The first time Dick had ever seen Wayne Manor he'd thought it was large, unwelcoming, and utterly terrifying. It hadn't taken long for it to become home instead. Now, ever since relations between him and Bruce could best be described as 'glacial', visiting the manor brought back all those old feelings.
"Are you sure it's not a bad time?" Dick asked, spinning his mug of hot chocolate around on the counter. Alfred turned away from the bowl he was mixing to arch an eyebrow at him, glancing down at where the mug was scraping along the surface of the counter. Dick stilled it in his hands.
"This is your home, Master Richard." Alfred looked away, going back to his work. "You’re always welcome here."
Dick sighed, staring down at his drink. "You just seem busy. I could come back another time."
"Master Bruce is not home," Alfred said, pointedly. "Even if he were, you are not required to restrict your visits to bank holidays and hospital vigils."
"I know," Dick replied. "It just works out better for everyone that way. Sorry, Alfred."
"Your apology is unnecessary." Alfred placed the mixing bowl back on the counter and moved to the oven, turning some of the dials. "I understand that you and Master Bruce are facing your difficulties. The two of you are as stubborn as each other, a trait I'm sure he regrets cultivating in you."
Dick grinned. "Oh, so I can blame Bruce for that too, then?"
There was a muffled thump from the direction of the entry hall. Alfred heaved a long-suffering sigh. "I certainly do—young Master Jason is not any less stubborn than the pair of you." Alfred undid the apron he was wearing and folded it neatly over a nearby stool. "Master Jason," he called, "what are you doing out of bed?"
There was a long moment of silence.
Then: "I'm staging a peaceful protest."
"Of course you are," Alfred said softly, shaking his head. He nodded to Dick. "That one is going to outdo the both of you if Master Bruce isn't careful."
"I'd pay to see that." The subject of the new Robin wasn't quite so raw now, months after Dick had first discovered it, but there was an awkwardness still. They were almost, kind of, brothers, but Dick had so far seen Jason on only a handful of occasions and spoken to him even less than that.
Dick followed Alfred out of the kitchen and down the hall to find Jason, clad in pajamas and wrapped in a blanket, standing at the front door and reaching for the handle.
Jason spun away from the door and tucked his hands behind his back like he hadn't just been reaching for it a moment before. He stared up at them with a scowl, face dotted with red spots. "Peaceful protests take place outside, Alfred. Everyone knows that."
"Not in February they don't." Alfred tutted, adjusting the blanket that Jason was wearing around his shoulders like a cape. "What on earth are we going to do with you?"
Words like that used to give Dick guilt trips. Jason scowled, lips turning into a pout. "Put me out of my misery, Alfie, like that dog from the movie."
"Which movie?" Dick asked, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Half the time they spent together Jason might be aggressive and snarky, but the other half he'd turn awkward and shy, but never comfortable. It was different, seeing him more relaxed. Miserable and struck down with chickenpox, sure, but more open than the guarded way he usually behaved around Dick.
Jason blinked at him, chewing on his lip. "Any of them," he finally replied. "The dog always dies."
"No one is shooting you, Master Jason." Alfred swatted one of Jason's hands as it made to scratch at his face. "I will go get the oven mitts if I have to."
Jason's face screwed up into an exaggerated grimace. "I don't care if I scar."
"I do," Alfred replied, and strode off back towards the kitchen. "And if you can't control yourself you'll suffer through the oven mitts like Master Richard did."
Jason looked up at Dick skeptically.
"They're pretty awful," Dick said. "I had the chickenpox when I was about your age."
"I'm bored," Jason confided, tugging on the blanket and looking wistfully towards the front door.
"I mostly played video games." Dick didn't really know what Jason did in his spare time. Alfred said he liked books. "I guess you have a lot of time to read?"
"I'm too itchy to think." Jason scowled at the floor. "I've been trying to memorize more Shakespeare to express my displeasure with Bruce."
Dick huffed a short laugh. "What'd he do this time?"
Jason looked up at him with big, mournful eyes. "He said I couldn't go to school."
"One of Master Bruce's more sensible decisions as a father," Alfred said, coming back out into the hall, oven mitts in hand. Jason took one look at them and let out an indignant squawk, spinning and fleeing towards the staircase. "Master Jason, come back here."
