A cavern in the white
by Te
September 5, 2006

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers: Vague ones for assorted older storylines.

Summary: It's not the party Dick wanted.

Ratings Note: Mostly harmless.

Author's Note: An early entry for Jack's birthday. Jack
hirself gave me this bunny, actually... and I hope I'm
doing it a little justice. Happy merry, babe. *g*

Acknowledgments: To Petra and Betty for audiencing,
encouragement, and helpful suggestions.

When he finds Jason -- in the small topiary garden, which
Jason calls 'the half-assed bush zoo' -- he's been outside
long enough that he almost seems colder than the rest of
the outside world.

Dick's been here -- been Robin Gold -- for long enough to
know how the illusion works, how it's all a matter of
expectations and the ways in which sense memory can lie
to you (Jason is, of course, as warm as anyone not a
metahuman or Superman), but it's still strange enough to
make him shiver a little.

His hand seems to almost reach *out* to Dick's own with
cold, and --

And Jason moves it to around Dick's shoulders. "Where's
your coat, kid?"

Dick snorts and bumps Jason in the ribs with a shoulder he
knows Jason finds painfully bony. "Where's *yours*?"

Jason's grin is broad and shiny -- a little wet, and probably
wet enough to make his teeth at least a little
uncomfortable out here -- "Trapped behind enemy lines,
'course. I never thought I'd be grateful for the jacket on
this monkey suit."

They're both in tuxedos, of course -- for the party. Alfred
says Jason's outgrown every tuxedo they've gotten for him
within weeks. The way he says it makes Dick wonder if
Alfred thinks he does it on purpose. But... enemy lines.
Really --

"Aww, don't start, Dick. I know our *guests* aren't the
enemy. Really," he says, squeezing and shaking Dick a little.

"I know you didn't want this party, but --"

"But it *totally* made Bruce crawl up out of the Cave for
once, and Alfred has, like, actual manservant things to do,
and you like the lights."

It's tempting to stick his tongue out -- Jason had spent more
time helping Alfred set up than *he* had -- but, well. He
was looking for Jason for a *reason*.

And the fact that *his* jacket works for his shoulders but
*not* his chest...

"Hey, what --"

The bottle of champagne is actually colder than it was when
Dick had pulled it from the ice-bucket.

Jason's laugh is shocked and pleased.

"*You* like the champagne," he says, and lets himself think
about the circus like he's been wanting to for a few days.

About his parents, and --

It's always safer, somehow, to wait until Jason's right there,
even though all Dick has to do is find him if he needs him.


"Man, I -- this is how I always used to know when summer
was over," Jason says, and starts working on the cork with
the thumb he *didn't* break two weeks ago. "You know
what I mean? That first day you take your... soda or iced
tea or lemonade or whatever outside, and it just gets colder
instead of warmer."

It's that, right there. "My mom..."

"Yeah?" Jason's voice --

Dick's supposed to pay attention to how casual it is, as
opposed to the way Jason's shoulders are kind of tense.

At first, it had been perfect to do it just that way, and Dick
hasn't really figured out how to *say* that he doesn't have
to be so careful anymore.

And he kind of thinks -- *sometimes* -- it's the kind of
careful that's good to have if you've been living with Bruce
for a while. It's not that Bruce has ever been... *really*
weird with *him*, but.

Jason's been here longer.

The cork makes that deep little sound that deserves a better
word than 'pop,' and goes flying -- Dick loses sight of it
somewhere around the neatly-trimmed and winter-bare
branches that make up the rabbit that's about three times
his size.

"Or you could just have a drink," Jason says, waggling his
eyebrows even though the smile on his face is a little fake.

"No, I -- I just was gonna say that my mom used to make
lemonade every time we could get the fresh lemons. No
matter *what* the weather was like."

And Jason's grin gets -- better. "Yeah? With my mom it was
always iced tea. But *only* this weird tea that we could
only find in, like, northern Louisiana and parts of Georgia.
All spicy and perfect and I haven't had any in -- heh. Years.

