Dick knows he’s staring, but he can’t help it.
Tim simply looks so...fragile, like this, which is something that Dick has never felt in regards to his second brother
Dick watches Tim inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale. The breaths are deep at least, but the time between them is too long for comfort.
“How long has he been like this?” Dick asks, not taking his eyes off of his brother. He doesn’t have to check to know Bruce is behind him. Bruce’s mind gives off a quiet hum, something Dick mastered getting a feel for a very long time ago. Bruce might not have magic, but he has a presence nonetheless.
“About fifteen hours.”
Dick grits his teeth; he can’t even claim to be surprised. Fifteen hours Tim’s been like this, and Bruce only just decided to inform him of his brother’s condition.
Honestly, Dick should be more surprised that Bruce remembered to tell him at all.
“Have you called Zatanna yet?”
Dick already knows the answer to that question, already knows what Bruce is going to say, but he has to ask anyway.
“God damnit, Bruce!” Dick yells, and gets to his feet. He turns around, folding his arms across his chest. “Now isn’t the time for your thing about outsiders-”
“This is about Tim, and how apparently there’s another magician in Gotham coming after us! After him!”
Bruce doesn’t say anything for a long moment, and Dick takes the chance to examine his...mentor? Father? Partner? Hell, Dick doesn’t even know anymore.
The man looks exhausted, for one thing, which Dick would sometimes take some sliver of petty pleasure from, if the reason for his exhaustion wasn’t Tim’s current state of injury. He has a bruise on his chin, too, which makes Dick frown, and he’s holding his weight in that careful loose way that means something’s wrong with his ribs.
“You need to call Zatanna,” Dick says firmly. “Or, hell, Constantine, maybe.”
Bruce remains silent for a beat, then says, “I called you.”
And Dick...really doesn’t know what to do with that. Is it a declaration of trust? Is it the opposite, saying Having to call you was enough, I don’t want any other magicks in my city
Well, then he was fired. And Jason arrived. And Jason died. And now Dick is still struggling to be around the man who raised him, still struggling to revive that connection because it always feels like no matter how hard he tries, there is always going to be another wall that appears.
And Dick will always be the one hurt by the fallout.
“Yes,” Dick says, keeping his tone even, “you did. But I don’t know what you expect me to do, Bruce. I can’t
He cuts himself off and turns back to look at Tim, pursing his lips.
He just looks so small.
“Heal him,” Bruce says, like it’s the most simple thing in the world.
Dick barks out a laugh, lacking in humor. “You’d think after being around magicians for over a decade you’d know that’s not how that works. I’m not a healer, Bruce. I’m not a spell-caster, I can’t just wave my hands and make things happen. My magic is-”
“Illusionist,” Bruce interrupts, “I know. But, last we spoke of it, you were making strides in dreamwalking, so I thought that might be applicable, considering that Tim is unresponsive. If he’s dreaming, then you can reach him.”
Dick squeezes his eyes shut.
“He’s not dreaming, Bruce. His mind is...” Dick makes a frustrated noise.
He doesn’t quite know how to explain it; never has. Jason’s magic was centered around the relationship between the body and the world. Tim’s magic is firmly in the physical plain, connected to the life around him. But Dick’s is all about the mind, and he’s never known how to explain to his family what it feels like, to always have a sense of them
And Tim right now is
It’s chaos. Wait, no, it’s not. Tim’s fear is chaotic, but what’s been done to him is actually very...clean. Firm.
“It’s like he’s been trapped in there,” Dick murmurs. “I don’t even understand it. It’s like someone...locked him inside his own head.”
Tim feels muted, and distant, and it terrifies Dick, because the only time his family ever feels distant is when they’re close to death.
Jason tried to learn how to block off Dick’s sensing ability once. He spent so much time researching how one would ward the mind, how that would work without deep frying the brain. He’d gotten pretty close, too. Jay’s mind had been blurry, almost flickering, and it had scared Dick shitless until he confirmed that his brother was okay, just being an asshole.
Jay hadn’t done it again after that. He’d seen how much it had made Dick panic, and let it be. Dick had understood what a big deal that was for Jason
But Tim’s never done anything like that, and he’s certainly never felt trapped like he does now. It’s like someone erected a wall and put Tim on the wrong side of it.
It feels...There's something about it that is almost...familiar.
But for the life of him, Dick can't quite place the feeling.
“I can’t heal him, Bruce, because even if Tim was dreaming, there’s no way I can get past those...” Dick’s brow furrows. He’s missing something. He knows he’s missing something. “...Barriers. Not without hurting Tim in the process, at least.” He glances back at Bruce, the older man’s expression unreadable. “How did this happen, anyway? Where did it happen?”
