He’s off-world with Roy and Kori when it happens, so it takes a couple months for Jason to find out his Replacement killed the Joker. It takes him a couple more months to actually find the kid, because Bruce sent him away, and he doesn’t trust Jason enough to tell him where. Like he thinks Jason’s going to attack him for taking out the Joker first or something.
He isn’t sure Bruce even knows where Tim is—apparently, the kid still has family alive and kicking, and they still have custody. So after Timmy-Bird endured weeks of torture and broke Batman’s precious no-kill rule, Bruce just sent him back to his parents and moved on with his life.
“Tim. Timothy. Calm down.”
The man is grabbing his shoulders, and Tim can’t calm down, he thinks this is his dad, but his dad just wants to hurt him, and he—and he—
“You’re not helping, Jack,” the woman—the woman—Dana?—snaps. “Take a walk.”
The man—Dad?—the man rolls away in his wheelchair, and the woman kneels down by Tim.
“Tim, sweetheart, it’s going to be okay, okay? I promise. We’re going to figure everything out.”
And for a minute everything really is okay, but then he remembers that his mom wants to hurt him too—she’s just sneakier about it.
It isn’t exactly a surprise when Jason tracks Tim to a mental institution in California. The good kind, though. Not like Arkham. If Bruce ever puts another kid in Arkham, any kid, Jason really will kill him this time, he swears he will.
But Tim Drake is safe and sound in a psych ward paid for with the last of his family’s fortune, while his step-mom lives in a tiny box of an apartment, doing everything she can for him. (Jack Drake died suddenly, less than a month after the family left Gotham. Jason wonders if Bruce knows. If he even cares.)
It wasn’t supposed to go like this. He was gonna track the kid down, see for himself that the Joker hadn’t killed him, congratulate him on doing what needed to be done, maybe make sure he knew that Batman was a self-righteous, constipated asshole whose opinion didn’t matter. But somehow, he finds himself renting a crap apartment downtown, visiting Tim every day, and having lunch with Dana Drake a couple times a week.
The thing is, he likes Tim. Really likes him, now that his rage has faded and they’re in the same boat, destroyed by the Joker, abandoned by Bruce.
He’s only had one brief conversation with Dick since the incident. It went pretty well, for a conversation with Dick—he wouldn’t tell Jason where Tim was, but it wasn’t because he thought Jason might kill him or anything. He said Tim had been through too much, and this was his chance for a normal life.
Jason knew Tim was never going to have a normal life, not with the mostly faded scars where the Joker tried to carve a smile onto his face, the strange twitches and even occasional seizures from all the electrocution. Even if he had the slightest chance of recovering from all of the mental and emotional trauma, that physical damage wasn't going anywhere.
And honestly, Jason doesn’t think he will recover. He might not spend the rest of his life locked up in here, but he isn’t going to have a normal life, any more than Jason is going to go back to being Robin.
Tim doesn’t really talk. Not to Jason at least. Sometimes to people who aren’t there. Bruce, Dick, the Joker. Sometimes he starts laughing like the Joker, and Jason has to leave the room for a few minutes, until the urge to shoot him in the head passes. Tim won’t come too close to him, usually won’t meet his eyes, mostly doesn’t seem to be paying attention to him at all. But every day, at the end of visiting hours, a nurse will come in and tell him, “Say goodbye to your friend, Tim.”
And Tim will hug him, and whisper, “Bye, Jason,” into his chest, and that’s why he comes back every day.
“Sing for me, Birdie,” the woman says.
She says she’s his mother, but that can’t be right—Janet has brown hair. And Janet’s dead. He has Dana now.
Dana’s blonde. But this isn't Dana, right? Because Dana loves him, right? Right?
She pushes a button, and Tim screams.
After a few months of this, Jason goes on a mission with Roy and Kori for a weekend, which turns into a week, which turns into six. He feels terrible about it, but when you gotta save the world, you gotta save the world. It’s still visiting hours the day he gets home, so he goes directly to the hospital.
Tim’s not there. Tim was checked out nearly two weeks ago by the next-of-kin who took custody after his stepmother was killed last month.
He gets the details from a well-meaning nurse, lowering her voice to tell him how Dana was found, killed with one deep stroke of a blade from her lips clear down past her navel. No suspects.
Still reeling from this news, Jason doesn’t realize for over an hour that Tim doesn’t have next-of-kin, and there’s no way Dana’s senseless murder is a coincidence. He does the only thing he can think of. He calls Dick, who answers on the second ring, worried and confused. Jason never calls him.
“Jay? Are you okay? Where are you? I can—”
“Before you found out it was the Joker, who did you think took Tim?”
“Answer the damn question, Dick.”
“Um, Ra’s al Ghul was the prime suspect, I guess. He was obsessed with Timmy.”