"You'll never take me alive!" Jason yelled, tripping at the bottom of the staircase before recovering and thundering up, blanket billowing behind him.
Dick turned to Alfred, pointing one finger in the direction Jason had gone. "When did he get cute?"
Alfred sighed. "Master Jason is quite charming when he wants to be."
"Running you ragged?" Dick guessed, biting his lip to hold in the grin, because Alfred had been in the middle of making cookies and he didn't want to jeopardize his chances of getting some. "Want me to watch him for a bit?"
Alfred raised an eyebrow. "If you feel you're up to the task."
The skepticism was well-earned. He and Jason had definitely gotten off to a rocky start. Dick shrugged and grinned. "I'm sure we'll get along fine, Alfred."
Alfred considered him for a moment and then nodded, lips quirking up at the corners. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need any assistance." He cast a look up to the second floor of the manor. "Godspeed."
Dick laughed. "Now you're just trying to scare me off."
Jason's bedroom was across the hall from Dick's old one. He knocked twice before opening the door and peeking his head in.
"What?" Jason asked waspishly, poking his head out of the pile of blankets he'd buried himself in and glaring. His hair was sticking up every which way, a mess like he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards. Dick had to repress his smile, sliding into the room and closing the door behind him.
"Alfred sent me to watch you," Dick said, because admitting that he offered probably wouldn't go down well. Dick knew Jason well enough to know that he had an independent streak a mile wide and Dick wasn't exactly his favorite person in the world. Alfred, at least, would be safe from any retribution. "You doing okay? Having the chickenpox is pretty miserable."
"I’m being tortured." Jason flopped over on his bed in a sprawl. "This is divine punishment and you have been sent by the devil to make it even worse."
"Alfred isn't the devil, Jason."
"He could be," Jason insisted, reaching up to scratch at his face before he stilled the hand and pulling it away. With a great sigh he rolled himself right off the bed and onto the floor to lay out spread eagle. "Leave me here to die."
Dick had to bite his tongue to stop himself from calling Jason cute to his face. "You clearly need a distraction, little wing."
He looked around the room. He'd never been in Jason's room before. It was neater than his own, with a lot more books and lacking nearly anything personal. Dick understood. It had taken him a while to settle in as well, to think of the manor as something permanent.
But there was something else missing from Jason's room, something important.
"No TV?" He crouched down next to Jason beside the bed. "Bruce wouldn't mind, you know. He's not exactly strict on that kind of thing."
"Television rots the brain," Jason replied promptly. He shrugged. "I prefer books."
"Books aren't helping you right now." Dick straightened up. "Wait here, I'll be right back."
Jason frowned, eyes brightening from dull lethargy to something like curiosity. He rolled over onto his stomach but stayed on the floor. "Okay."
His own room was exactly as he'd last seen it, not even a single speck of dust or a single item out of place. Dick approached the television on the dresser and considered it for a moment, before reaching over to start unplugging it. Jason's room was still pretty sparse, with some furniture he'd not even made use of yet. It would do well enough for what Dick had planned.
He carried the television over to Jason's room, careful not to trip on the trailing cables, and placed it down on top of an unused chest in the corner that looked about the right right. He dragged the whole thing over to the end of the bed and set the TV up, facing the bed. He had to use an extension cord to hook the television up properly, but those were in his old room as well.
Jason propped himself up on his elbows to watch Dick traipse back through the room, carrying the cords and his old PS2 that he'd never bothered to take with him when he'd moved out. He didn't exactly have time these days to make much use of it, and he supposed if Jason was going to basically be his little brother, passing it on to him was natural.
The floor ended up a mess of extension leads, but Dick soon had everything hooked up and went back to grab the pile of old games on his dresser. He returned to find Jason sitting on the bed, chewing on his lip as he stared at the new setup.
"Alfred is gonna be mad about the floor," he said.
"Well, it's his floor or your sanity," Dick replied. He held out the games for Jason to look at. "Pick your poison."
The look Jason gave the games would be more appropriate directed at a snake. "I don't know. I've never—"
"That's fine." Dick sat down next to him on the bed. Jason scooted over to make room. At least now he looked more curious than bored to death. Dick put the pile of games on the chest next to the television and picked one out. Then he grabbed the controllers, handing one over to Jason and keeping the other for himself. "Racing game, nothing complicated, okay?"
