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It started with his parents.

John and Mary Grayson loved their son, and never wanted to see him hurt. They knew their job was dangerous, knew letting a child do flips five stories off the ground could go wrong in so many ways. They knew they needed to make sure Dick understood the danger, respected the danger, and didn't push it.

Pushing it was how people got hurt, how people died. If they were going to let their son do dangerous stunts, they were damn well going to make sure he was as safe as he could be.

So they made hand signals, and go words, and Dick always followed the rules. There were a few times in the beginning where Dick would stay silent because he wanted to impress his parents, wanted to show them he could be as good as them, but it only took being grounded for it once before he stuck to what his parents wanted.

(The sprained wrist he got from pushing himself certainly helped drive the point home.)

Then his parents fell, and the only thing Dick could think about for a while was how his parents had made the hand signs for All Good, and how that man he'd seen earlier in the tent certainly hadn't.

 

Bruce was a surprise, Batman an even bigger one, but training was something Dick understood. A few extra punches and kicks didn't change much, not really.

Especially not when Bruce explained the rules.

"You will tap out," he said severely, watching the small boy in his charge carefully. When Dick just nodded his agreement easily, Bruce's frown deepened. "I mean it, Dick   I have far more experience than you, and am much bigger. If at any moment you are in pain, you need to tap the ground or whatever you can reach twice. If you don't stick to that, then you don't get to go out into the field with me. Are we clear?"

And Dick just smiled, because this he understood. Sometimes Bruce was very hard to read, was very good at concealing his thoughts and feelings, and though Dick was getting better he still had a long way to go to understanding the mind of Bruce Wayne. But this? This was familiar. This was a parent concerned about their kid, a parent concerned that their kid was going to get themselves hurt.

Dick had been dealing with concerned parents since birth   this was crystal clear.

"Yea, B," Dick said, still smiling, a warm feeling in his chest. "I understand. I promise."

Bruce watched him for another long moment, as if testing the truthfulness of that statement, and then nodded. "Good."

 

Dick kept to his word.

It became instinct, after a while. He didn't even have to consciously think about it, his hand immediately going to the ground forcefully twice, or his foot if his hands were restrained. And every time, Bruce backed off without hesitation, making it clear that he was keeping his word, too.

Instinct reached the point where once, at three in the morning, he stubbed his toe on the kitchen table and automatically banged twice on the countertop. He spent the next ten minutes standing there and staring at his hand, a little amused, wondering if Bruce would find it funny or concerning.

Years passed, and with them came the Titans, and he made sure they understood tapping out, too, because he would be damned if he hurt members of his own team just because they didn't understand how to make training stop.

(The day he saw Roy bang twice on the wall after getting a papercut had Dick laughing until he cried.)

 

Dick liked Jason.

Really, he did, he swore. The kid was a little cocky and hotheaded and snarky, but when it came to anger issues Dick didn't really have any ground to stand on. Plus, he knew that underneath the tough exterior was a genuinely sweet kid. A smart one at that.

Besides, it wasn't Jason's fault that Bruce was an asshole. Of course, sometimes Jason seemed to be actively trying to make Dick dislike him, but Dick was good at making his way past personal barriers. He'd gotten Bruce to give him a hug once, after all, and frankly if he could do that he could do anything.

"What are you doing here?" Jason asked, looking up from the batcomputer. There was an angry scowl on his face that Dick knew had far more to do with his and Buce's most recent fight than Dick's presence in the Cave, so he ignored the look. And the tone.

"Training," Dick said easily, and then tossed a bo staff at the younger boy. Jason caught it on instinct, with the minutest of a fumble, and Dick restrained a smile; the kid had only been working as Robin for a few months, but he was doing well. He was a fast learner and took to the lessons like a duck to water.

If the duck resented the people offering him the water, of course.

"I don't need to train with you," Jason said with that same mulish tone, but he was already standing and heading over to the mats with Dick, so Dick once again ignored the faint disrespect and got into position.

