"Buzzfeed put out another quiz about us," Jason announced as he stared down at his phone, leaning back in his chair so far that only two of the legs touched the ground.
"Tt. This is becoming a weekly occurrence," Damian muttered dismissively, the effect of which was immediately ruined when he then asked, "Well, Todd? What is it this time?"
"Boys, the Batcave is for work, not gossip," Bruce said, but his tone was far too mild to stop them. He was more invested in combing through old police reports at the Batcomputer than picking a fight with them over how they chose to use their time before patrol.
Dick did another complicated flip on the trapeze equipment before landing and wandering over to where Damian and Jason were hanging out. Supposedly, they were in the lab area to stock up on smoke bombs and patch up their gear, but Jason hadn't even suited up yet and Damian's attention was locked on Jason's phone, not the half-built bomb in front of him. Tim was nursing a cup of coffee as he peeked over Bruce's shoulder at the police reports, but his attention was clearly split between his brothers and the computer.
"It's a 'Which Gotham Hero Are You?' one, but since they don't know how many Robins there are, they only have a girl Robin, original Robin, and sword Robin for possible results. Nightwing's not even here because Bludhaven threatened to sue if they branded him a Gotham hero," Jason said, grinning. "And I'm the original Robin in the picture, in case you were curious, Goldie."
"I don't doubt it, Jay," Dick said, a grin tugging at his lips. "So who did you get?"
Jason tossed his phone onto the table and rolled his eyes, slamming the front of his chair back onto the ground. "Spoiler."
Damian snorted. "Only you could screw up a quiz so badly that you don't get either Robin or Red Hood."
"Oh, yeah? How bout you take it and then we'll talk," Jason said, scowling as he tossed his phone at Damian.
Damian sniffed and then turned his attention to the quiz, his eyes narrowed in concentration. He looked so adorable that Dick couldn't help but ruffle his hair before running away to Tim and Bruce to escape Damian's retaliation.
"I liked the one Buzzfeed put out last week. You know, the ranking Gotham heroes one? That one had Nightwing," Tim said as his big brother leaned over the other side of Bruce's chair to look at the computer.
Dick hummed in agreement. "I put Batgirl first and Batman last. Very therapeutic."
Bruce sighed. "Remind me why you're not in Bludhaven?"
"I missed Alfred's cooking," he said without hesitation.
"What?" he asked innocently. "I've been living off cereal and takeout. It's not like I took home ec in high school. Too many AP classes to fit it in my schedule."
Tim and Bruce shared an exasperated look before turning back to the files. If Dick didn't want to say why he was in Gotham, nothing they could say would convince him too. Very few people realized how stubborn Dick could be behind all his smiles and puns.
Damian growled and threw the phone back at Jason. "This is their worst quiz yet!"
"He totally got girl Robin," Dick whispered conspiratorially to Tim, who quickly muffled his laughter as Damian came storming over.
"Father, can nothing be done about those quizzes?"
Bruce sighed and exited out of the police reports, positive that he couldn't get anymore work done now that three of his children were clustered around him. "The quizzes are harmless, Damian, which means that yes, nothing can be done. Why aren't any of you suited up?"
"Chill, B. We still got half an hour before we need to get into the city and Batgirl is already out there," Dick said, stretching out his arms in a complicated manner that had Tim making a disgusted face at him.
Jason's howling laughter cut off Bruce's response. The rest of them stood wide-eyed as he stumbled over to them, clutching his middle and nearly crying as he handed the phone to Tim.
"Oh my God. Damian got Red Hood," Tim said, glee evident in his voice and the slow smile spreading across his face. Dick's reaction was more akin to Jason's, but he stifled it when Damian huffed and crossed his arms, clearly embarrassed and trying to hide it behind a scowl.
"Give it here, I wanna see who I get," Dick said, taking some of the attention off Damian.
Jason wiped at his eyes and then handed it over. Dick took over the seat at the Batcomputer as Bruce went to go finish putting on his suit, Damian following.
"You should take it, too," Jason told Tim. "You might be the only one smart enough to get yourself."
Tim shrugged. "It's no fun if you get yourself."
Jason arched an eyebrow. "So who do you want? Nightwing?" Dick looked up at his name, but quickly went back to the quiz.
