Author's notes- In this story, Dick is 22, Jason is 21, and Tim is 14. I combined different canons, so I'm going to call this AU to be safe.
Rated T for torture and language.
From his perch on the roof, Red Hood watched Batman and Nightwing patrol Gotham. Nightwing had come to town to help since the Replacement was laid up with a broken leg. Hood had seen it happen- he had been following the Dynamic Duo at a distance for the last couple of weeks. This would force him to change his plans. Jason had intended to use the boy who had taken his hero identity. But Tim was near untouchable behind the Manor's walls. Jason knew that Bruce had beefed up security since the Red Hood's extracurricular activities went against Batman's ironclad rules. But Hood could be flexible, and patient. This could work to his favor. Nightwing would be an even better candidate for what he had in mind...
It was time to go, before the heroes noticed him. Red Hood didn't have time for the distraction of a fight. He had things to take care of.
As soon as Batman and Nightwing stepped out of the Batmobile into the Cave, Nightwing took his mask off. "Wow, an early night. That's a nice surprise," Dick said. It was one o'clock, a few hours before Batman usually retired for the night.
Bruce pulled off his cowl and went to the computer. He didn't respond.
"Quiet night. Not a lot of crime. Dunno if we should worry that someone's planning something big, or just enjoy it while it lasts."
Dick was rewarded with a "Hmmm" from Bruce. The man didn't even look up from the computer screen. He tried again. "Haven't seen Red Hood lately. Think he's turned over a new leaf?"
Dick waited, but the other man didn't elaborate. "That's it? No? You don't think he can change?"
"He has had multiple chances to change, and he hasn't."
"Look, I realize I've been accused of always seeing the best in people, but don't you think we should give him the benefit of the doubt?" Bruce gave another "hmm," and Dick sighed in annoyance at being brushed off. He moved next to Bruce to try to draw the older man's attention away from the computer. "At the risk of you kicking me out of the house, I think we should talk about this." Dick was pretty sure that Bruce wouldn't really force him to leave the Manor, mostly because he knew that he would back down before Bruce got to that point.
"What is there to discuss?"
"I think we should talk with Jason, try to get him to come home."
"He was the one who left."
"This sounds like when I moved to Bludhaven. You didn't want me to come back," Dick said.
"How?" Bruce didn't answer, so Dick continued, "We need to let him know there is still a home to come to."
"He knows the rules. I won't have a murderer living under my roof."
Dick shook his head. "I know, and I don't agree with his decisions. But he's still your son. If we don't show him it's not too late for him to change, he won't do it. What incentive does he have to stop killing if he knows you won't forgive him?
Bruce didn't say anything, so Dick stormed up the stairs. He should have known by now the futility of arguing with Bruce Wayne when his mind was made up. But for Jason, he had to try.
When Dick was out of earshot, Bruce paused his typing. "I do forgive him," he whispered to the empty cave.
The following night, Red Hood took a moment to look at Wayne Manor which stood out in the distance. Once home, it was now a reminder of everything he used to have- safety, family, a purpose. 'I still have a purpose,' he told himself. 'It's just different now.'
Red Hood was ready. He watched as Batman and Nightwing began their rounds. If they kept to the pattern of the last week, they would patrol together for about half an hour, and then split up. Jason imagined that one of them used the excuse "to cover more ground," but Jason knew the truth. Dick had outgrown the sidekick thing years ago, and there was only so long he and Batman could be together before their tenuous partnership broke down. If they didn't separate willingly on patrol, the downward spiral would eventually begin. Bruce would give orders without explaining his reasoning, Dick would get upset at being kept in the dark, Bruce would issue an ultimatum, and Dick would storm off to Bludhaven as soon as the night was over. Jason smirked. The Golden Boy wasn't so perfect anymore.
He kept his distance and waited it out. Soon enough, he saw them split up. Red Hood gave it another couple of minutes, long enough for Batman to be out of range. Nightwing wouldn't call for backup unless he really thought he needed it. Hood returned to street level. It was show time.
