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Dead in the Water

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Dick supposes he shouldn’t be surprised there’s an ulterior motive--Bruce never invites him to the Manor of his own accord unless he is either A) seriously concerned for his well being or B) in need of Nightwing’s assistance with a case. Since Dick’s been doing pretty well lately, in both his Nightwing persona and his civilian life, the fact that it is the latter is also altogether not shocking.

Still, when he descends down to the Cave and sees Bruce in the cowl and cape instead of casual around-the-house attire, he is a little bitter. Some small part of Dick had been secretly hoping Bruce just wanted to see him. Apologize for their estrangement. Compliment him on his good work in Bludhaven. Ask him what his favorite flavor of jam is. Anything. 

Dick says nothing. If he chooses to go down that route, the fight will last for hours--he knows from experience. Been there done that. At the moment Dick has neither the energy nor motivation to engage in a conflict of that calibre, and he intends to be back in Bludhaven by nine for patrol. Generally if he wants to engage in an argument with Bruce he makes sure to schedule time beforehand.

His mentor is seated at the Batcomputer, looking through what appear to be case files from a case several years ago. Dick squints, but can’t make out the words from this distance. As he’s not particularly inclined to step any closer, bridging the gap between himself and Batman, he abandons his attempt to read the files. If he needs to know, Bruce will tell him.

At least, he remembers a time when that was the case. He’s not so sure it’s strictly true anymore. 

“Nightwing,” Bruce greets, even though Dick is in civilian attire. “I have received intelligence that there is a plot to kidnap Richard Grayson for ransom.”

Again, Dick can’t say he’s shocked--either by the revelation, or that Bruce dives right into hero shit without so much as a how was your day. These plots are a dime a dozen, and have been ever since he was nine and freshly placed in Bruce Wayne’s care. “What are we going to do about it?” he asks, wondering why this is big enough news to warrant summoning him to the Cave on short notice. Dick has a life to live, thank you very much, and he would like to get back to it sometime soon, if Bruce is amenable with that. He almost opens his mouth to inform Batman of this sentiment, but the temptation is outweighed by his disinclination to start another shouting match.

Batman doesn’t look at him--his focus stays firmly on the digital case files. Classic Batman avoidance. Dick rolls his eyes, irritated. “I believe it would be advantageous to allow them to kidnap you.”

Dick raises his eyebrows. Now that piques his interest, even against his reluctance to get involved with anything Batman at the moment. “Let them kidnap me, and take ‘em down undercover?”

“That is the idea, yes.”

Dick nods, and despite his annoyance at Bruce, grins a little. This sounds like a mission he might just enjoy. “Tell me more.”

Again unsurprisingly, Bruce came up with a detailed plan before he even called Dick over. All of it, of course, hinging on Dick’s agreement. Because he just assumed Dick would say yes. 

Dick hates that he’s right.

The plotters are a group they have tangled with before--back when Dick was Robin, he and Bruce dismantled their human trafficking operation and sent the ringleaders to what should have been a lifelong sentence in prison. Unfortunately, owing to the simple, endlessly frustrating fact that this was Gotham, it had taken less than a year for the group’s leaders to wiggle their way out of prison and disappear. Bruce suspects bribery, and Dick, being intimately acquainted with more corrupt prison officials than he cares to list, would bet a lot of money he’s right.

Luckily, the perps aren’t the only people who know how to bribe. Though the nature of Batman’s reward had been a little different. Less money, more maintaining the use of your limbs. 

He has managed to capture one of the group’s leaders. Motivated by his already-broken arm and the promise of more pain to come, Benjamin Davis--human trafficking extraordinaire--had divulged to Batman that, in the wake of their untimely imprisonment and subsequent payoff, the men--who he had only named as Garcia and Miller--were in a bit of a financial pickle and looking to earn some quick cash. And, Davis told Batman, what better way to do it than employ one of Gotham’s criminals’ favorite techniques? Kidnap a Wayne and wait for the cash to roll in. 

And to that end, Dick seems like the perfect target. He lives alone in Bludhaven, so there would be no badass butlers or angry eleven-year-olds afoot to protect him and prevent the kidnapping. Jason is legally dead, so he’s not an option, and though Tim does live alone, as CEO of Wayne enterprises, there is a no-ransom policy in place in the event of his kidnapping. The same applies to Bruce.

So the criminals decided they should kidnap Dick.

If Davis had been a more helpful hostage, the natural course of action would have been to interrogate him further. They’re still missing crucial information--where is the base of operations for the criminal group? Beyond Davis, Garcia, and Miller, how many men are in the group’s employ?

Unfortunately, when presented with these pertinent questions, Davis had become remarkably unforthcoming, and no amount of broken fingers convinced him to open his mouth. So Batman let him go--holding up his own end of their deal--and proceeded to immediately call Dick with a plan. A plan with which Dick has several issues. Namely:

“I don’t feel comfortable with you injecting a tracker into me. Can we have one in my clothes or something?”

Bruce shifts uncomfortably. “We won’t need to inject a tracker,” he says. The tone of his voice is anything but reassuring.

“What do you mean?” Dick asks suspiciously. He has a feeling he knows where this is going, but doesn’t want to accuse Bruce without solid evidence. Because of course Bruce wouldn’t do what Dick’s thinking of--he’s got more morals than that, surely.

Bruce coughs. “There is already one in your arm.”

“You injected a tracker into my arm?”

“It was practical,” Bruce says, completely unashamed. “Not knowing your location was a safety risk, and any trackers not in your skin can be easily removed.”

Dick stares at him, horrified. “How long has it been there?”

At this, Bruce at least has the good grace to look away. “Since you became Robin.”

Dick sputters, so angry he can’t even think of the words to express it. He is entirely lost for words. He’d always suspected Bruce didn’t trust him one hundred percent, always wondered--

But this proof, this undeniable proof of a breach of trust, a violation, so severe--

It feels like everything is crashing down around him. 

“WHAT THE FUCK,” he roars. “I don’t--I can’t--I can’t even believe you! Which arm is it in?”

Bruce hesitates. Dick marches forward and puts his hands on Bruce’s chest to shove him violently backwards. “Which arm?” he demands.

“Left forearm,” Batman finally says, emotionless.

Dick shoves him again, overtaken by his rage. “Goddamnit,” he seethes, breathing heavily. “You never told me. You didn’t even ask for my consent.”

“It was practical,” Bruce repeats, because that’s what matters to him. The mission. Everything is always about the goddamned mission with Batman, even when it means ripping away his son’s autonomy, even when it means messing with his body without so much as letting him know. The ends always justify the means, when you’re the caped crusader of Gotham City. Always. 

“DOES IT LOOK LIKE I CARE?” Dick yells, more furious than he can ever remember being. He gestures wildly with his arms--one of which, guess what, has a fucking tracker imbedded beneath the skin. Go fucking figure. “You--you had no right, how could you?” He hates the way his voice wobbles dangerously, threatening to break.

“I knew you’d be mad when you found out,” Bruce says as if it excuses his actions. His voice, in contrast to Dick’s, is level and even. As if he’s completely unbothered.

“Fuck you,” Dick breathes, chest heaving up and down rhythmically. “Fuck yeah I’m mad.”

“We can discuss this more after the mission,” Bruce tells him calmly--placating. “For the time being, it’s the only way to ensure we can track your location after you’re taken. It stays in.”

Dick shouldn’t be surprised. This whole day has been one not-shock after another, demonstration after demonstration of Bruce being Bruce. Bruce, who Dick knows . He should expect these things by now.

And yet, hearing again, so concretely, that all Batman cares about is the mission, completely blindsides him. It’s a slap in the face, sharp and painful, and suddenly all the rage melts away, leaving nothing but raw, bleeding, hurt. 

Bruce doesn’t trust him. Never has, never will.

“Leave the mission alone,” Dick says, voice rough, turning away so he doesn’t have to meet the sharp white lenses of the cowl. “They’re kidnapping me. I’ll handle it.”

“Dick,” Batman warns, annoyance creeping into his tone. “You don’t get to make that decision.”

Dick holds up his left forearm demonstratively and points to it with his opposite hand. “You didn’t get to make this decision. But you did. Give me the mission. I’ll handle it.”

There is a pause, a minute of tense silence filled by Dick’s heavy breathing and the rustling of Batman’s cape. After a long moment, charged with anger and tension:

“Fine. I’ll send you the case files. Leave the tracker in.”

Dick does not deign to respond as he turns around and stalks out of the Cave.

---

When he makes it back to his apartment, it takes one check of his laptop to confirm that Bruce has, in fact, sent him the case files. There is no note attached. No apology, no acknowledgement of their fight. Dick uses a breathing exercise to prevent himself from getting angry again--he needs his hands to be steady for what he’s about to do. If they’re trembling with rage, he could hurt himself. 

Not that it wouldn’t be worth it--the ends justify the means, after all--but still.

In the bathroom of his apartment, Dick pulls a first aid kit out of the cabinet beneath the sink and opens it up, sitting on the floor. He’s brought a subdermal tracker--kind of like a wall stud finder, but for skin--and a scalpel.

He runs the tracker’s sensor over his arm, and it isn’t long before it beeps , hovering over the soft skin of his inner forearm. A rare patch of unscarred golden skin. Dick hates that he’ll have to mar it. 

Abruptly--like ripping the bandaid off a wound, but in reverse--he makes the incision, gritting his teeth as drops of blood roll softly down his arm. The scalpel is sharp, and cuts easily. Still, the act of slicing into his own arm makes him queasy. Dick can deal with injuries on other people--can wipe away the blood, stitch them up, and move on like nothing ever happened. When it comes to himself, though, Dick gets oddly squeamish. 

Having accomplished step one, Dick grabs a pair of surgical tweezers and digs them into the wound to extract a tiny silver dish, smaller and thinner than a dime. How very discreet. Bruce knows what he’s doing--always has. Dick could very well have lived the rest of his life never having known about this tracker. 

Dick drops the little dish into a clear plastic baggie to avoid losing track of it, and wraps a sheet of white bandage around his arm, covering the incision. It’s deep enough that stitches would make sense, but also not so deep that he requires them. He’s frankly never been a fan of suturing himself, so he decides to skip it. 

The first and most pressing issue taken care of, Dick changes into his Nightwing gear, hissing in irritation as his gauntlet scrapes the cut. It’s not the wound itself that hurts--the inch-long incision is hardly the worst he’s dealt with in his time as a vigilante--but the circumstances that caused it. The reason it was necessary in the first place. It burns. 

Dick secures his domino mask over his eyes before he grapples out the window and mounts his bike outside. Patrol will have to wait for tonight--Nighwing has someone to visit. 

---

Normally Dick would be annoyed at having to drive to and from Gotham so many times in one day, but tonight he finds the ride is effective at clearing his mind. Not entirely, of course--resentment still boils beneath his skin--but enough that he can approach Crime Alley with a clear head and his focus firmly on the mission. 

Unlike Bruce, Dick is not so controlling that he keeps tabs on his family members. That means that other than a general idea of where to start, he doesn’t know where to locate Jason. He tried a phone call or seven, but received no response--typical. While Dick has been to several of Red Hood’s safehouses, Dick has no doubt that there are many more he doesn’t know of yet. Not to mention, the chances that Jason is out and about right now are high. Like Nightwing, the Red Hood makes his rounds by night. So whether or not he’ll run into Jason by breaking into a safehouse or two is anybody’s guess. Still, it’s his best shot. 

Dick breaks into one of the safehouses, cringing guiltily at the window whose lock he hadn’t picked so much as desecrated . It wouldn’t have been necessary if Jason had given him the passcode to his security system, but, well, the chances of that ever happening are more of a joke than any conceivable prospect.

The fact that Dick manages to break through a window without being shot at is telling--Jason isn’t home. So, leaving a sticky note with an apology and a smiley face, Dick moves on to the next safehouse, and the next, still with no luck.

It isn’t until the fourth and final safehouse that he strikes gold. When Dick whips out his lock pick, ready to break through Jason’s impressive security once more, he finds that the window is already open and waiting for him. He narrows his eyes suspiciously--he knows a trap when he sees one--but when no immediate threat makes itself known, shrugs and slides through.

Jason is waiting for him inside, dressed in full Red Hood regalia, helmet and all. His stance is aggressive, pointing a gun directly at Dick’s chest. “Fucker!” he announces. “I fucking knew it was you!”

A split second before Jason shoots, Dick dodges out of the way, vaulting over the bullet’s trajectory and towards Jason. He swings an escrima at Jason’s hand, aiming to knock the gun to the floor, but Jason moves in time to bring the butt of the gun down against the side of Dick’s head. The maneuver leaves him unguarded for a split second, which Dick takes advantage of to knock Jason’s legs out from under him with a powerful roundhouse kick. He crashes heavily to the ground. Dick’s head throbs painfully. They’re even.

“Fucker,” Jason repeats emphatically. Dick holds out a hand to help him up, off the cold floor. Jason ignores it steadfastly as he stands up of his own accord and pulls his helmet off. He tosses it carelessly away, and it clatters loudly on the safehouse’s hard floor. “What are you doing here, Dickhead? Stopped by on your way to visit Daddy Bats?”

Dick scoffs. “Yeah, right. How’d you know I’d be here?”

“Easy.” Jason holsters his gun and walks over to the fridge, where grabs himself a beer and does not offer Dick one. “You only know about four of my ‘houses. You broke into three of them--you set off all the alarms by the way, you’re not fucking subtle--so I knew this’d be next.” He grins. “And look at that. I was right.”

Dick smiles sheepishly back. “I needed to talk to you. Tried calling, but you didn’t respond.”

“My phone blew up,” Jason responds instantly. Dick raises an eyebrow suspiciously. “It did!” 

“Well, sorry about all your windows, I guess. I think I broke the locks.”

“You better fucking be sorry,” Jason warns, pointing one finger at Dick. “That security was for you.”

Dick grins. “Maybe next time it’ll actually work.”

Jason elects not to justify that with a response. Instead he takes a seat at a rickety little dining table, and when Dick doesn’t join him, coughs dramatically and points to the opposite chair. “Sit,” he orders, using a foot to push out the seat. “Jesus, you need a cordial invitation or something?” Dick sits obediently. Jason sips his beer. “So, what brings you my way? Your usual Wednesday night break-in rampage or something?”

“Two things, actually. Can I see your arm?”

Jason holds up both his arms sarcastically. Dick rolls his eyes. “Left forearm,” he instructs. “Take off the jacket.”

Jason eyes him doubtfully. “What for?” he asks. 

“Bruce stuck a tracker in me when I was Robin. Only told me today. Wanted to see if there was one in you.”

“Shit,” Jason says, holding out his arm with his jacket sleeve rolled up. “He better fucking not have.”

Dick pulls out the subdermal sensor and runs it over Jason’s arm. Nothing. “Maybe your right one?” he suggests. Jason holds it out obligingly. Still, there is no sign of a tracker. 

“Huh,” Jason says, sounding mildly surprised. “Guess it was just you.”

Breathing carefully and deliberately, Dick elects not to respond as he makes a big, distracting production of securing the sensor in a pocket. “Guess so.” He feels an odd sort of jealousy that Bruce hadn’t thought it necessary to put a tracker in Jason as well, but supposes it makes sense. If Jason had had a tracker all along, Bruce would have run into the pressing question of why is my dead son moving? 

So maybe Bruce had just trusted Jason more, even from the very beginning. Go figure. 

“Shit, man.” Jason sounds genuinely sympathetic for a moment--the tone is unfamiliar, but comforting all the same. They sit for a moment, soundless except for the rude slurping of Jason’s beer. Then, suddenly, Dick bursts out:

 “Fuck that guy.”

Jason laughs, startled and, despite himself, a little bit delighted. “Damn right. Fuck that guy.” He smiles, and for the first time that night, the expression looks happy. “Fuck that fucker,” he sighs with finality. “Always waited for the day you decided to screw that guy. I’m marking my calendar.” Then, suddenly looking thoughtful, Jason adds, “Though come to think of it, it might be difficult to fuck him. Since there’s already a giant stick up his ass, and all.”

That manages to draw a laugh out of Dick. He wholeheartedly agrees, though he has to admit he’s nonetheless traumatized by the mental image the words invoke. So, grinning, Dick takes the moment as his opportunity to change the subject. “Anyways, I also came here to ask for help on a case.”

Jason stares at him incredulously. “You? The Kiss-ass Wonder? Asking the Red Hood for help on a case? What fucking universe are we in?”

“I’m being serious, Jay,” Dick says with a roll of his eyes that, though invisible beneath the mask, he makes sure to telegraph obviously. “We got a potentially dangerous operation here, couple weeks worth of undercover work at least. Timmy’s too well-known to do it, and I don’t want him getting hurt anyways. Bruce is also too well known. So we’re left with you.”

Abruptly, Jason slams his beer down on the table. “So you won’t risk the precious replacement, but it’s okay if I get hurt. Got it. I’m the last resort, as always.”

“Not everything is about playing favorites Jay, Jesus.” Dick had been hoping they could avoid this particular argument this time around. They’ve been through it too many times, and frankly, he’s got enough else on his mind at the moment. “I don’t want you getting hurt either, obviously. But you’ve got the skills. I’ve seen them first-hand.”

His words have a placating effect. Jason lowers his tensed-up shoulders. “Mm,” he grunts. “Don’t flatter me.” The gruff tone is dubiously effective, Jason clearly having been at least a little pleased to hear Dick’s assessment of his skills. “What is this mission anyways?”

Dick slides a printed copy of the case file across the table. “Benjamin Davis, and two others called Miller and Garcia. Led a human trafficking ring in Gotham before we took them down. Recently got outta prison early--bribery, we assume--and thinking they can make a quick buck kidnapping the famous, stunningly attractive Richard Grayson-Wayne for ransom.”

Jason scoffs as he scans the files. “Stunningly attractive, my ass.”

“No, my ass,” Dick can’t help but say cheekily. Still, after all this time, he can’t resist teasing Jason. It’s the one part of their dynamic he has always been able to fall back on, even when all other subjects are too touchy to approach with a ten-foot pole. 

“I can still shoot you,” Jason offers--another constant. Dick is quiet as Jason reads the information.

“You got a plan?” he asks after a few quiet minutes. 

“Uh.” The fact of the matter is, Dick does not. Batman’s plan had been banking on the tracker in Dick’s arm, and since that is clearly no longer a factor in play, they’ll need to come up with something new. Not to mention, Dick hadn’t wanted to be presumptuous by coming up with a plan before Jason even agreed to participate in it. 

“Gotcha.” Jason closes the file and puts the manilla folder on the center of the table. “No plan. Why am I not shocked?”

“I had some ideas,” Dick says defensively. “But I wanted to flesh them out with you. For your sake.”

“I am so very grateful. Seems like we got two ways to go here--either we stick that tracker back in you and someone mans the operation from back home, or I infiltrate ‘em from the inside.”

“We are not putting the tracker back,” Dick asserts, jaw tightening dangerously. His anger from earlier threatens to make a comeback, and with it, a surge of anxiety.

Jason raises his hands defensively. “Shit, alright, I guess we aren’t,” he concedes. “Keep your panties on. Option two then?”

“Option two could work,” Dick agrees, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Just gotta figure out how.”

---

“Heard you had a little trouble with ol’ Batsy recently, eh, Davis?”

Davis cowers and grabs the nearest available item for self-defense, which turns out to be a lamp with a flowery shade. He holds it out threateningly. 

Jason snorts. If Davis thinks he can take down Gotham’s notorious Red Hood with nothing but a girly light fixture, Jason clearly needs to work on his reputation. Luckily, smearing Davis across the street like a gorey little cockroach seems like exactly the sort of thing that might boost his street cred. If it comes to that, anyways. Ideally Davis will be left alive--despite his evidently lacking combat abilities, he is more useful as a part of their plan than the contents of a body bag. Jason can always fantasize, though.

Red Hood confiscates the lamp with effortless ease and takes one threatening step towards Davis. “He told me all about your plan to kidnap the Wayne kid.”

