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Dead Robins Society

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Jason Todd wouldn’t have been the first to admit he had problems. Jason Todd would have probably been one of the last, hadn’t it been for the twelve year-old sitting on the other side of the table and staring at him over his strawberry milkshake. Right now, all of Jason’s problems condensed into the very important task not to laugh. Again.

“Oh, c’mon,” he managed. “It happens to the best of us.”

Damian opened his mouth but opted for silence at the last moment. The way he was glaring made it obvious that he wasn’t pouting, Todd. No way. But he totally was.

“Look, before your daddy swallowed like a buttload of marbles and sandpaper to get that whole growl-thing going, he was singing soprano, too. You know when you can’t decide on a channel and just zap through the programs? Pretty sure he sounded like that when he was your age.” And he would so ask Alfie later for a video. Alfred had all the videos and childhood memories of every kid growing up at Wayne manor and they were all screwed if he ever chose to use them for blackmail.

Damian exhaled softly, raising both hands from under the table to gesture quickly.

“Oh, sign language it is now,” Jason laughed. “Yeah, I can do that, but you’ll still have to start speaking again some day, ya know.” Leaning back in his seat, Jason let his eyes wander. Damian was still gesticulating but he wasn’t going to encourage the use of ASL when he could listen to the kids’ voice break every other sentence.

It was easy finding something interesting to look at. The diner’s patrons were mostly families and Damian had yet to protest when they got him crayons and paper each time they came for lunch. Jason loved it. He loved picking the kid up from school, loved helping with Damian’s homework although the kid seldom needed it.

Sandra, the waitress, looked up and smiled when he raised a hand. The turquoise uniform they made her wear clashed with the tone of red she’d dyed her hair and she’d had to prick a new hole in her belt to make her purse hang as loose as those of the other girls. She was also Damian’s favourite because she never looked at his drawings.

“What can I do for you,” Sandra asked, standing at their table.

“I think the kid wants to tell you something.” Damian glared, shaking his head harshly but that didn’t stop Jason. “Yeah, something about cake.”

“Not about cake then.” The waitress smiled at Damian when he kept shaking his head. After a bit of staring she tilted her head. “It’s okay, dear. No need to be shy.”

“Yeah, no need to be shy, Dami,” Jason gloated. When he was going to pay for this - and he was going to pay for it - he would still think Damian’s face was the most hilarious thing he’d seen this year. He desperately didn’t want to open his mouth, but he didn’t want to be rude to the nice lady that actually let him draw in peace and thus had been promoted from normal ‘waitress’ to ‘the lady from the diner’.

There was a moment, a teeny, tiny moment where he gave in to hope and finally opened his mouth. This was of course the moment Jason had been waiting for, too.

“I think he had a complaint.”

“A complaint?” Sandra straightened up, one hand at her cheek and a sudden properness in her posture that came with being ready to fight tooth and nails for her job. It sure wasn’t a good job, but she had a family and this would never be one of Gotham’s richer parts of town.

Damian finally broke. “Stop. He’s being ridiculous. There’s nothing to complain about.”

Jason watched the waitress blink, resting his arms on the table. She was looking from one to the other, not quite sure what to make of this.

“It’s cute, isn’t it,” he finally commented. “He’s trying so hard not to talk, yet the moment he does he sounds like Chainsaw tripped on catnip. - That’s my cat by the way.”

“I don’t –”

Sandra’s chuckle stopped Damian. She held her notepad in front of her face, not to openly laugh at him. With a huff, he crossed his arms, turning to face away from both of them. Damian’s ears were bright pink and if it were any other kid, he would’ve thrown a tantrum. As it was, Jason only prepared for being strangled in his sleep.

“I’m sorry, darling.” Sandra leaned over the table to put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not right to laugh at you. Do you want some cake? It’s on me, okay?”

His eyes darted to her, a small pout on his lips. “Coffee?”

“Well, since you’re an adult now, I’ll see what I can do for you.”

The kid’s hand instinctively went to the crayons spread in front of him, and Jason got that. Those were given to children. Children were allowed to draw at diners and Jason had never even been asked if he wanted paper or a pencil or anything like that because he was an adult. Damian was treated like an adult almost everywhere he went, too, but here he got shitty crayons and thin paper and they let him draw while stuffing his face with fast food. Like a child.

“Yeah, how about you get me the coffee. I’m pretty sure he wants that chocolate cake you had last time? The one with sprinkles and candy and stuff.”

The waitress smiled softly. “That’s our birthday cake.”

“What a coincidence, it’s my birthday. Get us the cake, Sandra,” Jason grinned. He might not have been the first to admit he had problems, but he would always be the first to call Damian his brother. He wouldn’t make him choose. So, when Sandra had left and Damian glanced at him warily, he only smiled. “Don’t worry, you can have both.”

Chapter Text

Jason fell asleep being alone with his cats, but he woke with a tiny bird on his couch that looked like someone had ruffled his feathers pretty bad. Damian kept staring at the ceiling when he ambled into the living room, still tired from the short few hours of sleep he’d had after patrol. “Todd.”

    “Wombnugget.”

    “Did you just get off the phone with mother?”

    Shrugging, Jason let himself fall on the other end of the couch. “Nah, just email. You wanna talk to her?”

    The child rolled himself up like a pill bug, hugging his legs close to his chest. “No,” he said.

    “Wanna talk about it?”

    “No.”

    Jason sighed. If Damian would only come to him because of his contact with Talia, Jason wouldn’t have hesitated to throw him out. But he wasn’t. Damian never came to use Jason as a proxy to get to his mother. Damian came to do his homework, to get away from the manor, to talk about school. “Those boy scouts again?”

    Raising his head, the child shot him a glare. “They would not survive a night outdoors.”

    “Just punch them in the teeth and be done with it.”

    “I can’t,” Damian said, propping his chin on his knees.

    Carefully, Jason laid an arm around him and pulled the child closer. “Daddy wouldn’t approve.”

    Which got him a pout and an elbow to the ribs. “Shouldn’t you offer to deal with them? Show up at school or talk to their parents. Something constructive.”

    “And what did your last slave die of?” Jason tousled his hair. “You’re perfectly capable of dealing with your own problems, kid.”

    Crossing his arms, Damian huffed. “Says you.”

    “Yeah, says me. Now come on, feed the cats while I whip up some breakfast.”
    “Pancakes. The good ones.”

    Jason rolled his eyes and got off the couch. “Sure, if you’ve left some buttermilk in the fridge.”

    Damian knew his way around the kitchen, and he easily rounded the cats up on the table. It was nice to have company, even if the little brat complained about his taste in music. Singing along to the song on the radio, Jason prepared their breakfast, letting the child pet his cats all he wanted. Salt would nip at his fingers, but if Damian didn’t know that by now, he would never learn.

    When they eventually sat down in the living room again, he said, “I think Pepper is pregnant.”

    Damian’s eyes lit up. “Really?”

    “Really really.” He leaned back and put his plate on his stomach. “She’s gotten fat.”

    Next to him, Damian was almost vibrating with glee. Kittens. Of course, that would cheer him up.

    “Eat up.” Jason pointed his fork at the child. “Then you can go cuddle her all you want.”

    It took not more than a minute for Damian to finish his breakfast and run back to the kitchen. “She’s really heavy!”

    “Just say it like it is,” Jason laughed. “She’s fat.”

    “She’s chubby at most.” The kid cradled Pepper, returning with her and plopping down at the end of the couch.

    Jason let him play, taking both their plates to the dishwasher before picking up Damian’s school bag. “You gonna do those here or back home?”

    “I don’t have homework.”

    “Don’t lie.”

    “It’s stupid. I already know more physics than most adults.”

    “Doesn’t excuse you from doing your job.” Jason let the bag dangle from his hand, holding it out for Damian to take.

    Grumbling, the kid set Pepper down and took his bag to the table. “School’s stupid.”

    “Only because you’re too smart.” Jason ran a hand through his hair, watching the boy take out his books and notepad. He had loved school. Had missed it that time when he’d had to drop out to take care of his mother. Even after everything, when he no longer had any interest in a high school diploma, he loved learning. Damian didn’t. As he had been expected to know or be able to do something just because of his parentage, Damian had never been taught to enjoy the process of learning.

    Sighing, Jason sat down beside him, taking a glance at the assignment. “Alright, look, kid. If you’re done with that stuff, I’m gonna show you how to use it, okay?”

    Damian blinked. “What?”

    “Eloquent, hatchling.” Jason grinned and took one of the school books, skimming it.

    Frowning, Damian slapped his pen down. “Do you think this is fun, Todd?”

    “In fact, yes, I do. Look, I get it. Your education was way different than mine, but the day your mom got me the chance to get any teacher I wanted? That was one of the best days of my life.”

    “I already know how to calculate where a shot came from or how much force–”

    – “Did I say ‘let’s shoot a guy’? Because I’m pretty sure your dad would get an aneurism.” When Jason flipped another page, Pepper leaped on his lap, pawing at the book.

    “Then what are you saying, Todd?”

    “Loosen up.” Jason laid the book to the side, picked the cat up and raised her to his face. “We’re gonna have fun, that’s what I’m saying.”

Chapter Text

Damian had been silent ever since Jason had picked him up from school. He wasn’t talking, but he was obviously mulling something over, drawing broad strokes on the diner’s thin paper and creating something with the shitty crayons that looked a lot like it should be in some kind of anatomy book. He didn’t even look up when Sandra, their waitress, brought the milkshakes.

Crossing his arms, Jason leaned back in his seat. “Okay, grunt. What’s this supposed to be?”

“The nervous system.”

He snorted. “You know what I mean. You’re being a little prick and you obviously need to talk about whatever’s making your head hurt.”

Damian finally looked up, more annoyed than angry. “My head does not hurt.”

“Yet.” That the kid didn’t deny it, spoke volumes. Jason pulled the paper from under Damian’s hands, turning it to have a look at the complex drawing. “Spill, little bean.”

“Only if you stop using those childish pet names.”

Smiling, Jason looked the kid over. It wasn’t like Damian hated those names, in fact, Jason knew for certain, they made him uncomfortable. Just like every other sign of affection. “Come on. Last time we stole the replacement’s skateboard, what do I have to do this time to cheer you up? Is it school again, homework?”

“Drake,” the kid growled, snatching the drawing back and slashing his crayon over the paper. There was nothing more to be said; they did get along in costume these days, even made a surprisingly good team, but  if they had no mission uniting them, they were best kept as far away from each other as possible.

Leaning back and folding his hands over his stomach, Jason eyed the kid. There was really only so much he could do, letting him cuddle Pepper, doing dumb stunts until the wheels broke off Tim’s skateboard, or picking him up from school for fast food. He wasn’t Grayson. This was a job for the big bird, right? He was everyone’s big brother, the guy Damian loved and trusted and idolized. But he wasn’t here. Jason was.

Sighing, Jason took a sip from his milkshake. “What did he do?”

