Jason opened his eyes and found his own dead face staring back at him. He shuddered. The androids were now stacked carelessly against the wall, all life-simulations deactivated.
"Robin," Nightwing said. "Report."
Jason lifted his head off the filthy, beige carpet and took inventory. His hands and legs were cuffed back-to-back to another warm body. Jay couldn't get a good look at Nightwing, but he could feel the high collar brushing against his own ears. They were in a disused office; an empty desk was pushed against the wall at the end of the room and a couple of dusty chairs were stacked on top of it. A cheap, impressionist painting of Gotham Harbor hung on the wall.
His knee still ached, his muscles were stiff from the bindings and his head pounded from the knockout gas. But he still wore his costume and mask. "I'm fine," Jason said. "You?"
"All in one piece," Nightwing assured him. "Want to get out of here? Luthor's on his way."
"You heard something?"
"Our masks are still on," Nightwing said grimly. "Mine is, at least." Jason got it. The only reason the minions hadn't unmasked them was because the big boss wanted to do it himself.
"Mine, too," Jason said. "My belt's gone, though."
"So are my boots. I should have something in my gauntlet." Nightwing twisted his wrist and Jason grunted as their connected cuffs pulled his shoulders further back. Nightwing froze. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Jason said. "Do what you gotta do."
Nightwing pulled at the cuffs again and this time Jason didn't make a sound. "Got it," Dick said, and Jason could hear the sound of a pick pushing the tumblers of the lock.
"How do you keep so much stuff in your gauntlets?" Jason wondered.
"Careful planning," Nightwing said. "Plus Cyborg helped me miniaturize a few things."
"How come you didn't give Batman the miniature versions?" Jason asked.
"I offered," Nightwing said. "He didn't trust - ah, there we go!" The cuffs popped open. "Come up to Titans Tower sometime when this is over and I'll get you outfitted with whatever you like."
Jason stretched out his arms, relieved to have his shoulders back in a natural position. "Has he miniaturized Bruce's shark repellant?" he grinned, remembering an old case file.
Nightwing chuckled as he bent down to pick the ankle cuffs. "You mock, but it worked. We've developed more generalized repellants since then, but the big guy wouldn't have all his limbs today if it weren't for that stuff."
"Yeah, but how did you know you'd be facing sharks? Not a lot of literal big fish in Crime Alley," Jason said.
"There used to be regular sightings in the harbor," Nightwing said. "Don't tell me you've never ended up out there."
"The place is a pit," Jason said. "Nothing could live in those waters."
"Some people say that about Gotham," Nightwing said. He clicked the last tumbler into place and the cuffs fell free of their ankles. He bounced to his feet and offered Jason a hand up. "Shall we get out of here?"
"Absolutely," Jason said. He scrambled to his feet and leaned over to close the eyes on the Jason-bot. It didn't look as much like an bad omen that way. He scanned the room. Acting on a hunch, he shoved the wall painting aside to reveal a safe. "What do you think the chances are that Luthor's stuck all his secrets in that safe?"
"Maybe it's our lucky day," Nightwing said. He studied the safe, then pulled something from his gauntlet. He shook it sharply and it expanded into a cone. Dick pressed the wide end of the cone against the safe and had the thing open in just a few minutes. "No secrets," he said, peering into it. "But our stuff is here."
Jason buckled on his utility belt while Nightwing retrieved his boots and their comms.
"Why don't you just wear a belt?" Jason asked.
Nightwing winked at Jason. "Ruins the line of the costume."
"And it's too much like Batman?" Jason guessed.
Nightwing shrugged. "We all have to go our own way eventually," he said. "Even you, Little Wing, will someday fly on your own." He ruffled Jason's hair.
Jay batted Nightwing's hand away. "I do. All the time. I did before I met any of you."
"Hey," Nightwing held up his hands in surrender. "It's not all bad. Sometimes I miss having a partner." He studied the room and the locked door and signaled to Jason with his hands. *Guards coming.*
Jason pressed an ear against the door and sure enough, he could hear footsteps. He nodded and signaled back, *Options?*
Nightwing spotted an air vent just below the ceiling, about ten feet up, and pointed it out to Jason.
Jason nodded, *Boost me.* He backed up to get some space between Nightwing and himself and dug into his utility belt.
Nightwing linked his hands together, braced himself, and nodded.
