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Pretending I'm Still the Same

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Damian could barely talk the first time they met. Jason remembered that night to perfection. It was, after all, the night Talia brought him back. He still saw it sometimes when he closed his eyes. He saw it because he remembered. He remembered everything.

He could still recall the first time his eyes opened after knowing he had died. He had woken up and found himself surrounded by green. He hadn’t known where up or down was, hadn’t remembered how to move his body, but he remembered how to breathe. As soon as he´d tried to take in some air the green sucked him under, pulled at his arms, went down his nose and throat. His lungs had burned, his heart had sped up more than he had thought possible. He had been drowning, and that had only added to his panic. It had put that thought in his head again.

You´re dying.

But hadn’t he died already?

He had choked, he had thrashed. He hadn’t been able to fight the first time, but he could now, and he wouldn’t die. Not again.

And then his hand had sliced through the green moving wall and met air. That hand, that arm, had anchored him, and he had used it to push himself in that direction. The green kept trying to push him back down, grabbed onto him like an octopus´s tentacles, and he´d almost failed, he´d almost succumbed. However, before he could his fingers touched something solid, rocky, wet. Dirt. He had found dirt.

He remembered getting more desperate, remembered his head rising from what he thought was a sea of green. He had sucked in a sharp breath, both his hands had dug onto the earth, and he´d pulled.

His heart hammered the back of his throat, his ragged and quick breathing roared in his own ears. He moved fast, without any coordination, mostly on instinct and desperation alone. He clung to the dirt next to the pool of green and clawed his way up and out.

His cheek hit the ground, his toes dug into the earth. There was a high keening sound, so loud it was more than annoying, and it took him way too long to figure out the sound came from him. He sounded like a wounded animal… and it was pitiful.

The last thought made his blood boil, and he lifted his body off the ground. He pushed to his feet, not caring how the world swam. He would not fall, he would not give up, and he had to stop making that stupid, annoying, weak sound…

He saw something move out of the corner of his eye. He whirled, almost fell back down. It took several minutes to be able to focus on what had moved. When he saw it, he felt both fear and confusion spark through his whole body.

A small boy, barely a toddler, stood not five feet away from where he was. He stood tall and proud, despite how small he was, and while his expression showed nothing, his big blue eyes were wide, and one small hand clung to a bigger gloved one.

He followed that glove, the arm clad in black, and when he got to the face, he felt his stomach drop. The boy he did not know, but… but the woman? Her?

Talia, his mind registered, but he didn’t know if he´d said it out loud or not.

“Mo-Mo… ther?” the toddler articulated with difficulty, a small frown appearing on his small face.

Talia´s full lips pulled back into a smile. It sent shivers down his spine, and he knew whatever she was going to say, it wasn’t going to be good.

“Damian, be a good boy and greet this young man properly. His name is Jason Todd. He is your new brother.”



Jason stayed because she promised revenge. Revenge on Batman, revenge on Bruce? Oh no, he quickly learned that one of the reasons Talia had offered him a chance of a new life was so she could guide him –though manipulating him was a better choice of words, he was aware– away from Bruce. Talia promised a new life, new resources, she promised revenge as long as he stayed away from Bruce.

At first Jason had refused. He was angry, he was hurt, there was no place inside his own head for something other than hate, rage, impulses. At first he hadn’t understood why Talia had brought him back, hadn’t really cared. His anger had been aimed at her for a short while before it was dumped on Bruce. And the Joker. The goddamn Joker.

Jason saw nothing but red for weeks, months. He wanted blood, he wanted pain. He wanted the Joker to suffer twice as much as he had, and he also wanted to spill Bruce´s blood. Because Bruce had kept him alive. The Joker had killed him, he´d taken Jason away from Bruce… and Bruce hadn’t done a damn thing.

At least a couple more weeks went by until he could think coherently. A couple more until he´d listen to Talia, and he finally decided to stay.

“So you have made your choice then,” Talia said, while she watched a vast majority of the League of Assassins train from her spot on the tower overlooking one of the fields.

Jason´s gaze followed hers. His hands balled into fists. “I want the Joker dead,” he replied, voice empty.

She waited for him to continue. He didn’t. He would take what she had to offer and go along with it for now. He´d end the Joker. After that… Talia didn’t need to know what he wanted to do afterwards.