Damian’s anger subsided to a sullen pout. He kept his eyes on his drawing, turning the paper slightly to get a better angle. “What is a ‘weenie’?”

“What?”

Frowning, Damian looked up. “You heard me, Todd. And don’t say ‘it’s an insult’. I know it is.”

Jason waved his hand at the milkshake Damian had yet to touch. “Drink your shake and give me some more context, I pay for that. – The shake, not the context, though it could be argued, that I’m gonna pay for that, too.”

Blushing a little - which was curious and got Jason’s attention - the kid pushed his picture to the side. “Apparently,” he started, avoiding Jason’s eyes. “It is similar to a peanut.”

“Uh-huh.”

“It’s small. And salty.”

“Are we talking about sex? Because I’m sure Dick should give you the Talk. What with his name and all.” The blush darkened visibly and Jason started to grin almost hysterically. “Oh my God,” he laughed. “What happened?”

His milkshake forgotten, Damian crossed his arms in front of his chest, his lips a thin line. “I can’t ask Grayson, he thinks I know.”

“And why would that be?”

“I couldn’t admit it in front of Drake, okay. Are you satisfied?”

“Not yet.” If he was ending up giving Damian the Talk, Dick would so pay for it. Also, Tim would have to pay, too. Not that he would tell either of them for what they were punished; Jason wouldn’t betray Damian like that. “In what kind of situation did you have to fake knowledge about sex?”

“It was a joke.”

“A dirty joke.”

“Yes.”

“They tell each other dirty jokes in front of you?”

“Apparently,” the kid grumbled, finally taking a sip from his strawberry milkshake.

“Beautiful.” Alfred would be in on that little revenge thing, the moment Jason told him that juicy bit of information. Which meant Dick and Tim would suffer. A lot. “Beautiful,” Jason repeated with a big grin. “So, remember your mom and dad?”

Hiding his face behind his hands, Damian groaned. “Please don’t.”

“You asked,” Jason said with glee. “So, according to mommy-dearest, it was a dark and cold desert night.”

Chapter Text

Damian’s grin was just short of one tooth, and Jason had never felt more proud of the little punk. “She hit you in the face?”

Crossing his arms, Damian raised his chin. “Yes.”

“In the face?” Jason repeated awestruck. The tooth was tiny in his hand; a little, white incisor resting in his palm.

“Yes, in the face, Todd. Should I use simpler words for you?”

The grin started to hurt his face, but Jason didn’t care. He stared at the tooth, his leg jiggling under the table. “Can I put it in my scrap book? Please say yes.”

The diner’s background noise was all he got in reply. Damian’s blush was obvious, though. When he put the tooth on a napkin between them, the kid just ducked his head and whistled through his new gap between his teeth.

Jason shook his head and called their waitress over. A moment later, Sandra joined them with a smile, pointing at the tooth. “From the laughter I hear ever since you two came in, I guess this is something to celebrate?”

“You bet.” Jason slapped his hands together. “Wanna tell her, kiddo?”

The blush deepened a little when Damian looked up. Sandra waited patiently, while the kid pushed his tongue through the gap, contemplating his words. “A girl hit me. In the face.”

“Oh my God,” Sandra’s hand shot to her mouth and she bent down to have a closer look. “Are you okay? Do you want me to get you some ice?”

“Ice cream would be nice,” Damian said and Jason had a sudden urge to smile even wider at the small lisp.

“Yeah, bring us some ice cream,” he agreed. “Something big and ridiculous - with strawberries,” Jason added, remembering the kid’s favorite.

Nodding, Sandra gave him a concerned glare, smiled at Damian and sauntered off to get them their order.

Drumming his fingers on the table, Damian stared at the tooth still lying between them. “Is it wrong to enjoy this so much?”

“Heck, no.” Jason slumped in his seat. “When you gotta fight, you gotta fight dirty.”

“But I provoked her.”

“Okay, little bean, listen,” Jason growled. “You did nothing wrong.”

Sneering at him, Damian shook his head. “I manipulated a little girl into hitting me in front of our teacher.”

“You got a bully in trouble,” Jason insisted. “That’s perfectly fine.”

“I’m – my father’s son. I should have found a better way.” Biting his lip, Damian pushed at the napkin the tooth lay on. He had endured that girl’s antics for a long time, had gritted his teeth and ignored every inch of pride Talia had instilled in him. Instead, he had let her call him a terrorist. Had tried to talk to the teacher, who had only described the little girl as a pleasant child in return. Never having seen her act out, none of the adults would believe Damian, the boy who had been correcting his teachers and had looked down upon his classmates when he had first joined them.

Jason picked the tooth up again. “Can I keep it?”

“Knock yourself out.”

“Great, thanks. It’ll remind me of the day junior Bat proved to be his father’s son.”

It took a moment for Damian to look him in the eye, disbelief written all over his face. “What?”

“You heard me, bean bag,” Jason said, smiling at Sandra, who joined them with a giant bowl of strawberry and chocolate ice cream. They exchanged a few words with her before she left again. Pushing the bowl at Damian, Jason laughed. “Don’t look so confused, Bruce wasn’t that different from you as a child.”

“And how would you know?”

“Alfred knows everything.”

Dipping his spoon into the bowl, the kid started to eat. A small thrill ran through Jason when he saw the content smile back on Damian’s lips. “So, he… Father. Did he get hit by a girl once, too?”

“Oh, I’m sure he got hit by plenty of girls, but in the instance we are talking about, it was a guy.” Jason shook his head. “You should ask him yourself, he’d love to talk to you, you know?”

Damian dipped his head and stuffed another spoon full ice cream in his mouth. “I am not going to distract father with such trivial things.”

“Oh, kid.” With a sigh, Jason put the tooth in his pocket. “Just do it, okay? He loves it.”

“Did you…” Leaving the question unasked, Damian bit his lip, but Jason had none of that bullshit.

“Yeah, I did. And heck, I asked about whatever crap I could think of and Bruce could have only been happier if I had been the one talking.”

The kid put his spoon down, staring Jason right in the eye.

It had been nice, then. A good few years, but they were over now. Jason folded his hands under the table and closed his eyes for a moment. “If you want to make the old man happy, talk to him.”

Blushing, Damian got back to eating his ice cream. “I’d rather talk to you. It’s easier,” he whispered, the gap between his teeth whistling sharply at the end.

Jason’s heart jumped a beat and he quickly looked out the window. When he had first started to hang out with the little demon, it had seemed like a fun way to get out, to just be himself, and be an ass without the long history he shared with the other members of their… group. He had never meant for it to become a responsibility. Hadn’t thought the kid would ever depend on him even a little. “’s fine,” he finally said, flexing his hands under the table. “Eat your ice cream, kid.”  

Chapter Text

Tim closed the apartment door and leaned back against it with a soft sigh. He still remembered the way Jason’s hand had felt in his, how warm and soft his calloused skin had been. He had wanted to get closer to Jason for quite some time, and now it seemed like his dreams were about to come true. Jason Todd had actually asked him on a date. Huh.

Pushing himself off the door, Tim laughed. Endorphins made sleep impossible; not with reality being better than any dreams he could have. Ambling into his living room, Tim pushed his jacket off his shoulders. Before he could throw it over the back of the couch, however, he stopped dead in his tracks. He wasn’t alone.

All the warmth left his body at once and he looked around the room carefully. “Jason, if that’s you, you’re damn early for that date I just agreed to.”

“I am not.”

Hissing, Tim turned to where Damian closed the window and pulled his hood off. “What do you want?”

“Maybe it’s more of a question what you want, Drake,” Damian said, his arms crossed firmly in front of his chest. “Sit.”

Tim gritted his teeth, throwing his jacket on the couch. “This is my home. You’re telling me what you are doing here or–”

– “Or what? You will go and cry on Todd’s shoulder?”

“You leave Jason out of this.”

Damian seemed almost reluctant, hugging himself a little tighter before finding his resolve. He took a step into the room, waving a hand at the couch again. “I would, but I can’t. This is about him, so, please, sit.”

Stunned, Tim waited for a moment. Waited for whatever the brat had planned this time, for whatever trap he had set before Tim had come back to his place. Carefully, he went to sit eventually, never taking his eyes of Damian. “What about Jason?”

The kid took a deep breath, shifting his weight. “Todd– Jason, he is… a strong person. He has been mother’s champion on various occasions and with that in mind, I want you to listen.”

Tim blinked, settling his hands on his knees. “This… really is about Jason?”

Damian growled and crossed the short distance between them, pointing an angry finger at Tim. “Yes, it is, and you will treat him with respect.”

“I– What?”

“You will make damn sure he is happy and safe,” Damian insisted and Tim had to lean back when the kid kept stabbing his finger at him. “You’re not bad at convincing people, but don’t you dare make him do anything he doesn’t want. You will listen when he says ‘no’, and he should only have to say it once. Bear in mind,” Damian said. “That I will know if you don’t. If you won’t listen or make him do anything he’s not comfortable with, I. will. know.”

With an air of justified anger, Damian pulled the hood back over his head, concealing his face once again. He didn’t wait for a reply, turned on his heels and headed back to the window.

Tim realized he was holding his breath, too stunned to work out what was happening. Not even an hour ago, Jason had asked him out. Had taken his hand and had asked him out on a date and now the horror brat had broken into his apartment, threatening him.

Damian stopped, just after he had gotten the window open again, to glare over his shoulder. “Oh, and one last thing, Drake. Don’t put your hands anywhere on him where I wouldn’t place mine.” He put his foot on the sill and was out in the night as abruptly as he had appeared.

With a sigh, Tim finally released his breath, taking a moment to replay what happened… Had Damian really given him the talk?

Chapter Text

Just as Jason pulled on his jacket to pick up the kid from school, Damian let himself in. For a long time, Jason had dreaded the day he would regret giving him a key to his apartment. With a sigh, he let the jacket slip off his shoulders again. The day had finally come.

“Do I want to know why you’re here already?”

Damian grinned, showing off the gap between his teeth proudly. “It’s fine. I don’t need PE anyway.”

“You skipped class?”

“For a good cause.” The kid frowned, his hands gripping the straps of his backpack tightly.

With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Jason turned his back, making his way to the kitchen. He didn’t want to know, hell, the way the brat was smiling, there was a high chance Bruce would get an aneurysm if he knew.

Prodding Chainsaw out of the way with his foot, Jason opened the dishwasher. He had planned on making Damian put away the clean dishes, but he’d rather do them himself than find out what trouble the kid would pull him into, again.

Last time he had asked what the little bean was up to, Jason had ended up pretending to be a lawyer armed with nothing but the knowledge of two seasons of Daredevil and a brand new Brioni suit.

“So,” Damian drawled when he entered the kitchen. He had a smile plastered on his face that looked way too nice to be anything but trouble. He was definitely picking that up from the current Batgirl; that too-nice smile and a low, calm voice that made Jason’s stomach turn.

“Jason,” Damian continued. “Have I ever mentioned you take care of your cats wonderfully?”

