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deep roots (are not reached by the frost)

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THIS FANFICTION IS HOSTED ON ARCHIVE OF OUR OWN, WHERE YOU CAN READ IT FOR FREE. IF YOU’RE READING THIS ON A DIFFERENT WEBSITE, IT WAS POSTED THERE WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S CONSENT.

 

Dick feels wrong in his skin. That’s the first thing he notices when he comes to (wakes up? no; the feeling is much too abrupt to be given that phrasing). It’s not as though it’s an entirely new sensation, though. It’s just that this time, it’s a different sort of itchy.

He doesn’t belong here.

Dick maintains his breathing, opening his eyes into tiny slits before letting out a tiny huff of air, almost as though he were sleeping. But it’s fine, it’s just the Manor—

Oh.

He isn’t supposed to be here anymore, is he? Dick doesn’t try to control his breathing any longer, eyes snapping open. This is… well, this isn’t his bedroom, but that’s his poster on the wall there, and Dick thinks he can see the glint of his telescope behind a screen.

There’s an IV drip attached to him, and his limbs have that lethargic feeling that comes from not moving around in much too long. Dick sits upright, careful not to disturb the IV line and the heart monitor, because he needs to leave here undetected, and Bruce always has a signal that goes to the Cave - and other various parts of the Manor - when any of the monitors are disturbed.

His leg is still stiff and aching, and when he winces at the feeling of moving it, he has to bite down a gasp as the bruise on his cheek pulls. It abruptly reminds him why he can’t be here anymore.

Dick’s cane is nowhere in sight, and he doesn’t relish the thought of having to hobble out of the Manor. He’s just pulling himself over to the nightstand, where there’s a glass of water with a cover placed over it, when there are voices outside.

Dick panics. There’s no other way of putting it. The monitor picks up the change and the beeps increase in speed, and before Dick can do anything more than turn around to face the door, it swings open.

“Who’re you?” The question is out of Dick’s mouth before he can think to stop himself. Does he even want to know the answer? The last time someone unknown had shown up after Dick was kicked out, it’d been a replacement Robin.

The thought of Jason makes something in Dick spasm, and he has to squeeze his eyes shut and breathe for a moment.

When he reopens them, the man is stepping closer, arms raised in front of him and conveying every move he makes.

“It’s okay,” the man says, and suddenly Dick can’t breathe again. “You’re safe. You’re in the Manor.”

“Who are you.” The words come out choked. It’s no longer a question, because now Dick wants to know even less than he did before.

The man comes closer, and Dick backs a step, stumbling into the nightstand in his haste to move away.

“Dick?” Jason says with a frown. “Look, I’m not going to hurt you. I work with Bruce. I’ll get him—”

“No,” Dick wheezes before his legs give out and then Jason is launching himself forward to try and catch him.

Dick crashes to the ground before he can get there, but now he can see Jason’s face properly, and it confirms it.

The Jason in front of him has a white stripe in his hair, and there are scars and wrinkles on his face that Dick’s Jason – the dead Jason, the one who’s been dead for months that he only found out about yesterday – doesn’t have. He’s big, too, big in a way Dick associates with Bruce and Clark and heavy hitters.

Jason is saying something to him, but Dick can’t process it through the buzzing in his ears. “You’re dead,” he whispers. He doesn’t even know if he says it aloud, but Jason’s mouth shuts with an audible sound.

Dick raises a hand and brings it to Jason’s arm, the body part closest to him. It’s solid.

You’re dead you’re dead you’redeadyou’redeadyou’redead—

 


 

The next time Dick wakes up, there’s a fuzziness in his mouth that comes from being given sedatives. He brings a hand up to scrub at his eyes, uncaring of the various monitors he’s no doubt attached to. Bruce knows he’s here by now; there’s no way to get around another confrontation if Bruce wants one.

“Dick?”

