The first and the last memories he has of his parents are their falls from a height he never learns to comprehend. The images follow him into the night, wake him as a baby. By the time he can catch onto the trapeze - not fly, not yet -, he knows what he dreams about, and he knows those dreams are called nightmares.
Dick never questions them. They have existed as long as he can remember.
When he sees a man behind the stage, he has only ever seen as a smeared shadow in his terrible dreams, he begins to question what they might mean, but he is only a nine-year-old boy. And superheroes? Just a term best mentioned in stories.
The era has just begun.
His parents fall. They fall so vividly as he has never seen them fall before. Still, for a moment, Dick does not know if he is dreaming. As his mum and dad meet the ground, limbs sprawled in all directions and blood soaking into the sand that glitters ruby red beneath the show light, Dick wonders when he will wake up.
With nine and a half Dick realizes that he could have saved them had he been aware of his terrible gift. It starts then that he begins to notice the smell of death on every living being he meets.
It clings to Bruce. It clings to Alfred. An earthy smell, not a stench, but at times suffocating.
The first time he meets Superman, he can't quite comprehend that even Metropolis' beacon of light is fated to die. That night, Dick cries like he hasn't for years, but he lives with his curse, treats and saves victims of villains he knows will die anyway. Internal bleeding. Too much fear toxin.
Some people they truly safe from those fates, and still, Dick sees them die another day. Not years from then, just months or days.
It takes time to figure out how his ability works. All he needs is a touch, and if the person dies within ten years, he will know how and where. If he concentrates on the image, pries it apart with practice and time, he can even figure out when.
The first person he meets that carries death so heavily he can taste it is Raven. And he knows, instinctively, that she can't die. Dick clings to that feeling and among meta-humans, aliens, demons and Amazons the curse he carries starts to lessen its weight.
All the more jarring that Jason Peter Todd comes into Dick's life with everything he doesn't want to see. A place, a time and a bullet.
"Is Nightwing supposed to be here?" is the remark with which their encounter starts and even then, Dick can already taste death, feel the cold breeze accompanying those who are fated to die far sooner than they should.
He didn't want to come to Gotham, wouldn't be here if it were avoidable. He definitely doesn't want to like the new Robin. He doesn't want a new brother. He doesn't want to see the boy that now carries his legacy without knowing the meaning of it. A bat carries death, but a robin? A robin sings and chirps, announces the return of spring.
"Should a pipsqueak like you be out all alone?" he questions without turning around.
"A pipsqueak that's a head taller than you were, for sure," Robin shoots back.
Dick rolls his eyes, ignores the suffocating cigarette smoke wafting through the air.
"At least this pipsqueak wasn't a nobody."
Is he surprised that Jason hits the roof where he once stood as he sails through the air? Hardly.
With Robin on his tail, going after his true purpose is nigh impossible. Vigilante might already be waiting for him and might as well be mad if he is too late for their rendezvous, but Robin doesn't need to find out about Dick's meetings with antiheroes lest he tells Bruce. Then again, what's another nail in the coffin?
He pulls at the yellow cape - at his yellow cape -, chuckling when Jason sprawls over the rooftop like an angry cat, still catching himself on hands and feet. His expression is nasty. Dick doesn't know why Jason thought he would win. No matter.
"What do you want?"
"See what all the fuss is about, obviously," Jason snaps, and Dick huffs, weight shifting, so he can leave.
"Sorry, I'm not a tourist attraction," he calls out, already off the roof before Jason can even grasp for him. He watches out of the shadows as Jason searches, whispering profanities beneath his breath. It's nearly... it's nearly ok.
On the other hand, finding your not really little brother sneaking around your hotel room at ungodly hours, sun tinting everything into an orange-pink light, isn't ok at all. It was a hard night. Especially because Vigilante was angry. Dick thinks Jason has no right to complain about the headlock he is held in. Jason woke him up with no subtlety after all.
But it's hard to hate someone when you know how they die. And Dick nearly grows numb with the realization that it's the first death not out of reach, the first he can prevent. And even as Jason bickers and rants and is all in all annoying, Dick believes Jason deserves to live a long and happy life.
So, if he comes back to Gotham for one night, even though Bruce is present, just to tackle Jason out of the way of a stray bullet he knew was coming for weeks now, just to be insulted for it, Dick takes the behavior in strides.
"No need to thank me, Little Wing." He isn't used to be thanked in Gotham anyway, Bruce wasn't big on that either after all. "Just call me if you want to hang out with anyone who isn't over the age of thirty."
Jason stares at the piece of paper that Dick ripped out of an old notebook in a hurry. The black phone number is visible against the white paper even under the moonlight.
"Where are you from? The 90s?" Jason mutters beneath his breath, but takes it, clutching the crumpled piece of paper to his chest.
Space is wide and endless. It echoes Dick's anguish as he realizes, he never prevented Jason's death, he only made it worse.