Chainsaw took that moment to sit on Jason’s foot. She didn’t budge when he nudged her, so he knew the battle was already lost. “I don’t like where this is going.”

Huffing, the kid frowned. “Okay, Todd lets be real, I need you to take care of someone for me.”

Jason blinked and froze, a plate he was about to put on the shelf still in mid-air. With a knot in his chest, he turned to look at the kid over his shoulder. “Please tell me we’re not talking about shooting people because I already died once and I’m not sure I’d survive Alfred’s wrath if he caught me indulging your latent homicidal tendencies.”

They stared at each other, Jason still frozen in place, the plate half-way to its rightful place and a cat sitting on his foot. Damian was the first to gave in.

Exhaling sharply, he averted his eyes. He wasn’t fumbling with his sweater, but it was a close thing. Finally, he mumbled something under his breath.

“Come again?”

“I wouldn’t do that.” The kid’s voice was still low; soft, almost a whisper. When he looked Jason in the eye again, he gathered his resolution. “I’m not that person anymore.”

“Yeesh, okay, okay.” Jason relaxed, finally putting the plate away. He wouldn’t admit how relieved he felt to hear that, but it was true. It was enough he was taking care of the vermin; the little bean really didn’t need to get his hands dirty. “So what are we talking about?”

Damian’s posture was that of a warrior, his shoulders set and his gaze steeled. The kid knew what he was asking and he knew Jason would accept. This time, his voice was audible from the start, no cutie-mind-tricks, that only really worked for certain college girls, and no begging like a child. He was asking his brother for a favour and Jason would not refuse. They had both known there would be trouble the moment Damian had let himself into the apartment just a few minutes ago.

“I want you to take care of a friend.”

‘A friend’, as it turned out, was a tiny, slow-moving creature Jason had only ever seen in documentaries. He was pretty sure sloths were not indigenous in Gotham. Maybe if they were fast, mutated sloths that used their long, stupidly strong arms to rob banks and laugh at the Bat while hanging upside-down in their cells in Arkham, but not this one. Not this tiny animal peering out of Damian’s backpack.

“Do I want to know?”

Instead of facing him, the kid cradled the sloth to his chest. “Apparently,” he sniffed contemptuously. “It’s en vogue to have exotic pets in certain circles.”

“At school?”

“At school.”

Jason raised an eyebrow. When he still went to school, all kids cared for were trading cards and movies. Heck, as much as they had loved their pets, they all had tried to find excuses not to walk their dogs or clean their cages, when they got home.

“And why, pray tell, can’t you keep this little guy at the manor?”

Damian cringed. “There might be revenge involved. A certain kind of payback father might think of as … petty.”

“Kid,” Jason said, unable to keep the grin out of his voice. “Your daddy thinks every kind of payback is petty. Doesn’t stop him from acting out now and then.”

The glare he received might have been enough to make criminals tremble, but not enough to wipe the obvious amusement off Jason’s face.

“Does that mean you will take care of her?”

“You’ll owe me, sugar plum.” Jason leaned back against the counter, looking down at Chainsaw fondly. “But sure, I’ll take care of your little monkey. Don’t feed after midnight, right?”

Chapter Text

Steph crossed her arms and gave Damian an exasperated glare. If anyone had asked her yesterday, she would have been sure never to set a foot in a school out of costume again. She was done with school. College didn’t count.

“What am I doing here again? Seriously, I don’t get it.”

“I’m not surprised.” Huffing, Damian strolled over from where he stood at the entrance of the classroom, keeping a look out for his teacher.

“Of course, you aren’t” She waved him off. “But seriously, what’s the deal?”

Damian had asked nicely even. - For his standards. Seeing the kid in this room filled with childish drawings, educational posters, and tiny tables made her sure he had gotten her for backup. How he could come here every day to learn was kind of a confusing, though. To Steph, he stuck out like a sore thumb, to Damian himself, she mused, it must feel horrible.

Steph hadn’t liked school, but Damian… Didn’t the kid know all this stuff already? Whose idea had it been to put the little devil through hell like this?

Stretching her legs carefully, Steph tried to imagine Dick or Bruce in her situation. She had already bruised her knees four times on the tiny table, which would’ve been an appropriate punishment for those two.

Hell, if it was up to Steph, the kiddo wouldn’t have Math or English, but extra recess. Like a whole day having to interact with children his age and learn to goddamn play.

Damian rushed to her side, putting on a child-like pout that just looked wrong on his face. “You’re here because, for some reason, people like you. You’re distracting. Now shut up, Miss Hoover is coming.” He glared at her, which was way more reassuring than it should’ve been.

The teacher was a tall woman with thin lips and beautiful  hair. Her clothes were nice enough and Steph was glad they didn’t have to meet with Agatha Trunchbull. Talking to teachers wasn’t her strong suit; she couldn’t lie through her teeth to teachers like her ex. There was just something that irked her about them, about their high and mighty, judgemental glare. College was so much better and so much more fun.

As she stood to greet the teacher, Miss Hoover gave Steph a quick once-over. She didn’t shake her hand but turned up her nose in a way Steph remembered way too well from when she had been pregnant. Nobody took teenage mothers seriously. “You must be Damian’s mother.”

Steph couldn’t stop feeling like someone had dropped a bucket full of ice water one her. “Apparently.”

When the teacher frowned, she added quickly, “Yes, yes I am.  Sheesh, of course.”

It was just pure luck no one else was here. Pure luck Damian hadn’t made any of his brothers come, too, and pure luck the kid wasn’t allowed to be a little ass in front of the teacher right now.

Steph still shuddered. She didn’t want to think of the implications; her being Damian’s mother when all the world knew he was Bruce Wayne’s son.

“I’m glad you could come, Miss Al Ghul. Am I saying that right? ‘Al Ghul’?”

Steph waved her off. “It’s fine, what can I do for you?”

Miss Hoover motioned for her to sit and they settled around the teacher’s desk.
“Damian,” Miss Hoover started. “Well, you got my messages.”

She didn’t. Of course, she didn’t, she wasn’t really his mother. Steph pressed her hands to her thighs. He wasn’t her son, but she had a child. And this was what it felt like, apparently.

“Why don’t you tell us yourself, young man?” Miss Hoover suggested.

Damian gave her a withering look before facing Steph. He averted his eyes, though, instead of asserting his dominance like he usually did. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The teacher exhaled sharply through her nose. “Now, don’t you lie, Damian.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong!” He bared his teeth at the woman. “Nicole deserved it.”

“You hurt her, young man.”

“It was just some paint.”

Steph grabbed her legs tighter, her irritation growing to fierce, justified anger. The kid was holding back, was taking hits and it made something in her chest flare. “What did he do?”

Miss Hoover folded her hands in front of her face, watching Steph over the knuckles. “Your son stole a pet and proceeded to attack the little girl with a paint-bomb. He will be suspended for three days and I expect him to be reprimanded at home, of course.”

“Woah, pull the brakes there, lady.” Steph raised a hand between them, squeezing the bridge of her nose with the other. “He wouldn’t just steal a pet, he loves animals. He’d only do what’s best for them.”

The teacher sniffed, slightly appalled at being interrupted. “He did steal, Miss Al Guhl. He stole the animal and set a paint-bomb in the Nicole’s locker.”

“Isn’t Nicole that brat that knocked his tooth out?” Steph stood, towering over the teacher with a growl she only deserved for bad guys and Tim if he was being stupid. “Dami’s getting hit and defends a little animal and you want to suspend him? You know, he’s taught not to fight those brats. But right now, I’m giving him permission to end a fight if he has to.”

Damian took her hand without hesitation, wide-eyed and a gleam of adoration in his eyes she’d last seen on another Robin.

Steph swallowed the anger in her chest. School could be shit, but Damian deserved the nice things that happened there. Like making friends and trying out stupid things.

Adjusting her grip on the kid’s hand, Miss Al Ghul decided to pay the principal a visit later. After she had gotten Damian some ice cream.

Chapter Text

If Damian hadn’t wedged his foot in the door, Tim could have pretended nothing happened. Jason wouldn’t need to know. He was in the bath, splashing around like a little child, and Damian…

“… Are you wearing braces?”

“I require Todd’s assistance.”

“Not what I asked.”

The brat pushed past him, stomping into the living room and only treading lighter when Salt showed up looking for the human that had petted her not even a minute ago. When she bared her fangs and hissed at the boy, Tim cheered a little inside.

Salt was a great cat, no matter what Jason told him, and she deserved all the cuddles he could give her.

“Come on in, Damian. Make yourself at home.”

Glaring over his shoulder, he snarled at Tim. “I have a key. Unlike a certain someone.”

And that… yeah, okay, that was fair. Tim crossed his arms and followed the brat into the living room. He remembered Jason telling him about the day Damian refused to talk when his voice started to break. Or the time he proudly whistled through his fresh tooth-gap, but this. This softened Damian’s blow a lot. “Can you repeat that?” Tim chuckled.

Damian sucked at his braces, determined not to repeat ‘a certain someone’ with his newly acquired lisp. “Todd. Where’s he?”

“Please don’t spit at the cat.” Tim bent to pick up Salt, her glee almost matching his. “Jason’s in the bath with his new lover.”

“My friends at the Sloth Sanctuary are ready to take her in.”

Tim blinked at the sudden change of topic. Did the horror kid really just tell him the reason for his visit?

“Did you tiny brain finally fry, Drake?”

“No, I’m just amazed you have friends.”

They exchanged a quick look, expressing their usual irritation at each other before Tim pointed towards the bathroom. “Jason and Miss Darcy are in the tub.”

As Damian stomped along the hallway, Tim made a mental to apologize to the neighbors later for the noise. The following outraged cry made him grin, though, when he followed Damian.

“Don’t bother pretending, it’s not like you have any dignity left, Todd.”

“You know,” Tim said, leaning in the doorframe, just enjoying the view of his dripping wet boyfriend with a tiny sloth clinging to his neck. “The brat’s not wrong.” Tim could have done without the sloth.

Miss Darcy took that moment to squeal delighted and pull herself further up Jason’s head. It would have been cute if the situation hadn’t been so patently ridiculous.

“What the fudge do you want?” Jason wrapped a towel around his hips, alternately frowning at them.

Tim shook his head, throwing his hands up between them. He had been getting ready to get home when Damian had rung the bell, so really, he was just here out of curiosity. “Looks like you have to say bye-bye to your new pet.”

“What?”

“My friends are able to pick her up, “ Damian explained.

With a crooked grin, Tim mouthed, “He has friends" but the brat just raised his voice stubbornly.

“So get her ready, we will meet them tonight.”

“At midnight on top of the Wayne Tower?” Jason steadied the animal on his head with a smile. “That’s how it goes, right? Little kid gives the endangered animal to his friends at midnight on top of the astronomy tower.”

Tim laughed. “He’s not Harry Potter, nerd.”

