All The Roofs of Uncertainty
A/N: Set in some never-achieved future point in the pre-reboot continuity, assuming Bruce came home to Gotham to roost, and Dick stopped being Batman. After making good his Arkham escape, Jason got Scarlet set up somewhere she wouldn't be traced to him this time, and has been avoiding both Gotham and capes for a while, mostly traveling around assassinating international crime figures.
No superheroes or Pink Floyd songs are mine.
Chapter 1: The Rain Fell Slow
Jason could still hear the crash and boom of battle on the other side of the hill, but he didn't charge off in that direction like he'd just seen the latest Kid Flash do.
What was a kid that age even doing here? Made him feel old. Or maybe that was just fatigue. He'd been fighting for almost two hours without a break before this part of the field cleared, and was getting pretty low on ammo and completely out of explosives.
So far as Jason could tell, nobody was seriously worried that these idiots could actually conquer the planet. Their landing sites had been staggered widely enough to spread the Justice League pretty thin, but that just meant the effort to box them in and minimize collateral damage slowed down the utter destruction of the invasion a little. The enemy was retreating; Red Hood could afford to approach slowly, catch his breath, and take up a sniping position.
He picked his way calmly over the scorched grass and twisted robot parts, and the occasional unlucky alien corpse. One stirred, and he put a bullet into what he'd finally established was a close equivalent to a brain. Nothing deserved the kind of experiments Waller or her ilk would put this thing through if it survived.
Getting involved in a minor world war hadn't really been on his schedule for the week, but he'd been in the area; that was, in Philadelphia getting a cheese steak, close enough to this landing zone to hear when things started blowing up. Getting deputized by the JLA on the basis that he looked like he knew what he was doing and Nightwing was willing to vouch for him (in a very limited sense that still made him a moron) had really not been on the agenda, but hey. The Bat would probably be really pissed about it later. Win.
Another massive explosion ripped out over the hill, and he picked up the pace slightly. The forces still on the ground were basically just a rearguard to make sure the retreating ships had time to get away, but those bombardier-beetle tanks were fucking annoying, and if there were still some operational over there, the Leaguers could use a sniper.
Seriously, this planet had saved the multiverse from Darkseid not that long ago. Earth had proven itself better defended than Oa.
Admittedly even one universe was an incomprehensibly vast place, and it made sense that most inhabited worlds had never heard of most other inhabited worlds, but if they were attacking here they had to be relatively local. Hadn't at least most of the high-tech Milky Way clued in yet?
"Ngrh," said something to his left, and he detoured slightly, expecting to do another mercy-kill.
Sprawled in a large impact crater that he probably hadn't made was the black-and-blue form of Nightwing.
Previously the second Batman, showing no regrets about doffing the cowl that Jason had heard, Justice League reserve member in excellent standing, definitely down. He looked scorched around the edges, had both hands clamped over his right side, and was gritting his teeth. Red Hood paused for a second, and then kept walking. Nightwing looked at him as soon as it didn't require twisting around, and gave a nod of acknowledgement. Didn't seem alarmed to have an Arkham escapee coming at him.
Red Hood came to a halt in about the middle of the crater, looking down at the injured hero, and after a few seconds lightly kicked the bottom of one black boot. "Well, you look like shit," Jason greeted.
"Thanks, you too," Nightwing joked, rather breathlessly. He'd lost his mask at some point, but it didn't matter much even if someone hostile was spying, because the massive bruising over most of the left side of his face and the dramatic scrapes running down the other side left him quite unrecognizable as Dick Grayson, unless you knew to look, or knew him pretty well. No League earpiece, either, which explained why no one had come to pick him up yet.
Jason frowned. There was a pool of blood under Nightwing…and it was growing. He maybe wasn't holding onto his side just because it hurt. He crouched, giving the battered spandex crusader an efficient once-over. It was much too easy to pry his right hand from the damage to his abdomen to get a look at it, and there was another deep slice in his thigh which Jason swore aloud when he located. "You dumbshit," he snapped at Grayson, leaning his full weight on the spot. "You got cut down to the femoral artery and you were just lying there?"
"I was working on…sitting up," Nightwing defended himself, sounding more facetious than defensive.