Bruce takes a step forward, then another, and joins Dick at standing by Tim’s bedside. This close, Dick can see the minute lines of tension running through every part of his mentor’s body. It makes Dick wonder where Alfred is.
“Titans Tower,” Bruce replies. “The assailant breached the security systems, attacked Robin, and escaped without a trace.”
Dick blinks. “That...is concerning. And worth looking into, because how the guy got in is probably our only lead to finding him, and frankly Bruce-” Dick bites his lip, almost afraid to say it out loud, and then forces himself to continue. “Frankly, Bruce, we need whoever attacked Tim. I think...I think that’s the only way to fix what’s been done.”
Bruce’s jaw tightens. “You want us to trust the very person who put him in this condition in the first place?”
“What I want is to help my brother,” Dick snaps right back. “I can’t fix him, and you apparently won’t call in any other help
Bruce looks at him, deadpan, and Dick draws up a smirk. It’s harder than it usually is, with Tim is the state he is.
“Just...do you have any leads as of yet?” Dick asks quietly. “Fifteen hours is a sizable amount of time.” And I doubt you spent the entirety of it sitting at Tim’s bedside.
Dick feels petty and childish just for thinking that, but sometimes he can’t help it. Sometimes he and Bruce bring out the best in each other, and other times they bring out the absolute worst.
“The assailant did a very good job of covering their digital footprint, wiping cameras or looping feeds, but it appears that Impulse was in the midst of filming some video and managed to catch a couple seconds of film of the assailant.”
Bruce heads over towards the computer and Dick, after a hesitant moment, leaves Tim to follow him.
In a few seconds, Bruce has the video up and Dick watches the camera turn towards Wonder Girl, both she and Impulse laughing at something, and Dick’s heart clenches; they’re all just kids
On the video there’s a loud beep, causing Cassie’s face to scrunch up in confusion, and then something crashes, making multiple people shout. The camera turns, there’s a flash of someone running, a red mask
Without needing to be asked, Bruce plays it again, slower this time. He freezes on the image of the man responsible for attacking Tim, and Dick narrows his eyes at it. It’s blurry, not even close to a clear shot
They’re definitely male, big like Bruce is. The mask is more like a helmet but, with the grainy footage, Dick can’t tell what the material is. There’s some sort of red design on the man’s chest, but without clarity it simply looks like a red line.
“I’m assuming you’ve already got one of your algorithms running to try and find just about anything you can connect this person to?” Dick asks, not taking his eyes off the image. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Bruce nod. “Okay. I’m gonna head back to Bludhaven, grab some stuff, maybe take a shower, and then I’ll be back to help.”
Bruce doesn’t say anything for a moment, then
Dick glances over at him. His expression is perfectly blank. His mind is still humming the same way it always does. He won’t look over at Dick, though.
“I could,” Dick agrees, drawing the word out in confusion.
“And I’m pretty sure we have copies here of anything you might need to grab from your apartment.”
Dick squints at him, and turns to face him fully. Bruce’s expression doesn’t change.
“Probably,” he hedges. “Why?”
“And the drive to and from Bludhaven seems like an unnecessary waste of time.”
Suddenly, Dick understands. His lips twitch, but he keeps himself from smiling outright, because that would probably ruin the whole mood Bruce has got going for him at the moment.
“You’re right,” Dick agrees easily, and though Bruce’s head doesn’t move, Dick sees his eyes cut over to glance subtly at the younger man. “Definitely a waste of time. I should probably just stay the night.” He pauses purposefully. “If you’re okay with that, of course.”
Bruce’s eye twitches. Dick bites the inside of his lip to keep from grinning.
“Yes, that sounds...alright,” Bruce says awkwardly. “Alfred hasn’t seen you in awhile; I’m sure he’ll be glad to make one of your favorites.”
Dick bites back the comment of Whose fault is it that I haven’t been here, because that wouldn’t be fair, especially when Bruce is so clearly trying right in front of him.
“I’d like that,” Dick says softly.
Dick’s dreams have always been strange. When he was younger, his mama used to say that it was because his mind is an open landscape, and that meant he goes flying when his eyes are closed.
He hadn’t understood what she meant back then, just thought it was one of those superstitions she had about everything. It wasn’t until he started dreamwalking a few years back that it made any sense.
