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Like Those Foreign Stars

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For some people, falling on a desert island might seem scary —and it was— it might seem like the end of the world and many might wonder ‘why did this happen to me?’ ‘Is there a specific reason I had to face this test?’ For Jason, perhaps there was no specific reason why they were here but simply because of his own stupidity and a long list of bad decisions. It meant something else, a lesson to learn, definitely, but it was also a way to know a part of him that had been buried beneath many layers, a side of himself that Jason didn’t even know existed anymore. Here he wasn’t Red Hood, the anti-hero willing to cross an imaginary line which separated him from his former mentor and family, but neither he was Jason Todd, the one who came back from the dead and was blinded by revenge and burdened with battle scars. Here he could be a survivor mate, a good listener, a shoulder to rest on; a brother —something that Jason hadn’t allowed himself to be before— He didn’t always see Dick and Damian as brothers, though after his reintegration with the family he kinda did, right now, the feeling felt like never before. How did Jason know? Easy. It was being able to imagine to be anywhere else in the world, but prefer to be here with them, despite the circumstances.

The moment they set foot here on the island, they were no longer the same persons they were before. It was just strange to see how a person could get used to a different life so quickly. Jason could feel how his body, mind, and spirit were coupling really easily to the whole process of being castaways. Damn, life could change so fast. In one blink you are the king of Gotham and in another blink, you are just a drop in the ocean.  

Climbing palm trees every day was easier, and although the coconut was already beginning to tire him, he still ate it with the same enthusiasm. Keeping the fire burning was already a custom, as was going to fetch and collect more dry wood. Going fishing wasn’t as tedious as before (Their diet consisted mostly of fish, some oysters, crabs, and a few other things he managed to catch) Jason was being faster and more efficient when it came to piercing the fish with the spear. He was even designing a fish trap to avoid sun-burning his face and save some time, though honestly, Jason had all the time in the world. Damian’s watch had been busted with the water, so the time was now an abstract concept. Simple questions like ‘What time it is?’ were now simply answered with ‘Is now’. Nights of chasing villains over rooftops now seemed like a long-ago life. Nights of sitting by the fire and telling stories were now their new ordinariness.

The cave-not-cave had become their temporary home, each claiming their own space (which was almost none) but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter because some way or another they would find themselves cuddling together, whether Jason liked it or not. What happened on this island, stayed on this island, period. Despite the initial epic discussions between him and Damian, they were fewer and fewer now. It got to a point where it got boring to fight. Spending so much time together was starting to affect Jason. They have solidified a bond so quickly that sometimes it scared him. Hell, Damian and Dick had that emotional tie since forever, but now Jason could understand it more than ever. It was something ridiculously sweet, and authentic and raw. A whole new way of being vulnerable that Damian didn’t anyone see under any circumstance. And somehow, Jason also felt vulnerable in tons of ways. Gosh, what kind of bug Jason had caught? Certainly also being stranded on an island did make you feel a roller coaster of emotions.

But enough of that now. They also had other challenges on their hands. He knew that they needed to expand their diet (despite Damian’s tantrums) They could survive on fish and fruit quite well, yes, but having a little variety wouldn’t hurt. He wasn’t very familiar with the wildlife on this island, but he knew for sure that he could catch an iguana or a bird, most likely. The idea of eating one of those animals didn’t sit well on his stomach, but he could also hear what his body was telling him. I mean, if Jason couldn’t get his hands on a damn cigarette, at least some meat would suit him well.

 

“Did you know that a fish would suffocate if they tried to chew because chewing would interfere with water passing over their gills?” Dick says out of nowhere while chewing himself a bunch of berries. What he said almost incomprehensible because of the food in his mouth.

“And did you know I don’t give a fuck?” Jason growls, trying to separate a vine to make a kind of makeshift rope strong and manageable enough.

“How rude, Jase. Lemme tell you something, how come you don’t wanna know a little more about what you’re eating?” Oh yeah, Dick already had that face he made every time he was offended, the drama queen.

“Oh, trust me, I know plenty enough about what I’m eating. I just don’t keep any track about whether a fish can drown or how many times it poops.”

“You know? These days with you had made me realize what a stuffed shirt you are!” The blue-eyed snaps crisply. How many times had Dick already said that? Thirty times in the course of this day?

“I’m not boring,” Jason argues. “You’re just too stupid to realize that half of what you say makes no sense!”

“Well, I am bored! What you want me to do, Jay? I can barely stand up on my own and my belly hurts and ahg. You and Damian aren’t exactly the most talkative people I know! What I’m supposed to do? Grab a coconut and make it my friend so I can call him Wilson?”

“Say again?” Jason demands carefully, uncertainty settling on his chest. He sets aside the vines to glare at the acrobat straight in the eyes. “Your belly is hurting?”

“Honestly, it’s all hurting, okay?” Dick whines and Jason looks around, making sure Damian wasn’t prying. He lays his hand in Dick’s forehead. He no longer had a fever, but his temperature was a bit warm. “Off!” Dick bats his hand away sharply. Fishy.

“Hey, chill out. What’s going on? What aren’t you telling me?” The words come out a little harsher than he intended, and the way Dick flinches makes Jason curse himself.

“Nothing.” Dick looks the other way, not at all obvious.

“Dick…”

“Seriously, I don’t have anything. Stop worrying!” Contrary to what many believed, Dick Grayson was a master of lies. He could fool Batman himself since the beginning of the times. But if there was one thing Jason was better at, it was not buying shit from anyone.

“I ain’t worried,” He misleads easily while getting back to his job with the vines. “But you know you can tell me what’s going on, right? There’s no reason to be secretive. You said it yourself, we’re in this together.” Use Dick own words against him, how sweet. Dick squints suspiciously at him for a few seconds and when Jason thinks he won’t say anything, Dick sighs heavily.

“I know, it’s just that—”

“Grayson!” With terrible timing, they can hear the quiet footsteps of Damian approaching the cave. Dick shuts his mouth and Jason growls in annoyance. Well, shit. It looks like Jason will have to find answers another way.

“Look what I found.” Damian crouches at Dick’s height and shows him a little snake tangled in his fingers. Dick’s blue eyes widen in surprise and he jerks away.

“Dami, why are you holding a snake? It could bite you!”

“She isn’t poisonous, she won’t be more than a week old. I assure you that she is more afraid of you than you are of her.”

“She?” Jason lifts an unimpressed eyebrow. “Seriously? Are you thinking about adopting a baby snake?”

“No, of course not.” Damian frowns and then he brings the snake closer to his chest. “I am just making sure no predator can hurt her.”

“If you care that much we could cook her to save you the worry,” Jason jokes and immediately Damian’s shoulders tighten, ready to attack. As if the snake could understand him, she seems to hide in Damian’s hand. “I’m freaking kidding! That doesn’t even work like a toothpick!” It’s then that the demon pays attention to his little project. He jabs his finger at his chest.

“If you think for a second I am going to let you hunt an animal, not only are you mistaken, you are also stupid. Where did you learn to do this anyhow? From some stupid survival show!?”

“Huh, Man vs. Wild is a gem, okay?” Dick adds abruptly. “Bear Grylls is way too cool. I really like the show.” Both ignore him.

“Sorry, I don’t speak skank,”

 

Jason says nonchalantly and Damian bares his teeth at him. He gently hands over the baby snake to a spooked Dick, then he launches himself at Jason. Both roll on the grass finding their way out of the cave in a mass of tangled body parts and hisses. Damian tries to sit on top of him to get the upper hand, but Jason being a great deal stronger than the runt kicks him away. Jason smirks as Damian gives him a smug look and they both end up sparing without going too far with the blows. After a few minutes, Jason ends up victorious, sitting on Damian’s back and leaving him biting the dirt.

