(Something Like) An Anniversary
Bit late for Jason’s death-day, but I’ve had this idea in my head for a while. I was hoping it’d help get me writing again. (I swore I’d post something today.)
Characters: Alfred, Bruce, Dick, Jason, Tim, Damian.
Some coarse language.
The silence is suffocating, Dick thinks.
Bruce is staring at his plate, fork gripped in a white-knuckled hand, his mouth turned down minutely at one corner like it does when he’s hiding something. He eats automatically, unhappily.
Tim is slouched low in his chair, shoulders folded in. He looks like a kicked dog, his plate of food virtually untouched. Every few minutes his eyes dart up, and then back down. He seems to slink lower.
Damian, though, is unsure. Dick catches him glancing around the table surreptitiously, trying to gauge everyone else. Learning through observation. And he’s trying to scowl, like always, but his discomfort is showing through.
And Dick looks at his own plate, half-empty. He doesn’t want to eat it, but keeps going out of some odd, misplaced sense of duty. He thinks he’s the only one going for normalcy.
Except the man of the hour, who is eating loudly and with gusto.
And finally, swallowing a mammoth bite of meat and potatoes, Jason sets down his fork and sits back. Says flatly, “So. Are we gonna talk about the elephant in the room?”
Dick squeezes his eyes shut, horrified, notes the way Bruce very carefully stiffens, hears the slide of Tim slouching lower in the chair. Damian’s hiss of breath, Alfred fumbling with a glass. Dick tries to swallow, starts to say, “Ja–”
“That killer haircut on the demon-kid!” Jason says, apparently oblivious, and Dick releases a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding. “What, Alfie do that for you, or you go to some poor, unsuspecting barber?”
Dick opens his eyes to see Jason’s lazy smirk.
Damian snaps, “I do not appreciate your mockery, Todd.”
“Hey,” Jason says, curling a hand over his heart. Offended. “You’re that surprised I like your haircut? I think it’s really stylish. You’re probably the King of second grade.”
“Fifth,” Damian huffs, self-consciously ruffling his own hair. “And I certainly do not care about school.”
Jason, shovelling more food in now, says, “Now that’s just not ‘llowed, li’l Robin,” and swallows with difficulty. He grins, showing white teeth as he looks toward Dick. “What was that shit you fed me, Goldie?”
Dick has no idea what to expect, says, “Uh–?”
And Jason quotes, very seriously, ” ‘School is compulsory for Robins. It’s in the handbook, Jason, and you’ve gotta do well. It’s chapter five!’ “
“… Robin handbook?” Tim says, looks startled by the sound of his own voice. He sits straighter in the chair, going very faintly pink and looking very much as though he wishes he wasn’t.
“I spent so fuckin’ long looking for that book,” Jason says, grinning and shaking his head. “Tore the goddamn Cave apart.” Then, “You’re such a shit, Dickie.”
Bruce shifts. Frowns. Forgetting himself, he says, “You never told me that.”
“I was pretty embarrassed,” Jay says, with a half-shrug. Grinning. “Getting fooled by someone with such a shit poker face.”
“What is this Robin handbook?” Damian asks, after a moment. Hesitant and faintly worried, but trying to hide it behind his usual sharp tones.
“Doesn’t exist,” Jason explains cheerfully. “Jus’ a porker Dickiebird decided would be funny.”
And Dick says, “Is that a police joke? Should I be offended?” which makes Bruce snort into his potatoes and Damian cough around a mouthful of beef. Tim covers his mouth, which probably means he’s smiling too, and Alfred’s got that fond moustache twitch that he gets whenever any of them use British colloquialisms.
As Dick starts (loudly) defending his rights as an older brother (lies are to be expected, don’t take it so personally), it occurs to him; Jason is trying. And trying hard.
And Tim and Damian join the conversation, beginning a discussion on some of Dick’s more outrageous lies, which quickly dissolves into a near-argument in which they rate each other’s poker faces. (Dick gets a 3 out of 10, if you wondered.)
(… And Bruce gets a 90.)
It’s later when Jason is flopped on the couch. More sombre than before. Like the energy has been leeched out of him. Dick hovers in the doorway, unsure if he’s intruding.
He hears Jason say, “You make a cake, Alfred? “Happy Death-Day, Jason” piped over the top?”
And Alfred responds, after a moment, “I could, sir. If you thought it would help.”
Jason laughs, but it’s not his warm, deep laugh. It’s a little bitter. “I mean, this is kind of maudlin, right? It’s not just me?”
“It could be worse, Master Jay,” Alfred says, matter-of-factly. “We could all set up lawn chairs in front of the Case. Or the gravesite, perhaps.”
That has Jay laughing for real, and he tips his head back to look at the old man. “You never put up with my shit, huh?”
“I do my best, sir,” the butler says smoothly. “And do mind your language.” And after a moment, he settles beside Jason on the couch. Says, hesitant, “If I may– I am very glad you came home for this, Master Jason.”
“You like it when we’re all home, huh?” Jay says, sitting up. He sounds like he’s smiling, a little, but it’s sad.
“This house has stood empty far too long.”
And there’s silence, for a minute, before Alfred reaches over to pat Jason’s hand. “Happy Death-Day, young master,” he says.
As Alfred stands, then, to leave, Jason says, “Heh. Thanks, Alf.” And adds, “Y’know. For everything.”
Alfred smiles brilliantly, sincere, and says, “It is, as ever, my pleasure, Jason.”
Dick stands aside to let Alfred leave. He wonders if he should be preparing himself for a punch in the face.
Jason says nothing when he enters, still nothing when he sits beside him. But Dick’s always been bad at silence.
