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Dead in the Water

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Dick wakes up disoriented. He doesn’t know where he is, and that fact alone makes his heart beat faster and his muscles tense up in preparation for a fight. On top of that, he feels hazy. Numb. If there’s going to be a fight, he’s at a severe disadvantage.

“Goldie?” asks a voice to his right, startling him. It takes a moment to register, but when it does, a wave of relief washes over him, and he sinks back into the bed. Everything’s okay.

“Jay?” Dick turns his head to see Jason, sitting in a tiny plastic chair with his back hunched uncomfortably. He’s a pretty big guy, and the seats are inconveniently small--as a result it looks like the little folding chair could collapse under his weight at any minute.

“Who the fuck else?” he snarks. But his voice is soft and his tone is fond, and beyond that, he sags a few inches in obvious relief. “How are you feeling?”

Dick thinks about that for a moment, but he’s on too many painkillers to have any idea how to accurately answer that question. “High,” is his succinct response, which is promptly followed by a deep sort of giggle.

Jason snorts. His eyes glitter with some confusing emotion Dick could probably identify under normal circumstances. Then, with a flash of sudden clarity, it occurs to him. “You rescued us!”

“I didn’t rescue anyone,” Jason disagrees. “Some dudes in a boat did.”

“Dudes in a boat.” Dick considers. “Man. Just think. We were some dudes in a boat.”

Jason cracks the smallest hint of a smile. “Crazy, right?” He humors Dick.

“And now we’re some dudes in a…” This one, Dick has to think about for a moment. He looks around, and takes note of the medical machinery and sterile environment. Then the correct word hits him. “Hospital.”

Jason glances around exaggeratedly. “No shit, really?” he asks.

Dick beams. He knows Jason is only humoring him, but he’s just so relieved to be off the damn lifeboat--so relieved both of them are okay--Jason could say anything and Dick wouldn’t stop smiling. It’s weird how happy Jason can make him, just by being himself. But then, that’s always been the case. Jason’s always invoked strong emotions in him, be it anger, joy, affection or anything else.

Then he has another thought, this one sudden and alarming, and frowns. “Both my legs are there, right, Jay?”

Jason furrows his brow. “You can’t feel them?”

Dick snickers. “I’m so high, I can’t feel my face.” It’s true, which doesn’t help to alleviate his worry.

Jason shakes his head like an exasperated mother. “They’re both there, Dickhead.”

Dick sighs, relieved. The prospect of becoming the One-Legged Wonder had not appealed to him all that much.

They sit there for a moment--Jason in his tiny chair and Dick in his uncomfortable hospital bed. Dick can’t stop smiling. The fact that they’re both alive--and relatively well, considering--is better than he’d dared to hope for, in the final days of their mission. Dick is filled with a sudden urge to proclaim his love once again, but he doesn’t want to embarrass Jason, since they’re no longer alone in the middle of the ocean. Dick knows Jason hates it when it seems like he has actual feelings. So he just grins at Jason stupidly and hopes that conveys the message. 

Sure enough, his tactic is a success. “God,” Jason groans, running a hand through his hair, “you’re making that stupid face.”

“Which stupid face?” Dick asks, not even bothering to feign offense.

“The heart-eyes one.”

“Yeah,” Dick admits. The heart-eyes face is, of course, exactly what he’s going for. He’s not sure he’d be able to suppress it, even if he wanted to. 

Jason rolls his eyes. He shifts his leg, and the flimsy chair creaks ominously. “Goddamnit,” Jason snaps, standing. “I’ve had it up to here with this stupid fucking chair.” He kicks it forcefully out of the way and replaces it with a different, equally uncomfortable chair. He stands and kicks that one even harder, just for good measure.

“You’re like Goldilocks,” Dick teases affectionately.

“What?” Jason hisses, redirecting his annoyance from the chairs to Dick faster than a cheetah changing direction mid-stride.

“This chair’s too soft,” Dick mocks softly. “This one’s too hard!”

Jason glares at him. “They are though,” he says defensively.

“I know what would be just right.” Dick, though still facially uncoordinated as a result of the painkillers--which thankfully have not had any adverse effects on affinity for coming up with flirtatious pick-up lines on the fly--wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Which one,” Jason demands.

“My bed.”

Jason stares at him, disbelieving. Then he facepalms with a loud smack. “You are in the hospital. High off your ass on painkillers. And you think now is an appropriate time for that?”