Spluttering in terror, Davis shakes his head. “What, that’s--we ain’t kidnappin’ no one, that’s--”

“Save the lies,” Jason interrupts, grabbing Davis by the neck. He pins him to the wall. The grip is tight enough that he’ll have a hard time escaping, but he can still talk--not that talking is what Davis is here to do. No, tonight, he’ll be listening. “You’re kidnapping Grayson to make Daddy pay up. I get it. A classic. But this time, you’re gonna need some help.” 

“Wha--?” Davis’ face goes from pale, to red, to an intriguing purplish hue. Jason watches with fascination. 

“You don’t want the bat ruining your operation now that he knows about it. I get it, we’ve all got bat problems here in Gotham. Me included. That’s why you’re gonna let me help.” The confusion on Davis’ face slowly morphs into interest. Jason has done his research--Davis is a businessman, and he knows how to strike a good deal. He is undoubtedly the brains of the operation, but as evidenced by his easy defeat, brawns are most certainly not on his resume. That means he’s exactly the foothold Jason needs to covertly infiltrate the group. Easily threatened, smart enough to take what sounds on paper like a good deal. Red Hood continues. “I kidnap Grayson for you, keep the bat away, the whole nine yards. In return, you introduce me to your little friends. You get me in on the operation. I join you punks, and you get safety from Batman in return. Win-win deal.”

“And what if we don’t need your help?” wheezes Davis, his face having gone alarmingly blue. Jason releases his grip, just a tiny bit, and his hostage sighs in relief. “We’ve dealt with the bat before.”

“Not like I have, you haven’t,” Jason shoots back, lifting his helmet to reveal the red domino mask underneath. He points to his own face. “You see this? You recognize me? I was Robin. I know the bat better than he knows himself. But he let me die. So I ain’t on his side anymore--in fact I’m very much against it.”

Davis raises an eyebrow, the motion oddly shrewd on his sweaty face. “So that’s why you want to join us, huh? Revenge on the bat?”

“What can I say,” Jason responds, sliding the helmet back down. “I’m not a man to let go of old grudges.”

“And if I say no?” 

“Like I said. I don’t forgive and forget.” There is a barely perceptible threat hidden in Jason’s voice. 

But Davis is a smart man. He picks up on it. For a moment, there are no words exchanged. The silence is broken by Davis’ heavy, strangled breathing, and the rustle of Jason’s body armor. The tension is thick enough to cut. Just when Jason’s getting ready to employ another threat from his arsenal, Davis snaps, “Fine! Fine. You kidnap Grayson for us an’ keep the bat away, you’re in. But I got my eyes on you. No funny business.”

Jason grins. “None whatsoever, boss.”

That done, he pulls off his helmet and pushes a secret button on the inside. He throws it at the nearest wall. It clatters against the drywall, beeping, then--

BOOM! 

The helmet detonates, leaving a gaping hole in the side of Davis’ apartment. “See you later, bossman!”

With that, Jason jumps out through the hole and is gone. 

---

Jason makes it back to his safehouse--one of the ones not compromised by Dickwing, that is--around five AM. He thinks about crashing at Dick’s, just to annoy him, but honestly, he’s had enough of that guy for one day. Enough of him for a lifetime.

Well. That’s not necessarily true, and Jason knows it. If he really couldn’t stand Dick Grayson, he wouldn’t have agreed to help him on the case. The truth is, loathe as Jason is to admit it, there is still a part of him that admires the original boy wonder. The Joker hadn’t been able to beat it out of him, and if that hadn’t done the job, he doubts anything ever will.

Fact of the matter is, Dick Grayson is a force to be reckoned with. He’s stubborn, overconfident, and quick to anger, at least when it comes to Jason. But beyond that, he’s determined. Compassionate. Infuriatingly dedicated. Everything Jason wishes he, himself, could be. 

When he was Robin, he had wanted to be Dick Grayson. He’s long since gotten over that--and thank goodness. But, with the film of hero-worship missing, Jason isn’t sure how he feels about his predecessor. Just that, when he had broken into four of Jason’s secret, secure, safehouses for the sole purpose of helping him and requesting help in return, Jason had been much more inclined to agree than to throw him out on his ass like he should have. 

---

One week later, Davis sends Jason a date and a location using an untraceable phone number. The location is a warehouse by the Bludhaven docks. The date is the next day. Jason forwards the information to Dick.

Much to Jason’s irritation, Dick finds the thought of Jason kidnapping him to be the funniest thing in the universe. “Should I be a damsel in distress,” he asks when Jason calls him to tell him about his success threatening Davis, “Or do I try to fight back? What if I win? What if I beat you, what then?”

“You won’t beat me,” Jason says with an eye roll he wishes Dick could see through the telephone. “That would defeat the entire purpose.”

“Right, but I don’t want to seem too pathetic,” Dick reasons. “Bring extra guns, that way you taking me down will look feasible. I am a police officer, you know.”

“Never thought I’d see the day you tell me to bring more guns. Times are a-changin,’ Anti-Assassination Wonder.” 

Dick’s voice hardens inexplicably. “That they are, Little Wing.” Then the phone call had ended, and Jason had been left to plan the abduction. 

When the night of the kidnapping rolls around, Jason meets the mysterious Garcia in the alley beside Dick’s apartment building. This is his first time speaking to the guy, and he hadn’t been sure what to expect. Upon meeting him, though, it is immediately clear that Davis doesn’t keep him around for his intellect. He’s a huge, muscular guy with a buzzcut and a frankly impressive number of tattoos. 

“You the Red Hood?” he asks gruffly, cracking his knuckles. Unline Davis, Garcia is a big man. Taller than Dick, certainly, and maybe a couple centimeters taller than Jason. Not that he’s gonna whip out a measuring tape to verify. He’s got a gun very obviously holstered on his belt--Jason would bet anything that it’s obvious presence is meant as a threat to Jason more than Dick. A little reminder of what might happen should he stray from the plan. 

“No, I’m Little Red Riding Hood,” Jason snaps. “Obviously I’m the fucking Red Hood. We doing this, or what?”

Garcia unleashes a mighty glob of spit at the wall and cracks the knuckles on his other hand. “Ladies first.”

Jason flexes his arms angrily but takes the lead anyways. “I’m in charge here,” he tells Garcia as they make their way around the building, sticking to the shadows. “You follow me, we kidnap Grayson, nobody gets hurt ‘cept maybe him a bit. I got it all worked out. You step outta line, though, the bat’s gonna hear about it and it ain’t gonna be pretty. You get me?”

Garcia scoffs, but the threat of bat-shaped interference seems to do the trick, and he accepts Jason’s leadership for the time being as they go about scaling the fire escape. When they reach Dick’s apartment, Jason whispers to Garcia, “Absolute silence.”

Then he punches out the window with a loud crash and dives in. Dick is in a pair of black skinny jeans and a blue T-shirt, sitting at his dining table, eating a bowl of cereal. Typical. His eyes widen comically at the sight of Red Hood and Garcia breaking in through his window.

“Red Hood? Oh no! I sure hope you aren’t here to kidnap me!”

Jason crosses his arms, irritated. He should have known Dick would lay it on thick--in his civilian persona, overdone acting is practically his specialty. If Garcia possessed just two or three more brain cells, his suspicions might be aroused. Luckily, from what Jason has seen of him, that doesn’t seem like a pressing concern. “Hands in the air, Grayson,” Red Hood commands, unholstering a gun to point it at Dick. 

Dick obeys. “Oh no!” he repeats, “Guns!” 

“That’s right, rich boy,” Garcia snarls, cracking his knuckles again. Jesus. Jason’s hands hurt just looking at him. “We got guns. So you ain’t gonna struggle, you ain’t gonna be callin’ no-one, and you might just make it outta here alive. Hear me?”

“Can I finish my cereal first? It’s Lucky Charms.”

Jason shoots the cereal bowl, and milk and marshmallows splatter across the kitchen like a bloodstain. 

Dick’s eyes widen. “Not the cereal!” He stands, balling his hands into fists. “Now that’s the last straw, you cereal killer!” he declares.

“I said, hands above your head!” Jason steps forward and stage-punches Dick. The hit connects with all the force of a gentle butterfly flapping its wings against Dick’s face. 

Dick flies across the apartment like he’s been struck by a wrecking ball. “Aaaah!” he yells dramatically, clutching his face. “You’ve killed me!” He collides with a cabinet, the door of which collapses inwards with a crunch. He lands on his ass, right in the splatter of milk left by Jason’s cereal-icide.

Jason manages just in time to disguise his delighted laughter into evil cackles, channelling his inner-Joker. “Not yet, rich boy!” he declares. Dick’s enthusiasm has really given him a feel for the performance, spurring him on. “We’re going easy on you today!”

“Yeah!” agrees Garcia, evidently invigorated by Jason’s show of force. He squares his shoulders. “Show ‘im, Hood.”

“Damn straight!” Jason agrees. He marches over to Dick, who cowers comedically. “Now, hands behind your back so I can cuff you, unless you want to get punched again!”

“Not that!” Dick pleads. “Anything but that!”

Jason handcuffs him with a pair of cuffs that Dick could slip out of in approximately ten seconds if he wanted to. Then, because now he’s enjoying himself, he hoists Dick up and hauls him over his shoulder in a show of excessive strength. “We got you now, rich boy,” Jason taunts. “Ain’t that right, partner?” Holding Dick with one arm, he reaches out to fist-bump Garcia. 

“Damn right,” Garcia agrees, accepting the fist bump.

Though transport would truthfully be easier if Jason allowed Dick to walk with his own two legs, he does not release his hold on the abductee until it comes time to shove him into Garcia’s unmarked black van. Dick makes a face when he sees it. 

“We’re driving this? Don’t you guys have a limo or something? My chauffeur always drives a limo.”

“Shut it,” Garcia snarls, shoving him roughly into the backseat and slamming the door. “We got a blindfold?”

Jason pulls one out of one of his leather jacket’s pockets and secures it around Dick’s eyes. “Ready.”

With that, Garcia peels out of the parking space and onto the road. Jason’s gotta admit, he, himself, is not the safest driver on the streets, but Garcia is a whole new level of reckless. By the time they make it to the docks, he is genuinely convinced the man might be colorblind. Nothing else could possibly explain the number of red lights he runs on the way there. Nonetheless, they make it without serious injury. 

When they’ve arrived at their location, Jason hauls Dick out of the car. Though he does use more force than strictly necessary, he knows that Dicks exaggerated “Oomph!” is all for show.

“You better cooperate, now,” Jason says to Dick, who lays on the asphalt. He grabs him by one leg to drag him across the ground. He could just carry him over his shoulder again, but Dick is not a feather-light daisy, and if he’s honest, Jason is probably having a little more fun than he should. He turns to Garcia and says in Spanish, “Where are we meeting the boss?”

Garcia eyes Dick warily. “Does he speak Spanish?” he asks in the same language.

Yes, Dick does. Fluently. Has for as long as Jason can remember. “Not a word,” Jason lies. “Dumb rich boy.”

“Hey, are you guys speaking Portugese?” Dick asks from the floor. “Olá. Um, dois, três.”

Jason ignores him, and Garcia, satisfied, tells Jason in Spanish, “We are taking him on a ship.”

“A ship?” Jason repeats in English, caught off guard. That is… not what Jason had been expecting. Could potentially be bad. That’s not the setting they’ve been preparing for, not by a longshot.

“The boss has some products he wants to pick up.” Garcia says meaningfully. “If Wayne doesn’t pay the kid’s ransom, he will join them, you understand?”

Jason pauses for a moment, frozen in indecision. This situation is more dangerous than either of them have anticipated. He turns to Dick, unsure how to proceed. It’s not too late to back out, if either of them wanted to.

“Did you say a ship?” Dick asks. “My dad owns a cruise ship or two. We use them to get to the private island. I like ships.”

Beneath the veneer of rich kid entitlement, Jason understands what Dick is saying, reads him loud and clear. I like ships. He wants to proceed with the mission.

Jason grabs him by the leg and drags him across the asphalt, following Garcia’s lead. “Let’s go,” he says. 

Chapter Text

As Jason unceremoniously drags Dick across the hard ground by one leg, the suspicion settles in that Jason might be enjoying this just a bit too much. 

“Ow,” Dick complains as his shirt rides up, allowing the gritty asphalt to dig into and scrape his back. “Ow!” he repeats, sharper, when he is hauled over a curb and his spine is jarred by the hard concrete. “I am going to have to make so many appointments with my chiropractor to fix this.” He gasps, pretending to have realized a sudden and horrible thought. “I hope it doesn’t scar. Then I might lose my modeling gigs, and stop being Gotham’s second most eligible bachelor! Second only to--”

“Shut up,” Jason snaps. 

“But then again,” he muses, “some people think scars are sexy.” He’s silent for a moment, considering. “Depends if I want to go for the pretty boy vibes, or bad boy vibes. Which do you prefer, Garcia?”

Though Dick can’t see through the blindfold over his eyes, he imagines Garcia’s facial expression is affronted. “I ain’t no homo!” he snaps with the fury of someone whose mother’s honor has just been called into question.

“It’s objective,” Dick argues. “Ow, ow, ow, ow.” Jason drags him over a series of bumpy ridges. He thinks they must be fully on the docks now. “A guy can think another guy’s sexy without it being a big deal. Right, Hood?”

Jason doesn’t respond, but he makes his opinion clear by jerking Dick’s leg vigorously, causing his back to make an intimate acquaintance with something hard and unyielding.

“Ow! Anyways, I suppose you’re the wrong person to ask anyways, Hood. You clearly go for the bad boy vibes.”

Unfortunately, the conversation is cut short there by a new voice joining in. “That him?” asks someone Dick doesn’t recognize.

“Yeah,” Garcia replies. “That’s him.”

“Hood cooperate, then? No bat trouble?”

“Hood cooperated just fine,” Garcia assures the man. Dick hears the sound of knuckles cracking, and winces. Garcia really seems to do that a lot. His knuckles must hurt. 

“Good,” says the voice. “Bring them both onboard, then.”

Jason, using Dick’s leg as leverage, pulls him back over his shoulder in the fireman’s carry. Dick burns with embarrassment at being carried like a child, especially since it highlights how much taller Jason is than him. “You doubted me, Davis?”

“You can never be too careful,” Davis replies, tone hinting at nothing. 

Since Dick is blindfolded, he can’t tell much about the boat. Only that its size, while not too large, must be considerable--once Jason hauls him onboard, they walk for several minutes and descend several staircases before he is put down again. Only there is his blindfold untied.

He sits in a cell that can’t be more than six feet long or wide. There is no bed and no sink--just a grimy metal toilet in one corner with less privacy than a public billboard. Garcia--who, he notes with amusement, is a tiny bit taller than Jason--stands outside the barred door, making threatening faces. Beside him is Jason, arms crossed across his chest, and the man he assumes is Davis, holding a ring of keys. Dick is sure it includes the key to his handcuffs, but even though he is safely contained in a cell, no offer is made to release his hands. The room is dark. If Dick weren’t so accustomed to seeing in the absence of light, he wouldn’t be able to make out the shapes of his captors. 

Dick stays silent--if Bruce’s assessment of the man had been accurate, Davis is one hell of a lot smarter than Garcia. That means fooling him will be harder, so he can no longer afford dramatic, exaggerated performances, no matter how fun they may be. Luckily, he doesn’t need to pretend to be pale and sweaty. He’s always suffered from mild seasickness, and they didn’t exactly offer him any medication to deal with it. 

“Garcia, you’re guarding him,” orders Davis. “Hood, I’ll show you to your accommodations.”

“No fair,” complains Garcia. “I ain’t guardian’ him alone, he’s a filthy homo!”

Dick can’t help but bristle slightly at the insult, and sneaking a glance at Jason reveals that he’s pissed, too. It’s a well-known fact that Red Hood doesn’t tolerate homophobia. Dick can’t help but wonder how Garcia missed the memo.

Davis doesn’t seem like he’s in the mood to take any bullshit, though. “Does it look like I care?” he demands. Dick must say, it doesn’t particularly appear that he does. “You’re guarding him. Hood, follow me.”

Jason turns to follow Davis out. Though Dick had agreed to this plan--had come up with most of it, for Christ’s sake--the sight of Jason retreating from the room fills him with an unexpected stab of anxiety.

“Bye, Hood,” he calls out uncertainty.

Jason looks back, confused. “Bye, Dickhead.” Then he’s gone.

---

It comes as very little surprise to Dick that Garcia’s conversational skills leave a lot to be desired. All of Dick’s attempts to chat are shut down with gruff grunts, and when Dick had suggested that they play I Spy, his idea was met with a snarl.

So Dick entertains himself with observing the room he’s in. It’s clearly in the hull, beneath the waterline. His cell is one of many, each exactly alike. He assumes this is where they keep the trafficking victims when they’re being transported. The thought fills Dick with hot, molten rage. These people are disgusting. Truly the worst, most pitiful excuses for human beings.

With the exception of his own, the cells are empty now--a fact for which Dick is immensely grateful. He isn’t sure he and Jason alone would be able to take responsibility for innocent civilians while also gathering all the information they need to shut the operation down for good. The absence of helpless lives to protect is a relief for Dick.

The temperature is uncomfortably cold, and Dick can’t help but shiver slightly on the uncomfortable floor of his cell. “You guys got any blankets, or anything?” he asks.

“Not for you, we fucking don’t.” Garcia shuts him down with a snarl, though from the way his arms are folded tightly across his chest, it looks like he could use one himself. 

Dick shrugs. “Just thought I’d ask.”

After that, he gives up attempting to talk to Garcia. He’d probably have more fun talking to the wall of his cell--at least the wall doesn’t try to hit him through the bars when he pokes it. Unlike somehow he knows, that is. 

He allows himself to sigh only because it fits the persona he’s playing, and curls up on his cell floor, ready for a satisfying nap. 

---

The nap is anything other than satisfying. His seasickness makes him mildly nauseous, he’s cold and uncomfortable, and his handcuffs are digging into his wrists painfully. All in all, the factors do not add up to make a comfortable resting experience. 

So he’s glad when his solitude (Garcia, for obvious reasons, not included) is ended by the entrance of Davis and a new man who he assumes must be Miller, the third person Davis had named when interrogated by Batman. Dick can’t reveal that he knows the man’s name, though, so he asks curiously, “Who’re you?”

Miller does not bother to formally introduce himself. “Your worst nightmare is who.”

Dick sincerely doubts that, having gone toe to toe with notorious psychopaths such as the Joker, Blockbuster, and Scarecrow, but he adopts a facial expression of fear nonetheless. Miller, who is tall with wiry muscles, holds a mallet. He smacks it threateningly against his palm. 

Davis holds a cell phone--Dick’s own, he notices with annoyance. Jason or Garcia must have snatched it when they were in his apartment. He holds it up, clicks on the video chatting app, and makes an obnoxious production of scrolling through his contacts list. “Let’s see, let’s see here. Ah, yes. Bruce.” His finger hovers over the call button. “You tell him anything about your location, Miller here will beat your head in. You take one step out of line, try to fight back, you name it, Miller here will beat. Your. Head. In. You get me?”

“Aye aye, captain,” Dick says weakly, wishing his hands were uncuffed so he could salute. 

Davis presses the call button. 

It rings three times, the sound unbearably loud in the ship's echoey hull, before it is answered. Not by Bruce, though--by Alfred. “Master Dick,” he greets, voice warm. “To what do I owe--pardon me? Who is this?”

Davis scowls at the phone. “We need to talk to Bruce Wayne,” he snaps, turning the camera to show Dick cuffed in his cell. “Now.”

“Oh dear,” comes Alfred’s voice, tinny from bad reception. “I will fetch him immediately.”

While Alfred summons Bruce, Davis uses a key on his ring to unlock Dick’s cell. Miller slides in, wielding the mallet threateningly. Dick swallows uncomfortably. He’s no stranger to torture. As Nightwing, it happens on a month-to-month basis, and he’s always been able to hold his own when fighting back. But as Dick Grayson, son of Bruce Wayne, billionaire who’s been fired from the police force? He can’t fight back. He can’t do anything but take it. The helplessness unnerves him. For some reason, he wishes Jason could be with him. Not that he necessarily wants him to see this, but his support would be helpful. Plus, not knowing where he is makes Dick worry. He hopes he’s okay, and gathering intel as they speak. The sooner they can get out of here, the better.

