February 8, 2004
Disclaimers: They aren't mine; I just obsess from a distance.
Spoilers: Serious ones for Batman #416. Takes place not too long after the events of that issue.
Summary: Jason pays a visit to the Titans Tower.
Ratings Note: R.
Author's Note: Jack asked, I answered in my own special way. Could probably be considered as a sequel to "The lie I was born to," but I don't think it's necessary to read that one first.
Acknowledgments: The Jack also audienced.
Feedback: Appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org
The kid is good. It's one of those thoughts Dick's not sure whether to welcome or not as he watches Jason -- Robin -- make his way past the first three levels of alarms on the Tower's roof.
He's watching through the newer, smaller, secondary monitoring cameras, the ones they supposedly didn't need here, and only had installed because he's 'paranoid.' Robin hadn't showed up as so much as a shadow on the primary systems. There are times when he really hates being right.
Still, he owes the kid a thank you for exposing their weaknesses.
Dick watches him study the next set of traps. It's entirely possible to get past the semi-random array of motion-detecting lasers. If you can fly -- or are a trained acrobat. Jason has neither set of abilities, but, from what Dick's seen, he's reckless enough to go for it anyway.
Dick leans in a little closer to the screen. Tripping one of them won't hurt the kid -- unless he turns an ankle falling into their little dungeon -- and it'll be worth it to see just what the kid will do. It's a reasonable excuse.
It's an excuse.
And Jason's taking the few steps back he'll need to start a spring, making Dick's arm twitch with the need to reach for the speaker-toggle and warn him off, but...
He doesn't do it.
The angle isn't the best, but the kid seems to be grinning to himself. If so, the expression is gone by the time he turns back to the last primary camera, leaving only a sort of blank amiability that has Alfred written all over it.
It makes Dick's gut clench.
And Jason is speaking.
He flips the speaker on.
"-- back. Um. Hi?" Something like a real smile creeps back onto the kid's face.
"You know, you could've just used the front door."
Jason jumps, and it shouldn't make Dick as satisfied as it does, but 'should' has never had anything to do with 'is.'
No matter what Bruce had to say about it.
"Yep. What can I do for you?"
A shadow moves across the kid's expression before he remembers that he's on camera. Dick will never get used to how naked people are when they aren't accustomed to being on surveillance.
One more thing to thank Bruce for.
"You... I was hoping we could talk."
It occurs to Dick that he's really kind of being an asshole. He could have let Jason in five minutes ago. There's absolutely no reason to fuck with the kid's mind like this. There's a screaming teenager in the back of his mind, a voice that makes Dick wish his speaking voice was deeper than it is.
The teenager wants the world to know how unfair it all is, wants to take every petty little moment of satisfaction he can get ("Please, get out."), even if it means leaving a real teenager swinging in the breeze.
And all he has to do to let it win is keep his mouth shut and wait.
"Give me a second."
He shuts down the lasers and de-electrifies the access door, and tries not to watch the kid try and fail to stay out of a defensive posture. "You're clear. Follow the hall and take the first right."
By the time he hears Jason's footsteps, he's got the security back up and a note started telling Vic to start production on more of the new mini-cams.
"I really should've called, hunh."
He's closer than Dick would've thought. He's spent too much time away... no. He's spent exactly as much time away as he should've. Or maybe not enough. "It's not a problem."
"Look, if you're busy..."
Dick bites back the urge to snap, and does his best not to think about what it reminds him of. Forces himself to relax. "I'm just telling our computer whiz about the security problems you've helpfully pointed out."
"That was a compliment, by the way." Dick grins back over his shoulder, feeling the reflexive tension start to ease as soon as he can actually see Jason.
Who has, apparently, given up on trying to be subtle about his discomfort. His hands are clenched into fists at his sides, in that way that has a lot more to do with keeping from shoving your hands in your pockets or hugging yourself than it does with anger.
"Look, man, if you want me gone, just say it. Don't jerk us both around."
Or maybe not so much more. Dick sighs and scrubs a hand through his hair, standing up. "Let's go."
And the kid shifts his stance in a very, very familiar way, making Dick blink.
"I meant to my room, kid. I'm not looking for a fight."
He can see the kid's eyes narrowing behind the mask, and he wonders if he ever looked like that. He had to, didn't he?
Dick puts his hands up. "Seriously. The only other person here now is Beast Boy, who's probably skittering through the walls in rat form, but I'd rather have this conversation in private."
It's the truth. The fewer parts of the Tower that remind him of Gotham, the better. Which is probably way more fucked up than is remotely necessary, but is the truth just the same.
Jason either hears the honesty in his voice or decides he doesn't want to fight -- and that annoying little voice is crowing loudly about how easily Dick could take him. Either way, he relaxes visibly.
"Lead the way."
He does, ignoring the crawl between his shoulder blades as much as he can until they're in his rooms and he can put himself in a less vulnerable position. Jason's glance around is cursory, but also clearly trained enough that it's hard for Dick to tell what he is and isn't seeing.
The pictures on his dresser and bedside table? The mild clutter?
"You live here?"
The question is an obvious one, but it still rocks him a little. He doesn't have that many personal effects here. "Sometimes," is what he decides to go with.
Jason nods and crosses his arms, and there's something... He's not that tall, but his forearms bulge with muscle. His whole body bulges with muscle, in a way that Dick's never did and probably never would.
He'd told the kid he'd grow into Dick's old suit in a few years, but now... in a few years this kid isn't going to be much smaller than Bruce.