Jason took a couple of running steps, jumped off Dick's hands, and caught the edge of the vent with his fingers. Before he could slip, he jammed an anchor into the wall. He hung from the small metal bar as he pried the cover off the vent. He dropped the cover into Nightwing's outstretched hands and swung himself up into the vent.
*Clear?* Nightwing signaled.
Jason shone a flashlight into the dark vent, then signaled back. *Clear. Rope?*
*No.* Nightwing took a couple of running steps and bounced into the air. He grabbed the anchor Jason had left and pulled himself into the vent. Jason led the way through the vent, both of them on hands and knees.
"Robin, HOLD." Nightwing's voice brooked no argument. Jason froze. "Tripwire," Nightwing said in a low voice.
Jason drew a flashlight from his utility belt and shone it down the vent. Not just one tripwire, but a series of them. He swore.
Nightwing whistled. "Damn. Okay, guess we'll have to go down."
Jason stared at the metal vent underneath his hands and knees, then twisted around carefully to look at Nightwing. "Down?"
"Down," Nightwing repeated. He produced a tiny metal tube from his gauntlet and waved it at Jason.
"Laser cutter?" Jason guessed.
"Got it in one," Nightwing said.
A voice cut through the ambient noise of the warehouse.* "Where are they?"
*Nightwing and Jason both froze in place. Luthor. He'd see the open grate in a second and they'd be trapped. Nightwing scooted back a few feet and started cutting out the bottom of the grate with the laser.
"I… I don't know," a guard said. Jason strained a bit to listen.
"We could've found out who they are by now," said a second guard. "If you'd let us look-"
"Information is valuable when it's scarce," Luthor said. "I didn't expect you'd *let them go.*"
"We had them cuffed hand and feet and locked in a room." The second guard was Tattooed Guy. Jason recognized the voice. "It's not our fault-"
"Idiot," Luthor said. BANG. *Splat. *The gunshot, and sound of the blood splatter, startled Jason so badly he knocked his head on the top of the vent.
"Robin-" Nightwing began. He paused in his cutting.
"I'm fine," Jason whispered. He tried to squeeze past Nightwing, to get back in the room, but there wasn't room in the tiny vent. "We have to help them, we have to do something-"
"The vent! They're in the vent!" the other guard said.
"Yes, I deduced that," Luthor said dryly.
Nightwing grabbed Jason's arm. "At that range, he's beyond help. Let's get out and protect who we can still save."
Jason jerked out of Nightwing's grip, but he didn't try to go any further. "Fine, get us out of here." He bit down on his lower lip, drew a smoke pellet from his belt and watched the open end of the vent over Nightwing's while Dick cut away. He waited, dreading the moment when he'd hear another gunshot.
But he didn't. Nightwing dropped down through the hole he'd cut just as a guard's face peered into the vent. Jason tossed the pellet and dropped down after Nightwing, a few wisps of smoke following him through the hole.
They dropped down into a storage room, full of large, wooden boxes and a light dusting of sawdust on the floor. Klaxons blared; Luthor had set off the alarms. Jason bolted for the only visible door and tore it open. Fortunately, it wasn't locked. The surviving guard - who Jason recognized as Tattoo Guy's fake cop partner, "Johnson", slipped out of the vent, hot on their heels despite the smoke pellet. No need for stealth, now.
Jason smaller and lighter than Nightwing, pulled ahead and caught one of Luthor's lackeys by surprise. Jason plowed straight into him and finished him off with a punch to the jaw. He took the next one down by tossing a set of bolas around the guy's ankles.
"Left!" Nightwing called out. Jason saw a shadow approaching before he reached the next corner and he dove at the shadow's legs. The thug turned the corner in time for Robin to slam into his knees. Jason heard a gunshot. He pulled himself on top of the man and jabbed frantically for a nerve strike. He hit the collarbone, bruising his fingers. The thug punched him in the ribs and Jason gasped for breath. The gun came up, pointed at Jason's face-
-then it flew from the thug's hand with a blur of black and blue Kevlar and the crunch of broken fingers. Another blur hit the thug in the jaw. Nightwing offered Jason a hand and pulled him to his feet.
"Bullet went wide," Nightwing said, before Jason could ask. "No one's hit."