Jason grunts and smiles -- at the bottle -- and then takes a
long swallow right *from* the bottle. He never looks his age
when he does things like that. There are adult men back
in the manor who don't have hands as big and scarred as
Jason's own.

His own hands aren't that much smaller, which makes Dick
really *hope* he starts growing the way Jason did, because
otherwise he'll look like a freak. Jason wipes the bottle
before handing it over, and Dick makes a face.

"What? *Reflex*."

Dick shakes his head and drinks. They share water bottles
almost every night. It's just *quicker* to finish off one
between them before moving to the other.

"Anyway," Jason says, "we shouldn't test our luck *too*
much." He nods toward the path between the hedge-
animals. "Bird-bench?"

Dick thinks that's probably obvious if anybody's looking for
them -- it's been one of Jason's favorite spots on the
grounds since before Dick got here -- but, well.

It probably wouldn't have been a favorite if it wasn't also
one of the few places this *close* to the manor that still
didn't have any direct sight-lines. He follows. But --

"You *know* Bruce or Alfred had to see me sneaking this

Jason snickers and uses his jacket to sweep the dusting of
snow off the bench. "Yeah, but there are two important
words to be considered here, kid: plausible deniability."

"'Never misbehave where they *have* to stop you,' yeah,
I *remember*, Jay. Still --"

"Still, you had at *least* two glasses inside, and it'll be
easier to keep you from falling on your head when you
pass out if you're already sitting down," Jason says, and
pats the bench next to him.

In the summer, the wings of the kind-of-generic (Alfred
doesn't like the topiary much, either, Dick thinks) songbird
provide a lot of shade in the afternoon, which is perfect
because the sun had usually warmed the bench up a lot
in the mornings. Right now, it's cold enough to make his
butt hurt a little bit, jacket or no jacket.

Jason laughs again, and pokes Dick in the cheek. "Bet you
miss that freaking six mile long skirt Bruce made you wear
that one time."

"It wasn't -- it had -- it was *puffy*," Dick says, and steals
the bottle back. "And *you've* already had at least *three*

"Four," Jason says, and spins around enough to straddle
the bench sideways. "But *I'm* bigger. And older," he
says, and makes a 'gimme' gesture when Dick's done

The funny thing is that Dick doesn't really like champagne
all that much -- not compared to other things, anyway --

But Jason's cheeks are a little red now with more than
just cold, and Jason actually *does* like it more than
other things, and, well. It's a party.

It's a party, *and* it's about as far away from the party he'd
*wanted* as it could be. The only one in there worth
talking to is the Commissioner, and he's not allowed to
have anything like an interesting conversation with him.

"Hey," Jason says, and bumps him with the bottle. "Are you
gonna tell me what's *really* bugging you?"

Leslie had begged off because New Year's is always a busy
night for the Clinic, and Bruce Wayne isn't allowed to invite
people like Detectives Bard and Bullock, and not even
Officer Montoya, and the Commissioner would probably,
like, commit crime before willingly bringing Babs to a party
like this, and the only kids their ages are the people they
try to *avoid* at school --

"Dick --"

"I thought it would be different," he says, and looks down
at the shoes which are useless enough that they -- if they
stay out here long enough for it to ice up again -- will
make a concentrated effort to make Dick break his neck
on the way back *to* the manor. Dick frowns. "The party,
I mean."

"I..." Jason nudges him one more time with the bottle, and
sighs when Dick takes it.

"And I know that you already knew it would be like this.
You -- you tried to tell me." Dick takes another swallow,
and holds onto the bottle to keep from crossing his arms
over his chest.

"Yeah, but... there's something I *didn't* tell you," Jason
says, and tugs on the neck of the bottle until Dick lets go.

"That we'd both wind up fleeing outside because the party
guests sucked so bad, so I should probably stash a coat or
blankets somewhere I can reach?"

The expression on Jason's face would probably be less
funny-looking if Jason wasn't at least a *little* drunk -- all
eyebrows and open mouth -- but, then again, maybe it

Sometimes, when Jason is bored in class -- they actually
have a few together, because Dick skipped and Jason...
didn't -- he'll do things like ball up a few tiny pieces of
paper, drag his hand a little showily below the *teacher's*
sight-line, and make them dance in a little juggling trick
that Dick had used to do before his parents had let him
up on the really *high* tight-ropes.

