Dick didn't acknowledge Jason when he landed next to him on the roof. His eyes didn't leave the complex below. He had one goal tonight. Nothing and no one would stand in his way.
"B and Batgirl are in position." Jason said. "Ready to move in?" Dick nodded tersely. "Hey," Jason laid a hand on his shoulder, "We’re gonna get him back."
"Yes," Dick growled, drawing his escrima sticks and clenching them tightly. "We are."
He flipped off the stack of shipping containers with a tight somersault, landing lightly. A split second later Jason landed heavy and solid behind him. The four guards didn't stand a chance.
Before they could react, Nightwing went high while the Red Hood went low. They matched each other's moves fluidly, fighting in tandem as if it was a practiced dance. They didn't team up much, Jason complained it hurt his reputation, but when they did they were a force to be reckoned with.
Dick dropped the final guard with a spinning kick and slammed open the doors, Jason hot on his heels. There was an explosion in the distance. Most likely Bruce and Barbara breaching the other side. Good. His plan was working.
More enemies rushed to meet them inside. Jason's gunshots echoed in the hallways as Dick lit up his escrima sticks. He knew he was being brutal; he could feel bones snap under his last kick, could see how they twitched from the volts he was hitting them with. But he didn't care. The gang had crossed a line. They messed with his family.
The hallway echoed with the low hollow clangs of his escrima colliding with flesh and armour and the blasts of Jason's guns. Rubber bullets had to hurt in such close quarters.
Jason kicked the next door open as Nightwing finished a guard off with two tasers to the chest. "No jokes tonight?" He asked as they marched down the hall.
The next room was larger and filled with more gun-toting henchmen. But larger meant more room to move. Dick immediately leapt into a handspring. He landed on top of a henchman, knocking him to the ground as he drove his escrima into the back of another who went down screaming. A sweep of the feet brought another down and a shock to the gut put them out. Then he was flipping across the room landing a spinning kick to a chest and cracking several ribs.
After several more takedowns he'd somehow lost one of his escrima but it didn't matter. The knuckles of his suit were reinforced and he'd picked up some dirty tricks from his days of brawling with a pit-driven Jason.
Dick didn't stop until they were down. He kept punching until the last one stopped groping for a weapon or trying to crawl out the door. And just as he was twirling his escrima, ready to slam it down into another sack of shit, Jason grabbed his arm.
"Enough ‘Wing. Enough." He pulled Dick away. "I know you're angry but you're going to regret this later."
"Like hell I will!" Dick snarled. But he walked away all the same, chest heaving as he bit back more words directed at Jason. His knuckles stung.
"God, I forgot how scary you can get." Jason tossed his other escrima to him.
Even in the midst of his fury, the statement managed to shock Dick. Nightwing wasn't scary. At least not in the way Batman or the Red Hood were.
No, he was wrong. Nightwing was scary. His line was just further out than theirs were.
That realization didn't stop him from taking down the next two people he saw. Sure, they wore lab coats, but he knew who they really were. A vault led to an arcing kick up into the chin of one and down onto the head of the next with frightening grace. He body-slammed the third person against the wall and shoved a sparking escrima under their chin.
"You are going to tell me where he is." Dick growled. "Or else I fry your brains."
Jason took a sudden step closer. The man in Dick's hands whimpered. "He's in OR one. I swear! Please, please don't hurt me!"
"You should have thought about that when you helped kidnap and torture a kid." Dick slammed his elbow across the man's face in a signature Batman move and dropped him on the ground. "Let's go, Hood."
The operating room was just around the corner and for the first time since he started his rampage, Dick faltered. What would he find behind these doors? Another source of nightmares?
No. This wasn't the time to be weak. This was a time to be Big Bird, to be the protector, to be the older brother. He surged forward.
His heart leapt into his throat when he saw Tim strapped to a table.
"Wing? That you?" Tim slurred, head rolling towards the door. Thankfully he still wore his domino, most likely due to the built-in security taser. He needed to thank Jason for that idea.
"Yeah Robin, it's me." Dick lay a hand on his brother's clammy cheek. His chest tightened when Tim pressed into the touch. "We're getting you out of here."
Jason stepped in, guns raised, as he made sure the room and adjoining gallery were clear. "Hey Replacement, how's it going?"
"Holy shit, you got Hood?" Tim mumbled. “So cool.”
"What did they do to you?" Dick asked as he hurried to unstrap him. There was a cutout in the operating gown at Tim's abdomen and a long, shallow cut across his pale, blood-streaked skin, as if the operation had been interrupted by their attack. Other cuts and bruises littered Tim's body. Some had numbers and letters written next to them in ink.
"Lots of drugs, Wing. Lots of drugs and then punching and some cutting for ‘speriments.” Dick flipped Tim's lenses up and flashed a light in his eyes. His pupils reacted sluggishly. “But they stopped before the really bad cutting. And the drugs were not fun."
"I'll get you fun drugs." Jason offered.
But Dick didn’t laugh. Rage boiled under his skin. Jason was wrong. He didn't regret his actions. He wished he had hit them harder. He wished they were–
"Don't worry, you're safe now." Dick gathered his little brother in his arms. Tim curled against his chest with a pitiful noise. "Hood, look for his suit."