Jason rolled his eyes, and took his left hand off the wound for long enough to pull out the specialized comm he'd been loaned for the day. They'd offered him an earbud, but helmet. Kind of a no-starter. Not that he especially wanted superhero comm chatter in his ear.
"Red Hood to League, man down, calling for time-critical emergency medical support. That's Nightwing down, you..." He ended the transmission without an insult at the last minute and shoved the thing back into his pocket, going back to keeping up pressure with both hands. The pool of blood had mostly stopped expanding, now, but blood had pumped insistently if much slower over his one hand. With two, it seeped.
Jason gritted his teeth and pushed Nightwing somewhat onto his side to give him a better angle for pressure, trying to ignore the way he was probably exacerbating organ damage. If Grayson's circulatory system got too low on fluids to keep him ticking, whatever had happened to his liver and kidneys would be moot. And why did he even care?
The sound of the fight over the hill was still ongoing, but he'd heard that bombardier-tank blow, and someone would be able to answer his hail soon enough, so he'd just keep pretty-boy alive till then, and they could owe him. Being owed would be cool.
Nightwing was looking at him. Without a mask it was perfectly obvious. Jason glared back. "Hey, Jay?" said his idiot patient. Already sounding deeply hazy. He was chalk-white under his bruises. "Do me a favor?"
"What do you call this?" Jason snapped, jerking his head toward his hands.
"Yeah, thanks," the hero allowed, less sarcastic than before. He smiled distractedly. "Personal favor?" he asked.
Oh, so the life-saving medical assist fell into public-sector favors? Okay, Jason could see where that was coming from, especially from Grayson who would do this for literally anyone and not ask for anything afterward, and probably expected the same from everyone else. Red Hood snorted. "Who do you think you're talking to?"
"Blood loss is making you crazy, goldie," said Jason roughly. Of course Grayson would say something like that when asking for a favor. There was literally no one in the Bat family he had not made a creditable attempt at killing. Well, except the girls.
Dick huffed out a breathy sound that might have been a laugh. "I've got practice working through it. Humor me. If I don't die, you can just pretend this never happened."
"I'm doing that either way, Nightwing." Unless any useful debts arose from it, and even then….
The hero's eyelids fluttered. "You…don't have to stay, Jay." He could be playing the martyr, but he sounded honestly accepting. Like he was okay with bleeding out alone before his League buddies got here, for the heroic cause of Jason fucking off. It seemed like he didn't think he had a chance. Which made this stupid personal favor a last request.
Red Hood snarled. "Just get on with it before you pass out."
A weak smile pulled at Grayson's mouth and he pulled his left hand from holding his injured side and groped a little before coming down on top of Jason's wrist. "Take care of them?"
"Oh, come on."
"You'll be the oldest if I'm gone," Nightwing persisted. "Tim will take care of everyone except himself, and Damian's still a kid, and Cass deals with things like grief by going off alone, and…"
He trailed off. For a second Jason thought he'd passed out, but it seemed like he'd just been switching gears from Big Brother mode over to general mother henning. "Babs will withdraw, and Bruce…" Jason stiffened more than before, but didn't dig his fingers into the slashed muscle. It was a near thing. Bruce. Golden Bird couldn't be serious. "Shouldn't be as bad as last time," Grayson continued breathily. "But I wasn't there for him then, and I…regret that, now."
"You want me to help him cope with losing you because you didn't stick around after I died?" Jason repeated. It came out a little too incredulous to call sneering.
Another weak huff of a laugh, a flash of even white teeth smeared slightly with blood. Hopefully, a cut lip. "Pretty much. Selfish, huh? It's okay if you…don't want to. Just…the younger ones, at least?"
"I don't think you really want to leave them to my guidance, goldie."
"Def'nitely don't want to leave. Just…take care of them?" Two spots of reflected light reappeared as Grayson levered his eyes open with a great effort. "Roy and Kori, they…say bye for me? And Wally and his kids, tell them sorry about the birthday thing, and…"
"I am not running all over the planet playing messenger boy, you delusional circus freak," Jason cut him off.
"S'okay…I filed a will in the computer…updated pretty recently. Not as dumb as Bruce's," the bleeding man added, his tone a sort of petulant irritation mixed with pride. "Got stuff for…most people. Wasn't likely to die in bed, ya know? Babs or someone will take care of it."