 

“Get off me, Todd! You’re so fat!”

“Not until you stop being a spoiled brat!”

“And what are you supposed to be? A role model? As if.”

“At least I’m not a stupid punk like you!”

“You aspire to be half of what I am, you fool!” Jason chuckles and puts more weight on Damian, hearing the kid grunt. “Grayson! Tell him to get off of me!” But instead of helping, Dick starts laughing. They both stare at him and Dick grins widely, looking at the baby snake tangled in his hand.

“See that, Sally? With those fights, I can sit here and pretend that nothing has changed. That we are back home.”

“What the fuck? You already named it? No—” Jason complains and the little shit takes advantage of his distraction to use his cleverness and quickness to twirl from underneath him and shift positions. Damian settles comfortably on top of him, twisting his arm behind his back.

“The name fits her well,” Damian comments with a smirk of his own. Jason writhes beneath him, trying to get him off. How is it that the dwarf could pin him down so easily? The fuck?

“We are not going to adopt a snake!” He yells, but that doesn’t seem to cause the reaction he expected. Damian gives him a malicious smile, pure sharp teeth, like a dammed snake himself. “And get the fuck outta me, you asshole!”

“Your opinion is not relevant, Todd.”

“Over my dead body.” Jason twists more forcefully, but Damian resists.

“Be careful what you wish for.” No one could really blame Jason for playin’ dirty and throw the dwarf off of him to preserve what little pride he had left, nor for starting another sparing match that escalated to a tickle war. My God, Jason had already become a softie. Shame on him.

 

 

_____________

 

 

After a long discussion regarding that adopting a baby snake wasn’t a good idea, Damian had agreed to just make sure he found a good place for her. Jason immediately after had finished building his trap hoping to maybe catch a wild animal. He even scattered around some berries like some kind of bait. It could work or not, but there was nothing to lose anyway. Trial and error. That’s the way things were now.

The next activity of the day was fishing now that the sun wasn’t that unbearable. This time though, Dick had insisted on going with him, and well, Jason had agreed with a simple ‘please?’ from the blue-eyed. Dick was considerably better, and although Jason was still attentive to any red flag, Dick was not a soul that should be quiet for much long. It just didn’t go with his overactive nature and acrobatics. Dick wasn’t cut out to lie there watching life go by. If he moved carefully, maybe it would do him good to stretch his legs for a while and get some fresh air and stuff. Besides, it wasn’t like Jason didn’t appreciate the company. If it were other circumstances, and they were back home, Jason would rather be left alone to have a moment of peace, but now it seemed that Jason was getting more and more used to the company of Dick and Damian, to the extent that hearing their voices in the background helped him feel calm. Maybe they could even finish that talk that had been so abruptly interrupted by the demon, but Dick had just sat in the sand, unwilling to talk about it. Technically, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but Jason couldn’t help but think that something off was going on. The first red flag was making itself present.

 

“Hell, you’re really good at this, Jay. Next time someone asks me five things I would take to a desert island; you are my first choice. I mean, you’re the whole package, Little Wing.”

“Shut up, dork,” Jason mumbles turning his back on him, his body in stealth-mode, spear ready.

“Look, I’m being honest here. After you I would choose a sleeping bag, then a mosquito repellent, a toothbrush, and a Twinkie, I guess.”

“A Twinkie, seriously? No wonder that without me you would be already dead.” Jason smirks, his sharp eyes attentively following a good-sized fish that was too close. Jason holds his breath and launches his spear, hitting the target. Dinner was served. 

“Gosh, Jase. Poor fish.” Jason just rolled his eyes.

“Ah, but you have eaten it without remorse, haven’t you?”

“Well, yeah—” Jason cuts him off briskly, throwing the dead fish into the sand.  

“And back home, you keep eating burgers and KFC, right?”

“Yeah, but—” Dick’s face was pure horror and Jason tries to not chuckle.

“And scrambled eggs... bacon... coffee with milk and a little bit of honey. The list can go on and on, ya know?” Jason says carefully. “It’s the same thing, Dick. It’s just that you don’t get to see the process, you just get the final product.”

“I know you’re technically right but it’s very different when you see it in person. Back home I don’t have to see what I’m gonna eat straight in the eyes. I can’t eat anything if I already gave it a name!” Dick throws a handful of sand everywhere with a pout.  

“Then don’t! We’re just taking what we need, benefiting from every part of the fish. It’s not hunting just for hunting; it’s hunting to eat. There is a big difference, okay? Look, I know sometimes you want to be empathetic with Damian and eat less meat or whatever, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t feel guilty about eating this, okay?”

“Okay,” Dick takes another fist of sand between his fingers and then leans his head in his free hand. “Are you almost done, Little Wing?”

“What? You already bored? You were the one who whined about goin’ out to pretend you weren’t a sack of potatoes back in the cave.”

“No, I just want to make sure Damian doesn’t adopt the whole nest of baby snakes.”

“Mmh, knowing him—”

 

It is then that Jason manages to distinguish something between the rocks, something sneaky and familiarly red. Without thinking, he jumps into the water. Jason can hear Dick calling his name, but he focuses on swimming to the bottom combing the rocky area and coral for the lobster antennae that he had previously seen. With the help of his spear, Jason searches through the gaps in the rocks carefully, and when he spots the lobster he guides the invertebrate out of its hiding spot with a sweeping motion. He uses his bare hands to grab it, earning a painful pinch of the animal. Jason manages to get a hold of it with much more difficulty than it would seem and he swims back to the surface, raising the lobster in his hands victoriously once out of the water.

 

“Whoo! Look what I caught! Fuck, I’m good at this.”

“Oh my,” Dick stares at him open-mouthed and Jason can feel a proud smile decorating his face. “Is that what I think it is—? Oh, wait, you know what? You look alike. Are you twins?”

“Fuck off.” He mumbles with a growl and Dick begins to laugh.

“No, seriously. Not just because of the red face, the lobster has these big pincher claws, and it has sharp edges and shell that protect his body. It hides behind an armour so as not to show its soft side. Just like you, Little Wing.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re bananas, Dick.”

“I’m totally serious!”

 

_____________

 

 

After eating very delicious lobster (a real treat) Jason felt glorious. Who would have thought they’d eat like kings on this island? Of course, minus the family vegetarian. Damian had just stared at him aggressively as he himself chewed coconut. The image was ridiculous, with Damian’s black hair messed up in all directions and cherry cheeks while chewing. Poor fool. Hours later they found themselves on the beach, they had already seen the sunset and its bright colours and now were looking up, each of them illuminated by the moonlight and surrounded by the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Was it out of place to admit that Jason felt better than he had in a long time? Jason was supposed to be having a hard time, instead of enjoying it this much?

 

“And that’s Hercules up there, can you see it? Looks like he’s jumping, doesn’t he?” Dick points with his finger at the sky while smiling. “Is the fifth largest of the modern constellations, ya know ‘cause he was described as being larger than life.” The blue-eyed settles better on Damian’s stomach, both sprawled on the sand and concentrated in the sky and in naming each star and constellation up there, with bright eyes filled with the light of the stars themselves. On the other hand, Jason was lying on his side, satisfied with just hearing their voices and stories.

“In fact, he is with a knee on the ground and not jumping, Richard,” Damian murmurs tangling his fingers in Dick’s hair in an almost unconscious gesture.

“Oh, right.” Dick shrugs and lifts his finger towards the sky again. “And that’s—”

“That’s the Ursa Minor, yeah, literally everybody knows it, Dickface.” Jason interrupts him, knowing the constellations up there by heart.