"it's in my cell across the complex." Tim slurred. "They should have put me completely under because I saw a lot. Like a lot, a lot."
"Then B will get it." Jason said. "That's his sector. We need to get the hell out of here before they realize that babybird is missing."
"Hood maybe you should carry him–"
"No." Jason pointed at him. "You're benched before you go too far. I can handle crossing that line. You can't."
And despite his anger, Dick knew he was right. He clutched Tim closer and nodded. "Lead the way then."
Despite Jason benching him, there were so many attackers that Dick still had to fight. With one arm he clutched an unsteady Tim to his side, both of his arms looped around Dick's neck, and with the other he slammed his escrima viciously into bodies.
The doors ahead of them flew open. Dick braced himself for another way of guards. Instead Batgirl waved them forward. "Hurry up!"
"Look Robin," Dick scooped him back into his arms and rushed towards her, Jason covering his back. "It's Batgirl."
"Wow, the whole cavalry for lil’ ol’ me." Tim mumbled against Dick’s neck. His entire body was limp now.
Jason was summoning the Batmobile before they even set foot outside. Together they raced for the car, leaving Batgirl to handle cleanup with Batman.
The car came to a stop with a loud screech. "Alfred, get medical ready." Jason said as he jumped into the driver's seat. “We’re coming in hot.”
Dick lay the passenger seat flat and set Tim down, bracing himself as Jason gunned the car before the roof fully closed. He carefully peeled Tim's mask off and set to work cleaning and bandaging any cuts he could see.
"Does it hurt anywhere, Tim?" Dick urged. "You need to tell me if it does."
"Just tired." Tim whined, eyes fluttering shut.
"I know Timmers, I know." Dick smoothed his hair and shared a worried look with Jason. “Stay awake for me, we're almost at the cave."
With Tim stable, hooked up to an IV, and Bruce sitting vigilantly by his side, Dick finally headed to the showers. Now that everyone was safe, the exhaustion was starting to set in. Along with the unsettling thought that he’d almost been too late. Those insane scientists almost hurt Tim more. They could have killed him.
As Dick went to strip off his gauntlets, he saw the blood. There was more than he expected, drying dark in the blue ridges of his knuckles. He stared at it.
Remembered his brutality.
Remembered how crossing the line hadn't seemed so far away.
Or so bad.
Suddenly it was hard to breathe. He could feel his vision tunneling. And the only thought going through his mind, the only stupid thought, was a quote.
“Anger is an acid.” He whispered, still staring at his hands.
"Twain. Nice taste."
Then someone was guiding his hands under water, carefully washing away the blood. Bruce? Dick let them, his body starting to tremble from the adrenaline comedown. It was always a bitch. Tonight it seemed worse.
"You're okay. Tim is okay." The voice soothed as the hands peeled off his gloves and began to clean his own blood from his split knuckles.
"I almost... I wanted to..."
"I know." No, this wasn’t Bruce. The hands began gently patting his dry. "But you didn't. You’re still clean Goldie."
"Neither of us did."
The hands stilled. "No, neither of us did." And there was something so sad in the voice that Dick couldn't hold back any longer.
He turned and threw his arms around Jason, burying his face in his shoulder. "Thank you."
Jason’s hands hovered over Dick’s back, hesitant. As if he wasn't sure if he wanted to push Dick away or pull him closer. "For stopping you from being like me? Or for not killing anyone?" He sounded resigned, as if he knew what the answer would be.
But there was also something pleading in his question, as if he hoped against hope that he was wrong.
"For being there.” Dick said. Jason stiffened in surprise. “Jay, I didn't call you hoping you would kill for me. I called you because we needed you. I needed my brother."
"I..." The words seemed to stick in Jason’s throat but he pushed through. "I'll always be there." Jason said in a shaky whisper, finally hugging him tightly.
They clung to each other for several minutes. When they finally stepped back, neither commented on the other's red eyes.
"Take a shower already Dickie," Jason chuckled as he wiped his face. "You stink."
Dick smiled and punched his chest weakly. "You don't exactly smell like roses yourself Jaybird."
When Bruce emerged from the showers later, the cave was eerily silent. The only noises were the computer, bats, and the steady beeping of Tim's monitors. Grabbing the mug of coffee Alfred left for him, Bruce headed to the medical bay to continue watching over Tim.
He’d told Dick and Jason to go to bed after they’d changed and showered. The boys needed to rest after a week of relentless searching. He could handle another sleepless night. Besides, he’d have no rest until Tim woke up coherent and well.
But his spot was already taken.
Jason was sitting in the chair, hair still damp, and dead to the world. His head was next to Tim’s thigh as he used his arms for a pillow on the bed. It was the same way he used to fall asleep at the batcomputer all those years ago, refusing to leave Bruce’s side even after a long night.
Dick, also freshly showered, was curled in the bed alongside Tim, holding his IV-free hand, and snoring softly. The same snore that he’d woken up to countless times after Dick snuck into his bed during the night.
And Tim. Tim finally looked peaceful, safe and surrounded by his big brothers.
Bruce stood there for a long time, content with watching his sons sleep.