Being back in Gotham was bittersweet for Nightwing. On the one hand, it was the home that he had protected for so many years. On the other, it brought up memories of all the tension and fights between himself and Batman. Things were better lately. They were able to be in the same city, patrolling at the same time, but it still wasn't the way things used to be. Both men tiptoed around the issue, careful not to push too far. Dick hoped that one day Bruce would recognize him as a capable adult, but he knew that Bruce's paranoia and god-complex meant the older man would always feel the need to protect his former charge at the cost of treating him like a helpless child.
His thoughts were cut off by a scream, and then a gunshot. Nightwing swung on a line to reach the street. He came upon the place where the scream had originated to find a figure lying on the ground facing away from him. Nightwing listened for a sign that the attacker was still close by, but heard nothing. He approached the figure. "Are you okay?" he asked as he turned the person over so he could check their pulse. Nightwing was shocked to see it was Scarlet. He quickly realized she was uninjured. Before he could backpedal from the trap, he felt electricity course through his body as an unseen assailant tazed him. Nightwing collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
"Where do you want him?" Scarlet asked.
"I've got it from here." He raised a hand to quiet her when she started to protest. "This is something I need to do on my own."
"Why can't I help?"
"I need you to take care of something for me." He reached into his pocket and pulled out two notes. Jason handed both of them to her. He pointed to the envelope that was addressed to Bruce. "Wait an hour and then deliver this to the Manor." Then he indicated the other one that was addressed to her. "Give it another hour after that before you open that one."
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"Something that needs to be done. Don't worry," Jason said, giving her a careless grin. "Everything's going to work out the way it should." Acting on impulse, he hugged her. "Take care of yourself, okay?"
When he picked up Nightwing and walked away, Scarlet fought the urge to cry. It sounded too much like Jason was saying goodbye.
Red Hood dumped his prisoner on the ground of the abandoned building. He had done the right thing in sending Scarlet away. He didn't want her to witness what came next. Red Hood secured Nightwing's wrists and ankles to the manacles on the floor. Then he took Nightwing's comm and spoke. "Batman. I have your partner. Return home, and I'll send you information about his whereabouts." Then he dropped the comm on the ground and smashed it with his heel. Batman would have to go back to the Cave as directed. His field equipment wouldn't be enough to track Nightwing and Red Hood.
Nightwing stirred and lifted his head. When he saw the Red Hood, he tried to sit up and found the chains keeping him in place. He settled back down on the ground. "What do you want, Hood?" he asked.
"Maybe I just want to spend time with my big brother," Red Hood said sarcastically.
Dick rolled his eyes. "Come on, Jason."
Jason removed his red helmet, but he left the domino mask on. He squatted beside his prisoner. "You and Bruce keep going on and on about how much you care for me. You love me, you see me as family." Jason spit out the last word.
"We do, Jay. You know that."
"I don't know that. What I know is that when it mattered the most, you both failed me."
"I am so sorry that I wasn't there for you. And I know that Bruce wishes he could go back and save you..."
Jason was shaking his head when Dick was only halfway through with what he was saying. "No, you don't get it. I've tried to explain it, but neither of you get it."
"Then explain it again so I can understand," Dick said earnestly. He tried to sit up again. By bending his elbow, he was able to prop himself up.
"I don't see how I could make this any simpler. I want you to kill my murderer. Kill the Joker, wipe his evil from the Earth." Jason heard his voice rise with each sentence and forced himself to take a calming breath.
"Jay, we've talked about this. We don't kill. That's not our way."
"That's an excuse, dammit! What, is Bruce afraid of playing God? Don't make me laugh."
"We can't cross that line. It's not our job to decide who lives and who dies. I understand how you feel, Jason, I do-" At that, Red Hood snapped.