Dick’s affinity has always been for illusion magic, messing with perception on multiple scales. For so long, he worked on mastering his abilities, making sure that his projections and glamours would never fail, drilling himself hard enough to push his endurance and know that he could hold the spells for as long as he needs
He always assumed that was that, until a few years ago when working on a case with John Constantine. The mission had, predictably, gone to shit, and they had to camp out for the night. So, they settled in, assigned shifts, and Dick headed to sleep.
Constantine woke him up less than an hour later with a heavy look and said, “I’d be careful about traveling like that, Dickie. Dream magic is dangerous when you don’t have a direction in mind. Ripe pickings for anyone t’grab ya.”
Dick hadn’t had a single clue what the man was talking about, but the instant he’d gotten back home he’d called Zatanna up and asked her why the fuck he would have anything to do with dreams.
Turns out that illusion magic, in its focus on perception, includes things such as other realities. Like dreamscapes. Which meant that he had a whole other thing to master, and apparently he needed to do it fast.
He’s still working on it; in times of high emotional or physical stress, he tends to lose a bit of control over his dreamwalking, his mind wandering (flying, as his mama would say) without a destination.
And right now, yeah, Dick has to admit he doesn’t really know where he’s landed. There’s a feeling of confusion with him here, a bit of panic. It’s dark and filled with shadows, and when Dick strains his eyes he can see a faint green tinge around him, an echo of anger, and despite himself he shivers.
He closes his eyes, centers himself. This might not be his mind, but it is his power, and he has control.
Dick starts to pull himself back, piece by piece, focusing on the feeling of home to leave this stranger’s mind. But then something happens
He knows this mind. Not from the inside
He’s spent countless hours around this mind, knows it as well as he knows Tim’s
“Jay?” Dick breathes, confused and hopeful and afraid, and then all of a sudden the world around him shudders and slams shut.
It hurts. More than he thought something mental could.
He’s never experienced this before
“-ick! Dick, wake up-!”
Dick gasps, bolting upright, gulping down air greedily. His eyes dart around in panic, chest heaving, and he jerks away when he feels two hands land on his shoulders.
The hands leave for a moment and then return, firmly taking ahold of him.
“Dick, chum, look at me.”
Dick’s raises his gaze, eyes wide, and sees Bruce in front of him. He’s in a pair of pajama pants, and his face is lined with clear concern. The hum of his mind is faster than usual.
“What-” Dick croaks, and then clears his throat. He works on regulating his breathing. Tries to work past the pure panic he still feels running through his body. “What happened?”
Bruce looks helpless for a second, shaking his head minutely. “You tell me. One second everything was normal, then the next you were screaming. I ran in here, and you were thrashing around, even cut your hand on the bedside table. It took me at least five minutes to wake you up.”
Dick glances down at his hand and sees that, sure enough, there’s a gash across the back of it, a bit of blood on the edge of his nightstand. He stares at it for a moment, not comprehending, not quite seeing.
All he can see is sickly green, and soft blue trying to break through.
“Dick,” Bruce repeats his name, a gentle attempt to redraw his attention, and Dick raises his eyes again.
Dick doesn’t remember the last time he saw Bruce so bare
How can he try to explain something he barely understands himself?
“It was-” Dick pauses, licks his lips. “I
“Hey, it’s alright, just breathe with me. There you go, chum, just focus on breathing.”
Bruce removes a hand from Dick’s shoulders and takes one of Dick’s hands in his own, then presses it against the elder man’s chest. Dick can feel his heartbeat, feel his breathing. He automatically starts to match it.
“I was dreamwalking,” Dick murmurs, when he starts to feel more in control. “I wasn’t...I didn’t mean to.”
“I thought you had control over it.”
Usually, that would feel like an admonishment, an insult to his abilities. Now, it only sounds like a father concerned over something he didn’t think he had to be worried about.
“I did. I do. But sometimes when I
Dick furrows his brow. He has to be wrong. Just because it
Besides, it’s not like Dick ever actually entered Jay’s mind; his dreamwalking began after his death. It’s very different, sensing someone’s mind versus actually being in it. Very different. And just because being pushed out felt a hell of a lot like Jay’s warding magic...
“B,” Dick begins hesitantly. “Do you...do you remember when Jason was starting to get really good at using his magic, and he started practicing by putting up small wards around the grounds of the Manor, and at the Watchtower that one time you took him, and Titans Tower..."
Bruce’s expression predictably closes off at the mention of his dead son. “I do. Why?”
“Well, after he...died,” Dick continues, voice still hesitant, eyes locked on Bruce’s chest as he refuses to meet the man’s gaze. “Those wards probably stayed in place, because he linked them to the places themselves-”
“What are you getting at, Dick?” Bruce interrupts.
