trying to dispel the heat in his eyes. “Just that I need time,” he said, smiling tightly. “I’ve been… not the healthiest, for a long time. For all of my adult life, probably. I don’t know how not to be who I am. And I don’t want to pull you down with me.”

“Dick, I’m not perfect, either. I had more than my share of… of baggage, of trauma, from before I even met you. If it’s because you’re afraid of–of it affecting me, some misguided attempt to try to shield me from it, then I can’t make you see things differently, but know that I don’t agree.” She took a deep breath. “And if you’re saying this because you… because you’re getting help, then I want to be with you every step of the way, if you’ll let me. If you want me to be.”

“I always want you with me. And I am, Kory. I just… give me time, please.”

Kory leaned forward, cupping his face with her spare hand. Dick subconsciously leaned into the heat of her touch; now, after mere weeks of being with her so much, he didn’t know how he’d lived without her for so long. “Of course,” she said. “Take as much time as you need.”

Dick shook his head. “No. No, you can’t promise me that,” he said. “You deserve to have a life. I won’t make you wait indefinitely—”

“You aren’t making me do anything,” Kory told him. “I want to. Do you think you would do any differently, if our roles were reversed?”

Dick looked at her searchingly, and slowly shook his head. “No,” he said. He swallowed down the words you deserve better and I’m poison and it’ll end badly because… hadn’t it already? Hadn’t they already been through the deaths of countless teammates, friends, and so much more, and here they were. So instead, what Dick said was, “okay,” and he smiled.

Line break art of Nightwing (very small) and Starfire (larger) holding hands.