“If he were, I’d be Hermione.” The sloth started chewing on Jason’s wet hair, making strange sucking noises. Not minding her, the man faced Damian. “So let’s get things straight. You’ve gotten braces and didn’t think to tell me about it?”

“You named my friend 'Miss Darcy',” the kid sneered.

Jason ambled past them, waving him off. Contrary to what the burdens of his life believed, he still had some dignity left.

“Details. So when’s the drop?”

 

Tim had not meant to go with them. He had not meant to watch his grown-ass boyfriend sniffle over a tiny mammal. Nor had he meant to watch the same, grown-ass boyfriend head out to Costa Rica with his tiny terror twin to fuck up some animal traffickers.

Standing beside Damian’s friends - some really nice people that would take care of the little sloth - he gave Miss Darcy the stink eye. Sloths couldn’t be criminal masterminds, right? He would not have to think of a contingency in case the tiny nightmare revealed her faster self to take over Gotham, right? Her taking over Jason’s place had been enough, please and thank you. Both, Tim and Salt were happy to see her go, but taking Jason with her was a bit of a blow.

“I’m not sure I understand why this is necessary.”

“I am sure you don’t understand, yet it doesn’t bother me.” Damian adjusted his backpack.

Jason laughed. That traitor. “It’s no big deal. Just a few weeks vacation in Costa Rica and then we’re home as soon as school starts again.”

“You’re lucky summer break’s starting anyway.”

“The brat boy could’ve easily played sick.”

“Or gotten suspension,” Damian supplied smugly. They had the nerve to grin and fist-bump each other.

A few parting words later, Jason and Damian sat in one of the small planes Bruce owned and Tim had signed for. While he knew he would regret this, Costa Rica had never experienced the hurricane that was those two idiots together. No matter how big an organization those animal traffickers had, they were not prepared for the trouble that was coming for them.

Chapter Text

Jason watched the bartender screw up yet another easy order. It was almost laughable how charming Cass found him - charming enough to insist on meeting at the same bar during his shift every time. Maybe it was just her way of getting Jason on some kind of schedule, though, which defeated Jason’s whole observation.

“You’re not Cass.” He decided on when Steph settled on the stool next to him.

“No shit, Sherlock.”

Humming around the rim of his glass, Jason gave the bartender another once-over. He wasn’t even Cass’ type, though he was damn fine looking. “Care to explain what you’re doing here then?”

“You took the baby bat to Costa Rica.”

“That I did.” He smiled at the memory of Damian being slowly cuddled to death by sloths. ‘Slowly’ having been the keyword. It had been nice to see the little bean chill enough to let them crawl all over him. “He got you a souvenir.”

Steph rolled her eyes and waved the bartender over. “I’m not sure a chew-toy from the airport counts as a souvenir.”

With a fond smile, Jason finally turned to her. “Cut him some slack, he’s trying to be nice. Just doesn’t know how to go about it the right way.”

“Look–” Steph pinched the bridge of her nose, “– I just want him to have a chance of being a normal kid, okay? Kid’s don’t settle their problems by beating up criminals in another country.”

“That what you came here for?” Not surprising. Most bats only saw him to argue. “Message received and ignored, feel free to go now.”

The bartender chose that moment to finally grace them with his presence, his smile showing off his straight white teeth. “What can I do for you?”

Steph gave him an order for two and Jason perked up when she asked for Cass’ usual Cosmopolitan. When the bartender started the cocktail, she rolled her eyes again, crossing her arms on the bar. “Don’t look so surprised. I’m here to meet Cass, too.”

Cursing, Jason took a sip from his beer. “She totally set us up.”

“That she did.”

They kept watching the bartender go through the motions, sure as hell getting the order wrong and both cringed when he used whiskey instead of vodka.

“She’s gonna regret that one.”

“Serves her right,” Jason grinned, imagining Cass’ face once she took the first sip of her cocktail. Maybe it would be revenge enough for setting them up like this. Maybe he’d still have to plot against her. Sitting in a dingy bar with the girl who hated his guts and ferociously tried to protect both his kid brother and his boyfriend from Jason kind of deserved a forewarning.

Steph wasn’t coming from a bad place, he knew, and if it hadn’t been directed at him, he sure as hell would have been backing her up. As is was, though, he felt rather put upon having to sit here, being judged silently, only because he feared Cass’ wrath if he left.

He liked Cass. He also liked his limbs attached, thank you very much.

“So, I get you’re not here to complain about your souvenir. I’m busy, though, so I’d appreciate if you’d just come to the fucking point.”

“You’re an asshole, you know that?” Sighing, Steph took her drink from the bartender, setting the not-quite Cosmopolitan to the side and tipping way better than the handsome idiot deserved. “Cass asked me to hang out. I’m not here to pamper your bitter butt. Get a grip, dude.” She pursed her lips, shaking her head. “Don’t make everyone tiptoe around you. We all got problems, boo-hoo. Now go put your big-boy pants on and get over yourself.”

Snarling, Jason kept silent, tracing his finger through the condensed water on his glass.

“Do you even know Damian doesn’t tell anyone when he’s hanging out with you?”

“I don’t need to listen to this.” His free hand flexed between his knees, resisting the urge to smash the glass over her head.

“I think you do.” Her voice was steady and when he glanced at her, she surprised him. Steph’s eyes were trained on his hand before jumping up to meet his. There was no fear in them, in spite of knowing what he’d thought. “And while I think we should talk about this, there is something I have to do. Now hold onto our drinks and order me something strong. I’m gonna need it.”

And with that, Steph ambled over to one of the tables, a smile plastered on her face.

A girl sat at the table, her short legs crossed and turned away from the slimebag hovering over her. He didn’t seem to care for her obvious discomfort and Jason felt another kind of anger rise in his chest.

Instead of entertaining the conversation, the girl kept her lips around the straw of her drink, hoping against all odds the guy would just leave her alone. Something crawled down Jason’s spine when that vermin put a hand on her freckled shoulder. He was this close to introducing the bastard to his fist.

Steph had her own plans, though.

“Tiffany,” she called, her arms outstretched widely. “It’s so good to see you.”

Both guests stared at her for a moment, then, the girl’s eyes lit up. She stood, hugging Steph and whispering something in her ear. Her shoulders visibly relaxed when she turned back to the sleazy idiot.

“I’m sorry,” she said and Jason felt proud of her for pulling it off without letting her voice shake as much as her hands. “This is my friend I’ve been waiting for.”

The guy had straightened up and Steph neatly kept the table between them. He looked irritated, a snarl forming on his lips. “You told me you were waiting for your boyfriend.”

The girl’s head sunk between her shoulders, but Steph had none of it. She pointed her thumb over her shoulder without looking. “He’s waiting for us.”

Knowing a cue when he got one, Jason caught the bastard’s eyes with a grin. He didn’t flex his muscles; he knew crossing his arms was enough for the slimebag to see exactly what he’d be dealing with.

“Now toodle-oo, see you or whatever.” Steph actually waved before slipping her arm around the girl’s shoulder and turning her towards the bar.

Jason’s grin turned sincere at that. Ever since he could remember, he was charmed by badassery and it showed in the kind of people he surrounded himself with.

Ordering their drinks, Jason no longer minded Cass setting him up. Maybe hanging out with his kid brother meant Steph nosing around his business. And maybe that was okay. She was good for the little bean.

Yeah, for Damian, Jason could deal.  

Chapter Text

Damian frowned when he caught his brother jerking up just before his head hit the table. When Jason had picked him up from school, he had seemed rather irritated but now Damian could ascribe that to his obvious lack of sleep.

“You understand I won’t let you drive us home like this, right?”

“’m fine.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” Damian crossed his arms over the picture he was drawing.

The diner around them was busy with the midday crowd, families with small children ordering and eating their food in an amicable chaos. Jason usually liked that. He tended to watch them with a fond smile on his face that Damian would deny trying to sketch in secret a lot. Jason was strangely hard to draw, other than Damian’s father. Adding some shadow to his picture of Batman, he bit his tongue. People didn’t like being reminded of a weakness but if he let Jason drive them home, an accident was likely. Which would be no problem at all if they just let 12-year-olds drive legally, of course.

“I swear, I’m -- Sandra,” Jason called for their waitress. “Can I get another cup of coffee?”

“Just bring him the whole pot.” Leaning closer to his drawing, Damian ignored the way Sandra was looking at them. She was nice; he liked her. Explaining why Jason was falling asleep at the table would be hard, though, especially since the man wouldn’t talk about it.

As Damian got careless with the pen pressure, the next line was much too dark, giving his father an ugly edge at the corner of his mouth. He sat up sneering.

“Hey, hey, stop it.” Jason’s hand landed on the paper before he could crumple up the disgusting smile Batman now wore. “What the fudge is the matter with you, kid? Those kids at school still giving you a hard time? Or that teacher?”

Stephanie had taken care of the latter and it had been awesome. Not that he would tell her, of course.

Damian pushed at Jason’s hand roughly. “I should ask you the same thing, Todd. I would ask Pennyworth to make you tea or some milk so you’d go sleep if we weren’t away from the manor. In fact,” he added with a frown, “I’m decently sure you brought me here on purpose.”

“Well, duh.”

“So I would be unable to make you go to bed this instant.”

“No bed here,” Jason smiled smugly. “I’m fine, really, kiddo. Just drop it.”

Damian wanted to argue. They all had their nights off. They all had nights when they wouldn’t be able to sleep either, but they all knew how dangerous it could be not to catch up to that sleep debt, too. Bouts of insomnia usually concurred with them being off the streets for a night or two. At least if they weren’t being stupid or left on their own.

Jason’s gaze dropped down to the drawing his hand still rested on. Baring his teeth, he pulled his fingers away like they’d been burned.

“It’s not that bad.” Damian rolled his eyes, pushing down the sudden pain he felt. He didn’t care what Jason thought of his drawings. Didn’t care at all.

“No, no it’s not--” Jason ran a hand through his hair and leaned back in his seat. “Look, brat wonder, maybe you’re right, I’m just not on top of my game, okay?”

The diner’s noise droned on, families laughing together and having fun like they were supposed to. Silence was nothing new between them, but this time, Damian felt awkward. His drawing wasn’t that bad, was it? Sure, he had ruined it a little when he let his irritation get the better of him, but other than the grin slashed on his face, it was a good enough likeness of his father. And it had been Jason’s fault anyway. If he had just slept last night, Damian wouldn’t have made that mistake in the first place.

Silently, Jason paid for their food and exchanged only hushed words with Sandra before she ambled away again.

“C’mon.” Jason grabbed his jacket and stood. “Let’s get you home.”

Making no move to follow his example, Damian glared. “You are not driving.”

“Well, shit, I’m not gonna walk.”

“I am calling Grayson.”

“You are not. Now move your ass or I’m leaving you here, I swear.”

Jason’s words surely came out harsher than he had intended. It had to be the lack of sleep making him growl like this. Damian reasoned with himself, not wanting to start a fight, no matter how much Jason seemed to look for one.