“We can go out drinking, if you’d prefer,” Dick offers, after a moment. And, “I don’t think anyone here could comment on you being self-destructive, or whatever. Except Damian, maybe, cuz he’s too young to have developed any seriously debilitating habits.” And okay, he’s babbling, but it’s Jason and he never quite knows what to do around him. Not any more.
Jay’s surveying him seriously, eyes faintly narrowed. Then he says, “Here’s good.” And, “…thanks.”
And then, readying himself for the punch in the face he probably deserves, Dick bumps Jason’s shoulder lightly with his own. Says quietly, “Love you, little wing.”
The punch doesn’t come. But there is a soft snort, a responding bump of shoulders. “You’re a sap, Dick.”
Dick just shrugs helplessly, and they sit in a comfortable silence awhile.
After a time, Tim enters. A little hesitant. Almost shy. There’s a false start before he cements his resolve, sits on Jason’s other side. They sit in silence for the time it takes Tim to work up the courage to speak. Then, “You okay?” he asks Jason evenly. Hand hovering awkwardly over Jason’s.
“…You’re really shit at this,” Jason says, on a laugh, and slings an arm around the kid’s shoulder, dragging him a little closer.
Tim hmm’s his agreement, trying to pretend his face isn’t pink and that he’s perfectly comfortable squished into Jay’s side. That human contact isn’t an alien concept to him.
And Dick tries not to laugh.
Silence falls again.
“Shouldn’t you kiddies be suiting up for patrol?” Jason says eventually, an edge to his tone Dick can’t quite identify.
There is a pause before–
“No Robin, past or present, patrols tonight,” Tim says quietly.
And Jason stares at the kid, still tipped into his side, a look like surprise on his face. Then his expression shutters, and he says, “Typical Bats. Emo as shit.” but Dick thinks he’s trying to hide from exactly what that says– about how his death affected everyone.
“Said the pot to the kettle, Todd,” Damian sneers, from the doorway.
“Hey Damian,” Dick says, swivelling and smiling, watching his youngest brother stomp into the room.
Tim and Jason just give him almost-nods. And he stands a few feet away from the couch, watching them warily. Interested and hesitant.
“C’mere,” Dick says, holding out a hand.
And Damian’s frown deepens.
“Relax, mediocrity isn’t contagious,” Dick tells him good-naturedly, and snatches his wrist to drag him forward. He settles the reluctant boy onto the couch, squished and partly on top of himself and Jason. Long-sufferingly, Dick adds, “We can’t all be genetically enhanced.”
“Don’t mock me, Grayson,” Damian scowls, sinking uncomfortably between his two eldest brothers.
Dick smiles and ruffles his hair, says, “Does that sound like something I’d do?” and then, because it only just occurs to him, “Hey, you guys wanna watch a movie?”
“What,” Damian says, flat, and tries to sit up straighter to compensate for the fact he’s squished in between two larger bodies. (Dick tries not to laugh.)
“It’s got to be better than sitting in silence,” Tim offers, a bit reluctantly. Almost a question. Because Jason still has an arm slung around him, and the older man has a habit of violence.
And Jay says, “What d’you suggest?”
“Hercules,” Tim says, at the same time as Dick offers, “Aladdin,” and Damian blurts “The Lion King”, and tries to pretend he didn’t.
“Tie-breaker?” Dick says, looking to Jay, who bites his lip.
“Hercules,” he decides, and Tim grins wide, sliding off the couch and toward the DVD cabinet.
“…We have an embarrassing number of Disney movies,” Tim says, after a minute. Frowning at the cupboard. “And they aren’t even alphabetised.”
“It’d only be embarrassing if they were bad,” Dick says patiently. “As it is, Disney movies are the best. And Timmy, please don’t organise them now. You can do it later.”
“I wasn’t gonna,” Tim huffs, ears pink as he sets up the DVD. Then he goes back to the couch, wriggling back into his former spot.
Dick flicks off the light, contorting stupidly to reach it, and they settle down to the musical prologue.
It’s one and a half movies later and Dick is dozing. Damian is snoring into his side, still squished between him and Jason, and he knows Tim dropped off awhile ago, curled up against his mostly-estranged brother.
Jason’s the only one still watching (Aladdin, now), but Dick’s half awake, in that pleasant haze between sleep and wakefulness. Eyes closed.
So he doesn’t notice Bruce has entered until hears a low, unwilling, “I wanted to check if you were okay.”
Jason, sounding wry, a rustle of clothes indicating a gesture, says, “If I get lonely, I’ll let you know.” (They are all sort of wriggled-in to him. Even Dick has a hand against his leg.)
Bruce’s footsteps, quiet at the best of times, sound lightly.
But Jason calls quietly, (so as not to disturb his sleeping brothers), “…You okay, Dad?”
Dick thinks he hears Bruce turn around, move a little closer again. “Tonight,” he says, quiet. Slow, like he’s tasting the words. “Is never easy.”
“Yeah,” is all Jay says.
And Dick cracks open his eyes a fraction, looks at the dark room lit only by the TV screen through his eyelashes. Watches as the shape that’s Bruce ducks down in front of the couch, pulling Jason forward a little, to kiss his forehead. It’s an apology, a truce. A promise, a thank-you.
Dick thinks it might be the saddest thing he’s ever seen.
Hears the quiet, “Goodnight, son,” that isn’t meant for him.
Then Bruce stands and leaves, shutting the door quietly behind him.
And Dick is just beginning to drift off again, into real sleep, this time, when Jason–
–reaches over and flicks his forehead. He wakes with a start, tries not to jolt Damian.
“You still have a shit poker face,” is all Jason says.
Dick gives a huff of laughter and settles back into the couch.