“Dick?” comes Bruce’s voice from the phone. “I’m busy, what’s--Dick?”

“Hi, Bruce,” says Davis in the calm, affable tone of one colleague greeting another. “Glad you could join us.”

“What is this?” comes Bruce’s suspicious voice. “Where’s Dick?”

“He’s right here,” Davis assures him. “Look.”

He turns the camera to reveal Dick stuck in the cell. Dick attempts a smile, because even though he’s still unbelievably pissed at his dad, now doesn’t seem like the appropriate time to air those grievances. “Hi, Bruce. Deja vu, right?”

“He’s doing just fine with us,” continues Davis, keeping the camera focussed on Dick’s pale form. “We’re only hurting him a little. Right?”

“Right,” agrees Miller. Then he raises the mallet in a high arc, and brings it down right on Dick’s calf. He can’t stop a grunt of pain escaping, and a choked gasp follows when the mallet is brought down again in the same spot. It hurts like a bitch, pulsing waves of pain riding up and down his leg from the point of collision.

“We’ve sent you an email,” Davis continues calmly. “It contains all the necessary information to get him back. Until then--”

Miller’s mallet collides with his leg again and he yells in agony. “Dick?” Bruce demands, voice wrought with worry.

Davis hangs up the phone. Miller hits him again, for good measure, and exits his cell with a friendly wave goodbye. Then, with a “Ta ta,” from Davis, he is left alone again with Garcia and his throbbing leg. 

The thing that really gets to him as he curls up to sleep that night on the hard floor of the gently swaying ship, is how worried Bruce had sounded over the phone. Because, in the cowl, Dick has never heard his mentor that worried. So it stands to reason that his fear had been a performance for Dick’s captors.

And he should know better--he knows he should. But he wishes that worry had been real.

Pain makes his sleep restless that night, and eventually, he can’t stand it anymore. He needs to examine his leg to see whether or not anything is broken and if so how badly, but he can’t do that without the use of his hands. So Dick uses his Nightwing skills--and a paperclip he had slipped into his back pocket before kidnapping--to slip the handcuffs off.

That done, he can examine his leg. He hisses in pain as he moves it, and to his dismay, feels the white-hot pain of bone grating on bone. When he rolls up his pant leg he sees that the area is bruised black and blue, and only his high pain tolerance allows him to move it without pulsing agony. So it’s probably broken. Definitely a closed fracture, though, which is a relief--nobody wants to see their own bones sticking out of their leg. It’s disgusting and significantly harder to treat.

So Dick sets about splinting the broken leg.

Generally he would want something to splint it to, but he has nothing with him but the clothes on his back. So he supposes those are what he’ll have to use. He pulls off his T-shirt--with great reluctance , because now he’s approximately ten times colder--and uses strips of it to bind his broken leg to its unbroken counterpart. Not the most effective of splints, but definitely better than nothing. It’ll protect his injury from aggravation, which is important, because if he and Jason need to make a quick getaway at any point, he’ll have to be in the best condition possible. Of course, since the splint effectively ties his two legs together, he’ll have to undo it if he wants mobility, but he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it. 

Throughout the process he can’t help grunts and hisses of pain from escaping, so it’s no surprise when Garcia wakes up. “Hey!” he shouts when he sees Dick’s hands free of their restraints. “How’d you get outta those?”

“These?” Dick asks innocently, holding up the handcuffs. “It’s easy. They taught us in cop school. Let me show you.”

Dick clips the handcuffs on and uses his paperclip to pick the lock and slide them right back off. Garcia watches with badly disguised interest. “Do it again,” he orders.

It’s not like Dick has anything better to do, and an evil plan is forming in his mind. So he obliges, clipping the cuffs on and sliding them off again effortlessly, demonstrating each step as he performs it. “Do you want to try?” he asks Garcia. “It’s easy, and in your line of business, it’ll come in handy. Imagine next time you get arrested, just poppin’ your cuffs off and strollin’ on outta there.”

Garcia tilts his head, obviously thinking very hard. “Alright then, give ‘em to me.”

Dick slides them through the bars, worried he might burst a blood vessel trying to contain his laughter. Good thing it's dark. Garcia closes the cuffs around his own wrists. “Now gimme the clip,” he orders.

“No,” replies Dick, and bursts out laughing. He cannot believe that worked. Garcia looks literally apoplectic with rage as he stares with wide eyes and a red face at his cuffed hands, and then at Dick, and back again.

“You little fucker!” he shouts, doing his best to reach through the bars and grab Dick with his hands in cuffs. “I’ll kill you! Gimme the fucking clip!”

But he can’t reach Dick with his hands chained together. The visual adds to the overall hilarity, and Dick is almost unable to catch his breath as he cackles evilly. “Oh, man, Garcia, you shoulda seen your face,” he wheezes. 

A new voice rises above the commotion. “What the fuck are you all yelling about?” He sounds mildly concerned, and covers it by adding, “Some of us are trying to sleep, you know.” 

It’s Jason, wearing his domino mask but not his helmet. When he turns the corner and flicks on the light, he catches sight of Garcia in the cuffs, and loses it. “Oh my god,” he cackles, “did the hostage handcuff you? How fuckin’ stupid can you get?” 

Dick grins proudly. “I’d offer to do you too, Hood, but I’m fresh out of handcuffs.”

“I’m shattered, Dickhead, just shattered.” When Jason has gotten a handle on his laughter, he turns to Garcia and says, “Go find Davis. He’s got the keys, he’ll unlock ya. And probably exact some punishment on this dumbass over here.” He uses a thumb to point over his shoulder to Dick.

Garcia, so angry he looks like he’s about to start foaming at the mouth, obliges, leaving Jason and Dick alone in the room. When the door clanks shut behind him, Jason drops to his knees in front of the bars.

“Dickie? How’re you holdin’ up, man?” He catches sight of Dick’s leg and its rudimentary first aid. “What’d those fuckers do to you?”

“Broken, I think,” Dick says with a grimace. “Not too bad, though. I’ve had worse.”

Jason grits his teeth, looking frustrated that he can’t help. He lets the subject drop, though. He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a water bottle, offering it wordlessly to Dick through the bars of the cell.

“My hero,” Dick breathes, grabbing the lukewarm water and chugging it. He hasn’t had anything to eat or drink yet during his tenure in the cell, and though he doesn’t know how long it’s been exactly, he can say with certainty that it’s longer than a person should probably go without water.

He passes the bottle back to Jason when it’s empty, and he tucks it back into his jacket. “Gotten any intel yet?” Dick asks in a hushed tone. It’s important that they communicate now before Garcia comes back--he doesn’t know if they’ll get another chance, and if so, when.

Jason grimaces. “Some,” he says. “Nothing that’s gonna solve the case though. I got the boat layout, so I can take a little tour, make sure there aren’t any other hostages hidden on here. And I hacked into their security cameras and microphones so I can listen in on their conversations.”

Dick grins. “Genius,” he says. “Who would have seen it coming? You, having a good idea!”

“Hey!” Jason snaps back, affronted. “That ain’t the only good idea I’ve got. You tried getting any info out of Garcia? Seems dumb enough, he might let something slide.”

Dick nods. “I thought of that,” he says, grinning. “If I can get him to handcuff himself, I can probably get him to do other things, too.”

Jason’s grin widens. “You’ve gotta tell me how you managed that,” he says, seeming genuinely impressed. “Legendary. Classic. Wish I’d been there to--”

His jaw clicks shut abruptly when they hear footsteps coming towards them, the sound echoing through the cold corridor. Jason changes his tone instantly. “And that’ll teach you to fuck with your guard!” he bellows, pretending to kick Dick through the bars.

“Oomph!” Dick groans theatrically. “No more! No more, I say!”

Jason strikes him again. “Stupid, punk-ass rich kid!”

“Aaaah! The agony!”

Jason turns around to see Garcia stomping towards them, and dusts his hands off on his shirt. “Boss unlock you?” he asks. Garcia nods. Jason slaps his shoulder. “Good. I was just teachin’ this dumbass here a lesson. He won’t go playin’ games with you again, ain’t that right, rich boy?”

“Never again,” Dick groans with all the genuine sincerity of Kim Kardashian’s butt implants. “Never again.”

Satisfied, Jason nods. “I’ll leave you to it.” With that, he strides out of the room. The door clanks shut behind him. 

---

The sight of Dick’s broken leg alarms Jason more than he lets on, filling him with a renewed sense of urgency in his quest for intel. So instead of heading back to his quarters on the ship, he decides it’s time to take a risk. Another one, that is. On top of the whole three-tier risk cake with a cherry on top that is this mission. 

The room they have every so kindly provided Jason with is like a glorified prison cell. It’s small and cold, though the quarters are slightly bigger than Dick’s and the floor is slightly less damp. Not to mention he is afforded the liberty of a rock-hard cot, sure to fuck up his back in new, exciting ways, and a toilet with privacy. Those are the only amenities he is provided with, however.

When they first boarded the ship and Jason was forced to abandon Dick in his disgusting little cell, Jason had wasted no time before leaping into action. Step one: ensure that even though Jason had technically served his purpose by kidnapping Dick, Davis didn’t toss the Red Hood off the side of the ship and call it a day.

Davis is the one to lead Jason to his room, and when they are alone together, Jason channels his inner Dick to whip out his best acting skills. “I didn’t want to say this in front of Garcia,” Jason begins, “Thought it’d be best to take it straight to the boss, you know.”

Davis does not seem flattered. Nonetheless he raises an eyebrow and orders Jason to continue. 

“Well, when we were driving over here with the hostage in the car, I caught sight of the Bat. Following us, you know. On the rooftops. Think he had binoculars and everything.” Jason hopes Davis doesn’t see through his lie. It isn’t the most watertight of pretenses, but if it works, it should keep Davis scared enough to keep Jason around.

“Did you engage?”

Jason shakes his head. “I couldn’t make any moves without compromising our position,” and, because it’s go big or go home, adds in the ass-kissiest tone he can muster, “and I didn’t want to make a move without your approval first. But I think he’s onto us. Could be only a matter of time before he finds us.”

“He got a boat?” Davis asks. 

Jason nods. “The Bat-Boat,” he says informatively. “Very fast, very discreet. State-of-the-art. And don’t even get me started on the Bat-Sub, or the Bat-Torpedos.”

“Fuck.” Davis swears with feeling.

“Hey, it’s not a big deal,” Jason tells him carelessly. “I’ve fought the bat before. He comes, I can take care of it. Just thought I should let you know, though, so you can keep your guard up.”

Davis nods gruffly. “Good call,” he says grudgingly. “We cannot afford a fucking bat problem. You let him on this boat, you let him get the hostage ‘fore Wayne pays up, you’re dead, you hear? You’re here for our protection only.”

Jason nods. “Yeah, yeah, loud and clear, boss.”

“Good,” says Davis. He looks suitably concerned, eyebrows furrowed and fists clenched. He’s subconsciously rubbing the arm Batman had broken in his interrogation. His little bat-phobia is the perfect tool for Jason to exploit, and he’s pretty sure this time he’s played his cards just right--they won’t make Jason walk the plank just yet.

After that delightful conversation, while the three men are in the hull making the ransom call, Jason takes a couple hours to hack into the security system. He’s never had Tim or Barbara’s level of computer literacy, so the job takes longer than it probably could, but he’s competent, so the results are satisfactory. By the time he’s done he’s got a diagram of the boat’s layout that includes the locations of all security cameras--footage from which is sent directly and discreetly to Jason’s laptop.

When night has fallen and Jason has enjoyed a hearty, satisfying meal of the world’s most pathetic, stale sandwich, he decides it’s time to put the boat layout diagram to use and take a little tour of the vessel. He intends to check for other secret hostages as priority number one, but it’ll also be good to make note of any potential escapes or hiding places, should worst come to worst and necessitate a quick escape. 

It’s as he creeps secretively through the dark hallways that he hears yelling from the prison chamber and his heart begins to beat faster with worry for Dick. When he bursts through the door and is met with the sight of Garcia, red-faced with his hands stuck in cuffs, and Dick, looking on the verge of tears from laughter, he is filled with a burst of admiration. 

Convincing his guard to handcuff himself. The single most Dick Grayson thing he’s ever seen. What a fucking legend.

Still, the sight of his broken leg worries Jason. Dick has performed some crude first-aid, but neither the circumstances nor the supplies are ideal, and without medical help, the situation could deteriorate quickly. He needs to get Dick off this boat as quickly as possible, or at the very least get him some decent medical attention.

So it’s risk-taking time. He’s kicking this operation into high-gear, starting now.

The next morning, Jason offers to switch with Garcia for an hour or two to give him a break from his guarding duties. Though they both know it’s hardly a decision Davis will approve of, Garcia accepts eagerly, and Jason is left alone again with Dick.

“How you holdin’ up?” he asks softly, voice urgent.

Dick manages a grin, though his face looks pale and sweaty. “Been better, been worse,” he replies, motioning so-so with his hand. “They fed me this morning. That was exciting.”

Jason grimaces. “Leg situation?” he asks.

“Also not excellent,” Dick tells him, scowling. “Nothing I can’t handle though. Managed a conversation with our best friend Garcia this morning.”

Jason leans forward in interest. “Oh? And did this conversation bear fruit?”

“Confirmed what we already knew, mostly. Ship’s headed for their warehouse somewhere in South America, where they intend to pick up a bunch of trafficking victims. Bruce pays up, they let me go there. If not, I join ‘em.”

Jason nods. Most of this they had already known. Still, it’s good to get verification. “Think he’ll be able to give us any more?”

“Maybe,” Dick says. He attempts to scoot forward, closer to Jason, but the movement jostles his leg, and he winces in pain. A flare of rage surges through Jason. He wishes there was something--anything--he could do, but his hands are tied. If he helps Dick, they’ll grow suspicious. And if that happens, they’re both dead in the water. 

Still, he can’t help himself from leaning forward, reaching his hand through the bars to grab Dick’s. “Look, Dickie--” he begins, unsure how to continue. Something urges him to make his concern known, to help, to protect, and he’s glad his helmet covers his face as he stares with wide, worried eyes at Dick.

Dick stares back, eyes intense, and Jason almost shivers to feel himself the subject of such a look. His mouth goes dry. He forgets what he was about to say for a moment, and then plows forward anyways, “It’s not too late to get out of here,” he suggests. “Your leg--”

“We knew that was a risk when we took the mission,” Dick interrupts, eyes determined and steely. “I’ll be fine. We need names and a location, then we get out of here.”

So Jason withdraws his hand. He isn’t surprised, really--he knows Dick too well to think he would ever abandon a mission before it was finished. Though his heart sinks with worry, there is also a sense of relief. If Dick had decided to give up on the mission, quit while he was ahead--Jason wouldn’t know what to do. Because that isn’t the Dick Grayson he knows.

Dick decides to continue the mission and the universe remains in balance. 

Jason stands up and brushes himself off, nodding sharply. “Good.”

He meets Miller on the way out of the prison chamber. “What are you doing here?” Jason asks, irritated.

“Guard duty,” Miller replies. Something in his eyes tells Jason he’s all too pleased by this development.

Jason, on the other hand, is not pleased. He’s watched the security footage--knows it was Miller who broke Dick’s leg by smashing it four times with a mallet. For that alone, he would love to return the favor. For a split second, he considers grabbing his gun where it’s concealed in his jacket and shooting Miller between the eyes. 

But that would draw attention and raise suspicion. So Jason does nothing but bump into him rudely as they pass in the doorway. 

He makes his way straight to his quarters, locks the door shut behind him, and opens his laptop to spy on Davis. The first security camera he taps into turns out to be the right one--Davis is in his office, on the phone. Jason taps into the microphone as well, so he can hear what is being said.

“Wayne paid up, then?” he is asking. Jason assumes he is talking to another associate, presumably one in Gotham. Hopefully he’ll drop a name. “All of it? Good.”

There’s a pause as whoever is on the other end of the line speaks, and then Davis scoffs. “No, we’re not actually bringing him back. You think we’re actually turning this ship around just to bring the kid back to Daddy? He’s served his purpose.”

Jason’s eyes narrow angrily, but altogether, he isn’t shocked. It doesn’t matter anyways--he intends to get Dick out of there the moment they have all their information, whether or not that is in compliance with Davis’ original plan.

Davis scoffs again. “Nah, the bat won’t be an issue. We got one of the capes on board with us.” Another pause. “Yeah, I sent Miller down there to do the job.”

Jason’s blood runs cold. I sent Miller down there to do the job. 

What fucking job?

It occurs to him in a sickening flash of realization. They’re going to kill Dick. May already have killed him. It’s been ten minutes since he abandoned him, alone in a room with Miller.

“Oh fuck, fucker, fucking fuck,” Jason swears, standing up, slamming his laptop shut, and scrambling around to grab all his gear at light speed. He slams on his helmet, and with a quick check to make sure all his concealed weapons are in place, swings open the door and dashes down the hallways. “Fuckity motherfucking fuck.” Subtlety and secrecy are thrown to the wind as he sprints through the gently swaying corridors and hauls ass down the stairwells.

He bursts into the prison chamber not a moment too soon. Miller stands over Dick with a gun and a mallet. Dick is gritting his teeth steadfastly, baring his fists against his opponent, but Jason sees that he is in pain. This isn’t a fight he can easily win, at least if he wants to keep his secret identity intact. It’s lucky he’s even still alive by the time Jason bursts in. Jason would bet the only reason Miller hadn’t killed him ten minutes ago was that he wanted to do it slowly. Make him hurt. What a fucking psychopath.

With that in mind, Jason takes aim and fires. Miller falls to the ground, dead, with a loud, echoing bang.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Jason continues to swear like a sailor as he rushes to Dick’s side. “You okay, Dickhead? He get you?”

“Fine,” Dick says through gritted teeth. “Smacked me around a bit. Bruises, but I don’t think anything else is broken.” He turns angry eyes on Jason. “What did I say about killing?”

Jason gapes in shock. “You wanna die?” he demands, gesturing at Miller’s corpse. “He had a gun! I saved your fucking life!”

“You could have incapacitated him,” Dick argues unyieldingly even as Jason picks the lock on his cell to free him. “It’s--”

Their conversation is interrupted abruptly by Davis and Garcia entering the prison chamber, both armed. They quickly take note of the situation--Miller’s brains spattered across the floor, morbidly reminiscent of Dick’s cereal from the other day, Dick out of his cell, Jason helping him to stand. Davis’ eyes widen.

“Traitor,” he yells, just as Dick shouts, “No killing!” 

Davis fires at Jason, and he is only just able to dodge in time. Jason shoots back--aiming for the legs and knees. He doesn’t know why he’s obeying Dick, right here, in the heat of the moment. But he is. For some reason, he is. 

With shocking agility considering the state of his leg, Dick rolls out of the way of Garcia’s attack, taking his legs out from under him in a sweeping kick that, considering the circumstances, has to hurt like a bitch. Garcia hits the ground hard but is back up again in a split second, lunging again for Dick with his intent to throttle advertised like a neon sign. Jason shoots for him, misses because he’s still evading Davis, and swears. 

A bullet pings terrifyingly against Jason’s helmet, making his heart stop for a split second of horror. Luckily, the helmet is bulletproof. But it distracts Jason enough that Davis is able to hit him in the shoulder with a glancing shot. Jason shouts with the searing pain, reaching up to grab his injured shoulder.

While Davis is distracted shooting Jason, Dick manages to attack from behind, knocking him to the floor, where the gun slides away. Quick as lightning, Dick grabs it, pointing threateningly at Garcia, who is still armed. “Don’t make me shoot you,” he shouts, because of course Dick is still unwilling to shoot, even in a situation this desperate. Jason doesn’t know if it makes him hate him or love him. Maybe a bit of both.

He has been distracted by Dick and the white-hot pain in his shoulder, but suddenly, Jason becomes aware of a quiet beeping coming from within the confines of his helmet. 

Oh fuck, he realises with dawning horror. 

Jason’s helmet is a bomb. And when Davis had shot it, he had lit the fuse.