"How much do you bench?"
"What...? Oh, three hundred. I'm still working on it."
Fourteen. Jesus. But it makes sense. He'd done a lot of weight training as Robin, and he still does a lot just to keep his strength up, but his real strengths had always been elsewhere.
It does make sense that this kid's workouts would bear more resemblance to Bruce's than his own, but it's still a little disturbing in ways he doesn't have words for, or even especially coherent thought.
And Jason is eyeing him a little warily. "What?"
"You look like you're sizing me up again."
Which is nothing but the truth, but... "You can't tell me you aren't used to that by now."
Jason smirks at him. "Only from people I get to punch."
Dick snorts. "Okay, point. I guess I'm just..." He shakes his head and sits on the bed, gesturing at Jason to take the chair. "I never thought I'd find myself trying to have a conversation with... Robin."
"There are a lot of things I never -- " And Jason doesn't so much trail off as cut himself off.
Dick hears it anyway. "Yeah. So why don't we pretend that I wasn't a world-class asshole and start over?"
Jason looks at him for a long moment before nodding, sitting down and resting his forearms on his knees, hands dangling between. He'd look almost casual if he yanked the cape's collar high enough to hide the tension in his neck.
"So. What made you decide to escape from Gotham?"
"I got permission."
His tone is an odd mix of defensiveness and... confusion? Street kid, and kind of a punk from the description Bruce had given him in that little walk they'd taken through Bruce's rationalizations.
Except that it's hard to see.
"You know, Dick, you could just ask me questions instead of sitting there psychoanalyzing me by my freaking body language."
"Force of habit."
"With your allies?"
Is that what they're supposed to be? He manages not to say that out loud. "You're the one working with Bruce these days. You tell me."
"You hate it, don't you."
Jason squints at him. "You hate it. That he has a new sidekick. That --" He shakes his head.
Dick swallows. It's one thing to be petty. It's something else entirely to be obviously petty.
"I asked him about it, you know. If you were coming back."
Now would be a good time to laugh, or at least say something theoretically witty. He has... exactly nothing. "What did he have to say about it?"
"He said you had your own destiny. That your 'tour of duty' was over." There's a sour smile on the kid's face. "I thought that was just Bruce-speak for 'he outgrew the short pants and booked.' But it wasn't, was it? He... it wasn't your choice. Right?"
"Give the kid a cigar. Is that what you came here to talk about? You're wondering when he's going to fire you?"
It's a direct hit, and it's completely unsatisfying. Which Dick supposes proves that he's still human, at least.
"It isn't. That's not what I came here for. But now that you mention it --" He rips the mask off without bothering with the solvent, and they wince together.
Dick knows exactly what that feels like.
"What do I have to do to keep... this?"
Don't get shot. Don't ever screw up. Don't even think about changing or growing up, unless you're going to do it exactly the way Bruce does. Don't let him see you. Don't -- "If I knew that..."
"I wouldn't be here. Right." Jason sighs and leans back in the chair, crossing his legs and spinning the mask over his fingers.
Dick remembers Bruce teaching him that trick.
"This isn't going to be easy, is it? You and me, talking."
Well, why should it be? Oh, that's right, he'd told the kid he could talk to him. Fuck.
"Especially with you second-guessing everything you want to say."
"Hey, sometimes it's third- and fourth-guessing."
It's in the smile, he thinks. Jason doesn't smile like he's fourteen, at least not in Dick's presence. He smiles like someone who's lived too much, too soon. And after he's been Robin for another few years, that won't seem strange at all.
"Jason... I meant it, you know. I gave you my old uniform for a reason. And I gave you my phone number for a reason, too."
The smile gets even older for a moment before the kid gets his game face back on.
His game face is the only young thing on him.
"It's just a bad time?"
You're a walking, talking open wound. "Yeah. I'm sure I'll be over this in two or three decades. Can you wait?"
Jason snickers almost easily. "I'll pencil you in."
Dick pulls a knee up, planting his foot on the mattress and wrapping his arms around his leg. "So talk to me. What did bring you here?"
"Uh, Dick, don't get me wrong, man, but I'm not exactly feeling the urge to share and care right now."
"Look at it this way -- I'm almost sure you've already said everything guaranteed to make me lose my mind and act like a prick. What else could there possibly be?"
And Jason looks at him, really looks for a long, serious stretch of time. The smirk fades off his face, and, for a moment, Dick thinks he really will say it. Whatever it is.
But that little voice in his head is absolutely sure that 'whatever it is' will call Dick's bluff, one thrill of irrational terror to go along with all of the irrational rage. And he knows Jason can see it on his face.
"Maybe next time."
"Sure," Dick says, and the false cheer is oily and awful at the back of his throat.
Jason pastes his own smile over the game face and deliberately glues the mask back down before standing up and putting out his hand. "See you around?"
Dick nods and holds on to the kid's hand after shaking it, trying to will the tension out of their little charade. But squeezing, even gently, just makes Jason even more rigid, and Dick lets go. "Jason..."
"He... he really does a number on a guy's head, you know?" He's not looking at Dick.
"Yeah. It's kind of his specialty. You're not alone, okay?"
"Heh. No, I'm definitely not alone. Is there a way to get to the roof without running the security gauntlet?"
Dick grins. "Yeah, I'll show you."
He watches the kid leave, swinging through the air like Bruce in colors that will never be Dick's again.
He wasn't ready for this.
But then... none of them ever were, or will be. That's the point.
He'll do better next time.
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