Work Header

swimming is to drowning as flying is to

Chapter Text

Cobb says it had a pretty face, before. Some of the Owls still called it pretty, with the promise of pain; by the time it was holding a ( warm) child in its arms, it knew its face had been warped into weapon just like the rest of it.

Its first instinct when Jay asks is to refuse. It isn't caught up in its head enough to think its face could scare Jay, Jay with bruised knuckles and an arsenal and a sweeping scar, but. Doctor Thompkins had been shocked and sad and looked at its face with the knowledge of how it was before, of exactly which parts were added and taken away from the person it was.

Jay knows what it looked like before, too. Birdie doesn't want him to look at it like that. Birdie doesn't want him to feel like that, to mourn who's already (alive?) in front of him. 

But Jay asked, and Birdie doesn't think he can refuse his brother much of anything.

The heated air of the nest is still cool against its skin as the fabric comes off. It doesn't close its eyes, but isn't quite willing to look at Jay either, gaze locking firmly on the balaclava crumpled in its hands.


Oh . That fits its memories of who he used to be much better than Richard; the child drinking tea, the bird flying along rooftops, that was Dick . (He doesn't think that changes that it can't be him again, but the name tucks itself into its chest, nestles in alongside my little robin .)

He fumbles with the pen more than it should, feeling the weight of Jay's eyes on it ( watching watching ).

I was. Am. Don't remember much. You, younger; a silver-haired man with tea; us both being Robin. Remember being Talon more.

Jay looks up sharply from the notepad; "'Talon'? That's what they called you?"

Revealing any unique details of the Court feels as dangerous as refusing their tests, but. They're brothers, aren't they? Shouldn't it he trust his little wing with this? He shakes his head.

Not called. What I was. Am. The model of weapon I am, what I am was used for.

Birdie (Dick? Would Jay want him to go by Dick now?) doesn't like the way Jay's hands shake, the way it rattles up to shake his lungs as he exhales, cursing softly. 

It likes what the man says next even less. 

"How would you feel about goin' back to Leslie's?"

It only takes one look at Birdie (Dick , that's fucking Dick , experimented on and brainwashed almost beyond recognition—yet he did recognize him, in that first death-defying leap up on the roof, in his exit from a backbridge, in his unbearable, unbelievable need to help even when the last thread holding him together has long since worn out—) to know that question shouldn't have come out yet. It needs to happen at some point; now that Jason has a baseline for where his health should be, it's clearer just how much was inflicted on him, what needs to be addressed. 

Yes, his paranoia hasn't rejected the idea of a clone, maybe one with a few false implanted memories, but that's something he can't really let matter , not when someone who looks and moves and feels like his brother is an exposed nerve sitting in front of him.

Dick was off in Bludhaven for most of the time they knew each other, and getting him and Bruce in the same room as each other took emergencies more often than not—that didn't stop him from sneaking Jason out for late-night pizza runs, from showing him how to stop a Bruce lecture with the right puppy-eyes, from calling him his little brother and meaning it.

Jason's had people hold what he owes them over his head more than enough for the idea of owing Dick to rankle him. Maybe he owes it to himself though; hearing about Nightwing's presumed death had, in the beginning, only been more fuel for the roaring fire of rage boiling the Pit in him.

It turns out, when you let yourself feel things other than anger, shit hurts . He's barely started to unravel any of the grief around Dick, and now he's here .

Here, and stilling in that way Jason knows means Birdie is starting to disappear into his head. "Hey, that's okay: no clinic, no tests." For now. "Nothin' in our deal's changed, 'm not gonna force you into anything, 's just. Jesus , Dickie, it's good to see you."

Too-pale, eyes too-wide, dark veins crawling up his shaved head, Dick gives a hesitant, disbelieving smile, nothing and everything like he did before. He's right here . How didn't he realize the second that smile came out? 

Dick picks up the pen and paper again. Didn't Dick know some sign language? Not that it'd help much when all Jason would understand is 'help' and 'thank you'. 

Not angry sad? That I'm not how, who you remember?

His laugh is dark and wet; "Pretty sure I'm not how you remember me either."

He doesn't expect Dick's frown (that young he'd read off Birdie looks strange on Dick. Dick could be childish, but only an idiot would think he had any of the naivety of it; it's not naivety now, exactly, more like the protections he'd built up were cracked open and peeled away). Still help. Still Robin. Still my Little Wing.

At this point, Jason feels entitled to the tears finally spilling past his eyes. "Yeah, Dickie. Still your Little Wing."

None of the changes he expected happen, but there are changes. The name, for one; 'Dickie' replaces 'Birdie' when Jay speaks, and it he likes it mostly

It's harder for him to make the change, himself. Birdie is… safer. He remembers being it, him for longer than Dick, even as he knows (thinks? hopes?) the opposite is true. It sounds nice and warm from Jay but it doesn't sound like he's talking to it.

Jay isn't upset with him, is the important thing. He feels dizzy with the relief of it, of having its face bare and smiling and getting a lopsided smile in response; he will take the tears and the way the shakes of fear stay and the threat of more tests in the future, all of it, to be seen and not found wanting.

That Jay can look at this failed weapon and still see his brother is as gratifying as it is terrifying.

Because not a lot has changed, yet, but there will come a point when 'Dickie' can't be him enough, when Jay will realize it can't be him.

Jay, on shaking breath, says they should eat something. He thinks its stomach can't fit more than being seen, agrees anyway. Just like Jay'd promised, there's no Ensure in sight; his little brother heats a bowl of broth and hands it to him with a piece of bread (looks so relieved when Birdie Dick eats both and doesn't bolt). 

