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swimming is to drowning as flying is to

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Dick dreams of… Birdie dreams of floating, or is awake for floating; Jay’s hand is holding his sometimes, and smaller familiar hands adjust things around him. He tries to ask if he should be awake for them, and Jay’s hands just push his fumbling ones gently down, so it can't be that important. He can't move his head without feeling like its brain is waves crashing against a rocky shore, but one of those warm hands just gently cups his face until it stops, so it can't be that important. 

Floating to the surface without someone's hand there feels very important. Pressing air through its throat gets a broken whining noise out, and that gets the sound of footsteps coming from… somewhere. Normally it could tell, but it doesn't know where it is right now, let alone some sound .

"Shi—uh, shoot. What's, what's wrong?" The voice is somewhere between Baby Bird and Little Wing's, yet not either , not a voice it knows. Opening its eyes seems a monolithic effort, but it does it because it has to, has to see the threat-unknown-young? the voice belongs to.

What it has to do is stupid , it turns out, because as soon as its eyes are open blinding light assaults them; it closes them, hisses and whines (and whines more when it doesn't have the strength to scramble away).

"Hey, wait; is it the lights?" Knowing now it shouldn't try to nod, it hums, that breaking off into a mournful croon; the voice spits another shit under their breath and then something is clicked with too much strength and the glow in front of its eyelids blissfully retreats. "That, uh, that better?" 

It sighs in response, tries to tug its lips into a smile. It doesn't put too much energy in it though, focusing instead on peeling its eyes open once again. Birdie pretends it can draw energy from the blanket pulsing electric-warmth around it and eventually it's looking at a green wall.

Turning its head to scan its surroundings is off the table, but it can turn its eyes to see who it assumes is the source of the sound and the lights stopping. He’s—and it’s a he, isn’t he? Isn’t that something he took pride in? He wonders if Jay takes pride in that, or Timmy, or whoever this is—he’s an odd combination of Birdie’s brothers, broad with muscle and tensed defensively, yet still-growing and big-eyed. Maybe it’s just the mop of black hair (maybe he doesn’t remember enough people to compare to).

Seeing him reminds Birdie (Dick? He can’t hold his brain together long enough to remember why he should use a name that doesn’t make him warm like Birdie does) of what distressed him in the first place: the absence of brothers. 

‘Where?’ he signs, barely holding back another whine; where are they where are they make sure they’re safe.

It’s only as the (boy? Young man? Compared to the Owls they all look like kids) responds that Birdie remembers he might not understand sign (knows he isn’t as fluent anymore, the expressiveness necessary drilled out of it). “You’re at Titans Tower. You’re… pretty sick, but Robin’s working his ass off to make you better.”

Which is nice to know, as all he’d gathered of their location previously was “warm” and “absent of brothers”, but infinitely less important than what he’d actually been asking. ‘Robins where?’ The namesign comes easy, the sign for the bird moved up to his eye, but indicating two has the boy’s eyes widening, crossed arms going lax. 

Then he scoffs, dropping his arms completely; “Of course he was right. Tim’s in the lab, thinks he’s made a breakthrough so he probably won’t be up for a while." The boy frowns, face falling into the lines of it with the ease of flying over rooftops, safe for the amount of practice. “Think Red Hood’s figuring out food for you; managed to convince Tim not to go the feeding tube route yet,” It—Birdie shivers at the thought, at something being forced down its his throat, and pushes it down and away. 

“Yeah, he said you wouldn’t like it. I don’t blame you; Cadmus had enough tubes in me...” He trails off, rubbing at the crook of his arm (a motion just as practiced as the frown). 

And Talon, who was prized for its mind, who saw Jay as like it before it knew who he was, either of them—even through fog and sludge and the ache buried in his veins, he sees and knows the boy was made like him, just like he’d known it about Jay.

A flush comes to the boy’s face, angry or shameful or both. “Anyway, d’you uh, need anything?” 

“You sure you good Dickhead?” Jason isn’t looking at him, or not his face; his eyes are locked onto the IV on the back of his hand. Dick remembers the first time ___ went to the hospital after a show instead of the medic tent, how confused and scared and curious he’d been, watching them put a line in, and how ___ just laughed as ____ scolded her for ‘letting it get this bad’, pulling Dick up on the bed with her and explaining what the monitors and line is for.