"No?" he asked, coking his head. "And why would that be?"

Jason narrowed his eyes and settled into a stance as well, bo staff held correctly, if a bit tightly. "Because there's nothing you can teach me."

Dick's lips twitched, whether to a smirk or a scowl he wasn't positive. Sure, nothing to teach him. It wasn't like he had nine or so years of experience on the kid, but whatever. That wasn't the point; Jason was just bolstering.

And because of that, Dick wasn't the slightest bit surprised when Jason struck first.

The fight was a good one, for someone who'd only been training a few months. Dick called out small corrections and advice through the match, and though Jason resisted at first, he started to grudgingly incorporate the tips, and then started to look like maybe he was actually having some fun.

The fight ended when Dick tripped Jason up, sending him to the ground with a crash, and pinned him with his bigger body, one hand holding Jason's arm up behind his back. Jason grimaced and let out a sharp breath, and Dick rolled off of him, offering him a hand, gaze flicking up and down the boy's body for any injuries.

He looked fine, so Dick just smiled and said, "Good job, Jay. You're getting really good."

"Whatever," Jason muttered, but there was a proud smile on his face nonetheless, which Dick saw despite the way Jason tried to duck his head.

It wasn't until later that Dick realized there was an issue.

They were sitting down to dinner, Dick making conversation with Jason and Alfred and attempting to ignore the way Bruce was pointedly focused on his tablet. Jason reached forward for his glass and grimaced, his arm spasming slightly.

Dick narrowed his eyes at the motion and watched the way Jason's eyes darted immediately to Bruce to make sure the man hadn't seen, and the slight relaxation when he saw that he hadn't. Instead, Jason looked back to the table and caught Dick's gaze, eyes going slightly wide when he saw the narrow-eyed look.

Having spent almost nine years in a house with Bruce, Dick understand the urge to keep things from the man, and didn't say anything about the spasm at the table.

He did, however, track Jason down afterwards.

The boy wasn't hard to find, curled up in the library with a book, and he looked wary when Dick approached him.

"Come with me," Dick said softly.

He could see that Jason wanted to argue, but the boy just sighed, shoulders slumping, and followed Dick out of the library and up to Dick's room.

"Shirt off," Dick instructed over his shoulder, heading over to his desk where he kept a small first aid kit.

"Wow, Dickie, didn't know you swung that way."

Dick shot him an unimpressed look, and Jason grimaced. Again, he looked like he wanted to resist, but once again he did as he was told, pulling his t-shirt off. Dick made a turn around motion with his finger and Jason grumbled something unkind under his breath, but turned to face the door, showing his back to Dick.

The back of Jason's right shoulder had a dark bruise, large and nasty, clearly painful. Dick stared at it for a while, horrified, because he knew exactly what had caused that. He'd struck Jay there with his bo staff during the fight, and it had been the right arm he twisted up behind the boy's back at the end.

He'd done that to Jason. And it must've hurt like hell, so why hadn't he said anything?

Jason was shifting nervously after so long of Dick's silence, which was what spurred the elder into motion. He grabbed an ice pack from the first aid kit and cracked it, shaking it to get it cold. Once it was, he placed it against Jason's shoulder, who hissed and flinched at the feeling.

"This'll help," he murmured.

"Yea, I know how to take care of injuries," Jason snapped.

"Then act like it," Dick snapped right back, then took a deep, calming breath. He put a hand on Jason's good shoulder and turned the boy around to face him. Jay kept his gaze lowered, scowling at the ground, and shuffled his feet a little.

"Why didn't you tell me you were hurt, Jason?" Dick asked, and for that matter- "Didn't Bruce teach you the importance of tapping out?"

If he hadn't, Dick was going to rip the Bat a new one. After everything Bruce had said when he was younger, if he had forgotten this aspect with Jason, Dick was absolutely going to make sure the man never made that mistake again.