Dick feels his face go dark red as the implication hits him. “I meant cuddles!” he exclaims defensively, horrified.

“Oh no, I’m not falling for it.” Jason sits decisively in one of the uncomfortable chairs, having apparently forgiven them if the alternative involves putting up with Dick’s bullshit, and crosses his arms. “Nope, nuh-uh. You ain’t foolin’ me.”

“I meant cuddles,” Dick whines, still mortified. “Come on.”

“No one suggests cuddles with a fucking eyebrow wiggle, Dickie. Nice try.”

“I hate you,” Dick grumbles. But he’s still making the heart-eyes. 

---

Dick goes back to sleep after that, and a few days of quiet recovery pass. He’s had leg surgery. It will take time and physical therapy, but he will probably recover the full use of his leg. So that’s nice. The doctors tell Jason that his quick action in re-breaking Dick’s leg to realign the bones was what had probably saved it. So that’s nice as well. Jason sighs with visible relief when the doctors tell him.

The pertinent information comes to him slowly. They ended up in Venezuela--so not Cuba or Panama. That’s where they are still. Because Dick was in his civilian persona at the time, and in need of medical help faster than it would take to transport him to the Batcave, Jason had made the executive decision to take him to the nearest Venezuelan hospital. There, they had also treated Jason’s shoulder.

Of course, those weren’t the only concerns--notably, both of them also suffered from dehydration, severe sunburns, and malnutrition. But all of that was fixable. 

They were going to be okay.

Dick leaves the hospital sooner than the doctors had recommended. Generally speaking, he’d be inclined to follow the advice of the medical professionals, but mostly he’s eager to get home.

So he and Jason book a hotel room to stay in for the night, and in the morning, they’ll set out for Gotham. 

The hotel room is--for lack of a better term--shitty. Jason grimaces apologetically when he sees it. “Yikes,” he says, turning to look at Dick. “Sorry it’s not nicer.”

Dick shakes his head. “It’s nice enough.”

The walls are cracked and the ceiling is stained. Something scuttles by that looks suspiciously like a cockroach. But it has the redeeming quality of not being a boat, so Dick will live with it. 

He turns the corner, grins, then turns back to Jason, raising his eyebrows up and down. He’s just located another feature of the hotel room that might just convince him to forgive its grossness. “There’s only one bed,” he says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to point at their sleeping arrangements. “Whatever shall we do?”

“I’m sleeping on the floor,” Jason deadpans.

“We can if you want.” Dick ponders the suggestion. “But there’s only one floor as well, you know.”

Jason tilts his head and furrows his brows, confused. Then he groans exasperatedly and shakes his head. “You’re impossible.” 

In spite of his declaration, he takes Dick’s crutch and props it up safely against the bedside table, then helps Dick onto the bed gently, even as his expression remains adorably disgruntled. Though Dick hates needing help for something as simple as walking, Jason’s chivalry makes him swoon.

He tells Jason so with a sly grin. “Who ever said chivalry was dead?”

“Shut up,” Jason grumbles, cheeks going red.

Jason settles himself on the bed a respectable distance from Dick, who immediately thwarts his no-homo plans by squirming over to snuggle up next to him. Jason sighs, and with a long-suffering roll of his eyes, puts his arm around Dick’s shoulder.

There’s a tiny television sitting on the wardrobe across from the bed, and Dick flicks it on. It’s not quite late enough to go to sleep, and during his week at sea, he’s missed out on the latest episode of The Bachelorette. 

He only flicks through a couple of channels before he finds what he’s looking for--The Bachelorette, playing on the screen with helpful Spanish subtitles. Dick settles in against Jason to watch.

“The fuck is this trash?” Jason complains.

“You’ve never watched The Bachelorette?” Dick is personally offended.

“I’m gay,” Jason snaps back. “What the fuck would I want with a bachelorette?”

“You’ll see,” Dick promises, grinning in anticipation. “You’ll see.”

On screen, Clare (the Bachelorette) is busy professing to the camera her undying love of Dale (one of the men ready to battle to the death for her hand in marriage). Tears spring to her eyes as she describes how profoundly grateful she is that he shows up for her. He’s the man of her dreams, apparently, and she can tell even though they’ve only spent a collective total of two hours together.

Dick listens, rapt. Jason snorts. “You’re eating this up,” he accuses.