“Ah, yes, Jaybird? Tell me something I don’t know. Pretend I’m a hot girl you want to impress.” Dick pretends to move his imaginary long hair to the side and Jason lets out a snort, wrinkling his face. “C’mon, impress me with your wisdom!”

“Todd, a wise man? I beg to differ.” Damian says with a mocking smirk. Jason clears his throat, settling the collar of his imaginary shirt and combing his hair back.

“Seeing the stars is like making a journey back in time, ya know?” He begins to say, telling one of his favourite stories since forever. “When we see a starry night just like we are now, what we are seeing is not how we perceive it in the present, but actually how it was in the past. The light that reaches our eyes from the stars, takes a long time to reach us; for many of them, who are very far away, their light takes many millions of years. Some objects may have already disappeared, but we are still seeing their light, which was emitted before they were extinguished. So yeah, a journey through time.” There’s a quiet silence and then Dick whistles, Jason puts a hand on his chest, not at all jumping.

“Oh Little Wing, I love to see you again being that nerdy who could cite all the constellations by memory and who liked to read me out loud.” Dick pretends to wipe a tear from his eye and Jason chuckles, glad the night hides his rosy cheeks. “I love your voice narrating something you’re passionate about, and how it makes your eyes light up.”

“Knock it off, man,” Jason mumbles shyly.

“It’s the absolute truth, maybe I say it too often or maybe not, but I’m very proud of you, I really am. Of both of you.” Dick says softly. “And if I could go back in time and change things, I think I wouldn’t. I know it’s selfish, and that at home they must be worried sick, and I miss them too and I would love for them to be here with us. But this, this is great,” The blue-eyed murmurs, making a gesture of their surroundings. “I feel terrible saying it, but for once I feel light on my back. Like I can breathe better, you know? Like everything looks clearer. And I don’t know if that makes me a shitty, selfish person.”

“You are not selfish for once in your life put yourself first,” Damian says, stealing Jason’s words from the tip of his tongue. “You are human, and you feel, and you bleed, and you fall just like the rest of us. See? That is what I resent, Richard. That you feel like you are a bad person for thinking about your welfare before others, always willing to put yourself as the bridge so that everyone can get to the other side. Believe me, I deeply admire you for being so noble, but you must understand that you don’t need to always be everyone’s rock. You don’t need to always be the perfect brother, the perfect son, the perfect hero. Being a good person is enough, and you, you already are, brother.” If Dick was ugly crying and with boogers on his face, no one said anything about it.

“Yeah, yeah, everything he said,” Jason says nonchalantly though he can’t hide the little smile from his face.

“I love you two so much!” Dick mumbles wiping the tears away with his hand.

“I love you too you big pain in the ass.” That was Jason being sappy, yup. But the flow of warmth couldn’t be mistaken.  

“Your feelings are mutual, Grayson.” Damian acknowledged with an authentic smile. There’s a comfortable 5-minute silence and then the blue-eyed sharply cut it.

“I have a question though.”

“What?” Jason suspiciously squints at him.

“Do you know why did the police arrested the star?”

“Oh, no.” Here we go. “Why?”

“Because it was a shooting star, duh.”

 

_____________

 

 

Honestly, it had been a little naïve to believe that everything was gonna stay great. Things didn’t work that way. History kept repeating itself, reminding Jason that life wasn’t fair. And why should be? One morning Dick was fine, and by night he had already fallen ill.

At first, everything seemed to be going well with Dick’s wound. The wound looked grotesque, yes, burnt skin and all, but there was no more bleeding. Damian had gotten some plants that had seemed to help with the infection a bit. Dick didn’t seem uncomfortable or with any apparent discomfort, his humour was as bad as ever, his demeanour fussy as ever. But as time went by—seven days already—Jason began to notice the second red flag, and by then there wasn’t much he could do. Dick began to show poor appetite, to the point where he didn’t want to eat anything at all. Damian was in charge of basically feeding him when Dick refused to open his mouth, arguing that he could no longer eat fish. (Jason’s traps continued without catching anything) All he did now was sleep, curled up in a tiny ball in his corner, without wanting to go out nor the desire to do anything.

Seeing Dick so still was so wrong for so many reasons, it ruffled all Jason’s feathers. Then the throwing up started, as well as the coughing fits, leaving Dick weak and panting. The colour of his skin lost glow again, returning to that ash tone. His skin was warm and sweaty to the contact, with chills making him chatter his teeth. The infection was on his beak, and if Dick wasn’t given antibiotics ASAP...

Seeing Dick in this state felt like a kick in the gut, even more knowing that once again he was useless in this situation. Jason could fight pirates, could end a drug trafficking ring without sweating, and he could even dodge fucking bullets, but he wasn’t a fucking doctor, despite his high knowledge in the field. He couldn’t do anything against something so insignificantly small that was infecting Dick. It was so frustrating, so unfair.

He carded his large fingers through Dick’s hair, trying to deeply ignore the sound of Dick’s laborious breathing and the way his pupils were glazy again. Damian was pacing back and forth in a passive-aggressively way around the cave, his shoulders tense and his eyes hard.

 

“Hey, are you with me?” Goldie nods softly and Jason sighs. “How about some water? Do you want some?” Jason mumbles, touching Dick’s forehead, noticing hot skin and despite that, Dick was shivering. The blue-eyed shakes his head slowly, closing his eyes. “Can you keep your eyes open? For me, please? Dickface?” He asks in an almost pleading tone. Dick seems to gather a super-human effort to open his eyes and finally stare hazily at him.

“Mm-hmm?” But Dick was too confused, which meant something very, very bad was taking place.

“Can you tell me something, anything?”

“W-why?” Jason didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that innocent question. Having to ask Dick to talk was just wrong, he never keeps his mouth shut, not even in his worst moments.

“Cuz I need you to keep talking to make sure everything’s fine, jackass! You can talk to me about anything. Fuck, if you want to talk about Disney do it, but please tell me something.”

“I can’t think of a-anything right n-now. Sorry—”

“Fine. Do you want me to talk about something?” Dick nods closing his eyes and Jason steels himself, telling him about his favourite novel and why he chose it as his favourite. He talks and talks until Dick’s head rolls sideways and he seems to doze out. Jason checks his pulse again, feeling his stomach sink deeper. The sound of Dick’s heavy breathing was only slightly muffled by the sound of Damian’s bare feet on the cave floor.

“This cannot be happening. Richard was already feeling better; how did this develop so fast? I do not understand, Todd. Everything was supposed to be going well, not slowly getting worse again!” Damian snaps sharply. “I honestly do not understand…”

“Damian—”

“We did everything by the book, Richard was eating well, his sense of humour was intact, he could even stand on his own!” Damian was having a fucking meltdown, that was obvious, but Jason had no fucking idea what to do. Goldie was always the one who knew what to do, but now Jason had to improvise. “What did we do wrong? How have l failed?”

“Shit happens, okay?” Jason yells and that seems to momentarily catch the attention of the dwarf. “We did the best we could, but sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there are things that are out of our control. No one is to blame, okay? You did the best you—”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence! I refuse to believe that there are things beyond our control. I have not yet given my best, neither did Richard. You are not giving him enough credit. You don’t know anything about every one of our adventures together, the thousands of times he has overcome obstacles that no one else can achieve! Have you not understood anything, Todd?”

“Oh, trust me, I understand, brat. Don’t you think that I haven’t wished myself with all my being for things to be fine just because I asked for it? I’m sorry to break your bubble, but life isn’t like that!” He says bitterly. “Don’t you think I didn’t implore to heaven not to die in that warehouse blown apart? Shocker, it still happened! It didn’t matter how much I pleaded. Not everything is possible... Life’s a bitch, whether you like it or not.” He ends saying tiredly and hurt.