"Don't you dare say you know how I feel! You know nothing!" Jason stood up quickly and walked across the room. He bent beside a duffel bag and took something from it. He added quietly, "But you will."
When Jason turned around, Dick's blood ran cold. The other man was holding a crowbar. "Jason. You wouldn't." The words were spoken out of hope, not certainty. Dick was afraid of the person his brother had become, and he feared that he didn't realize how far the other man had fallen until now.
Red Hood went to a laptop that was sitting on a table and turned on the recorder. "Hello, Batman. You missed out on the last time your sidekick got beaten senseless with a crowbar, so I decided to do a reenactment for you. Enjoy." He rested the weapon on his shoulder as he walked back to his prisoner.
Nightwing glared up at him. Red Hood knew that the hero was done talking. Nightwing wouldn't want to look weak in front of Batman, after all. Hood walked slowly, savoring the moment. This was his time. He was in control.
He swung, making contact with Nightwing's side. The man pressed his lips together and refused to make a sound. Jason smirked. He, too, was stubborn at first. But pain has a way of breaking down resolve. He knew that in the end, the Joker had drawn small grunts of pain from him. And Nightwing was not stronger than Jason was.
The next blow fell on his stomach, then his chest. Nightwing tried to move so the blows would hit the thick Kevlar on his uniform. Jason felt anger rise when he thought back to his uniform and the little protection it provided. His next swings were more powerful, and Nightwing had to bite his lip to keep silent.
"What hurts more, forehand or backhand?" Red Hood taunted. Nightwing felt a chill when he correctly deduced that Jason was repeating the words Joker had said to him on that terrible night. Dick almost spoke to Jason then, but the crowbar connected again, driving the breath out of his lungs.
Jason finally stopped to admire his handiwork. Part of him felt powerful... and the other part of him felt sick. He pushed away the latter feeling. He had made his decision to do this. It was too late to stop now. Jason stopped the recording and set the computer so it would email the video in twenty minutes. He returned to Dick's side.
"Now you have a better idea of how I feel," Jason said quietly.
Ever the diplomat, Dick tried again. "It's not too late, Jay. Let's go home."
"I don't have a home," Jason said heatedly. "And it will be too late, after this." He removed a small explosive from his jacket pocket.
Dick fought down panic. "This isn't you, Jay. You don't want to do this."
"I have to. I've gotta know, once and for all. Maybe the reason Batman didn't kill the Joker was because Joker didn't take anything of value. Batman loves you. Maybe he'll go after his son's killer." Jason held the bomb against Nightwing's chest as he wound wires around the other man's chest. The timer was already set at ten minutes.
"You're his son, too," Dick tried. "He mourned your death. I've never seen him more heartbroken."
"Sorry, Dick. If you have last words, say them now."
"Jason, we still love you. I still love you. It's not too late for you."
"Nice words." Jason gagged Nightwing with a scrap of cloth and returned to the computer. This time he opened a video chat with the Batcave. Batman was there.
"Hood," the man growled.
"Hello, Batman," Red Hood said, unafraid. He moved aside briefly to reveal Nightwing and the bomb, and then moved back in front of the screen. "You have ten minutes to save him before the bomb detonates. You can easily make it here in that time, right? Oh, and the time starts now. I hope you've already started the tracer." He pressed a remote and the countdown began."Better hurry," Red Hood said, then ended the call.
He returned to the side of his prisoner. Dick tried to talk around the gag, so Jason removed it. "You already got your last words," he said irritably.
"Don't do this, Jason," Dick pleaded. "This isn't you."
Red Hood removed a syringe from his jacket pocket. "I'm not a monster. I won't make you feel the explosion. Trust me, it's not a good feeling. And hey, maybe you'll come back to life like I did, and we can talk about this over some beers."
Jason emptied the contents of the syringe into the other man's neck. He watched as Dick's eyes slid closed. Jason waited for a moment, then got to work.