Dick jolts, heartrate spiking. He didn’t expect it to be Bruce’s voice, not here. He thought he’d at least have time to collect himself. He didn’t want to have this conversation at all, not if he can help it, but he’d prefer to be sitting, at least.

Dick slowly pushes himself upright, not looking at Bruce seated in the chair by his head. It’s a familiar armchair, one that Bruce (and often Alfred, as well) would sit in when he read to him before bed, or even when he was sick and someone would be in Dick’s room for the night.

Dick takes off the clip on his finger, an alarm going off instantly. Bruce doesn’t stop him. He does, however, put a hand over Dick’s when Dick goes to take out the IV drip. Dick stares at it for a moment before moving his arm away.

“Hey,” Bruce says, in that rumbling tone of his. It’s strange; normally Bruce wouldn’t be this calm. It just goes to prove the theory Dick’s gradually been building in his subconscious. “Are you with me?”

“Where is he?” Dick says instead. Thinking of this as being Bruce only makes things worse. It’s better to consider him as a different person, because then the longing, the confusion, hurts less. “The man who was here when I woke up before. Jason.”

There’s a moment of silence before Bru—Batman—answers. “He’s in the kitchen.” His voice is careful. “We thought it best he wasn’t here. You seemed…upset. At his presence.”

Dick digested this information quickly and efficiently, just as he’d been taught. “Where am I?” he asked next. Emotions could wait.

“You’re in the Manor. Your bedroom.” Batman’s voice is even. This is a practised answer.

Dick cracks a humourless smile. “Nice try. This isn’t my world.”

Dick can feel Batman’s gaze on him, but he continues to stare at the thin blanket covering his lower body. He wonders what answer they’ve devised. Dick’s been in parallel universes before, most of them not very pleasant. It’s always a matter of time before everyone’s true colours show through the façade, and that’s what he’ll wait for.

“You’re almost right,” Batman says finally. “This is your world; it’s just the wrong time. Judging from your reaction to Jason, I’d say you’re somewhere between five to seven years in the future physically and mentally. But all the tests we’ve done show that you’re of this world.”

At that, Dick glances up with a frown. Had he not already been bracing himself for looking Batman in the eye, his eyes would’ve widened at how much older he looks now. Just like with Jason, there are scars, albeit thinner ones – Bruce did have a very public persona to maintain, and large, disfiguring facial scars didn’t work well with it. There are strands of grey in his hair, hairline beginning to recede.

Dick had always told him he’d go bald from the cowl. A distant part of him would feel the glee of being proven right, but he’ll never be familiar enough with Bruce again to be able to justify a feeling like that.

“You’ll want to see all the reports and tests,” Batman says. “That’s fine. You won’t trust them, though. I know you.”

Do you? Dick wants to ask. What had happened to him this far into the future, that would make Bruce say something like that? Had they reconciled? He can’t see Bruce taking back his words, but he supposes that Jason returning from the dead would change things.

“I want to see Jason,” he says instead.

Batman’s face doesn’t change. He pulls out a phone from his pocket and taps a few buttons. “He’s on his way.”

Dick nods, turning away to face the wall ahead of him. The two of them sit there in silence. Dick wants to ask Batman to leave, because his skin is prickling with the awareness of Bruce being there every moment that he’s sitting there beside Dick, as though he wants to be there, and he doesn’t know what to make of it, and he hates the part of him that wants to talk to Bruce, to know what happened between them in his future.

But most of all, he hates the part of him that’s happy to have Bruce there.

The door opens quietly this time, and Jason’s new bulking form takes up most of the doorway. “Hey,” he says. A hand goes up to do an awkward wave, and Dick can’t help himself from staring at him, subconscious trying to find the pieces of the Jason he has in his mind’s eye.

At the lack of another breakdown, Jason steps inside, nudging the door shut behind him. “Uh,” he says, “you texted?”

“Dick asked for you,” Bruce says. He doesn’t get up from the chair, and Jason stands at the foot of Dick’s bed, hands going to his pockets. “We still have some questions we need to ask. And then you two can talk.”

