A/N: So, first off, this is set after the inconclusive ending of the B:UtRH movie (hence the way the events played out in the movie, not the comic), but it combines Jason's backstory from the comics (post-Crisis Jay, but with his previous relationship to Dick more like it was for pre-Crisis Jay?…gawd, this is getting confusing). But hey - it's fanfiction. I don't have to play by the rules.
Secondly, to anyone that still reads my other stories and happens to stumble upon this: I could give a bunch of excuses for why I haven't updated, but let's just settle with 'I needed a break'. That makes things much easier and saves me a lot of explaining.
Thirdly, I just decided about thirty seconds ago to dedicate this to my number one supporter and amazing friend who I haven't had the chance to give a (belated) birthday present to yet: SeptumPellucidium! Sorry for failing so frequently! XD
…and, bring on the angst. I hope all three of you reading this enjoy it!
It was funny, sort of, how things never exactly worked out for him.
Funnier still was that he had, until now, retained some semblance of hope that they would. Eventually. In some way, shape, or form. To some degree.
Well, it was safe to say that he'd been metaphorically bitch slapped out of that fantasy. He had the crushed expectations to prove it.
And now - when he had least cared about making it out of this shit alive, when he had already lost everything – had to be the time he got lucky. Buried under the rubble of his own making, suffocating under pounds of concrete, Jason had still found himself clawing his way to the surface.
Oh, cruel irony.
Enough to force a humorless grin to his lips as he tilted his head upwards to squint at the first droplets of oncoming rain.
Slipping away undetected had proved somewhat difficult, what with a few broken ribs and a severely dislocated knee hindering his progress, but he'd managed to remove himself from the searching eyes of his former mentor long enough to disappear into the dark safety of the surrounding alleyways. He hadn't exactly planned ahead for this particular turn of events; didn't exactly know where he was going. The motivation that had driven him for so long was now obsolete. Bruce had made the value of his existence clear enough.
And where did that leave him?
The same place it left him that night five long years ago: bloody, bruised, hopeless. Except that no one was rushing to save him this time, and no one was to blame but himself. He, at least, had dealt the cards this time around.
Jason was beginning to regret letting himself collapse in such a vulnerable state; although the streets were empty now, the flickering streetlight at the corner still occasionally shed light on his hunched form. The blood seeping through the Kevlar practically painted him an easy target. However, the willpower required to rise again and continue onwards was nowhere to be found. He'd already prepared to end it anyways, but the thought of a death at the hands of one of Gotham's low-life criminals was nevertheless unappealing. To say the least. He sincerely hoped he'd bleed out before then, preferably without an audience.
Which is why the feeling of being watched from the shadows was becoming increasingly irksome.
"Got something you wanna say?" Jason spat, adjusting an arm to better cover the bleeding patch on his torso and support the cracked ribs beneath. His guns had been lost in the rubble and his entire body ached with pain, but fuck if he hadn't been through worse. Not many could brag about a round-trip ticket to the pearly gates.
He was in the process of running ideas through his head until a flash of blue in the darkness told him all he needed to know.
Imperceptibly, the tension in his muscles eased and he settled back against the bricks behind him, the cogs in his brain returning to normal speed. It wasn't relief – he'd never admit to that – but it was somewhat relaxing to know that it wasn't some spiteful thug looking for revenge.
Not wearing the hood, he reminded himself, but quickly pushed the thought from his mind as his spectator landed gracefully somewhere beside him, the small splash of a forming puddle the only give-away of another presence. The subtle glitter of blue in his peripheral vision confirmed what he already knew, and Jason allowed his head to tip back against the wall and shut his eyes in as casual a manner he could muster.
"Thought you'd be back in Blüdhaven by now."
"No thanks to you," was the curt reply. It was strange, admittedly, to hear the ice in Dick's words; usually, he had trouble keeping the warmth out of them. Perhaps that was one of the reasons they'd grown apart as Jason had aged - Dick had always been too goddamn cheerful and Jason too cynical to understand it. But right now, it was the professional front of Nightwing appraising him, regarding him as a wounded Red Hood, an escaped and at-large criminal. This was strictly business.
Two could play at that game.