The crowd couldn't really see what he was doing in one
*hand* up there, and...

And it's just one of those things about Jason, is all. That
makes him... okay, or moreso, than even Bruce or Alfred.
Dick hadn't taught him that trick.

"Well, are you gonna ask...?"

"Jay, I'm not -- I don't want to sulk," he says, and he's
absolutely sure, all of a sudden, that he already --

"Too late," Jason says, and reaches out to muss up his hair.
"But I still like you pretty good. So *ask*."

-- is. "Fine, what didn't you tell me?"

And Jason's smile isn't funny-looking at all, just clear and
bright and focused as it gets sometimes, like maybe they
both suited up when Dick wasn't looking. "*After* the
party," he says, and the tension in his shoulders is all about
the move he *could* be making right now, but isn't.

And Dick still doesn't really know what --

"Oh -- come *on*, kid. You just -- well, okay. You're just
going to have to trust me a little, okay?"

Dick frowns. "Of course I trust you --"

"Then c'mere," Jason says, pushing up on his hands and
swinging off the bench like maybe he *hadn't* drunk four
glasses of champagne and a good portion of another full
bottle -- no.

His landing is a little wobbly. Dick raises an eyebrow like

Jason snorts, shakes his head, shakes himself all *over*,
grins, and offers his hand. "Come *here*, okay?"

Here turns out to be 'next to the outside wall of the manor,
and again out of direct sight-line.' "What --"

"Ditch your shoes," Jason says, already kicking out of his

Dick's toes curl inside the things in protest, but, well, the
socks he's wearing aren't all that much thinner, all things
considered. He crouches down to take them off, looks up,
and --

Jason's already climbing the wall.

"Jay --!"

He doesn't quite swing his *whole* body away from the
wall when he lets go of the brickwork with his left hand,
but if he was even just a little higher, it would *look* like
he did. Or feel like it.

Or --

"Come on!"

Sometimes Dick thinks Bruce wants him to forget everything
*about* the circus. He never feels that way around Jason.

"Quick, I need you to catch the bottle before it slips down
out of my waistband and down my *leg*."

Dick grins and leaps, catching and climbing. Jason doesn't
really have the frame anymore for the speed *Dick* can
manage -- Dick thinks Bruce must've had him on the
weights from day *one* -- so they're almost side-by-side
in time for Dick to yank the bottle free and tuck it in his
own -- better-fitting -- pants. "We could've *left* the

"You scare me sometimes, baby brother. So *wasteful*,"
Jason says, and continues climbing.

Dick laughs, and climbs after him, and hangs on while
Jason swings free enough to pick the lock on one of the
attic windows.

Somewhere in the Cave, a dozen alarms are going off right
now, but... no one's *in* the Cave, and --

And the attic still isn't like any attic Dick's ever seen, or
heard about, or even read about. It's just as clean and neat
as every place else, only empty and dark.

The moonlight is the only thing that lets him see Jason's
hand when he gestures Dick to keep following.

It's better *and* worse when they're out in the hall, because
it's kind of wrong to creep through the manor like it's any
other criminal hideout, low and fast and silent as they can,
even though -- *because* -- there's light out here.

Dick pulls the bottle out of his pants so he can move better,
but -- "Jay --"

"Almost, almost -- there."

And they're in the gallery, three stories up from the party,
and there are no lights up here, so looking down...

"Okay, get a good picture of it in your head, Dick."

Looking down makes the tree that had been huge and a
little unreal on Christmas look, well, like a *Christmas* tree.

The lights are too good -- too *bright* -- even up here for
them to be anything but hundreds of perfect little
warm-glare-y points. The people...

Everyone's all dressed-up, sure, but they're...

"They're as small as a -- as a *crowd*," Dick says, and
pushes closer to the little wooden railing-fence thing.

He can see Jason's grin out of the corner of his eyes. "Yeah
they are, and they won't get any bigger, and they can't see

"Until and unless we *want* them to."