Jason nodded, turning the controller over in his hands.
Despite the years since he'd last used the PS2 it was still working fine. They ended up piling Jason's pillows and blankets behind them to prop themselves up and then Dick got to experience the joy of teaching Jason how to play video games.
"You can brake, you know," Dick said, amused, as Jason's car careened into a wall again.
"Why?" Jason asked. "The point is to go fast and win the race, why would I slow down?"
"You can't exactly get around corners without slowing down, little wing." Dick winced as Jason's car skidded, bouncing off another car on the next turn and sending that one into the wall instead. "Or you could do that."
"Brakes are unnecessary," Jason said. He scowled up at Dick. "Stop letting me win."
"I'm just really out of practice," Dick lied. It was more important that Jason have fun than Dick win. "Also, dibs not being the one to teach you how to drive. 'Brakes are unnecessary'."
Jason scoffed. "I already know how to drive."
"Sure, kid." Dick reached over, ruffling Jason's curls and grinning at his disgruntled expression.
“Fu—” Jason cut himself off with a look towards the door. He glared at Dick, lips pursed. “ Dick. ”
“Alfred get on to you about the mouth?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “It’s not appropriate language for a young man of my age.”
“I remember that speech.” Dick remembered that speech from his last visit, actually. He supposed it was a good thing that Jason had come to the manor with a filthy mouth already, lest Alfred start worrying about Dick being a bad influence. "Want to give something else a try?"
With a hesitant look over at the pile of games, Jason nodded.
Dick leaned over and reached for the stack of games. "How about a game with a story?"
"No, don't kill the dragon." Jason shoved at Dick's shoulder.
"It's attacking me," Dick said, laughing and holding the controller up and away, out of Jason's reach. They'd been swapping the controller back and forth until Jason had gotten too absorbed in watching and had stopped wanting it back. "We have to kill it."
"That's stupid," Jason said, scowling. He settled down again against Dick's side and turned back to watch the game. "Why would I want a game where I have to kill dragons when I could be one instead?"
"I think there is a game for that, actually," Dick replied. "You'd probably like it."
"I like books," Jason muttered, as if video games were a great betrayal of his first love. "You should jump off the cliff. What'll happen?"
"Invisible walls." Dick walked the character over to show him. Jason made an aggrieved noise.
There was a knock at the door and then Alfred was walking in, a tray of cookies in one hand while the other held a pink bottle. Jason looked over and tensed up, shaking his head and ducking further behind Dick.
"No, Alfie. I'm not even scratching."
"Come along, Master Jason." Alfred put the tray of cookies down on the bedside table and gave the television set up an inscrutable look. "I'm afraid it must be done or you will scratch yourself to death while you sleep."
"Noooo." Jason drew the word out and then rolled over, sliding down to the floor and crawling under the bed. "It smells as pink as it looks, Alfie."
"I got him, Alfred," Dick said, putting the controller down and crouching beside the bed. He peered under and met Jason's glower. "Come on, Jay. Alfred is the boss."
Jason shook his head, shifting further back under the bed, closer to the wall.
Dick rolled his eyes and lay down on his stomach, reaching one arm under the bed and managing to snag Jason by the wrist.
"I'll bite you." Jason jerked his wrist and twisted around so he could kick at Dick with his leg.
Dick snorted. "If you want to pick a fight, little guy, go right on ahead. You're tiny."
"I'm not!" Jason huffed, struggling ceasing as he turned his attention to glaring at Dick in clear offense. It gave Dick the opportunity to slide further under the bed and get both his arms around Jason's waist. From there, dragging him out was simple. Jason howled and clawed at the carpet to try and cling to his hiding place, but soon enough Dick was standing up and setting Jason on his feet.
Jason shrugged his hands away. "Traitor."
"I was on Alfred's side all along." Dick nudged him closer to Alfred. "Now go suffer the pink concoction. I promise I won't continue the story until you're back."
"Fine." Jason stomped off, giving them both one last lingering look of betrayal.
"Thank you for your assistance, Master Richard," Alfred said. "It's amazing how far you've come, considering a few short years ago it was you hiding under the bed from me."
"That stuff is awful." Dick flopped back down on Jason's bed and picked the controller up. "If I had to suffer through it, why shouldn't he?"