"You here to lecture me, too?"
"Take me to jail?"
No witty quip, no angry yelling, nothing. An unusual feat for someone as in love with their own voice as Dick, but then again, it'd been years since they'd even mentioned a word to each other. For all Jason knew, this was who he had become: another Bruce clone. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat at the thought of that, and then wondered why it was there at all.
"Watch me die?"
A sharp yank on the arm covering his side startled Jason out of his musings, and he couldn't stop the hiss of pain that escaped his lips as gentle fingers probed at the stained fabric. Dick was close, too close, leaning over into his vision so that even through the mounting rain, Jason could make out the subtle planes of his face contort into a grimace. He could see the eyes narrow behind the lenses of the mask, the absent gnaw on his bottom lip, the silent concern. Different than Bruce, less controlled. Of course Dick hadn't changed. It was just himself that had.
Jason ground his teeth at the next prod, fighting his impulse to shove the other man away by balling his fists at his sides. What good would it do now? What else did he have to prove?
"You need a hospital," Nightwing supplied gravely, and Jason couldn't help but to laugh, the sound of it dry and hoarse to even his own ears.
Dick waited a beat on that, one hand still resting against Jason's wounds contemplatively, gaze fixed somewhere off in the distance, before responding.
"They think you're dead."
At this, Dick turned his head to meet Jason's defiant glare, matching it with an equally determined one of his own. Jason could see the irritation building and wondered not for the first time why the other was even trying. But Dick had always been like that, hadn't he? Always determined to make peace and set things right, always the mature older brother figure even when Jason was at his worst. It was funny, somehow, how that basic principle still seemed to apply, even when guns and explosions and several assassination attempts had been involved. But even more than that, there was pity. Pity for all that had happened to him and for the pathetic mess he had become. Self-fucking-righteous pity. It would've been downright annoying if Jason had been in his right mindset, hadn't felt the crumbling of his entire life around him, could still manage to keep his eyes open.
Dick noticed and moved quickly to jostle him out of relaxation, strong hands gripping broad shoulders with urgency.
He wasn't sure Dick was trying to be subtle about it – Dick was rarely subtle about anything - but Jason felt his fingers tighten reassuringly. As if holding on tight enough was going to keep Jason tethered to this world.
A little late for that Dickie-bird.
One hand lifted to fumble for his communicator, and Jason found it within himself to move his own to stop it.
"I'm not going back there."
The disapproving look shot back at him did little to bend his resolve.
"You'll have to kill me first."
Dick seemed to think about that for a second, finger still poised above the radio, before Jason managed to pull his wrist away. He relinquished, letting the other place his hand back onto the ground, watching as it withdrew to go back to supporting injuries. The rain was doing little to ease the burning pain, Jason noted dryly to himself. It'd be all too easy to lose consciousness like this, slip away quietly and away from the ache, if only every thought passing across his face wasn't being monitored so carefully. Dick's other hand had never left his shoulder.
Jason would have rolled his eyes at yet another attempt at conversation. He would've told Dick to fuck off like usual, would've expected the heated lecture that followed. But he didn't exactly know what to make of the wounded tone in the other's voice.
"It's not too late, Jason."
He practically prickled at that, ready to retort with a barrage of angered arguments against that tiny little statement, but Dick's free hand flew up to cover his mouth, drowning out any and all protests.
"Just shut up, will you?"
Jason blinked back his surprise at that one.
"I'm not even going to try to imagine what you've been through, and I'm not going to pretend like Bruce that you've never had this in you to begin with. And yes, you have tried to kill both of us, and you probably still want to, but the moment you realize that there are still people in this world that care about you…"
Dick paused, seemingly emotionally overwrought and searching for the right words, and Jason took the opportunity to bite down on the gloved palm and jerk himself free from the other's touch completely. He wasn't going to take this – he had already been over this with Bruce and he wasn't about to-
The rain was in the midst of drowning the city, Jason was in the midst of a slow death, and Dick was having an emotional breakdown, the faint tremors wracking his frame leaving little doubt despite the mop of hair covering his downturned face.
Suddenly, there was very little motivation to fight.