"Yea, he did," Jason muttered.

"Then why-"

"Because I could handle it!" Jason interrupted. "We get hurt on the job all the time, it's not a big deal-"

"That's different and you know it," Dick said firmly. "Yes, part of the job is getting injured by bad guys. It's kind of what they love to do. But in training, when we're sparring, the point is to improve, not to get yourself hurt. Not to..." He examined Jason expression for a second, and sighed softly. "Not to prove you can handle it."

Jason's eyes darted up to Dick's, unsure and yet still so stubborn. "You and Bruce don't get hurt as easily as I do."

"Because Bruce and I have been doing this for longer," Dick pointed out gently. "That doesn't mean you're not good enough, only that you have so much room to improve! And you don't need to get hurt in a friendly match to improve."

"I'm not weak," Jason said stubbornly. "I can handle-"

"Jay," Dick interrupted. "Listen to me. Tapping out doesn't make you weak. Actually, it's a great show of strength to admit to your drawbacks."

Jason squinted at him. "Is that a quote?"

Dick waved a dismissive hand. "Unimportant. Do you get what I'm saying, Jay?"

The younger boy scowled again, but it was less of a vicious expression this time, and he nodded. "Yea, I do. I just don't want him to think..."

He trailed off, but Dick understood. He'd lived with Bruce, after all.

"I know," Dick said softly. "But he won't think that." He offered a small grin. "Now, I want you to get as familiar with tapping out as you are with throwing a punch, k? It's instinct for me at this point; it's gonna be for you, too."

Jason snorted. "Unlikely. I'm never gonna be hurt badly enough to need it," he boasted, and Dick just laughed.

 

Every part of Jason's body hurt.

He'd lost track of how many bones must've been broken by the crowbar, how much blood he must've lost from his open wounds. It was cold, and dark, and the only sound was the Joker's manic laughter and Jason's screams of pain as his body was destroyed bit by bit.

A crack across Jason's temple made his vision go white for a moment, pain making him blind, and it was pure instinct that had him thumping his hand twice against the ground. That was supposed to stop the pain. That was supposed to mean it was over.

But it wasn't stopping. The pain wasn't stopping. It was supposed to stop. Tapping out meant the pain stopped. Why wasn't it  

Another strike of pain, and Jason slammed his hand down twice. It's supposed to stop. Why isn't it stopping. It's supposed to...

But the Joker just laughed in delight, and brought the crowbar down again.

 

It ended up happening with Tim, too. Which was enough to break Dick's heart all over again.

Bruce was...broken. They were helping him claw his way back piece by piece, but he was broken by Jason's death, and he didn't have much time to focus on Tim's training. Not yet, at any rate. But that was ok, because Dick was more than willing to pick up the slack in that department.

He'd given Tim permission to be Robin, after all. He could definitely step in to help the kid.

And Tim was...bright. Incredibly so. (Had figured out their identities, after all.) And he was kind, and had the makings of an incredible hero. But he had a way of pushing away pain that was...concerning to Dick.

It was an impressive skill, of course, especially given the fact that Tim was brand new to the hero business. The kid had a way of compartmentalizing the whole thing that would certainly help him if (god forbid) he ever got tortured, but in day to day life it was worrying. Tim didn't have to push away the pain when training, He didn't have to ignore his injuries because there was something "more important" to focus on.

In fact, this went far past "didn't have to" and well into the area of please don't do this.

"Timmy? Can I talk to you?" Dick asked hesitantly. He'd been watching Tim take care of his injuries for the last few minutes, watching him treat injuries he could've avoided if he'd just...let Dick know he was in pain.

Seeing the bruises on his brother's skin, knowing he was the one to put them there...it made Dick sick to his stomach.

"Of course," Tim said, offering Dick a small smile. "Gimme a sec to finish up, and I'll meet you in the kitchen? I'm dying for some hot chocolate."