He wasn't worried when Nightwing didn't immediately answer his comms, Batman told himself. He had trained Nightwing, after all. The young man could take care of himself. But he went back to where the two heroes had split up. He searched the area and came up empty. Then he heard the voice over the comm. Not Nightwing's voice. Red Hood, telling him to return to the Cave. Batman bristled at the order, at the thought of his son held prisoner, but there was nothing to do but comply. He had already looked for clues to Nightwing's location and gotten nowhere. He would have to play Hood's game.
Batman called up the surveillance footage from the security cameras around town. He found Nightwing and watched as the hero was taken down. Then Red Hood turned and shot the camera. Batman wouldn't be able to see where Hood took his prisoner.
He saw an icon on the Batcomputer light up signaling a video chat. He clicked it to find Jason. "Hood."
"Hello, Batman." He moved aside so Bruce could see Nightwing lying on his side. The young man appeared to be in pain, but the black of his uniform made it hard to see if he was bleeding. Batman also took in the bomb strapped to the hero's chest. Hood moved back in front of the screen, blocking Bruce's vision of Nightwing before he could determine the extent of his injuries. "You have ten minutes to save him before the bomb detonates. You can easily make it here in that time, right? Oh, and the time starts now. I hope you've already started the tracer." He pressed a remote, and the countdown began."Better hurry."
The call ended and Batman checked on the tracer that he had started before he took the video call. It would be another thirty seconds to a minute to give him the address. He sensed someone behind him and spoke before turning around.
"You shouldn't be down here," he said.
"I'm injured, not an invalid," Tim retorted. Bruce turned to see the teen at the bottom of the stairs, leaning on his crutches. "How could Jason do this?"
Bruce returned his gaze to the computer, ignoring the question. Then he stood suddenly. "If you're here, you might as well help. Tell me when the tracer has an address." He headed to the motorcycle.
"Bruce," Tim said. "Be careful. You have two sons out there that you could lose tonight." Batman didn't show that he had heard. He put on his helmet and drove out into the night.
When Red Hood stepped outside the building where he was holding Nightwing, he lit a cigarette to calm his nerves. This was it. He was going to push Batman into a showdown. Jason knew that Batman had the advantage in size, tactics, and experience. But that was fine. He didn't want to win this fight.
He put out the cigarette and checked his watch. Any minute now. He hadn't allowed Bruce the luxury of time to prepare a plan, but he knew that Alfred or Tim would be looking at blueprints and CCTV to look for traps. Jason had picked this building because there was only one entrance- one story, no back door, and the only window was right next to the front door. There was also no basement, so coming through the sewers was out. Jason was watching the only way in.
Batman arrived twenty seconds later on a motorcycle. Jason was pleased with the symmetry. Batman had been riding a motorcycle on that night in Ethiopia. He pressed the button for the timer as Batman leaped off the bike and went charging in. Jason had done the run through a dozen times to make sure Batman would not be caught in the blast. It wasn't Batman he wanted dead.
The explosion surprised Jason, even though he was the one triggering it. It was louder than he expected. Red Hood worried that he had underestimated the size of the blast. He replaced the red helmet and forced himself to walk slowly into the building. He wanted Batman to know who was in control here.
The Dark Knight was crouched by the back wall, a body cradled in his arms. The young man's face was unrecognizable. Jason breathed a sigh of relief. The plan was still working. "Looks like you got here too late," he drawled, a smirk on his face.
Batman turned. "You," he said, his voice filled with fury.
"Me," Red Hood said. "So are you going to get me or what?" He ran from the building and climbed the fire escape on the building next door. Jason had envisioned dying on a rooftop this time. Abandoned warehouses twice in a row was boring. He had to hurry though, because the Caped Crusader had vengeance in his heart and he was moving like a bat out of hell. Jason smiled at his pun. Hey, it was his last few minutes of life. He had to find humor where he could.
