Dick had done some hard things before. He’d fought the Joker, took on Deathstroke, dealt with the deaths of friends and family…he’d watched the murder of his parents and became Batman when they had all thought Bruce dead. Yes, he’d gone through some hard things and he’d always prevailed, but this…this was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do.
Acting like nothing had happened between him and Jason was a struggle. Especially when Jason was sleeping just a few doors down from him in the manor. After not seeing him for months, all Dick wanted to do was rush into the other bird’s room, pull him into his arms, and never let go. He wanted to kiss him; to fall on his knees and beg for forgiveness. He’d do anything, anything at all, if it meant righting his wrongs but Jason didn’t seem interested in reconciliation.
It’d taken Dick all night to get the courage to even utter one word to his former lover. He’d been looking for Jason since arriving at the Christmas Ball but hadn’t spotted him until the red bird had begrudgedly come down the stairs with Alfred tailing him. Dick’s heart had literally ached at seeing the other man again. He’d been thinking of nothing and no one else since the Red Hood’s disappearance all those months ago.
Jason had looked tiered. There’d been dark lines under his eyes and his skin was slightly paler than Dick remembered it being, but over all the other man had looked good; healthy, even. Jason’s black hair with the white streak had been parted down the middle and his bangs hung slightly above those ethereal blue-green eyes that Dick loved so much. The suit that Alfred had no doubt picked out for Jason hugged his body in just the right way. It’d been so long since Dick had seen Jason in a tux that he’d forgotten just how delectable he looked in one.
Jason didn’t clean up often, but when he did he was the most alluring creature on the planet. Really, he could have had any guy or girl he wanted. Dick had seen women practically throw themselves at the second Robin’s feet. He knew that even Talia Al Ghul had fallen for the other boy’s charms.
Jason was a treasure and when Dick had been entrusted with him he’d dropped him. He’d been an idiot to throw everything he and Jason had away over a girl. No amount of begging or tears would ever make what he did right. Really, he didn’t blame Jason. He didn’t think that Jason had over reacted at all. If anything, he felt that Jason had underreacted.
Dick felt that he hadn’t deserved the mercy Jason had given him by only shooting him in the shoulder. That bullet should have been a little lower and to the right. Even then, the pain he would have felt before his death would have been less than the pain he felt now. But it was pain he deserved.
He didn’t deserve to hold Jason after what he’d done. He especially didn’t deserve to be held by Jason. He was lucky that Jason had even agreed to come back to the manor. He should be happy that he at least got to see the other bird for the holidays.
Still, lying in bed that night, after the Wayne annual Christmas Ball, all Dick could think about was how Jason was alone in his big bed down the hall. He fought the urge to get up and check on his little wing for three hours before he gave up with a growl. Jason had gone to bed hours before he himself had retreated from the party so it should have been safe for him to peek a glance at him through the crack of his door.
Of course, Dick had forgotten about the lose floorboard in front of Jason’s door. The floor board that was never loose except when Jason was there. He’d always wondered how the other boy got away with loosening the board without getting a lecture from Alfred. In Dick’s opinion, Alfred’s lack of response to the loose board was only further proof that Jason was his favorite. Of course the old butler would never admit such a thing.
Dick winced as his foot touched the loose board and a creak that sounded too loud in the otherwise quiet hall was made. He stared at Jason’s door, expecting it to fly open and for the other boy to be standing on the other side angrily, but nothing happened. Slowly, he reached out and turned the doorknob as quietly as he possibly could. If he hadn’t already woken Jason then he really didn’t want to do so.
When Dick pushed the door open he discovered that all his efforts to be quiet were in vain, for Jason wasn’t in his room at all. The main light was off but the bedside lamp cast a soft glow around the room. Jason’s red comforter was neatly pulled up and tucked like it hadn’t been slept under and the long drapes decorating the window were pulled to the side. Dick had a moment of panic as he realized that he room looked exactly like it did before Jason had arrived.
What if Jason had left already? He was supposed to stay through Christmas. He wouldn’t have left in the middle of the night without telling anyone, would he? But Dick knew that it was something Jason would, in fact, do.
With that thought in mind, Dick slid his hands into his hair. Tugging on his black strands, he attempted to steady his breathing. Why was he breathing so hard? Jason was a grown man. If he had left then he was more than capable of taking care of himself.
“But then you’ll never be able to fix this,” the little voice in his head reminded him.
“I don’t even know if I can fix this,” Dick muttered to the empty room.
“Grayson?” Damian’s stiff, yet childish voice sounded from the open door of Jason’s room.