He knows Jay’s memories of hospitals are worse than that. He hopes taking a page out of her book can help. “I’m good Little Wing. I’ve dislocated that kneecap tons of times, this time it just swelled too much for me to relocate on my own. Now they’re just keeping me on saline and naproxen until it reduces enough that they’re sure I haven’t fractured it.” Noticing Jay’s stare doesn’t let up, Dick puts on a Grayson grin, leans in; “I think B’s just too scared to admit I’m better at relocating joints than him.”

That gets a light snort out of Jay, a shake of his head; “What a weird fucking thing to brag about.” Then for the first time since he walked in, he looks up at Dick, actually looks at him. His voice comes out small (he’s just fourteen), “Just naproxen?”

Dick’s voice comes out small too (he’s just eighteen), “Just naproxen. My body doesn’t process opioids well.”

And the eyes are back down. “Does anyone’s?”

‘OK’, Dick Birdie signs, ‘being scared is OK.’ Seeing that anger-shame only rising, it tries to be who Dick remembered. ‘Tube would be scary because used to hurt me before, because force throat bad. Tube used to hurt you too. Tubes suck.’

And just like Dick, Birdie gets a little snort. “Yeah. Tubes suck.”

The Tower kitchen fucking sucks . Half the fridge is filled with meat and dairy alternatives Jason just knows would get vetoed by the kid Birdie Dickie for the textures, the freezer is filled with frozen dinners and ice cream that he’d never be able to keep down, and he’s getting more sure someone dulled all the knives on purpose.

At least they have ramen packets; his mama taught him a few ways to soup them up, and the little twerps do have an impressively stocked vegetable drawer going for them. He remembers Leslie saying something about vegetables being alright as long as they’re very well cooked (he looks it up twice while prepping them just in case), and it’s been a while since he’s had anything green himself, too distracted with making sure Dickie eats anything

Egg seems like too much of a texture gamble for Dickie (after the Ensure incident he’s not risking it) but he’s craving one for his own. Despite the otherwise vegan setup, there’s three cartons in the fridge; Jason shrugs, reaching for the standard-looking gray one, only for his hand to be blocked by a neon green bat .

Now, most of the trip here was lost to his panicked daze, but he distinctly remembers being asked (too nicely for someone as dangerous as him) to disarm. Knowing that, his instincts bypass the thigh holsters to grab one of the dull kitchen knives, pointed dead-center at the little creature.

The little creature, predictably, shrieks and flies a few feet away (Jason’s arm tracks its movement). Maybe less predictably, the neon green bat then grows into a neon green person .

“Hey, woah, what the hell dude?” hits the air from a ( green ) mouth at the same time “What the fuck!? ” is punched out of Jason’s. 

That green mouth is happy to continue; “Okay, maybe it wasn’t the best move to pull the bat card, but really, those… eggs are Starfire’s, and the last time I touched one my hand tingled for days . So here I am, trying to save you from a terrible tingly fate, and you pull a knife on me? Not cool man, not cool.”

He figures ‘you’re lucky I didn’t shoot you’ doesn't fly as a response to a teenager no matter how true it might be, but he lowers the knife. “I have… bad experiences being snuck up on.” He grinds out, forcibly ignoring how his heart rate jumped as soon as the knife sits on the counter instead of safely in his hand.

“Oh! Yeah, Robin’s like that too; I still have a batarang hole in my room from the time I sneezed and turned into a hyena. Let’s call this a mutual fuck-up then!” Still in person form, the green teen hops up on the counter, looking over the ingredients Jason’s laid out with interest. “Ramen, nice! Y’know, Cyborg swears by putting cheese in no matter how much I tell him the cow juice is nasty , but at least he gets his from this really nice farm just outside the city. I went there to check, of course; they can say ‘free range’ all they want but if the cows aren’t happy, I’m not happy…”

With Green Bean seemingly content to ramble without input, Jason goes back to rinsing the vegetables, sliding the diced green onions into a pan with olive oil before going back to chopping the rest. He’s forgotten how much he likes cooking a couple times now, only really remembering it on days when his hurts don’t ache as much, when being a living person doesn’t take as much effort. Learning to cook may have happened out of necessity (don’t think of making ramen for Mama when she tossed and turned and sweated cold in bed—was Willis still there or had he left? Even when the heat shut off it was still better when he left), but there’s something nice in it. Simple; not like baking, trying to force his sieve of a brain to remember proper ratios and stirring times and if he’s supposed to add the eggs yet; with cooking, as long as you throw in some onion and garlic, whatever you cobble together can turn out great.