Dick purses his lips. “I’m saying that those wards more than likely stayed up, and they’re supposed to immediately send out a warning if someone who’s not supposed to be there shows up.”
Fuck, how Dick doesn’t want to say this. How Dick doesn’t even want to think it.
“And it’s not like tech, B; no camera feeds to be looped. So the assailant-”
“Is a powerful magician,” Bruce interrupts again, voice cold, “and quite capable of breaking the wards of a teenage novice.”
That is a fair point, though part of Dick does protest the word novice, considering the sheer amount of natural power Jason possessed. It would be a very good point, if Dick hadn't just experienced what he did.
But he doesn’t have any proof, and someone really did just mess with his mind
Something just happened to him; someone just knocked him painfully out of their mind, but that doesn’t mean it’s Jason.
It’s not Jason.
All the same, the thought doesn’t leave.
The search turns up nothing.
Against Bruce’s wishes, Dick even reaches out to Raven, Zatanna, and Constantine, asks them if they know anything about this new player. The magical community is, after all, a relatively small one, and everyone tends to know everyone else, or has at least heard of everyone else.
None of them have definitive answers for him, but all promise to keep an ear out. Raven tells him that she senses a volatile presence in Gotham, but she can’t pinpoint the location for him; apparently, this new player has cloaked himself pretty thoroughly against location spells and the like.
Cloaked. A form of warding.
(Dick can’t get it out of his head.)
Bruce’s frustration grows each day with their search turning up nothing, and Dick isn’t faring much better. It’s been two days and Tim’s condition hasn’t changed.
A couple times, Dick tries to make his way past the barriers (wards, they’re wards, powerful wards) trapping Tim inside his own mind, but he’s unsuccessful. He’s gotten pretty good at dreamwalking this past year
On the third day Bruce calls in J’onn, just to see if maybe the Martian can reach Tim. Dick considers telling him it won’t work
So, when J’onn arrives, Dick leaves.
He needs a breather anyway, needs to step out of the oppressive silence that has filled the manor these last few days. The magic that is keeping Tim is his state is starting to leech out the longer the spells hold, and Dick can feel it in the air
It’s a feeling Dick knows well. He spent a couple years around someone who surrounded themselves with this kind of magic, after all. Someone whose very being carried this feeling, this steadiness.
Dick’s still telling himself he’s wrong; it is a little different. Jason’s wards always carried with them the feeling of safety and strength, and these have that but there’s an added...wrongness to them. There’s almost a sourness to the magic that Dick can’t imagine Jason ever holding, not even at the boy’s most angry.
So it’s not him. It’s just not. Jason’s dead, it wasn’t his mind, it isn’t his magic.
It’s chilly outside, but Dick feels overheated and is thankful for the lack of a jacket, walking out of the manor in jeans and a t-shirt. He picks a direction at random, walking through the gardens, and tilts his head back to the sky with a sigh.
When Tim first came to Dick, the boy already had a pretty strong handle over his abilities. Apparently his mother had elemental magic as well, and though Janet Drake was nowhere close to mother of the year, she had made sure that her son at least grasped the concept of control.
But the power, the strength, the discipline? No, that was all Tim. He’d been impressive from day one, manipulating the world around them with no more than a raise of his hands and narrowed eyes of determination.
Walking through the gardens, Dick can see the marks Tim has left on their home. The way the trees move, the artful way the ivy has grown over the house, the pond that didn’t exist before Tim decided they needed one. It’s all so beautiful. And it breaks Dick’s heart that Tim is stuck down there in the cave, away from the world he’s made. It’s wrong, seeing an elemental magician trapped in the way Tim is. People with his kind of magic aren’t made to be separated from the world. They’re made to be right there in the center of it all.
It isn’t until Dick reaches the end of the path that he realizes he must’ve had a destination in mind after all, because he’s come upon the private Wayne cemetery. He wanders past Martha and Thomas, inclining his head briefly in respect to them, and then pulls up short in front of Jason’s grave.
He stares down at the headstone, lips pressed into a thin line, eyes narrowed. Only fifteen. His little brother died at only fifteen years old, and Dick hadn’t even been on the planet. He’d been useless. And Jason had died alone.
Considering Jay was always the one with the protection magic, it makes Dick really fucking sad to know that when he needed it most, none of them protected him.
“Hi, Jason,” Dick murmurs, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “It’s been a while since I visited, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve been...” He laughs at himself, because what's he going to say? Busy? He's been too busy to visit his brother’s grave? Or simply wanting to avoid interacting with Bruce?