"Just leave," Jason finally murmured, diverting his attention elsewhere. This really wasn't what he needed to deal with right now. He was a little too close to a crisis of his own to handle witnessing someone else's. Even if that "someone" happened to be Dick: his childhood hero, his estranged brother, his one-time friend and occasional mentor. It didn't matter that Dick had always been there for him when Bruce hadn't, that he'd assured Jason that he'd always have an open ear and a spare key available for him. That those brief years had been the best of his miserable life.
It shouldn't matter anymore - nothing should. Everything had been said and done; he'd already chosen self-exile and they all knew it.
But it did. It still did. Maybe it always had.
With Dick, anyways.
That it still hurt to see him cry said more than Jason would ever be willing to admit to.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Dick was still shivering, still hiding his face. Timidly, almost, like a child not quite sure on how to proceed. But Jason felt more like the child, awkwardly trying to mask the pain when he had already shown all his cards. Acting stubborn, as always. Just as he had been in the past, just as he would always be. And look where that had gotten him.
"I'm so sorry for…for all that's…for not being there when-"
It was Jason's turn this time to shut Dick up, roughly grabbing him by the chin and yanking his face upwards with a forceful reserve of strength. The abruptness served to stop the words but not the sentiment behind them, and with a fumbling gentleness completely out of character for him, Jason managed to flip back the lenses on Dick's mask and reveal the despairing cobalt gaze holding his own. He vaguely wondered when he'd forgotten just how expressive those eyes could be.
"I don't blame you for…" Jason paused, confirming the validity of that statement to himself before continuing, "…for anything except siding with him."
Dick squeezed his eyes shut, furrowing his brow in the process, and leaned into the hand still lingering against his face. Jason started slightly, if only because he hadn't realized he'd left it there, but the skin beneath his mangled hand was warm to the touch, and he found himself not minding the small degree of contact. In fact, he ignored the nerves screaming to his brain when he moved to thread his fingers in the soaked strands of hair plastered to Dick's forehead, much more intrigued by how the faintest of tugs seemed to smooth away the frown bit by bit.
Somewhere in the city, sirens wailed.
It was surreal; a dying Red Hood offering comfort to a lamenting Nightwing in a dingy back alley of Gotham. Comedic, almost, and Jason pondered not for the first time that night when exactly he had lost a grip on everything. This was probably the last way he would've envisioned spending his final hours, just surpassing an excessive crowbar beating by a lunatic with green hair. Obviously, he'd been wrong before.
"Just," Jason began, withdrawing the contact when he felt the bitterness creeping back in, when something akin to guilt reminded him just exactly how fucked up this all was, "Just go."
"Jason." - Dick's only response, a gentle appeal to his rapidly fading façade of control.
And Jason couldn't find it within himself to be annoyed with the persistence, telling himself that it was the pain-induced exhaustion making him so damn blasé. Things hadn't ended well the last time he'd been so unguarded. He'd grown accustomed to the brutality of life, and the fingers grazing his cheek were being way too damn cautious; he was tempted to retort that he was hardly fragile, even in this state, but his own mind refused to agree with him on that one.
It was funny, sort of.
How things never exactly worked out for him.
"If you're going to stick around…"
There was no point left in hoping for anything.
"You could at least punch me or something."
It barely registered when the hand on his face snaked backwards to cup the back of his head, when his face was being pressed into the hard planes of Dick's chest and another arm wrapped around him protectively. It was so much easier to think of it all as an illusion, a daydream out of a living nightmare, his own little reprieve from reality.
He was Robin again, a wounded hero, cradled in the arms of a friend.
No maniacal laughter.
No ticking red numbers.
Just a reforming street rat that snickered at the absurdity of life. It brought him back to when his greatest concern had been hiding his cigarettes from Alfred's watchful gaze. Back when Barbara had been amused at his juvenile pick-up lines and Bruce had actually still smiled from time to time. Back when Dick had praised him for being so useful on the field, had told him that he was a better sidekick for Batman than he had ever been. Back when a lot of things had been different.
The past, at least, would always exist.
"Come back, Jay."
But that was what it would always be: the past.