“I don’t believe in such things. It doesn’t matter whatever you or Father say. There’s always hope, and I’ll stick with that because Grayson has proven it to me with facts again and again.”

 

Jason waves him off. Both remain in tense silence for several minutes. Each on their own world until Dick breaks the silence with a pitiful cough. Jason rubs a hand across his face and then after considering it for a moment, with extreme care begins to push aside Dick’s shirt and the makeshift bandage to check the gunshot wound. Dick had been complaining that the wound was hurting again, so he already had an idea how it would look, but it didn’t hurt to confirm it. And indeed, the wound looked very bad. It had a yellow-greenish secretion pouring out that wasn’t okay at all. Around the wound, there were red lines along with inflammation around the area. Dick had the signs and symptoms of sepsis, and if he didn’t get fucking medical attention, he could have septic shock, which, fuck. Damian at some point had stopped spinning around like a madman to kneel beside him, letting out a gasp. Jason gives him a thoughtful look.

 

“It’s much worse than I thought. Doesn’t look good Danes.” The nickname comes without permission, but both brush it off.

“I wish we had something to wash the wound with. We’ve tried to keep it clean, but I can see it was no enough.”

“It’s useless anyway, the infection is already in his blood. There’s not much we can do now.”

“Don’t say that,” Damian growls and Jason just bites his tongue to not bicker. The demon helps him to put the bandages in his place and then he brushes softly away some black strands out of Dick’s face. “How about I go look for more medicinal plants? Can they help?” Jason was about to say something harsh about the plants but one look at Damian’s shaky hands and he reconsiders it. Damian was too on edge, he needed to do something to keep his mind busy.

“Sure.”

Damian holds Dick’s hand giving a soft squeeze. Thousands of emotions passed through his face, his tearful, tired green eyes stared at the blue-eyed sorrowfully. “I’ll be right back, Richard, okay?” But Dick was too out of it to answer, Damian swallows hard and then he gets up to the exit of the cave, standing there, hesitant. Jason ignores the knot in his own throat.

“C’mon, go,”

 

Once Damian’s steps fade away, Jason allows himself a moment of weakness and takes Dick’s hand in his large one, looking intently at Dick’s face. His face was lax, all evidence of any sort of distress having melted away once he closed his eyes. Lying there, he looked so fragile. A word that didn’t fit with his always indestructible character. Clearing his throat, Jason decides to open his heart.

 

“Goldie, I know it seems like 99% of the time I can’t stand you. You just drive me crazy, man. But I also kinda enjoy hearing you talk, and I even like being in your company despite your shitty sense of humour. The truth is— if I’m honest, I rather have you in my life than not. I never say it, and maybe I should do it more often, but… you are really important to me,” Jason furiously wipes the tears that were definitely not slipping from his eyes. “Damian needs you. And I also need you, you big stupid idiot. So you better not leave us, okay? I can’t possibly be the big brother of those idiots without your help, Dickiebird. Fight, fight for us, you asshole!” Jason takes a moment to let out his tears without feeling ashamed and then he takes a deep breath. Carefully, he begins to leave Dick’s hand on his chest but a soft squeeze stops him dead on his tracks. “Dickie?”

“J-Jay?”

“I’m right here,” But he cannot say anything when a coughing fit takes over, leaving Dick breathless for a moment. Jason begins to massage with his free hand Dick’s congested chest. “You’re okay. Take deep breaths.” After a few minutes, the acrobat finishes coughing and he carefully opens his eyes to stare at him blankly.

“Y-you crying?” Damn right I am.

“No, of course not. I got something in my eye.” He says instead.

“Where’s Bruce—?” Jason shakes his head softly.

“B is not here Dick. You think the man could have survived more than a day out here without Alfred?”

“N-not really,” Dick manages a little pitiful tug upwards on his blue lips but then he frowns. “I— I’m so sorry… It was s-supposed to be just m-me and I dragged y-you both into this and now I’m gonna—” But he couldn’t keep talking when a heartbroken sob leaves his mouth. Jason closes his eyes feeling as if someone was literally smashing his heart. It hurt too much. But Dick needed him, he needed that push that Jason could give him.

“Shuu, hey, this isn’t your fault. Trust me, if I could change places I would do it in a heartbeat. I would give everything to make you feel better. But I can only hold your hand and tell you to just hold on a little longer, okay? I got you, Dickie.”

 

The blue-eyed nods softly but says nothing else. Both remain silent until Dick falls asleep again, but this time the expression of pain stays on his face. Jason wipes away the damn tears off his face. Where the fuck was that brat? Did he go to the end of the world for a fucking plant?

Jason was about to curse out loud when a sound caught his attention. A voice screaming his name, Damian screaming his name. Jason goes on alert right away, immediately thinking that a black panther was half-eating the demon when the unmistakable sound of a helicopter is heard over the lapping of the waves. There wasn’t time to think if it was just an illusion or a false alarm when Jason was already jumping like a spring, placing Dick’s hand slowly on his chest and snatching the lighter he had managed to fix from near his boots. He cast one last glance towards Goldie before sprinting into the jungle. Jason shouts Damian’s name and then he bumps into the kid, both running towards the beach while dodging obstacles as if the devil himself were on their heels.

 

“Do you have the lighter?”

“Of course, idiot!”

“Then run faster, Todd!”

“I know what I’m doin’ you fucker!”

 

Good thing the beach wasn’t far away, so in no time both reach the shore, discerning in the distance two helicopters flying only meters above sea level. Jason makes a flip when he touches the sand and kneels over the campfire they had previously prepared with many palm leaves and weeds that produced a lot of smoke when burned. Once there, he brings the lighter closer to the leaves, careful that the wind didn’t extinguish the flame. Of course, that was the perfect time for the lighter to not work again.

“Goddammit, you’ve got to be fucking kidding!”

Jason yells as he keeps trying to make it work. He just needed a damn spark. Jason looks at the helicopters and then back to the lighter, feeling the sweat sliding down his face. “Go on, damn it!” After a few more attempts and then the spark occurs, Jason carefully brings it closer to the leaves, the leaves doing their work and producing smoke that rises to the sky. Jason begins to cough but with a shit-eating grin. Looking behind him, he finds Damian’s face with an equal grin. Jason throws the lighter at him and motions to the other campfire.

“Your turn, Baby Bat.”

“Got it.”

 

Everything that happened next seemed to happen like a video in fast motion. A time later, the first helicopter was flying over them. Jason was kneeling on the white sand, his hair flying in all directions. Then the rescue team was on them, bombarding them with questions and then barking orders. A paramedic was examining his sunburned face and Jason was being pulled into the helicopter, Jason babbling about Goldie. Someone was trying to make him sit on a stretcher and Jason was putting up a fight. And then a team of paramedics came out of the jungle carrying Dick on a stretcher, Damian right next to them, giving his own diagnosis and answering the doctor’s questions without wavering. Jason wanted to go with them, but a paramedic was trying to make him understand that only one person could go with Goldie. The last thing he saw was someone putting an oxygen mask over Dick’s face and closing the helicopter door. ‘Your friend will be fine, I promise’ The paramedic still checking his vital signs said and Jason believed her, finally sitting on the stretcher and letting them slide-close the door.

 

 

_____________

 

 

 

Returning to the civilization had been like a roller-coaster ride.

Jason had experienced a rush of adrenaline taking the first step out of the helicopter, his senses sharpening on their own accord, his ears buzzing with the pounding of his heart. The moment of touching solid land, it had been as if a switch had been turned on. Jason had put a stuck-up stance, tryin’ to hide the storm of emotions that were taking place inside him. There were so many mixed feelings blooming on his chest, threatening with making him lose his shit. Of course, if Jason had learned something over the years, it had been to compact his feelings either to discard them or deal with them later. Never show your weaknesses to the public, keep your chin up.

