Strings and lucky stones
October 4, 2006
Disclaimer: No one and nothing here is mine.
Spoilers: Vague and AU-ized ones for *seriously* old
Summary: "What kind of showman *are* you?"
Ratings Note: Sexual content which some readers may or
may not find disturbing.
Author's Note: Both an answer to Jack's snippet request
and the third in the Human
Things That Fly series. Won't
make sense without the others.
Acknowledgments: To Kat for audiencing and
"For someone who cuts as much as you do, you sure spend
a lot of time getting *ready* for school."
Jason's hand is in Dick's hair before he can really think
about it -- some things are pretty much reflex at this point.
He can't remember if he'd mussed the kid's hair when they
*first* met, but the image of it is too perfect not to believe
in at least a little.
Of course, at the time, he would've been doing it out of a
different kind of reflex entirely -- ("You've been a star since
the day you were born, honey.") but, still.
It makes Dick laugh and stumble -- no one who isn't them
and maybe Bruce would know it for a stumble, because Dick
lands on his toes with his hands up and ready.
Out of range.
Jason returns his attention to his own hair. In two days,
maybe three, it'll be time to dye it again. For now, he's just
got a little bit of sparkle, a sweet little spangle on his scalp
that the sun will pick up nicely -- assuming it ever stops
The first February he'd spent in Gotham had been one long
attempt to get enough money, enough *stake* to get out
again. One long failure, since everything was more expensive
*and* harder to steal.
He's a bit past the point where the voice in his head
promising "this time, for *sure*" makes any sense at all, but
he's right about to the point where it's comforting. Maybe
next year, and all that.
"Seriously, Jay --"
"Uh, huh." There's one curl that just plain goes the wrong
way. Every morning, right around this time, he promises
himself that he'll just go ahead and *go* for the tousled
look next time.
His hair actually never looks better than right in the middle
of a patrol.
He gives up and whips out the gel -- the same kind Dick
uses to shellac his hair into shape, just as if he's thinking
*today* gym class will involve something as useful and fun
as a trapeze -- even though, for his hair...
He's got until nine -- maybe ten -- before the curl's doing its
own damned thing again. Jason frowns.
"I don't *understand*," Dick says, and he's -- right back in
range, but Dick is Dick, and so there are different qualities to
being 'in range.'
Bruce says Dick probably won't be much shorter than he is
when they both hit their full heights, but for now there are
times when he just seems tiny, and absolutely perfect for
moments like this, when Jay can reach over Dick's shoulder,
plant his palm between his bony little shoulderblades, and
*pull* him in.
Dick's arms fit around his waist, and the two of them in the
mirror... don't really look anything like brothers until Dick's
frown matches his own. "We don't look enough alike."
Jason shrugs. "Good enough for most of the marks."
Dick knuckles him in the kidney. "They aren't. I know you
hate school, Jay, but --"
"But education is important and also we have a reputation to
uphold and blah blah blah --"
"Think of it this way, kid -- if we *were* too much alike,
we'd look --" and Jason makes his eyes wide, and hunches
his shoulders in, and then gets extra shifty. "*Suspicious*,"
he says, hissing out the last 's' and letting it flow right into
the most evil laugh he can manage at seven in the morning
without getting too creepy to live.
Dick snickers. "Okay, but I still don't know why you spend
so much time dressing *up*."
Jason raises an eyebrow at their reflections. The school
uniforms would be criminal if Bruce wasn't a million times
rich enough to pay for them to get new ones tailored every
time they so much as gain three pounds, but there's really
not *enough* of a difference between 'criminal' and 'boring,'
"You know what I mean."
He does. "I *could* pull out the eyeliner --"
He snickers. He really -- can't help it at all. He's only done it
twice since Dick had moved in with them, and both times
he'd actually made the kid *trip* in the halls. "What kind of
showman *are* you?"
"My Dad hardly *ever* wore eyeliner," Dick says, and gets
that kind of balky look on his face that just makes Jason
want to tickle him a lot.
He's got self-control. "Your *mom* did. I know. I saw her --"
"She *might've* just been wearing it that day, you don't
"But I *do*, Dickie," Jason says, and he doesn't actually
have *enough* self-control to keep from tickling Dick's side
a little when the all-knowing-big-brother tone makes Dick
knuckle him again.