Jason grins even wider and claps him on the back. "Now
close your eyes."

It's -- it's actually kind of hard to do. The manor hasn't
looked this right -- not this *much* of it --

It hasn't looked this right, ever. But Jason wants him to, so
he sets the bottle down out of the way and closes his eyes --

And jumps, a little, when he can feel Jason hugging him. It's
not like he doesn't, or that he doesn't about a million times
more often than Bruce and Alfred *combined*, but his
cheek is still a little cold against Dick's own, and his breath
is warm and smells like champagne, and...

And they really only do this in one of their rooms. "Jay...?"

"Can you hear them? The crowd?"

"I --"

"*Listen*," Jason says, and squeezes him, and --

And he can. Rustling papers like birds as people move their
programs around, or crumple up their little paper cups full
of peanuts or popcorn. The performing dogs inside the
tents and the circus mutts outside, and the laughter from
someplace in-between.

His mother had told a joke, or his father had said something
kind of mean and really true about townies --

And the *hum*.

The --

He knows it's just the boring music, and the way the
musicians play too quietly *not* to be drowned out by the
guests, and the way they just keep talking and talking and
talking about things he's pretty sure no one really needs to
hear about, even if they're Batman.

He knows it's not...

It's a *hum*, up here, and suddenly Dick just feels *wrong*
dressed this way. The Gold suit would be better, but not by
much. He's supposed to -- he's supposed to be *out* there,
and he knows he's straining a little against the hold Jason
has on him, but he can't --

"I know. God I just -- I *know*, Dick, easy --"

He takes slow, deep breaths, and more of them, and more,
and it's just the champagne. Alfred said that people who
drank too much could be -- he'd used the word 'maudlin,'
and Dick had looked it up, and that's the only reason why
he wants to cry.

It's the *only* reason, and it's not that his parents are dead,
or that Jay's are, that Jay hadn't even been able to bury
them anywhere after Croc had finished with them, that this
place is huge and wrong and empty, that the only thing
that makes any sense is Jay, and being Green and Gold,
that the only time they *can* make sense is when they're
alone, because no one else ever hugs or laughs or acts like --

"God, I -- Dick, please, I didn't mean --"

Dick shudders, and grabs clumsily for Jason when he tries
to let go.

"It's okay, we can -- we can go somewhere else --"

"*No*. No, I. It's okay."

And the thing about Jason is that he can laugh when things
are funny. And it hadn't taken long for that to seem like a
huge deal. He can laugh, and he can... light up so *fast*.
He's actually *shaking* them with his laughter, and, after
a while, it takes a lot for Dick not to laugh too loud, too.

"*Really*. I just -- it was just too much. For a second."

Jason knocks his forehead against the back of Dick's neck
and laughs a little more, and "You *sure*? Because...
instant trauma wasn't part of my New Year's plan..." He
knocks -- nudges -- again, and eases his grip enough to let
Dick turn around.

Burying his head against Jay's shoulder probably isn't the
best way to convince him that he's okay, but it feels as
good as it always does.

"I just... I wanted you to see. And then -- well. *After* the

"What -- what happens then?" Jason won't care if he wipes
his face on the jacket. *Alfred* will, but they can probably
clean up before then.

Jason eyes him a little narrowly, a little *suspiciously*, but
it's just... Jason being Jason. Jay told him once that the
only thing he'd wanted to be more than an acrobat was a
ringmaster, and showed him the designs he'd sketched
when he was younger than Dick is now.

Much younger. He'd done them *after* he'd left the circus,
because the sketches were on the backs of the kinds
of napkins you get from fast-food places and cheap diners,
and one day, Dick is going to convince Alfred that he
should help Dick make them.

"Are you *sure* I should tell you, Dick? I mean..." Jason
kind of... waggles his own head, like a drawing of
'skepticism' done in crayon.

Dick shoves Jason a little -- enough to *almost* justify the
backwards somersault that ends with Jason staring at Dick
with comically wide eyes through his own spread knees,
and never mind that he's *strong* enough now to backflip
up and back from that position, even though his flexibility
is nowhere near as good as Dick's own.

