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Jason and Me

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The best part is, I get to wear the suit.

The first time I put it on, I just stare at myself in the mirror. For an *hour.* I still can't believe it. Dick made it famous. Tim made it his own. And now it's mine.

Jason died in it, but that's got nothing to do with me.

I look a little more squarely into the mirror. Try to ignore Jason's old suit in the display case reflected over my shoulder. This moment's mine. I'm not sharing it with ghosts. The cape looks good. The suit's heavier than I thought, but it feels right.

In the mirror, his empty mask looks back at me.

Screw him. I'm getting out of here. I have to show Cass.

She's out on patrol, sure, but I know when she usually ends her shift so it's easy to be waiting for her in her cave when she gets in. Cass is always in a good mood after patrol. She drops through the skylight to the floor. She looks tired and happy. I want to surprise her, but hiding won't do any good. She'll realize somebody's there, and in a second she'll recognize my step, but --

"Hey," I say. "Notice anything different?"

She turns to face me -- and freezes.

"Robin?" she says.

"In training. Can you believe it? Isn't this *great?!*"

She takes a long time to answer, and when she does her voice is very small and shaken. "No," she says.

"What?" This isn't how it was supposed to go. She's supposed to be happy for me, and we're supposed to have girl time, and toast the new outfit, and maybe do our nails and talk about boys. "Cass, what's wrong? I thought you'd be happy for me."

She almost looks afraid. But Cass isn't afraid of anything. Except maybe books without pictures. "Jason," she says.

Jason Todd. Jesus, I can't get away from him tonight. "I'm not going to die, Cass. Come on. You know me."

"Batman," she says. "Said you're like Jason." She pulls off the mask and looks up at me. I've never seen Cass like this. She looks as if she's about to cry. When she opens her mouth again, the words come out as if she's begging me.

"Don't be," she says.


"Tell me about Jason."

Tim gives me a wary look. I don't know why. He doesn't look too thrilled about the suit, but since he gave it up I don't know what he has to complain about.

"I never even met him," says Tim. "Remember?"

"Yeah, but you were there right after. Close to it, anyway. Plus you know a lot more about him than I do."

"It's not as if I know that much," he says.

"Come on," I say. "You telling me you never asked?"

His face goes closed. He looks like a smaller version of Batman for a second, and considering some of the things I've done with Tim that's more than a little creepy. "When it comes to Jason," he says carefully, "there's a lot of stuff I didn't want to know."

I have to fight back the urge to call "bullshit!" on that one. "There's all kinds of stuff in the Bat-archives," I say. "I remember you telling me Batman has some seriously creepy files. You telling me you didn't hack around, go snooping?"

"I didn't," he says. "And I'm not going to talk you through it so you can. You'd screw it up and then everybody would get pissed at me."

Which is probably true, but -- "I've gotta find out what's going on in the big guy's head."

"Have you tried asking him?" Tim says. I give him the look that deserves. "Right. Bruce. Stupid question. Look, he never said much of anything to me about Jason. When I first got there, he was obviously hurting. I wasn't going to press him on it. Bruce really loved him, you know. Like a son."

I can't think of anything that's less important for me to know than that.

Plus I can't picture Batman hurting. I know he must, sometimes. But still.

"Why do you want to know about Jason all of a sudden, anyway?" Tim says.

"Apparently I remind Batman of him."

Tim leans back slowly in his chair. He runs a palm across his face. He really looks like Batman now, and from where I'm sitting on his windowsill he looks very pale.

"Where did you hear that?" he says.

"Cass. Is she wrong?"

"You shouldn't be talking to me about this," Tim says.

He was Robin. He's one of the smartest people I know. He's my boyfriend. "Why the hell not?"

"Because I'm out of this. Because it's Bruce's call. Because my father probably has my room bugged." He looks up at me, and his face may be emotionless but his eyes aren't and the look in them breaks my heart. "Because I love you so goddamned much."

Tim doesn't swear.

Tim doesn't *ever* swear.

"You talked me back into the suit when I thought about quitting," he says. "Do you want me to try to talk you out of it now?"

No. No, I really don't. But I need to know *something.* Because I don't know enough.

"Joker killed him," I say. "How?"