A tiny part of him still felt like this was a dream—fake, fake, fake—But his analytical side, his ‘detective’ side were taking all the facts and sensations around him to slap him in the face and make him address the situation straight on; this was freaking real. They had been transferred to the Ta’aone Hospital in Tahiti. A trip back to the United States would take time, time that Dick didn’t have. Once on the ground, a team of doctors had taken Dick into the hall and since then Jason hadn’t seen him again. He was barely assimilating their return to the real world when he’d been bombarded once again with questions and medical tests, interviews with agents and even a fucking psychologist. All of them asking the same fucking question: ‘Could you tell us what happened? Remember to not leave out anything!’

After all the cacophony of voices making him tell over and over the same story, Jason had been confined to a hospital room where he finally got his bearings. Taking a shower under the spray of water was something Jason was never going to take for granted anymore, hell, not even clean socks were to be taken for granted from now on. Being able to use shampoo and soap and brush his teeth was fucking wonderful. Sometime later a nurse had brought him a sandwich and a yoghurt, giving him a pitiful look when she left. Jason had hated it more than the infuriating itching on his skin, then he understood why, though.

The first time Jason looked in the mirror, he was honestly surprised. Now he understood all of Dick’s taunts about looking like a lobster. His face was red, literally red and with a much darker skin tone in the rest of his body. The freckles scattered around the bridge of his nose were more prominent now, and his hair was longer than he would normally have with that white strand making itself present again. With the beard unshaven, Jason looked older, his eyes older than a 24-year-old would be allowed to resemble. He had been given a pair of slippers, pants and a simple white T-shirt. Wearing clothes again was just weird, everything was just weird.

What was he was supposed to do now? Sit on his ass and expect not to hear bad news?

Being in a hospital made it somehow worse, knowing that death was lurking around every corner. But that was just a prejudice, Jason knew that death was everywhere, not just wandering over white corridors. Nonetheless, he hadn’t been able to eat, not really. He couldn’t take a stroll over the precinct, he couldn’t take a nap. His mind was elsewhere; under palm trees and over smooth white sand. At some point, Jason decided to not think about anything concise, preferring to keep his mind blank. He was just finishing shaving when he heard a knock on the door. With casual steps and a towel cleaning the last of the shaving foam, Jason opened the door, expecting a nurse or something.

 

“Jason!” There instead a pair of blue eyes were looking at him open-mounded. He can’t say anything when a mass of pale skin and black hair launches at him, wrapping him in pointy arms. After several seconds of bewilderment, Jason returns the hug.

“Timbo.” He whispers in Tim’s hair.

“Are you okay? Oh my God! They barely let us see you because we had to prove somehow that we were related and—” Jason hears steps approaching in the hallway and a second after a pair of brown eyes connect with his, accompanied by a mirthful quirk on her lips. Jason smiles warmly at Cass, who instead, touches Tim’s shoulder and signs to him ‘Perhaps not now, later.’ Tim stops his babble and finally stops crushing the life out of him. Jason tousles the hair of the 20-year-old boy and then he hugs Cass next, enjoying her warm embrace. She guides him back into the room to settle down. Jason and Tim in the hospital bed and Cass takes a chair to sit in front of them. She hands him a take-out bag with a smile and Jason can recognize the smell right away. His mouth stars watering.  

“No way…” Jason feels his eyes sparkling when he pulls out a container with two perfect chilli-dogs and French fries.

“We figured anything would be good, but maybe you’d miss this more. We considered that hospital food is usually not so… you know. They may not be from your usual food stand, but I guess they taste better than coconuts, huh?”

“We brought you soda as well,” Cass announces holding the container for him. Hearing Cass’ voice fills him with unexpected warmth, realizing how much he missed them.

“Oh shit, thank you!” Jason moans already halfway chewing his first chilli dog, to hell with manners. Maybe he looked like a madman not taking a breath between each bite, but who could really blame him?

“A nurse gave us your brief medical report, but everything’s okay with you? Plus the burnt face,” Tim frowns, looking rudely at his face and to the handprints almost completely faded on his neck. “And something about an old concussion, huh?” He had been given a full check-up and they had administered him through IV some fluids and vitamins he lost during the course of the whole ‘stranded situation’. His medical report indicated indeed his old concussion, second-degree burns on his face and upper body, and a slight degree of dehydration, but it was nothing that a few days of rest, lots of water and some ointments wouldn’t solve. 

“Oh, don’t even try it. Dick’s already spent every joke he’s ever had on my face,” Jason takes a sip of his soda closing his eyes. He already had in mind what he needed next, a big cup of black coffee. “But whatever, I’m just fine. We didn’t have to eat each other so I guess we did pretty well.” Everyone laughs briefly, but the atmosphere turns a little gloomy then.

“Are you sure everything’s okay? I imagined you were going to be more shaken, I mean… you been through some deep shit, and yet you are awfully calm. I honestly pictured you spreading Bloody Mary across the hospital, breaking stuff or something. Instead, you seem— serene,” Tim admits and Cass just takes his hand with a too-knowing look. Jason squeezes it back, looking into the floor. “Mentally are you really okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Jason admits because honestly, he felt okay. Still pretty out of place though with eating fancy stuff, wearing comfortable clothes, and sleeping in a bed that felt made of clouds, but maybe that was to be expected. The weirdest thing though was missing the company of two dummies like he never thought he would. Speaking about two idiots. Once Jason finished the rest of his meal, he wipes his mouth with a napkin, getting himself serious for the first time. “Where are Dick and Damian? Any news about Dickie?” He hadn’t seen Damian since that last time on the beach, a day ago? Shit, time felt so abstract right now. He hadn’t heard anything from Dick either.

“Damian is fine, he was assigned his own room but the demon chose to stay in the waiting room outside Dick’s room. No one can separate them, as you already know. Bruce is with him as well,” Jason tries not to show any reaction with the name of the old man, but the way Tim and Cass shift in their seats indicate that they both noticed the change in the mood. The dark-haired clears his throat. “As for Dick, we don’t know much yet. We just know that he’s in the ICU and that they gave him a blood transfusion, you know, for blood loss. Though apparently, the worst already happened.”

“What do you mean by that?” Tim looks the other way and Cass just squeezes his hand harder. “Timmy?”

“Bruce didn’t want to tell us, but I kinda… overheard someone say that they almost lose him on the way here,” Tim mumbles quietly and when he reads his expression he is quick to add: “But don’t worry! I looked into the hospital staff and reviews and I read that they have excellent doctors. He isn’t of the woods yet, but Dick is in good hands.” Jason feels the weight on his shoulders lessen a little.

“He better. I didn’t swim miles to get to that island for Dick to go so easy on me. He’s crazy if he thinks he can pull out something like that.” He sighs dramatically.

“I don’t wanna be so prying… but how did you guys—” Jason already saw the question coming and he just cuts him off.

“I don’t wanna talk about it just yet,” For some reason, talking about it seem rather personal. “Though I assume this isn’t just a social visit, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” Jason puts his hands on his lap, trying not to make them fists. “What happened with the ship? The passengers, are they—?

“The passengers and the crew are okay, Jay. Actually, some of them are here under medical review with gunshot wounds, but nothing critical. The captain was in bad shape but his diagnosis has improved drastically. So regarding them, there’s nothing to worry about.”

“That’s good to hear,” He scratches the back of his neck, feeling another weight shrink from his shoulders. “Which leads to my next question, why did it take so freaking long to find us?” Jason had tried to go for subtle, instead, his tone came out blunter.