Somewhere in the manor, Alfred is doing that long-suffering
sigh thing that only actually counts when Bruce isn't around,
When he is -- and Jason's body-sense wants him to know
that Bruce *probably* is at least twenty feet from their
bathroom door -- the sigh just means, 'oh, you boys,' and
takes in all of them.
Sometimes Jason's pretty sure Alfred would die of joy if
Bruce ever joined *in* this kind of thing -- i.e., the two of
them doing their level best to beat the creases out of their
pants on the spotless bathroom tile.
It's a losing battle. Dick's too good *and* Jason had spent
too much time on his hair.
Later, he promises himself, and lets Dick up. "Tell you
what -- you don't narc on me when I bail later, and I won't
wear the eye-liner." It's not that Dick ever does --
"Jason! That's not -- you *know* I wouldn't --"
Jason pokes Dick in the nose. "Not even in that way where,
when Alfred *asks*, you blush beet red and start shifting
your feet, and --"
"I can't lie to *Alfred*!"
Jason rolls his eyes, nice and slow, until he's staring at the
second shelf of the medicine cabinet -- through the mirror,
natch -- in an extra obvious way.
"Oh! I just. They *talk* about you when you wear eye-liner.
The other kids."
He'll just bet they do. "Remember where we live? Remember
who *adopted* us...?"
Now that -- had been weird, even by Bruce standards. Until
Jason realized it'd been three whole weeks since the last
time Bruce had been waiting, asking with everything but
his mouth, *wanting* at him --
It had been only a few months after Dick had moved *in*
with them, and... yeah.
Of course, by the end of week four... yeah. Jason shakes his
head -- internally -- and focuses.
"... not the *same*. I don't... some of the things the other
kids say, Jason --"
"Are really mean and bad and wrong?"
Dick shoves at him. "I'm not a kid."
"No, I know. I'm just... look. They're marks. Townies to the
*bone*. What would your *Dad* say about them?"
The smile on Dick's face is one of the ones Jason likes best,
to be honest. It's the one where the hazy image of John
Grayson Jason has in his head becomes bright and real and
*colorful*, when he almost can't think around the smell of
cologne and sweat and the tape they all used on their
hands when the blisters got too painful. It's narrow and sly
and sharp, and Dick's going to be so hot when he grows up
that Jason's going to have to beat the living shit out of
people each and every day.
He's okay with that. "So? Come on."
"He wouldn't say *anything*. Because me and the other
"Would be busy running them *right* the hell out, just like
me and the other kids in *my* circus. Or maybe you had
other tricks? A little cayenne pepper in the cotton candy
"Heh, you had to *time* it just right so you didn't --"
"Make the *good* kids cry. Yeah. And --"
"Getting the elephants to poop right *on* their shoes -- or --
oh, one time I got Zitka to do it right on this one kid's
Jason snickers and leads them out of the bathroom -- after
nabbing the eyeliner. "This is what I'm saying, Dickie. Just
because they outnumber us now doesn't make them any
Dick nods against his side and walks with him, but he's -- a
little too quiet.
"Hey, are you hearing me?"
"We're not -- you know, my mom used to *be* one of
Which... okay, sure. Jason gives Dick a little push when they
get near the stairs, more to give him that tiny little extra bit
of momentum that'll let him slide down the banister at
He looks up when he tumbles to his landing, and Dick is still
near the top of the staircase, hands in his pockets and head
"Hey -- it's not like any of us can help how we're *born*,"
Jason says. "I remember your mom, and she was just like
mine." Except for the bigger words and the better smile.
"You think so...?"
Jason makes little come-on motions with his hands, and
grins -- nice and big -- when Dick starts jogging down again.
"They're them and we're *us*, and that's all there is to it.
Why would I -- why would *we* want to be like *that*?"
And Dick's got another one of the looks Jason really likes on
his face. The thoughtful one which is all about how maybe
he's not being insanely selfish for loving having Dick here,
like maybe this -- all of it -- won't change a damned thing
about him, the way --
Bruce is in the kitchen, all dressed up like the corporate
clone he isn't and pretending to drink Alfred's coffee. Bruce
is probably the only guy in the *world* who can actually do
that -- Alfred's coffee being just that *good* -- but there
you go. What he's *really* doing is laying back in the tall
Well, waiting for him. Jason raises an eyebrow when he
knows Dick isn't looking, and gets to watch Bruce doing that
thing where the only reason why he isn't blushing is
because -- he's just that good. The head-shake is small,
brief, and actually believable, so he does a little laying back,
Alfred, being *also* that good, manages to convince Dick
-- against all the rules of time and space and logic -- that he
*does* have time for a sit-down breakfast and, just like
that, he and Bruce are alone.