Tim knows. I know he knows. And he looks like it's the last thing in the world he wants to talk about. He looks sick. If I know Tim, he's probably thinking about Joker doing all of that stuff to me.

"You need to talk to Leslie," he says.

"Dr. Thompkins?"

"Yeah. She knew Jason." He clears his throat. "She did his autopsy."


"Tell me about Jason."

Leslie Thompkins is a skinny old woman, all sharp face and bony elbows. "Don't try hiding in shadows with me," she says. "It lost its effect a long time ago, and besides you're no damn good at it."

Sharp tongue, too.

I step out into the light. And wait. Her back's turned and she's rummaging through a filing cabinet and she doesn't even look at me. "How'd you know I was hiding in the shadows?"

"Because you lot always do. The first time you come to see me without *him.*"

"I've seen you before -- "

The filing cabinet slams shut and she spins around, a manila folder in one thin white hand. "Not in that outfit you haven't."

That outfit. She says it like she's talking about somebody's seventies disco threads. The glare she gives me is worse. I wanted the suit so badly for the street cred, and for the way people would look at me in it. She looks at me like I've got snot on my sleeve.

"You did his autopsy," I say.

Her shoulders stiffen, and her mouth gets small as the corners turn down. She draws herself up a little so she can look more down at me. "Does *he* know you're here?" she says.

My silence answers that one for her.

"I didn't want to do it," she says. She goes over to the window I came in through and closes it. "Doctors don't perform autopsies on people they knew. And I'm a GP, not a forensic pathologist. Not that it mattered to Bruce. He'd had me snooping on friends at the M.E.'s office, reading up on weekends, calling in favors to get an informal rotation. Even paid for a few anthropology workshops, so that on the off chance he needed it I could fake my way through something I'm not qualified for and I'm too damn old to learn. I made fun of him for that." She snorts. "Well, the joke was on me, because one day he needed it."

"And you did it."

"There wasn't anyone else he could ask," she says.

She sounds bitter and pitying at the same time, and even after what she said earlier I feel ashamed for coming here. Then she holds the manila folder out to me.

"Here," she says. "You've saved me a trip. I was going to run this over to you and let you read it. His orders."

The folder's label reads WAREHOUSE FIRE. I know what it has to be.

"He... wanted me to look at this?" That doesn't make sense. "He didn't make Tim do it."

"No," says Leslie. "He didn't."

As if I'm supposed to draw some obvious conclusion from that.

She leaves me alone with the folder. There's a chair, a table. A wastebasket. I sit down and flip the folder open.

There were two bodies in the warehouse, both badly decomposed by the time they got back to Gotham. I flip past the first few pages to the report on Jason. No photographs, but there's an injury diagram. I slide that out from the rest of the pages and look back and forth between it and the report. The diagram has a lot of entries. One injury is sketched out in the margin to show a rough tool impression. The label, in a neat hand, reads, "Blunt instrument, poss. crowbar."

I've seen that handwriting before. When Tim lived at Brentwood, it was on the envelopes for his Christmas cards.

Jason had broken bones. Lots of them. His back. His ribs. Legs. Some are butterfly fractures, like you see on people who get hit by cars. Jason was hit fast and hard. Defensive wounds, parry fractures on his forearms. He must have had his arms up over his face. At least for some of it. Trying to protect his head. It didn't work.

You can't always tell where somebody was hit from how the skull is broken. Sometimes the forces go right around the head and the fracture starts on the other side. After decomposition, the only way you can really tell where somebody got hit is if there's a depressed fracture. That's where the bone was hit hard enough that part of it actually got mashed down. Jason's skull had a lot of depressed fractures. The worst was on the right side of the head. It was hard to tell with all the decomposition, but Leslie thought there was a massive hematoma there. The kind of thing you get rushed into emergency brain surgery for. Which wasn't really an option in Ethiopia, in the middle of the desert. He'd probably have died even if the bomb hadn't gone off.

Probably.

Maybe he'd have lived with brain damage, and that might have been worse, because as bad as it is to have Jason's ghost in a trophy case in the Batcave, I can't imagine what it would be like to see him limping around. Twitching. Maybe drooling --

I turn the page.