“Well, I’m sorry for it. You know, there’s this little girl living with her parents in the apartment next to mine, and she’s going through a Jane Austen phase. Really loving Pride and Prejudice right now; you’d adore her.”
He laughs again, soft and sad. He doesn’t really know what else to say
“I don’t know what to do, Jay. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid. It’s not you, right? It’s not.”
Dick doesn’t know what he expects the tombstone to say, but he stares at it seeking answers nonetheless.
He stands there in silence for a little bit, whatever miniscule amount of weird, sad humor he had before fading away and leaving him with nothing but grief and regret.
“I wish I could’ve done more for you, Jay," he whispers. "I really do.”
“There’s something you can do now.”
Dick goes still, not even daring to breathe. He feels, now that he’s paying attention, the hum of a familiar mind behind him. It’s not Bruce’s, steady and sure. It’s not Tim’s, quiet and quick. It’s
Slowly, breath still caught in his throat, Dick turns back towards the path he’d just walked. There’s a man standing about fifteen feet away. A similar build to Bruce, definitely taller than the malnourished boy Dick remembers. Thick black hair with a startling streak of white in the front. Familiar, wary blue eyes. And that mind, solid and powerful as ever
“Jason?” Dick chokes out. “You’re
He takes a small, involuntary step forward, and his brother doesn’t step back but he does tense, hands twitching as his sides. Dick goes still again, palms raised slightly in a peaceful gesture, heart racing in his chest.
“Hey, Dickie,” Jason says, and though there’s levity in his voice, it sounds so forced, his expression remaining guarded. “Been a while.”
Dick takes a few deep breaths, because if he doesn’t he’s going to do something stupid like hyperventilate and pass out or run over there and hug his brother.
For some reason, that makes one side of Jason’s mouth quirk up in a crooked grin, his eyes sparkling for a moment. “It’s hard to shut you up; I should record this.”
Well, Dick figures that running over there and hugging his brother now seems like an excellent plan if they’ve somehow already reached teasing, so he does. Jason tenses even further as Dick approaches, grin fading back to wariness, and then goes completely rigid when Dick wraps his arms around him, holding on tightly.
The new height difference will definitely take some getting used to.
“God, you asshole,” Dick breathes, squeezing his eyes shut, and hears Jason bark out a surprised laugh. “You absolute
Jason doesn’t do anything for a long moment, but when he clues in to the fact that Dick isn’t letting go any time soon, he tentatively raises his arms and hugs back. He’s still so stiff, but Dick counts it as a win all the same.
“Alright, alright,” Jason grumbles after a minute. “Get off me, Dickface.”
Dick’s laugh is a little watery, but he lets go all the same, pulling back to give Jason some room.
They watch each other for a long moment. Jason, Dick thinks, looks tired. All of his features are much sharper than they used to be, the look in his eyes far older
Dick has a million questions.
“So do I get to ask how you’re alive,” he begins, aiming for humor, “or is that taboo? I don’t think I’m up to date on the etiquette for when a loved one comes back to life.”
Jason grimaces and reaches up to rub at the back of his neck. “It’s...a long story. But Dick, I-” He cuts himself off and sighs. “Well, I need your help.”
“Okay,” Dick says, sobering instantly. Jason doesn't do asking for help, and that's one thing Dick's betting hasn’t changed. “What do you need, Jay?”
His brother blinks at him, then huffs a laugh. “You sure you wanna agree that quickly, Golden Boy? I mean, I’m sure you’ve put it together by now. Who attacked the new kid.”
Jason’s voice hardens at the mention of Tim, and Dick fights to keep himself under control, because yes Dick has a serious problem with what’s happened to Tim, but Jason is somehow alive and right in front of him.
So yeah, he’s gonna help his brother however the hell he needs.
“What do you need, Jay?” he repeats softly.
“I-” Jason starts, then he stops. He swallows, his eyes skating away from meeting Dick’s own. Dick’s concern grows; this hesitancy is so very rare in his little brother, and he forces himself to wait patiently. To let Jason get to the place he needs to be without interference.
“I need to know if I’m really me, Dick,” Jason says, voice barely more than a whisper, ever so vulnerable. “I don’t
Dick can’t really say he understands, but he knows that his little brother’s afraid, and he knows Jason believes Dick can do something to help.
“Alright,” Dick says, smiling. He isn’t so sure what he can do to help with something like this, but he’s not going to reveal his doubts when Jason so clearly needs him, so he tries to project confidence he doesn't have in the hopes of convincing himself that he can help. His little brothers both need him; he has to be able to do something.
“Let’s figure it out, then.”