There are totally times when he thinks it's just going to be
normal. They have *rhythms*, it's been a couple of
*years*. Most of the time, they don't talk because they
don't have to.
It's just that there are -- still -- those other times, and
Jason has no idea what to do with them other than waiting
He grabs his own coffee and deliberately stands next to
Bruce at the counters, as opposed to sitting at the table.
For a while, he can't feel anything but Bruce's gaze on his
scalp, not even the scald of the coffee. He curls his tongue
and -- he waits.
"You. You shouldn't discourage him from wanting to be...
Which... okay. "Okay, I won't."
"I mean... you don't think. Jason. He isn't. I."
Jason shakes his head and smacks Bruce in the gut -- lightly,
it's not like he's wearing gauntlets -- with the back of his
And gets caught.
First by the wrist, fingers sliding over his pulse, then by the
hand -- fingers sliding over his palm. The touch is so light it
feels like he's lost skin. "Bruce --"
"I only meant -- the attention you call to yourself..."
Is exactly what Bruce gets off on, call it seven times out of
ten. "The attention, Bruce," and Jason steps away to face
Bruce instead. He's tall enough now that tilting his chin to
meet Bruce's eyes is painful, as opposed to dire, "is
*exactly* what the heir of one of the world's richest men
*should* call to himself."
"If he were slightly older," Bruce says, and manages to
sound both fond and a little sick.
"God, *Bruce*, don't do this --"
"I trust you, Jason. I -- more than." Bruce closes his eyes,
and, sometime while Jason wasn't paying attention, Bruce
had curled his hands around the edge of the counter and
started to squeeze.
If Jason so much as brushed his *own* fingers over Bruce's
knuckles... yeah, not right now. He takes a deliberate step
back, instead. "You know he was my baby brother before
you whipped out the paperwork, right?"
Bruce's nod is slow, and solemn.
"So go with that. I'm not going to let anything get in his
way -- *our* way. It's just that that has to include not
letting him... cut himself apart trying to be something he
shouldn't. That he *isn't*."
"You are the most dangerous person I have ever known."
Sometimes -- sometimes it's better when Bruce is busy
making the English language sound like an elaborate
system of torture thought up by an Arkhamite. "Uh --"
Bruce holds up a hand, smiles ruefully, deliberately uncurls
his *other* hand from around the counter, and stands
straight and proud and false everywhere but his eyes. "If I
had known you when I was younger, somehow, I would be
a different man today. I know that about myself, and it will
never stop being terrifying," he says, and doesn't touch
Jason's face. "And beautiful."
"Jesus, Bruce --"
"Dick is -- all of us are --" Bruce's head-shake this time is a
lot less believable, but no less definite. Conversation over.
"I have a meeting to be late to in an hour and a half. May
I apply your eyeliner?"
He really *had* only grabbed it to prove a point, but...
There. Footsteps moving back toward the kitchen. Jason
laughs, mostly to himself, and hands over the pencil.
The touch Bruce uses might as well be -- no. It's *exactly*
the same as Alfred's, right down to the fact that even this
close, Jason can't see anything in the man's eyes but
concentration. Bruce would have even impressed Jason's
mom, in some ways.
He puts a little curl on the corners, too, which Jason hasn't
done in so long it almost feels *strange*.
And then it doesn't, because Alfred is brushing microscopic
dust from Dick's shoulders, and Dick's lower jaw is in serious
danger of hitting the floor.
"I think that's adequate," Bruce says, capping the pencil and
handing it back with the perfect absence of a flourish.
"Yeah, it'll do," Jason says, tosses the pencil to himself, and
tucks it away. Tousled really *would* have worked better.
"You -- *Bruce* --!"
"I -- I --"
Jason tips Dick his most obnoxious wink, and watches Dick
blush so hard... he gives up and snickers. After a moment,
Dick laughs, too, until the blush is a flush which -- might as
well be blush. Heh.
Maybe when Dick's older.
Since Bruce wants to be late, he'll be driving them in to
Jason grabs a few muffins and heads down to the garage
with Dick in tow -- Bruce driving means *they* get to pick
It might as well not be February at all, even if it is Gotham
right down to where it counts.