Dick swallows down the wave of… a feeling he doesn’t want to name. “I go first,” he says, relieved when his voice doesn’t betray any of the things that’re churning around within him. “What happened?”

His eyes are on Jason, so he sees when Jason’s eyes flick to Batman for a moment before they apparently come to a decision. He doesn’t know what to do with the knowledge that they know each other well enough to be able to understand the other silently, communicate with a single glance. Jason and Bruce in his time were getting to that stage, to that awareness of the other that had to exist between a well-functioning Batman and Robin.

Jason clears his throat. “We were tracking an organisation called The Company,” he begins. His lips quirk slightly as he says the name, almost as though it’s a signal to someone else. Like muscle memory, perhaps, because when Dick continues to watch him without a change in expression, his face falters, and he continues with the narrative. “We shut down their human trafficking sect a month ago, but they still had a smaller drug trafficking system that worked as a separate branch. The fuckers actually have a bunch of individual branches, but anyway, not your concern. You went undercover in my place and got caught and held prisoner for a few days before we got you out and took them down. That was three days ago.”

Dick’s surprised at how much of an answer he’s just received. That is, if this whole thing isn’t a sham created to throw him off what’s really happening. “I woke up like this?” he questions.

Jason’s mouth twists, and this time it’s Batman who responds.

“We found you like that, in the Nightwing costume. From the track marks on your skin, it seems to most likely have been as a result of a series of injections you were given.”

Lovely. Dick almost prefers being a rabbit over a guinea pig. “But you can undo it, right?” he says. “You said you took them down. So you have their documentation. Their notes.”

“There were…complications,” Jason says, weight shifting to the other foot, “when we were rescuing you.”

“They somehow blew up the building you were in,” Bruce cuts in. Dick can practically hear the glower he’s giving Jason, and he doesn’t know whether the ‘they’ used is referencing Jason, or the group they were after. “Most of the reports and formulae are gone. You’re our only living sample of the solution you were given.”

Dick shuts his eyes for a moment. “Of fucking course I am,” Dick mutters. There’s a snort from Jason, which eases how tired Dick feels with this whole situation already. It’s really all just an addition to the weight that’s already been on his chest since he found out about Jason.

“Now,” Batman says, shuffling in his chair. “We have questions we’d like for you to answer.”

“Stop using ‘we’,” Dick mutters. “Just say ‘I’ like a normal human.”

Jason sniggers, coming to sit at the foot of Dick’s bed. He sprawls a little, resting on arms stretched out behind him. “I think I like this version of you,” he says to Dick.

Bruce ignores both of them. “What date is it for you?” he asks.

“Wednesday,” is the first word out of Dick’s mouth, almost before he can even think. “Eighth of July. [Year*].” His internal clock has mostly never proven him wrong, and it holds firm even through time travel, it would seem.

Jason’s eyebrows rise. “Huh,” he says. “That’s like three months after I died. Sorry for freaking you out?”

“Not your fault,” Dick tells him. He finds his eyes scanning every inch of this new Jason Todd every time he looks at him, never able to drink in the sight of him entirely. It’s akin to looking through a funhouse mirror, the reflected image distorted almost beyond recognition. “I should’ve…” His voice trails off, and he shakes his head a little, mouth quirking ruefully.

Batman clears his throat. “What was the last thing you remember doing?”

It’s been seven years, Dick tells himself. That’s why he doesn’t remember. Would you remember the shit you did seven years ago? But there’s a part of Dick that had hoped he’d mattered enough to Bruce that he would remember this date, because the events of that day sure as hell are imprinted in Dick’s head.

But doesn’t it make sense that it would be insignificant to Bruce if he and Dick had ended up reconciling at some point in the future? He doubts Bruce remembers each time he’s fired Dick, or when Dick has run away. He’s probably just overreacting, in the big scheme of things.