Jason nodded and they didn't have time for more. Without a word, they fell into place back-to-back as three more guards rushed them. Jason swept the knees of one and punched him in the head when he fell down. Nightwing twirled his escrima sticks and slammed them outward, hitting the thugs on opposing cheeks and stunning them long enough for Jason to whip out another set of bolas and tangle them up. It wouldn't take long for them to unwrap themselves from the weighted cords, but they didn't need a lot of time.
Nightwing and Robin bounded down the corridor. A startled woman in a pantsuit tried to block their way, but Jason just leapt forward, grabbed her shoulders and somersaulted over her head. She stumbled under his weight and Nightwing pushed her aside.
They ran up a stairwell and burst through another door and then they were out on the street. "Right!" Nightwing yelled, and Jason swerved. A block more and then left down an alley and they were safe in the Batmobile. Nightwing took the driver's seat and they roared out of the alley. A couple of thugs grabbed their motorcycles and chased after them, but once Jason was in the car, he knew they were safe. No vehicles could keep up with the Batmobile for long.
The bikers were good, Jason would give them that. It took several miles of city streets and two false dead ends before Nightwing could shake their tails. Dick drove to an outpost north of Bristol to switch cars and scan their outfits, to make sure there were no trackers which could lead Luthor back to the Batcave.
Nightwing used a sonic wand to scan himself and Jason for bugs or trackers. "Any injuries?" he asked.
"None," Jason said. A few bruises hardly counted.
"You doing okay?" They weren't the same question.
Jason shrugged. "Some loser got himself offed. What did he expect, working for a creep like that?"
"Pretty sure he didn't expect to die," Nightwing said in a soft voice.
Jason glared at him. "Bruce told you about my dad."
"No!" Nightwing said. "Well, not exactly. I keep up on the case files, that's all."
"You think, because my dad got killed working for Two-Face, that I'm gonna cry over every crackhead who gets whacked on the job?"
Nightwing lifted his shoulders and dropped them. "Sometimes the stuff we deal with feels personal."
"Not this," Jason said. He jabbed a finger at Dick. "I don't need you pulling a head shrinker game on me. I'm *fine.*"
*"Nightwing. Robin."*Their comms cracked with Batgirl's voice. *"Please respond."*
Nightwing gave Jason a long look before answering. "Nightwing here."
*"Finally! I hope you rescued the targets,"* Batgirl said.
Nightwing responded. "We ran into… some complications."
*"Are they the same complications I'm looking at? Because Bruce Wayne just walked into Wayne Tower."*
Jason carefully shaved the last few hairs off his chin and came out of the bathroom. His tie and suit jacket hung from the door of Dick's wardrobe. Jason shrugged into the jacket, wrapped the tie around his neck and tried to knot it the way Alfred had taught him.
"You've got to button the top of your shirt, or the tie won't lie right," Dick said. He wore a dark pink tie with his grey suit and somehow made the color work for him.
Jason wore a dark blue suit with a yellow tie. He pulled the tie's knot out, scowled at his reflection in the mirror, buttoned his top button, then tried again. "Why can't we just go as Robin and Nightwing?"
"Because it's midday, because Bruce Wayne's sons have all-access passes to the tower and because Bruce might drop through every skylight in town himself, but he'll get cranky if we bust up the one in his office," Dick said.
"Won't he just be grateful that we took care of everything while he was missing?" Jason held up a hand before Dick could answer. "Never mind." Bruce would forgive any necessary messes once they'd rescued him, but any *unnecessary* ones and they'd never hear the end of it. "Show me how to tie this stupid thing?" he asked.
Dick, who apparently scored low on his personal space aptitude test, came up behind Jason and put his arms around his shoulders to reach the tie. "I only know how to do it on myself," he explained.
Jason could feel Dick's breath on his ear and tried not to squirm. He watched Dick's hands in the mirror.
"Over, under, through, and down." Dick demonstrated, then untied the tie and stepped back. "You try."
Jason imitated what Dick had done. It wasn't quite right, so he pulled out the knot and tried again. "I thought Wayne Enterprises didn't make weapons," he said. "Why do they want a military contract?"
"For body armor, radio tech, infrared - pretty much anything we use in the field can be put to use by the military," Dick said. Jason tugged his tie out of its knot, again, and attempted it once more. "Bruce weeds out the stuff that needs to stay top secret and turns the rest over to the WayneTech R and D division. They sell some stuff to government agencies directly - think Secret Service - and figure out ways to mass-produce the other tech so the military can afford to buy it for all the troops."