Jason hangs up. He spends the rest of the night emptying out various bank accounts to get an emergency flight across the world.
If Ra’s was obsessed with brilliant Robin Tim Drake, what is he going to do with this completely vulnerable version he’s taken?
Try to fix him, of course.
He has a two week head start. There’s no way Jason will be in time to spare Tim the Lazarus Pit, but he can get him away before Ra’s tries much else.
The worst part of it, he thinks as he boards the plane, is Dana. Such a gruesome, senseless death—they could easily have spirited Tim away without ever touching her. She didn’t have to die. It didn’t even make things more convenient. The only purpose her death serves is hurting Tim.
Which—of course. Jason has read enough of Bruce’s records, and seen plenty of Tim firsthand, particularly on the worst days, when he’s hallucinating, having episodes—that kid thinks he’s worthless. His parents treated him like shit, and the Bats weren’t much better, especially when Damian showed up. Sounds like the first thing that brat did was try to kill Tim, and Bruce and Dick did nothing about it.
But Dana—Dana loved that kid, and he knew it. And Ra’s had obviously had spies, who would have reported on Jason and Dana. He’d probably assumed Jason was there to watch Tim, sent by Bruce or something. So he waited until the bodyguard was distracted, and took away the only connection Tim had before taking Tim himself. No one else left for the kid, Pit-mad and all, he’d have no reason not to stay with Ra’s. Not Tim. He’d be too damn grateful someone wanted him.
Well, fuck Ra’s. He and Talia never understood Jason. How he cared. Probably thought he’d be glad to have the responsibility taken off his hands. But Jason wasn’t here for Bruce. He didn’t do anything for Bruce. This was about Tim, and he wasn’t about to let a second Robin be destroyed by the same two psychopaths. The Joker was enough. They shouldn’t have to share this too.
And it’s not—fuck. It isn't fair. Dana was great. Jason doesn’t know how much she knows—knew—he never told her the truth, but he didn’t tell lies, either, and she’s a smart lady. She was—she liked him, thought he was good for Tim, good in general.
She wasn’t related to Tim, hadn’t even known him until a couple years ago, but she’d given him everything. Married a millionaire, then stuck by through the loss of his fortune, his descent into alcoholism, and even his death, then kept sticking around to take care of the fucked-up stepkid she’d barely even known before he lost his mind.
She never visited Tim, because he flipped out if he saw her—seriously, lost his shit in a way that made him seem downright stable in the middle of his worst hallucinations, and none of the doctors had a clue why. But she called the hospital every day, and once a week or so he’d talk to her, or at least hold the phone and listen to her, sitting a little closer to Jason than usual. And on the days he had lunch with her, Jason would tell Tim about it after, and it was so clear that he adored her, whatever issues he had face-to-face.
She collected reports from Jason regularly, and always insisted on paying for his food when they met, even though she couldn’t afford it. She’d put every single cent Jack Drake left behind into getting Tim a private room in one of the fanciest hospitals in the country. She worked two jobs and lived in a shitty studio apartment in a bad neighborhood, all her income going to the stepkid who screamed and raged at the sight of her. (And it wasn’t enough, it still wouldn’t be enough for more than another six months, and Jason was getting ready to buckle down and talk to Bruce, demand he cover all the bills since this was all his fault anyway. But he wouldn’t have to do it now. Because Dana was dead and Tim was probably in the Pit already.)
It wasn’t fair. He hadn’t—and he was being selfish, maybe, because he was scared for Tim, furious for Dana, yeah, but that wasn’t all.
He’d had something here. A friend who was happy to see him every day, even if he was only intermittently aware Jason was there. A woman who fed him and asked about his day and actually cared about his answer. It kind of felt like a family.
And then Ra’s killed and kidnapped the only two people who really seemed to care about him, and Jason was going to make the bastard pay.
A couple hours of careful eavesdropping once he reaches the base tells him that Tim went into the Pit, came out of the Pit, and ran. He’s somewhere in the mountains now, presumably, and Ra’s isn't sending anyone after him. He knows Tim has nowhere else to go, and he knows that he’ll come back when he realizes he has no other options.
It feels unnatural how quickly Jason finds him, once he heads into the mountains, like they’re connected somehow, like maybe the Lazarus in Tim’s veins now, or maybe the Robin, is calling out to what it recognizes in Jason. He knows where to go to find him, just knows, like magic, and he knows, too, that it means something. Something big, means he won’t rescue Tim and take him back to Bruce or someone. Something that means they’re in this, probably in everything, together now. Tim is Jason’s responsibility now, and he always will be, no matter who the law says he belongs to.
He isn't conscious when Jason finds him, so he starts a fire, digs some easily digestible food out of his supplies, and waits. There’s no telling to what degree the Pit will have restored functionality—people usually go in for their bodies. As far as Jason knows, he’s the only other person to go in for his mind, and he and Timmy have very different minds. Jason was catatonic. Just…not there. Easy. Safe. Tim’s mind is fractured into a million pieces, and he feels it, all of it, all the time.