“Uh.” Dick doesn’t know how to answer him without giving away things he doesn’t want to think about ever again. “I got back with the Titans from a mission in space at some point on Sunday, found out that Jay—” His throat closes up. He can’t say it. But they know what he means, so it’s fine, right?

“Hold up,” Jason interrupts. There’s something in his face that Dick can’t decipher. Maybe not fine, then. “How long were you gone?”

“The mission? We left in March.”

Dick glances towards Jason, and is surprised to see the man’s jaw is clenched hard enough to look like it hurts. He’s glaring at Bruce – Batman – with a look of absolute fury in his eyes.

“Jason,” Bruce sighs, “not now.”

“I can’t fucking believe you,” Jason spits out. “You’ve been there when I’ve gone off at him. And you never said a goddamn word? He has a fucking martyr complex and that I can understand but how the hell could you stand there and—”

“Jason.” Batman is standing, movement silent and swift. Distantly, Dick wonders how he can manage that with the sort of clothes he’s got on. “Enough. We can discuss this later. If you can’t control yourself, you need to leave the room.”

Jason’s eyes promise to hold Batman to that, even as he crosses his arms and looks back at Dick. Dick has absolutely no idea what the argument was about, but he knows he won’t get any answers at this moment. Clearly, it was about him, that much he can make out.

“Continue,” Batman says, nodding his head towards Dick.

“I came to the Cave to see you,” he doesn’t add any details, and monitors his face so he doesn’t give anything away, but the bruise on his cheekbone seems to throb as he speaks, “and then went back to the Titans. Last thing I remember is going and taking a nap.”

Batman gives him a disapproving look. “Those were the barest bones of events. I thought I taught you better than that.”

Dick huffs a breath. “Maybe I don’t trust you enough to tell you more,” he says. “Got any other questions? Or can I see the reports now?”

Batman looks at him for a moment, assessing him, and then stands and walks out of the room.

Dick can feel himself relaxing automatically now that Batman is gone; there’s no longer any reason to be quite as vigilant as there was a moment ago. It’s not that he trusts Jason entirely, but combined with the increased mental stress of having to put up a front when Batman is here? He’d take dealing with Jason being resurrected, any day. At least there's a reason for him to act out of sorts around Jason; he doesn't want to give anyone reason to think anything happened between him and Bruce. 

And besides, Jason’s his younger brother, despite this version of him looking as though he could easily knock Dick out without breaking a sweat.

“You hungry?” Jason asks.

Dick’s head lifts up, looking directly into Jason’s eyes. He could’ve sworn they weren’t this colour before, but he can’t quite recall the exact shade that were Jason’s irises, and that realisation is another punch to the gut, another vivid emotion he quickly boxes up.

He’d expected this to be a typical good-cop-bad-cop routine, and so far, they weren’t doing anything to prove him wrong. “Not really,” Dick answers honestly.

“Tough. Come on, we’re going to the kitchen.” Jason stands with a stretch.

As his shirt rides up, Dick can spot countless scars criss-crossing his skin. There’s one that’s a long line just down the centre of Jason’s torso, but before he can figure out why it looks so eerily familiar (and wrong), Jason’s pulled down the thin sweater he’s wearing and beginning to undo the various machines from Dick.

“Alfred’s here?” he asks. He hasn’t seen Alfred in months.

Jason nods. “Yeah. He doesn’t know you’re awake, I don’t think.”

Dick goes to stand, limping towards the nightstand as he waits for his body to wake up properly. He doesn’t want to ask Jason for a crutch or a cane, but he knows he won’t be able to get downstairs in one go without one—

“Hold on,” Jason calls. “I’ll grab you a stick.” Jason is back within the minute it takes for the pins and needles in Dick’s legs to run their course, handing him a cane.

“Thanks.”

Dick follows Jason out of the room, deciding that sliding down the bannister is much healthier for him in his current state. He doesn’t miss the huff of breath coming from the pillar of muscle that is Jason as he skips down the staircase beside Dick, but doesn’t acknowledge it.