"I'm *shocked*," he says. "Shocked and hurt --!"

"Jay! Tell me!"

The grin is broad and real and right. "Okay. Turn around
again, and close your eyes again... yeah, like that," and
Jason comes up behind him again.

The hug is looser this time, though.

"Now you gotta... tune everyone out. The musicians, the
debs, the society weenies. Everyone."

For a moment, he thinks he can hear Bruce's fakest laugh --
but Jay had said everyone.

And --

He can still hear, of course. They're all right there, but it's
not a hum, and it's not... it's not anything important.

"Yeah," Jason says, and squeezes him a little more.
"They're all gone now, and Bruce is in the Cave, and
Alfred is passed out in his room, but..."

Dick waits, but Jason doesn't say anything. He turns -- just
his head -- and has to shiver a little.

It's not that he couldn't tell Jason was smiling again from
his voice, but it's different to be able to *feel* it against
his cheek. "Ready, baby brother?"

"I -- yeah."

"See, Bruce doesn't *let* Alfred clean up by himself after
parties like this, and the maid service won't be in for just --

Dick nods, slowly enough to feel the little bit of stubble
around Jason's mouth. He hasn't shaved since this morning.

"So... there's a mess. But it can be any mess, when you
think about it."

"I don't --"

"The buffet table looks a little like a truck hit it, if the truck
was driven by one of those little old ladies who can't go
over twenty-five without having a stroke. And maybe it
wasn't the debs who just purge it all later, you know?"

He once saw Bullock stuff an entire *grinder* in his face.

"And there's one champagne flute -- god, that's a stupid
name, but whatever -- kind of half-rolled under the tree.
It's got lipstick on it, and it's the kind that looks a little
dark just out there like that, but is really just red and
shiny and perfect... on the right kind of face."

The kind Babs really only wears when she's Batgirl, but
*maybe* for a party --

"And back in the kitchen, there are just a few dirty mugs
that smell like coffee. Real coffee."

"Oh, I -- because maybe the New Year's thing Bruce does
with the Commissioner..."

"Maybe it could be *here*, for once, and no bullshit." Jason
sighs, and bumps Dick with his chin. "Maybe, anyway. Like
I said -- any kind of mess at all."

"And the marks on the dance-floor would be from people
actually *dancing*, like they were having *fun*, Jay --"

"And there's one guy who's been a little high and stupid
since... someone... caught him under the mistletoe..."

Dick grins. "And he's passed out under the *other* side of
the tree."

"It's *big* enough for it," Jay says. "And... yeah. This
whole place will be ours. This whole *maybe*."

"After the party."

"Uh, huh. We just have to wait a little. And, thanks to you,
we have a little something to pass the *time*," Jason says,
and snags the bottle out of the shadows beside them.

"Oh -- but --"

Jason drinks, swallowing close enough to Dick's ear that he
can hear it. And then sneezes. "Sorry -- yeah? I can't
believe how *cold* this stuff still is."

"I don't... I don't wanna pass out. You know. Before."

"Before the after...? Yeah, well. I won't let you. Or I could
just make you nap a little," he says, shifting away
apparently *solely* to be able to poke Dick in the ribs. "I'll
wake you up when the coast's clear."

It's a good idea, and he's always really...

The best part of sleeping here, of *living* here, kind of,
has been the way Jason will sometimes just stay with Dick
in his room until he's asleep, so that the last thing Dick can
*feel* is the way Jason's watching, and waiting.

He never leaves too fast, even if Bruce is also watching
and waiting a little -- for Jason -- in the doorway, just out
of the morning sun.

But he also doesn't ever get much time just to *be* like
this with Jason, just to...

Even Christmas, they'd all patrolled, and there's school, and
homework, and training, and the last time he'd gotten to
be both awake and hanging *out* with Jason...

Jason shakes his shoulder a little, and then puts his arm
back around him. "*Or* I could just finish this bottle
myself. It's a hardship, but, you know. I'm there for you,"
he says, and the grin is sharp and a little teasing, and his
eyes are that big and kind of soft and kind of weird blue.

