The power for the block, and the block at his back, is out. It is not his fault, and maybe there is a for once that should follow. No, not him - the big leaguers are the go-In-and-break-stuff ones. Jason is more of a go-in-and-break-them-or-get-broken.
Tonight was a get-broken. It is still not his fault the power is out and he has to navigate the streets half by guess and half by mental maps. Climbing houses' facades with not enough light and injuries is a bitch.
She left her window unlocked again. You would think she would lock it, with all she sees and all she knows, but no. She is still the same, as if her prince charming is going to sweep her off her feet at night, or some equally so-called romantic idiotic notion. He mentally shakes his head at himself, trying to get rid of the odd thoughts. Maybe the blood loss is making him a bit loopy. She is not exactly the romantic kind. She knows exactly what goes bump in Gotham's night -- and she bumps back.
Nothing moves when he carefully -- as carefully as he can -- opens her window and slips into her room. All is quiet and dark.
He knows she was out earlier; he saw her take out a group of muggers with a particularly beautiful movement. She must have some killer bruises from the next fight: Blackgate escapees, some guys off from a group that he had been too busy taking care of to give her a hand with. He can only guess, in the absence of light and the dislike of the night-vision of the helmet, how she is laying on her bed, blond hair and arms and legs sprawled, a knee showing out from under the blanket. She makes sleep look good, and inviting.
He slips along the wall down to the floor, only sitting up because of the closet door digging into his back. It is easier to breathe there, finally not moving. There are things digging into various parts of his anatomy. He grabs the one closest to his hand. It lights up.
There is a quick movement from the bed, a flash of skin -- an arm maybe -- and then back under the covers, a quiet and sharp intake of breath. He lifts his arm a bit higher, displaying the little LED flashlight, showing himself in the same movement.
" 'That what you were looking for?"
Jason has a slightly better hideout this time around. At least here, the plumbing works, and the people in the neighborhood keep to themselves, and the things inside will not entirely freeze in winter. He pointedly does not think about will I still be there come winter, because for some reasons the multiverse is set against him. Maybe he should get used to just calling it the universe. Maybe he should not. All this shit is just good to give him headaches anyway. The important thing, right now, is that he has plenty of hot water and decent pressure to go with it, and he is sitting on the closed lid of the toilet of his own bathroom, and Batgirl is in the shower.
He follows with his eyes the arch of her foot posed on the edge of the tub, the curve of her calf, the faded childhood scar on her knee, the strength of her thigh, vast expense of pale skin, stretch marks - "I have a daughter, somewhere," she had said, her head on his chest, and she had never talked about it again, his large, calloused and scarred hand on her warm stomach -- a faded line of stitches scars disappearing under soapsuds and hot water and burnt out lightbulb. He watches her shadow dancing, the patter of the shower a warm sound.
Stephanie passes her head out from behind the shower curtain, her hair flattened and sneaking in dark rivulets on her shoulders.
"Are you going to stay there long?" She smirks. He does not answer, stays where he is sitting. A trail of water goes from her hair to her shoulder, down her arm, drips from her elbow, her hand up in the curtain. Her eyes shine. "My back isn't going to wash itself," she says, and she goes backward under the spray, watching him.
He goes up and follows her, clothes and all. She presses him against the cold tile, removes soaked fabric and death-trap-like jeans. The water runs pink at his feet.
The power does not come back. She stitches and bandages him up in her bathroom with the help of her little LED flashlight. She grumbles all along, once she got over seeing him.
"You look like death warmed over," she told him, and it did not even warrant a smile because they are all over and past zombies and living dead movies for the rest of their lives and beyond. Living dead jokes are now into the domain of Bad Puns That Even Dick Avoids At His Worst, not that Jason hears Dick makes many puns these days.
She chats up a storm while she stitches him up, asks him about the black-out, notes several times that it is a good thing her mother is on the late shift this week because she would have flipped at seeing Jay like that, talks about her night. She does have one rather spectacular bruise peeking at the edge of her short sleeve. Jason slowly relaxes, answers back that he has no idea what the black-out was about -- and Oracle shut him out of the comm lines when he started asking and apparently going toward it, saying she had it under control and would he please go get himself put back together before he bled out to death on them, and he found himself obeying thinking Oracle scared him a little, and a lot more than B-... not going there.
"Your mother saw me in worse shape," he grits out, the hand holding the flashlight shaking above her head.