“By the way,” Jason says. “There might be…other people there.”

“Other people?” Dick repeats. “Like Clark?”

“Other kids.”

“Oh. Batman’s?” Had Bruce replaced Jason as well? He'd seemed adamant about having no partners when Dick had spoken to him (an understatement, if Dick was being honest), but he could see how Jason returning would change that. Having Jason back was an event that he couldn't even mentally process the reverberations of on himself, let alone for Bruce.

Jason’s face scrunches up a little at Dick’s use of Batman. “Yeah.”

“Were—Are they…” He doesn’t know how to finish the sentence, but luckily for him, Jason understands.

“Two out of three have been Robin,” he says, voice gentle.

Dick can’t help his eyebrows shooting upwards. “He got three more kids?” he says incredulously. The conflicting thoughts of I have four siblings now and are these even my siblings find their place in his head.

Two more Robins. Had Bruce really gone through two more Robins in the time since Jason had been resurrected?  

Jason shrugs. “Yup,” he says, popping the ‘P’. “And those are the only ones legally tied to him. Technically, there were a whole bunch more. And what do you even consider Barbara to be.”

Dick can’t help the instant horror he feels at the thought of Barbara being considered one of Bruce’s kids. At the look on his face, Jason laughs.

“I forgot you two had your thing,” he says.

“Wait,” Dick says. “What?”

Jason blinks, steps faltering. “Spoilers,” he amends.

“I don’t wanna know, honestly.” Because what does something in his future with Babs mean with him and Kory? Dick’s world has been upended enough without him having to think about losing yet another anchor. “Aren’t you worried all this information is going to mess up the timeline?”

Jason shrugs. “Since it’s not magic, and from the shittonne of tests, we’ve mostly concluded that this you isn’t going to go back in time and replace your past self. Your past self already exists, and this you is…” he waves his hand around at Dick. “So there’s no real danger in telling you anything.”

Dick nods a little uncertainly. While it’s true that this has never happened to him – or anyone he knows about – quite in this manner, Bruce is right: he won’t trust anything they say until he gets a look at those reports and runs a few tests himself.

Alfred is standing at the stove, humming something under his breath as he stirs. Dick didn’t expect the intense wave of homesickness to hit him like it does; there’s a giant lump in his chest that’s slowly inching its way up to his throat, and if he doesn’t do something now, he’s going to start tearing up and maybe even cry a little and that’ll be absolutely mortifying.

“Hey, Al,” Jason says, unaware of the war raging within Dick. “Guess who’s finally awake.”

And then Alfred turns around, and his face is so much older than Dick’s Alfred, but it’s still Alfred, and he still looks mostly the same. “Ah, Master Dick,” he says warmly. “Marvellous timing. I was just—”

Dick limps forward the few steps separating them and yanks Alfred into a tight hug, the cane clattering to the floor as he lets go of it. Alfred jumps a little, surprised, but his returning embrace is just as firm and steadfast as it’s always been.

Dick hides his face in Alfred’s shoulder, drawing back when he can finally maintain a controlled expression. “Sorry,” he says with an embarrassed laugh, bending down to pick up his abandoned cane. “It’s been a while. Since I’ve seen you.”

Alfred’s gaze is scrutinising, but he looks at Dick the same way he always has as he pats his upper arm. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen you as well, dear boy. This version of you, anyway.”

“Yeah, apparently I’m old now.” Dick lets a cheerful grin sweep across his face, stepping over to the barstools where Jason’s sitting. “Almost thirty. The horror.”

Jason snorts. “Yeah, real shocker you lived that long.”

Dick shrugs. “Hey, if B can survive.”

There’s a moment’s silence, a beat that’s off in the conversation, before Jason finally says, “B’s too damn stubborn to die properly.”