He reached the top of the building at the same time as Batman. The older man had used his grappling hook to speed by his former apprentice. Jason spared a moment to indulge his jealousy for the gadgets he used to have access to. Then he drew his gun, the one tool that Batman had forbidden. He shot at his mentor, not worrying if Batman would be hit. Batman had been facing thugs with guns for twenty years. He wouldn't get shot.
The gunfire did what Jason wanted- force his adversary to retreat temporarily. When Red Hood emptied his clip, he tossed the gun aside and drew his other one. "What, are you afraid of guns now, Batman?" he taunted. "Shit, I thought you expected us to face off against enemies with guns and win?"
A batarang clipped the gun and sent the weapon skittering across the roof, stopping when it hit the brick ledge that extended three feet from the flat rooftop. Hood ran towards Batman and got in one good punch before the older man grabbed him around the neck and threw him to the ground. Jason gasped for breath, thanking his armor for keeping the pain to a minimum. He kicked upwards and then rolled to the side. He got to his feet just in time for Batman to knock him back down. Hood kicked at the other man's legs hard, and Batman had to move away to keep Jason from tearing the ligaments in his knee.
Red Hood got to his feet again and ran for the edge of the roof. Batman tackled him then dragged him the rest of the way to the edge with his large hand around Jason's neck. Batman dangled the young man over the edge, so Jason's back was resting on the bricks and his head was hanging over a three story drop. Jason's feet barely touched the roof. He pushed down his fear. "So is this the part where you kill me?" he asked.
"How could you do it? He was your brother," Batman growled.
Jason snorted. "He wasn't my brother. And it was easy to do it when I knew how much it would hurt you."
The grip around Jason's neck tightened and Batman pushed forward- just a little- and Jason's feet were no longer touching the roof. He grabbed on to Batman's hand. Right now, the only thing keeping Jason from falling was the hero's hold on his neck.
"You really hate me that much?"
Jason didn't answer that. "Are you going to kill me?"
Several heartbeats passed before Batman answered. "No. You're going to Blackgate Penitentiary for your crimes." He pulled Red Hood back onto the roof and cuffed his hands behind his back.
"No! Dammit, I killed your son! And you're going to allow me to live?"
"I've told you before- we don't kill."
"Coward!" Jason yelled. "You don't have the guts to do what needs to be done."
"It's not about guts. It's about what's right."
Jason played his ace in the hole. "Check your phone. I sent you another video."
Batman glared at him with suspicion, but then he looked down at his phone. He clicked the video and watched as Nightwing was beaten with a crowbar. Jason spotted his gun lying a few feet away. He jerked out of Batman's grasp while the other man had his attention split and went for the weapon. Batman reached it first, picking up the gun before Jason could. His other hand held the phone that was still playing back the video.
"Now are you going to do it?" Red Hood pushed. "Don't you see what I've done? Listen to the pain he's in. I did that. C'mon, pull the trigger."
Batman could barely think rationally. This criminal had tortured and killed his son, and was now taunting him, begging him to end his life. It would be so easy... But it wasn't what Dick would have wanted. And it wouldn't bring him back to life. Also, how could he face Tim after going back on the cardinal rule? If you killed, you became as bad as the killers.
Jason could see the war going on inside Batman. The hero's hand shook as part of him screamed for vengeance paid in blood. Then the hand stilled, as its owner made a decision. Batman pressed stop on the video. He ejected the clip and threw the gun over the side of the building. "Killing you won't bring him back."
This was not what was supposed to happen! If Batman killed him, that would prove what Jason had known all along- Bruce loved Dick more than him. But if he was sticking to his morals, after what Red Hood had put him through, then that meant-
"No! Just do it! You don't even have to use the gun, I know you can kill me with your bare hands! Just do it already!" Jason screamed. "I don't deserve to live."
Batman went down on one knee and removed the red helmet. "Jason, when I took you in, I told you I loved you. Those first few months, you worried that you would mess up and I'd send you away. So I sat you down and explained unconditional love to you. You didn't believe it. You still don't. I hate your actions. You need to be locked up so you can't hurt anyone else. But I'm not going to kill you. You are still my son."