Bombs kill by shock and overpressure. What happens is that the blast increases the air pressure around it, so high-pressure air races into the sinuses and body cavities. Internal organs can be pulverized. Sometimes people hold together for a little while, then fall to pieces internally. Jason's body was intact after the explosion. He was pretty gone when Leslie examined him, but her best guess was that he would've been dead pretty quick. Or maybe he lay there, paralyzed, while his organs went to pulp. Bleeding out inside, drowning in his own blood, but not really because his lungs wouldn't have been *there* any more --

Batman wanted me to read this.

He wanted me to read this.

I'm seeing little spots and resting my face over the rim of the trash can when I hear footsteps behind me and a hand appears at the border of my field of vision. The hand is holding a paper cup. There's water in the cup. I take small sips, and the world starts to come back into focus. I reach out a hand and flip the file closed on the table. I don't want to look at it any more.

"Could this be me?" I ask. Oh, God, is that little thing my voice?

"Yes," says Leslie.

There's no compassion in her voice. "You blame Batman," I say. "Don't you?"

"I was concerned about Jason Todd from the first time I met him," she says. "More so, after Bruce made him Robin. Jason was emotional, reckless. He needed a stable environment and possibly some therapy, not a cape and pixie boots."

"I don't wear pixie boots," I say.

"It's not your good fashion judgment that worries me."

I'm not like Jason. I'm not. "You don't think I should be doing this," I say. "You don't think he should be putting me out there. You don't think I'm good enough."

"I think this crusade has buried one child too many."

"You think he doesn't?" I remember what Tim said about Batman hurting, and realize that maybe I didn't see it because it was always there. The way you quit seeing light reflections in a hall of mirrors and have to hold a hand out so you don't walk into the panes of clear glass. Maybe it works that way with darkness, too. "He *tortures* himself."

"Maybe he should," she says.

I've had enough. I'm out the window and on a jumpline before I can tell her what I really want to say. She's ungrateful. She takes his money and she takes his protection and she takes the benefits of his work and then she looks down her nose at him and spouts crap about pacifism. Let Gandhi go up against Hitler instead of the Brits. See how well non-violence would have worked then. Leslie hates me, but that's okay because I hate her back. Leslie's a sanctimonious, ungrateful bitch.

I'm grateful. I am. And I'm gonna prove it.


"Tell me about Jason."

I hate Bludhaven. It's dark and it's cold and it makes Gotham look like... well, okay, Gotham's worse in some ways, but at least Gotham hasn't given up.

Nightwing hasn't, either. Even if his city has. He's smart and he's a hell of a hard worker and do I even need to mention he has the world's greatest ass? *And* he was Robin. The first. The best.

I don't think he likes me. He doesn't hate me, though.

He's sitting on the edge of the rooftop, dangling his legs over the street, leaning back with his weight on his hands. When he turns his head to look at me, there's a strange expression on his face. Must be like looking in the mirror to find out your reflection doesn't look a thing like you. "So he really did it, huh?" he says.

Could be worse. I hold my arms out and turn around once, so he can get a good look. "Apparently. Which I think weirds some people out no end."

"Not you?"

"Should it?"

"Probably. It's a weird gig. I think it's taken me till now to realize just how bizarre my childhood with Bruce actually was."

Bizarre? How can he think that? I'd give *anything* to have had that childhood. Batman may not be the best dad in the world, but he's a hell of a lot better than a half-rate crook like mine.

Nightwing must see the expression on my face. He smiles a little. I guess he gets this a lot. "Have you ever read _The Enchanted Places_?" he says.

"What is it? Fantasy?"

"Autobiography. By Christopher Milne. Christopher Robin Milne."

It takes me a second. Christopher Robin. *The* Christopher Robin. Friend to Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. I sit down beside Nightwing and dangle my legs over the edge. Wow. We're high up. "I never thought about him being real."

"Most people don't."

I try to imagine Christopher Robin all grown up, and can't. Maybe that's the point.