And no, he wasn't crying, because it was Dick's job to cover the melodrama. Dick had always been the sensitive one; he had always been the hardened one. That much hadn't changed, if the suffocating embrace he was wrapped up in was any indication. But everything else had.
Jason felt, rather than heard, Dick sigh.
They stayed like that until the sounds of the city began to reemerge with the diminishing rain, the sirens in the distance somewhat louder than before. He thought nothing of it – someone was always dying in this city – until Dick tightened his embrace defensively.
"You didn't." Jason tried to sound as annoyed as he felt, but it fell of his tongue flat and devoid of any real resistance. Dick drew back just enough to flash a weak smile, the first Jason had seen in the five years they'd been apart, and it was still brighter than any of the ones he'd remembered.
"I called as soon as I found you. Before you even noticed me. Just because I know how bad the traffic gets during the rain."
A joke – a bad one – but Jason fought to keep himself from returning the lighthearted quip; it would remind him too much of how permanently things had changed. Besides, his head was getting a little too fuzzy to think up any more clever comments at the moment.
Undeterred, Dick continued, "You're not going to die tonight, Jason."
Wouldn't be the first time, but thanks for the vote of confidence.
A disgruntled snort came out instead; there were too many other ways to respond to that one.
"Not while I can help it."
By the sound of things, they had no more than a few more moments of solitude, the sirens growing shriller as they neared in proximity. Yet Dick still held on, reluctant to let go, and Jason was still too tired to complain.
"And before you even think to ask…Bruce doesn't know. I left him out of this one."
"For now, you mean." Jason growled, secretly enjoying the warmth despite a gnawing urge to untangle Dick's hands from his hair. The lack of response that followed pretty much confirmed his suspicions, but Dick pulled away before he could find it within himself to care.
This grin was a little more pronounced, still a little cautious, but genuine nonetheless. This was Dick, after all. "Fake" had never been part of his vocabulary, but "nauseatingly optimistic" always had.
"I'll come visit. In the hospital, I mean."
"I'll bring some of Alfie's cookies."
God, was he torn between punching the hopeful expression off Dick's face and letting himself melt into it, pushing that last boundary down, until his psyche helpfully intervened and reminded him of why he wasn't drinking a cup of hot cocoa in the Batcave this very moment.
You're alone and you always will be.
"Or would you prefer pie? You always liked blueberry, right?"
"Seriously. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"I'll take that as a 'no'."
The smile this time was less inhibited, more playful, and generally content.
Only Dick could get away with that after all that had transpired tonight.
"Take care, Little Wing."
A hearty ruffle of his hair and a reassuring squeeze later and Nightwing was gone - hopefully before he'd noticed the surprise flit across Jason's face – just in time for the obnoxious flash of ambulance lights to round the street corner. His irritation, now back in full force, helped clear his head enough to cuss out the paramedics rushing to help him, making their job a little more difficult with his refusal to just take the damn pills and shut up. That they still ushered him into the vehicle despite his protests told Jason that Dick had already anticipated the conflict and paid off somebody to assure he reached his destination properly; he would've laughed if it hadn't been so annoying. He could practically feel the leer Dick flashed him from somewhere within the shadows.
It was funny, sort of, how just that knowledge made the burden lighter, if only a little. Not that he'd ever admit it, not that he'd ever accept it, but somehow, it kept him from trying to incapacitate the medic currently hooking an IV into his arm. Even that said more than he wanted to acknowledge, and he hated himself for it.
Hatred and revenge had fueled him thus far, had kept him alive through the worst of those hours of pain and misery; there was no way that a fucking hug on the (second) worst night of his life was going to change anything. Dick knew it, even if he pretended not to. Jason had never doubted it.
But…all alone, huh?
Yeah, he was still alone. By choice, if nothing else.
At least he had the damn cookies to look forward to.
A/N: Significantly less slashy than I had originally planned, but hey, these things just start to write themselves at a point. Bat-bro fics are nice, too.
And I feel as if my characterization is all over the place, but screw it. This is the way they should interact – canon be damned.
Other than that, hope it was an enjoyable enough read, and comments are always greatly appreciated. Literally - you could spit on the review button and I'd feel honored. But not that honored.