Batman lifted his phone again. "I'm calling Gordon."
Jason's head was full of turmoil. He had planned everything perfectly. Anyone else would have broken. But not Batman. "Bruce, wait," he said.
Batman looked at him with cold eyes.
"He's not dead. Nightwing's alive."
Jason emptied the contents of the syringe into the other man's neck. He watched as Dick's eyes slid closed. Jason waited for a moment, then got to work.
He uncuffed Nightwing and stripped off his costume, including the mask. The bruises looked bad, but the x-rays would be worse. He was glad that he refrained from aiming at his head. Then he dressed Dick in a t-shirt and sweats that he took from his duffel bag. He lifted the unconscious man gently and carried him outside to the parking lot to a car he had stolen a few hours ago. Jason unlocked the trunk without setting down his cargo and placed Dick inside. Jason took one last look at his brother before he shut the trunk lid and went back inside the building.
He opened a closet door and removed the dead body that he had stored there earlier. It was a drug dealer that Red Hood had decided needed to pay for his crimes, but what had made Jason notice him was the dark hair. He would work for the decoy. Bruce only needed to see a body for a few seconds. Hood changed the cadaver into the Nightwing uniform and put the cuffs on it. Studying his work, Red Hood turned the man's head so the hair was obscuring the face. He set the timer for 10 seconds.
That done, he gathered the crowbar and computer and put them both in his duffel. Jason felt bad about how this was going to affect Scarlet, but that was a lesson in getting close to people. They always let you down. He was no exception.
"It's a trick."
"No, it's not," Jason said. "He's alive. I'll take you to him. Uncuff me."
Batman fixed him with a glare. "You'll run."
Jason snorted. "Do you want me to lead you to him or not? I can't very well go down the fire escape with my arms behind my back. Plus, I know you put a tracker on me right after you put the handcuffs on."
Batman didn't move. Jason rolled his eyes. "If you want to see him, you'll have to trust me." Knowing his was poking an angry bear, he risked saying, "The wounds are real. He needs a hospital."
Batman picked up Jason and lifted him onto his shoulder, so Jason's head was upside down. "Hey!" he called indignantly as Batman shot a grappling hook and swung off the roof. The young man glared at Batman when the older man set him back down on his feet. "You could've warned me."
"Where?" Batman didn't believe in wasting words.
"Uncuff me," Red Hood demanded again.
"Then I won't tell you where he is."
Batman shoved Red Hood into a wall. "Talk. Now."
"I think we already discovered that you're not going to kill me. Your threats are not very scary," Jason taunted. But then he sighed. He had enough on his conscience without adding Dick's death to it. He said, "Fine. The car around back. I'll show you." Jason led Batman towards the car. "Key's in my pocket."
Batman took the key and then pulled Jason along with him. The older man paused at the car and kneeled to look underneath.
"There's no booby traps."
The hero ignored him and continued his examination. Finally, he put the key in the lock and popped the hood. Jason inched away, keeping his eyes on his opponent.
Batman's heart was unable to truly hold hope until he looked inside and saw Dick. The young man was barefoot, wearing an unfamiliar t-shirt and sweats. The clothes had blood on them- Dick's blood. Most frightening of all, the young man's eyes were closed.
Batman reached forward and put his fingers to Dick's throat. 'Please don't let me be too late.' He was relieved to find a pulse. "You were telling the truth," he said, but when he turned, Jason was gone. Batman let him go. There would be other times to catch him. Besides, Dick needed him now.
They reached Gotham's Free Clinic five minutes later. Batman paged Dr. Thompkins to let her know he was coming. He went in the front door to find her waiting with a wheelchair. She had learned over the years to be prepared. Batman set Dick down gently in the chair. "He was beaten. Probable broken ribs. His head is uninjured."