"That's exactly why she would have flipped out," Stephanie answers around a bit of surgical thread and the neat stitches running along his ribs.
The place he had thought as his, here, is empty, the particular kind of empty that screamed it was full just a few days ago. He sees different footsteps through the helmet's lenses, and running his fingers down fails to drag dust around. Even the various caches scattered around were empty. He was back to nothing, the only things he could count on contained in the clothes on his back.
He was back to nothing.
He has his gun drawn and aimed before he even realizes it, before he even registers fully what and who is there. Just as quickly, it is taken down by a batarang and who is there finally registers; except he already saw Batgirl, and it is not who he can see in front of him.
"I had been told you were sort of a decent guy, but apparently my sources were mistaken," she says -she says- and her hair spills from below her cowl, catching the light. She smirks, and he can see the exact shade of her lipstick. He feels sort of relieved, suddenly. This place had never been his. He was still hopping in between worlds, still not home-in-the-largest-definition-of-the-te
"It's not like I don't want to chat, doll, but apparently I missed my bus stop," he replies. "Say, who's Batman on this Earth? C'mon, make it good, I need a good laugh here." He keeps his hands up and his stance non-threatening. With all his luck this Earth got another psycho Superman, another league of crazed supervillains, all the heroes are human-eating zombies. And here he had hoped to be finally home. He is going to kick annoying superheroes asses when he gets his hands on them. He promises himself, not for the first time, that he will kick Rayner's ass so far the Lantern will not need his precious bauble to go back to the Lanterns' planet.
Batgirl does not come nearer, keeps watching him. She still does not move when he takes his weapon back and put it away.
"What's the deal here? Crazy-ass Superman? The multiverse really needs only one of those - no, please tell me it's the one with male Amazons and a girl Atom, I really liked her - or is it the one where Oracle controls everything? And she can, too, she's one scary woman... So, what? Cat got your tongue?"
"Jason?" she says, and she looks like she is listening to someone who is not there - his money is on Oracle whispering in her ear. "Jason Todd?"
"Great," he starts, "I'm known here too. Joy. Yaha. That's me, just not the one and only. Just point me to the exit, I want to get back home."
"Jason," she repeats. "This is Earth... the only one. You're home. There is no more multiverse."
She drags him back to her room, a hand in his. He lets her, and he could fool himself with a thousand reasons why. He just... lets her. Her hand is warm.
They navigate the minefield that passes for her floor. There are still no lights outside, just a kind of a guess of luminous fog in the direction of downtown Gotham. He dumps his clothes and stuff at the feet of her desk, puts the helmet on it between two open books and half-done homework. She pushes him into her bed and follows him, as careful not to weigh on his injuries as he is to hers. The bed is barely large enough for two. They have both slept in worse places. They manage.
She leads him to Oracle, to Babs; and Babs is in the Batcave. It is not the only strange sight he comes across either -- he saw Batman and Robin soaring above them, when going to the 'Cave, and Robin had a totally wrong suit on; he was smaller, too. Batman had felt off. They did not see him, or did not pay attention. Then the girl in the Batgirl suit steps under the light next to the computers, and it is Spoiler/ex-Robin/Spoiler, the replacement's girlfriend. She smiles at him and leaves him to Babs.
He has to prove he is who he claims to be. It sounds exactly like the very fun ride it is. He considers himself to be remarkably patient then, his helmet, and his weapons, and all his clothes laying on gleaming tables, his body poked and prodded and tested by things he did not know even existed, his mind replaying events from a lifetime ago for his mouth to say and his anger -- at himself, mostly, for failing to remember too many times -- to grow. He snaps at Barbara, more than once. She talks louder than him. She shuts him up with glares worth a hundred of Batman's ones. She is exactly the Oracle he remembers.
When they are done, and she is satisfied he is indeed the Jason Peter Todd Wayne from this Earth, the one Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner and Bob the backstabbing sucker Monitor somehow misplaced and replaced -- and doesn't that feel familiar somehow? -- during their little trip through the multiverse, the cameras relayed on the screens behind Babs monitoring the exterior and the Manor show broad daylight. She asks him where he was, in the time between the multiverse and being found in Gotham by Batgirl. He does not answer. He has no answer. Barbara says they should stop here for the time, and she leaves, and he stays here because where else would he have gone -- where else would he have wanted to go? A fight would feel pretty good though. The punching bags are better than what he remembers.