Tim flushed. "I don't want anyone in particular. It'd just be boring to get Red Robin."
The two of them continued bickering as Dick did the quiz, completely absorbed. If Jason weren't already going after Tim, he'd be teasing Dick about how seriously he was taking the quiz. Damian and Bruce came out of the changing rooms, still adjusting their belts and greaves, but otherwise fully dressed in stark contrast to the other three boys.
"Oh, come on!" Dick moaned, tossing the phone back at Jason. "Why do I always get Batman?"
Tim patted his knee sympathetically. It was true that Dick had a running streak of getting Batman on all the Buzzfeed quizzes, even when Robin and Nightwing were an option. Sure, they all knew that the quizzes were bullshit, but after years of Dick working away from Gotham and Bruce, they all knew it had to irk him that he kept getting Batman.
"Grayson, you were Batman," Damian reminded him, his eyes steely and his arms crossed. Since he had been Dick's Robin, he didn't like when Dick made it clear he hated being Batman even though it had nothing to do with him. In fact, Damian had been Dick's favorite part of the job.
"I know, Robin, but this is getting ridiculous! I should write a strongly worded letter to Buzzfeed," Dick said in deadpan.
Jason snorted. "Yeah, that'll straighten them out."
"I think we should petition them to do another ranking one," Tim said.
"Tt. Ranking is stupid. We all know that I'm the best Robin," Damian said, popping up his collar.
Bruce sighed. "I wish you all were more competitive about being good sons instead of heroes. Maybe I'd have less gray hairs that way." As four sly looks were directed his way, Bruce sighed again. "Don't even think about it."
"Bruce—" Dick started in an too-sweet voice.
"Just this once?"
"I'm not ranking my sons. What father would agree to that?"
They were undeterred. "But if all four of us agree to it—" Tim started.
"What if you weren't ranking us us?" Dick said, gesturing at his brothers. "What if you ranked us based on our behavior when you first got us?"
Bruce's eyes narrowed. "I'm surprised you're the one suggesting that."
"Yeah, no fair, Goldie. You're totally gonna win that," Jason said, punching him lightly on the arm.
"Dick's gonna win no matter what," Tim argued. "This way is just as good as any other. It's less personal if it was us years ago as opposed to now, and it's not based on skill, just our behavior."
Dick looked at Jason and Tim, his face scrunched up in confusion. "What are you guys talking about? I'm not going to win."
Damian scoffed. "Grayson, we're not imbeciles."
Dick looked even more lost at that. "Seriously, guys, I'm not going to win."
"No one's going to win because I'm not doing it," Bruce said, cutting their replies off. "We're going on patrol soon and most of you still aren't dressed."
Dick crossed his arms and leaned back against the railing. "I'm not suiting up until you do it." Jason and Tim copied him and after a moment of hesitation, Damian did too, his chin jutted out proudly.
Bruce wiped a hand tiredly down his face, looking exhausted to his very soul. "You really want to do this? All of you?" Four dark heads nodded in unison. Bruce's shoulders slumped. "Fine. But once I'm done, you all suit up. We have places to be."
"Done," Tim promised, speaking for all of them.
Bruce nodded, his dark eyes flitting around, not quite meeting any of their eyes, but sizing them up nonetheless, as if evaluating whether or not it was worth it. "Based on your first year with me, Jason was the best behaved, followed by Tim. Dick is a distant third, and Damian is in fourth. Satisfied?"
For once in his life, Bruce's sons were rendered speechless, the only sound in the Batcave coming from the bats themselves. Jason was openly gaping at Bruce. Tim blinked rapidly as he tried to process the surprising turn of events, and Damian was looking up Dick in shock. Dick alone looked unbothered, his smile just as sunny as it had been a minute ago.
"What the fuck?" Jason asked, bewildered.
"You asked, that's my answer. Now go get dressed," Bruce said.
"Goldie wasn't the best behaved? I was?" Jason asked. He looked like he'd been hit on the head.
"Jason, you spent more time reading in the library than anywhere else, including the Batcave. You helped Alfred in the kitchen and got top marks in school, though technically I could say that bit about all of you. You were a bit reckless as Robin, but as Jason Todd, you were the perfect son," Bruce said, meeting his son's eyes evenly.