Jason felt a rage that had only just taken abrupt light at the mention of video-wills die off before it could really build, when Grayson dismissed the damn thing. Yes, Bruce's will was stupid, agreed, ignore. Also, defeatist much? Already talking about himself in the past tense, really?
"Real will…with Rae…y'r still legally dead, so she wouldn't let me put you in it…."
Jason snorted. "What exactly were you even trying to give me? I'll take your bike," he added generously. "I figure with a bit of re-customizing…"
"Jerkass," Dick grinned, like he hadn't spent ages rebuilding the thing into his idea of a perfect motorcycle. His cool hand on Jason's wrist pressed a little, and then slid to the ground. His eyes had closed again at some point when Jason hadn't been looking. "You can have Nigh'wing, tho. If you want."
"Fuck off," Jason growled. He might have been moved by the magnanimity of the offer, if he hadn't tried to steal the name for that couple of months in New York a while back, in the attempt to get under Grayson's skin. It had worked, too. "Doesn't little mister Identity Theft have first dibs anyway?"
"Nah…" Grayson didn't elaborate, though his limp hand on the ground twitched a few times, like he wanted to pat Jason's.
Jason was still incredulous Drake had adopted the Red Robin suit he'd picked up on Earth-51. Sure, he'd stopped using it himself after the Crisis, but really? Well, the kid had probably never had an original thought in his life. Maybe he would take Nightwing after all, just to stick it to the pretender. Though would anyone actually believe him, if he claimed the original had made a bequest of the suit in his deathbed speech?
Oh, and now Grayson had him doing it. He pressed down a little harder, stemming just a little more of the seep. Damn. He was in excellent shape, but the muscles in his hands were still starting to protest keeping up this constant pressure. Like the asshole had the right to die on him. Batman would probably beat Jason into a coma on the spot if he was found over the body with Dick's blood on his hands.
"Stay awake, birdbrain. Can I have the bike or not?"
"Lemmee think about it."
Jason gave it two dozen heartbeats before he prompted, "Nightwing?"
One eye half-opened, with some effort. "Don' think I…c'n talk much more."
"Fine, then. Shut up."
"About what?" Jason had never considered himself bad with words, but he was only a motormouth when suffering a full-blown psychotic episode, and seriously, if the Golden Bird expected Jason to ramble at him….
"'kay." That same friendly smile flickered onto the damaged face again. Mortician was going to have a great time making that look pretty, but then, the Wayne family's traditional funeral parlour had managed it for Jason, who'd been beaten and exploded. (Jason felt his flesh creep and dismissed again the fact that before he'd been resurrected he'd been embalmed. He'd woken with normal blood in his veins. Whatever that meant.)
"Sing, then," Grayson proposed.
What, he wanted a lullabye? "There's a reason you've never heard my singing voice, Wing."
"Not th'most…musical birds, are we?" The sonuvabitch was still smiling. "Hum, maybe?"
"Stop talking," Jason ordered, hating the slur in Nightwing's voice.
Jason shook his head. He honestly wanted to be hummed at. How was it that a guy respected by pretty much everyone could be such a goofy moron? "If it'll shut you up," he grumbled, and found he could only think of one song. It was low and simple and good for humming, and if Grayson knew the lyrics, he figured that was a plus.
Why did we tell you that…you were always the golden boy?
It should be loud enough for the bleeding bird to hear, Jason judged, even as he kept it low to avoid drawing the attention of any hostiles skulking away from the continuing melee on the other side of the hill. Distant crashes in his ears, and the wind, and his own thin voice, and the original music playing in his head, set to the beat of the artery under Jason's fingers as it fought an earnest, slowly successful battle for suicide. And that you'd never lose that light in your eyes?
There was no more bright spot of an eye peering at him. Jason wasn't sure if Dick was still listening, but the rise and fall of his chest kept up, and the weak pulse against his fingers. And all he could do was keep humming, keep pressing, and wait while time ran out.
I thought you'd never lose that light in your eyes.
The song is 'Poles Apart.' Continuation very possible, depending on feedback, which I am gladly accepting on all points including the question of Dick's survival. I have plans either way.
True story: This fic originally composed in tiny letters on the back of a receipt, while waiting in an exam room for my cardiologist to come back with a prognosis. (It was 'unlikely to suddenly die after all,' to my delight.) Thank you for reading. ^^