Dick files the moment away in his head, attention instead going to the bowl of warm stew Alfred places in front of him. Another wave of homesickness hits him as the smell registers; he hasn’t had Alfred’s cooking in so long. Despite the typical feeling of his body in its vigilant mode until he can be sure it’s safe to relax here, Dick finds himself devouring a second helping.

 


 

Jason has to go at some point. He leaves Dick in the living room, seated in front of the couch, with a promise that he’ll be back later that night. Dick finds it a little silly of himself to be so attached to one person, but he can’t help the tiny increase in stress when Jason disappears.

Especially when another tiny boy comes along at around midday. He’s wearing a Gotham Academy school uniform and has a generic backpack on, which marks him as a normal student, but there’s something in the way he carries himself that makes Dick’s brain tingle. That, and his appearance – what is it about him that’s so familiar?

“Grayson,” the boy says, clearly surprised but trying to hide it. “You’re awake. Pennyworth didn’t tell me.”

“Only woke up a few hours ago,” Dick tells him. He doesn’t say who’re you; he’s waiting for the child to introduce himself.

Instead, the boy huffs. “Good,” he says. His feet are shoulder width apart, a centring stance, and one of his hands clench the strap of his backpack tightly. He turns without another word, immaculately polished shoes squeaking on the floor.

“Wait,” Dick calls. “What’s your name?”

Damian spins around once again, and this time there’s a heavy frown on his face. His brows are bunched tightly. Dick internally winces at the frown wrinkles he’ll no doubt have as he grows older.

“Damian Wayne,” he says.

Dick blinks. “So you’re…” But now that he’s said his name aloud, it’s clear what that familiarity was: Bruce’s genes. Dick can now see the traces of Bruce in this tiny face, and the echoes of Bruce’s frame from photo albums reflected in this body.

“I am the blood son, yes.” Damian’s voice is impatient; his arms are now crossed over his chest. There's a slight accent to his words, and definitely more of a British influence than American.

Dick really wants to know who his mother is, but that’s going to have to be a question he asks literally anyone else. “Nice to meet you,” he says instead.

Damian sniffs. “I’d say the same, but it wouldn’t be honest.” And with that, he exits the room.

Despite everything, Dick finds himself starting to get a little fond of the prickly cactus of a biological kid Bruce now apparently has. He wonders what their relationship is like in this time. Damian had called him ‘Grayson’, so they likely aren’t close.

The thought of that makes all the problems Dick’s left behind in his own time rise to the foreground of his mind, and he pushes himself up off the couch, leaning around the coffee table to grab at the cane.

He woke up in just his socks, and has been walking around in a borrowed pair of slippers that looked like they’d fit him. Now, he grabs the slippers in his spare hand (he’ll need them for when he’s wandering around the freezing Cave) and steps lightly through the hallways as he makes his way to the grandfather clock.

No one has told him that he can’t be in here – if they had, then Dick would’ve waited until Bruce went to work the following day to sneak down into the Cave. But as it stands, he isn’t breaking any rules, and Batman had told him he could read the reports. Clearly, they trust him – that either means that they’re being honest and he is who they say he is (and they are as they claim to be), or they’re scheming megalomaniacs and he should try to uncover their evil plots as soon as possible.

Dick’s encountered the latter a few too many times to truly rule it out as an option.

There are new trophies scattered around the Cave. That horrific case with Jason’s Robin outfit is still up, and it steals Dick’s breath the moment his eyes land on it. He freezes there for a moment as he looks at it, wondering how on Earth Jason can stand it there, a permanent reminder of his death, and why the fuck is it even still up? How can Bruce look at it, a constant reminder—

Ah. There it is, Dick thinks. Because it’s perfectly in line with Bruce’s personality to keep it up, to serve as a painful reminder of what he probably considers his fault.

Dick steps past it, not looking at the rips and stains on the clothing. He holds his breath because his subconscious is trying to tell him he can smell blood coming from the uniform. Dick’s eyes scan the rest of the costumes in the Cave. Most of them he doesn’t recognise – hell, the Batman one alone is probably hundreds of versions ahead of the suit he knows – but there’s one particular costume that has a familiar blue.