“Mo…ther.”

They both turned their heads at Damian´s angry mumble, but Talia´s eyes quickly went back to the men and their training.

“Mo…ther,” Damian said again, and this time he stomped his naked foot. He was still in his version of his pajamas.

“Father will be very disappointed to find out his grandson has already missed his morning training, which as you know, is the most important,” Talia said without looking back at the child.

“B-But…”

“You have wasted the morning, Damian, which means you might as well have wasted an entire day already. You should be ashamed of yourself. I hope Father does not come by anytime soon. I can just imagine his face if he were to see you in such an embarrassing outfit at this ungodly hour.”

Jason stiffened. He glanced at the toddler, expecting him to burst into tears or at least look hurt, but all Damian did was look angry, enraged actually. His small hands balled into fists, and he stomped his foot again. He turned without another word and left with only a soft huff.

Talia didn’t move. “Shiva will start training with you tomorrow. I want you out here before sunrise. She will have to start from scratch with you.” She snorted. “And with the child too.”

Jason glanced to where Damian had disappeared. “You´re training him already.”

“He´s an Al Ghul, I have already been too soft on him.”

He stared at her profile a couple of seconds, then shook his head. “Shiva. Before sunrise,” he said, and headed off in the direction he´d seen Damian disappear.

He found the toddler walking down the hall, trying really hard to keep his steps big and steady, but he was still a bit unstable on his feet.

Jason caught up to him, shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and glanced at the child sideways. “Were you going to tell her something important?”

Damian kept walking.

Jason raised an eyebrow, continued to walk next to him. They walked down a long hall, turned a corner, made it halfway down that one before Damian sighed.

“I. Am… hungry,” he announced with a frown too big for his face.

Silence.

Then Jason laughed. “So you really are human. And here I thought she´d made you out of clay or something. Is there a kitchen around here? Someone I really admire taught me to make some mean pancakes.”

Damian eyed him suspiciously. Jason stared right back. After a moment, the child nodded and tugged at Jason´s sweater.

“Brother?” Damian asked as he guided them down the hall.

“Brother,” Jason agreed.

As Damian watched him mix flour with milk and eggs with another frown and yet vivid interest, Jason thought that maybe revenge wasn’t the only reason he should stick around.



Jason kept watch over certain people, and eventually, Damian joined him. But then again, Damian joined him on a lot of things after that first pancake breakfast.

Damian, Jason found out eventually, was actually almost three when they met. Jason had thought him to be younger due to his small stature and trouble with speech. The boy was a genius, Jason could see that a simple glance, the cogs were always moving behind his sharp and arrogant blue eyes, there was very little he missed about what happened around him. He was smart, very much so, but Ra´s and Talia didn’t appear to pay as much attention to his mental training as they did to his physical. By the time Damian was three and two months old, he could use a dagger almost as well as Jason could. He was learning to balance his small body in a fight, and could walk the stupid tightrope Talia insisted he walk on about halfway across until he fell.

However, by three he still stuttered while speaking, and he worked hard to string sentences together.

Despite the rage still burning all through his body and fueling his every action, Jason could remember that he´d been a bit like Damian when Bruce had found him. He could read and write, but his vocabulary consisted mostly of profanities and words any kid that got to the first grade would learn. And then he´d moved in to the manor, listened to Alfred´s smooth British speech for about a minute before he decided he was never going to speak again. Alfred, wonderful human being that he was, had never really said anything to him. But one day books had started appearing next to his breakfast plate or next to his midafternoon cup of tea. After some time, even Bruce would come home with new books for him to read. Jason had soaked it all up and learned to talk in a way that made Alfred smile.

Jason knew if he gave Damian a book as he was now, the child would merely get angry and possibly burn it down out of frustration. So he decided to cover the bases first. Most nights, after dinner and a snack Jason would sneak for them both because they both needed it, they would head someplace quiet, usually sit down in one of the library´s windows, and Jason would give Damian lessons. He began with the alphabet, slowly worked his way into words, phrases and eventually sentences. English was not Damian´s first language, but the boy learned quickly, and having established a good English base, it wasn’t long until Jason moved on to show him books.