Turning, Dick found his youngest brother standing shirtless in the doorway, with a mug of steaming brown liquid in one hand and a large novel in the other. Damian’s short hair stuck up like the startled spikes of a porcupine in an adorable bed-head kind of way and the eyes he’d inherited from his father blinked tiredly at his older brother.
“Dami,” Dick offered the youngest bird a grin. “What are you doing up? Missing patrolling tonight?”
“What are you doing in Todd’s room?” Damian ignored the blue bird’s questioning.
“I was looking for Jason,” it wasn’t entirely a lie. He had come to Jason’s room hoping to see him.
“Why?” Damian asked yet another question. His calculating eyes felt like they were boring into Grayson’s core.
“I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to see if he was up.”
“You wanted to talk.”
“About your predicament with him.”
Dick sighed. “Last I checked, that wasn’t a crime.”
Damian was eerily silent for a moment before turning to continue down the hall and to his own room. With his back to his older brother, he remarked, “Todd’s in the kitchen with Drake. They’re devouring Pennyworth’s leftover shrimp puffs.”
“Oh,” was all Dick could say as he continued to stand awkwardly in the middle of Jason’s bedroom. He supposed he could stay there until Jason returned, or he could retreat back to his own room and Jason wouldn’t ever have to know that he’d been in his room, or he could go down stairs to the kitchen and actually talk to Jason like he’d told Damian he’d been wanting to.
“You can’t fix this if you grovel in your room,” that little voice spoke again and Dick groaned. He knew it was right. If he wanted Jason in his life at all –be it as a lover or a brother –he had to stop hiding and start talking. They needed to be around each other and maybe just acting civil like they’d agreed to was the first step towards getting Jason back.
“The tree isn’t as big this year,” Dick could hear Jason’s voice as he approached the kitchen.
“Alfred went with us to pick it out. He said he was tiered of us almost breaking the chandelier,” Tim’s voice responded. “Dick wanted to get a taller one and Damian didn’t really care. Dick argued with Alfred for half an hour before he realized that no matter what he said, Alfred was going to win.”
“And the demon spawn didn’t complain about waiting that long?”
Tim snickered. “He was too busy talking to a girl from his class.”
“Dick mentioned he had a crush.”
“It’s more than that. They’ve been having ‘study’ dates,” Dick could almost see the air quotes Tim had made around the word study. “Colin said they’ve already gone pretty far.”
Jason chuckled and Dick felt his insides fluttered. God, he loved the sound of Jason’s laugh.
“Does Bruce know?”
“He suspects something but its Damian we’re talking about, so he’s not quite sure what’s really going on.”
“He’ll find out soon. None of us were ever any good keeping our love lives a secret from the Bat.”
Tim groaned. “You’re telling me. I was dating my secretary at the company for less than a week and Bruce was already asking me when she was going to meet the family.”
“Less than a week? Like how many days? Be specific, baby bird.”
“Five days. I’d literally only taken her out once.”
Jason gave a low whistle. “A record. If I recall, he found out about you and Connor the same day it started.”
“I…uh…” Tim stammered. “I try to forget about that. It was so embarrassing.”
Jason laughed again and Dick pressed himself against the wall outside the kitchen. He knew he really should announce his presence but he was enjoying listening to how easy Jason and Tim were talking to each other. A year ago the two of them wouldn’t have been able to carry on a conversation without Jason accusing the younger of replacing him, now it was like they were best friends.
“Stop laughing! It’s not funny!” Tim scolded.
“What’s not funny about Bruce walking in on you and Connor going at it like bunnies?”
“Everything! I couldn’t look him in the eye for weeks after it happened.”
“Oh please! He’s seen worse. He caught me in the coat closet with a girl when I was fifteen. You should have seen his face when he tried to explain sex to me and I told him I already knew all about it. I thought the old man was going to have an aneurism.”
“I hope Damian’s luckier than we were.”
“Not likely. He follows Dick around like a little puppy. He’ll probably take after him and end up engaged twice and with Bruce walking in on him and his lovers several times.”
Dick frowned. Bruce hadn’t walked in on him and his girlfriends that many times.
“That’s not really fair,” Tim defended their older brother, which Dick silently thanked him for. “Bruce only walked in on him three times…that Dick’s told me about.”
“It was only three times,” Dick decided it was time he step into the conversation.
Jason’s eyes visibly widened when Dick walked into the room and he was sure he saw Tim smirking.
“Dick!” Tim greeted him with an overly exaggerated grin. “I was wondering if you’d show up. Baby bat's already been down here twice. Seems like we’re all night owls tonight.”
“Years of patrolling with Bruce will do that to you,” Dick stated and casually slid onto the stool beside Jason, at the kitchen island.