Jason pulls the helmet off urgently, yelling, “Dickhead! Look out!” Then he throws it with all his might at the other end of the room. 

BOOM!

The helmet bomb detonates in a flash of red-yellow heat, blowing a hole in the floor and the side of the hull. Water begins to pour into the ship at an alarming speed, deep blue waves foaming over the floor. But that isn’t what has Jason worried. 

He has seen the layout of the boat. And the prison chamber is just above the engine room. Helmet bombs plus engine rooms do not mix. 

Moving with lightning-fast speed, fueled by nothing but dread and adrenaline, Jason darts towards Dick and grabs him by the arm. “The whole thing’s gonna blow!” he shouts over the sound of roaring water. “The ships going down, we gotta get out of here!”

Dick resists Jason’s pull. “We have to save them,” he says, struggling to get to the criminals. Both lie on the floor, clearly injured, incapacitated, and utterly unable to save themselves. “We can’t let them die.”

“Yes we fucking can!” Jason shouts, grabbing Dick and using all his strength to pull him towards the door. Already, the ship is beginning to tilt downwards where the water flows in, making a dangerous creaking noise.

“We can’t,” Dick insists, voice cracking. 

So Jason lets him go. 

He darts over to Garcia, who was knocked to the ground by the force of the explosion. Shrapnel is embedded into the skin all over his front, and he is knocked out cold. Must have hit his head when he fell. Despite the fact that Garcia is half a foot taller and probably fifty pounds heavier, Dick grabs him by both arms and begins to lug him away from the danger zone, towards the door. 

“Get Davis!” orders Dick, panting with exertion. Oh, right. He’s doing all of this with a broken leg. Because they needed more complications. Great.

Jason rushes towards Davis, who had been closest to the blast when it occurred. He, like Garcia, is full of shrapnel. Blood spouts from his wounds at a worrying rate, mixing with the water that floods in around them. Jason leans down to check his pulse, and finds it alarmingly weak. “He’s dying,” Jason yells. “We gotta leave him.”

“We can’t!” Dick argues, still lugging Garcia across the room. He’s made it to the door. Jason wonders how they’ll make it up the stairs. If they’ll make it up the stairs. “He’s still got a chance! If we get him onto a lifeboat, we can get rescued!”

“How the fuck are we gonna do that?” Jason argues, frantic with anger and fear. “He’s deadweight, I’m shot, your leg is broken, we can’t carry him! Your life is more important than a criminal’s, goddamnit!”

Dick stops to stare at him with heartbroken eyes. For the first time, he looks conflicted.

Then his expression clears and he shakes his head resolutely. “I have to try,” he insists, voice pleading. “You take Garcia. I’ll grab him.”

And Jason obeys. While he takes Dick’s place, dragging Garcia’s prone form none too carefully, Dick manages to haul Davis over his shoulder in the fireman’s carry. Water sloshes around, soaking their feet and filling Jason with a renewed sense of urgency. It’s rising at a worrisome rate.

Together, Jason and Dick make it up the stairs to the deck of the ship. The aft of the ship is already dipping dangerously close to the waterline, threatening to sink under the crashing waves at any moment.

“Where are the lifeboats?” Dick demands, not putting Davis down. Jason, breathing heavily with pain from his shoulder and exertion from dragging Garcia, pants for a moment before he can respond. 

“Starboard side,” he replies, hunched over with his hands on his knees to regain his breath. “Front of the ship.”

Dick hauls Davis over to the nearest lifeboat, and Jason grabs Garcia by the arms again. Just then, there is a terrifying boom, and the entire ship shakes with the force of another explosion. Jason can feel the force of it vibrating through him. “The engine room,” he rasps, “the explosion was right over the engine room. We’re running out of time.”

Dick doesn’t respond. He has managed to deposit Davis in a lifeboat, but instead of doing the sensible thing and joining him inside, he hurries over to help Jason pull Garcia. The ship rocks dangerously, the downwards list growing at a dangerous speed. “Fuck, Dickhead,” Jason rasps, dragging Garcia, “Get in the boat. I got Garcia.”

“Fat chance,” Dick puffs. 

Finally they manage to get Garcia into the lifeboat, and before Jason can react, Dick is shoving him in, too. “Start lowering it,” Dick orders authoritatively. “I’m grabbing supplies.”

“Get your ass in here!” Jason commands, horrified. Dick ignores him, heading for the stairs they had just come up. “Dick!” he yells at the retreating form, suddenly desperate. “Dickie, get back here!”

No response. Dick disappears down the stairs, and for a moment, Jason stares with quiet, heavy, defeat. Then he comes back to himself and leaps into action. Dick is counting on him. He won’t let him down.

Jason has never actually had cause to lower a lifeboat before, and it isn’t something that had come up in Bat training. Luckily, the tiny vessel comes with little instructions, and Jason is able to figure out how to begin lowering the little raft into the ocean. He is sweating with pain and exhaustion, unable to properly catch his breath, and terrified out of his mind at the thought that Dick might not return.

Minutes pass like hours as Jason lowers the boat towards the sea at an agonizingly slow pace, and his fear only grows as he sees no sign of Dick. His heart almost stops when another explosion shakes the ship, almost making Jason lose his grip on the rigging.

Then, finally, when the lifeboat has almost met the sea, Dick appears.

He is soaked up to the chest in seawater, shivering with cold and pain, but he’s alive, and he’s got a bulging bag of supplies in each hand. “Catch,” he yells hoarsely, and throws them one by one down to Jason. He catches both of them automatically, feeling oddly detached from the moment as Dick then swings himself over the side of the ship and uses the lifeboat’s rigging to climb down into the craft. He helps Jason lower it the rest of the way down until they meet the sea. 

Jason is shivering. The thought, holy fuck holy fuck holy fuck plays on repeat in his mind like a looped tape. Holy fuck. They’re lucky to be alive.

Dick’s lucky to be alive, he realizes with a jolt. Dick could have died.

“What the fuck was that?” Jason suddenly roars. Dick startles, surprised.

“What was what?” he asks. “I’m not the one whose helmet is a bomb, you know.”

Jason ignores the jab at his choice in armor and continues to yell, voice cracking. “You risked your life for two fucking criminals who are probably just gonna fucking die anyways! What the fuck! How could you fucking do that?”

Dick stares at him with wide eyes. “I had to,” he snaps. Then, quieter, “I couldn’t let them die.”

“It wouldn’t be your fault,” Jason argues softly. “It isn’t your responsibility to save everyone.”

Dick turns away and says nothing. He pulls a pair of oars out from under the seat. “We have to row away from the ship,” he says, handing Jason one of the paddles. “It’ll create a vortex as it does down. We don’t want to get caught in it.”

Wordlessly, Jason accepts the oar and starts to row. And it is only then that the pain in his shoulder hits him. “Oh, fuck,” he hisses as the rowing motion pulls at his bullet wound. He looks down at himself and sees that the shoulder of his leather jacket is dampening with blood. 

Dick stares at him in horror. “I thought your jacket was bulletproof!”

“Bullet resistant,” Jason says with gritted teeth. “There’s a difference.”

Bullet stopping qualities aside, Dick peels the jacket off of Jason’s shoulders to examine the wound. “Only a glancing shot,” he says, relief evident in his voice.

Jason nods. He had assumed as much. Still, it hurts like a motherfucker, and he’s losing blood he would prefer to keep. 

Dick, the motherfucking genius that he is, reaches for one of the supply bags he had grabbed, and extracts a damp but fully workable first aid kit. Jason stares at him in awe.

“You’re a fucking hero,” he breathes. “You know that?”

Dick grins cheekily, face flushing in pleasure. “It is in both my job descriptions, you know.”

Jason snorts and allows Dick to patch up his wound as best he can with the supplies on hand. It’s not perfect, and he will definitely need follow-up treatment when their asses are rescued, but it’s enough to stave off infection and slow the bleeding for the time being. 

“I’ll row,” Dick instructs, grabbing Jason’s oar. “You check on Garcia and Davis, see what you can do for them with the first-aid kit.”

Unable to argue with the man who may have just saved his life, Jason grabs the kit and turns to Davis, who had caught the worst of the explosion. His heart sinks at the pitiful sight before him. Davis isn’t breathing. Jason checks his wrist for a pulse, and finds nothing.

“Fuck,” he murmurs, defeated. He looks at Dick, then back at Davis. Goddamnit. 

For some reason, the thought of telling Dick that the man he has risked everything to save is dead fills Jason with hot, heavy guilt. Not that he has any lost love for Davis, the man who trafficked people and kidnapped innocents, but he knows Dick will be upset that he died. Will interpret it as a personal failure, even though he has done more to save him than anyone else in their situation would have.

But there’s no hiding the ugly truth. “Davis died,” Jason says bluntly.

Dick turns to him, eyes wide and upset. “I’ll do CPR,” he offers automatically, already moving out of his seat. 

Jason shakes his head. “It’s too late, Dickie. Think he bled out. Shrapnel wounds,” he adds unnecessarily as though Dick couldn’t see the mess for himself.

Dick stares at him in terrible disbelief, and moves to inspect Davis’ corpse for himself, just to make sure. Jason lets him, watching numbly as Dick checks for a pulse, checks for breath, checks for anything that might let him save the criminal.

Upon finding none, Dick punches the side of the lifeboat. “Goddamnit,” he breathes. He checks one last time, hoping a pulse has magically appeared, but is disappointed. “God damnit.”

For a moment, Dick remainds hunched over Davis’ corpse, defeat written in the barely-perceptible tremble of his fingers and lower lip. Then Dick mechanically pulls himself back into his seat, grabbing the oars and beginning to paddle again. His arms are shaky, but he manages to pull their tiny boat steadily away from the sinking ship, into the open ocean. He’s breathing heavily. Jason can’t bear to look at his face--can’t bear to see the guilt he knows he’ll find.

So he turns to Garcia, who is miraculously still breathing.

The worst of Garcia’s wounds come from shrapnel that’s chosen to make itself at home in his arms and chest, so Jason sets to work removing the debris and bandaging the cuts left behind. The two worst wounds require stitches, and luckily, there is a suture kit among the first-aid supplies. So Jason stitches him up in silence. 

Then he turns to Dick, who has not said a word through the ordeal. He continues steadfastly to row the boat, pulling them slowly through the cold, blue ocean. It’s quiet, but for the sounds of the waves slapping gently against the sides of their raft and the oars splashing through the water. Their little lifecraft suddenly feels unbearably small. A little speck of white in the vast expanse of ocean. Utterly helpless.

It’s midday, and the sun beats brightly down on their backs. At least they won’t be dying of the cold, which would have been a legitimate risk if they had attempted this mission during the winter. Dick’s bare back glistens with seawater and sweat as he rows, and Jason is suddenly reminded of his broken leg. 

“Fuck,” Jason says, moving towards Dick. “How are you even alive right now?”

“What?” Dick asks, looking surprised to hear Jason talking to him. It looks like the words have snapped him out of some sort of daze. Probably a daydream of all the impossible ways he could have saved Davis, if Jason knows him at all.

“You did all that with a broken leg,” Jason points out. “Let me look at it.”

“Oh,” says Dick, as though this is news to him as well. He looks down at it dully. “Okay, then.”

He holds out his leg obediently, and Jason winces at the sight. It’s swollen worryingly, and an unattractive black and blue color. He doesn’t even want to know how badly this must have hurt while Dick literally carried Davis through the sinking ship. It looks like one wrong touch might just snap it in half. Like Jason, Dick probably has adrenaline to thank for his survival.

Luckily, Jason knows first-aid, so he is fairly confident his attempts to help Dick won’t kill him. He rummages around in the first-aid kit, and breathes out in relief when he finds a splint.

It’s the only care he can risk--broken limbs are touchy, and Jason is not a professional. Any other attempts at treatment could easily do more harm than good. But splinting is a pretty safe option all around, so it's what he does, binding Dick’s leg to two long, rigid, splints, one on either side. While he works, Dick continues to row.

“Garcia okay?” he asks hesitantly. Like he’s afraid to know the answer.

“For now,” Jason responds bluntly, unwilling to sugarcoat the truth. “Bandaged him up and stitched the worst of it. Still unconscious, though.”

Dick nods. “That’ll have to be okay for now. When we get rescued we can get him some medical attention.”

“Speaking of which,” Jason replies, latching on to the opportunity to change the subject, “How are we going to get rescued?”

“Not entirely sure,” Dick tells him honestly. “Check the bags. Not sure what I was able to grab.”

Jason reaches past the corpse of Davis to grab both bags, and cringes--they’ll have to do something about the body. He’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it, though. For the time being, he sets one bag besides him and begins to rummage through the first. 

“Okay, what do we got here. Creamed corn, yummy, beans, delicioso! More corn, more beans, wow Dick, you really went for variety.” He counts the cans and puts them back in the bag for safekeeping. “Ooh, beef jerky.”

Also in the food bag, Jason discovers three gallon-jugs of water. He cringes. Assuming they split it evenly (which, considering Garcia’s recent murder attempts on both Dick and Jason, he isn’t particularly inclined to do), that’s a gallon of water each. Depending on how long it takes for them to be found and rescued, the fresh water situation could get dire very fast.

Jason sets the food bag to the side, surreptitiously hiding it under a seat where Garcia won’t be able to see it. It’s not that he doesn’t want to share, but…

Yeah, Jason doesn’t want to share. 

In the other bag, he finds an assortment of random odds and ends. A coil of thick rope, a kitchen steak knife, a thoroughly soaked bedsheet, and a radio. Jason’s heart sinks when that’s all he finds. The supplies are useful, sure, but insufficient if they are going to survive for any length of time on the open ocean.

“Any other supplies?” Jason asks. Dick doesn’t look at him--just continues rowing away from the slowly sinking ruins of the ship. 

“Lifeboats usually come with rations,” Dick replies. “Check under the seats.”

Jason does, and is pleased to find that there is indeed a bag of rations stashed underneath a seat in the back of the lifecraft. It contains similar supplies to the bag of food Dick had grabbed--canned food, beef jerky, bottles of fresh water. He also locates a compass and several life vests. He puts one on himself and tosses another to Dick. “Put that on,” he orders. “In case.”

Dick obeys and tells Jason to put one on Garcia. Grumbling irritatedly, Jason obliges.

Having done that, Jason hides that bag with the other and grabs his leather jacket, which he has discarded to put on the life preserver, to sift through the pockets for supplies. In a stroke of magnificent foresight, he releases he has brought his comm unit, even though when starting the mission he hadn’t intended to contact anyone.

His first attempt at contact is sent to Barbara. “Red Hood to Oracle. Oracle, do you read?”

Nothing but static. He tries again. “Hood to Oracle. Requesting emergency evac. Oracle, do you read?”

He tries again several more times, but is met with failure on all fronts. Either the comm unit was damaged by the explosion and the seawater, or there is simply no signal wherever the fuck they are in the Atlantic ocean.

“Nothing,” Jason informs Dick unnecessarily, as if he hasn’t been listening in the entire time.

“I expected that,” Dick replies. “If we can figure out where the nearest land is, I’ll start rowing us there. We might be able to find a signal as we get closer.”

Jason nods in agreement because, even though the plan quite frankly sucks, it’s the best one they’ve got. In the absence of a functional GPS, Jason grabs the compass he had found in the lifeboat. Then he begins to think out loud.

“Well, we left Bludhaven docks… let’s call it forty-eight hours ago. Travelling south at, let’s say, forty knots?”

“Sounds right to me. So around… forty five miles per hour.”

“Right.” Jason does some quick mental math and then cringes. “So, that puts us roughly twenty one hundred miles from Bludhaven.”

Dick grimaces. “Shit.”

Jason agrees with that assessment. “So where does that put us near?”

They’re silent for a moment in thought. While Jason’s geographical knowledge is more extensive than the average Joe’s, he isn’t sure he trusts it to be life-savingly accurate. He doesn’t like admitting it, but this is probably Dick’s area of expertise more than his.

Sure enough, it is Dick who comes up with a response. “Well, if that’s right, we’re gonna be near… probably Cuba or Panama.”

Jason raises en eyebrow. “That’s… not a small amount of wiggle room.”

“Well, I can’t be completely sure. At any rate it means we’re gonna want to go southwest-ish.”

Suddenly, the despair of the situation presses down on Jason once again. He kicks the side of the lifeboat. “Fucker,” he swears. “Our fucking lives are at stake and you can’t even tell which country we might be near?”

Dick rises to the bait. “Well, I don’t see you offering any more helpful suggestions!” he hisses, taking his hands off the oars to raise them in defiant anger. “This is the best we got, okay?”

“Well it’s a pretty fucking pathetic best,” Jason snarls with finality. Dick turns to him, intense blue eyes glittering with anger, but just as quickly, the expression turns desperately sad. 

“I’m sorry,” Dick says, suddenly earnest. He bows his head. “I know this is my fault, I dragged you on this mission knowing it would be dangerous. I’m sorry.”

Jason stares, incredulous. “You’re sorry? I’m the one who’s helmet bomb blew our damn ship up! If anything, it’s my fault.”

“Absolutely not,” Dick snaps abruptly, putting his hand on Jason’s shoulder and turning him so Jason has no choice but to stare into his intense gaze. “You aren’t going to blame yourself for this.”

At a loss for words, Jason nods. And takes a moment to consider the man before him.

Because he knows Dick is blaming himself. Knows it without a doubt in his mind. But he’s not wallowing in tears, he’s not throwing a pity party, and he isn’t trying to pin the blame elsewhere. He’s just rowing the boat steadily towards Cuba. Or Panama. Whichever one it turns out to be.

Jason swallows, throat dry. And suddenly it occurs to him exactly who is to blame.

“It ain’t your fault, Dickie, and it ain’t mine. It’s this fucker’s.” Jason stretches out a leg to cruelly kick Davis’ corpse.

Dick furrows his eyebrows, irritated by Jason’s blatant disrespect of the dead criminal, but says nothing. Jason can tell he’s unconvinced.

“Seriously,” Jason continues, standing suddenly. “This son of a bitch, I’m glad he’s dead. He fucking deserved it.” His despair and hopelessness blind him, filling him with a new fury as he grabs Davis’ mangled body with one hand and holds him up demonstratively. “I’d kill him again if I could, and again, and a-fucking-gain. I don’t give one single, flying fuck about Daddy Bats’ stupid fucking morals. You hurt one of our own, you fucking die.

In one mighty heave, Jason tosses the body into the ocean. 

Dick stares in mute horror and lunges to grab the body, but is unable to grab it in time. Jason interrupts him before he can even speak. He’s so angry, so desperately furious with the weight of their situation, he yells, “Don’t try to fucking save him! He doesn’t deserve it! And even if he did, he’s fucking dead  already!”

Jason punctuates his tirade with one final kick to the lifeboat’s side and sits heavily down, the boat rocking dangerously. He breathes heavily, face red. That’s when he remembers he’s still got his domino mask on, and discards it with a snarl, tossing it to the bottom of the boat like it’s personally wronged him.

Dick says nothing. Doesn’t even look at Jason. He just rows the boat towards Cuba. Or Panama. Whichever it may be.

When Jason looks behind him, where the ruins of the ship should be, he sees nothing. Just a glittering expanse of cold, blue water.

Chapter Text

As the sun is dipping below the horizon on their first day adrift, Dick is equally pleased and apprehensive to see Garcia beginning to feebly stir. Pleased because, his injuries as severe as they are, Dick would not have been surprised if he had slipped away just like Davis. Apprehensive because if Garcia is feeling aggressive, there’s going to be nothing anyone can do to stop Jason from just killing him. 

Not that it’d be totally unjustified. Dick hates that the thought has even crossed his mind, but if Garcia doesn’t make it, then there’s another person’s worth of rations to split between Dick and Jason. Regardless--that’s not a thought Dick is willing to dwell on. 

“The fuck?” Garcia mumbles when he finally comes to.

“Wakey wakey, Sleeping Beauty,” Jason sneers. “Finally done with your beauty sleep?”

Under any other circumstance Dick would shoot him a quelling glare, but now, he can’t find it in himself to care. So he ignores Jason and asks Garcia, “How are you feeling?”