"He got a letter once," Nightwing says. "From a kid. Who'd heard Milne didn't like being Christopher Robin. And didn't understand, because that kid would have *loved* to be Christopher Robin. So Milne tried to explain. No self-pity. But very frank. About how it's hard to be under your father's shadow when you're a man, especially when you're going to be remembered forever for what you were like when you were a boy." He's silent for a moment, and he's looking out over Bludhaven but I don't think that's the skyline he's seeing. "Don't get me wrong," he says. "I loved my childhood. I wouldn't trade it for anything. But I grew up. Jason never got to."

I try not to think of Jason in his display case, like a bug in amber. He's a boy forever now, too. Him and Christopher Robin.

"What was he like?" I say.

"He was young," says Nightwing. "Younger than you are. A bit immature. An adrenaline junkie." He doesn't look pointedly at me, and I'm grateful for that. "He liked making the crooks afraid."

I have to hide a grin. "Best part."

He doesn't smile back. "That's what Jason thought."

Oh. "Dick..." I've never used his first name like that, and I keep a close eye on him to make sure it isn't too much. "Why did Jason die? How'd Joker catch him?"

"Jason trusted somebody he shouldn't have," Nightwing says. His face is expressionless, but there's something in his eyes. I can't tell if he's hiding sadness or anger. "Jason went to Ethiopia to find his mother. She was working a relief effort. Joker was using her in a scheme to steal medical supplies and sell them on the black market. Jason confided in his mom, but didn't realize she had her own embezzlement scheme going. She gave him up to the Joker to save her own skin."

Oh. Oh, God. Poor Jason.

Then I remember there was another body in the warehouse. A woman. "It didn't work, did it?"

"No," says Nightwing grimly. "It didn't work."

"*Good,*" I say. I'm surprised how much I feel it.

Nightwing winces. "Don't say that," he says.

"Why the hell not?" I say. "She gave up her own *son.* I think it's just too damn bad the Joker didn't take his own sweet time with *her.* Fucking *bitch.*"

"Jason threw himself in front of the bomb when it went off," Nightwing says quietly. "His mother lived a few minutes after Batman got there. She said Jason tried to save her life."

We don't say anything for a couple of minutes.

"He doesn't get enough credit, does he?" I say.

"Jason had heart," he says. "He was brave. Nobody ever disputed that."

"Fat lot of good it did him," I say.

"Heart's not enough," Nightwing says. And he does look at me when he says that, and now for the first time I'm maybe a little scared.

"Okay," I say. "Now I'm weirded out. And I really don't want to end up like Jason but I don't know what to do."

"Have you talked to Oracle?" he says.

"No." Because I'm scared of what she might say.

"Well, you should."

"Did she know Jason?"

"Better than I did. She was in Gotham then. Unlike me. She missed a chance to tell Bruce to pull Jason off the street. She feels bad about that."

Jason didn't die on the street. He died in Ethiopia.


"Tell me about Jason."

Oracle looks at me long and hard for a moment, then pats the couch beside her. "Sit down," she says. "Let's chat."

Okay, not the reception I expected.

The couch is comfy, and big enough that I can scoot into a far corner out of the way. I fold my cape over my lap. It looks kind of like the blanket that covers Oracle's legs. At which I try not to look. She's got one of those motorized Exercycles, so I know her legs aren't going to look like wasted little sticks. But they're dead meat just the same.

Then one of them moves, and it scares the crap out of me. I damn near jump off the couch. I guess Oracle doesn't feel it. She looks at me, puzzled, then glances down at her leg. "It's a spasm," she says. "It happens sometimes."

"Jesus," I say. "How do you get used to that?"

"Because it's either that, or go crazy."

I guess she knows. One time she opened the door for a guy who made the other choice.

"Jason Todd," she says. "Well." She runs long fingers through her hair, and looks up at nothing. "What do you want? Good parts? Bad parts? Embarrassing stories?"

"I want to know if I'm like him."

That gets her attention. She looks at me in surprise. It takes her a couple seconds to figure out what to say.

"Jason Todd was a jerk and a punk," she says. "He was brave. Determined. Too stubborn for his own good. He liked power more than responsibility, and never avoided a fight when he could start one." She shakes her head, with a bitter little smile. "And he looked at me as if he were undressing me with his eyes. So, no. He was nothing like you."