Dick nodded wordlessly and headed out of the cave, making his way to the kitchen. It was just the pair of them tonight; Bruce was out on some mission for the League, and Alfred was visiting family in England. Dick and Tim had just come off patrol, and it was when Robin removed his tunic to ice a bruised rib he'd gotten from some thug that Dick saw the bruises from their sparring earlier.

The vigilante went about making hot chocolate, trying to figure out how to approach the issue. This was different from what it was with Jason, who just hadn't wanted to appear weak, had wanted them to be proud of him. Tim's thought processes were far more...practical. Reasonable, even. Which made this harder.

Or maybe not! Dick's argument was practical and reasonable, too. He just had to present it that way.

"Thanks," Tim said a few minutes later when Dick offered him a mug, sitting at the table. "So, what's up?"

Practical. Reasonable. Right.

"If something starts to hurt during training, you need to tap out," Dick said, figuring blunt was the way to go. He kept his tone gentle, though. Non-confrontational. This wasn't a lecture. He didn't want Tim to feel like he was being yelled at.

Tim tilted his head. "If I tap out, then the fight stops. I need to train to fight while injured, because there will be times when that's necessary."

Which...well, not an awful point. But not really a good one, either.

"I get your point, Timmy," Dick said, nodding a little. "But the problem is that when we're sparring, it's with the intention of improving skills. If you ignore the fact that the skill is hurting you, then you'll be less effective in the long run. Plus," he added when something occurred to him, "if you allow yourself to be injured during simple training, then you're more likely to be slower in the field, and more vulnerable to attacks. Which, of course, begins a very dangerous cycle of worse and worse injuries."

Tim adopted a thoughtful expression, and Dick was pleased to see that his brother seemed to be listening. "Makes sense," the boy agreed after a moment, and Dick felt a bit of a weight lift off his shoulders.

This kid was in his care, and the idea that something could happen to him in the field because Dick had hurt him, well, it was horrifying. Dick would do anything to keep Tim safe. He'd failed Jason, but he wouldn't fail Tim.

Tim was still watching him. "You ok, Dick?" he asked worriedly. "You seem...off."

Dick offered him a smile. "Allow a big brother his worries, huh?"

His little brother cracked a smile in return, and said, "Yea, ok, Dick. And...I promise. I'll let you know when I'm hurt, ok? I'll tap out."

"Hell yea you will," Dick agreed cockily, making Tim laugh. "I'm gonna drill it into your brain, after all. You won't be able to do anything but tap out when I'm done with you."

His brother's laughter followed him all the way back to the Cave.

 

 

Jason couldn't see past the rage, past the pain. He wanted the kid to pay, to understand. He wanted vengeance, he wanted justice. He wanted to hurt everyone the way he was hurting. He wanted his father to care enough to avenge him.

Jason wanted to go home, but home wasn't home anymore. Not after Joker. Not after Talia. Not with the pit madness in his head.

He attacked the replacement at Titans Tower. He was better, he was taking him down, he was  

The kid's fist hit the ground twice.

Jason faltered, the green haze receding. Tap out meant the pain was supposed to stop, meant to back off, meant the fight was over. The kid was tapping out. That was   he couldn't   he should  

One step back, another, another, and then he was running, leaving the Tower, tears stinging his eyes. The new Robin was just a kid, just a kid, justakidjustakidjustakid  

Dick must've trained that into Drake, because that had been immediate, had been instinct, that had been Jason trying to get the Joker to stop, just a Robin wanting their bigger opponent to back off  

Fuck, Jason was so screwed.

 

 

Blockbuster was dead. Dick had let...he'd let her do it. He'd...he'd killed Roland Desmond. He'd done this. All this destruction all this pain all this suffering it was all his fault.

He couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe.

Dick stumbled up the stairs, braced against the wall. He needed air. He needed to get out, he needed  

God, he'd let her do it. It was all his fault. It was all his fault.