“Okay, first of all, on behalf of the whole family I want to say sorry. It was never our intention to take so long, we actually never thought than a three-person search would get so complicated—”

“You know, that doesn’t matter anymore. I mean, it would have been great if you had found us a day or two earlier, so Dick wouldn’t have been so on the line. But we’re already here, and Dick’s gonna be fine, so…”

“I know, but I just wanted to apologize. Maybe if I had done things differently, or I had acted differently, the search would have been faster. But I’m glad the three of you are alive. The rescue team was quite uncertain about finding you at all. And I don’t blame them, I mean… the chances of surviving in the open sea, with an injured person, and without a lifeboat—”

“That means we beat the stats, huh. How surprised is the media? Heck, how surprised were you?” Tim makes a gesture as if his brains were blowing up, causing Cass to laugh.

“Mind-blowing! You guys just defied nature’s laws!”

“You mean Murphy’s law rather, no? Dick must have some deal with the devil or something.” Tim smirks and then his face turns stern.

“I must admit that for a moment I thought you weren’t gonna make it, those were some dark hours. Then Cass just said, ‘They’re bats, they can make it’ and that lifted our spirits,” Tim nudges softly Cass shoulder. “By the way, Bruce really went nuts, even if he denies everything. He made calls left and right, he hired an elite search team when the authorities wanted to stop the search due to the very low probability of success. The city almost collapsed when they found out that two princes of Gotham were lost.”

“An overreaction, if I might say,” Jason rolls his eyes out of habit. “Whatever, I’m just glad this fucking mess is almost over. I can’t wait to get back to Gotham and get away from the media and those rich pricks. I don’t wanna know how much my intellect diminished for this damn ‘holidays’,” When Tim doesn’t answer immediately, and Cass doesn’t smirk, Jason raises his eyebrow questioningly. “Now what?”

“I’d like to say that this is the conclusion… but we’re far from over.”

“You have one minute to fucking explain, Replacement.” Someone should give him an award for the way he got defensive so quickly.

“Well, it’s… complicated.” Tim had that face that stated that what he was going to say next, he wouldn’t like it.

“Define complicated.”

“Like really complicated.”

“It can’t be more complicated than what we went through. Just talk.” Tim takes a handful of air before beginning to explain.

“Okay, the FBI raided the ship due to two calls; one from an unknown number (meaning the Bat) and another from the Bridge (that would be Kai Beck) Reports described a shootout taking place when the authorities intercepted the ship. Uncommonly, the arrest process was said to be without major complications. Someone reported that most of the pirates were already seriously injured and showing signs of a recent fight. Some crooks appealed that among the passengers there was a crime-fighter or something of the sorts who attacked them first and then vanished amongst the detonation of an explosive. Sounds familiar, Jason?”

“Nope,” Tim squints his eyes accusingly at him. “Haven’t heard anything bout that.”

“Good thing that at the moment the issue wasn’t taken more seriously, nor that for now, nobody is asking too many questions, but what’s gonna happen if someone starts talking? What if your name comes up? How are we going to deal with that?”

“It won’t happen,” Jason replies without hesitation.

“You’re rather overconfident, Jay. Care to explain why?” There’s something in his tone that makes Jason’s feathers ruffle.

“This doesn’t concern you, Replacement. It’s my shit, I’ll take care of whatever happens. Got it?” Tim sighs heavily but then he nods vaguely. Jason thinks he’s going to drop it, but of course, he doesn’t.

“As you probably know, Bruce isn’t happy—”

“Remind me of a single time where the man has been happy!? Dick is more likely to grow wings than Bruce being happy with something I fucking do!”

“Not true.” Cass whispers and Jason shakes his head.

Well,” Tim says with a clenched jaw. “I just want to warn you that Bruce has been insufferable these past days. But you know him, it’s just a cover to hide how really worried he was about you.”

“Whatever. Carry on with what you were saying.” He growls.

“Right, the raid was pretty much successful and the implicated are being processed and ready to face trial. Everything they stole and the many money accounts are being frozen and ready for an investigation. How? Well, I sent them myself the limited data Dick managed to send us from the encrypted thumb drive. How have they gotten their hands on further information? I have no idea, but I’ll find out soon. I do know for a fact that most of the pirates’ sentences will be longer depending on their criminal record and the severity of their crimes committed during the year. Interestingly, the Cruiser company is now suffering from a large number of demands not only from passengers but also from the authorities due to the alliance with the pirates themselves, since there was a security guard who was among those arrested, not to mention how they were able to get the high-calibre weapons into the cruiser without the greatest of problems, and—”

“You can get to the fucking point?” Jason cuts him off sharply, the words cold and threatening. “The only thing that I care about right now is to hear that the motherfucker of Aleksander is under bars,” At Tim’s lack of response, Jason feels the anger spiking. “Tim, answer the fucking question. What about Aleksander!?” Both Tim and Cass look at each other and Jason clenches his jaw. Already knowing the answer.

“He went AWOL.”

 

_____________

 

 

It was understandable to say that Jason was like a volcano about to explode. He was freaking vivid. He nearly destroyed the whole hospital room, his sight clouding green. Tim and Cass had decided to give him some space to calm down, but how was Jason supposed to calm down? Both Aleksander and Mila were on the run, maybe right now hundreds of thousands of miles out of reach. He knew too-well guys like Aleksander, he was the kind of people who disappeared without a trace; without a single footprint to follow, not a sole piece of evidence to find. The way he had fooled Batman himself spoke volumes for the kind of man Aleksander was. A walking danger.

The Pit had been murmuring, reminding him that he failed, that he fucked up everything. A part of him was determined to take the next flight away from this island and start his manhunt as soon as possible. But another part of him knew he couldn’t possibly leave knowing that Dick was still in the ICU, debating for his life between four white walls. Despite the internal debate, all he had needed was a peek through the glass to see Dick connected to so many machines and the decision had already been made.

Family came first.

When the self-loathing had become tiresome, getting angry at someone else had been the most predictable thing to do, always angry against someone else. Anger being the force that moved him, because being angry didn’t allow him to feel vulnerable. It wasn’t until Jason was yelling for explanations about why they weren’t out looking for Aleksander and why they had aborted the search that Cass had touched his shoulder and with those big, wise eyes she had said; ‘Because you come first before everything else’ and just like that the fight had left Jason. She was right. Dick had been hanging by a thread, barely succeeding with the simple task of breathing. Maybe a minute later and he wouldn’t have made it at all. Now wasn’t time to demand explications, not when Jason had been on the phone with Alfred telling the old man to not worry, that Dick would be fine and that he didn’t have to fly here. Not when he heard Tim on the phone with Babs and Steph trying to comfort them. Those days were hard days for the family.

Once Jason had tamed all the raging feelings stuck in his chest, he received the answers he wanted.  

According to Tim’s explanation, the night where everything happened, Batman and Orphan had tracked down the GPS on Dick’s stolen ring, and deducing that the best way to catch them was intercepting the boat in which they escaped before it even touched port. But surprise, surprise, because instead of catching the man in question red-handed, they ran into an empty boat sailing on autopilot and the diamond ring lying on the floor. No sign of how the hell Aleksander and Mila had disappeared nor how the hell they found out about the GPS. By the time they both had realized they had been fooled, it was too late.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, Tim had been waiting in the cave for any news when a completely unexpected call had taken place. Kai Beck had communicated directly to the Wayne household, and upon not finding Bruce, Alfred had received the distressing message; Kai had seen Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne and an unknown young man named Jason in the middle of a shooting, but had found himself unable to help them in any way occupied with his own issues. Once everything was under control, he feared the worst upon finding a pool of blood and a worn jacket on the ground zero. Kai was more or less giving his condolences to the family, but upon searching the whole ship there was no sign of their bodies, which made him consider that maybe they were alive and that they had fallen overboard. Kai Beck had promised to help in whatever way he could with the search, and from there the rest was history.