"Spoken like a true brother," Alfred said dryly, turning to leave the room with the pink bottle in hand.
Dick kept his promise to Jason and ran around in circles fighting spawning monsters instead of continuing with the game's story. By the time Jason shuffled back into the room, covered in pink lotion and scowling even more than before, Dick had eaten half the cookies and their character was well overleveled. Jason clambered back onto the bed and curled up beside him again, lips turned down in a miserable pout.
"I'm gonna need a shower even being near this much calamine," Dick said. Jason huffed, wriggling even closer and reaching over to smear lotion from the back of his hands onto Dick's cheek. He chucked. "I might have deserved that."
"Might?" Jason pointed at the screen. "Play the game."
"You want any cookies?" Dick asked, reaching over and grabbing another for himself. It had been months since he'd eaten anything Alfred had made, he wasn't wasting the opportunity.
Jason shook his head. "I'm too itchy to eat."
"Alfred made them." Dick waved one in Jason's face but the boy just wrinkled his nose and shook his head again, reaching around to get one of the blankets and wrap himself in it. "Okay, don't get mad when I eat them all."
The bedroom door opened again and Alfred walked in, oven mitts in hand.
"I'm not wearing them." Jason made a face, twisting and rubbing his nose against Dick's arm. "Don't need hands to scratch."
Alfred placed the oven mitts on Jason's dresser. "If you need them," he said to Dick. "I'm about to begin preparing dinner. Do you have any requests?"
Dick shrugged. "I'm good. Maybe ice-cream for the little guy."
"I'm not little," Jason muttered. He rubbed his cheek against the blanket and made a frustrated noise.
Alfred very pointedly picked up the oven mitts. "Scratching without your hands still counts, Master Jason. You will scar."
"I can attest to that." Dick grinned as Alfred gave him a wry look. "I like my scars, Alfred. They add character."
"You should be setting a good example." Alfred dropped the oven mitts back down. "Master Bruce should be home in a few hours."
"Bruce should get the chickenpox," Jason said, as Alfred walked to the door. "Then we'll tell him he can't patrol and see how he likes it."
"Perish the thought.” Alfred shook his head, closing the door behind him as he left.
Dick looked down at where Jason was curled mostly in a ball at his side. "You're kind of adorable, you know that?"
Jason met his eyes and scowled. "For my next peaceful protest I'm going to push you out the window."
Dick took one hand off the controller to hook his arm around Jason's shoulders and tug him closer. "I'd like to see you try it, kid."
"I will." Jason turned to face the screen. "After the game is over."
An hour later and Dick was still playing the game, because despite the fact that Jason had turned and pressed his face into Dick's shirt, he insisted that he was still paying attention.
"Don't stop playing," Jason said, the third time Dick attempted to reach over and turn the game off.
"You're not even watching." Dick shifted over slightly on the bed into a more comfortable position. He was going to have to shower later, Jason had attacked him with calamine twice more since coming back with the stuff slathered on. "You keep falling asleep."
"My eyes are tired," Jason said. "I'm listening."
"Okay, if you're paying so much attention, who's that guy?" Dick nudged Jason, who lifted his head up and squinted over at the television.
Jason spent a few moments scrutinizing the screen before scrunching his nose up. "He's ugly. Kill him."
"Close enough." Dick sighed. "Are you going to let me stop anytime soon?"
"I have to know how it ends," Jason replied. He kept his head up and eyes focused for a few minutes before he started drooping again, tucking his face back down.
"We're going to be here all night at this rate." Dick stretched out with one foot to where the remote was at the end of the bed and dragged it close enough to grab. With a cautious look at Jason to make sure he hadn’t disturbed him, Dick turned the volume down slightly. Hopefully it was just enough that Jason wouldn't notice the change, but might encourage him to go from dozing to actual sleep so Dick could escape.
There was a heavy knock at the door that made him freeze. Jason's head shot up and he levelled a fierce little glower at Bruce as the door opened and the man peered inside.
Bruce blinked, taking in the room—the television and PS2, the mess of blankets and pillows piled on the bed, and Dick and Jason sprawled out together. He nodded to Dick before looking past him at Jason. "How are you feeling, Jay?"