It's only weird because the stubble Jason shaves off
everyday is a blond Dick is almost, *almost* sure he
remembers from that one time when Mr. Haly had
scheduled wrong and both their circuses had been in the
same town. You have to be really close and really *good*
to notice that he dyes the hair on his head black.

("... hunh? Well, I. It's easier -- I looked younger as a
blond, kid, and that wasn't any good after Croc -- after I
split the circus on my own, and I just... it's a habit, I

And he's just... he's never really asked about most of it, but
he's never really had to, either. Dick knows where Jason
got the name 'Robin' from, and even though it's a little
weird to think about how he'd somehow *changed* things
here all the way from the circus, before he even knew what
Gotham *looked* like up close, as opposed to from the

When it's like *this* with Jason, quiet and calm and easy,
it's almost like his mother had just... somehow made sure
there'd be a place for him *somewhere*, even if it
wouldn't always be with her, like he'd wanted. Even if all
she did was use his nickname where Jason could overhear.

And the look on Jason's face is a little... watchful, and
patient, and sometimes Dick *also* thinks that Jay's just
waiting for him to ask any of the questions, that he maybe
*wants* Dick to ask, maybe about *all* of it, even the
parts with cheap napkins and dyed hair, but...

But right now, all he wants to do is hug Jason again, so he

Jason hugs him back.

"I love you, Jay."

Jason squeezes him harder. "Absolute ditto, baby brother,"
he says, and shifts Dick in his arms until he can finish the

"You're gonna feel *awful* tomorrow."

"Heh. Bruce'll beat the hangover out of both of us by noon.
We're good. Now why don't you go to sleep, anyway, hunh?"

"I don't -- I'm not ready to go to *bed*, Jay --"

"So who said anything about *bed*, kid?"

"I --"

Jason flips them down to the floor, and then *moves* them
until Jason's on his back and Dick's sprawled over him.

"Hey --"

Jason pushes Dick's head back down to his shoulder. "I've
got you, you know. Go ahead and crash."

"Jeez, Jay --"

"I *want* you to. I'm gonna make you run around for
*hours* after everyone's gone. So *sleep*."

Part of him really -- *really* -- wants to protest that,
because sometimes when he acts like a kid, it just makes
Jason roll around with him, and it's nothing like a spar and
everything like...

Like Jason is the big brother he'd always wanted.

But... Jason wants him to sleep, and maybe he is a *little*
tired. Even if it's just because Jason's stroking his back in
the way that always puts Dick out even after a nightmare.

And if he just lies still for a few minutes, with his eyes
closed, and *then* he tells Jason that he's not sleepy...
Jason will believe him.

Dick settles in and closes his eyes.

And waits for their maybe.


Notes: So, this is actually an attempt to just write one
little scene from the novella-sized bunny Jack gave me
a little while ago. Here's hoping it works!

The cheat-sheet:

Basically, I was going with the idea of a somewhat skewed
DC time-stream. Jason Todd was born right around the
time that, well, Jason Todd was born pre-Crisis. Only there's
no Crisis in that world, or maybe just *everything* is post-

The latter probably makes more sense, because, for the
sake of this story, *Dick* was born... right about when
post-Crisis Dick was born.

Hence the age thing, and Jason being the first... Robin.

(The scary thing is? If you do the math using only *some*
of the canonical variables we've been given over the years,
it totally works.)

The further conceit: Say Croc eats the Todds when Jason
is mumbledy years old.

Say this happens rather a while before Bruce becomes,
officially, the Batman. Say Jason hits the streets and
wanders, and plays -- whatever he can, however he can
-- for his livelihood.

Say Batman, in the midst of Year One, on his *first*
such visit to Crime Alley, finds a boy stealing the
tires off the Batmobile.

(Those rims were *so* last week!)

Again... you can swing it. If you squint, and take a
good hit off the pipe first.

Somewhere, a rather young Tim Drake is having
nightmares about That Night at Haly's.

Which is fine, because so is everyone else. Though Jason
and Bruce have other nightmares to choose from, too, of