Thanks to Kai’s call they were able to provide evidence and speed up the process for their rescue, so Jason now owed him a damn cold beer.

With Dick still interned in the ICU, no one had been really in a hurry to go back to Gotham. Jason had found himself spending most of his time in a hotel room right across from the hospital, not being able to fully relax until they were given thumbs up on Dick’s condition. According to Tim, at least Dick was reacting well to the antibiotics and the breathing tube had already been removed due to his pleasant improvement. With the hotel’s Wi-Fi and Tim’s borrowed laptop, the two of them had spent long hours trying to do their research from Tahiti, gathering information from afar, inspecting security cameras, police reports, consulting with trusted contacts from the Red Hood. Obviously, it wasn’t the same as doing it in the flesh, but at least they were picking up some loose ends.

 

_____________

 

 

Seven days after returning to civilization, Dick was finally out of the ICU. He had been transferred to a private wing (Daddy’s money benefits) once the sepsis had been put under control with the administration of antibiotics and liquids. When Dick had arrived at the hospital, he had been in critical condition, already presenting insufficiency in some organs, which came to precipitate him in a septic shock that almost stopped his heart. They had managed to stabilize him just in time, the lucky son of a bitch. Maybe in a few more days, they could transfer him back to Gotham, or so he heard. Jason had barely spoken with Damian, the boy absolutely not separating from Dick’s door. And with Bruce, uh, he was avoiding him like the plague. The eventual argument couldn’t be prolonged any longer though unless they wanted the proportions of the fight to be unimaginable. That’s why once Tim and Cass had spent all morning with Dickie, it was Jason’s turn. Whatever was gonna happen, Jason was ready. Whether a physical fight happened or he was kicked out of the family, he was willing to endure the consequences.

Jason knocks twice on the white wooden door and hears Bruce’s gruff voice telling him that he could come in—such good start, dammit—Jason steels himself and he opens the door. The first thing that comes to his senses is the smell of clean and sanitized, and flowers? Yeah, flowers. There was an endless array of fancy floral arrangements and balloons littered everywhere that made the Twinkie in his hands feel ridiculous. The room was a private one and big enough to tuck in the whole family. He steps into the room and the first thing that steals his attention is the occupant of the hospital bed. Dick lay in bed connected to a few machines, but not at all alarming as the first time he saw him. The only striking thing being the nasal cannula, and of course the kidney dialysis.

Jason was tempted to approach the bed and take his hand, but for now, any kind of contact was forbidden. With his state of health, any bug he could catch could be highly dangerous with his defenses so low. Not to mention the human wall that Bruce had become on Dick’s side, almost shielding him from his eyes.

 

“Jason.” Bruce finally acknowledges him with his standard Bat-tone. He looked as if he had aged 10 fucking years, with long dark bags under his eyes, and Jason swore he could see new grey hairs. But there he was, sitting on Dick’s right with an upright and noticeably stiff posture.

“Bruce,” He snaps the name in a cold tone. “Brat.” The tone comes out strangely less sharp, and Damian’s green eyes stare at him for a couple of seconds before nodding in his direction. He was sitting to Dick’s left, his posture relaxed and although he looked freaking tired, he seemed in good spirits now that he could finally be near his big brother. If Jason’s eyes weren’t playing tricks on him, he could swear he’d seen Damian’s shoulders relax more with his arrival.

“Todd, you look like shit.” Jason unwittingly snorts, feeling that familiarity with the dwarf after so much time spend together.

“Geez, thanks Baby Bat, good to see you too,” Jason picks up Dick’s medical chart, humming to himself. “So how’s Dickface doing?” The question seemed right to break the ice, even if Tim had already told him a thousand times about his favourable prognosis. Goldie indeed looked so much better, with rosy cheeks and clean hair. He seemed peaceful in his sleep. Jason wanted so bad to get close and run his fingers through his hair, but not with Bruce giving him that look.

“He’s on the path to recovery. You just missed him awake, though. He spent a long time chatting with Cain and Drake. Evidently, that drained his energy.”

“So what’s the prognostic? He will return to his usual insufferable self?” Jason mumbles as he sits carefully near Dick’s feet, turning his back on Bruce.

“Nurses claim he was hilarious when he regained consciousness the first time, he even tried to flirt with them. So answering your question, yes, Richard will return to his old self. The medics predict a full recovery, and perhaps in two more days, depending on his progress, we can go home.” Jason nodded vaguely, but he could feel the change in his mood. They both maintain a small talk about banal things while Bruce was just shifting his eyes from one to the other, maybe expecting an argument between them. It didn’t happen. At this point, the two were already quite coupled with the company of the other. It seemed that the effect of the island continued to linger on them, for now. Predictably though, he can only tolerate 5 more minutes with Bruce burning holes in his skull with the power of his eyes when Jason finally snaps.

“I have something on my face or what?” He snarls at Bruce’s impassive face. At that, the old man dropped the act of being polite. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers as if what he was about to say were physically hard to say.

“We need to talk, Jason.” Oh, no, he knew that tone. ‘We need to talk’ meant the exact opposite.

“And what do you want to talk about, B?” He refused to be the first one to cast the first stone. Jason was going to let the other man start the conflict. “About the weather, or maybe about politics?” Bruce sighs heavily before speaking, trying to hide the anger slipping through his cracks.

“This is exactly what I wanted to avoid. You’re already on the defensive and we haven’t even said anything. Is that what it is? Can’t we just talk for once without immediately going for our throats?” Apparently not. Jason leaves Dick’s Twinkie on the bed, not wanting to smash it with his fists accidentally.

“Oh, we can definitely have a civilized conversation, the thing is that neither of us has the ability to keep it that way. Either I say something you don’t like and you start scolding me, or you say something stupid that makes me angry. Get it, old man, you and I will never agree on anything.”

“Perhaps you are right, however, we do not have to agree to work together, isn’t it right? And if I remember correctly, that is something we have maintained for a really long time. I don’t see why we should go back to the beginning, nor why we should stumble upon the same rocks.” With that, Jason stands up, facing Bruce face to face.

“If you’re angry, just say it, but these metaphors you’re making are just giving me a headache. Can’t we just go to the point where you tell me you’re upset and I tell you I don’t give a shit?” He growls fiercely.

“And tell me, Jason, what’s the point of doing that, when you and I know that in a week or perhaps a month we’ll have the same argument again? I’ll tell you what I think and you’ll just turn a deaf ear, again and again. This time I want you to know how upset I am with what happened. Not only because you disobeyed direct orders, which, by the way, you had also agreed to from the beginning. No, that’s not what makes me mad, what really bothers me are the consequences of what you did and that we still don’t know their severity just yet,” The facade was slipping bit by bit, and Jason was beginning to glimpse Batman more than Bruce Wayne. “You attacked the pirates when I explicitly told you not to, it was an undercover mission, and you knew it! You knew perfectly well what was at stake and yet, you did not stop for a second to meditate on your decisions!”

“How easy it is to point a finger at someone and judge without knowing the whole picture. You weren’t fucking there, I had to make a decision based on what was happenin’ at the fucking time!” He yells this time, not caring that the walls might be thin. “I knew the consequences, yes, I knew things could go wrong, yes, but if I hadn’t done what I did things might have gotten even darker. We would have died anyway, Bruce, don’t you have enough blood on your hands already?” This time Bruce rises to be at the same height as him. A prick of pain crosses his features but as fast as it came it leaves, being replaced by Batman’s stone-faced mask. Any other man would have been already on their knees before the intensity of those razor-sharp eyes, but Jason wasn’t any man. He was the Red fucking Hood, someone who did not kneel before anyone, not even death itself.