“Drake,” Damian compromised. “I could be persuaded to call Drake instead.”

Cursing under his breath, Jason pushed his arms through the sleeves of his jacket. “You’re doing no such thing.”

Without another word, Damian stood and brushed past his brother. He slipped a hand into the jacket, sighing at how easy it was to pickpocket the keys to Jason’s bike. The man would not be driving in his state, Damian wouldn’t let him. Even if that meant having to face the horror that was Gotham’s public transport.

 

Jason didn’t remember much from his time at the League, but he did remember her. How she had sat beside his bed, reading to him and the way she had talked to him patiently while she had screamed at others. He remembered how she had run her fingers running through his hair when he woke up screaming.

After the pit, it had been different. Not worse, just different. She had no longer been a constant in his life; only emails and irregular meetings when he needed a new teacher. No one had been there when he woke up, his covers drenched in sweat and a racing heart hammering against his ribs.

No matter how much he had longed for his father, he could never go back to the manor, never pick up his pillow and sneak to the master bedroom again.

And yet, he realized, even with both Talia and Bruce out of the picture, someone still seemed to take care of him, their green eyes staring at him from the window sill.

Jason threw the covers off, needing to feel the sudden cold. He rubbed his hands over his face, before taking a breath and turning towards his visitor. “I’m not your mom.”

“I’m aware of that.” Robin slid inside, closing the window behind him without a sound.

Sitting up, Jason put his feet on the cold floor. He had no carpet. Stains were a bitch to get out of a carpet. “What do you want?”

Damian looked uncomfortable, taking off his mask to have something to do. “You were screaming.”

“Ah, shit.”

Neither of them said anything for a moment. Jason stood and walked the short distance to his bathroom to put his head under the faucet. Letting the water run through his hair, he prayed for the cold to fully wake him, its harsh temperature anchor him to the here and now. His dreams were on his mind, the pain and fear he had felt. The smile on Bruce’s face, the one he had seen in Damian’s picture just a few hours ago.

They didn’t exchange any words. Not when Jason stumbled into the kitchen, the kid right at his heels.

Checking it the pot that still held cold coffee from earlier, Jason swallowed against the lump in his throat. The little bean bag was watching him, but he was not yet sure he didn’t just imagine the whole thing again.

He didn’t care for much right now, not for the stupid face Damian made, nor the disgusting taste of stale coffee. As long as he would not fall asleep again, Jason was okay.

It was only when he took the first gulp right from the pot that things changed. The kid let out a squawk in protest, stepping over Chainsaw that came to check on her owner. “You put that down this instant, Todd, or I swear, mother will hear of this.”

“That’s not fair.” Jason chuckled. Usually, it was him threatening to call Talia.

“I don’t care, you need to go back to bed.”

Can’t, Jason wanted to say, the words dying in his throat. He couldn’t go back to sleep, not when he already knew what monsters waited in his dreams for him.

Damian took the pot from unresponsive hands, a firm, familiar look in his eyes he hadn’t inherited from his father. Cursing his traitorous fingers, Jason followed the kid numbly back to the bed.

“Lay down.”

He heard the stern tone, so close to the one he had listened to during different times. The tone and voice of a mother that was not his, now belonging to a brother that was not his either.

“This a dream?” Jason obeyed the order, curiously watching the boy pull back the blankets for him.

“I wish it was.”

“’nother hallucination then,” he concluded, closing his eyes. When Jason woke up from mercifully dreamless sleep, he remembered little but the fingers stroking through his hair.

Chapter Text

Damian was trained to be prepared for all kinds of things. He was not prepared for Todd getting a boyfriend, though. And he was even less prepared for that boyfriend to be none other than Drake. So when he let himself into Todd’s apartment, a few hours before patrol, Damian  was surprised to see Drake on the couch, Salt purring in his lap.

“I don’t even want to know how you got in here. You don’t have a key.” Damian kicked off his boots, nudging them to look decent standing next to the door.

Drake didn’t look up. Of course, he wouldn’t acknowledge Damian like that. “And I don’t wanna know what you’re doing here. Jason’s left two hours ago.”

Damian didn’t know what he was doing himself. He left Drake in the living room, setting his bags on the kitchen floor out of habit. He knew Jason was out. He always was at this time of the day on Sundays, so this was the perfect time to top up the pantry. It was just fair, Damian argued. Since he regularly came to Jason’s place, it was only fair to give something back. Jason never bought the good kind of lemonade but those no-name brands, insisting they were just as good.

Jason would be home in an hour tops and Drake was still there. This was unnormal. Unexpected. Looking at his groceries, Damian noticed he was also unprepared, having only bought dinner for two.

Hissing through his tooth gap, he set up the pan and bowls. They’d just have to make do. Maybe plan in a more wholesome snack than usual, during patrol.

Somewhere between cleaning chicken breasts and cutting lettuce, Chainsaw joined him in the kitchen. She jumped on the table and yawned.

“Yeah, I know,” Damian agreed. “He’s useless and boring. I don’t get what Todd sees in him, either.”

Letting sesame oil heat up in the pan, he climbed on a chair. It took no effort to get the plates, but it felt like the third one was much heavier than it should be.

In the living room, Drake had taken up the whole table with some kind of paper work. He didn’t move to recognize Damian, although Salt looked up from where she was perched on his shoulder.

“Move.”

“I don’t have time for this, Damian.”

“And I don’t care. If you want to injure yourself because your body grew weak tonight, be my guest, but I’m not letting Todd be an idiot about it. Make room so we can eat.” Slamming the plates on the table, Damian caught a glance at the papers. He sniffed, making a show of needing to get back to the kitchen. “You’re welcome to join.”

Drake had actually cleaned up and set down the dishes when Damian came back with the salad. He looked apprehensive, almost sheepish, though. They were family and Jason was fond of both of them, even if Drake didn’t like either. But if Damian could accept that, Drake would have to learn, too.

“You were changing your will.”

His posture was rigid and Damian almost regretted addressing the topic. It was not something he had ever thought about, but he knew for a fact his father regularly updated his will to include all family members equally. Drake, on the other hand, ... he was young, sure, but so was Damian. And he saw no need in such a document.

“That’s not--” Tim bit his lip, relenting eventually, “I don’t think Jason would take Bruce’s money.”

“True,” Damian conceded while setting up the table. They worked together, the apartment small enough neither needed to scream when one left to get something from the kitchen. “He’s not taking any money right now either, but he’s not above stealing equipment.”

Drake had to laugh at that and Damian felt strangely accomplished. “I was working on how to get around the whole him-being-legally-dead thing, you know?”

“You want him to inherit... if you die?” Something caught in his throat. Damian tried hard not to think about Drake’s death. He’d wished him dead for years and never felt anything imagining it.

“When I do, yes.”

They finished to set the table in silence, both of them avoiding to speak up. Damian made sure to put a light under the pot of tea to keep it warm until Jason got home. Sure, the chicken would taste better if he got his ass here soon, but it wouldn’t really matter much.

Salt watched them from the shelf Jason kept a few plants on. The manor was bigger, less crowded and they could actually eat at a real table there, without bending down or holding up their plates. But this was Jason. Very much Jason, and for Damian, Jason had become someone safe. Sharing him with Drake was... difficult, but right now, with Drake’s intentions this clear, it became a little easier. Just a bit.

“Make it out to me,” Damian suggested, not looking anywhere but at Salt up on the shelf. He’d make sure whatever Drake wanted Jason to have, he’d get. And use in a sensible manner.

There was a smile in Drake’s voice that made Damian finally face him again. “How can I be sure you won’t kill me for the money then?”

They perked up at the sound of keys, clanging together outside. Motioning for Drake to sit down, he went to get the door for Jason. Damian still couldn’t suppress a snarl in reply, knowing full well Drake would think about it. Would think about trusting Damian. Even if Drake wouldn’t accept him just yet, this was progress, wasn’t it?

Chapter Text

Sneering, Jason looked up to where Dick was dangling from the trapeze. He was not even doing anything fancy, just hanging there, his feet tangled in the ropes and his arms crossed over his chest like he was thinking. Jason always felt stupid when he saw Dick like this, although it was the older pulling ridiculous stunts. Still, he had had to live up to the man, had been the child who had to be the second Robin. The second son. The second everything.

“I can hear you thinking.”

“You can’t,” Jason snapped back, throwing his bag on the mat. He pulled his jacket off and did his best to ignore the keen eyes that followed his every move since he entered the bunker.

Instead of answering, Dick started swinging a little, back and forth, keeping his arms crossed in front of his chest. “Damian isn’t here if you’re looking for him.”

“Maybe I’m here to see you.” Raising an eyebrow, Jason turned to fix his gaze on the man.

“Yeah, right. And maybe Tim will stop sleeping in his closet after a nightmare.”

Blinking, Jason stopped. “Why are you telling me this?”

Bending upwards, Dick extended his arms, grabbing the ropes of the trapeze to pull himself on the bar. “Same reason you’re here.”

“I’m here to see you.”

“I know.”

Neither said a word, measuring each other for some time before Jason sighed. He ran a hand through his hair, kicking the bag he had brought. “The kid needs help. Specifically yours.”

“Which kid are we talking about?”

Jason gritted his teeth at the question. “Does it matter?” Because neither of them needed Jason. Neither Damian nor Tim needed him. They deserved the best, and all Jason was, all he had ever been, was just a step behind Dick Grayson.

Groaning, Dick slipped off the trapeze, landing on the mats without flourish. “Stop being a sadsack. This about Steph?”

“How’d you--” Only years of training kept Jason from taking a step back. Dick was way too close, even with the man standing quite a few feet away from him. Still, Tim had laughed at his pokerface, had even theorized the helmet was because of Jason’s face being way too easy to read.

Dick shrugged. “Damian doesn’t need to say anything for me to know something’s wrong.”

“He’s good at hiding his emotions, though.”

“Not from me, no.” There was a moment Jason thought he saw a smile on the other man’s face, but it was short-lived. “And not from you, either,” Dick kept on. He took a few silent steps, smooth enough he’d have surprised Jason if they hadn’t been talking to each other already.

“She’s right. Steph, I mean.” Jason crossed his arms. This wasn’t how he’d wanted the conversation to go. Originally, his plan had been to rile Dick up, to beat the crap out of each other until the man had no choice but wanting to keep Tim and Damian safe. Safe from the dangerous wildcard Jason knew himself to be.

“I’m not stupid. Letting the little bean boy hang out with me is like taking an alcoholic to a dive bar.”

“He is imitating your mannerisms to a point,” Dick conceded.

Growling, Jason shoved his hands in his pockets. Damian was a good kid. He’d been raised by the league, trained under the very similar ideologies Jason had adopted for himself and yet… Damian was good. Jason wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t and he was happy Damian wasn’t getting his hands dirty anymore. Someone had to take out the trash, but it did not have to be his little brother.