Jason falls asleep before Tim wakes up. In the morning he finds the kid curled into his chest, crying quietly. He sits up carefully, holding Tim out at arm’s length for a better look. Tim makes eye contact, and his eyes are clearer, more focused than usual, but they have that wild edge the Pit brings out. Jason pulls him close again.
Tim is sobbing, shaking, occasionally mumbling something about how much it hurts. And it wasn’t like this for Jason. There was intense pain, yeah, and the confusion and the fear. But when his mind snapped back into place, it happened suddenly, with a wave of white hot rage. Jason’s mind was gone, he reminds himself, and then it came back. Tim has a lot of little pieces to reassemble, and it will be longer before the pain recedes a bit. He needs a distraction, and something better than the one Talia gave Jason.
He pulls away to make eye contact again. “What’s gonna make it better? Anything in the world, babybird. What do you want?”
Tim thinks for a minute. “I want to kill Ra’s al Ghul. Permanently.”
And, okay, Tim’s never killed anyone before, but he was never sickened by Jason’s methods like Bruce and Dick are, and Ra’s definitely deserves to die for this, for everything. And if Tim has enough anger in him here—and Jason thinks he does—if he can put all his focus into Ra’s, and succeed the way Jason kept failing, with Bruce and the Joker, maybe it can satisfy the worst of the Pit in him, and let them move on, let Tim become something like the self that Jason has barely met.
It’s not so bad, really. If J.J. is good—bad? He thinks he’s being bad?—if J.J. is good they don’t hurt him as much. They don’t make him talk anymore, so he doesn’t talk, ever. He just smiles, because they like it when he smiles, and also because they fixed his face so he has to smile, and Daddy says that means he can’t ever be sad again, but he doesn’t think it’s really working.
Of course, Jason hardly ever worked with Tim, back when he was Robin—he was mostly trying to kill the kid. And sure, he kept an eye on things, read all the reports, had a good idea of who he was, but that was a long time ago, and he’s gotten used to the Tim he actually knows. So he wasn’t prepared.
Because Tim, under the influence of the Pit, is still essentially Tim, in a way he hasn’t been since the Joker. And Tim isn't fast and hard and bloody like Jason is. Tim is cold and calculating and likes to be prepared.
Which is how he ends up spending three months pretending to work alongside the League of Assassins while Tim plays a long con, wherein he is grateful to Ra’s for dunking him in the Pit, glad to be wanted, messed up from the Pit to just the right degree that he doesn’t mind, anymore, the evil that Ra’s carries out.
They don’t interact too often. He doesn’t know what Tim is doing, and he’s not entirely certain he wants to. They’re not going out on missions, not killing anyone, so Jason doesn’t mind much about being there, except for the games he plays with Talia. He suspects Tim knows about Talia, but they haven’t talked about it, and it’s not as if Tim asked him, specifically, for this. It’s just part of the game they’re playing. And Jason can do it. For the end of Ra’s, for the safety of Tim, for the chance this kid might not end up quite as messed up as he is, he can.
Until the day Tim nods at him as they pass each other in a hallway, and Jason knows.
When Talia falls asleep that night, secure in her control over the boy she brought back to life, Jason puts on his pants and slits her throat. Then he chops off her head and brings it with him—you can’t take chances with an al Ghul.
Ra’s is already dead when he finds Tim, drenched in blood and grinning like the madman he probably is, if Jason is being honest with himself. Apparently inspired by Talia’s decapitation, he goes to do the same to her father, and then they’re off.
Tim wanders around the compound collecting things, dropping things, and setting things up. Jason follows him, taking out the assassins that catch them. Then they run to the edge of the mountains, and watch the whole place blow up.
It’s only after they’ve caught and dealt with anyone who survived that Tim stumbles, and Jason catches him, hand coming away red and bloody. And really looking at Tim for the first time in hours, it’s obvious that he has much more blood on him than when they first met up, right after he killed Ra’s. And Jason is such an idiot, because of course, of course, a malnourished teenager is not going to come away from a fight to the death with the most experienced assassin in history unscathed, even a badass malnourished teenager like Tim, fueled by the blinding rage of the Lazarus Pit.
And Tim’s not stupid. Even in his least lucid moments, when Jason first came to the hospital, he doesn’t think the kid would ever have failed to notice if he was bleeding out. So he knows he’s on the fast track to death, and he deliberately hid it from Jason.
So instead of picking Tim up and tossing him into the nearest Lazarus Pit like he wants to, Jason asks, “What do you want to do now?”
“I don’t want to die,” Tim says.
“You know what we can do about that.”
“I’m afraid,” he admits.