"Can't Lucius Fox just veto all this stuff, if he's the CEO?" Jason asked.
"No, he's just one vote on the board," Dick said. "And there's several members of the board of directors that would vote in favor of the deal, even if Bruce didn't endorse it. It's likely to make some big profits for the company."
"If LexCorp is in on these deals, would Luthor get access to all the top secret stuff?" Jason asked.
"Yes," Dick said. "He would."
Jason jerked the tie into place again and *this* time it looked right. "Guess we'd better stop him."
Bruce Wayne's sons got to ride the express elevator up to the penthouse. Jason had been to Wayne Tower with Bruce a few times. The guard looked familiar, but he didn't recognize Jason and Dick had to vouch for him.
"Just wait," Dick teased. "In a couple of years, the gossip columns will print photos of you every time you're out with a new girl, or show up at a party."
Jason grimaced. "Can I opt out of that?"
"Unfortunately not," Dick said. "You'll get a lot of attention from the ladies, though."
Jason snorted. "I don't need Bruce's name or money to get girls."
The elevator dinged. "You ready?" Dick asked.
Jason sighed. "They're going to think I'm a spoiled brat."
"Better than what they think of Bruce," Dick pointed out. "He once told the ambassador of Sweden how much he admires the little folding knives they give their army."
Fine then. If Bruce could protect his identity by acting like an ass in public, so could Jason.
The penthouse conference room had a wall of windows against one side so the board of directors could look out over the city. The view did not include Luthor Tower, Jason noted with petty amusement. It was a few blocks to the west and the conference room windows faced northeast.
The entire board, several people from LexCorp, including Luthor, and a fake Bruce Wayne all stared right at them when Dick and Jason shoved open the mahogany double doors and barged into the meeting.
"Bruce, I've had enough," Dick said.
"This is stupid. You don't have to go crying to him," Jason said.
"Be *quiet!* Oh, my God, can you please just *shut up* for five minutes?" Dick asked.
"Boys," Lucius Fox said. "This is not a good time." The CEO of Wayne Enterprises had a grim look. He'd apparently been taking extensive notes since his legal pad had half the pages used and folded over the top and he had a spare pad ready to go.
"Five minutes," Dick said, holding up a hand with five fingers splayed out. "Bruce, I'm not babysitting this kid anymore."
"All I wanted was to drive the car!" Jason protested.
"You don't even have a license! You're thirteen!" Dick said.
"I know how to drive!"
"ENOUGH!" Lex Luthor's voice bellowed through the room. Jason and Dick both took a step back and even the suits at the conference table looked shaken. "Wayne, tame your brats."
"Dick, take your brother home," the Bruce-bot said. "We'll discuss this later."
"He's not my brother," Jason said, the words slipping out. "*He*'s not adopted." Dick shot him an odd, startled look. Jason shifted guiltily. "It's true," he mumbled. "That's why he hates me."
"I don't hate you!" Dick said. He looked right at Jason, no longer performing for an audience. "I was jealous, at first, but Jason, you *are* my brother, if you want me to be."
"I-" Jason began.
"Wayne!" Luthor interrupted.
The Bruce-bot walked over to Jason and Dick and draped one arm over each of their shoulders. Dick lifted his chin to signal Jason. They both pressed the trigger in their rings at the same time. A micro electromagnetic pulse shot between them and the Bruce-bot slumped over.
Dick caught it. "Bruce, are you okay?" He lowered the robot to the floor. "Bruce?" He looked up at at the board. "Call a doctor!"
Luthor narrowed his eyes and with the swift, deadly grace of a panther he leapt from his chair and grabbed Jason by the throat. "What game are you playing, boy?" he growled. He slammed Jason against the floor-to-ceiling window; nothing but a bit of glass between Jason and the Gotham streets fifty stories below.
Jason couldn't answer Luthor, not with the man's fingers wrapped around his neck so tightly he couldn't draw breath and his feet dangling a foot off the ground.
Behind Luthor the members of the board stared. Dick rushed forward, but Luthor threw out another hand to warn him away. Dick paused and Jason knew he was evaluating the situation, running through the options that would save Jason without blowing their secret identities.