And that should be reassuring. Except that all the way back from Bludhaven I've been thinking about Jason. About how he jumped in front of a bomb for somebody who betrayed him, because he loved her anyway. A part of me wishes I was like that. And another part is afraid I am. Because if Jason was immature, then what do the dozens of me-as-Robin doodles in my notebook make me? It's like being twelve years old, scribbling "Steph + Batman" in little hearts. Maybe Jason and I aren't that different after all.

"Steph?" says Oracle. "Steph, look at me." I try, but she looks out of focus and then I have to squeeze my eyes shut so I don't go to pieces. "Steph, c'mon, it's okay. Bruce gave you the outfit, remember?"

"Batman gave it to Jason, too."

"Batman's judgment wasn't at its best there," she says. "He loved him."

Tim said the same thing. It sounds different when Oracle says it. Maybe because she knew Jason. Maybe because while Batman loved him, she didn't.

And I wonder if I'm starting to, a little.

Jason used to just be an empty costume in a display case. I never thought of him as real. "Christopher Robin," I say to myself.

"What?"

I shake my head a little. Wipe my eyes. "Nothing," I say. "Just... Nightwing told me a little about Jason. And I kind of liked what I heard."

"Jason's problems weren't all his fault," Oracle says. "He had a hard life. His father was a crook. Murdered. And his stepmother -- his stepmother was very ill."

She stumbles there for a second, and I wonder if it's because she doesn't know or because she just remembered about my family and doesn't want to say this stuff in front of me. And it's stupid, but that makes me mad.

"Was she a junkie?" I say. My mom's a pill-popper, but she didn't raise any idiots. "Was she a *whore?*"

"I don't know," Oracle says quietly. "I know she died. I know Jason did what he could for her. I know he stole so they could eat. I know he tried to steal the tires off the Batmobile. And -- " She looks at me, and she looks worried. "Maybe we should talk about this later."

"No," I say. "Now. I need it now."

"Have you ever heard of Felipe Garzonas?"

It doesn't ring a bell. I shake my head.

"He was a diplomat's son. And a monster. He liked cocaine, and he liked brutalizing women. He had immunity. Couldn't be touched. He pushed one woman to suicide. Jason went to confront him. Batman followed. He caught up to Jason on Garzonas's balcony."

Even in bright colors, Tim can be pretty scary when he wants to be. I've seen bad things almost happen when balconies and fire escapes were involved. I can guess what happened to the bad guy. "Garzonas fell."

She meets my gaze with calm blue eyes. "Or was pushed," she says.

No. Jason didn't do that. Jason couldn't have.

"Bullshit," I say.

She doesn't say anything. When I look back at her, I see she's resting her chin on her hand, looking at me like I'm a bug under a microscope. "What?" I say.

"I didn't think you were like Jason before," she says. She looks at me, eye to eye, and any hint of Barbara Gordon is gone and it's all Oracle, cold and untouchable. "Now I'm not so sure."

"Jason wasn't that bad."

"He was too emotional. He made mistakes. That got him killed."

"He got killed because he trusted his own mother," I say. "That's a pretty small mistake."

"Small mistakes have big effects," Oracle says.

"You think I don't know that?"

"I know you do," she says. "You had a child."

It's like a slap across my face.

Nobody ever mentions that. It's like they don't want to offend me by bringing it up. Now she does, and for a second I can't believe it. I don't know why she sounds angry that I had a child. Maybe it pisses her off. Because she can't. Because she made a small mistake too.

"You opened a door," I say.

In the silence that follows, the clock chimes the hour. "I need to use the bathroom," she says. "Excuse me."

She makes it into her chair fine. She doesn't ask for help. I don't offer. She rolls off down the hall. She lives alone, so I guess she can take a piss by herself or change her own diapers or do whatever the hell it is she has to do. I guess she was happier once. On her wall there's a framed shot of her in a little black bikini, walking along a beach somewhere with Dick Grayson. They look young and happy and they don't have a care in the world. It must have been a really long time ago.

I should feel sad for her, but all I feel is angry. Why does Oracle get a pass and Jason doesn't? She knew the Joker was on the loose, but she opened the front door without even looking. And he didn't even know she was Batgirl. He just shot her to freak her father out. If Joker'd known who Barbara Gordon was, she'd be dead and rotting, too. Jason caught a bad break, that's all.