“Have you thought about yourself, though?” Dick asked. He cocked his head, forcing Jason to look him in the eye.

“I have. And I know what you’re getting at. I’m not good for him.”

Licking his lips, Dick seemed to have a reply for that, but Jason didn’t want to hear it. He was here to keep the little brat safe. And Jason wasn’t safe. Dick was. “I’ll throw him out next time he comes over. Already changed the locks.”

“You should re-think that.”

It irritated Jason how calm the other man was. Sweat cooling on his skin, and a frown on his face, yet not even a small hint of him being anything but patient with Jason.

“I know he’s embarrassed. Girly told me he’s hiding whenever he comes over.”

“It’s not like he doesn’t want us to know he hangs out with you, you know?” This time, Dick stepped off the mat, getting way too close for comfort. He stopped Jason from recoiling; his hand firm on Jason’s biceps. “He’s hiding from us.”

Torn between headbutting Dick then and there, and just plain gaping at what he was insinuating, Jason growled. He didn’t like being touched. Not like that, not by the golden boy himself. Not by the one person he had failed to be again and again.

The kid needed that man, though. Needed someone who didn’t fuck up everything he put his hands on. Dick Grayson was good and stable. He wasn’t volatile like Jason; not a broken tool. Dick Grayson was the person Damian could still learn from; was the person that actually knew what he was doing, consistently and with all the consequences involved.

Not him. Not Jason.

He was no Dick Grayson.

“He doesn’t need me. Kid needs someone--”

“He doesn’t need to need anyone,” Dick interrupted, his grip growing painful.

Jason closed his mouth with an audible click of his teeth.

“He’s not coming to you because he needs something from you, Jay. He’s coming to you because he wants to. Have you seen how often he tries to draw you? He loves you, man.”

Blinking, Jason bit his lip. He wanted a cigarette like right now. No one loved Jason Todd. Not even Tim. They hadn’t shared those words yet, but Damian was different. Damian was always showing his love rather earnestly if one knew where to look.

He didn’t do stuff out of pity or pampered anyone. The kid didn’t believe in beating around the bush much either. He’d… he wouldn’t tell Jason, not with words anyhow. But with actions. Like confiding in him and letting him stay while the little bean bag was painting and drawing. Like admitting to weaknesses and difficulties he had at school and with his family. Like taking care of Jason without expecting anything back or mentioning it - not even for blackmail.

Sighing, Jason finally looked up, facing Dick’s intent glare. “You’d make a great dad, you know that?” Only getting a sad smile in response, Jason’s stomach turned into an ugly knot. “Ever thought about it?” he inquired, no longer being able to keep his eyes on the other. Dick should never look this heartbroken.

“I’d be lying if I’d say ‘no’”, Dick said in a small voice.

“You jealous he’s coming to me?”

“No.” This time, the smile was genuine, even audible in his voice. “I’m glad he has you, Jay. And I’m even happier you have him. He’s good for you.”

“Yeah,” Jason admitted. “He is.” And maybe he wasn’t quite yet ready to let the little bean bag go, even if it might be better for the brat. Jason wasn’t a good role model. But Damian was. And maybe Jason was not yet too old to learn from someone this much younger.

Chapter Text

“Okay kid, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be back at the manor, celebrating?”

“I don’t like Christmas.” Damian shrugged as Jason sat down beside him on the roof top. “I have to be nice to everyone - including Drake.”

Jason knew a joke when he heard one. The little bean had been getting along with the family for quite some time now. He was a good kid but he did like teasing Jason. Rubbing his neck, Jason bit his lip to stop himself from smiling.

“Okay, fine,” Damian whined, not suppressing his own smile. “Tell me what you got him.”

Chuckling, he pushed his hands into his pockets, grabbing hold of the lighter inside. “Naa, you’re just gonna make fun of me.”

“Of course I will,” the kid amended. “It’s my prerogative as your younger brother, isn’t it?”

“Brother?” Jason grabbed the lighter tightly, glancing at the kid from the corner of his eyes.

Damian’s face was flushing, a faint dusting of red on his dark cheeks that wasn’t just from the cold. “You’ve been adopted into my family for years now, Todd. Get with the program.” After a beat, the kid huffed, straightening his spine and looking anywhere but Jason. "It has come to my attention that people give presents to those they care about during these holidays."

"Astute observation, bean bag. What gave it away, the noisy TV ads or Pennyworth asking for your wishes since the season started?"

Damian huffed, his breath a steamy cloud in the cold air. "You're obnoxious, Todd. I don't know why I made the effort."

With a jerk, Jason slipped the lighter from his jacket, trying to disguise his reaction as he patted his pockets down for cigarettes.

And, it really was strange. Jason wasn’t quite sure how to take that statement - Damian was thoughtful, of course. Damian wouldn’t just buy random things, instead, he’d take the time to find the perfect present. That’s what he had been trained for - Talia wouldn’t have it any other way. She had poignantly told Jason to make sure he knew his mark’s heart, their deepest desire. It was a thing an assassin more than often needed to know. So it really shouldn’t have come as such a surprise Damian had made an effort with his present. Deep down, Jason knew that wasn’t what had surprised him.

“Didn’t have to get me anything,” he grumbled, lighting his cigarette.

“That is true.” The kid fidgeted, producing a red envelope with Jason’s name on it in Damian’s ornate cursive. “But I wanted to. I’m not sure I got it right, though.”

The lump in Jason’s throat made it hard to answer, so he hid by taking a drag before even looking at the boy. People didn’t give him presents. It didn’t happen. Sure, once or twice, he’d been offered a freebie by some of the working girls he had saved, or got offered money by some asshole for this or that, like letting them live, and, sure, Alfred did buy some things, but they both knew Jason wouldn’t come to pick them up. By now, Jason was pretty sure the old butler was re-using last year’s gifts. And the gifts from the year before that and so on. Jason Todd didn’t get presents. Not present presents. Not the kind that actually counted.

Damian’s hands were shaking almost as much as his own when Jason put the burning cigarette aside and took the envelope. They would both blame it on the cold, of course, but they knew either would be telling a lie.

The envelope was light, not much more than a few pages inside tops - probably just a card. People did hand out cards around Christmas, right? They still did that, right?

Carefully, Jason pushed a finger under the seal. Because the pretentious little bean would not just use glue, oh no. It had to be a good, old-fashioned wax seal with his initials on it. Not wanting to break it, Jason pulled back, reaching instead for the knife he was carrying in his boot.

“Just rip it,” Damian scoffed, blowing on his hands to keep them warm. His eyes flitted between Jason and the letter, only to stare straight ahead when the kid noticed Jason grinning at him. “It’s just some thing. Nothing of value.”

The knife cut through the thick paper almost effortlessly, satisfying in a way little else was. Jason put the tool aside, keeping the envelope in his hands for a while, only marveling at it. Maybe it wasn’t anything expensive, maybe it was just a stupid Christmas card, but it was for him. The kid couldn’t know, couldn’t even fathom what that meant.

“It is to me.” His voice was low, getting swept away by the icy wind blowing and tugging at their clothes, but Damian understood.

“You haven’t even seen--” The accusation veering off into a shriek when he saw the first tear roll down Jason’s cheek. He could not tell if it was because of the sentiment - or the present itself as Jason had pulled the card out by now. Only a little bit, but it sure was enough to recognize the likeness of one Catherine Todd.

Damian hadn’t had too many pictures to work with, but he was still a little proud of that drawing. It was small, just a little charcoal on some good paper, but it did look like the woman he had only seen in a handful of newspaper clippings and mugshots.

“I... I hadn’t seen her in any of your safe houses. It... It wasn’t because you don’t want her around, do you?”

The kid sounded weird. Uncomfortable. Like he hadn’t just pulled out Jason’s heart with his bare hands. They both had their mommy issues alongside the obvious daddy issues. They both knew their mommies could’ve been better and maybe Jason should’ve hated Catherine. Maybe he shouldn’t even call the woman who had raised him his mother at all. She wasn’t actually biologically related to him, was she?

“Thank you.”

Damian blinked, not understanding the tone of his voice and Jason couldn’t blame him. He wouldn’t have understood the strange love-child of a croak and a whisper that left his throat either. Instead, he reached out, making sure the kid knew what he was doing before clutching Damian to his chest.

“Thank you,” he repeated, his face buried in the kid’s shoulder.

“It’s fine,” Damian said. “I’m glad you like it.”

Chuckling, Jason squeezed the boy a little, wiping his face with the ball of the hand still holding onto the envelope. He refused to let the brat go. Not right now, at least. Not completely.

“That why you were outside tonight?” Jason looked down at the kid who frowned at him in return. He probably hadn’t wanted Jason to see the tears and snot run over his own face, but hey, they were both giants messes and that should’ve been common knowledge, so Jason didn’t comment on it.

“Maybe I just don’t like Christmas.”

“Or maybe you just don’t like everyone pretending that they do.”

Sniffing, Damian leaned into his shoulder. “Or maybe I just plain don’t like Christmas, Todd. Don’t make this a big thing.”

But it was, right? Damian cared too much for all those assholes - including the biggest asshole, Jason himself. The little nugget cared and it was no secret.

“Wanna go back there and exchange the decorations for Halloween themed ones?”

“What?”

Whatever the little bean bag wanted, Jason would get it for him. And if that meant finding a way to keep the family from pretending and lying all night just because they were supposed to be ‘happy’ during the holidays, Jason would do just that.

“We could just fuck things up a little. Make it less serious, less... you know.”

Wiping his face with both hands, the kid turned to look at him. “You’re serious.”

“Like a heart attack.”

“You think if we take away the pretense for them to act all...” Damian waved his hand about, trying to convey his hatred for all the false cheer waiting at home.

“Christmas-y”

“That’s not even a word.”

“It so is.” Throwing his forgotten cigarette off the roof, Jason stood, motioning for the kid to follow. “D’you know Tim and the old man didn’t even celebrate before they got to know Dick? Christmas is not such a big deal as they make it out to be. They’re just looking for an excuse to make everyone else happy.”

“Yeah, well.” Damian straightened his jacket before looking up to frown at Jason again. “They should stop. It’s making me uncomfortable.”

Laughing, Jason tousled his hair. “They could definitely learn a thing or two from you. -- Care to teach them a lesson?”

“Are we really going to...”

“We’re gonna steal Christmas. It’s kinda tradition anyway.”

“How’s that tradition?” Damian grumbled as he followed Jason off the roof.

“Hatchling, have you never heard of the Grinch? We really need to get you more books.”

“Maybe I should put it on my wish list.”

“Maybe you should.”