“Like hell,” Garcia grumbles, bringing a hand to his neck and rubbing with a wince. He’s still flat on his back in the bottom of the raft. He sits up very slowly.

There’s nothing Dick can really say to that. So he settles on nothing. As Garcia regains awareness, feeling his bandages and rubbing a hand through his hair, he glances around the horizon almost frantically--he’s looking for their ship on the waterline. It’s not long before he seems to come to the right conclusion. The ship is gone. Never coming back.

Garcia cracks his knuckles angrily at Jason. Jason glares right back, hands balling into fists that might or might not be intentional.

Dick takes a tiny sip out of a water bottle, and with a small amount of reluctance, passes it to Garcia. “Don’t drink too much,” he instructs. “We gotta save as much as we can.”

Even as Garcia lifts the bottle to his lips, he glares at Dick. “I’m not an idiot,” he asserts. True to his word, he doesn’t drink any more water than necessary, even though he must be dying for it.

When the sun has finally disappeared beneath the waves and stars begin to appear in the dark sky, Dick allows himself to let go of the oars and stop rowing. His arms ache with exhaustion, and even though the day’s heat has disappeared with the sun, he is sweating. His leg is a constant, pulsing pain. Unable to completely ignore the injury, refusing to acknowledge it is the best Dick can do.

The boat drifts idly, waves slapping gently against the sides. For a while that’s the only sound. Then Garcia breaks the silence, voice gravelly and rough with pain. “You with him the whole time, Hood?”

It takes Dick a moment to realize what he’s talking about. Jason snaps back in an irritated voice, “What does it fucking look like?”

Garcia snorts humorlessly. “Looks like you blew up our fucking ship, is what it looks like.”

He’s not technically wrong. Still, Dick takes that as his cue to intervene. “It’s a little late to be assigning blame,” he observes, rummaging through the bag of food to find something to eat. He’s always despised creamed corn, so he grabs a can of beans first. In the absence of a can opener, he stabs it with the steak knife to get it open. His attempts don’t so much as dent the can.

After a moment of frustration, Jason confiscates both the can and the knife. “Give me that,” he commands. Within thirty seconds he’s got the can open. He passes it back to Dick. “You always were a nightmare in the kitchen.”

“Not true,” Dick protests, tipping the can to his lips to drink the bean juice. “I can make cereal, toast, noodles…” For a moment he ponders. “There are other things, too, I swear.”

Jason wrinkles his nose. “Aha,” he announces, raising one finger in the air. “I’ve found it. The singular silver lining of our imminent demise: if Dickie dies out here, kitchens all across America are spared from his wrath.”

Dick slaps him playfully. “Don’t be dramatic,” he chastises. Having eaten half the can of beans, he passes what remains to Jason, who eyes it suspiciously before tipping the contents into his mouth with a shrug. “We’re not going to die out here.”

Garcia, who in the evening light looks clammy and unwell, evidently feels well enough to butt in. “What the fuck else we gonna do, then?” he asks with a glare. “Ride outta here on rainbow flying ponies?”

Suddenly, Dick remembers that he’s supposed to be playing a role. If--when, he reminds himself--Garcia survives, they can’t let him run around spewing stories about Dick Grayson being intelligent. So, partially for fun and partially in the interest of concealing his identity, Dick announces, “My father has a stable of pure-bred ponies. None of them fly, though.” He puts on his thinking face. “I’ll have the butler contact our breeder about getting some flying ones.”

It’s Jason’s turn to smack Dick--he receives an elbow to the stomach and, inexplicably, a smile. “We get outta here alive, Dickie, I’ll get you a fuckin’ herd of rainbow flying ponies.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Dick says seriously. Then he turns his head down and smiles softly at his lap.

It’s not like he wants to be stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean on a lifeboat with a broken leg and less than a week’s worth of food and water. Far from it. 

But it’s happened. It’s happening, and all Dick can say is that if he’s gotta have someone stuck on the lifeboat with him…

Jason is a pretty cool guy. Maybe spending time together like this will help them bond.

Soon after that the sky has darkened enough that nobody can see well enough to do anything. Dick is, quite frankly, exhausted. His leg is killing him, he’s still feeling vaguely seasick, and already he is wishing he had more water. And--

And then there’s the anxiety.

And then there’s the guilt. 

This mission was Dick’s idea. Everything that happens is a direct result of decisions Dick has made. Cause and effect.

That puts the blood of two men on his hands--and Dick’s not naive enough to think it’s going to stop there. If Garcia doesn’t get immediate medical help, he is going to die. He’ll die, and there will be nothing anyone can do about it but watch.

Plus--and this is even more terrifying--Jason’s been shot. Under normal circumstances the wound wouldn’t be fatal, but in the ocean there is a terribly inconvenient lack of available hospitals. All it would take is an infection or an aggravation, and just like that, Jason’s another lost soul in Davy Jones’ locker.

And if that happens--

If that happens--

--It’s not going to happen.

Dick is not going to let that happen.

He slumps against Jason’s good shoulder with a sigh. He’s tired. He’s hurt. He wants to go to sleep and wake up in his apartment, alarm clock blaring in his ear and phone blown up with midnight text messages from Timmy.

Jason gives him a look that, in the darkness, he can’t interpret. He asks, “What are you doing?”

“Body heat,” Dick replies cheekily, pulling Jason down to lay on the bottom of the raft, employing a spare life preserver as a tough but passable pillow. Then he snuggles up close to Jason, wrapping his arms around his chest and settling his head under Jason’s chin. Reluctantly, as if he knows there will be no escaping, Jason uses his good arm to hold Dick in place. Dick smiles a little, hidden against Jason’s chest.

“What are you doing?” Garcia demands, sounding offended on the behalf of his eyes, being subjected to the grossly inappropriate sight of their embrace.

“Jealous?” Jason asks snarkily just as Dick invites, “Wanna get in on the action, buddy?”

Garcia lets out a noise of pure, revolted affrontement.

Dick drifts into a restless sleep.

Throughout the night he wakes over and over again, and judging from the way Jason tosses and turns uncomfortably against him, he isn’t the only one. It’s a cold night, and every now and then water slops over the side of the raft, making him uncomfortably damp. His turning stomach does nothing to help, either.

“Jay,” he murmurs at some point in the early hours of the morning, hours before the sun is set to rise. “You there?” Just to check. Even though they’re still tightly pressed together, he has to check.

“Still there,” Jason replies softly, not a single trace of judgement coloring his tone. So maybe he understands.

Only an hour or two after that, Dick gives up on resting with a defeated sigh. Resigned, he pulls himself out of Jason’s arms and sits up. He shivers immediately when the cold hits him.

Jason stirs beside him, and soon joins him sitting up. His pale skin is dotted with little goosebumps, the downy skin on his arms standing up from the cold. He grimaces at Dick. “It’s cold,” he complains. “And you aren’t even wearing a shirt!”

“Yes, well, my only shirt got made into a splint. It was a casualty. Or,” Dick continues, grinning slyly, “should I say, a casual tee.” He’ll be honest--he’s been dying to make that pun ever since he tore his shirt into strips for his broken leg.

Jason doesn’t even bother with a pity laugh. “You are the worst person I have ever met,” he informs him in a factual tone of voice. And--because by this point Jason knows the drill when it comes to Dick's sense of humor--he adds, “You’ve been waiting for the opportunity to say that, haven’t you?”

Dick smiles brightly. “I haven’t not been waiting for the opportunity,” he allows. 

Jason just shakes his head, looking exasperated. “You are a menace to society, you dork,” he says, not unkindly. 

Dick just grins softly.

Then, remembering their guest, they both turn to Garcia. He seems to be the only one of the group who has managed any meaningful sort of sleep--not even Dick and Jason’s conversation has roused him. Impressive.

Actually, no, that’s just plain concerning. Dick makes his way over to Garcia’s unconscious form and cringes. His skin is cold, sweaty, and clammy. There is fresh blood seeping through some of his bandages, bright red against white. There is an excellent chance that at least some of them are infected.

Well, fuck, thinks Dick. He reaches out a hand to gently shake Garcia’s shoulder. “Wake up, man.”

It takes another minute before Garcia stirs groggily. He slaps Dick’s hand away. “Fuck off.”

Gladly, thinks Dick, reclaiming his seat. “It’s dangerous to sleep with head injuries,” he says instead.

“Because that’s the most dangerous thing we’re doing here?” Jason points out, looking wholly uninvested in Garcia’s fate. Dick glares at him.

Dick offers Garcia a bottle of water, but Jason confiscates it. “We’re saving that,” he snaps.

Dick stares at him, confused. “We’ve gotta drink some. That’s the entire reason it’s there.”

“We’ve gotta drink some,” Jason argues. “Him? Not so sure.”

Dick snatches the water bottle back. “All of us,” he says with finality. “If we split it evenly, we’ve got a few more days. That’s enough time to get rescued.”

Garcia gives them an odd look--odder than his usual looks, that is. “It’s not like we’re going to run out,” he points out.

Jason and Dick both turn to stare at him incredulously. “That’s it,” Jason announces. “He’s gone insane. Better throw him overboard now. There’s no hope for this guy.”

Dick punches his shoulder, but altogether, he isn’t entirely unconvinced. Garcia is delusional.

Delusional, and staring at them like they’re both the stupidest people he’s ever met. “You idiots haven’t even set up the solar stills?”

“The solar what,” Dick says, dumbfounded. Jason looks no less puzzled.

“Have you dumbasses never been on a fucking boat before?” Garcia demands. Without waiting for a response, he hauls himself up and begins rooting around under the seats, sweating in obvious discomfort. With a grunt of satisfaction, he finds what he’s looking for.

It looks like a lump of plastic. The top is clear and domed, like a rounded cone, and the bottom reminds Dick of a donut-shaped pool floaty. A clear tube protrudes from the bottom section.

This observation having lent Dick zero new knowledge pertaining to the purpose of the object, he turns to Jason, who shrugs, looking equally mystified.

Garcia huffs, exasperated, and sets to inflating the… thing… through the little tube. When that’s done, he places it on the water beside the boat, where it floats, attached to their life raft by a rope. “It’s a solar still,” he says again, as if that’s supposed to mean anything to either of them. When that fails, he adds, “It makes seawater drinkable.”

Dick stares at him, mouth open. “Oh my God,” he says finally. “You are my hero.”

Jason snorts, an offended sound, but he leans over the raft a little bit to get a better look at the solar still. “This’ll really work?” he asks, voice disbelieving.

“If it don’t we’re dead,” Garcia points out, arms crossed. He sits back down, leaning against the side of the raft. He holds his side painfully.

Well, Dick can’t really argue with that. He turns to Garcia. “You are--thank you. You, seriously, you might have just saved all our lives.”

Garcia grunts. “Someone had to,” he snorts. “That traitor wasn’t gonna do it.” He nods towards Jason, who, luckily, is still busy examining the still.

“No, really,” Dick insists, grabbing Garcia’s wrist. “I cannot thank you enough.”

Garcia slaps him away weakly. “I’m doing it to save my own ass,” he argues.

Of that, Dick has no doubt. Still, though. “Got any more ass-saving tips?” he asks, only half joking. New hope is dawning in him. Garcia could very well turn out to be a life-saving resource out at sea.

“You know how to catch a fish?” he asks.

“With a fishing rod.” Jason, having completed his examination of the water distiller, joins the conversation, crouching beside them. His voice is gruff but curious.

“We don’t got one of those. You need a spear.”

“Well we don’t got one of those either,” Jason argues snottily.

Garcia eyes him incredulously. “Fuckin’ make one, then. This ain’t one of your rich boy cruise ships. You don’t got something, you make it.”

Dick sits up straight. “Challenge accepted,” he declares. In the soft dawn sunlight that is beginning to filter into the raft, Dick rummages through their supply bags, looking through all of their resources. The way he figures it, he needs a long stick, something pointy to put on the end, and something to hold those two parts together.

The pointy thing he locates easily--the steak knife. He holds it up to Garcia. “Think this is stabby enough?” he asks.

Garcia’s eyes are half-shut. His skin is pale and, though the sun’s warmth has not reached them yet, he sweats heavily. He gives the steak knife a glance. “It’ll do,” he agrees gruffly.

Jason stares at him doubtfully. “What happens when we need to use the knife to cut things?” he asks. 

Dick shrugs. “We can still use it even if it’s attached to the end of a spear,” he reasons.

Jason cringes. “It’ll be covered in fish guts.”

“Those fish guts are gonna be our food anyways.”

Other than a nose-scrunch of disgust, Jason does not find an argument to counter that. Dick continues rummaging, but he can’t find something long and thin enough to serve as the long part of the spear. It needs to be lengthy, to give him enough reach to catch fish from at least a meter or two away, but it also needs to be rigid and light enough to hold and swing. He asks Garcia for suggestions, but he seems pretty out of it. He asks Jason for suggestions, but he is either uninterested or unable to help.

Dick sits down. His leg hurts. The swelling has probably gotten worse--maybe Jason put the splints on too tight. He unties the fabric holding them on, grimacing, to readjust. And then he sees the splints, and it hits him.

“Aha!” he announces victoriously, holding them up like trophies. “Splints!”

“Yes,” Jason says in a you-idiot tone of voice. “That’s what those are called.”

“No, no!” Dick takes one of them and makes a stabby motion towards the ocean. “Spear! They’re perfect, right?”

Garcia has drifted off into an uneasy sleep, so he’s unable to offer his approval. Jason, however, tilts his head, conflicted.

“Those are for your leg,” he points out needlessly.

“My leg will survive without them,” Dick says firmly. “We’re gonna run out of food quickly without a means of catching fish. Therefore,” he repeats the stabbing motion, “spear.”

Again, Jason fails to find an argument. “Fine,” he agrees, sounding unhappy about it. “But the moment your leg looks worse, we put them back on.”

Challenge accepted. Dick’s leg can’t look worse if Jason doesn’t actually look at it. He’ll just have to keep it out of sight. 

So Dick takes the two long, rigid splints and begins considering the best way to attach them. It’s got to be sturdy, because if it falls apart during use and deposits their only valuable supplies into the ocean, they’re basically screwed.

Then, an idea comes to him. “Aha!” Dick says again. “My shirt.”

He grabs the already-destroyed strips of fabric and begins ripping them into thin, rope-like strips. While Jason holds the splints and knife in place, Dick uses the pieces of his shirt to triple-knot everything together to the best of his ability.

“Think that’s gonna hold?” Jason asks, eyeing their contraption doubtfully. It’s about a meter and a half long, and while it definitely doesn’t fit the more traditional definition of spear, it should serve their purposes appropriately.

Dick presses on it in different places, testing for weak spots. He readjusts a few knots and reinforces others, and by the time the sun is officially in the sky, they have a theoretically-functional weapon.

“We should probably test it,” Jason suggests. 

“Agreed.” Dick holds it out in front of him, adopting the best battle stance he can sitting in a gently rocking life raft with a broken leg. He points it at Jason threateningly. “En guarde, you foul cad!”

Jason balls his fists and bares them at Dick. “You’ll pay for your insults, scurvy dog!”

Dick takes a playful swing with the spear and Jason dodges narrowly. The serrated knife tip gets stuck in his hair, and no matter how hard Dick tries to yank it out, there is no extracting the weapon from its new home. He pulls harder.

“Stop it, that hurts!” Jason complains, hands reaching up to tug on his hair.

“Well, sorry,” Dick says, not at all apologetic. He leans forward and begins to gently untangle the knife. “Jeez, have you tried shampoo?”

“Oh, sorry, I’ll do that as soon as we aren’t on a fucking lifeboat fighting for our very survival, you dumbass.” 

Dick shrugs. “It’s okay, not all of us can be hair-care prodigies like me.” He tosses his head to flip his dark hair as best he can.

“Yeah, not all of us look like we walked right out of a fucking L’Oreal commercial.”

Dick shakes his head sadly. “Too true. Narrows the dating pool considerably.”

Jason barks out a laugh and Dick smiles, pleased with himself. Jason--he’s a lot of things. And on the outside, he seems like a guy with an exuberant sense of humor. But his real laugh is different from the one he puts on display. It’s hard to know what will be able to bring out his true smile, and what will fall flat.

But apparently jokes about Dick’s hair care standards with regards to dating are a win. Dick will have to make note of that.

When the knife has been successfully disentangled, Dick ruffles Jason’s hair playfully and declares the spear ready for use. “Do you want to fish or row?” Dick asks Jason.

Jason considers. He won’t admit weakness, of course, but if Dick were to guess what’s going through his mind, he assumes Jason is concerned that his shoulder won’t hold up if he tries to row. It’s a valid worry--though the bullet wound has been bandaged to the best of their collective abilities, it’s still a bullet wound. “Actually, I’ll row,” Dick offers before Jason can say anything.

Jason eyes him with a weary look of relief. “You sure?” he asks. “You did that all day yesterday.”

“Yes, well, you’ve got a bullethole in your shoulder,” Dick points out. “So I’ll row.”

“We bandaged it,” Jason argues.

“Yes, well, in the words of my girl Tay Tay Swift,” Dick begins, relishing in the way Jason’s eyes light with realization and then horror, “Bandaids don’t fix bulletholes!”

“Stop singing!” Jason commands, utter appallment apparent in his wide eyes and scrunched up nose.

“You say sorry just for show!”

“No, no, anything but this, this is torture--”

“You live like that, you live with ghosts!”

“Stop, stop, stop--”

Dick takes in a deep breath and prepares to hit the high note. “IF YOU LOVE LIKE THAT, BLOOD RUNS--”

“OH MY GOD FINE, YOU CAN ROW!”

Dick bows theatrically. “Thank you, I’ll be here all night. Autographs and photo-ops will be available after the show.”

Jason throws the oars at him one at a time and Dick barely manages to catch them. “Please promise me you will never do that again,” Jason says flatly.

Dick winks. “No promises. Now, get fishing!”

---

Much to the detriment of Jason’s concentration, Dick continues humming Taylor Swift long after his impromptu performance concludes. If anyone asks, that and the substandard spear are to blame for his failure to catch any fish.

If Jason’s honest, however, the problem lies in neither of the above annoyances--no matter how irritating they may be. The issue is that he doesn’t know how to fucking fish.

Bruce took him once, a long time before his death. It was after his adoption, and it had seemed like an appropriate father-son activity to embark on. Like if they went fishing together, their relationship as family members would be official in a more tangible way than the adoption papers offered.

So Bruce took him to the lake with an expensive boat and all the best, newest fishing gear--which meant they had fishing rods instead of a DI-why spear. Fishing rods, bait, lures, even cute fishing hats to keep the sun off their faces--the whole nine yards.

But the problem was, Bruce’s own father had never taught him to fish. So Bruce was completely clueless and generally incapable in every way. Jason fared no better, his relationship with his birth father not having been the sort to include recreational bonding on a regular basis.

So Jason learned nothing and the fish were, from that day forth, spared the wrath of the Wayne family.

Well, sorry fish, that ends today. Jason is a man--a very manly one, at that. And fishing, if you ask him, is a quintessential man activity, along with watching football, barbecuing, and chugging beer of dubious quality with a vaguely concerning ferocity. Since Jason considers himself to be quite adept at all of the above, his masculinity-- and his life, that too --rides on his ability to catch a fish.

And damned if he’s going to fail.

So, with a face of absolute determination, Jason watches the water. There are fish visible beneath the greenish waves--he sees their dark silhouettes moving seamlessly through the water. Some of them are even close enough that someone with skill could presumably catch one. Well, Jason tells himself, he’s got skill. So this should be doable. 

When a fish darts within catchable range, Jason slashes out with the spear. No bite. “Fucker,” Jason hisses.

Dick shoots him an amused look. “Having trouble?” he asks. 

“No.”

In less than a minute, another large fish is in range of Jason’s spear. He takes a deep, fulfilling breath, takes a swing with his weapon, and--

Nothing.

“For Christ’s sake!”

Dick opens his mouth. “Maybe--”

“Stop talking!”