He can’t believe he gives up the Nightwing suit he currently wears for this. This... this is so boring. The whole purpose of that suit was the tribute to his father, the unused costume that was supposed to debut in their next show. This is barely an echo of it – the blue is the only thing, really, that remains.

Dick hopes it was his own decision to change his costume this time round. Maybe it got too flamboyant – the collar he knows isn’t the most practical (and the neckline means he’s cold on stakeouts, even though the amount of skin he has out is nothing compared to his Robin days). But he’s fond of that uniform, and he’s at home in it in a way he hasn’t been since his early days of being Robin.

And sue him, he likes the flashiness. 

Dick tears his eyes away from the suits, knowing that pondering over the future when he has absolutely no context is a pointless exercise. He makes his way over to the Batcomputer, eyeing the upgrades.

Hopefully his voice hasn’t changed dramatically in the last (next?) few years.

“Computer, show files for ‘Grayson, Dick’. Codename ‘Nightwing’.”

“Voice recognised: Nightwing,” the computer says.

A series of windows open; Dick knows that older files will show if he prompts the computer to do so. There are a variety of reports and documents that show up, including the usual patrol reports that he writes, reports from the rest of the family when he’s joined them on a case, medical examinations.

There are files that are locked, and some little inaccessible voids that he feels like the Dick of now might know the contents of. He doesn’t go in to check, because at that moment he finds what he’s after. Whatever thing his future self (or Bruce, more likely) might be hiding can wait.

There’s a separate folder titled with the date, his civilian initials, and a few other letters and numbers that Dick takes to mean something to Bruce now. Bruce in his time… Dick can remember their entire filing system because it’s been drilled into him so thoroughly, but it’s definitely changed since then.

Dick first pulls up a medical report. It gives a thorough overview of his body and his current condition, all of which he already knows. There’s nothing particularly different about it, nothing that would suggest magical tampering. His bloodwork is the only part that’s of interest.

It’d probably be dismissed by most doctors and medical practitioners, but because Bruce isn’t most (and because Dick has been de-aged), he did extensive examining of the slight change in Dick’s blood.

The main issue, from what Dick can see, is that the serum in his system has interacted with it on an infinitesimal scale, the change too grand to reverse-engineer it without at least a basic understanding of what the formula was. Batman, it seems, doesn’t yet know what the purpose of the serum even was, or whether or not this was intentional or a side-effect.

Dick moves on to the reports of the rescue. He’ll have to backread and get to details on this group later. Batman’s system of filing reports is intricate to the point of tangled and obscure, but it’s relatively simple to find the documents he’s really looking for.

He looks up Jason, because Jason has confirmed he was there, and finds other shorthand in place of names.

RR. R-V. O. BG.

Dick would’ve assumed BG to be Batgirl, but Barbara… Barbara hasn’t been Batgirl in a while. So unless it’s a different moniker, someone else has taken up the mantle. He wonders whether this assignation happened anything like the Robin mantle, then dismisses the thought, pushing it to another corner of his mind as he continues reading.

To summarise, the vigilantes split into three teams – RH and RR, B and R-V, and BG on her own. One group came in through the roof, providing a distracting for the rest as they entered through the front door of the warehouse. As they drew all the firepower, BG travelled through the building first in search of documents, and for Dick.

It’s a little bit surprising to find that Jason stated it like the first priority was finding Dick, when Dick – and the rest of them – know that the lives of civilians come first. Batman trusts them to take care of themselves; it’s why they work together so nicely—

But that had been before Jason, hadn’t it? Perhaps this Bruce has changed.

This is yet another thought that Dick places carefully in a different corner of his mind, a dusty trashcan of a corner, and refuses to look at it. If things continue like this, his mind’s going to be insanely cluttered by the time he gets out of here.