"I'll check him over and patch him up before I call his emergency contact. It will be about ten minutes." She said this quietly. Even if someone overheard, she had chosen words that wouldn't be suspicious. Batman understood what she was saying. He had ten minutes to get home and change back into his civilian persona. He didn't need the deadline though. Bruce didn't want to spend a second longer away from his injured son than he had to. He nodded to Leslie in thanks and left the clinic.
On his drive home, Batman phoned Alfred to inform him of Leslie's call. Bruce thought he heard the relief in Alfred's voice when he found out that Dick was still alive. For all Alfred's talk of how Jason wasn't too far gone, apparently he had held some reservations on how this would turn out.
Six and a half minutes after he left the clinic, the motorcycle screeched to a halt inside the Cave. Batman brushed past Alfred and grabbed a spare set of clothes. "Might I recommend a shower, sir?" Alfred said.
"No time. I've got to get back."
"The phone call has not come yet. You still have time."
Bruce opened his mouth to argue, but Alfred continued, "Do you want to explain to the nurses why you smell like an explosion, Master Bruce?"
Bruce huffed, but followed the butler's advice. "Fine. But we're leaving in three minutes."
"I shall have the car ready, sir."
Bruce took the quickest shower in his life and joined Alfred who, as promised, had the car running. Tim was in the backseat. When Bruce opened his mouth, Tim said quickly, "I'm coming, so don't bother to tell me to stay home."
"Buckle your seatbelt."
Jason's motorcycle sped across the near empty streets. Civilians were in bed- the city belonged to the superheroes and the criminals. Jason spared a minute to think back to when he was the former. He reached his hideout and gave a cursory look around for potential threats before entering. Scarlet was waiting for him. "Where have you been?" she asked, unable to keep the concern from her voice.
"Don't worry about it."
"Did it work? Your plan?" she asked. Jason shook his head. "I opened the note you left me."
"Did you read it?" he asked. The look on her face answered his question.
"You were going to get yourself killed, and you leave a letter to explain it?"
"I guess I didn't have the courage to say it to your face," he offered. "I'm sorry for doing that to you."
She punched him in the shoulder. "Don't ever do that again. We're a team, okay? Just you and me against the world."
"Okay." But Jason wondered what it would be like to have more than one person on his side.
Dick woke to pain. Every inch of him ached. He tried to remember if it was safe to open his eyes. Had he been captured? He listened carefully for hints on where he was and who was around.
"I think he's waking up." It was a young voice. Too young to be a criminal?
"Dick, open your eyes," came a different voice. Well, the voice called him by his civilian name, so probably not a bad guy. Or at least it narrowed the list of bad guys. Besides, Dick felt like this was a voice he should obey. He opened his eyes and then squinted at the bright lights.
After a few moments, his eyes adjusted and he could open them fully. "Welcome back to the land of the living," Tim said with a smile. Bruce and Tim were sitting in chairs beside his bed. His hospital bed. Memories returned to Dick.
"I'm alive," he said, with a touch of surprise.
"That's a good thing," Tim said, and gave him a gentle hug. Dick patted the teen on the back, not wanting to tell his little brother that even the light contact hurt. He looked to Bruce to fill in what he missed when he was unconscious.
"What do you remember?" Bruce asked instead. Dick recounted aloud what had happened. Leslie had soundproofed this room several years ago to protect their identities when one of them was injured. They could talk freely.
"Then he injected me with something and I passed out," he finished.
"He contacted me through the Batcomputer. I went to save you, but I wasn't in time. The bomb exploded," Bruce said, his words emotionless.
"But how-?" Dick asked.
"I followed Red Hood to the roof and fought him. He became angry when I refused to kill him."
Dick forgot his confusion over how he was alive. "Jason wanted you to kill him?"
Bruce gave a short nod. "When he couldn't convince me, he told me that he had faked your death. It was a different body that got hit by the blast- a corpse," he added when he saw the horrified look on Dick's face at the thought of someone dying in his place. "Red Hood had you stashed somewhere else. He led me to you and I brought you here."