Again and again, Jason misses the fishes. His vocabulary grows more colorful as time passes and his failure increases. Swears he will definitely be adding to his regular rotation include, “Shitty shit-sticks,” and “Cock-sucking butt-fuckers,” but there are many other notable mentions.

At his loud, passionate declaration of, “Mother fucking assbaskets!” Garcia stirs. Jason gives him a cursory glance, just to confirm he hasn’t just fallen over and died, and when they accidentally make awkward eye contact, Garcia gives Jason a look that reads, are you actually this stupid or am I imagining things on account of my considerable blood loss?

Offended, Jason returns his attention to the task at hand, and when the next fish enters stabbing range, fails in a spectacular way. The fish darts away from his attack like a slippery torpedo, taking with it a tremendous chunk of Jason’s dignity and rendering his self-esteem nearly nonexistent. “I’m gonna fucking murder these fish if they don’t start fucking cooperating,” he seethes.

Dick glances up at him innocently. “I thought that was the point, though.”

Garcia (who, Jason would like to point out, nobody asked) hits him with another incredulous expression. He looks, in Jason’s opinion, wholly bereft of all will to live. “We’re fucked,” he growls flatly. “First you blow up our boat, kill our guys, and now you can’t even catch a fucking fish.”

In a valiant attempt to preserve Jason’s honor, Dick protests, “I don’t see you fishing either, bro.”

Garcia side eyes him, looking irritated. “He blew me up.”

To Jason’s extreme indignation, Dick shrugs agreeably. “Point.” To Jason, he inquires, “Can I have a try?”

“No,” snarls Jason quickly, with a touch more aggression than perhaps necessary. “I got it covered.” His manly pride is on the line. He feels vaguely like Pa from Little House on the Prairie, hunting for a turkey to bring back to his family for Thanksgiving Day. Of course, they weren’t in imminent danger of starvation should the task end in failure, but still. The concept is the same. People are depending on him here. The pressure is on--it’s a little suffocating. His shoulder hurts, and what makes it even worse is the fact that it’s quickly becoming saturated in seawater--rubbing salt into the wound in the most literal way imaginable. Fucker.

Dick raises his eyebrows. “Alrighty, then.” He goes back to rowing.

Garcia watches him silently. Jason tries to pretend he can’t feel his eyes on his back, but it’s impossible, and his embarrassment grows at an exponential rate as his ineptitude becomes more and more apparent.

Finally, just when Jason’s about to snap that Garcia should keep his eyeballs to himself, he grunts, “Fish from the other side.”

“What?” Jason snaps, caught off guard.

“Your shadow is over the water and it’s scaring all the fish away. Go to the other side.” Then, as if worried he might come across as helpful, he adds, “Duh.”

Jason eyes him suspiciously, but it’s not like Garcia’s advice can possibly make things worse. So, in the interest of protecting what little remains of his pride, Jason mutters, “Fine, but only to prove you wrong,” and moves to the other side of the boat.

Jason is annoyed to observe that Garcia is at least partially correct--his shadow no longer falls over the water. Whether or not the fish will give a shit is anyone’s guess.

Unbidden, Garcia offers another nugget of wisdom: “The spear’s gonna go in the direction of your arm. It ain’t like throwing a baseball. Imagine like the spear is part of your arm, and you’re trying to poke the fish, or something.”

“I fucking know that already,” Jason snarls, even though that tidbit is breaking news to him.

On his next attempt, a miracle occurs: the spear manages to touch a fish. The fish is barely fast enough to escape--while it manages to narrowly avoid impalement, if Jason had been a little bit faster or maybe in the possession of a more functional spear, he would have caught it.

“Dude!” he exclaims. “I almost had that one. Did you see that?” he demands of Dick.

“I was rowing,” Dick says.

“I almost had it,” Jason repeats, oddly proud for such a small accomplishment.

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Dick replies. From anyone else it would be blatant sarcasm, but Jason looks at him, and sees that he is genuine.

Filled with renewed vigor and determination, Jason fishes like a man reborn. One of these fishes is gonna feel his wrath. He just knows it. His stabs are enthusiastic and fast. His observational skills are kicked up to level ten. His morale is higher than ever before.

And finally--

Finally--

“DUDE!” Jason yells, loud enough that the family they’ve left behind in Gotham can probably hear them. “I FUCKIN’ GOT ONE!”

Sure enough, on the end of their makeshift spear, a fat, silver fish wiggles back and forth. “Oh no you fuckin’ don’t,” Jason warns it, removing it from the end of the spear and killing it with the knife before it can escape. “Fuck yes. Fuck yes. You see that, Dick? You see that?”

Dick is grinning proudly. “Hell yeah, Little Wing.”

“I told you I could do it,” Jason boasts. He’s aware that he’s smiling like a kid on Christmas morning, and it makes him a little self-conscious, but he’s powerless to stop it. “I showed that fish who’s boss.”

“Taught it a thing or two about a thing or two,” Dick agrees.

“Boys, we are feasting tonight,” Jason declares. “Sushi. Fresher than a goddamned spring flower.”

“You’re welcome,” Garcia grunts, but his voice is milder than before.

Dick turns to him, and Jason pushes down a surge of annoyance that he’s stolen his attention. “Where’d you learn that stuff?” he asks curiously.

“My family was fishermen,” Garcia replies. “We had a boat. Took it out every weekend.”

“That’s so cool,” Dick tells him, and again, on anyone else it would sound sarcastic. But Garcia searches Dick’s face cautiously, and seems to come to the same conclusion as Jason--he means it.

Garcia grunts nondescriptly. “I guess,” he replies.

“Do you guys still fish together?” Dick asks.

Scowling, Garcia turns his head to the side. “No.” He cracks his knuckles automatically. It almost seems like a defense mechanism. “Stopped when I got arrested.”

And even though Dick was the one to put him behind bars in the first place--will do so again, once they’re off this god-forsaken lifeboat--his face falls like he’s genuinely sad to hear that. He probably is. “Why?” he asks, because he’s Dick Grayson and he doesn’t know when or how to leave a painful topic alone.

Garcia glares at him. “Fuck off,” he mutters. Dick goes back to rowing, Jason goes back to fishing, and Garcia goes back to lying in place looking unwell. Then, to Jason’s surprise:

“My father, he’s a good man. A great one. He won’t have no criminals under his roof. Told me so himself last time we talked.”

And damned if that doesn’t resonate with Jason. It does. Painfully so. Because even though he and Bruce have talked out their issues--sort of, in that stilted, emotionally constipated way of Bruce’s--Jason is fully aware that Bruce will never accept his methods. What’s more, Jason would bet every cent in his wallet that if he were to suddenly discard every gun he owns and declare his life dedicated to the preservation of all lives, including criminals--even then, things still wouldn’t be the same between Jason and Bruce. He’s got too much blood on his hands.

So Jason’s gonna spare himself the emotional breakdown. He’s not going to try, because there’s no point. He knows how it’s gonna turn out.

Dick nods too and, uncharacteristically, says nothing, expression thoughtful.

“I’m gonna die on this fucking lifeboat,” Garcia explodes out of nowhere, startling them with sudden anger. “I’m gonna die on this fucking lifeboat, and the only person’s gonna miss me is my goddamned coke dealer.”

Eyes steely, Dick turns to him, letting go of an oar to grab his wrist. “You’re not gonna die,” he insists. He sounds so sure of himself, for a moment, Jason almost believes him.

Then he remembers that they’re on a tiny lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic ocean with no communication, less than a week’s worth of food and water, and oh, right, Garcia got blown up and stuck full of shrapnel like a pincushion. They’re probably gonna fucking die. At the very least, Garcia will.

“You’re a dirty fuckin’ liar,” Jason tells him, voice harsh and raspy.

“Tell me all about it when we’re safe.”

---

An hour or so later, Garcia falls unconscious, and nothing either of them try will rouse him.

An hour or so after that, he dies. Just stops breathing and slips away.

Jason does the best he can with his first-aid knowledge and the supplies they have on hand. He tries CPR with very little hope of it actually working--and he’s correct. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work and Garcia dies, bathed in salty water and pinkish evening light.

Jason turns to Dick, opens his mouth, and finds himself utterly lost for words. What can he even say? There’s nothing, absolutely nothing.

Dick turns away from Jason, avoiding his gaze. He sits, head bowed, back facing him. Jason is totally and completely at a loss. He’s sure there’s something-- anything --he can say to alleviate the guilt Jason knows Dick is feeling, but whatever it is, he can’t think of it. He’s speechless.

He’d known Garcia was going to die. Known it like he knows his own name. And yet, faced with the reality of it actually happening, Jason doesn’t know what to do.

Amidst the gentle slapping of the waves against their raft and the heaviness of Jason’s own breathing, he makes out a soft noise. Jason freezes, hoping against hope that he misheard. Then it repeats, and Jason’s heart sinks even further--a sniffle.

“Dickie,” Jason tries, voice almost pleading. He reaches out to where Dick sits, touches his shoulder gently. Dick turns away again, hunched into himself, face hidden.

Jason scoots closer, tentatively wrapping an arm around him. It’s a sad mimicry of comfort--heartbreakingly reminiscent of their prolonged embrace from the other night. “It’s not your fault,” Jason says.

Finally Dick turns to him, and he looks crushed. Down each cheek is the track of a solitary tear.

Jason pulls him closer, so that they’re hugging. It’s a first. Every other time Jason and Dick have ever hugged, Dick has initiated, and Jason has grudgingly agreed because it seemed like too much effort to resist. But somehow it does feel natural for Jason to pull him into an embrace, and their height difference is such that this way feels perfect. 

“I failed him,” Dick gasps.

“No, you didn’t,” Jason argues softly. “You did everything you could. More than anyone else would have done.”

“I lied to him,” Dick insists, trembling. “I said he’d be okay.”

“He didn’t believe you,” Jason tells him. It’s not comforting--it’s not meant to be. But it’s the truth. So is what follows: “He was a terrible person.”

“But he was still a person.” 

And that is a truth Jason must concede. “I guess he was.” He hugs Dick harder, suddenly desperate to impress this single point: “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t.”

“It feels like it.” Dick’s voice trembles. “It’s always gonna feel like it.”

Another inarguable fact. “I’m so sorry, Dickie. I’m so sorry.” For some reason, it’s hard to articulate or express what he’s sorry for--

Sorry that Dick is feeling so sad and guilty.

Sorry that Jason couldn’t protect him from this pain.

But--not necessarily sorry that Garcia died. It’s like he said earlier: Garcia was a terrible person. A human trafficker. The cause of pain to hundreds of people--hundreds of families. That’s the difference between the two of them, Jason supposes. Dick is forgiving. He can look at people like Garcia and see a guy who misses his dad and loves to go fishing. Jason looks at people like Garcia and sees a murderer--plain and simple. 

Both are equally true.

Dick seems to understand what Jason is trying to say. He shudders, hugging Jason back tightly like a lifeline. “He’s never gonna make up with his dad,” he mumbles into Jason’s shoulder.

And that--

Well, that makes Jason sorry, too. 

Chapter Text

The solar still works. Over the course of the hot day, condensation forms clear beads inside the plastic dome, and slowly, they roll into the collection system. It’s slow, but it’s water, and somehow, it’s drinkable.

That paired with Jason’s newfound, hard-earned fishing abilities means that, theoretically, they could survive on their life raft for as long as they need to. It removes the sense of urgency from their situation and leaves Dick listless, bored, and with not much else to do than wallow in his one-man pity party. At least, if one does not consider his broken leg, which is alarmingly swollen and painful to the touch. So that’s pleasant.

Luckily, Dick doesn’t consider his broken leg. It’s not gonna kill him (he’s pretty sure) and they’re got bigger fish to fry. Literally. Jason seems to be attempting to honor Garcia’s memory by employing his fishing techniques almost 24/7. 

Actually, okay, Dick isn’t stupid. He knows Jason isn’t honoring Garcia--would never dream of it. He’d been pretty neutral on the topic of his death, like his continued survival was nothing more than a matter of casual interest and curiosity. He doesn’t say as much out loud, but they’ve known each other long enough that Dick understands that’s what he’s feeling.

He also understands exactly what had happened when he went to sleep that night and woke up to find Garcia’s corpse missing. Jason had… disposed of him.

They couldn’t afford the deadweight anyways. 

Dick lies back against the floor of the raft, using a life preserver as an annoyingly uncomfortable pillow. The sun beats down against his face--he closes his eyes against it and feels the sweat dripping down his forehead. The raft rocks steadily. He lets himself rock with it, and notices that his seasickness has finally subsided. Maybe that’s been the secret all along. Feel the boat, be the boat, one with the boat… 

His thoughts drift.

“Dickie? You awake?”

“Mhm,” comes his drowsy response. “Catch anything?”

“No.” Jason scowls. There’s the rustle of movement beside him, and suddenly though his eyes are closed he can sense Jason beside him. A hand brushes his shoulder gently--almost hesitantly. “You okay?”

Dick turns to him and scowls, opening his eyes and squinting against the harsh rays of sun that beat down on him. “Yes,” he says, leaving little room for argument. 

“Alright,” Jason replies, raising his hands defensively. “Just, it’s like noon, and you haven’t gotten up yet.”

“It’s not--” Dick’s eyes fly open fully. The sun is bright. The sun. It’s noon, and he hasn’t gotten up yet. “Shit,” Dick swears, forcing himself to sit up. “I gotta start rowing.”

“Not necessarily,” Jason argues, arms crossed as he stares down at Dick in a startlingly accurate mimicry of Alfred. “It’s pretty windy today. We’re drifting in the right direction.”

Dick struggles past Jason, towards the seat in the middle of the raft from which he usually rows, ignoring the horrid, sickly burn of his leg. He finds his oars where he left them yesterday, and picks them up with sweaty hands. “That’s not fast enough.”

Jason snatches one of his oars. “There’s no rush,” he says. Dick stares at him incredulously. “I mean it,” Jason continues. “We have a source of water and a source of food. If you need a break it’s okay to take one.”

“That would be nice, if I needed a break,” Dick argues snottily. He knows he’s being difficult, and he doesn’t want to argue with Jason--would prefer to just be close to him, held by him, smiling with him--but it’s hard to stop and be reasonable with the pain pulsing in his leg and the sun beating on his head. He reaches out a hand to steal back his other oar.

Jason refuses to give it to him, face steely like he’s gearing up to dig in his feet and make his stand. Dick knows that face. It’s the face that says nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to convince him to give in. “You need a break,” he says flatly. Yeah, this is a hill he’s going to die on.

“No, I don’t.” If Jason can dig in his heels, so can Dick. “Rowing is my job. It’s my responsibility. I’ll do it.”

“You can do it later,” Jason says, leaning forward to grab Dick’s other oar. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not.” Suddenly, nothing is.

He’s been trying not to think about it. Been trying to think about anyone else, like Bruce and Tim and Damian and Barbara, and any thing else, like how he wishes he’d been allowed to finish that final bowl of cereal. What if that ended up being the last bowl of cereal he ever ate? His final cereal, and he hadn’t even known it. Life could be such a trip sometimes. 

So could death.

But that’s not a thought Dick is going to think about.

He glares at Jason, suddenly feeling very naked. Like Jason could see right through him, pitiful defenses and all. He crosses his arms in front of his chest defensively, like a shield. 

And oh god, he’s thinking about it again.

Horrifically, he feels his throat begin to close up, and the backs of his eyes begin to prickle. But he’s not going to cry again. Once was enough--enough for a lifetime. It’s not going to happen again.

He manages to wrestle his emotions mostly under control before Jason can say anything, but he knows his tenuous grip on his feelings will break if he continues the argument. If he opens his mouth to say anything, he’ll just lose it, he’ll just start to cry again. And if Jason says anything? That will be even worse. He won’t be able to handle it.

So Dick turns away so he doesn’t have to look at him and makes a big, theatrical production of examining the solar still. There’s a little more water in the clear collection tube. He pours it into a bottle to keep for later. He takes inventory of their supplies, which haven’t changed whatsoever since he last checked them. He grabs the comm unit, checks for a signal, and predictably, finds none. 

Dick can feel Jason’s eyes burning into his back, picking apart his demonstration of productivity, but he can’t make himself turn to meet his gaze.

It’s several minutes before he can guarantee that his emotions are entirely under control, and he’s back to the standard protocol of don’t think about it. Also, starting now, he’s not going to talk about it either. Generally Dick is the sort of person who needs to talk about his feelings, lest they build up and explode like a volcano. But here, today, on this lifeboat, the wound is too raw. Especially since they’re not out of the woods yet.

Dick knows his leg is getting worse. To move it is agony and even when it’s still, it aches dully. At this point, going much longer without professional treatment could mean amputation. Which would effectively end both of his careers. Any longer after that? Dick could die. No more denial. This could kill him.  

And Jason’s shoulder is clearly doing him no favors, either. When fishing he uses his good arm only, and when his jacket rubs against it, he winces no matter how much he tries to hide and suppress the pain. Neither of them are healing like they should be. Their time is running low. 

And there’s no denying who is at fault. 

With that happy thought, Dick finally turns to face Jason. He’s ready to do what Dick Grayson does best: smile, suck it up, and deal with it for the sake of his family. He’ll acknowledge that he really doesn’t feel good--he’ll acknowledge it, but he’ll ignore it. “I think I’m getting sunburned,” he tells Jason conversationally.

Jason leans forward to poke his chest with one finger--the red skin turns white when pressed and stays that way before fading back to pink. Jason whistles. “You think? You’re gonna start looking like a lobster.”

Dick makes lobster claws with his hands and pinches like a crab. Jason is unamused. “You need a shirt,” he says.

“I thought you liked me shirtless,” teases Dick.

Jason’s blush almost rivals Dick’s sunburn in terms of color. He, himself, is sunburned also, but because he has his leather jacket and body armor, his face is the only area affected. Dick, meanwhile, whose shirt has unfortunately been lost to the cruelty of life at sea, has borne the brunt of the damage on his chest and shoulders. 

“We’ll have to make you one,” Jason decides.

Dick grins. He likes that idea. Sufficiently distracting, and with the potential to be fun, like making the spear had been. Then a sobering thought occurs to him: “Did Garcia have--”

“His was ruined,” Jason interrupts. “I got rid of it.”

Dick doesn’t reply to that. He looks at the bottom of the boat, at the bloodstains, and sees all of it gently rocking with the current of the sea. He imagines one day things settling--stilling, stopping--and he thinks about what that might be like.

Suddenly he’s overcome with another thought that he urgently must express. Because what if time is running out, and he never gets to say it? He can’t let it die with him. “I love you, Little Wing.”

Jason stares at him, bemused. “Okay,” he says, looking utterly like a fish out of water.

“That’s all,” Dick tells him. He knows Jason won’t say it back, but that’s not what matters to him--he just had to say it. And now he has. So he can move on. “Let’s make me a shirt.”

They lay out all of the most probable supplies: the bedsheet Dick had stolen from the ship and some spare life preservers. The suture kit from the first aid supplies, for stitching things up. The steak knife, still attached to the spear, for cutting fabric. 

“You know, you could just wrap the sheet around yourself,” Jason suggests. “Like a toga.”

“That’s less fun,” Dick informs him.

Jason shrugs. “Alright. How do we want to do this?”

Dick examines the sheet. “Well, first we gotta think about style. Short sleeve will look better, of course, but I might want more protection for my arms… do we want to go tight-fitting, to show off, or loose and baggy for mobility? Leaning towards tight. Can’t let being lost at sea be an excuse not to look my best.”

Jason stares at him. “We are not here to be fashion designers, Dick. This is for your protection.”

“You’re telling me we can’t do both at the same time?”

“I am telling you that, yes.”

“I wish we had buttons,” Dick muses. “Button ups are sexy.”

Jason shakes his head exasperatedly. “You’re a mess, Dickhead. An absolute mess.”

“Am not,” Dick argues. “I’ve watched Project Runway, I know how these things work.”

With much convincing on the part of Jason, they decide to go for something that prioritizes practicality. However, Dick still isn’t sold on the pros versus cons of long sleeved. He doesn’t want something that’ll restrict his movement, but Jason is concerned that his arms will just fall off if they get burned any more, or something.

“Hand me your leather jacket,” Dick demands, making grabby hands.