It was raining, pouring, but he could barely feel it, walking out onto the rooftop, swallowing down gulps of air. He'd done this. He   he was a murderer. How would he be able to look Bruce in the eye? How would he be able to look himself in the eye?

She had followed him up the stairs. She was right there behind him, and she put her hand on his cheek, the same hand that had just pulled the trigger, and he tried to back away, he told her to stop touching him, but he couldn'tbreathecouldn'tthinkcouldn'tmove  

Dick collapsed to the ground, blinking up at the sky. He could barely see it. he could barely   he could  

She was   what was she doing? Catalina was touching him, climbing on his lap, pulling at his pants. He told her to stop, to go away, to leave him alone but she wouldn't, she just told him to be quiet, she batted his hands away, did what she wanted and he didn't want this, wanted this to stop, it hurt he needed it to stop  

His palm hit the rooftop twice. He barely noticed he'd done it.

Catalina saw the motion. Her lips quirked.

She didn't stop.

 

 

After Jason and Tim, Dick wasn't the least bit surprised to learn that Damian was refusing to tap out when sparring.

This time, though. This time, it was obvious that Damian had lots of practice concealing his pain reaction.

Frankly, it made Dick's blood boil. The fact that Damian's life up until joining that had just been pain and fighting and death broke Dick's heart and it made him so fucking angry because how dare Ra's al Ghul and Talia make Damian this way, make the boy think he had to swallow his pain, make him think that he was worthless if he couldn't push through pain.

Sometimes it made Dick so furious that he had to close his eyes and just breathe for a little while, so that he didn't do something he'd regret. Didn't track down every stupid fucking assassin for hurting his little brother, for making him think for a single instant that he was weak for being human.

Bruce was dead. Damian was his responsibility. And Dick would be damned if he let the boy continue on like this.

What had worked with Jason and Tim wouldn't work with Damian, though. He had to offer an ultimatum, the same way Bruce had with him. Dick didn't want to; he didn't want his relationship with Damian to be about rules and ultimatums. But the boy was volatile and stubborn and if it was the only way to keep him safe...

Well, then he'd do it.

"When we spar," Dick began, keeping his voice level, "you are required to tap out upon being hurt." It had gone on too long already. It couldn't continue. It just couldn't.

"Tt." Damian shook his head derisively. "I'm fine,” he said firmly. "I do not require breaks, Grayson, nor do you need to go easy on me. I can handle a sparring match with you."

Dick just stared back passively. Any signs of emotion right now (compassion, worry, even anger) would just make Damian dig in his heels even more, so Dick kept his cool.

"You misunderstand me," Dick said, tone even. "This isn't a request. Either you tap out when we're sparring, or you're barred from going into the field."

Damian narrowed his eyes and bared his teeth. "Just because you might be weak and require time to heal, I do not. I was trained better than that."

"You were trained wrong," Dick replied instantly. "Training is not, in fact, about pain. It's about improving your skills." Man, Dick was starting to feel like a broken record. The same points over and over again. Why couldn't his brothers just understand? Why did they push so hard against this? It was for their own safety!

And, frankly, for Dick's peace of mind.

Damian made that noise again and turned up his nose. "Pain makes you stronger."

"Pain makes you numb," Dick corrected. "Training makes you stronger. And I will bench you if you can't keep yourself in top form."

That made the boy's spine straighten. "I am always in top form!" he said, voice rising.

Dick's heart went out to him. He wanted to comfort the boy, wanted to help him, wanted to protect him. But none of that could happen if Damian didn't listen to him.

"It's also about trust, Damian. If you ignore injuries, if you pretend to be fine, then I don't have all the facts when it comes to being out in the field. How can I trust you to have my back   to even have your own back   if you're hiding anything that you deem less than perfect?"

Damian hesitated, and relief washed through Dick.

"I suppose you...do have a point," Damian said haltingly, not quite looking Dick in the eye anymore.

"I'm glad you agree," Dick said, instead of whooping with joy. "It's important, Damian," he added, just in case. "It's necessary."

