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muscle memory

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The window is open. He left it that way this morning, barely cracked.

(The thing is. There’s a thing. It’s the wrong window. It was the living room window, but that’s closed. He didn’t close it.)

He closes the bedroom window, kicks his suit under the bed and crawls between the sheets. His pillow smells like sawdust and iron.


Roy says, “Don’t tell me you don’t have some kind of silent stinger lined up.”

“It wasn’t triggered.”

“But it should’ve been.”

“That would be the point, yes.”

“Spooky,” Roy says.

His laugh must sound half-assed at best. It feels that way. “Tell me.”

On the other side of his long-necked beer Roy looks amused. “You gonna tell the man in black your system crapped out on you?”

Dick stares him down.

Roy grins. “That’s what I thought.”

“Screw you,” Dick tells him.

“Thanks but no thanks, buddy, I’ve got a date.”

Dick throws the nearest couch cushion at him, thinks about pouring his beer over his head. Doesn’t.

(He wonders, a lot later, what would have happened if they’d gone ahead and fucked instead.)


The living room window is open all the way. He sits down on the couch. Runs a finger over the line of numbers carved into his coffee table, then he takes his gauntlets off and does it again.

Ten digits. They look like they should be familiar, but he can’t place them. And then he can.

He thinks why?


“What?” Barbara says. “You’ve been doing this on and off thing all night. Spill it.”

His throat is a door locked from the inside, but he’s good at unlocking things that don't want to open. Learned from the best and he remembers each and every muscle-cramping lesson. “I think,” he says slowly, “that I may be losing it.

“Don’t think, know. That happened a million years and a day ago, Dickie.”

“Yeah,” he says, “since the day I met you.”

She says, “You sweet talker you. You’ve got two on your eight and they’re sure they’ve got the drop. Make it count.”


There is one time that he still remembers writing it out. Sometimes he dreams he’s doing it. He dreams about a stupid, useless phone number sitting in a box on top of an equally stupid, useless uniform.

There are two versions. Sometimes he doesn’t get to the east end in time and there’s no one to give it to. Sometimes he forgets, he leaves it in his closet in Titans Tower until he finds it under a pile of dirty clothes and remembers.

He wakes up swimming in sweat and choking on saliva, and he can’t figure out why the second version is so much worse.


Amy lifts the sheet gingerly, says, “Someone’s got some impressive anger management issues.”

“It’s the weather,” Dick suggests. “Heat screws with body chemistry, makes people do stuff they wouldn’t normally.” She drops the sheet back into place.

“Possible. This is the third one of these in a week.” She nods at the body. “This guy used to beat up on his girlfriend and their kid. The others were a pimp who liked knives and a dealer who liked middle schools for his customer base. All of them beaten to death with, respectively, a tire iron, a hammer and a crowbar.”

“So Muller likes the same guy for all of them?”

“That’s the word.”


“New dude, yeah,” says Eddie Trinh. “Wears a mask kinda like yours, ‘cept it’s red. You know Marco’s place? Dude beat the shit out of some assholes trying to come down on a couple of the regulars.”


Eddie scratches his stomach under his t-shirt, squints thoughtfully at the sky. “Last week, Tuesday maybe? I dunno, man, shit happens all the time, you know?”

He knows. Last Tuesday was the bedroom window. He goes home and it’s open again.


The next corpse isn’t a corpse yet, trussed up and left like some screwed up gift in the mouth of an alley along one of his regular nighttime routes. That man dies, but the next one doesn’t.

Amy says, “It’s like reverse training the cat from hell.”

Dick says, “What?”

“They leave half-dead presents all over the place too.”


He sands the coffee table down and revarnishes, leaves it on the roof to air out. Monday evening the numbers are scrawled across the living room wall in red.

He pulls out his cell phone and stares at it.

He puts it away.


Eventually, the numbers even out. He gets lucky. Once is all it takes.

He yells, “Hey!” and the guy on the edge of the roof turns. He sees the domino and the white edge of a grin just before the guy jumps.

He says, “Damn it,” and starts his run.


Clancy stops him on the landing, her hand on his arm. “You look like crap,” she says, frowning. “What the hell have you been doing to yourself?”

Dick hefts the paint canister he’s carrying for her inspection. “Spring cleaning?” he says.