Luthor had death in his eyes. He'd pay later for murdering Bruce Wayne's son in full view of a dozen witnesses, but that wouldn't stop him now. His fury had surpassed reason.
Jason fought down the instinctive panic at his lack of air and forced himself to think. Bruce had taught him plenty of ways to get out of a hold. At least a dozen of these techniques could look like an untrained boy flailing in desperation. But with his vision growing dark, Jason drew on an old self-defense move he'd learned before ever meeting Bruce. He slammed his foot into Lex Luthor's balls as hard as he could.
Luthor made an odd noise, something between a groan and a squawk. He dropped Jason and doubled over. Dick and Lucius Fox ran forward and grabbed Luthor before the man could recover.
Emergency crew and security guards poured in. Wayne Tower kept a doctor in house and she went straight for "Bruce", ignoring the chaos as the security guards took over restraining Lex Luthor.
The doctor, clearly in the top of her field, took less than a minute to go from "He's not breathing" to "He's not human". Jason noted, with a touch of bitterness, that one call from the penthouse of Wayne Tower brought the cops a hell of a lot faster than a scream in Crime Alley would have.
Gordon sent in a crew of rookies to get statements from the witnesses and put out an APB for the real Bruce Wayne. Gordon himself took Luthor into custody for assault, though Luthor refused to be handcuffed and Jason suspected he'd have his people post bail before Gordon even got Luthor back to the station.
The rookie questioning Jason, some woman named Montoya, noticed Jason watching Luthor and gave the billionaire a side-eyed look herself. "He's a slippery one," she said. "It's not about catching him, it's making it stick. But our priority is finding Bruce Wayne."
Yeah. Jason slumped down in the boardroom chair and tried to think. Where were Bruce and Alfred? Where could Luthor have hidden them? He had all his own resources, plus his own puppet "Bruce Wayne" to give orders around Gotham. Luthor was brilliant, dangerous… Jason rubbed his throat, where bruises were starting to form. Arrogant. Luthor was arrogant enough to try and strangle Bruce Wayne's son in Wayne's own boardroom. Under everyone's noses…
"He's here," Jason said. He sat up abruptly. "He's in Wayne Tower."
Montoya gave him a skeptical look. "Kid, that's a robot."
Luthor wasn't just arrogant, he was a control freak. A hands-on kind of guy. Minions were untrustworthy, disposable - Jason veered sharply away from that thought. Point was, Luthor would keep Bruce nearby. And with the Bruce-bot, he had access to any part of Wayne Tower. "No, the real Bruce is here. He's downstairs."
The guard at the front desk downstairs hadn't looked familiar because of Jason's previous trips to Wayne Tower. He'd looked familiar because Robin had taken him down with a set of bolas around the ankles a few hours earlier. The cop stared at him, and Jason tried to translate what Robin knew to what Jason Todd would know. "I heard weird noises when we came in earlier," Jason lied. "Like some kind of pounding, or knocking. I didn't think about it at the time because, you know, no one was missing or anything." He did his best to play a normal, stupid kid. "Figured someone was messing around on their break. But it could be Bruce!" Luthor had shuffled in his own people around Wayne Tower. Boy, Bruce was going to have a good time getting them all weeded out when he got back.
The cop looked at him for a long moment, then shrugged, and reached for her radio. None of the cops she talked to thought it was likely, but in absence of any leads, it was worth checking out.
The probability of Jason being right jumped up quite a bit when the cops asked to be let into the office and the guard tried to run.
Alfred was unconscious, but Bruce roused when the cops entered. They let Jason in once they'd swept the room and while the doctor examined Alfred, Jason knelt next to the groggy, limp Bruce and touched his hand. Bruce's long fingers curled around Jason's small hand and Bruce said quietly, "You should have been here hours ago."
Jason smiled. Finally, the real Bruce.
Nightwing swung through the air with the greatest of ease. His grace and speed were neither slowed nor hindered by the large pizza box that he balanced under one arm.
He dropped down on the roof next to Robin's stakeout location and presented the pizza with a flourish. "Hey, Little Wing. Keeping busy?"
Jason flipped open the lid of the pizza box. One large pie with the works from Dino's, Jason's favorite pizza. "Hey, Big Bird. Didn't know you were in town."