So Jason enters a Lazarus Pit the second time, carrying a quickly fading Tim.
When he wakes up it’s the middle of the night. Tim is sleeping beside him, several feet from the Pit, and in the starlight he looks young and peaceful. Jason shakes off the feeling that something is wrong, and falls asleep again.
“Come on, Junior. Smile for Daddy.”
“You are not my father,” Tim says, as firmly as he can manage with tremors from the last electric jolt still running through him.
“Junior, J.J., my boy—”
“Stop it! Stop calling me that. My name is Tim!”
Impossibly, the Joker’s smile widens.
“Oh, tell me more, baby,” Harley says in that breathy voice that’s even more unsettling than her maternal one.
He isn't going to tell her anything, obviously, isn't going to blow his cover more than he already has—plenty of people are named Tim, and they’ve dressed him like a doll in this stupid purple suit, but they haven’t taken off his domino mask—it’s fine, everything is fine, his cover is still intact.
There’s a sharp, sudden pain in his arm, and the world goes even hazier than it always is now.
In the morning the first thing Jason sees is two heads bobbing in the water of the Lazarus Pit, and he realizes what’s wrong—he entered the Pit conscious and alive just as the sun was rising. He’s lost at least sixteen hours.
“Tim,” he says.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Tim’s dead. I’m J.J.”
Tim does not look peaceful at all in the sunlight—he looks dangerous and manic and much less sane than he did this morning. Of course, nothing looks quite right at the moment; the whole world is red-tinged and hazy. The Pit. Right. He’s just been in the Pit.
He pulls himself together enough to ask, “So when exactly did I lose consciousness?”
“I knew you wouldn’t approve,” Tim says, “so I killed you when we got out of the Pit. It’s been a week, I think. I sort of lost track.”
Then he starts with the Joker laugh, which hasn’t happened since maybe a month before Jason went on his last mission, and Jason buries his head in his knees until it stops. They’re silent for a few minutes, while Jason keeps his head hidden and tries to control his breathing.
“What wouldn’t I approve of, Tim?”
“Not Tim. It didn’t—it didn’t work. I wasn’t—it’s still not—I thought maybe the Pit didn’t really fix me because I wasn’t really dead. I knew you wouldn’t let me kill myself, so I just needed you out of the way for a while.”
Jason puts his head between his knees again. He cannot deal with this. He listens to Tim walk away, and a long time later he listens to him come back.
“I’m sorry I killed you, Jay. Please don’t be mad at me.”
He sighs, raising his head slowly. “You are not handling the Pit nearly as well as I thought you were.”
“I had to keep trying. I had to make the Joker go away.”
“And is he gone now?”
Tim shrugs. “I got over it.”
Jason is finding it difficult to think about anything beyond the sick, dizzy feeling that is some combination of two recent dips in the Pit, the realization of how badly he’s failed Tim, and the fact that his favorite person just murdered him.
“Whatever,” he says. “Now what?”
Tim comes closer, until they’re nearly touching. “Are you mad at me?”
“I don’t know, Tim.”
“J.J.,” Tim corrects him. “No more Tim. You’re Jay, and I’m J.J., and we’ll be the best.”
“The best at what?”
“Whatever we want.”
Jason embraces the dizzy sickness so that he can push the anger down, so the Pit doesn’t make him hurt Tim. Tim, who wants, over a year after everything ended, to go back to being called Joker Junior.
He decides to ignore it—he has to ignore it, because he just spent three months fucking with Talia, got murdered by someone he trusted, and got brought back by the Lazarus Pit, again, and he is hanging on to his sanity, whatever’s left of it, by a thread.
“Something tells me you have a plan already,” he says, and wraps an arm around Tim's shoulder, pulling him closer, because the kid is still hovering, awkward, and he looks like he needs it.
“There are still League members alive,” Tim says, “and you never did get back at Bruce for letting you die.”
Somewhere beneath the dizziness and the Pit rage and the concern over exactly what Tim meant by “keep trying,” Jason is vaguely aware that this is a Bad Idea.
“Gotta finish what you start, Ti—J.J. Let’s go find some assassins.”
“Someone should know about this.” Tim smiles, sharp and vicious. “Gotham’s a long way to go, but I hear Cass is in Hong Kong.”
One week later, Cassandra Cain finds an unmarked box on her doorstep. Inside are two human heads, badly damaged, just beginning to decay. One belongs to Ra’s al Ghul. The other is his daughter’s. On Ra’s right cheek, someone has carved “JJJ.”
Cass closes the box and goes to call Bruce. She does not become ill, and is proud of herself for that—Dick and Stephanie, at least, would have gotten sick on the evidence. Damian too, she suspects, but only because they were his family.
She won’t worry until later that this likely means someone knows her identity. Even then, she won’t worry much. Whoever comes, she can take them.