Jason's not a loser. He's not.


"Tell me about Jason."

Alfred doesn't look up from the carrots he's peeling. He's planning something involving carrots and ginger root and he claims it's simple but it's all magic to me.

It's safe to talk here. The big guy isn't in the kitchen. He's been banned from walking through the door, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. I asked Alfred once, and he asked me if I knew the difference between a roux and roulette. I said no and he said, "Neither does Master Bruce."

Except I haven't been banned from the kitchen yet.

I don't know what the hell Alfred thinks of me.

"What do you wish to know?" he says.

"What was he like?"

"He was very young," Alfred says.

"Ba-- Mr. Wayne loved him, didn't he?" I say.

"Yes," says Alfred. "He loved him very much."

The way he says that makes it clear it's only half the story. "You loved him, too."

Alfred's mouth goes up at one corner, in a sad little half-smile. "Sometimes I fancy I still see him round the house," he says. "Just a glimpse, out of the corner of my eye. He brought much anxiety, and much happiness, into our lives."

"So why does Oracle think he was such an -- " Alfred's raised eyebrow catches me before I say "asshole," so I sort of fumble to a stop. "You know," I say.

"No man should die when he is just fifteen, if he wants to leave a good accounting of himself," says Alfred. "I shudder to think of the impression *I* would have left."

He goes back to his carrots, giving me his back. Maybe I should leave.

"Alfred, am I like Jason?"

"Perhaps you should not be asking me," he says. "I'm just the butler, after all."

I called him that, once. I was really wrong. "No," I say. "You're not. And I'm sorry I ever thought you were."

He doesn't say anything at first, but he pauses for a moment in his work. Then he puts the knife down, sweeps up his peelings and puts them aside. He turns to face me.

Tim thinks Alfred used to be something dangerous. I know he was a soldier. I know he was a combat medic. I mentioned that and Tim said no, there was something else. And now I know what Tim was talking about because Alfred's *looking* at me and I've never seen that expression on his face before. He's taking me seriously and I almost wish he weren't.

"I don't ever wish to organize another funeral," he says.

"Or an autopsy?" I say. And then I want to hit myself hard, and maybe run away into a deep hole. The house has one, but getting out is harder than you'd think.

Alfred doesn't flinch, and somehow that's worse than if he had. "It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do," he says quietly.

"Alfred," I say, "I'm sorry. I -- "

"I collected his remains. I organized that which needed to be done. I took the notes that were required. I came home and reported to Master Bruce that all was well. And then I went out to the gardens and cried for an hour."

"You don't think I should be Robin, do you, Alfred?"

"No," he says gently. "You are perceptive, Miss Stephanie."

"Because of what happened to Jason." Because I'm like him.

"Perhaps you will find some small consolation in my belief that Master Jason should never have been Robin, either."

I guess I do. At least I know he doesn't hate me. "Because you loved him?"

"Because I loved him," he says. "And because I am not indifferent to you."


"Hi," I say. "Can we talk?"

Jason doesn't say no.

It's quiet in the Batcave, but not as quiet as you'd think. You can hear the bats, and the echoes of your steps, and if you stand in the right place you can hear the trickle of water far below. It sounds like the blood rushing in your ears, and right now I can't hear it over the sound of my own heart.

Nobody here but us Robins.

And Jason's dead.

I wish we could talk, for real. I think he'd know me pretty well. I don't know if that's good or bad. Maybe he could tell me what not to do.

Maybe if he had the chance, he'd do it all again.

His mask's empty eyes look down on me, and everything I wanted to say dries up in my throat and I can't even meet his gaze. It isn't possible for me to miss him. I never even knew the guy. I'm not crying for him. I'm not.

There's a quiet rustle behind me. It's the sound of a cape shifting, but it's barely there at all. You have to know what to listen for. I'm beginning to recognize it. Or he's deliberately making noise for me.

I wipe my eyes and nose, toss the Kleenex in the trash. "I know how it looks," I say. "I'm standing in a hole in the ground talking to a dead guy."

"I talk to him, too, sometimes," says Batman.

I'd... never have imagined that. "Does he ever answer?"

"He hasn't yet."