Dick dropped easily into a sitting position and unslung a backpack. He offered Jason a Zesti Cola. "Bruce wanted me immunized against Luthor's new knockout drug as soon as possible," he explained.
"Got any beer in there?" Jason asked, peering in the backpack hopefully.
"Yeah, but I'm saving it for when you're twenty-one," Dick took out another cola for himself and handed Jason a sealed envelope. "The guy with the tattoo; his info's there if you want it."
Jason flipped the envelope over and stared at it for a moment, and then tore it open. "He had a kid," he said in dismay. "That was her birthday on his wrist."
Dick nodded. "Eight years old. Bright, but autistic. She'd never have a chance in Gotham's public schools, so her mom found a private school. Costs a fortune, though."
"He did that stuff for his daughter." A wave of guilt swept over Jason. Yeah, Luthor had pulled the trigger, but he and Dick had been responsible for the circumstances.
Dick put a hand on Jason's shoulder. "He made his choice, and so did Luthor. It's not your fault."
"Luthor might not even get jail time," Jason grumbled. "He's trying to bargain the attack on me down to a misdemeanor. Bruce doesn't want to challenge it because he thinks the media will put me in the spotlight."
"He's right; it'd be a feeding frenzy for the tabloids," Dick said.
"But they don't have evidence he was involved with the kidnapping and the guards they caught aren't talking. Probably scared." Jason picked at the veggies on his slice of pizza. "Do you think we could've saved that guy, if we'd known this earlier? Kept him from even working for Luthor?" Jason asked.
"Maybe," Dick said. "People who do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, well, you can't do much but lock them up. But people doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, sometimes you give them options and they can change. If they want to. We don't know if he'd want to."
"It's too late, anyway," Jason said, bitterly.
"For him," Dick agreed. "Maybe not for the next guy."
"Too late for his daughter," Jason said.
Dick was silent for a long moment, then said, "Yeah. You can't get back the ones you've lost. But she's got her mother and she'll have other people in her life. Family isn't always about blood."
"Duh," Jason cracked a small smile.
Dick smiled back. "Take that info to Bruce. Wayne Enterprises has scholarship funds set aside for kids who need specialized schooling. I have a feeling she'll fly through the application process."
"Thanks," Jason said quietly. He tucked the envelope away in his utility belt. "You ever wonder if there's a better way to deal with guys like Luthor?"
Dick let out a long sigh. "Yeah, all the time. But we can't force the world to change, Jay. We've got more power than the average person, but if we don't use it the right way, we're as bad as him."
"How do I know what the right way is?" Jason asked.
"Trust your instincts," Dick said. "You're a good kid; you'll know what's right most of the time. If you hit a rough question, talk to Bruce or Alfred. Or come to me, if you can't talk to them."
"How's Alfred doing?" Dick asked.
"He was fine once the drugs were out of his system," Jason said. "He's been going overboard on baking cookies. I think he's got some weird guilt thing about his double attacking me."
"Are you sure you guys cleared out all the robots?" Dick asked.
"Yeah, Babs found a network connection in the bots we took down. She traced it back and identified all the others on the network. Me and Bruce blew them up." Jason grinned around a mouthful of chewed pizza.
"How's Bruce holding up?" Dick asked.
"Still cranky that Luthor got the drop on him," Jason said. "He's been running simulations. A *lot*," the boy added wearily. "Surveillance duty's the first time I've had a chance to relax since he recovered. He's really pissed that he couldn't take advantage of the move from Luthor's warehouse to Wayne Tower to escape."
"But Luthor doubled up on the drugs, probably as soon as he realized we'd planted bugs. Maybe even before he found us in his office," Dick said. "Bruce didn't have an opening."
"Like that ever stopped him from blaming himself?" Jason took another slice of pizza. "He's working on a drug detecting serum that he can put in his drinks at parties. Supposed to turn them blue if they find something. 'Cept right now it considers the chemicals in Zesti to be hostile and turns all the sodas blue, too."
"Blue's a good color," Dick said with a grin.
"I prefer red," Jason grinned back.
"Bruce'll work it out," Dick said. "And he'll relax a bit when he's got new failsafes in place."
Jason snorted. "Bruce? Relax?"
Dick shrugged. "For Bruce. He'll go back to his level of normal soon. He tends to stay revved up in direct proportion to how badly things went, and things turned out pretty okay this time."