"Where's Jason now?" It hadn't escaped Dick's notice that Bruce hadn't called Jason by name, only by his masked name. He didn't know if Bruce was trying to separate Red Hood's actions from Jason, or something else.
"Gone," Tim chimed in. "He took off when Bruce found you." Bruce had filled in Tim and Alfred in the car.
Dick absorbed the information. "How soon can I leave?"
"You'll be discharged this afternoon." Dick looked for a clock. "It's about three AM," Bruce said.
Alfred came in to the room at that moment, carrying hot beverages- coffee for Bruce, hot chocolate for Tim, and tea for himself. "Master Dick, so good to see you awake."
"It's good to have woken up. Although if it's all the same to you guys, I think I might go back to sleep. You should go home." Tim started to protest. "You have school tomorrow, Tim. Besides, I don't think I can sleep with the three of you staring at me. I'm fine. Well, not fine. I mean I don't have life threatening injuries. Let me sleep and I'll see you when the sun comes up."
Bruce looked like he wanted to argue, but wisely decided to pick his battles. He gave Dick a communicator. "If you change your mind, contact me. I'll be here," he said quietly.
"Thanks." Dick gave Tim another hug and then the three visitors left the room. It didn't take long for Dick to fall back asleep.
Dick woke a few hours later. At least, he thought it was only a few hours later. It was dark out, and he didn't think he had slept through the whole day. His sleep schedule was going to be all screwed up. Dick sensed someone was lurking in the hallway and stiffened. He listened and then called out softly, "I know you're there."
Jason, in civilian clothes, moved into sight. He waited at the doorway."Never try to sneak up on a Bat," he said with a wry smile. Dick tensed and Jason said, "Relax, no one's around except Doc Leslie."
There was silence and Dick finally said, "Are you going to come in?" He wasn't sure he wanted Jason in the room with him, not while he was injured and lacking weapons. He debated contacting Bruce. But if Jason was going kill him, Batman wouldn't be here in time to stop it. And if Jason wanted to talk, Bruce's presence would scare him off.
Jason stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. He leaned his back against the door and crossed his arms. "So how bad are the injuries?"
Dick fought the urge to say something rude. "I'll live."
"I gave a note to Scarlet to deliver to Bruce, telling him where you were. I was never going to kill you. You know that, right?"
"I have to admit, for a while there, you had me going." He paused again, then said, "I forgive you."
"I didn't apologize!" Jason snarled and stood up straight, a defensive look on his face.
"Doesn't matter. I still forgive you."
"What the hell is wrong with you, Dick? Did you forget the part when I beat you up?"
"Did you really want Bruce to kill you?" Dick asked instead.
Jason was taken aback, but then recovered. "Maybe."
"Why?" Jason didn't answer. "I don't think you're suicidal. What was with the elaborate plan to fake my death?" When Jason still didn't answer, Dick pressed, "Tell me."
"I wanted to see why I wasn't worth killing over. To see if you were."
Dick's heart broke. Even after their repeated assurances, Jason still didn't believe that he was important to the family. "Jason, we just can't allow ourselves to cross that line- not even for people we love. Bruce and I couldn't do it for our parents, and we couldn't do it for you either. That doesn't mean that we didn't care."
"I get that now," Jason said.
"Good. I'm glad."
"Why do you care anyway?"
"You're my brother, Jay."
Jason snorted. "I think I lost the right to consider myself part of the family."
"You haven't. Come home. There's still a place for you."
"Does Bruce still think so?"
"You know he loves you. This past day should have proved that to you," Dick said.
The other man studied him. "I'll think about it." He opened the door and started to leave.
"There will always be a place for you," Dick said before the door shut. He knew that Jason had a lot of years of anger and hurt built up, and that everything wouldn't be solved in one day. But he hoped they had taken the first step.