Chapter Text

Steph had yet to decide whether to hit the girls next to her or the cute guy they couldn’t stop talking about. Hitting the guy would’ve probably been easier, since he sat right in front of her, so she really only had to lean forward a little and backhand the hell out of zombie boy. But Jason wasn’t the one disturbing class, the girls were. And the exam was just next week. So it seriously was a tie between hitting the civilians and the trained vigilante. The deciding factor ended up being zombie boy actually paying attention and even taking notes - Steph would demand to see them later to compare to her own. Not that she was particularly bad in this course, but Jason's way of learning was just on another level altogether. She had seen the memory minutes he'd done for Tim after a particularly boring lecture they'd gotten from Bruce. She had also seen the small booklets that turned up between Damian's school work and envied the kid. If she had anything like this to learn with, school could have actually been fun - or at least easy.

With that thought, she let her own mind drift a little. There was a reason zombie boy was here and it was likely not the lesson itself.  So why would he want to meet her? Pulling out her phone, she did what anyone trained by the world's greatest detective would just forget to do: she sent Jason's boyfriend a message.

"how should i kno"

"don't lie timmers"

"u suck"

"that what jason said last night?" Steph grinned, shoving her phone on the table. Knowing Tim, he would now rant - and then come to the point and tell Steph exactly what she wanted to know. The boy might have a genius IQ, but he still was a stupid boy who had a lot of growing up to do.

After a few minutes of actually listening to the lecture, she glanced at her phone again, seeing its screen light up with another message. One of seven as it turned out to be and just as expected, Tim was finally replying to her question.

"he's not so gr8 rn. said u said sth he needs 2 talk about. he's overthinkin imo"

"what did i say?"

There was a pause in which Tim didn't reply and for a second, Steph had to look up to check if he wasn't simultaneously chatting with Jason. But zombie boy was still glued to the lecture. Up front, the professor was already closing his argument, while some of the students behind her started packing their bags. There was a chance Tim was stalling. He could know when the course ended, but Steph didn’t think so. Tim was usually the definition of unlucky and unexpected so it could be. There WAS a chance. He still replied in time.

“it’s about the brat. jay feel like he’s a bad influence”

Stuffing the phone in her bag, Steph made sure to keep her eyes on zombie boy when the lecture finally ended. Jason was… not perfect. Far from it, actually, but Cass had insisted upon talking about him quite a lot. She thought Steph and him had something in common other than their taste in boyfriends and maybe… maybe there was something she could work with.

The last time she had met Jason off the streets, it had been Cass, too, who had arranged it. Cass who had been late so the two of them had to play nice while waiting for her at the bar. It could have been worse, really. Zombie boy had played along when Steph had dealt with some ass who was making a girl uncomfortable and had even walked her home afterward when Cass had finally graced them with her presence. If she wasn’t so damn sure he had also given the girl his number, zombie boy would have levelled up from “crazy creep” to “dangerous dummy”, but with that in mind, he had only made it to “salty stomachache” that night.

Adjusting the bag on her shoulder, she walked the few steps down to where Jason was sitting. He didn’t seem to notice her, packing his things away and ignoring the crowd filing out of the hall.

“Think Timmy writes his reports like his messages only to give B a migraine?”

“I know for a fact that’s just what he does.” He replied, his face slipping into actual surprise for a second. Tim had been right when he theorized about the helmet giving Jason a bad poker face.

“He was such a nice kid when we met. I think you’re rubbing off on him a little too much. Or too often.”

Jason cringed, the tips of his ears turning red. Without looking at her, he stood, taking his rucksack with him. Steph obviously had a talent that was saying the exact wrong thing around Jason. Determined to at least get his notes - if not even get him to talk - she fell in step beside him.

“So, how’s the infant?”

“Sucking on his braces and growing a new tooth.” He slung the rucksack over his shoulder. “What do you want?”

“I could ask you the same thing. Don’t get a guest auditor that often.”

“You want my notes.”

“I want your notes,” Steph agreed. “I also want you to take me to that diner the baby brat is raving about.”

That actually got a smile out of him, which Steph definitely counted as a win. “He’s talking about the waitress, not the food, you know.”

“Doesn’t mean the food’s bad.”

Jason stopped, holding the door open for her and a few other students before walking towards the parking lot. “It’s not.”

“See, here’s the thing: Dami said you pick him up from school and buy him lunch. I want in on that.”

“No, you don’t.”

Steph set her bag down with a huff. The bike Jason had brought was the beat-up thing he took on patrol, too, and not for the first time, Steph wondered about zombie boy’s financial situation. The bats had money, that was no secret, yet Jason’s clothes were always worn; his gear beat-up and scuffed. And Steph was no stranger to patrolling on a budget. For some time, she had depended on Tim’s little presents of de-cel lines and other gear.

“Okay.” Crossing her arms in front of her chest, she glared at the man. Something wasn’t right and if her intuition wasn’t completely out of whack, Tim hadn’t told her everything. “You wanna tell me what this is really about?”

Jason pushed his hands in his pockets, staring at the bike. “I don’t deserve them.”

“Them?” she echoed. His voice had been small, lower than it should have been. Sure, she was accustomed to the strange, warbly sound the voice modulator in his helmet gave the Red Hood but she had heard him talk without it often enough to recognize the understated tone.

He turned to face her with a smile that looked like a crude slash. “You were right,” Jason said. “Do me a favour?”

They talked. She screamed. But Jason was a stubborn ass and they couldn’t make a scene on campus. Which was why he decided to meet her there, of course. That bastard.

Instead of slapping some sense into zombie boy, Steph called an Uber, getting her to the manor as fast as she could. Usually, she rang the bell, usually she greeted Alfred and played nice, but this time, she stormed through the heavy oak doors without waiting for anyone to notice her arrival. The brat would be upstairs in his room by now, making his homework so he could take a nap before he went out on patrol. Usually, Steph would let the kid do just that, but today was different.

“Pack your things,” Steph yelled, throwing the door to Damian’s room open. “We’re getting that asshole back before Tim even realizes his boyfriend’s gone AWOL.”

Chapter Text

Jason was hard to find if he did not want to be found. He had been trained by the best as well as the worst and Damian was still only twelve. It was an excuse, sure, but right now, he was okay with that. Jason would have been proud.

Sighing, Damian curled himself up on the backseat of Steph’s car. It was a hunch they were following. Nothing more than a hunch, but at least they were moving. If Jason had been with them, he would have fiddled with the radio, singing along whenever he knew the lyrics, but he wasn’t here. For some kind of idiotic reason, the dummy had decided he wasn’t worth Damian’s time. Wasn’t worth being around him and being a bad influence on him. Which was the most moronic conclusion Damian had ever heard and he hated even thinking about it.

He didn’t understand it, either. Didn’t understand what he was doing here in the car with Steph either. In what little time Jason and he had spent together, Damian had been given so much... he was in no place to ask Jason to give him even more, no matter how much Damian wanted his brother to come back.

Just before he could fall asleep, Steph put a cassette in the old radio, filling the car with what she called ‘music’. Damian called it ‘crap’ and shot up in his seat. “Will you turn that down!”

“Just put your earphones in.” Looking at him through the mirror, Steph grinned and turned the music louder. It was a punk band with a female lead that had no idea what it meant to hit a single note.

“I’d still hear it,” he complained.

“Yeah, well, sucks to be you. I’m driving and I need to stay awake.”

“Oh for-- just let me drive.”

Steph considered it. He knew she considered it by the glance she gave him. Her reply still came out dry and negative.

“Let’s talk again once there’s hair growing on your face.”

“If facial hair were a prerogative to drive,” Damian started, pulling out his iPod. “Neither you nor Drake would ever be allowed. Just pull over next time you get the chance. I need to pee.”

“Again?” Steph whirled around.

“Keep your eyes on the road!”

“Shit!” Cursing, she brought the car under her control again, flipping the honking man behind them the bird. “Still need to pee?”

“Not anymore,” Damian grumbled. He really didn’t have to, but Steph definitely needed a break. They both did. Jason was way harder to find than they had first expected, which... okay. He had been Mother’s champion for a while.

The rest-stop they pulled up at didn’t remind him of the diner Jason took him some times after school. It didn’t because it was different. A totally different place filled with strangers instead of all the familiar faces. No jukebox that no longer worked, no Sandra who got him paper and crayons and strawberry milkshakes, no grumpy old man reading yesterday’s news. And when he flopped down on the red vinyl, there certainly was no Jason.

Steph shoved her purse at him. “Order me a coffee - one even Tim would wake up from, okay? I’m gonna look for the bathroom.”

Nodding, Damian wondered what would be stronger than brewing an espresso with Red Bull, but he already knew he’d decide on decaf anyway. He might want to find his brother, might even be a little desperate, but he sure as heck wasn’t stupid.

Not-Sandra took the order wordlessly and he didn’t have the heart to get a milkshake. That was when he finally knew what to do. One of the first things they had tried was calling - without luck. Chances were high Jason had disposed of his phone already, but there was one person he kept in contact with. One person he neither loved nor hated and who owed Damian big time: Mother.

 

When they met up, Mother looked different. She seemed happy to see him, wanting to reach out but obviously holding herself back as if she knew she didn’t deserve that kind of trust from her own son. It had taken a while to realize, but by now, Damian was sure she had felt that way for quite some time - and he was unsure how he wanted her to feel. He definitely wanted a hug. But not from her.

He loved her, his heart ached for her, but he did not want a hug from her. Being happy to see her alive was fine with him; now he needed what he endured seven hours of Brown yelling at him for.

“Do you know where he is?”

Talia crossed her arms over her chest. It was a nice little café they had met in and the wind played with her hair. She would always be a beautiful woman, but one who had a sharp mind to accompany her pretty features. “Jason is not easy to locate if he does not want to be found and I respect that.”

Damian shot Steph a glare over the rim of his soda so she would shut her mouth again. It had been a hassle getting her to come – or really, taking Damian here. If things had gone according to her plan, they wouldn’t have met up with Mother, but then again, her plan hadn’t worked and it was time for Damian’s plan. Which did not actually involve her sharing the table with them, but he would be able to make do.

Taking a sip from her tea, Talia continued, “I do try to keep tabs on him, though. Now, if you can explain why you would need his special talents, we might be able to come to an agreement.”

“I don’t want any of his ‘special talents’,” Damian spoke. His mother’s eyes widened as he had predicted. “I just want to talk to him.”

“You want Jason for his own merit?” she sputtered. It was almost worth the whole trip only for that reaction. Jason seemed to be a soft spot for both of them.

Next to him, Steph shifted in her seat. She had kept silent as instructed, but it seemed likely she’d explode any second; her lips a thin line and her hands shoved under her thighs. She hadn’t taken a sip of her coffee ever since Talia had arrived.

“Jason can be a selfish prick, but so can I.”

His mother gave him an appreciative nod and her voice betrayed a certain kind of admiration when she replied, “You care for him.”

“And so do you.” He didn’t expect an answer to that. It was a fact, not well known, but he did know Jason quite well – or so he’d thought – and Jason didn’t stay in contact with just anyone when they had outlived their usefulness. “For his sake, you should tell us where he’s taken shelter this time.”

“Do I need to fear for his safety if I do?”

Steph slammed a hand on the table, her coffee spilling, just about missing her fingers. “Damian is not some bloodthirsty assassin, he’s a child looking for his brother, goddammit!”