He's standing just behind me now, and I can feel the edge of his cape brush against my leg. Looking into Jason's case, I see that we're reflected there. It's a weird sight. I'm still not used to it: the Dynamic Duo, one of which is me.

"Well," I say, "he hasn't said anything to me, either, so I guess it's not that he's pissed at you."

Batman actually smiles a little at that. There's affection in it. Not for me. For Jason. And I guess I never thought about that before. I thought it was the least important thing for me to know. That Batman loved him. But maybe it's the most. Because it reminds me of something I forget. I always think of Batman as an urban legend. As the world's greatest detective. As this grim, implacable symbol of justice. As the perfectionist who yells at me when I take too long to figure out the fine points of lock-picking. But there's a man inside there, after all.

Maybe he forgets that, too.

I guess that's what he needs Robin for.

"Am I like Jason?" I say.

"You've been talking to Cassandra."

"Don't dodge the question, Boss."

"Yes," he says. "And no. What do you want me to say?"

"You wanted me off the streets as Spoiler because you were afraid I was like him," I say. "What am I doing here now?"

Am I supposed to prove Jason's death was a fluke? To be a good little Robin, one he can control? I don't think I'm somebody he can care about. Love. Maybe that's why it's okay. Because I'm expendable.

"You came to me," he says.

Which isn't an answer. But it isn't wrong, either. I guess he'd never expected to be training Dick, either. Or Jason. Or Tim. "Yeah," I say. "Isn't that what Robins always do?"

"Yes, Robin," he says. "It is."

Oh.

He's never actually called me that before.

"There's something you should know," I say. "From what I've found out... I don't think Jason did anything really wrong."

"Neither did he," he says. His voice is softer than I'm used to. He speaks gently, as if he's telling a hard truth to a very small child.

Maybe he is. Christopher Robin is six forever.

"I'm glad I got to know him, though," I say. I wave a green-gloved hand at the display case. "I just thought of him as a symbol. A warning. A good soldier. An empty costume. But he wasn't. He was your son. You loved him. That counts for something."

"It does," he says. "But so do you."

He says the last sentence gruffly -- as in, "and I don't have time for you to doubt it." It's the softest kick in the ass he's ever given me, and I have to grin. I turn around to face him, and look him in the face. The cowl. Whatever.

"You count for something, too," I say.

"Meaning?"

"Meaning if anything happens to me, it's not your fault. I fell down on the job. Or caught a bad break. Whatever. But it's my responsibility. All I want is for you to accept that."

"*I* make the rules," he says.

"Not this one. This is *my* rule. You're gonna follow it. Promise me."

He doesn't say anything for the longest time. Then he smiles, a little.

He doesn't promise.

"Come on, Robin," he says. "We're going out."

He turns and heads for the Batmobile, and I'm not far behind. I brush the top corner of Jason's case with a high-five along the way.

I've got no illusions. I know what everybody's thinking. That this isn't a good idea. That Batman's making a big mistake. That I'm just like Jason.

Maybe they're right. And maybe they're wrong.

Because I don't think Batman made a big mistake when he picked Jason. Just like Jason didn't make a big mistake when he trusted his mom. What happened to Jason could have happened to any of us. Look at Oracle: she's in a chair for life because she didn't look through a peephole before she opened the front door. Nobody blames her. Jason, though -- well, that's different. He screwed up. He was a mistake. Forget about him.

Screw that. Batman didn't make a mistake when he picked Jason. And he didn't make a mistake when he picked me.

Let me tell you about Jason.

Jason Todd was born in the slums of Gotham City. His father was a crook, his mother a mess. He grew up on the streets. He ran and stole and fought and lied. Then he got a chance to fight everything that had made his world the hell it was before. He wasn't perfect. He made mistakes. He said the wrong things and he did the wrong things and he hurt people. But he fought for good and yeah, he screwed up a bunch of times, but he never quit, never, even though it killed him.

And people he was close to loved him.

So maybe I am like Jason.

But I don't think that's such a bad thing.

My hand tingles where it touched the case, and maybe that's my imagination but maybe somebody's rooting for me. Maybe we're not popular, or the best. I know we're not perfect. Maybe you could say we're even screw-ups. But we're not going without a fight. Because we're in this together.

Jason and me.