After finishing his own meal, though, it's clear in bouncing legs and twitching fingers that the feelings Jay's faced seeing his undead brother have transferred to the need to move like Birdie's Dick's had earlier. He can't imagine still having energy, smelling like gunsmoke and blood like Jay does—despite sleeping more than it ever did as Talon, the little exercise he'd done before little Robin arrived (and the swooping threat and fear it could barely stop feeling since) have exhaustion settled into his bones. 

Still, he understands, and understands like he thinks only a brother could why Jay hasn't made a move to leave.

You can go. I'll still be here when you get back.

Jay looks set to argue for a second (his face scrunching up just like the memory—how could he think he isn't just how Dick remembers?), takes a few measured breaths, and deflates, scratching the back of his neck. "Could pick up a few things. See if Pedialite's an easier texture, finally pick up a phone so you don't get stranded…" 

Thinking out loud . It makes something warm settle next to his exhaustion, a tired smile tugging at his mouth as he makes a shooing motion. Work off that energy before you punch another dumpster, Little Wing .

Just because he encourages Jay to leave doesn't mean worry doesn't sweep in cold and brittle as soon as the locks click. Wrapping up in the blanket he bought him, Dick pretends that's warm enough.


He dreams that it is frozen.

It is in its coffin, being kept until use. 

Jay is there, operates the coffin's controls—and it begins to thaw but it burns , searing out from its veins. It can't tell him to stop. All it can do is burn. Jay says he's happy Dick's back.


It swallows back bile when he wakes. Rests his face in shaking hands. Fuck . He doesn't need another reason to be scared of Jay (Talon had hated the child being scared of it, and the man Jay looked so sad every time it flinched from him). 

The least he can do is keep down the food he gave him. Shifting til his feet find the cool floor, it he moves to stand, intent on finding something to focus on other than the light food sitting leaden in his stomach. Distraction comes when he sways on his feet, bright spots dancing in his vision. 

Huh. It's not an unfamiliar enough sensation to scare him (it pushes down the echoes of dizzying hunger), but with a(n over)full belly and no obvious illness or injury, he can't think of a reason it's engineered body would act like this. The spots fade after some steady breathing and his steps feel stable enough underneath him as he moves to the kitchen. Dishes. That's something he can do.

(If the spots come back after he crouches to put Jay's plate away, well, that was the last dish anyway.)

His bones are still heavy, what little energy sleep had given him sapped in an instant compared to how long it could last it as Talon.

Maybe you aren't meant to be unfrozen this long.

As soon as it thinks it, it tries desperately to push it away as it has with so many other dangerous thoughts, but it stays, cold and hard in the center of its skull. It— he! Can't be frozen again, can't feel how his body shuts down hours before his mind, so cold it's burning before it goes numb, unresponsive, and all it can do is sit in a body it can't feel and wait as its mind gives up on it too—

Never again. If lightheadedness and easy exhaustion are the price he'll pay for staying warm, he'll pay it every second. 

Jason can admit to going a little overboard. Nothing expensive (gang leading pays well but, old habits), phone just enough to call or watch videos and not much else, but two full bags of 'hope Dick can stomach this' after he's already stocked this safehouse with more food than the others combined is making him feel like Bruce when Alfred was gone and Jason got sick, panic-buying half the drugstore— 

What? That's—not something he's remembered before. He knew living with Bruce couldn't have been bad all of the time, trusted his younger self would have left another Willis; yet thinking about the man always brought up Garzonas, not being believed , the fight over his birth mother; the hope that Batman will still come dying along with him.

Remembering laughing until he nearly coughed up a lung because Bruce read the thermometer in Celsius and though he was dying of hypothermia, well. It makes him wonder just how much the Pit has been twisting. His betrayal and anger is still there, and what he knows is true is still enough to justify it, but making Bruce pay for his shit is something he feels more and more comfortable putting off. With Dick back, it's hard for it to matter at all.

Glancing over the couch as he makes his way to the kitchen (to try to find space in the dinky fridge for everything he bought), Jason thinks that Dick is asleep. It's almost worrying, how often he's been falling asleep; 'cept Jason doubts any of it has even approached being restful. Alfred always pushed rest after a tough mission . From what he now knows Dick has been through, the past four years have been one hell of a mission.

Once he's got everything minus the phone put away, though, he gets close enough to tell—fingers fiddling with sweatshirt sleeves, doing that stupid (nerve-wracking) not-breathing; Dick isn't sleeping, just laying there. It's hard to reconcile this deeply-ingrained stillness with the Dick he knew even though it's what he's come to expect from who he knows now. 

He doesn't tense more when Jason gets closer at least. "Want me to walk you through the phone, or y'think you got it? Tech's changed a bit." Tacks on the excuse for help; Birdie has accepted needing help with a lot of things Dick would have tried to stubborn through, but he figures he'll give the out in case that Grayson Independence rears its head.

Dick hums in response, raising himself to sit painstakingly slowly. Injured? He doubts Robin 3 took a pot-shot, and Dick frankly hasn't been doing enough to get hurt unless he'd strained himself with the gymnastics

"You feelin' alright?"

Fine. Show me the phone! Despite the obvious diversion, Jason can't help but chuff out a laugh; of course he'd choose setting up a phone to get excited about. 

He'll ask again later, watching for other signs of pain until then. Occupying Dickiebird's overactive brain can take priority for now.