Green Bean seems to agree, making a cat-like noise of appreciation when the garlic joins the pan, alongside carrots and what Jason’s pretty sure is bok choy. “Wow! We should let Robin invite knife-wielding weirdos more often! How much would it take for you to set aside some without the flavor packet—I’ve got like, five dollars cash or less, but as demonstrated I am uniquely equipped for pranking!”

Jason can’t help a snort, not looking up from the saucepan. “I kill people, kid; don’t think I’ll need a bat’s help with that anytime soon.”

He may not be looking, but he can still tell the kid’s tensed up beside him, legs no longer swinging in his peripheral vision. “...Ooookay, ignoring the scary part of that: do you think a bat’s really all I’ve got?” Without leaving time for Jason to say that he really doesn’t care, the teen morphs into a cat—definitely not a housecat, but not quite leopard or lion status either, its green spotted and striped self sitting at about the size of a medium dog.

Some small part of Jason that he’d honestly thought died with him whispers: cool .

“... Off the counter, or I’m giving you the bowl with fur in it.”

“Your brother’s weird.”

Tim’s first thought— yeah, and alive , isn’t it great? —is too sappy and sleep-deprived to share (same with which one? , something he’s going to unpack exactly never , thank you very much). Sliding over to his laptop to see if anyone’s successfully stabilized an aluminum alkyl base like this, he instead just offers a curious “Mm?”

Kon-El doesn’t scoff at being ignored, though, so Tim looks up from his research. His friend has his arms crossed, frowning in thought; not an uncommon sight, but becoming more and more so when it’s just them. “He’s just—gah! He’s like M'gann, y’know, all trying to make you happy. He started cooing at me.”

That makes Tim tap an open fist against his chest happily. He makes his voice flat (the one inflection he never has to worry about nailing): “According to Red Hood, that means he’s adopted you,” and delights in the way Kon-El’s dark skin flushes. Dick may express it differently now, but he seems to attach himself to people just as hard; he doesn’t blame Kon for getting a little overwhelmed by it.

“Yeah, well since Hood’s the second Robin I guess we’re all family.” Tim snaps his head up to Kon again, who finally scoffs, rolling his eyes; “Oh please, like you would’ve told me if you didn’t already believe it. He… used the Robin namesign, asking about both of you. The guy’s nine kinds of out of it but he…” Kon rubs at his inner elbow, making Tim instantly regret asking him to check on Dick given the state his brother’s in. “He knew what he was talking about."

If Tim were Dick, he’d pull Kon into a hug, replace the echoes of treatment Kon only later learned was wrong with unambiguous comfort—but Tim isn’t Dick, as much as he’d tried to be for Bruce, isn’t the one to pull people out of their pasts with dazzling smiles and a gentle touch (even now, shying away from touch and hiding his teeth with any smile, Dick does his best to comfort, to reassure; gravitates to it like an inevitability).

He isn’t Dick, but he is Kon’s friend. Without a word, he walks to the samples fridge, pulling two of the formulations that’d come closest to the pitch metallic compound he’d isolated from Dick’s blood; both near chemically identical to it, yet both ultimately inert, producing none of the unique readings his small sample still does. He holds out both glass containers to Kon: “Wanna try and fine-tune your eyes enough to melt these without melting their containers?”

Judging by the powerful squint-and-pout Kon sends his way, he knows he’s been given a not-particularly-relevant task to focus his energy on; still, he takes them without any further complaint, moving to the chemical shower and closing the blast-proofed door as he’s done the last few times Tim’s just so happened to ask him to ‘fine-tune his abilities’ while he’s upset. 

Eyes lingering an appropriate amount of time on his friend through the glass door, Tim eventually turns back to his laptop, pretending he isn’t anticipating the one-armed thank you hug Kon will initiate when he’s done. Maybe if I tweak the ratios, account for more byproduct?

So intentionally lost in alternative modeling of the compound, he barely looks when his civilian phone lights up, using one hand to idly swipe ‘ignore.’

An idleness quickly broken when his doubly-distracted mind hears muffled sounds and realizes the call has very much been accepted.

Scrambling to put on the Timothy Drake persona, he picks up full of the formal apologies his parents had him reciting before he turned seven. “I—” is all he manages to get out when the caller cuts in.

“Where are you keeping him?!”

“... Hi Dad.”