She folds her arms and raises one eyebrow. “It’s bloody August.”

“I know, right?” he says. “I think the brownouts are getting worse, what do you think?”

Her eyes narrow and she leans forward and plants a thin, hard finger in the middle of his chest. “I think you’ve been avoiding me, Grayson. That’s not going to work out well for you.”

He says, “This weekend, I promise.” He fumbles the door open behind him and tumbles through it, grateful in his exhaustion.


He couldn’t get the drop on him. Red domino couldn’t leave him behind. It was—

His bedroom door is mostly closed. He pushes it open and stops, fingers splayed across painted wood.

(It was like pacing Bruce, Barbara, Tim, himself.)

Jason Todd is asleep on top of his comforter. There’s a knife under his hand and his boots are gritty on the comforter and Jason is dead and he is asleep on Dick’s bed.

Dick turns and walks out; he closes the door and sits down with his back to it. He puts his head between his knees and he doesn’t call Bruce.

He doesn’t call Bruce.

He doesn’t call Bruce.

He changed at the garage but he still needs to clean up. He leaves the door closed behind him.


His bedroom is empty when he gets out of the shower. His sheets smell like sweat and motorcycle exhaust and talcum powder. He strips the blankets off and sleeps on a bare mattress without a pillow and if he dreams he doesn’t remember.


Another body. This one’s still alive, barely. He watches them load it into an ambulance while Jason’s breath warms the back of his neck.

Jason’s hands settle on Dick’s hips. He says, “I remember your fucking phone number, but I can’t remember her face. Talia had to find me a picture.” His voice is muffled and his hands are clenching and there are other kinds of hands living inside Dick’s chest, under his ribcage. Fingers grown into his ribs, spreading them apart, spreading and stretching. Jason says, “I’ve got somewhere to be,” and one of the hands uncoils from Dick’s ribs. It makes a fist and punches through his diaphragm and it reaches up and grabs him by the throat, shaking him, shaking something out of him.



“I could come up this weekend,” Tim says.

“No.” Too short, too fast, and Tim knows him a little too well. He tries again. “Sorry, kiddo, ten to one I’ll be in New York. Rain check?”

“Um,” Tim says, “Sure?”

Jason strolls through, towel around his hips, Dick’s toothbrush dangling from the corner of his mouth, and disappears into the kitchen. Dick hears him open the fridge.

“Dick?” Tim says. He says it tentatively, like it’s not the first time he’s said it. “Are you all right?”

“Always,” Dick says. “Hey, I’ll call you back next week, we’ll catch an evening train or something.”

“Or something,” Tim says, dryly. Dick laughs so he doesn’t have to hear Jason rinsing his mouth out in the kitchen sink, so he doesn’t have to think about Jason’s clean new skin and red scars barely newer than the skin they’re holding together.


Jason kicks Dick repeatedly in the shin until Dick puts the piece of his suit he’s repairing aside and looks at him. “So, new Robin,” says Jason. “Or should I say tiny stalker freak, and what in the wide, wild world of sports was Bruce thinking there?” He’s looking sideways at Dick through his eyelashes. He has really long eyelashes. (So does Dick. So does Tim. Sometimes (often) Dick wonders what the hell Bruce is thinking.)

Jason’s been spending a lot of time with the laptop he got from an al Ghul. It’s something else to worry about. “Who sent you the images,” Dick says, doesn’t ask.

“You miss on the bat voice, but good show, bro!” Jason slouches farther down the couch, says, “Talia’s playing me.” He smirks. “It doesn’t necessarily follow that she’s wrong about Bruce.”

And Dick can’t—he can’t—

He never called him Jay. That was on Bruce and sometimes Barbara.

He says it now, “Jay,” and it feels real in his mouth. Too easy. He says, “Where are you going with this?” and Jason smiles, sweet and open, wide open blue eyes without a mask.

“I’m gonna kill Joker, Dickie,” he says. “Barb’s in a chair.” He cocks his head, still smiling. “What did you think I was gonna do?”


That first time with the window, he should have commed Bruce. He should have told Babs about the phone number. He should have warned Tim.