“It’s true love!” he defends.

Jason raises an eyebrow dubiously. “I still don’t see the appeal,” he decides.

“You’ll see,” Dick repeats. “Now shut up, they’re going on a group date.”

Indeed, they are. The two dozen men vying for Clare’s affection stand, shirtless, by the pool. Some of them are in nothing but swim trunks--others are dripping wet from recent swims. All of them are almost obscenely attractive. Dick sneaks a look at Jason’s face. “Do you get it now?” he asks.

Jason’s face is red. “I get it now,” he assures Dick quickly. “Goddamn, those abs.”

“I have abs, too,” Dick points out jealously. 

“Shut up, I’m watching the show.” 

By the end of the episode, Jason is an unashamed fan of The Bachelorette. Dick smiles, proud. His work here is done. Never again will Jason be allowed to criticize him for his shameless love of unethical reality television.

When Dick clicks the screen off, he turns to look at Jason and finds the other man already staring at him. “What?” he asks with a bemused smile. 

“Just--I’m really glad you’re alive,” Jason confesses, expression softer than Dick has ever seen it. It takes a moment for Dick to respond, and Jason’s scowls, scrunching up his nose adorably. It reminds Dick achingly of Damian. “Don’t look at me like that!”

“I’m not judging you,” Dick assures, looking earnestly into Jason’s blue-green eyes. “I’m glad too.” Unspeakably so. Living with Jason is--difficult. He’s rude and incredibly strong-willed, and pricklier than a cactus. No one can make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. And there are a lot of things he doesn’t want to do.

Yeah, living with him is hard. But living without him is unbearable.

Dick knows. He’s tried. And he never wants to do it again. He’ll do anything not to. 

Jason shakes his head, gaze intense. “I meant--not what I meant. I’m glad you’re alive. And, like, here. You, specifically.”

Dick tilts his head, trying to make sense of Jason’s inarticulate confession. Jason exhales in obvious frustration and continues, determined. “What I am trying to say here,” he elaborates awkwardly, “is that I care about you. You know?”

Dick opens his mouth to respond, suddenly overcome by Jason’s admission. Words he’s always wanted to hear, and never dreamed he would. He’s failed Jason so many times, at some point before the boat he had come to accept that he didn’t deserve Jason’s care. 

Because that’s how his life is divided now. Before the boat, and after the boat.

Before the boat, he didn’t deserve Jason’s care.

Now, after the boat, he might just have it. 

Dick suddenly has a thought--one that is probably very uncommon among people who are stranded at sea for weeks on end. He thinks, how did I get so lucky?

But Jason shakes his head angrily before Dick can say anything. “Nope--not good enough. I’m--okay, I’m just gonna say it, and you can’t laugh at me, okay?”

“I would never laugh at you, Little Wing,” Dick says, and for the moment, he means it. It’s not technically true. He would laugh at Jason. He has many times. It’s a wonderful hobby of his, and usually, Jason doesn’t mind. But this time is different.

Jason calls him on it with a snort. “That is factually incorrect. You laugh at me all the time. But anyways. You can’t laugh, and you also can’t call me a dumbass, okay? I’m like--baring my heart and soul to you. You could like, emotionally stunt me for the rest of my life right now if you wanted to. So don’t fucking do that,” he snarls. Jason takes a deep breath, and when that fails to suitably fortify him, clears his throat loudly.

“When I became Robin,” he begins, glaring at Dick as though daring him to laugh, “it wasn’t because I wanted to become like Batman. It was because--I wanted to be like you . Fucking stupid. I know. But you were just--so cool, you know? You had everything together. And I was like, damn. You get me?”

Flattered, Dick grins. “I get you,” he agrees. “Damn,” he repeats in order to demonstrate his understanding.

“Damn,” Jason confirms. He grins, and suddenly breaks his own no-laughing rule by chuckling. “Then you put on the new Nightwing suit and gave me my gay awakening.”

“Oh my God, it did?” Despite himself, Dick is delighted.

“How the fuck could you expect it not to?” Jason demands. “You knew what you were doing. You made your suit hot on purpose.” 

“It’s… a possibility,” Dick agrees. “Please continue, though.”