"What the fuck?" he repeated, though there was still no heat behind it.
"Okay, Jason makes sense when you put it like that, but what about Dick?" Tim asked, gesturing at his older brother.
"What about him? Tim, you were very good during your first year with me. Better than I deserved."
Tim's ears went red, but he persisted. "I'm not saying I was bad, but how is Dick a distant third?"
Bruce shrugged. "You asked, I answered. Now get dressed."
And with that, Bruce walked away, his cape swinging out behind him. Jason still looked like he'd been hit and Tim's mind was clearly racing a mile a minute. Damian was scowling up at Dick, who looked seconds away from a laughing fit.
"You guys know that the very first night Bruce brought me to Wayne Manor, I snuck out to kill Tony Zucco, right?" Dick asked, savoring their bugging eyes. "That's why he agreed to train me at all."
"To kill?" Damian repeated. "You never said—"
"It's not exactly my proudest moment, lil D."
"Wait, wait, wait," Jason said, waving his hands. "If Bruce were judging based off the first week, Timmy would win, not me. He kidnapped me for stealing his tires, remember?"
"Kidnap is such a strong word," Dick mused, laughing when Jason shoved him. "I don't know what you want me to say, Jay. Bruce has spoken. You and Timmy win."
"Come on, Dickiebird, don't hold back. What else did you do to make Bruce rank you so low?"
"You think an untrained eight-year-old sneaking out at night to track down a dangerous mobster isn't enough?" he asked incredulously.
"That does sound pretty bad," Jason conceded. "But still, you're the golden child. Literally anyone who knew little you has basically said they'd trade you for eight/nine-year-old you in a heartbeat. Bruce and Alfred included."
"Maybe ten-year-old me. Anyways, I got to squeeze into my suit. You guys coming?" Dick asked, heading towards the changing room.
"Yeah, yeah, give me a minute," Jason said, waving Dick off.
Dick shrugged and disappeared around the corner. The remaining Robins hopped down from the rail, Damian already stalking off after Bruce. Jason was about to follow Dick when Tim suddenly grabbed his arm.
Jason arched an eyebrow at him. "You got something to say, Replacement?"
"You're not buying what Dick's saying, are you?"
"I mean, it makes sense, but yeah, I think him and Bruce and tiptoeing around the real reason. Why?"
"Because Dick uses humor to deflect whenever he's trying to keep stuff from us and I'm sick of it. He's our brother, and our family has enough secrets," Tim said, careful to keep his voice low.
Jason grunted. "Ain't that the truth. So what do you want to do about it? Tie Dickiebird down until he sings?"
"Let's start with asking him when we're not about to go on patrol. If that fails, we ask people who knew him at that age."
"So Bruce or Alfred," Jason said flatly, showing how likely he thought that plan was to succeed. Bruce was almost nonverbal on a good day and Alfred usually tried to stay out of family squabbles.
Tim sighed. "Yeah, we're kinda screwed if Dick doesn't talk."
"You're still here?" Tim asked.
He didn't expect to be the only one in the kitchen since patrol was still a few hours away, but when he saw from the hall that only the under-cabinet lights were on and not the chandelier, he thought someone was just grabbing a snack, not hanging out in there. Dick was sitting at the kitchen island, dressed down in a gray Haly's Circus hoodie and black track pants. All he had in front of him was a bottle of painkillers and a glass of water, both untouched. Damian was sitting on the stool next to him, looking like Dick's shadow in a black turtleneck and black jeans. Damian's back was partially turned towards Dick and his expression was as dark as night. It didn't take a detective to tell that Damian was upset.
Dick gave him a small, pained smile, his normally brilliant blue eyes dull. "Hey, Timmy."
"I thought you left this morning," he said carefully, eyes flickering between the two of them as he set his laptop down on the island and headed over to the fridge to scavenge from Alfred's leftovers.
"He did," Damian said stiffly. "Father brought him back when he crashed his motorcycle to stop a getaway car from escaping the incompetent Bludhaven police, bruising the entire right side of his body and his ribs."