“And how can you claim that?” Bruce growls ignoring his last words, fucking typical. “Neither you nor I can see the future, we can only anticipate it. I can only see a man who rushed to make decisions and when it was too late, he had to improvise. Improvise putting at risk the mission, innocent civilians, and even his own brothers.” Jason lets out a bitter laugh, enjoying how Bruce reacts to the sound.

“With you it’s always that, isn’t it, Bruce? The fucking mission always first, your little soldiers come after. It seems that following the rules is more important than having your own judgment!” He spites the words with venom and he ignores the way Bruce seems to flinch. “Guess what? When I realized we were in danger I chose to risk stopping them and prevent them from killing us. I’d already been dead if it weren’t for them realizing I was tied to you in some way, but if it weren’t for that I’d be 10 feet underwater by now! I couldn’t just let something happen to Dick or Damian if I wasn’t there to fucking protect them. So don’t you dare suggest that at some point I gave a fuck about their lives and I was only pursuing my own revenge!” Bruce clenches his jaw but stays still for a moment.

“If you are going to continue fighting, do it outside so you don’t disturb Richard.” Damian threatens and they both lay eyes on Goldie. Dick’s hand twitches and the blue-eyed mutters something in his dreams, a strand of black hair falls on his face gently, giving him a sweet touch. Involuntarily, Jason feels a tug upward of his lips, momentary forgetting what he was fighting about. When Bruce lets out a sigh again, Jason can see Bruce’s face soften as well. The three remain silent until Dick seems to doze out again.

It seemed that Goldie knew how to stop fights even in his sleep, the bastard.

“You know well that things have changed, Jason,” Bruce begins to say, his tone more passive, he sits heavily back on the chair. “I’ve tried to change, tried to leave bad habits in the closet. I never said I cared more about the mission than about your lives. And if it seems that I did it, you have to understand that I am not doing it on purpose. You said it once, we’re bad at communicating, and I’m tired that none of us can say what we really meant. I don’t know how to make you understand that more than upset I was… concerned, concerned that my three sons were going to be found dead over the ocean when I was chasing a villain and wondering what I was doing there and not trying to find you instead. That’s why we aborted the search, to focus on you.” Bruce says, rubbing a hand over his face.

“Trust me, I can see the irony here, and what I’m about to say is quite contradictory, but for once I wish you’d continued chasing Aleksander.” He admits quietly, suddenly feeling exhausted, and Damian has the nerve to snort.

“And why is that? Because you want to make him pay? You want revenge?” Bruce looks at him carefully.

“The thing is, you didn’t meet Aleksander in person, Bruce. You didn’t look into his eyes and saw all the shit that he was capable of. You didn’t see how he shot someone in cold blood, and of course, you didn’t see how he wandered his eyes through Dick. Everything went wrong the moment we underestimated the pirates and therefore Aleksander. The fact that he and his daughter escaped from you speak a lot of how dangerous he genuinely is,” Jason allows his voice to sound wide open, and Bruce reacts at the tone. “But even if I have a hard time admitting it, you didn’t know that. We both made decisions based on what was presented at the time, even if maybe wasn’t what we were supposed to do. Can you see my point or are you going to ignore it?”

“I can see your point,” Bruce says, but his shoulders were still tense, he still didn’t seem really convinced that they were reaching an agreement. Honestly, not even Jason was sure, but for some reason, they had to.

“There is a but in there, isn’t it?” Jason mumbles. “Look, maybe you’re just waiting for me to accept that I was wrong and that you’re right. And if you’re expecting that, then keep doing it because I’m not gonna say I’m sorry. Maybe I should have done things differently, yeah, maybe I should have considered better my options, hell yeah. I take full responsibility for my actions, but I don’t regret what I did. And I’d do it again.”

“Even with Dick in this condition?” Jason lowers his gaze to the floor for a second, trying not to take it to heart. Someone clears his throat and Damian raises his chin pridefully.

“Father, Todd wasn’t the one who fired that gun. We were in the middle of a shooting and Grayson, being the self-sacrificing idiot he is, tried to protect me from the projectiles. I am not defending Todd’s actions by no means, but the fact that Grayson was hurt is not entirely Todd’s fault.” He and Bruce stare at Damian as if a second head has grown out of him and the demon crosses his arms around his chest. “Why those looks? I am just presenting my point of view. Mind your business.” Jason gives a grateful look to Damian and the 18-year-old turns the other way with rosy cheeks. When Bruce seems to recover from the surprise, he speaks carefully.

“Look, Jason, I know I wasn’t there and I can’t put myself in your shoes to understand your reasons. But that’s why I sent you in the first place. I know what you are capable of, both good and bad, and I know how fully qualified you are to deal with any situation—”

“But I’m also human!” The words come out softer than Jason intended. “And I can be wrong, and I can make bad decisions, and I can screw things up.” And strangely enough, that keeps Bruce quiet. There is a heavy silence of a couple of seconds before Bruce speaks again.

“I think sometimes I expect so much from you that I don’t consider my own faults and wrongs.” Jason blinks perplexed at Bruce, waiting for the counterpart or some other argument, but it never comes. He and Damian share a look and Bruce continues. “And if I recall correctly, the doctors said whoever took care of Dick’s wound on the island, saved his life. I haven’t made the effort to acknowledge that to you, nor everything Damian told me you did for them back there. You took care of them.” Bruce looks him in the eyes and there’s something honest about his gaze that makes Jason shift uncomfortable on his spot. “Perhaps we are far from being able to reach an agreement, and from me to fully accept what you did and vice versa. Thought now I can better understand your actions, and I hope you have been able to do with mine. We have a long way to go, but perhaps we are closer to establish common ground.”

“Common ground as in…?” He raises an eyebrow.

“Join forces to capture Aleksander, together.” Jason ponders his next words for a moment, having already thought them a while ago.

“I’m not totally against joining forces to go after him, but this time, I feel like it’s something I need to do on my own, you know?” When Bruce is about to interrupt him, he hurries to finish. “I’m not blinded by revenge, nor I’m trying to be reckless. But he and I have unfinished business, things that I can’t stop thinking about in my head. I’m not saying I don’t want your help, but I think doing this alone, at least until Dick fully recovers, would do me good. I need some… space.”

“We are stronger when we are together.” 

“Yeah, but I want to make things right. I need answers, and I want closure, and the only way I’m gonna get that, is doing it on my own.” There is a long silence in which Jason is sure Bruce will say no, but then something in his eyes tell Jason that he won. No way.

“We’ll talk about it later. But theoretically speaking, if you do it, you’ll be in touch at all times. And you’ll let us intervene in case it’s necessary, deal?” Bruce could look as sulky as he wanted, but Jason could see the tiny smile he was trying to hide.

“Deal,” Feeling Damian’s watchful gaze upon him, and guessing what the brat was thinking, Jason smirks at him. “Don’t worry, Baby Bat, I’ll leave you a piece of Aleksander when I put my hands on him. Dickie’s gonna need you here with him, so you can’t go with me.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, Todd!” Damian yells throwing a pillow at his face.

“And we’re back to normal.”

 

For now, Jason still didn’t have to worry about the mission coming, nor the time it would take to hunt Aleksander and Mila. For now, Jason could sit on the hospital bed and wait for Dick to wake up and eat his Twinkie. Later Jason would take a flight away from Tahiti and be on another continent hundreds of thousands miles away. Later he would find an unexpected ally along the way, but not now. Yeah, maybe everything was gonna change and the three would continue with their lives and their paths would be parted once again, this experience becoming one more anecdote for Christmas. But those nights sitting around the fire would prevail forever. It didn’t matter that things were back to normal; Jason would forever have the memory of those foreign stars over a clear sky.