There is still an area with cots, covered in plastic sheet. It would not be the first time he crashes down here, but it just feels wrong. Batman is not here. Neither is Alfred. It is too empty. He does not sleep, the first day he is b-... there.
Before nightfall, Barbara comes back. She explains... not all, because there is too much to explain. Bruce's biological son -- "A right brat," supplies Batgirl before she leaves on patrol -- being Robin, Dick being Batman, the multiverse being destroyed, the replacement taking off as Red Robin -- and Jason can remember how and why the suit was given to him, but... he never had it; B-... Bruce's death.
At this point he just asks for a break, leaves further into the 'Cave where Babs will not hear him, or can pretend not to. She does not ask anything when he comes back. His knuckles bleed, and he lets them.
He does not sleep the second day either. While Babs is not there, he watches hours of footage, most of it accelerated. He catches up on Gotham, on the world, on almost a year that just went and he does not know where, does not remember. He watches... he watches himself being put in jail, fighting for B- for being top dog, as is it, wrecking havoc in the city, being put in jail screaming his head off. It was not him. He should probably say something about how sad it is that his own family can not even recognize him -- for the love of guns, the guy was a redhead and a Twitter-using screaming crazy maniac and had a sidekick -- but... But. He stopped having any sort of faith in them before he left for the multiverse tour. It should not still hurt. It does, though.
Batgirl swings by, between a patrol round and another. She takes one look at him absorbing a year-worth of information, glances at Barbara; and Babs says something. He does not hear what either of them say; next thing he knows, Batgirl is dragging him out of the 'Cave and makes him follow her -- at least, he thinks, she did not try to make him sit behind her. The ride is... he enjoys the ride, the uncomplicatedness of it. They play, cars screech on their trail, then stop, lights flash on both edge of his vision. They break a fight on the way. He thinks he hears her laugh, above the roar of the bikes' engines. When they park in the middle of a residential area and slink through the street to an unassuming house surrounded by more unassuming houses, he lets himself think for the first time that he is back.
He is back, for real; and it could as well be a whole other world.
Stephanie is asleep again in an instant, his head on her arm, their legs entwined together. He listens how she sleeps, how she breathes. He puts a hand on her tee-shirt, just between her breasts, and feels her heart beating. It is a steady anchor, with her warmth, and maybe he will be able to sleep, at least a little, this night.
He still does not know where he was before coming back. Sometimes he seems to remember a metallic arm, fiery red hair, a star on a shield, arrows -- other times a wide smile, a newborn baby girl, laughter, the smell of ozone. His helmet gleams back red at him from the bright fog over the downtown buildings, on the other side of the room, and does not say anything.
Batgirl's -- no, "Stephanie, Stephanie Brown," as she had told him when they entered her house by the window of her room, and then she had promptly took off her suit and hid it in her closet, and then had knocked on his helmet and tugged on his jacket when she had turned around, saying that would have to go before someone came in, before she had gave him what she said was clothes of her father's, and then had pushed him into the bathroom "because, no offense, but you kinda stink", before she had finally left for downstairs, wearing nothing else than a tank top and panties, not that he complained, leaving him wondering what exactly had happened in the last minutes -- so Stephanie's mother, when she gets back home from work, recognizes him. It is probably a direct consequence of the three-rings circus his life is that this is the most surreal thing happening to him in the last few days.
They -- Stephanie and he -- are sitting on the couch watching something he is not really paying attention to and eating the best pizza he has had in... would that be months? It is the first real meal he has got in days anyway. All of his admittedly limited-by-exhaustion-setting-in attention is on it. He is this close to relaxed and sleepy in what feels like ages. It should be pretty stupid, but he sort of trusts this Batgirl. She has not tried to slice his throat or send him to jail -- well, if one were to be completely honest, he has not bashed her head in, or sliced her throat, or shot at her either.
He startles when he hears the front door opens. Stephanie turns and waves, half-sprawled over the sagging couch back.
"Stephanie, how many times have I told you not to do that..." Stephanie's mother comes into his view, some locks escaping her hair-do, coat in her hand, larger than her daughter. "Oh, 'evening, who would you b-... Aren't you... Jason? Little Jason Todd?"
Jason literally freezes, the last piece of the pizza half-way to his mouth. He has to think about fight or flight. He does not remember this woman.
Stephanie's mother put her coat down. "It is you! Look how you've grown! What are you doing this days?"