Jason eyed Dick suspiciously but the oldest bird only offered him a grin. “What’s up, little wing?”
“You were eavesdropping,” Jason stated flatly.
“Do you blame me? I came down stairs and found you talking about us birds and our bees with Baby bird.”
Tim screwed up his face. “Don’t ever say that again. That just sounded wrong.”
Dick’s grin only grew. “It was supposed to.”
“Yeah,” Tim shook his head and stood. “I don’t have the energy to deal with you right now. I’m going to bed.”
Jason glared at Tim but Dick merely continued grinning and gave the younger boy a wave with his fingers.
“Oh, Timmy is so innocent compared to the rest of us,” Dick swiped a shrimp puff off the plate in front of Jason and popped it into his mouth.
“I hope he stays that way,” Jason replied tightly.
“Me too,” Dick responded honestly. “So, uh, you couldn’t sleep tonight either?”
Jason just looked at him and tore apart a shrimp puff with his fingers.
“I was going to tell you, you looked good tonight, at the ball,” Dick cursed himself for fumbling over his words. “The tux fit you well.”
“Yeah, Alfred did a good job with it.”
“It was more than the tux though. You look healthy,” Dick continued. “Star City must be treating you well.”
Jason shrugged. “It’s not the city as much it’s that I’ve stopped patrolling.”
“I noticed Red Hood disappeared. Are you retiring?”
Jason was silent for a moment before placing his torn up shrimp puff in his mouth and chewing it leisurely.
“I don’t blame you if you are,” Dick continued to talk. “Even I think about retiring every once in a while.”
“It sounds like you already have,” Jason spoke around the food in his mouth. He took a moment to swallow before saying, “You can’t give up being a cop and a vigilante. You’re the fucking energizer bunny, for crying out loud. You’d be lost without something to do.”
“I’d find something to do. Since I’m not on the force anymore, I’ve thought about teaching gymnastics. There’s an opening for a gym teacher at Gotham Academy. I could always start there.”
“You never did tell me why you quit the force,” Jason pointed out.
“I haven’t actually quit yet,” Dick admitted, but he didn’t want to tell Jason the truth of why he was quitting.
After Jason had shot him, the wound didn’t heal properly. Nightwing hadn’t been able to patrol for two months and Dick Grayson had to create an elaborate excuse for why he couldn’t come into work. He’d ended up having to call the Commissioner and tell him the truth about his wound. Gordon had stated that he thought Dick was over working himself and that maybe he needed to choose between vigilantism and his place on the police force. In the end, Gordon had ordered him to take a paid sabbatical and requested that Dick turn in his resignation as soon as the sabbatical was over.
When Dick had told Bruce of Gordon’s request the bat had almost appeared to be relieved. It was no secret to Dick that Bruce hadn’t even wanted to let Nightwing back out on patrol. He was worried about how little his first son was moving his left shoulder. Even now, months later, Dick still couldn’t raise his arm as high as he use to. His movement on that side was still restricted and Alfred still had him doing therapy workouts for it.
“Okay, then why are you on sabbatical. You made it sound like you’d been ordered onto it when we talked on the phone,” Jason remarked.
“Gordon thought I needed a break,” Dick gave a half-truth. “I’m quitting because I think he’s right. Being Nightwing by night and Officer Grayson by day is taking its toll on me. It’s an endless amount of paperwork and you know I can’t sit still that long.”
Dick tried to joke but Jason wasn’t having any of it as he scowled.
“You love being a cop. And Nightwing.”
“Sometimes we have to let go of what we love because holding on to it isn’t fair to it,” Dick locked eyes with Jason. He hoped Jason would pick up on his double meaning and when Jason turned his gaze to the island counter top he knew he had. “I wasn’t focusing enough, on either job. Now I can just focus on one. Nightwing was always more important anyway.”
“You are one of the few good cops left in this city.”
“I’m not as good as you think I am.”
Jason snorted. “Please, as if the golden boy could be a rat.”
“I’m not a rat, but I’m not clean either. I’ve done some shady things while on the force. I’ve sabotaged a few cases because they lead to close to my double identity. Granted, I still caught the guy, but as Nightwing.”
“Then you still did your job.”
Dick shook his head. “Enough about me. Bruce says you have a job in Star City.”
Jason nodded. “I’m a mechanic. It’s lousy pay, but its good work.”
“Do you miss patrolling?”
“Sometimes,” Jason admitted, “But Star City doesn’t need the Red Hood.”
“But Gotham does. The bowery has been chaos since you left,” Dick informed. “Roy’s been having trouble keeping up with it.”
Jason frowned, just like Dick knew he would at the mention of his longtime friend trying to take care of the Bowery by himself as well as the implication that Jason should remain in Gotham after the holidays.