They had found him in the basement, a large room adjacent to the science lab they had built under there. According to Jason, who had moved downstairs while B, R-V, and RR took care of the rest of the goons above, they had large vats of an odourless and colourless substance, almost like water had it not been for a thicker consistency.

Dick cracks a smile at the joke about lube.

It’s strange, to be reading something that he knows is Jason’s writing, but for it to sound so different to the boy he knows—knew. Jason’s reports had improved in leaps and bounds, as had his English schoolwork, far quicker than any other of his subjects. The more Dick reads, the more he thinks he can see pieces of his Jason showing through this older, stockier man who can grow facial hair.

Dick’s apparently finally getting to the interesting parts of the report, because this is when the sentences get choppier, the detail to certain areas drawing away what he feels is Bruce’s attention from the parts where there’s less elaboration.

For instance, the events that led to the explosion of the building and the destruction of all the vats of liquid, and all the documents and devices in the building, is possibly the most convoluted wording he’s ever seen in a report.

Dick thinks it’s Jason’s way of flipping Bruce off, and the thought of that makes him smile.

He’s just started looking for the reports of BG when he hears the sound of a clearing throat somewhere behind him. It’s only years of Batman doing the same to him that stops Dick from jumping. His heart leaps in his chest as it is; he’s glad he doesn’t show any visible signs of being startled. 

Dick glances behind him. Despite having braced himself for it, he almost flinches at the sight of Bruce with the full Batsuit on, cowl up.

Jason’s trailing behind him with two other people that Dick doesn’t know.

“Time for patrol already?” Dick asks, subtly leaning his weight off his bad leg and onto the counter.

“When I said you could read the reports, I didn’t mean come here yourself and read them.” Batman’s voice is chilly.

“Then you shouldn’t have made is so easy for me.” Instead of waiting for a response, Dick nods towards the rest of the group who have gathered around the Cave. “Do I get introductions?”

Jason’s the one who speaks this time. “That’s Tim. He’s Red Robin now. And that’s Cass. She’s Batgirl. They’re the kids I was telling you about.”

“Batgirl, huh,” Dick says, a million questions flitting through his head. 

Cass is tiny when standing beside Jason or Batman, but taller than Tim. She’d probably be taller than Dick, too, although that isn’t saying much, considering Dick’s body is built completely to suit acrobatics. Despite the confidence in her body, the way she walks and holds herself, that marks her as dangerous, there’s a wide curiosity in her eyes and something open about her that makes Dick take to her almost before she even speaks.

“Barbara gave it to me,” Cass says simply. There’s no way she could’ve known just how those words would affect Dick, but they do, and her smile becomes a tad shyer, a lot more relieved, at something she sees in him. “She says hi, by the way.”

Dick’s smile is genuine now, albeit small. “Tell her I say hi back, if you see her before I do.”

Tim had walked around the rest of them to the Batcomputer as they’d spoken. There’s a constant stream of keys being tapped by Dick’s ear, much faster than Bruce’s. There’s also a constant stream of Tim muttering under his breath that Dick imagines has definitely earned him a glare or ten from Batman at one point or another.

Sounds echoes spectacularly in the Cave.  

“Huh,” Tim says suddenly, straightening.

His back cracks with a series of sounds, and Dick winces a little as he turns to look at the screen from where he’s standing. Tim has brought up a bunch of police reports and transcripts from calls they’ve received lately.

“What?” Bruce comes over instantly, and the two of them hunch over the keyboard in almost the exact same position.

“A bunch of people have called 911 claiming they or someone they know has been de-aged,” Tim says.

Bruce is still skimming through the rest of the information that Tim has just summarised. He taps a few keys, the locations of each call being sent to the Batmobile.

“There are nine of them,” he says. “I’ll take Robin. The rest of you, pair off. We need bloodwork.” Turning to Dick, he adds, “Your time here might’ve just gotten cut in half.” He probably means it to be reassuring.

Dick doesn’t know how he feels about that.