Jason hands it over, confused. “What for?”

Dick lays it out against the fabric of the bedsheet. “I want to see how it’s made,” he answers, deep in thought. He examines the lines of the seams and their placement, then bends the arms this way and that to see how they move and flex. “Wish I had one of these for myself,” he tells Jason.

Jason snorts and shakes his head. “Not your style,” he argues. “You’re too wholesome.”

“Am not!” Dick gasps, offended. “I would look totally hot in a leather jacket and you know it.”

Jason shrugs. “That’s not the point.” Dick notices that he doesn’t deny the claim. “It’s my style. Trademarked. You can’t cramp my style, man.”

Dick grins. “Fine,” he concedes. Turns back to the sheet. Suggests, “Let’s cut this in half. It’s big enough to make two if we mess the first one up.”

That seems like a solid enough plan, so it’s what they do. When they’re done they have two equal halves of sheet, both of which are indeed big enough to conceivably make a shirt out of. The diminished size makes the magnitude of the task seem much more manageable.

“Okay, wrap it around me. Then mark how big it needs to be and cut there.”

Jason obliges dutifully, wrapping the fabric around Dick’s frame and holding it in place with one hand while he wields the spear with the other. The steak knife is appallingly inefficient at cutting fabric, but with much effort and frustration on Jason’s part, they get the job done. 

When that part of the task has been completed, they are left with what is essentially a bedsheet tube top. Dick tries it on once the sides have been stitched shut and giggles. “We should leave it this way,” he suggests.

“Absolutely not,” Jason says flatly. “I feel like a dad telling his teenage daughter she can’t go to school in that outfit.”

Dick shakes his head mournfully. “Fine. Help me make sleeves.”

For the sleeves they make tubes of loose fabric that Dick slides his arms into. He flexes and bends his elbows--they hold. Then it comes time to attach them to the rest of the shirt--they do that by cutting a head hole in a new piece of fabric, draping that over him, and sewing the sleeves and shirt to it. To his amusement, Dick notices that Jason has forgotten to sew shut the part where the sleeves meet the tube top, leaving holes that expose his armpits. “Smart,” he says cheekily, demonstrating. “To prevent sweat stains.”

“Get over here, asshole.” Dick does, and Jason sews shut the pit-holes. With that, they have a functional shirt for Dick.

Well, the term shirt might be a bit of a stretch. It looks… it looks like a mess. Like the sort of garment a mummy would wear if it got bored of toilet paper. Reminiscent of how women back in the day used to make dresses out of flour sacks, except that this is what would happen if the women were completely incompetent and the flour sacks were eight times uglier. It doesn’t help that the bedsheet had been hideous to begin with--white with a horrendous yellow floral pattern that resembles any number of unfortunate stains.

Dick poses, showing it off. “What do you think?” he asks seductively.

Jason is clearly attempting to suppress a burst of laughter, and his efforts are only semi successful. “Like a star,” he compliments sarcastically. “Luminescent.”

“Good.” Dick grabs the other half of the sheet, which hasn’t been used yet. “Because we aren’t quite done.”

Jason freezes. “What do you mean?” he asks, looking like a deer in the headlights under Dick’s stare. “I don’t need a shirt, I have one already.”

“Your face is getting sunburnt,” Dick informs him, very logically. “So you need a hat. We don’t have a hat, so we’ll make one.”

Jason opens and closes his mouth, but no sound comes out. He looks like a fish. “That’s--”

“Completely the logical step to take? Yes, I agree.”

Maybe Jason still wants to make Dick feel better, or maybe his sunburnt face is bothering him despite his resolute attempts to pretend it isn’t. Whatever it is, with crossed arms and a scrunched up nose, he lets Dick make him a hat.

Dick takes one of the bright orange life preservers and cuts out the foam panel in the back, so he’s got a big, orange rectangle of foam. He places that delicately atop Jason’s head and then uses a strip of bedsheet to tie it in place, with a delicate little bow under Jason’s chin. “There,” he says, sitting back to admire his work. “All done.”

Jason leans over the edge of the boat to get a look at his reflection. His face is one of pure horror and embarrassment. “I’m not wearing this,” he says flatly, already moving to untie the bow. He can’t quite get it undone.

“I double knotted it,” Dick explains when Jason fumbles, unable to unfasten the knot.

“Damn you!” Jason swears as his fingers fumble. He sits back, defeated.

Dick grins. “You look precious,” he assures him. “And aren’t you glad you won’t be sunburned any more?”

Jason grumbles something unintelligible and disgruntled, but makes no further attempt to remove his hat.

---

They settle into a weird, hellish sort of routine. They check the solar still every evening to collect the water. They eat two meals a day, usually consisting of fresh fish (which Dick is very quickly tiring of) and some of the canned food from their supply kits. Jason fishes, Dick rows. They check the comms several times a day, but are never met with success.

And they talk. When Jason isn’t slinging around insults and F-bombs like that’s the entire scope of his vocabulary, he can actually be a pleasant conversation partner. Dick knew that before, of course, but generally speaking the meaningful conversations he has had with Jason were few and far between. Now, they’re almost the norm.

At some point, Dick asks, “Why did you shoot me when I broke into your safe house that night?”

Jason shrugs. “Because I knew you could dodge. Plus I was pissed. You broke into, like, four of my secure safe houses!”

Dick follows that up by notifying him: “I wouldn’t have needed to break in if you’d answered your phone.”

Jason turns to him, face insistent but eyes wide with honesty. “I told you! My phone blew up!”

Dick is shocked and, for some reason, delighted by the revelation that Jason’s exploding cell phone was a true story. “I thought you were lying! It wouldn’t be the most ridiculous excuse you came up with.”

Jason smiles softly--genuine. “Like when I said my phone got run over.”

“By a train.”

“Still don’t know why you didn’t believe me on that one.”

They grin at each other for a moment like friends do. It’s odd, new, unexpected--

It’s right.

Later, out of the blue, Jason asks, “Hey, Dick. What’s your favorite flavor of jam?”

Caught off guard, Dick stares at him, wondering if he misheard.

“What?” Jason asks defensively.

Dick grins. “Nothing,” he says. “Just, when Bruce called me to the manor to tell me about this mission, I was mad that he didn’t want to just, you know, hang out. I kept wishing he would ask about my day or something, or even like, what my favorite flavor of jam was. Dumb stuff like that.”

“Well, what is it?” Jason presses.

“I prefer jelly.”

“Heathen,” Jason snorts.

---

They sleep every night--and Dick has lost track of how many nights it’s been, but it has to be around a week by now--curled up together in the bottom of the raft, and it’s the most comfortable that way. Dick doesn’t always manage to get sleep. Sometimes his leg is hurting too much, or he’s too busy… thinking about it , which he truly hates to do. But there are worse places to be than with Jason, he thinks. That’s what keeps him from despairing.

On what might be the sixth night--or the seventh, or the eighth--Dick lays down next to Jason and, before he sets his head down beneath his chin, presses a kiss to his shoulder. Jason goes still, but he doesn’t say anything. The lifeboat rocks gently, back and forth, and Dick feels Jason’s heartbeat beneath his cheek. They go to sleep like that. His head hurts. His heart...

Hurts. 

---

Jason has a hard time in the days immediately following Garcia’s death. Mostly because he wants to make Dick feel better and has not a single, solitary clue how to make that happen, or whether it’s even possible. After all, they’re stranded in a lifeboat on the open ocean. Not a lot of genuine hope is to be found out here--Jason has tried.

The morning right after--the day they make the shirt and the hat right out of a fashion designer’s worst nightmare--is the worst. Because Jason sees Dick’s own despair--sees him make that face that means he feels like crying but refuses to let that happen--and is filled with a yawning void of hopelessness. Helplessness. Despair and anguish, all of his own.

And then they make the world’s ugliest shirt and a hat to match--Dick says they’re “twinsies” now--and they sort of move on. The boat keeps drifting, the world keeps turning--most importantly, their hearts keep beating.

Oh, and Dick tells Jason he loves him.

When it had happened, that one morning, it had come from so far out in left field that Jason didn’t even know how to comprehend the words, let alone how to respond to them. So he’d been brusque--had let the words roll off him like water on a duck. It had only occurred to him later that his lack of response might have hurt Dick’s feelings.

But Dick doesn’t seem to mind. He kisses him one night before bed--on the shoulder, the good one--and Jason freezes, and feels his good shoulder burn almost hotter than the one with the bullet hole as Dick lays his head down on it.

For a moment he lies there, still as an unrippled pond. Then he breathes out. Brings his arm around Dick’s shoulders to hold him in place.

The night is peaceful, even as Jason’s in turmoil. It’s when the situation kind of hits him. Sure, he’d had that fit of rage which resulted in Davis’ abrupt ejection from the lifeboat, but now, there’s no anger. Only sadness. 

Because what if they die?

Jason’s already died and came back. And he knows that’s not the kind of second chance a person gets twice. If he dies, it’ll be permanent. 

What an odd thought.

For a moment Jason lets himself think about the one thing he had forbidden himself to think--Dick could die. He imagines the look on Damian’s face when he hears the news--the way Tim wouldn’t even believe it. The way Bruce would just--implode.

And he imagines his own heartbreak if he survives but Dick doesn’t.

That’s when a thought occurs to him--and he knows how stupid and self-sacrificing it is. But if Dick dies on this lifeboat before they find rescue? Fuck it all. If that happens, Jason’s going to pull a Romeo and Juliet. Because he doesn’t want to see that look on Damian’s face, or Tim’s denial, or Bruce’s self-destruction. He doesn’t want to see it, doesn’t want to know about it. Doesn’t want to live in a world where Dick is not. 

It’s a stupid plan. Jason hates himself for being codependent enough to even fucking think of it. And yet.

He swallows thickly and angles his eyes downwards to look at Dick, where he lies against Jason’s chest. And--okay. If Dick were to wake up right now, and tell Jason he loves him right now--

Jason would probably say it back.

Of course, he’s not going to. That’s purely hypothetical. And Jason’s not one of those losers who’s gonna, like, profess his love to a sleeping partner. That shit’s just stupid--Jason may be thinking about taking a leaf from Romeo and Juliet’s book, but he’s not that far gone.

The moon gleams on Dick’s shoulders and the dark curls of his hair. His cheek, the one that’s not resting against Jason, is decorated with the shadows cast by his long eyelashes. Prettyboy, Jason thinks, and wonders when it stopped feeling like an insult. 

Jason leans down and kisses Dick’s shoulder. 

---

The next morning dawns hot and annoyingly windy. Jason puts back on his stupid hat, Dick helping him re-tie the annoying bow, and grudgingly admits that it does help keep the sun off his face.

By this point, they’ve run almost entirely out of canned goods, which means their diets are made almost exclusively out of raw fish. Which is totally disgusting. If Jason makes it off this boat, he’s never eating sushi again, even if someone pays him.

Breakfast that morning is the last can of creamed corn and Jason’s catch of the morning--some unfortunate fish that’s about the size of Jason’s hand. He’d have preferred something bigger, but split in half it is enough to take the edge off their hunger.

Jason is in charge of that--every fisherman worth his salt knows how to prepare the fish, Jason has decided--and he filets the fish using the steak knife. Which, Jason will tell you, was definitely not designed with fileting in mind. It is a frustrating process which results in an unappetizing scatter of fish guts.

Nonetheless he manages to get the job done, and he looks at the two small portions. They are--quite tiny, actually. Dick has always eaten like a bird (except in the case of cereal) but Jason knows this isn’t enough to satisfy even him.

Jason knows Dick would hate him if he knew, but that doesn’t stop him from low-key sliding his own portion into Dick’s while he isn’t looking before handing it over. “Bon appetit, Dickhead,” Jason calls.

Dick takes his disgusting-looking breakfast, face a funny mixture of eager, hungry, and revolted. “Where’s yours?” he asks.

“Already ate,” Jason lies.

“Oh, okay.” 

Jason will just catch another fish. He’s hungry, sure, but it's not like the meal was particularly appetizing anyways, and it shouldn’t be hard to procure more.

Dick rows as per usual and Jason fishes, and in the meanwhile, they chat. “Jason, if you ever got a dog, what would you name it?”

“I wouldn’t get a dog.”

“But if you did.”

Jason ponders. “It would be a Newfoundland--you know the ones I mean, one of those giant ones that’re built like a fuckin’ tank. And I would name it… hm, Jasper.”

Dick laughs. “Not what I was expecting,” he admits.

“What, you picturing, like, a pit bull named Ripper? I’m not opposed. But I’m so badass already that I don’t need a super vicious dog to back me up.”

“Why Jasper?” Dick asks curiously.

“I met one like that once. Big black Newfoundland named Jasper. It fit.” Jason is slightly embarrassed to share his dog-meeting nostalgia, but it makes Dick smile at him fondly, so it’s probably worth it.

“Plus,” Dick points out, “Jason and Jasper. I like it.”

Jason smiles a little at the thought. “It’s lame,” he lies. 

“You kidding?” Dick asks incredulously. “That’s the least lame thing you’ve said or done all day. And you’re wearing the hat.”

Jason blushes involuntarily and reaches up to grab the hat. “Shut up,” he snaps. “The hat is your fault.”

“Little Wing, you’re the cutest,” Dick tells Jason decisively, gazing at him fondly. Jason scowls, nose wrinkled in disgust, but secretly, he is preening, chest puffed out like a happy, proud little bird. He would return the compliment if he thought it was physically possible to force from his throat.

Jason clears his throat and grumbles, “You’re distracting me from fishing.”

“Oh, so that’s why you’re bad at it,” Dick teases.

“As if you could do any better,” Jason retorts. Then he doubles down, fixes his attention firmly on the fish where it can’t be swayed by his dumb feelings and the way Dick’s eyes look in the bright sunlight.

Which is when disaster strikes, because of course it does.

Jason swings out with the spear, hits a big, long fish--his biggest catch yet. That’ll definitely make up for a missed breakfast--there will be excess, even. He makes to pull the stuck fish out of the water--

--and the spear comes back empty with a blunt tip. The steak knife has come unattached.

The stupid fucking fish stole their stupid fucking steak knife!

Jason holds up the spear--which now can’t really be called such--and stares at it in abstract horror. He’s frozen up.

What the fuck are we gonna do?

Dick notices the silence from Jason’s end and, when he sees the object of Jason’s appallment, blanches. “Please tell me you just took off the knife to use it for something.”

Jason shakes his head, still speechless.

“Shit,” Dick hisses.

Jason nods. That is a very astute assessment. When he has regained the power of speech, he croaks out, “It just… came off. A fish swam away with it. A fish stole our fucking steak knife.”

Dick stands up and hobbles on one leg to the edge of the boat. “Can you still see the fish?” he asks, peering desperately at the water. 

Jason joins him in the search for the runaway knife bandit, but they can’t see it, and even if they could, they would have no way of catching the fish short of just jumping in the water after it. And while they’re both reckless, neither Dick nor Jason is stupid enough to do that. Sharks are a thing. And currents. 

“I can’t believe this.” Jason’s a mess of anger, disbelief, and horror. He feels the last remains of hope dripping slowly away, and thinks wildly that this must be some sort of karma for all the fish he’s killed over the past week. “Well, congratulations, fish!” Jason spits, “You’re avenged. I hope you’re fucking happy.”

Dick laughs, and Jason turns to glare at him, but it’s not a happy laugh, it’s a horrified one. “Oh my God,” Dick manages to say through his laughter. “We might have just been murdered by a fish.”

“What do you think it needs a fucking steak knife for anyways?” Jason demands, waving his hands wildly. “Family fucking dinner?”

“It’s going on a murder spree,” Dick suggests. “It’s killed us, now it’s just gonna go around stabbing all the other fish.”

“Fuck,” Jason hisses again. “I fucking hate seafood. Hate it. Good riddance. Didn’t need that stupid fish anyways.”

“That’s right,” Dick agrees. “Who would want to eat that when we’ve got--” he turns to check the supplies, “two cans of creamed corn and one stick of beef jerky?”

“No one, that’s who,” Jason replies with finality. Then buries his head in his hands, utterly defeated. Them, that’s who. They need fish. And now their only source is gone.

Jesus fucking Christ, if someone’s going to rescue them, they’d better get a move on and do it fucking soon.

“This,” Dick declares, leaning against Jason, head resting on his good shoulder, “is the worst mission ever.”

“You only just now realized this?” Jason asks. “I’ve been thinking it like… how long have we been on this life boat again?”

“Too long,” Dick decides. He slumps heavily into Jason’s side, and when Jason brings his arm up to wrap around his shoulders, he notices that he’s trembling minutely.

“Uh, you good, Dickhead?” Jason asks, heart beginning to thrum faster with anxiety. He never thought he’d have this thought, but fuck, he hopes this is just like, an emotional breakdown as opposed to a broken leg-related crisis. Tears are scary for Jason, and if Dick starts crying Jason will most definitely not know what to do, but if his leg is about to fall off, that’s even worse.

“Yep,” Dick says, voice rough with pain. The very definition of fine. “Just, my leg.”

Goddamnit, thinks Jason. It’s the latter. Dick’s leg is about to just, totally implode right before their eyes. “Shit,” says Jason, “Uh. Anything I can do?” He mentally facepalms for that--any person with a reasonable understanding of field medicine shouldn’t need to ask that question. They should just know what to do, automatically. But Jason doesn’t, probably because it’s not like they have an overabundance of medical supplies here on the boat. Also, he’s panicking a tiny bit.

“I think it started to heal wrong,” Dick says. “When we took off the splint, things got… misaligned.”

“Fucker,” Jason hisses. “Well, the spear is dead anyways, let’s put the splints back on.”

“Too late,” Dick replies with a grimace. “If we re-splint it as is, it’ll just keep healing wrong, and it could be permanently damaged.”

“Well, how do we fix it, then?” Jason asks. The thing is, he thinks he knows the answer to that question. But it’s not a solution he likes. It’s risky and painful and could go wrong about a thousand and four different ways.

“We gotta rebreak it, set it, and splint it like that.” Dick’s face is set in determination as he confirms Jason’s worst fear. So this is something he’s been thinking about--he probably rehearsed how he would convince Jason.

“Nope,” Jason says flatly. “Absolutely not.” He turns to look Dick in the eyes, and finds them hazy with feverish pain. “I’m not doing that.”

“We have to,” Dick insists. “We don’t know when we’re getting off this boat. Sure, if we get rescued, I don’t know, tomorrow, they might be able to do surgery and fix it. But we don’t know that we’re getting rescued tomorrow. Yeah, it’s a risk, but leaving it alone is a bigger one.”

“I can’t just break your leg,” Jason argues. He’s appalled that he even needs to be having this conversation.

“You shot me. You can break my leg.”

“Christ’s sake,” Jason bursts out, gesturing with the hand that isn’t holding Dick steady against him. “It’s different!”

“How?” Dick demands. And even though he’s sweating and trembling against Jason, he is strong.

“I knew you would dodge the shot,” Jason tells him. “I knew you’d be okay.” He swallows. “I don’t want to hurt your leg even worse.” The confession feels like sandpaper against his throat. It hurts to admit, for some reason. Because he knows that what he’s saying isn’t restricted to Dick’s broken leg. He just doesn’t want to hurt Dick in general. And for him, that’s a big admission.

Dick’s stare is intense as it bores into Jason. “You won’t,” he says. “It’s worth the risk.”

“The ends justify the means,” Jason finishes. A mantra they had both heard over and over again as Robin. Never before has it held more true than it does now.

Suddenly, Jason is overcome by the trust in Dick’s eyes. Because no one-- no one-- has ever looked at Jason like that before. No one has given him that unconditional trust--has allowed themself to depend on him so wholly and truly. It's humbling.

And what if Jason lets Dick down? The very thought is inconceivable. It's not even an option.

“That’s the only way?” Jason asks, still unwilling to hurt Dick if there’s any other choice.

Dick nods. “You won’t hurt me,” he repeats.

Jason swallows again, nervous. Nervous and rendered unsteady by Dick’s unwavering faith in him. Overcome by sudden impulse, Jason turns around and wraps his arms around Dick so that instead of leaning against each other, they are fully hugging. He holds him close--feels his steady heartbeat against Jason’s fluttering one.