“I told him to call Kori in to help.”
“She’s off planet.”
Jason pushed the now empty plate of shrimp puffs away from him. “Shit, that bastard’s going to get himself killed.”
“I offered to help but he didn’t want me around.”
“That doesn’t surprise me. He’s not your biggest fan right now.”
“Yeah, that’s my fault.”
Both Dick and Jason were silent for a moment before Dick spoke up again. “I really am sorry.”
“I know you are.” Jason half turned so he was looking at Dick face on. “We agreed to be civil this week, right?”
“Then stop bring the past up. I know you’re sorry. And I’m sorry for leaving like I did. Maybe I should have stuck around a bit longer. Truth is, I’d been thinking of leaving Gotham before we started fooling around. When I realized that what we had was over it was the final straw. There was nothing holding me here.”
“I didn’t know you felt that way. Why didn’t you tell me you’d thought of leaving Gotham?”
“You were in a bad place after Bruce returned. I didn’t want to worry you. You need me more than I need you.”
“I’m sorry. I should have been there for you more. I should have noticed that something was wrong with you. I should have…”
“Dickhead, stop,” Jason interrupted. “Stop apologizing for everything. It’s over. It’s done. Stop beating yourself up over this. Yeah, it hurt like hell when I found you with that fucking whore, but you didn’t do anything wrong. We both knew we weren’t together. We were just friends with benefits. We were distractions to keep each other from thinking about the shit that happens on patrol.”
“No,” Dick shook his head, his brow furrowed. Sure, they’d never been official, but they’d always been more than just friends with benefits. There’d been a chemistry there. Jason had said that he’d loved him and even if Dick had never said it back he’d felt it too. “We had feelings. You said that you loved me.”
“I did love you. I still love you,” Jason admitted, “but that doesn’t change anything. We weren’t together. We were fucking around, you found a hot girl and wanted to fuck her, and I overreacted.”
“We weren’t just fucking around. I loved you, Jason. I know I never told you, but I did. I still do, and I’d jump at a chance to be with you again.”
Jason raised a brow. “This experience has taught us that we weren’t any good at being lovers. We obviously didn’t communicate well. Neither of us knew where each other stood in the relationship.”
“We can do better. We’ll get it right this time around.”
Jason shook his head. “No, Dickie. I’m done fucking around with you. I came home this week to spend time with family. Not to awkwardly walk around our brief love affair. I’m not here as your ex. I’m here as your brother. Can you be my brother this week? Can you stop apologizing and stop acting like we’re exes?”
“But we are.”
“We don’t have to be. We never dated. It was a phase.” Jason’s voice was hard, firm and unyielding like stone. Dick could tell that Jason had already made up his mind. He didn’t want Dick’s apologies. He didn’t even want reconciliation. He wanted to be civil and to pretend that nothing had ever happened.
“I-I guess,” Dick stammered in shock. “I mean, if that’s what you really want.”
“It is,” Jason stated almost venomously. “I’m going home in a week and I want my time here to be good. Not ruined by us. For the family’s Christmas’s sake, we’re nothing more than brother’s.”
“Okay. I hear you,” Dick stated even though it tore his heart a little to do so. “Brothers again. Nothing else.”
Upstairs, unbeknownst to the two older birds, Tim closed his laptop angrily. He’d been listening in on the duo’s conversation through a bug he’d planted in the kitchen and with each word he could feel them getting further and further away from each other.
“They’re like a damn soap opera,” Tim groaned.
“You expected different results?” Damian spoke from where he was perched on Tim’s bed.
The younger bird had come into Tim’s room shortly after Tim had gotten back from the kitchen. He’d had his novel in one hand and his cup of hot chocolate in the other.
“Turn up the volume,” Damian had instructed when he saw that Tim was listening into the conversation taking place down stairs.
Tim had merely rolled his eyes and muttered a, “Yes your highness,” before doing as Damian asked. Now both younger birds were staring at the closed laptop in displeasure.
“We have to fix this,” Tim stated.
“We?” Damian inquired.
“Yes, we. You’re going to help.”
“We’ll lock them in a closest if we have to. Whatever it takes. They have to work this out and they aren’t going to do it by being brothers.”
“A closet is cliché,” Damian commented. “Not to mention Grayson and Todd are both more than capable of getting out of a pathetic little closet.”
“They wouldn’t be able to get out of the reinforced ones in the Batcave.”
Damian blinked. “Tt.”
Tim leaned back in his desk chair. “You know….maybe we don’t need to use a closet at all…”
“What are you planning, Drake?”
The smile Tim gave Damian was pure mischief and had Damian shifting nervously.