Jason rolls his eyes and obliges. “Anyways. Then I died, and you already know everything that happened after that. But when I came back--you were just, the same, you know? Well, not exactly the same. You’d grown up. But you were still Nightwing, still kicking ass with a smile, and--God. You’re just so--” Jason gestures inarticulately. “Kind. Forgiving. Trusting. Damn. Et-fucking-cetera. And at first that made me mad. Like, how dare you be so fucking perfect all the time?

“When we were on the boat,” Jason continues, voice going soft, “and you said you loved me. I didn’t say it back. I didn’t know how. But I did. Love you, that is. Or something. And I was so--angry, again. Because I thought you were going to die. And--” Jason turns away shamefully. “I decided if you died, I was going to stop trying. That would just--be it , I guess.”

Dick gasps, horrified. He opens his mouth to protest. “But--”

“Shut up, I’m not done,” Jason snaps. “It was just--I couldn’t picture life without you. You’ve always been there, just--being you. You were there, unconscious, and--” His voice lowers to a hushed whisper--the confession of a deeply buried secret. “I sat there with you, and I held your hand, and pictured life without you. What it would be like.

“Those stupid dinners at the manor that Alfred forces me to go to, except you’re not there to make dumbass puns and tell Damian not to poison my potatoes. Helping Bruce on missions, except you aren’t there to peer pressure me into it, and the comms are quiet because you aren’t making that stupid banter that no one replies to anyways. No--your apartment, and I hate your apartment because you’ve never heard of a fucking vaccuum, but I love it more because it’s yours and I can always break in to crash on the couch, whenever I want to, no questions asked.

“No more--no more Nightwing-proofing my safe houses, just so you can break in anyways. And no more blowing up my phone on purpose, just so I can use that excuse when you try to call me and have it actually be the truth. You have no idea how long I wanted to do that, by the way. I blew it up and was just waiting for you to try to call it. But then I realized I’d have no idea if you tried to call, because I blew that shit to smithereens! 

“I thought about that. I couldn’t stop picturing it. And I realized I didn’t want that. Ever. I can’t imagine anything worse.”

“Jay,” Dick breathes out. Reaches out a hand to cup Jason’s cheek--hesitant--and turns him gently so they face each other.

“Shut the fuck up, I’m still not fucking done,” Jason insists harshly. They’re pressed so closely together that Dick can feel the beat of his heart and the rise and fall of his breaths. The gentle tremble of his hand, where it holds the one Dick isn’t using to caress Jason’s cheek. The stroke of his thumb, back and forth across Dick’s own in a slow, soothing rhythm. The subtle vibration of his throat when he says, “I love you.”

Dick kisses him. Jason leans into it like it's what he's been waiting for his entire life.

---

The next morning, it’s finally time to go. Neither of them has contacted Bruce--that’s a can of worms neither of them is eager to crack open just yet. So they’ve booked a flight. A regular flight, like regular people.

Jason doesn’t know where they’ll go from there. But the security systems at his safehouses still haven’t been updated, and Dick’s apartment has always been open to him.

So maybe they’ll go there.

Their flight is late, because of course it is, and Jason lets Dick sleep against his shoulder as they wait in their uncomfortable seats in the boarding area. When he wakes up he disappears to “go to the bathroom,” but comes back with ridiculous tourist T-shirts for each of them. They’re matching--both proclaim in bold letters, I <3 MY HOT VENEZUELAN HUSBAND.

“They didn’t have one for boyfriend,” Dick explains, handing Jason one of the tees.

“I’m not wearing this.” Jason refuses to even take it from Dick. He won’t be caught dead anywhere near that shirt. There are a lot of things he’ll do for Dick. He would die for Dick. But putting on that shirt? That’s a boundary his dignity just won’t survive crossing.

“We need clothes, Jay,” Dick explains patiently. “You can’t unzip your leather jacket cuz you’ve just got your Red Hood armor beneath, and I’m still wearing the sheet-shirt.”

It’s true. Up until this point, they have neglected to restock their wardrobes, and as such, they’re still wearing the same clothes they’ve been stuck in on the lifeboat. Dick’s makeshift sheet-shirt has drawn them many an odd glance from passers-by. 

“I’m not your husband,” Jason complains, even as he reaches out to reluctantly snatch the shirt. 

“You’re not Venezuelan either,” Dick points out.

Jason puts on the damned shirt. Just to make Dick shut up, he tells himself. 

Finally their plane arrives, and even later after that, they are allowed to board. 

Dick stands, and Jason supports him.