Before he can convince himself not to, Jason uses one hand to gently hold Dick’s cheek like a lover might. He leans forward and presses his lips to Dick’s forehead. 

“Okay,” he mumbles. “I’ll help you.”

Jason lays Dick down on the bottom of the raft where he braces himself, gripping Jason’s wrist hard, like a lifeline. But Jason can’t break the leg with only one hand, so he has to extract himself from Dick’s grip, even while it feels terribly wrong to do so. He brushes Dick’s sweaty hair back with one hand. “It’s gonna be okay,” Jason assures him.

“I know, I trust you,” Dick says. But Jason’s known him long enough to see how nervous he is, and how scared. The thought only increases Jason’s own anxiety. He hates to see Dick scared, because so very little is able to achieve that.

Gripping the sides of the raft to brace himself, Dick grits his teeth and closes his eyes. Jason breathes in and out, trying to calm himself enough that his hands stop shaking. He’s doing what has to be done. He has to keep telling himself that.

Dick had been right when he pointed out that this is the best option in the long run. If they can get his leg set properly, it will theoretically begin to heal the way it should, and he won’t risk losing it or being stuck with a permanent limp. Still, for it to work, Jason has to do everything exactly right. They have no room for mistakes here. And if Jason permanently harms Dick, he’ll never forgive himself. 

Jason inhales and exhales deeply, and grabs the leg. He feels gently along it and finds the break. Dick is right--something about it feels wrong. Jason grips firmly. 

And pushes. 

Dick screams and shouts with pain, and the sound is even worse than the sickening snap and the adrenaline pulsing in Jason’s ears.

“Okay, okay, you’re doing great, Dickie,” Jason assures him, more for his own sake than Dick’s. He grabs the splints and the strips of fabric to tie them on. “Almost done. You’re doing amazing.” 

When he has made sure the bones are lined up correctly--a skill he is now glad Alfred had taught him, all those years ago--he ties on the splints, firmly but with enough room to allow for the inevitable swelling. Dick is gasping for air, breaths pained and heaving. 

“Done,” Jason announces. He grabs Dick’s hand and doesn’t complain when Dick’s grip is tighter than a tourniquet--just leans down and uses his other hand to stroke his hair. “Done. I think it worked. You’re gonna be okay, Dickie, I promise.”

Jason hesitates for a moment, leaning over Dick's shivering form, then thinks,  what the hell and throws caution to the wind. He kisses Dick’s forehead again, then each cheek where tears and sweat have dripped down. “You’re gonna be okay,” he repeats. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Chapter Text

Consciousness comes in intermittent snatches, in waves that wash over him to the rhythm of the rocking lifeboat. For a while the gentle swaying is all Dick is fully aware of--that and Jason’s constant presence. He looms on the sides of Dick’s vision, and the edges of his awareness. A hand, gently gripping his. A chest, willingly offered as a pillow.

The other thing Dick is sure of during those fleeting periods of awakeness, is that it’s hot. Stiflingly so. So fucking hot. And there’s no escape from it. 

Time passes like this--slowly, like their boat is sailing through a sea not of saltwater but of thick molasses.

When, at some point, Dick opens his eyes and is finally capable of coherent thought, it feels like no time has passed at all. 

Apparently that’s wrong. Jason tells him it’s been a little over a day. 

“Did you do the thing?” Dick murmurs. Judging by the pink-tinted skies, it’s either very early in the morning, or the sun is about to set.

Jason leans over Dick, eyes conducting an urgent examination of his health as they flick from his face to his leg and back again. He puts a hand on Dick’s forehead. “Dick,” he breathes out, voice tight and worried but overwhelmingly relieved.

Dick bats Jason’s hand away weakly, like a kitten. “Stop it,” he complains, voice hoarse from disuse and a dry throat. “Did you do the thing?” he repeats.

“I don’t know, Dick, does it feel like your leg just got broken again? Or were you just napping for the past twenty four hours?” Jason demands aggressively.

Dick manages to wearily grin. His leg does, in fact, hurt quite a bit. “Aha,” he says, as if he’s made a groundbreaking discovery. “So did it work?”

Jason glares at him. “I think so,” he says gruffly, crossing his arms slowly in front of his chest. “Got everything lined up and splinted.”

Dick’s grin widens and becomes a genuine, if exhausted, smile. “I knew you could do it,” he tells Jason, eyes soft. “Thanks, Lil’ Wing.”

Jason grumbles and avoids Dick’s gaze, cheeks flushed with embarrassment and what almost looks like pride. “Yeah, yeah,” he mutters, arms crossed. “Let’s get you upright, and you can drink something.”

Dick allows Jason to help him up. He still feels a little shaky, so sitting on his own in the gently swaying boat is a challenge. Luckily, Jason allows Dick to lean on him with only minimal complaint. They sit like that together at the bow of their tiny ship. The sun, sitting atop the waterline, illuminates Dick’s left side with gentle pinkish light, slowly rising. A new dawn. 

Jason hands him a bottle of water, which Dick gratefully sips. He doesn’t know how long it’s been since he last drank, but it must have been too long, because he’s parched. He wishes he could have more, but he doesn’t know how good their supply is at the moment.

Jason holds him in place as he drinks with a gentle, bracing arm around his shoulders, and while Dick leans into it contentedly, he doesn’t look at Jason. He’s distracted gazing at the ocean instead. It’s kind of beautiful, he thinks. If he could just forget that it’s actively trying to kill him, he thinks he might be able to love it.

The thought reminds him abstractly of Jason. He quirks a grin. 

Jason side eyes him suspiciously. “What are you smiling at?” he asks, as if smiling is the furthest thing from his mind.

Dick leans forward as much as he can without extracting himself from Jason’s hold, so that he’s hovering over the water beneath their slowly drifting boat. “I’m flying, Jack!” he announces, grinning goofily at the sea.

Jason yanks Dick back against his chest unceremoniously. “No, shut the fuck up. Now is not the time to be quoting Titanic.” 

“Isn’t it, though?” Dick argues. “We’re on a boat. They were on a boat. It’s situationally appropriate.”

“Titanic is never situationally appropriate, you dork.”

Dick gives him a teasing glance and slowly eases himself forward to lean over the bow of their raft again. “Come on, you remember how the scene goes,” he says softly.

Jason shuffles forward with him, probably to prevent him from falling into the water. “All I remember was that it was stupid. Like, earlier in the movie she’s ready to just throw herself off the edge of the boat. And now he’s holding her over the railing? Hell no. If I was her, I’d have just tried jumping again.”

Dick turns to him, staring into his eyes, trying to get a read on what Jason’s feeling. He can read people like books--usually. For some reason the skill does not always apply to Jason. But then, Jason’s always been different to him. His eyes are hard--anxious. Dick wants to make that go away. He wants Jason to be happy again. “I thought it was sweet.”

Jason looks away, clearly made uncomfortable by Dick’s scrutiny. “Of course you did,” he mumbles. “I bet you loved that movie.”

“Yeah,” Dick admits. “Jack’s death always made me cry.”

“I’ll bet,” Jason says, and although the words are critical, they come out sounding affectionate. Fond. “But it was dumb. They could have both fit on the door.”

Dick shrugs. “He didn’t want to risk it. What if Rose fell in while he was trying to get on?”

“Then it’s a risk he’s got to be willing to take. Basic self-preservation,” Jason insists. He is finally returning Dick’s gaze--his eyes are burning with something intense. 

“Would you have taken it?” Dick counters, leaning in minutely. He studies Jason--the teal of his eyes and the curl of his dark hair, damp on his forehead. His eyebrows, scrunched together. His lips and the stubble on his chin and jaw.

“Fuck no,” Jason whispers, and he leans in as well, and they’re kissing softly.

It’s a short kiss--more an expression of raw feelings--fondness, affection, maybe maybe love--than anything passionate or suggestive. But it feels like it’s been a long time in coming. Dick stays propped up against Jason’s chest when it’s over, head ducked down almost shyly as he smiles his movie star smile. It’s genuine. “That happened in Titanic too,” he feels the need to notify Jason.

Jason huffs. 

---

One issue faced by Dick and Jason that the cast of Titanic did not share is a rapidly dwindling supply of food. With the splints back in use and the steak knife having been commandeered by a vicious fish, they find themselves without a spear. That leaves them entirely reliant on the supplies in the lifeboat--namely, a couple cans of corn. 

Under normal circumstances, the amount is so small that Dick and Jason could split it for dinner and be left hungry afterwards. As is, they eat slowly. Carefully. Dick would have never predicted that one day he’d savor the taste of creamed corn, but here he is, swallowing each bite like it's his last.

Dick wants to row--really, he does. But he’s hurt and tired--and honestly, they’re lost. At the rate and direction they were going they should have hit land by then, but if Dick spent a day unconscious and Jason spent the day watching over him, that means they’ve allowed the boat to drift in whichever direction the currents felt like taking it. So he doesn’t know where they are anymore, not even a vague idea--so rowing would probably do more harm than good. He could very well end up taking them away from the nearest land.

So he sits and stares at the sea, and Jason, bereft of activities to partake in now that his spear is well and truly gone, joins him. Nobody mentions how shitty Dick looks--not that he has a mirror to confirm with.  But he feels shitty. He’s pale and sweaty and covered in tiny little goosebumps. His leg hurts--which, not like that’s a novel concept, but it never seems to get less irritating.

At least he’s got Jason with him--now that they’ve kissed, it feels like a barrier has been broken between them. Dick has always been a naturally touchy-feely person, and it comforts him to know that when he brute-forces Jason into hugging him, his affection (if not his enthusiasm) is reciprocated.

So that’s what they do. Dick leans on Jason, and Jason holds his hand, and they’re silent.

The ocean waves slop gently against the raft’s sides. It’s a windy day, but no less hot than usual. The combination makes for an unpleasant experience. The sea is restless--like Jason, who can’t stop fidgeting and twitching next to Dick.

“What are you gonna do if we die?” Jason asks at one point.

Dick cocks his head, confused. “What’ll I do if I die? I’ll be dead.”

Jason shakes his head. “Not what I meant. Like, what will you leave to who, and stuff.”

Dick breathes in and out deeply, considering. He won’t lie and say it’s not something he’s thought of--he would have been stupid not to, leading the life he does. “I would give Nightwing to Damian,” he says. “I don’t think Damian would ever want to be Nightwing. But maybe he could pass it on to someone else, or something. I don’t know. But I trust him to do what’s right.”

Jason frowns. “You wouldn’t let it die with you?” he asks.

“I couldn’t,” Dick answers. “Nightwing and Flamebird are--legends. It wouldn’t be right if the legend died just because I did.”

Jason thinks about that for a moment. “I would let Red Hood die,” he says after a minute or two. “It isn’t worth passing on.”

Something about that makes Dick’s heart twist. “You are,” he argues softly, insistent.

“Red Hood isn’t.”

Dick doesn’t argue the point. It’s Jason’s mantle, after all. He would not presume to know what’s best for it. “As for my other stuff… Tim could have all my circus stuff.”

Jason snorts. “Why?” he asks, disbelieving. 

“I don’t know,” Dick snaps defensively. “He was there that night at the circus. And, I mean--I don’t know what he’d do with it. Maybe he’d put it in a case or something. Keep it nice for me.”

Jason shakes his head like he still disagrees, but he’s smiling softly. “What else?” he asks.

“What else do I even have that’s important to me?” Dick wonders out loud. The list isn’t long. He’s always been more about people, memories, and places than physical items.

“I should hope something, because you didn’t leave anything for Alfred or Bruce,” accuses Jason.

“Oh no!” Dick realizes. “Okay, Alfred can have my bike. He’s the only one in the family without a motorcycle, how wrong is that?”

Jason snorts, looking delighted. “Alfred on a motorcycle,” he breathes. “Imagine.”

Dick can’t help himself from smiling proudly. “He’d be so badass.”

“And for Bruce?” Jason prompts. 

Dick scowls suddenly, the thought irritating something inside him. “I don’t know. What else do I even own?” he repeats. “What about you?”

Jason doesn’t pause before answering, like the question is something he’s been thinking about. “I’m not leaving anyone anything. Except a bunch of explosives. And everyone just gets together and blows all my shit up, and watches it burn.”

Dick laughs. “Flashy,” he comments.

“What can I say.” Jason stretches his arms like he’s about to widely yawn, but at the last minute changes course so that one of his arms is over Dick’s shoulders. It’s the classic high school movie theater date maneuver. Dick loves it. He wants Jason to do that with him, every single day. “I want to go out with a bang. I’ve already done it once, after all.”

“Well, that’s you taken care of, then. I still have all the stuff in my apartment to go through.”

“Clothes,” Jason says. “Who is closest to your size?”

“Probably Tim,” Dick says after a moment’s thought. “He’s slimmer though. Still probably Tim.”

Jason puts on an official-sounding voice. “To Timothy Drake-Wayne, I leave my earthly wardrobe. May his wearing them bring him hope of looking as good as me one day.”

Dick snorts, trying to hold in his laughter. This is a serious conversation. He shouldn’t laugh at it. “You think Tim could ever look as good as me?” he asks.

“Fuck no,” Jason tells him instantly, flexing his arm to squeeze Dick tighter. “You’re the hottest.”

“Okay, well, that’s my clothes done. Next, my cereal. To Alfred Pennyworth, I leave my morning feasts of cereal, that he may serve it to our family every single morning. May they savor it, and reminisce about my greatness with every bite.”

“They’re only allowed to eat it if they think about you?” Jason summarizes with an arched eyebrow.

“Those are the rules,” Dick agrees. 

“To Damian, you leave your weapons, so the legacy of Nightwing’s badassery is fulfilled in every hit.”

“To Cass, I leave my Spotify Premium membership, so all her dance routines are accompanied by specially selected music, because my music taste is unrivalled.”

“To Steph, you leave all your hair care products, because her hair is the only hair in the Batfamily that can rival yours.”

Dick shivers against Jason. “To you,” he begins softly, “I--”

“You can’t leave me anything,” Jason argues. “I’ll be dead, too.”

“Not necessarily,” Dick tells him. “If--”

“Not happening.” Jason shuts him down with two words, voice turning hard and cold. “We’re in this together, Dick. One of us makes it, or neither. The captain goes down with the ship.”

Dick eyes him. “Who said you’re the captain?”

“Not what you should be focusing on.” Jason hugs him tighter, almost uncomfortably so--but Dick doesn't move away. He needs this--to be grounded against something solid and unmoving in the constant rocking of the lifeboat.

“I don’t want you to die, though,” Dick argues softly. He can feel himself getting upset, but is powerless to stop it. The thought of letting Jason die--of failing him so fully--hurts somewhere deep in his heart. “I want to leave you things.”

“What would you even leave me?” Jason breathes softly. “What’s left?”

“Everything else, I guess.” Dick extricates himself from Jason’s hold enough that he can turn to stare him in the eyes, and though the movement fills him with pulsing pain and discomfort, he grits his teeth to stand steady through it. “Everything. You’re--everything. I said I love you, remember?”

“You love everyone,” Jason accuses. And, aside from the hyperbolic nature of the statement, it’s not untrue. Dick is just a person who loves people. That’s why he does what he does. Every day. Every night. And all the time in between. He loves everyone, and proves it by putting on a uniform and going out to help them.

But he loves Jason differently. Loves Jason in a way that fills him with giddy affection in the same way it hurts, a constant aching in his heart. Loves Jason in a way that makes him want to protect him--always, at all costs.

And Dick knows he’s an emotional person. He falls in love quickly and deeply, and it usually ends with his heart broken--again and again.

But that’s just another way Jason is different. Not in a way that can be put to words--in a way that just is. A way that is true and unchanging, like the way the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and the way the same stars have shone over the same earth for millions and millions and millions of years. 

“I love you like I don’t love everyone,” Dick says in his best attempt to explain. This is one of those times where English fails--where no language can reach, and Dick is left scrambling to express his emotions in a way that makes sense.

Jason ducks his head away. “I know that,” he murmurs, abashed. 

But something makes Dick keep pressing. He desperately needs Jason to understand, to feel the love that overwhelms him from the inside out. “I would leave you--everything I own. Everything I am.”

Jason stares at him, awed, teal eyes wide and uncharacteristically earnest. He swallows. “I don’t want you to die,” he confesses, voice thick with emotion, almost like he might cry. Dick tries to remember the last time Jason cried in front of him, and comes up with a memory from before his death when he was just fifteen. Jason does not like to be vulnerable. He very rarely is. 

“Well, I’m trying not to.”

“Try harder.”

---

There comes a point after their conversation about what will be left to whom, when Dick falls unconscious and nothing Jason can do will rouse him. He’s got a fever--that much is made evident by his high temperature and relentless shivering. His leg is swollen in a way that makes Jason cringe and rethink everything he has done to help it.

“I love you,” Jason tells Dick’s unmoving form over and over. “I love you, I don’t want you to die.” He’s kicking himself for not having confessed it while Dick was awake and aware, kicking himself for his emotional ineptitude and inability to show vulnerability. He should have told Dick he loves him. What was Dick going to do? Punch him in the face for it?

He knows it was what Dick wanted to hear, and yet he couldn’t force the words out. He hates himself for it. What if Dick dies? What if Dick dies never having heard that Jason loves him?

Jason had managed to keep the tears in while Dick was awake, but now they’re streaming down his face unhindered as he leans over his lover’s pale form.

Lover: someone who loves.

The word fits Dick Grayson in a way no other word can. 

“Fuck you,” Jason snaps, hating the way his voice sounds thick and trembling with his unrestrained emotions. “You’re not allowed to fucking die. So you can just--quit it right fucking now.”

He chokes on his words and angrily swipes the tears away. “Fuck it all,” he repeats, angry and desperate. “Fuck it all to hell.” He leans back to stare at the sky. “Hear that, God? Bruce? Fuck you!” Jason yells. “Look what you’ve fucking done!” He shudders. “Look what you’ve done.” 

He’s holding Dick’s hand in a death-grip (and if this is a death-grip, what is a life-grip? Does that exist?) as his anger suddenly deserts him, leaving nothing behind but a total and utter hopelessness.

They’re doomed. They’re dying. It’s over. Everything’s over.

”I hope you’re fucking happy,” Jason snarls in a breaking voice.

And that’s when Jason sees the ship, silhouetted in the distance against the sea.

He stands up, frantic, and begins waving his arms and shouting. “OVER HERE!” he yells, desperate, disbelieving. He grabs the oars and waves them in the air like flags. “Over here, help, over here, please!” His voice is hoarse. 

The boat is small, with sails and only two levels. On the bow, facing Jason, he can see men. Fishermen. 

And they’re waving at him. They see him.

Automatically, disbelievingly, Jason begins to row the liferaft towards the fishing boat. His movements are mechanical. He feels numb. He can’t believe the ordeal might finally be over. It might finally end. Dick might--

He can’t get his hopes up. He just rows. 

And rows and rows and rows, and the men sail towards him, and suddenly they’re within earshot of each other.

“Need help?” asks a fisherman in Spanish.

“Yes, please help,” Jason begs, too tired and desperate and hurting to think of his dignity. “Please help us.”

The boats line up, close to each other, and one of the fishermen tosses a rope ladder out to Jason. He catches it, but doesn’t make to climb across just yet--he grabs Dick and begins to haul him over. “Help him first,” Jason pleads, “he’s injured.”

A fisherman leans over to help grab Dick, and Jason, grunting with the pressure it puts on his injured shoulder, helps him drag Dick onto the sailboat. Only once Dick is fully on the other boat does Jason follow--and when he, too, is safely aboard the new vessel, he grabs Dick’s hand and holds him, shivering. 

“What happened to you guys?” asks one of the fishermen in Spanish.

“Our ship sank,” Jason replies hoarsely.

“How long were you stranded?”

“A week. Two. I don’t know.”

The men around him chatter in amazed Spanish, but Jason can’t be bothered to listen or pay attention. On the deck of the ship he curls around Dick tighter, unwilling to ever let him go again. They’re safe. They’re safe.

They’re finally safe.

Chapter Text

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.