Damian feels a shiver of unease when he first notices it.
There’s a little streak of white in the front of Jason’s hair. It’s a side effect of coming back from the dead, he hears the other's comment. It’s not unrelated, but hardly correct. He considers correcting them but decides it’s beneath him in the end. He’s sure his father knows and the others will figure it out eventually.
Jason is hardly around anyway. He’s not on good terms with any of the Bats, and no one in the superhero community dares to talk about him much because of the emotional landmine he represents. Damian knows most of the people in the Cave try not to even think about him. Except maybe his father when he’s in the mood to punish himself and then it’s hardly Jason anymore, just Robin and that case . He might be alive, but people treat him as if he’s still dead. Damian thinks to himself that this is probably for the best.
The distance will minimize the damage. Will make losing him again less painful for everyone.
Damian works with Jason only when he’s forced to. They don’t like each other. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say that they know too much about each other to like seeing the other. The shared memories they have are not pleasant. When they do see each other, Jason always has his hood on and Damian doesn’t think about think about the streaks in his hair and what they mean. Much.
It doesn’t come up again until they’re in one of their truces and Jason ends up dropping something off in the cave. His helmet is off and Dick bravely trying for normalcy and teasing him about his curls. He jokes that he’d forgot that Jason’s white streak was so thick. Except Damian knows that he didn’t forget; there really is just more white in his hair. Alfred notes that it is a strange thing to mark his return to life and Bruce grunts his agreement. It seems so ridiculous that no one seems to be acknowledging that white hair is not a symbol of life but death. And more white hair is usually a sign that you’re closer to it.
Jason gets them on another topic and the conversation quickly dissolves into another fight. Before that happens, Jason happens to meet his eye and and there’s an acknowledgement there that they both are aware that the other knows what's going on.
Damian feels sick when he eventually realizes that his father really doesn’t know hardly anything about the Lazarus Pit. He shakily plugs more information into the computer and promises himself that it’s enough. That eventually someone will reread these files and then they’ll know and Damian won’t have to tell them. Won’t have to see look in their eyes when they realize. Won’t have to see-
Jason starts dying his hair black.
Nobody really notices. He wears a hood so much of the time people don’t seem to register the change. Dick thinks the weird white streak just faded on it’s own. Tim think’s that Jason trimmed it off and that new hairs had just grown in. Perhaps most jolting, Bruce thinks Jason dyes just that piece of his hair so that he can operate more effectively without immediately drawing attention to himself.
Damian knows differently though.
When he get’s close rough housing at a meal he can see that far too many of Jason’s roots have turned silver for someone so young. Jason’s barely 20, it seems unfair. Damian reminds himself that Jason’s been living on borrowed time anyway. That he should have died when he was 15 and all this was extra.
It should make things easier, but it doesn’t.
It’s the worst when he start to realize how much the family loves Jason. How they’re starting to haphazardly mend broken bridges- that they all swore they’d never cross- because they love him so much that keeping him away is worse. He sees wistful looks and lingering touches. Like Damian might be walking in on stolen kisses if Jason wasn’t still holding himself a little away.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Damian finally demands corning Jason on a rooftop after he’d ditched Tim and Dick.
“Patrolling, till your brat ass came and interrupted me.” said Jason lazily reloading his guns and making it clear he didn’t consider Damian a threat.
“Don’t play dumb Todd. I grew up around Lazarus Pits. I know what’s going on.” Damian snapped.
There’s a long, hard, look for that from underneath the hood before he shrugs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about kid. But if I did,” Jason says coldly, “I’d tell you to stay the hell out of it.”
“The more you let them get attached to you the worse you’ll hurt them later.” Damian spat at him thinking already of misdirected pain being wielded like a weapon and all of their collective spectacular inability to deal with grief in any remotely healthy way.
“So maybe I’m fucking greedy. Tell me something I don’t know.” snarled Jason, “I’m not trying to hurt them. I just-”
“So go use the Lazarus Pit again! You know what will happen otherwise. Father has one hidden in the cave and you know it. Don’t do this to them.” Damian yelled. Tried not to sound like he was begging even though he sort of was-
“No.” Jason said immediately, “I can’t- I’d be better off dead again than that . I’d just end up hurting them worse again and you know it.”
He did know it.
“Then tell them.” Damian asked quietly.
“I’m selfish.” Jason reminded him, his laugh hollow sounding through the filter of the hood, “I finally started to be person to them again and not just a dead symbol. I can’t go back to that.”
There was nothing to say to that truth either. Except-
"Then why are you still holding yourself apart? They... care for you. You could make the most of this last time that you have with them. If you offered, you would not be turned away." Damian noted.
"Fuck, kid, because I'm trying not to be cruel to them." Jason shook his head slightly backing away, "I can't actually let them hope..."
Jason didn't finish, but Damian understood. He'd do the same.