"Thanks to us," Jason reminded him.
"Yeah, thanks to us," Dick said. He held up a hand for a high five, and Jason slapped it. Dick added, "You know you're welcome at the Tower anytime, Robin."
"Cool," Jason grinned.
"And you're welcome at my place anytime, too." Dick pulled something from his gauntlet and offered it to Jason.
Jason took it. "Key to your apartment? Is there anything left?"
"Few weeks of rebuilding and it'll be fine," Dick said. "No major structural damage."
"You sure?" Jason asked, holding out the key in case Dick wanted to take it back.
"Yeah. You're my little brother. You ever need to escape from Bruce, you come on up to New York. Just, you know, knock first." Dick winked at him. "Just in case."
Jason closed his fingers around the key. "Listen, what I said at Wayne Tower-" he began.
Dick shook his head. "It was a cover. It's okay."
"No, but I sorta meant it," Jason admitted. "Kory said you didn't want Bruce to adopt me."
"She did?" Dick asked, surprised.
Jason tried to remember the exact words. "She said you weren't happy about it."
"Oh," Dick said.
"So it's true?" Jason asked, heart sinking.
"Yes and no," Dick said.
"Thanks for clearing that up," Jason said dryly.
"It wasn't about you," Dick said. "Your adoption just hit home for me, because Bruce never adopted me and never asked if I wanted to be adopted. I was always just his ward."
"That's not my fault," Jason said defensively.
"No, it's not," Dick said. "I wasn't angry at you. Just upset that you got something I didn't."
"That sounds like being angry at me," Jason said.
"I…," Dick paused. "Okay, a little. Not you, personally. The idea of you."
"But I'm over it," Dick said. "I talked to Bruce and he said he didn't think I ever wanted to be adopted. And I don't know, he might be right. I love Bruce, but my dad was still my dad. I think I would have felt like I was replacing him."
"That's not how it works," Jason said.
"I know," Dick said. "At least, I know now. Here's the thing, Jay, I love this life. I have the best job in the world - multiple worlds, even. I have friends and family that I never would have met if my parents hadn't died. I feel like the worst son some days, because I love my parents, but I can't imagine the life I would have if they had lived."
"I can imagine mine," Jason said bitterly.
Dick looked at Jason for a long moment. "Try to forgive your dad," he said softly. "I think he'd be incredibly proud if he could see you today."
"What, hunting down people like him?" Jason asked, lifting his chin in defiance.
"Helping people," Dick reminded him. "Do you think he wanted you to grow up to be a criminal?"
Jason actually thought about this, then shook his head, his body relaxing. "No, probably not."
"And your mom?" Dick asked.
"She'd be proud," Jason said softly.
"So am I," Dick said. He put his arm around Jason's shoulders. Jason let himself lean against Nightwing for a moment. "Oh," Dick added, innocent as a cat, "there's one other thing that goes with being my brother." Before Jason could ask, Dick had his fist on top of Jason's head. "Noogies!"
Jason yelped and a quick scuffle ensued. The pizza got knocked to the edge of the roof and took a fatal cheesy dive to the Gotham streets below.
- THE END -
Written for the DCU Big Bang 2012. I was lucky enough to have two artists for my first Big Bang. Miki-Moo and C2ii have made some utterly fabulous art to go with this fic.
Miki-Moo's excellent digital manips are posted here: miki-moo dot livejournal dot com slash 38520 dot html
C2ii drew two manga pages of a scene from chapter two and they are awesome! Check them out here: c2ii dot deviantart dot com/art/Lil-Wing-and-Big-Bird-336457263.
A lot of people helped me get this fic from concept to text.
Discowing, for the initial prompt, "Robin Jason and Nightwing Dick being bros!" when I asked for Jason prompts a very long time ago.
ButterflyKiki, for alpha reading and feedback.
TBQ for reading, feedback and lots and lots of handholding.
Ktnb/flyingwithoutseques for getting me through writer's block.
Miscella, for detailed and excellent betaing. Any remaining mistakes are my own.
Vitaldose, for being my Lexpert.
Miki-Moo and C2ii for the fantastic art! (Links above, which you will have to cut and paste and reformat due to this website's formatting filters, sorry.) Please go check it out and leave comments for them!
Somehowunbroken and Shinysylver for running the DCU Big Bang.