“Shoulda, coulda, woulda,” Jason laughs against his ear. “Come on, man, you’re boring me. Make a fucking move.” But he’s the one who makes it, pushes Dick down onto the couch and climbs him like a tree.

Dick can’t breathe through the weight, the actual heat of him. Jason hangs over him and he’s inundated with him; he can’t push out words he doesn’t have.

Jason looks at him, head tilted, and sits up. He straddles Dick’s hips, squeezes with his thighs, and Dick grabs the couch cushions for something to hold onto. “Did he actually fuck you?” Jason says. “Is that what’s got your little blue boy next door knickers in a knot?”

(Did he fuck you? It's all about emphasis.)

Dick breathes. He flails out and grabs, he yanks and they go down in a tangle of arms and legs over the side of the couch onto the floor.

Jason rolls with it. He pulls Dick on top of him, pulls him in with his legs. “Fuck me,” he says, breathless, laughing. “Gee, Dickiebird, I didn’t figure you’d need an expositional diagram telling you how to hold me down and screw my brains out.” He’s grinning, looks like he wants to take a bite out of Dick and then take another, and Dick wants… god, he just wants a piece of this kid, wants it to own.

“I’m not—”

“Yeah?” Jason’s still grinning. He presses his heel into the small of Dick’s back and shoves, hard. “Come on, baby, say it, I double dog dare you, come on.”

Dick says, strangled, “I’m not him, god damn it, Jay,” and drops. He falls into him and he doesn’t hit bottom.


Jason laughs into his neck, laughs and laughs and bites down.

“Ow,” Dick mumbles.

“You’re a pretty, pretty moron,” Jason says, hands in and through Dick’s hair. He says, “You couldn’t be him on your best day. Why do you think I’m here?” He bites Dick’s ear, gently. Dick bites him back hard.


Jason fucks like it’s the last thing he’ll ever do. He fucks like he has to, like he means it, every time. (And Dick doesn’t, he can’t think about what that means.)

He fucks like sex is a battle and Dick is the war he has to win and he likes it best when Dick gives him a good fight. Dick likes giving him one. He likes never knowing where he’s going to end up, on top or bottom or some undefined in between. Life moves fast and he’s always moved faster, but Jason moves faster than anything he knows. He’s amazed by it and more than a little in love with it. (Him.)

It’s not… this, Jason wasn’t something he ever thought about back then, not like this. He didn’t know enough to want it then but he has it now. He has Jason.


“I’ve got some things to take care of,” Jason says. His head is on Dick’s thigh; he tips his head back to look at him. “Can’t do them here.” Then he says, “Shit, your face. Bet that's how you looked when I bought it.”

Dick says, “You’ll have to ask Bruce that one,” leans down and kisses him quiet.


He turns his face into Jason’s hair, says, “Not Tim. Okay? Just leave him alone.”



“Unless he gets monumentally stupid he’s off my radar,” Jason yawns. “I don’t know where the fuck your brain goes, sometimes.” Dick can feel him grinning against his skin. He says, “Go to sleep. You’re getting up at five, Officer, and I’ve got places to do, upstanding citizens to traumatize.” His mouth grazes Dick’s temple. “Shut that grey crap pretending to be a brain off, you're not doing yourself any favors," he adds, slurred, his breathing already evening out.

Dick closes his eyes.

(He knows who’s giving it and who’s taking it this time out.)


Jason says, “Put the sloppy dog eyes away, you’re embarrassing yourself.” He rolls his eyes. “So maybe I’ll come back.”

Dick says, “You better.”


New York isn’t better or worse than the Haven. It’s bigger. It has more crime, more people, more opportunities for both success and failure. It’s the Haven magnified by a thousand and the only noteworthy differences between the days he spends there and the days he spends at home are his team and the excellence and volume of available food.

There’s a great Portuguese bakery down and around the corner from his building. He goes there most mornings he’s in town and he goes this morning, takes his time walking there and back.

Gina waves at him from the security stand when she buzzes him in. He rattles his bag at her and she grins, says, “You just love showing me what I can’t have.”

He says, “I’ll bring you one tomorrow,” and ducks around Ms. Charis and into the lift before she can respond to his, “Good morning.” The place is a loft; he’s the only one on the top floor and as the lift slows to a stop he pushes the gates clear and pauses, head tilted back.

The skylight is open.