Months pass and Damian goes to Jason’s safe house to borrow a weapon he knows his father won’t let him have. He catches him in a fit of coughing that sounds like it’s going to rip his lungs to shreds. Or maybe they already are. Damian read the reports. He knows the wounds the Lazarus Pit had temporarily erased. The state Jason is going to be in by the end of this. There’s certainly blood on his sleeve when he brings it away from his mouth.
There’s nothing Damian has to say about that.
The grin Jason gives him when he asks about the weapon is pure delight. Whether because it’s the sort of thing Jason would like to do or because it’s a bit of a middle finger at Damian’s father, he’s not sure. Possibly both. He get’s the weapon and that’s what matters.
He finds himself coming back to Jason’s safe houses more and more after that.
Jason stops dying his hair and Damian isn’t at all surprised to see that it’s mostly white now, just a few streaks of black left. Damian comments scathingly that Dick might actually like him better like this now that he looks like a silver haired fox. Jason grins and looks proud of him. He’s less angry these days, seems to have accepted what’s happening to him and doesn’t care too much to grieve over it. Damian finds that approach a little more difficult but he does his best.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t violent bouts of frustration when Jason has to stop doing something else because his condition has just deteriorated that much. The rage that came after Jason finally had to stop using his guns because his hands shook too much to aim reliably anymore was alarming. There had been a moment when Damian wondered if Jason would give up after that, but he just went out and punched the criminals in lieu of shooting them. There was no moment when Damian even considered telling to Jason to come off the streets. He knew he’d prefer to die fighting on his feet than any other way.
Perhaps it’s because Jason doesn’t let people come visit him anymore because of how impossible it is to hide his deteriorating condition is at this point. Perhaps it’s just that Damian already knows but doesn’t fuss over him. Whatever the reason, he always seems genuinely pleased to see him and Damian finds the moments spent in that tiny space are becoming more and more important to him.
“If they find me… Make sure they don’t burry me very deep. Just in case.” Jason jokes.
“You better not let them find you.” Damian tries to glower.
“Oh I don’t plan to.” Jason says confidently. Like he has any right to. Like they don't live in a family of detectives. Like he hasn’t been living with one foot in the grave for a while now.
Jason makes koshari that takes just like the type the cooks would make when his mother would leave for weeks on end. It makes Damian feel like he’s very young again. He doesn’t think Jason knows that. He probably just remembers that Damian likes it. The whole apartment smells a little like the acrid scent of the pit. It should be repulsive. It makes Damian feel like he’s home.
Jason and he argue back and forth and trade barbed remarks that don’t have to be dulled down for the sake of the other Bats. He makes morbid and violent comments that make Damian snicker in spite of himself. These are words that are not allowed in Batman’s house. This is a part of himself that was rejected by his father and repulsive to the other Robins.
All but one.
He pretends to nod off just so that he can curl up close to Jason’s warm and just stay there unquestioned. Jason’s coughs periodically jolt both of them and Damian knows he won’t be able to go out on the streets anymore soon. Wonders if that’ll be the thing that really kills him. Jason is humming some raunchy drinking tune under his breath and rubbing circles into his back and just holding him-
This was never something that Damian was allowed to have before.
He’s going to lose it soon.
Damian had considered many times the way distance might protect the rest of the family from feeling the rawness of Jason's loss. He never really thought of putting any sort of protections in play for himself. The next day one of the bright little fishes he has dies. They’re always dying. He doesn’t even like them that much they’re just pretty and he likes taking care of them. For some reason though he starts crying and can’t stop. It’s only ok because there’s no one there to see him.
Of course it’s Tim who raises the alarm. No one’s seen or heard anything about the Red Hood for months, he says. Something’s wrong, he says. Dick wonders if he’s gone undercover. Stephanie sides with Tim. Cassandra says nothing. She’s been in the Lazarus Pit before. Perhaps she already knows.
Bruce starts to brood.
Damian can’t take it. He spits out hateful, angry, cruel words about Jason and all of them that he doesn’t mean but he knows will hurt and he can’t make himself stop. He gets yelled at in response and he goes to lock himself in his room. Even Dick doesn’t come to check on him. Which is good. He might really tell him what’s wrong. And at least this way he won’t be invited to go look for Jason.
Jason keeps his promise. Not even his father can manage to find his body even though he must surely be long dead by now. The other’s are in denial. He’s not sure if Tim will ever stop looking. He doesn’t think Dick would accept it even with a body in front of him. Jason’s Outlaws won’t hear of anyone even suggest that he might be gone in any sort of permanent fashion.
Bruce seems to have figured it out, but he will never say anything without proof. Neither Talia or Ra's will tell him if he ever was to get that close. It takes every bit of will power that he has not to remove the files he put in the bat computer. That would be even worse. Damian fears the thought of any of them finding out that he knew. He fears the loss of their love if they were to ever find out that he had a hand in preventing them from cherishing their loved one’s last days.
He thinks of his own death and resurrection. He wonders how long his own borrowed time will be.