"I'm still not speaking to you." Jason huffed, and actually turned his nose up. Dick hid his smile behind his hand because if he could spend longer than five minutes in Bruce's presence without fighting with him it would be a miracle. "If I was still speaking to you," Jason said, still looking at the wall instead of Bruce. "I would say that I am feeling tortured by idleness and lack of education and also itchy."
"You can't go to school right now, Jay."
Jason faced Bruce again, frowning. "You already said. It's discrimination."
Bruce's eyebrows climbed towards his hairline. "How?"
"Against people with spots," Jason replied. "How are they going to know they're chickenpox if no one tells them?"
"Your constant scratching might give it away, little wing." Dick grabbed the hand that had been drifting towards Jason's face and shook it lightly for emphasis. "Besides, you already said you can't concentrate enough to read, so what good is school going to do?"
Jason let out a mournful grumble. "Don't say that where he can hear!"
Dick glanced over at the doorway, where Bruce was still standing, looking both vaguely amused and victorious. "Oops. Sorry, kid."
"Et tu, Brute?" Jason wriggled free of his blanket and poked Dick viciously in the side with his pointy little fingers. Dick grabbed him by the wrists and might have retaliated if Bruce hadn’t cleared his throat.
"Dinner's almost ready." Bruce opened the door wider but remained on the threshold. His eyes shifted from Jason to Dick. "Welcome back."
Dick grimaced. Bruce sounded about as welcoming as he did when Vicki Vale showed up to interview him. "I'm only here for the weekend. I'll be out of your hair by Sunday."
Bruce's face twitched, but Dick looked back down at Jason, who'd started tugging on his arm.
"Are you going to fight?" He asked, looking between the two of them. Dick's gut clenched guiltily. The kid had probably already witnessed more fights between them than he ever should have. Jason gave Bruce one last glare and then focused back on Dick. "If you are, I can give you a list of things to yell at Bruce for me. My throat is too itchy to yell."
Dick laughed. "Is this before or after you're going to shove me out the window?"
Bruce made an exasperated noise.
"It's a peaceful protest." Jason gave Dick a light pat on the arm. "But I won't. I have bigger fish to fry." He scrambled off the bed and over to Bruce, grabbing him by the hand and tugging on it insistently. "I'm not talking to you but you need to come over to the window so I can push you out."
Dick could see the twitching start at Bruce's lips that meant Jason was doing a good job at making him smile. Good to know at least one of them still could.
"Dick," Jason said, leaning back with his entire weight and still not moving Bruce an inch. "Come help."
Bruce sighed, reaching down and grabbing Jason around the waist, picking him up and setting him on his hip like a much younger child. Jason was still small enough that he did it easily. "How about I throw you out instead?"
"You wouldn't," Jason said. "Alfred would kill you. Now put me down or I'll kick you, and you're not gonna like where."
Shaking his head, Dick picked up his discarded controller to save the game and shut off the television and the PS2.
Jason was set back on his feet and at his side a moment later, frowning. "You haven't finished.”
"It's dinner time, kid." Dick ruffled Jason's hair and set the controller down on top of the PS2. "We can play again tomorrow." He slid off the bed and stretched his legs out.
"Bruce, you can't fight with Dick while he's in the middle of my game," Jason said, running back over to Bruce. "I need to see how it ends."
"You can't play it yourself?" Bruce asked, and Dick tried not to feel offended about it, really, but sometimes he really did want to just punch the man in the face.
Jason narrowed his eyes. "It's not the same."
"It's fine, Jay." Dick tossed an arm around the kid's shoulder and tugged him against his side. They followed Bruce out of the room and down the hall. "I promise I won't leave until we're done with the game, okay?"
Jason nodded. He reached up and scratched at the side of his face.
"No scratching," Bruce said, without turning around.
Dick smiled at the sullen look on his almost-brother's face. Jason slowed down and tugged on his arm until Dick lowered his head so the kid could speak quietly in his ear: "Please help me push him out the window."
"After dinner," Dick whispered back. "We'll go down to the Cave and put calamine lotion inside the cowl."
Jason nodded, gave him a sharp little grin and then raced off after Bruce. Dick lagged behind, mostly to avoid any chance of a conversation with Bruce.
Alfred was waiting for him outside the dining room. "Very impressive, Master Dick. You lasted an entire evening."
"He's not so bad," Dick said, shrugging. "I knew we'd get along fine."
They weren't quite brothers, not yet, but it was a start.