A soft sigh escaping Dick's lips. "Damian—"
"And now he refuses to take the painkillers even though he's in so much pain that he's been sitting in the kitchen for hours to avoid walking," Damian continued, his mouth a flat line.
"I'm not refusing," Dick protested. At the glare Damian shot him, he shrunk back, cringing as it tweaked his injuries.
"Richard, Father and Todd are both not here and they're the only ones strong enough to lug you up to your room, so unless you want to sleep on the kitchen counter," Damian said, letting his threat linger in the air instead of finishing it.
Tim wasn't surprised that Dick had somehow managed to run into trouble on his drive home instead of when he actually patrolled Gotham's streets with them last night. What did surprise him was that he wasn't taking his medicine. In their line of work, it was essential to take care of oneself, even if that meant getting over your fear of needles or (in this case) pills.
Dick eyed the pills before visibly swallowing. "Just...just give me another minute, okay? I feel sick."
Dick did look a bit green. Damian must have seen that too because he relented, sitting back in his seat and pulling out his phone. Tim finished browsing and quickly assembled a bowl of teriyaki chicken and rice. The microwave sounded too loud in the too quick room, and Tim cut it off at the last second so it wouldn't beep. He sat down on the opposite side of the island from them and settled down, popping open his laptop and digging into his food.
"Hey, look, it's a family reunion," Jason said as he strode into the kitchen, heading right for the fridge. He took out a can of soda and then looked at them for the first time. "The hell happened to Goldie?"
Dick groaned and dropped his head into his arms briefly before popping his head back up. "I got hurt earlier and now I need painkillers."
"And?" Jason asked, noticing the unopened bottle. He sat down next to Tim, cracking open the can, the sound echoing.
"And I hate pills," Dick said, his lips curling in disgust.
"Since when? I've seen you take pills plenty of times before."
"Since Lex Luthor shoved one down my throat in front of Bruce to kill me." Dick's eyes widened as he realized what he just said. "Shit. I'm sorry, I—"
"Don't apologize for telling the truth," Jason said, cutting him off. His voice was soft, though. Not a trace of venom to be found. "You and Bruce baby us enough as it is."
Dick sighed and dropped his head back down onto the counter, his dark hair stark against the white marble. Damian set his phone aside and rested a hand on Dick's back, his brow knit.
"I understand, Richard, but you're scaring me. If you won't take them now, then I know you won't take them when I'm not around. You live alone in Bludhaven," Damian said, his voice low. "Please take it."
Tim and Jason waited for another minute with bated breath until Dick's head shot up. He grabbed the bottle, unscrewed it, dropped a single pill into his hand, and then hesitated, biting at his lip.
"Just get it over with," Jason urged.
Dick inhaled sharply before tossing it into his mouth and flushing it down with a gulp of water. Dick shuddered and put his head back on the counter, missing his brothers' relieved sighs and Damian's small smile as he fisted the back of Dick's hoodie.
Things went back to normal after that. Tim was busy catching up on Wayne Enterprises' latest projects, his food eaten slowly as he kept getting distracted by his work. Jason chugged his soda as he texted Roy. Damian was listening to music as he played a puzzle game on his phone. When Dick finally got up again, Damian gave him one of his earbuds and let him scoot his stool closer as he again sprawled out on the counter, this time tapping along to the rhythm instead of lying there limply.
That was the scene Alfred walked in on half an hour later. The butler was quick to hide his smile, but Dick looked up in time to see it. He tugged the earbud out as Alfred started bustling about, grabbing Tim's dishes to drop in the sink and refilling Dick's glass of water all while keeping a discreet eye on his boys.
"Will you be needing more pills, Master Dick, or shall I put it away now?" Alfred asked, gesturing at the bottle.
Dick grimaced. "All yours, Alf."
"You did actually take it, didn't you?" Dick's offended face was answer enough. Alfred nodded and pocketed the bottle. "I finished fixing up your room, so whenever you want to go to bed, it's ready for you. Although I do instead you have Master Jason or Master Bruce help you upstairs. I've found you collapsed on the stairs far too much for my liking already."
"What would I do without you?" Dick asked, giving Alfred his trademark dimpled smile.
"Perish, I suspect," Alfred said dryly before leaving.
"Collapsed on the stairs?" Tim repeated.