The kid pursed his lips briefly, and then nodded. "Alright, Grayson. I will...inform you if I feel any pain during training."

"Just tap the ground twice." Dick said. "Or whatever you can reach, I suppose."

When Damian nodded again, far more decisively, Dick smiled.

 

 

Jason had never heard Dick scream like that, never heard that pure a sound of pain from his brother. It was...agony, it was mindless, like Dick couldn't do anything except feel the pain.

Jason strained against his bindings, saw Tim and Damian doing the same, but it wasn't enough. They weren't enough. Dick was fighting and screaming and dying and they couldn't do a damn thing.

It was all their fault, anyway. Dick wouldn't be there at all if Jason and Damian had followed protocol better, if they had reported their findings and not gone in with a lack of information. They hadn't even known there was a lack of information. Not until it was too late. Not until Tim and Dick arrived, not until Tim was tied up and these fuckers were...

Another scream. Dick brought up his arms, trying to fend off another attack, but these metas, they weren't slowing, showing no signs of stopping. They had some kind of bone to pick with Nightwing; Jason had no idea what the history was, but at the moment it didn't matter. Not with Dick trying to fight back, with them playing with him. Not with Dick losing.

"What the matter, Nightwing?" one of them jeered, the one with the lightning powers. "You seem a little out of it! No witty quips for us today?"

Dick was barely keeping himself on his feet. He was probably only still standing through the adrenaline scorching his system, but it wouldn't last. They were blasting him with lightning and fire, hitting him with force fields, throwing things at him with telekinesis. Their anger was deep, and Dick wasn't going to survive this.

"I'll kill all of you!" Jason roared, yanking and pulling. But the ropes wouldn't give. He could barely move his fingers. There was no getting out of this.

One of the metas glanced over at him, her expression filled with mocking pity. "Sweetheart, none of you are going to live that long."

"No," Dick said roughly, shaking his head. "No. You  you have me. I'm the one you want. Let...let them go. Let them go. Now."

The villains laughed. They hit him with another burst of lightning. Dick screamed again, his body arching before he twisted out of the path.

He was run down, heavily injured. He wasn't going to stay on his feet much longer, and then...

Where the hell are you? Jason thought desperately, begging for Batman to arrive, begging his father to arrive and save his brother.

Dick ducked a jab to his head but didn't dodge the foot to his chest. He cried out, stumbled, and then went flying off his feet when the telekinetic slammed a boulder into his side.

Jason could see Dick breathing heavily, gasping, but he didn't get back to his feet.

Get up, Jason demanded. Get up!

Another strike of lightning. Another scream. Dick's body kept twitching and he rolled onto his side, vomiting what appeared to be no more than bile.

"Nightwing!" Tim called brokenly. "You have to-"

Tim didn't even get a chance to finish his plea for their big brother to get up when a column of fire hit the elder vigilante, drawing a cry of pain from the already hurt beyond understand man.

If they got out of this, Dick was never going to be the same.

No. No. Not if. This wasn't an if situation. When they got out of this.

One of the metas kicked Dick hard in the stomach. The hero coughed, choked, tried to curl in on himself. The meta kicked him in the head, drawing a groan. The chest. The stomach again. The stomach again. The stomach aga  

Dick fist fit the ground twice.

Jason could barely breathe. That's what Dick taught him, taught all of them. Tapping out meant the pain was supposed to stop. How delirious was he in that moment, to fall back to that?

(Joker, a crowbar, just wanting it to stop-)

"Nightwing," Damian said, and it sounded more like a sob.

None of them were going to recover from this. Jason knew it like he knew his own name.

Another kick. Another two hits against the ground. Dick didn't even seem to know where he was anymore.

Another strike of lightning. Dick spasmed but didn't make a noise. His fist hit the ground once, and then  

Fell limp.

 

 

Batman arrived ninety-three seconds later.

It was too late.