by Te
February 8, 2004

Disclaimers: They aren't mine; I just obsess from a

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.
Nonie, bless her, had many helpful suggestions.

Feedback: Appreciated at teland793@sbcglobal.net


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 Dick'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

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,

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

No matter what Bruce had to say about it.

"D-- Nightwing?"

"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 Dick's mind, a voice that makes Dick wish his
speaking voice was deeper than it is.

The voice 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

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."

"Got it."

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. Dick has
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

"I... oh."

"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

"Jason --"

"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

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

He had told Jason 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 when *he* was 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. Dick is going to have to be the
one to get this conversation rolling.

"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.

Except --

"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

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

"Look --"

"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,

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

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 Dick's head is absolutely sure
that 'whatever it is' will call his 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

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,

"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.


.Where hunger finds us.