"He's exaggerating," Dick said nonchalantly, ignoring the incredulous looks leveled his way.
Damian paused his music and headed over to the fridge for a snack. "If you weren't injured, I would have let you tag along on patrol with me."
"Thanks, lil D." Dick waited until Damian was sitting again before asking Jason, "What you said earlier about Bruce and I babying you guys...did you mean it?"
"Listen, you're a lot less emotionally constipated than Bruce, but you're not exactly an open book either," Jason said, shifting uncomfortably. "I don't think that you're trying to keep us out of the loop. You just choose to omit a lot of stuff that you don't want us to know."
"How should I know? My whole point was that you don't tell us."
"Well, you did avoid telling us why Bruce ranked you third," Tim pointed out.
Jason laughed and slapped his back. "Great point, Replacement. Out with it, Dickie. What'd you do that was so bad?"
Dick sighed and leaned back, his messy hair flopping to the side. "I wasn't a troublemaker or anything, if that's what you're thinking. I mean, yeah, I snuck out at night to get Zucco, but once I found out B was Batman, I stopped doing that. I was just traumatized in every way possible."
"So what did you do?" Damian asked, clearly curious how his seemingly perfect older brother ranked closer to him, a former assassin.
"I guess my pill omission is worse than whatever I did back then," Dick said, tugging at one of the sleeves of his Haly's hoodie. "Fine, I'll tell you. Just don't make a big thing about it, okay?'
Once his brothers nodded in agreement and Damian scooted his stool closer, Dick started. "I met Bruce under the worst circumstances possible. It wasn't just my parents; it took a few days for Bruce to get custody of me. In the meantime, I was placed in a boy's home with a bunch of white boys years older than me who beat me up for my accent. And then Bruce took me to Wayne Manor and I'd never felt more out of place in my life. My bedroom was as big as my family's trailer.
"I didn't take any of it well. I stayed out on the streets so long looking for Zucco that I ended up going two days without any sleep and could only catch catnaps for the next week. Once I finally started sleeping, I had nightmares about my parents. I don't think I got a full, peaceful night of sleep for months. I got in lots of fights at school, too," Dick added, his brothers' mouths gaping open even further. "Once Bruce threatened to stop training me, I stopped. I wouldn't let Bruce spend any money on me, so I only wore the clothes I came with and ignored the entire closet he bought me and made him enroll me in public school instead of getting me private tutors. I also may have screamed "You're not my real father!" to Bruce several times. It's kind of a blur."
"I don't buy it," Jason said, crossing his arms. "The way Bruce talks about your early years, you'd think an angel carried you down from heaven to grace these halls. Besides, you can't yell "You're not my real father!" That's my line."
"I'm with Todd. I believe the bit about the boy's home, but you're way too nice to do half of what you're saying," Damian said, something fragile in his hard expression.
Dick ruffled his hair with a wry grin. "Sorry, kiddo, but I'm not lying. And I haven't told you half of it."
"There's more?" Tim asked.
"Way more. Let's see, I broke one of Bruce's antique chandeliers when I jumped onto it and fell ten feet onto the ground. Bruce then bought me all the trapeze equipment that's still in the Batcave, but I yelled at him for thinking he could replace Haly's instead of thanking him. I hid several injuries from him so he'd let me keep training, and every once in a while I would just stop talking," Dick said, his eyes fixed on the white expanse of the counter, doggedly avoiding eye contact with any of them. "If you asked them, the worst thing I did was refuse to eat."
"You were starving yourself?" Damian asked, horrified.
Dick winced. "I wasn't okay, Damian. After my parents fell, I didn't care about anything except going after Zucco. That included eating and sleeping. Every time I sat down in the big dining room, most of the time alone because Bruce was going after Zucco or meeting with the police or my social worker, I just felt like the Manor had swallowed me. And then Alfred would put down a steaming gourmet dish in front of me, and I was just reminded of how my life fell apart. So I wouldn't eat. Shit, I can't even remember how long it took them to get me to eat. I just know that one day I caved. I started eating for real when I saw Bruce and Alfred tear up in relief. Honestly, it took years to get me to stop starving myself whenever I lost someone or something was eating me up. Alfred still freaks out if I don't immediately dig in."