Stephanie, still on the back of the couch, cocks her head. "Uh? You know Jason?"
"Don't you remember, Steph? Oh probably not, you were about eight, and you went to this party with your dad, and all you talked about was this boy when you came back. This boy was Jason, and you guys were almost inseparable that summer - Catherine and I spent many hours talking when you were playing. You were inconsolable when you couldn't find them anymore." She turned to Jason. "And how is your mother?"
Jason puts the forgotten pizza slice back, pays no mind to Stephanie's muttered "How was I supposed to remember that? I was eight!". "I'm... my m-... my parents died. I don't remember any of what you said." His hands are shaking. He lets them hang between his knees. He wants to hit something until everything starts making sense again. He wants to sleep.
He just wants to sleep, and forget everything for good, and finally be home, wherever that is.
He does not sleep. He listens.
He listens to Stephanie. He listens to the way her house creaks. He listens to the never-ending song of the sirens, outside, and how much worse things are getting. Oracle is the one holding the city together with all her operatives, but it is not enough. He wants to go beat some sense into Golden Dick, to tear this face he has no rights to wear off Hush, to yell and scream and hit things until things get back to normal and his head feels less pulled into every direction, he wants to find Drake, or for him to find whatever he is looking for.
He wants to be able to sleep.
When he enters the 'Cave, Stephanie is smashing down the absolute proof that she and Babs are eating way too much take-out; though he has to admit, robots warbling cookies' fortunes in a really bad monotone just made you want to smash them faster and with more prejudice. She is chatting them up too, pure Robin banter. Her forms are good, if a little unrefined -- like he is one to talk about unrefined forms.
"Well if it isn't The Other Mister Tall Dark n'Brooding!" Smash, smash. "What brings you to our humble abode?" Smash, smash, and she puts her stick back into the folds of her cape, the remains of the robots at her feet.
Jason shrugs, leans against a piece of railing, a hand in a pocket. "Oh, this and that -- I've heard 'bout this new-not-new vigilante, and I wanted to see her for myself. I'm back in the game you see, wondered if there was an alliance to be done here."
Batgirl plays along, cocks out a hip, flutters her eyelashes. "Ooh, and you came all this way for little me?"
"What can I say," says Jason, spreading his hands before him, "I'm full of surprises."
They crack up. She does not says she is happy to see him, she does not ask where he was in the week after he left her place, she does not ask how she should call him, she does not ask him if he has a place to stay, she does not ask him if he thought about Babs' proposition. She pounces on him instead, he sidesteps, and it turns into a sparring session. He is pretty sure she can see his smile behind the helmet. They do not keep it to just the sparring area either.
They are both breathless when they wordlessly agree on stopping. Barbara is still not there. Bat- Stephanie sheds her uniform, go for the showers. Jason takes the helmet off, stays sprawled on the floor, panting. He can see the vapor ghosting on the glass wall of the shower area, the computers glowing at his back, the discarded uniform at arm's length.
He lets his thoughts move on their own, thinks about the very showers Stephanie is now in, about how nice it would be to join her, and how familiar the rough floor under him feels, like the air. He thinks about Babs' proposition, about Stephanie's mother's words more than a week ago and how he can not remember any of that -- or of too many things from before. He does not think about Bruce having di-... disappeared, leaving behind him crumbs in a crumbling city, an in-denial Drake traveling the world, a too-large role to fit in for the Golden Boy, a kid who was not a child, a vanished daughter, him. He recalls sights of this Gotham during the multiverse trip where they found out that Rayner had been infected by the vampires of the previous world, how right this Gotham had felt, how right he had felt there. He does not want to really think about it having disappeared for good, this world or any of the others.
The question of where he had been in between the multiverse and here still remains, a question he has no answer to. He is there now. He is there for good.
He lets his arms fall, lays spread-eagle on the floor. The ceiling is dark. He has been Robin, and Nightwing, and Batman. His hand hits Batgirl's suit. She has been Robin too at some point, Spoiler always, now Batgirl. The sounds of water stop, and he can see her shadow moving behind the glass. His fingers close on her cowl - he takes his gloves off with his teeth to feel the thin layer of armor, the complex weave of fibers making it light and tough and fireproof, better and more efficient that he could recall his suit to be. The holes for the eyes would be just the right size to emphasize the circles under his eyes -- he thinks fleetingly about returning to his habit of wearing a domino under the helmet, even if it messed with the controls a bit.