There was no mistaking the look Talia gave her. Until now, she hadn’t deemed her worthy of notice. “And who might you be?”

“The person who’s telling you: you fucked up. Sheesh--” Steph stuck out her chin-- “I wanted to do this for years and now you’re sitting here and I’m less than impressed.”

Talia showed her teeth in a smile Damian knew to be closer to a threat than genuine. “I don’t remember caring for your opinion.”

“Good. You’re getting it anyway.” Steph was on a roll now. “You’re a stupid bitch and you have no right to ask anything of your son – No, really, you should just stay out of his life and--”

– “I’m not the one inviting you here,” Talia hissed.

Surprised by her outburst, Damian’s shoulders went slack. He could not understand what was happening, how Steph could have turned such an easy recon mission into… whatever this was.

Gripping her mug tightly, Talia’s knuckles went white. “He asked me to come and I stopped whatever I was doing to heed his wishes because--”

This time, it was Steph’s turn to interrupt the other women. “Don’t tell me it’s because you love him, 'cause you sure as hell don’t. If you did, you would be there for him – not Jason or Dick or even me. You would be making him sandwiches for school and you sure as hell would not have trained him to kill and let him still run around at night beating up people twice his size!”

Damian did not expect his mother to apologize. She had done what had been expected of her and she had seen to it he was given the chance to live with his father instead. If this didn’t show her love… Damian didn’t know. It certainly felt different than what Dick had taught him…

“You know nothing of life young lady” Talia stood, her fingers splayed over a piece of paper she shoved over the table. Giving her son a nod, she left without a further word to them – but the smile she gave him was genuine and Damian’s heart beat a little faster. He was unsure what he did to deserve it, but it still made him happy. His mother approved of his choices and that still meant something to him.

Chapter Text

Cursing, Jason stumbled into the small apartment he was squatting in. Things couldn’t have gone worse tonight; this city’s mob was much better organized than his intel had let on.

He hadn’t been here for long, but he usually knew how to do thorough recon before making sure his mark would no longer harm anyone. Apparently, something had gone wrong, though.

Not that Jason had much time to wonder; White knew he was after him and somehow, that bastard had been prepared. Though it was kind of flattering he had spent so much money on an android just for the Red Hood.

Not that that money wasn’t well invested.

Biting the inside of his cheek, Jason slouched against the wall, sinking down to the floor slowly. The last time he had seen a machine like this, he had made sure it would attack Bruce. The old man could fight robots if he wanted to, but Jason knew his limits and fighting an android built from the newest military tech... that was something he’d rather have the Justice League take care of.

Ripping the tear in his pants open more, he took in the damage. Walking would be no fun in the foreseeable future, let alone running. White’s goons he could deal with; a highly advanced android equipped with laser aimed submachine guns was different, though.

After tonight, Jason feared, the hunter had become the prey. White knew about the Red Hood. Knew Jason had planned to tear down his organization and had been prepared.

And now, the bastard might’ve even realized he had the advantage.

“Shit.” Jason hit the wall at his back, not caring for the red smears he left. Back in Gotham, Chainsaw would’ve been checking on him about now. But this wasn’t Gotham and Chainsaw was safe with the kid. Damian wouldn’t have left the cats on their own. And even if, they were cats. They had better chances to live than he had right now.

Gritting his teeth, Jason made to stand up. The first time he had had to deal with a gunshot wound on his own, his chances had been worse. He leaned against the wall, making sure to ignore all thoughts on White, about being found out. Worrying wouldn’t help with the shock; he would just end up wasting precious time.

Jason looked down where his pants were soaked with blood. His belt made a good and tried tourniquet, but he wasn’t sure about fluids. He definitely had no IV so the bathroom seemed the best choice.

It took a lot out of him, just crossing those few feet while searing pain shot through him. At least he knew what to do. He slipped into the tub, bandages and towels with him. Working quickly, Jason cleaned the wound and applied the pressure bandage as well as his situation allowed.

When he was finally removing the tourniquet, he was thinking of White again. He hated having to give up on the bastard for now, but Jason wasn’t dumb enough to not realize when he was in over his head.

As soon as he could, he would need to move. He couldn’t stay in this place - not with White knowing. Not with White hunting him.

Jason had left Gotham in time not to destroy everyone he cared about, but he might not be able to leave this hellhole in time to save his own ass.

-

After teaming up with them, during his search for Bruce, keeping tabs on the League had become a hobby. Similar to how he now regularly checked up on Wallstreet, Tim kept up to date with as much League activity as he could. - Or as much as Ra’s would allow him. Tim wasn’t arrogant enough to believe he could juggle an organization that big on the side.

Thing was, he knew Ra’s was actually delegating quite a lot of the everyday issues. Thus, it would have been foolish to call the man on the particular discrepancy Tim had noticed during the last days. This wasn’t big enough for Ra’s - but for Tim, who was missing a boyfriend, it was peculiar.

“So who are we gonna call,” he asked the cat peering over his shoulder.

Salt stared at the screen, seemingly torn between staying or checking if the laptop would be a good place to sit.

Humming the Ghostbusters’ theme song, Tim typed a few words to finish the email he was working on. Just a few empty phrases that were expected of him now that he was a big shot at WE. He also added a note to buy more gummy worms because the message was to Tam and she didn’t expect him not to use those phrases ironically.

Jason had been gone for sixteen days now. Not that she knew. Tam didn’t need to know he had holed himself up in Jason’s apartment, falling asleep on the couch while trying to find a way to control Gotham’s criminal underbelly.

Something, anything to keep him from thinking about the reason why he was staying in the small apartment in the Bowery these days. It wasn’t like he knew anything concrete.

Damian had called. Which in itself had been a surprise, but the brat telling him to stay put wasn’t. Someone had to think of the cats, right?

Steph hadn’t called. Steph hadn’t said anything, but Tim wasn’t dumb. When Jason didn’t show up and Damian called to make sure Tim would feed the cats right, he had known this wasn’t just some stupid argument Steph and Jason had, like she had claimed at first.

If his lead was any more concise, Tim might have packed his things and just gone himself, but things weren’t that clear. Just some irregularities someone higher up in the League’s pecking order had caused. Just some unnormal behavior his algorithms had flagged. But Steph was ghosting him. Knowing her, this meant she was frustrated, not having found a clue about Jason’s whereabouts yet. And a frustrated Steph would only waste his time.

Chugging down the rest of his Red Bull, he moved to pull out his phone. He needed someone to do a quick check-up for him. Nothing more. No questions asked.

He leaned down, making Salt reposition herself on his neck while he rolled the empty can to its brother’s under Jason’s table.

“Hey,” Tim greeted, jerking upright when the call was picked up.

Upset with his movements, the cat finally took the opportunity to jump off him and roll up on his keyboard instead.

Tim smiled, wiping his hands on his jeans. “You’re not currently off-world, are you?”

Chapter Text

Having Mother on their side was as good as it was bad. Mainly because neither Steph nor Damian had been prepared for an attack. And certainly, not for an attack by an alien warrior princess. But here they were, watching each other warily while Arsenal tried to exchange the tire he had shot in their fight. Damian loathed admitting that everything had been over soon. Way too soon for his liking, but he also knew not to pick a fight with Alien-Xena.

“Jason likes Xena,” he said to nobody in particular, cradling his injured wrist.

“He also likes being left alone.” Starfire nodded.

“Because he’s a dumbass who doesn’t know what’s good for him.” They both looked at Steph, who grinned, even though her hair would need a serious trim job after being singed by Starbolts. “Believe me,” she said, “I’m going to make his boyfriend make him sleep on the couch for a year. I liked that car.”

Starfire rolled her eyes and Damian felt like joining her. Towering over both of them, the alien princess should have frightened him, but all he felt was anger. They had attacked them - and even though they had been reasonable enough to stop, they still acted like they knew what was best for Jason. Which so didn’t matter anymore.

Damian had been trained to be selfish. Trained to take what he liked - and now he really would’ve liked for Jason to tell his friends that they were wrong. That Jason hadn’t left Gotham for good, that it hadn’t been the League hunting him but his little brother who just wanted him back home to help with the mass of homework that would pile up over this ridiculous roadtrip.

“Miss Hoover is gonna be so pissed.”

“The Hooverdamn can suck my dick.” Steph flopped down on the edge of the road pushing her hands into her hair.

“You don’t have a dick.”

“I also don’t have a spare tire.”

“So, that answers my question,” Arsenal laughed as he ambled over to them. Wiping his hands, he shook his head. “That one’s done and it’s a bit of a walk back to the highway.”

“I could--” Starfire started, but Steph had had enough of them.

-- “Leave us alone. That’s what you could do.” She huffed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “You show up, accuse us of stalking Jason and total my car.”

“We are kind of stalking him,” Damian mumbled.

“What we’re doing,” Steph continued without a beat, “is I’m going to lie down. In my car. That’s not going anywhere and you guys will get a new tire.”

Arsenal raised his hands placatingly. “Yeah, sure, princess. That’s what we’re suggesting.”

Steph huffed, pushing her chin up and looking at the Outlaws with disdain. Damian knew she really wanted to cry. To cry and scream and let out all the frustration that had collected over the last days. He also knew what she needed wasn’t actually a driving car.

“I don’t trust them.” All eyes were on him in an instant. “Just a few minutes ago, they would’ve killed us and now you want to send them off, laying our fate into their hands? I think not.” Damian crossed his arms in front of his chest. He wanted to scream, too. Wanted to call Grayson and make him pick them up. But that wasn’t their mission right now. “I’m willing to babysit this one,” he said while pointing his thumb towards Arsenal, “while you take the alien and do the recon we had intended. With her powers, you should be able to make up the time they cost us.”

The only mistake Damian made was looking at Starfire. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have seen that smile that reminded him too much of Dick. Too much of Jason, of his older siblings. Too much of the fact that he really was just a little kid who desperately wanted his brother back.

His nails bit into his palms, but he kept himself from sobbing. Every movement felt nauseating, but he ignored it. Ignored his sore muscles and the headache coming on and tore himself from her gaze.

“Come on,” he said as he took Arsenal’s hand. “We got a lot of ground to cover.”

Arsenal was surprisingly good company; knowing to keep his mouth shut until they had reached the highway. And even as they hitched a ride to the next auto shop, he kept the attention on himself, leaving Damian to get a grip on his emotions again. It was way harder than usual. And it took way longer, too.

They ended up talking one of the mechanics into giving them a ride and when they stopped for gas, Arsenal got him candy. On any other day, Damian would’ve frowned upon being treated like a child, but most of the candy was stuff Jason had introduced him to, and if Arsenal knew Jason’s favorite kind of candy, he had to know him well enough - Damian could at least respect that. Could admit that maybe, they really had only been looking out for Jason, too. And maybe, it was okay to hide his head in Arsenal’s shoulder on the way back to Steph’s car and fall into a restless sleep.