"You still don't eat when you're upset," Jason said accusingly. "I've heard Babs nagging you about it."
"That's because Babs knew me pretty well when I was still the Boy Wonder. She didn't know me when I was eight, though. That was by far my worst year."
"What, you were miraculously better a year later?" Tim asked skeptically. Although he had been very young, he had seen the Flying Graysons fall to their deaths, but more importantly, he'd heard Dick's agonized screams. Grief like that didn't go away easily.
"Once I was nine, B was letting me go out with him so a lot of my bad habits and behavior stopped," Dick explained. "That's partly why Alfred didn't protest more that Bruce was technically endangering a minor. I was already well on the road to self-destruction."
Silence descended upon the kitchen as Dick's three younger brothers gawked at him. He shifted uncomfortably, then winced as his battered body forcibly reminded him that he had taken a hard tumble earlier that day. He didn't even want to think about how badly he might have been injured if he hadn't timed his jump better.
"I know you're on pretty strong painkillers, but some ice wouldn't hurt," Jason said, already up and heading towards the fridge.
"Thanks, Jay." His voice was softer than it had been a minute ago. His voice was like a sweater with a loose thread: the more he talked, the more it unravelled until there was hardly anything left.
Jason just grunted. If Dick weren't in pain and hyperconscious of the sidewise glances Damian kept giving him before averting his gaze sharply, he would have teased him that he sounded just like Bruce when he did that. Instead, he mutely accepted the ice pack and pressed it against his ribs, the thin hoodie providing the perfect buffer from the cold.
Bruce walked in the kitchen, still dressed in a suit, his Rolex flashing in the dim kitchen lighting. He raised an eyebrow when he saw all his boys sitting around and then another when he took in Jason's clenched jaw and the way Tim and Damian were pointedly not looking at Dick. Dick, for his part, managed to give Bruce a small smile, a kernel of his normal sunshine peeking out from behind the fog of pain and truths.
"How are you?" Bruce asked, ignoring the elephant in the room for now.
Dick shrugged. "Sore. Tired."
Bruce frowned, but it wasn't a disappointed frown or an upset one, though that would be hard for anyone but the Wayne boys to tell. It was an acknowledgment of concern. "You should rest."
Dick nodded and pushed back from the counter. "You're right. Help me up the stairs?"
It was a rhetorical question because everyone knew that Bruce would drop everything to dote on his injured children, but Bruce nodded anyway. He stood in the doorway as Dick kissed Damian and Tim's foreheads and gave Jason a knowing smile, still putting on an act for his brothers so they wouldn't see anything but the Dick he wants them to. Once they set off down the hall, Bruce's arm wrapping gently around Dick's middle to support him in case his battered legs gave out, Dick let the mask drop, his smile dissipating and the dark smudges under his eyes growing more pronounced. It was rare Dick let his guard down around Bruce, but after the way Bruce had charged towards him wild-eyed and rumpled in a way Bruce Wayne never was in public, when he saw Dick sitting in ambulance, doctors huddled over him, he knew that Bruce deserved the truth, no matter how ugly.
"What happened, chum?" The nickname slipped out without thought. Whenever it was just the two of them walking down the halls of Wayne Manor, it was hard to see the grown hero Dick was now and not the bright-eyed little acrobat who had brightened his life in a way he no longer thought possible. Luckily, Dick had never outgrown his childhood nicknames, although he did put his foot down to Bruce ever saying them in front of anyone who wasn't family.
"They asked why I was third," was all Dick said. But because it was them, the original Dynamic Duo, it was all he needed to say.
"And you told them."
It wasn't a question, but Dick said, "Yes."
They were quiet as Bruce all but carried Dick up Wayne Manor's grandiose staircase and into his bedroom. It was only once they were in Dick's bedroom that Bruce said, his voice soft as he saw all the remnants of his little Robin still scattered about, "I may have ranked you third, but without you, I probably wouldn't have survived. You gave me something to live for."
Dick's eyes were lined with silver. "You gave me something to live for too, B. I love you."
"I love you too, chum."
As Bruce swept his eldest son up into his arms and thought about his three others sitting downstairs, he knew he wouldn't have traded them for anything in the world.