She gets out from the shower area, her blond hair turned dark from the water dripping on too long sweats.
"Maybe I should try it on for size," he says, holding her cowl to his face. He makes her laugh. It is easier to breathe when she laughs. He does not let his thoughts linger too much on it.
B-... Once upon a time, he was taught meditation. Most days, it is the best form of rest he can attain, with short naps here and there. The rest of the time, he just gives up and takes sleeping pills, switching the few ones that work properly every few weeks to keep them from being useless too fast. He never takes pills when he is at Stephanie's though, he lets her breath and heartbeat lull him into sleepiness, lets his thoughts go where they want -even if there are many things he does not want to think about, and they are exactly the things he finds himself examining.
He thinks about Bruce. For all his anger at the man, Jason never wished him gone. It was more complicated, more insidious than that -- he had wanted Bruce to feel pain. Had wanted him to be proud of Jason. Had wanted him to show regrets for his death. Had wanted Bruce to acknowledge him as the man he had became. Had wanted him to say at least once, only once, 'yes, Jason, my son, you're right'.
Jason still wants all of that; but there is the multiverse in between, and Bruce's d-... disappearing act, and Babs' knife-sharp smiles, and her proposition to work for her in a more... ah, aggressive manner than the main spandex brigade-proposition that they are still both working around, and Dick to whom he still has not talked to or seen properly since he came back -- and Jason also thinks he managed to stay under the radar of the current wearer of the Batman's mantle, otherwise he is quite sure he would have had an interesting brotherly reunion back at his place some evening -- and you've-got-to-be-kidding-me freaking zombies, and Gotham being more than ever the bubbling cauldron of craziness it had always been, and the Jason who was not him -- he toys with the idea of going to see him one day quite often, to know who is this guy, and why he is there, and how -- and Stephanie.
She smiles, in her sleep, burrows a bit into his side -- at some point, he has not noticed when, she turned on her side, facing him, her legs between his and one arm around his neck. Maybe he managed to sleep a little, that he was unaware of the change. He cannot say if the power is back. He can see glints and flashes on his helmet standing a silent guard. He thinks it is the dawn seeming to come earlier because of the cars passing down the lane, and Gotham's usual morning smog, reflecting the city back in dirty shades of orange. He wonders what time it is, cannot spot her phone to check the clock on it.
They can sleep in anyway, at least a bit. Her first class is at ten twenty, and her mother begins work at eight this week, and he has nowhere to be right away. She will hit him if he wakes her up for sex though. Her hair smells like flowers and hard soap, clean and real. She gave him the same shampoo for his place, told him it smelled better than cordite and oil, even if cordite, oil and leather did make for a rather sexy scent. He does not use it though. It is hers.
It is... easy. To play pretend, to play normal when she is with him, when she is here. Except she is so natural, it does not feel like pretending at all after a while. He did try to keep to the edges of her, to keep his distances. They went to see a movie, one afternoon. She had come to his door and dragged him out and told him to enjoy the day, for once. He could not recall the last time he had gone to the movies. It is possible it was even from before Bruce, from before stealing the tires off the Batmobile, from before his mother died. They knocked down a couple of guys who stupidly went after them, in the alley behind the theatre after, and Stephanie had just grinned at him when they were down and declared she wanted a burger. He forgot what the movie was about and what it was called, but, after this day, he had stopped trying to resist the pull toward her. There is a strong possibility he had never managed to even begin to resist it.
Her hand tightens briefly in his shirt, her mouth flattens in a hard line, makes a small line appear between her eyebrows. He touches it carefully with the tips of his fingers. He can feel her quiet sigh on his palm when her face smoothes out. She is the most well-adjusted of them all, he thinks. If she is not, she is strong enough to not let anything show, to not let it drag her down. He does not know if it is envy he feels for that -- the jury is still out on whether it is for the adjusted part or the strong enough to make everyone believe so. He watched the last words Bruce left to the other Jason. They had not been for him.
He finds himself wondering if Drake had had any idea of how unique and strong and fantastic the girl in his arms was, if Drake had had any idea what he had left behind him. Yes, his mind answered, to his surprise, Tim knew exactly what he had left behind and let go of, because Stephanie is no-one but hers and herself, never just Robin, never just Batgirl but hers, her, her.
Jason thinks he loves her.