As the months went by, Talia stopped pretending her son and the boy she´d thrown into a Lazarus Pit weren’t studying languages after dinner every night, and a tutor, or Talia´s version of it anyway, was assigned. Jason had picked up a bit of Hebrew and French from his days in the streets, and he decided to deepen his knowledge of those two languages to begin with. Damian decided he also wanted to learn French and Hebrew. Then Jason decided to learn Russian. Damian brought a chair for himself during his Russian lesson the next afternoon. A week later and just to test a theory, Jason decided to teach himself some Latin with the many books Ra´s kept around. Two nights went by until Damian brought his own little cushion into the library, grabbed a random book in Latin and sat next to him and the reading lamp.

“There are other languages you can learn, you know,” Jason told him that night. He gave a tiny smile.

Damian´s nose wrinkled. He flipped the page on his book, mouthed the letters, tried out the sounds slowly, just like Jason had taught him to do with English. “I am learning the same things as you,” he said, his words calculated, pronounced carefully. He was doing so well, the improvement since they´d first met made Jason feel almost proud.

“So I´ve noticed. Why?”

“To speak better than you. Soon. You are older. Not better. I am better.”

Jason rolled his eyes. “Right,” he said, but couldn’t stop a chuckle from leaving his lips.

Damian would go to bed after their programmed or impromptu lessons were over. Jason would bid him goodbye, he would look out the library´s window, count up to any number over a hundred, then he´d reach out for his jacket, a black scarf and he´d leave. He would find one of the hidden weird tunnels that would take him from Nanda Parbat to Gotham.

Damian´s fourth birthday breezed by. Jason´s fourteenth did as well. The first time Damian went with him to Gotham, he had already turned five.

“Mother knows,” Damian informed Jason as the two of them made their way across the quiet and dark streets. He had to run to keep up with Jason´s steps, refused the hand the elder offered, outright pouted when Jason offered to carry him.

“Does she?” Jason asked rather distracted. He glanced over his shoulder every few seconds to make sure the child was still behind him.

“Yes, but Grandfather does not. She is curious.”

“Is that why you´ve finally decided to come with me then? You´re also curious?”

“I come to protect you,” Damian announced proudly.

“I don’t need protection, Damian. I just go and look out over some people.”

“Friends?”

“Not exactly.”

“Old family?”

“Not exactly either.”

Damian frowned, but he let it go. “You spy. I want to spy too.”

“Well, given you´re already here with me that´s exactly what we´re going to do tonight. But just spying, ok? From a distance. We´re only going to look at these people for a short while and then we come back. It´s past your bedtime.”

“Spies and assassins do not have bedtimes.”

Jason sighed, then he turned and without saying anything he picked Damian up and put him on his shoulders. Damian struggled right away, pulled at Jason´s hair, but he ignored it, he could see the entrance to the tunnel already. “And you´re too young to say stuff like that. Hang on tight, you might get dizzy. There are also a lot of lights. It´s almost like magic.”

“These portals are magic.”

“Shut up, mini assassin and spy.”

They were in Gotham not five minutes later, and the city welcomed them with her usual black skies, dark street lights and that night, a light rain. Jason took his scarf off and wrapped it around Damian´s small head, grabbed his hand and began walking to his usual spot. He always visited Gotham between ten and eleven at night, and more often than not, he could see them from the sixth-floor window of an abandoned apartment in an abandoned building. He´d see the capes, he´d see them blending into the shadows, see the figures surrounded by the light of the Bat-signal. Bruce´s and Talia´s training paid off in those moments more than ever, given the fact he´d been looking at them through his binoculars for over a year and he still hadn’t been found out.

Or maybe he had and Bruce was just waiting for him to give himself away.

The thought made his chest ache as it usually did whenever he thought of Bruce, as it did most nights when he saw them grapple from one building to another. He hoped Damian wouldn’t notice his reactions. It would make him ask many questions he did not want to answer anytime soon.

Damian looked around the dirty and old apartment with a mix of disgust and curiosity. “This place is horrible. It is dirty and old,” he said.

“Which makes it a perfect hiding place, at least for now. He wouldn’t look here the first time he searched for someone or somebody.”

“Who is ‘he’?”

Jason´s teeth ground together. He dug his binoculars out of his pocket, sat down under the window and began to scan the sky.

“Who is ‘he’?” Damian asked after several minutes had gone by and Jason still hadn’t answered.

Jason kept his gaze on the sky. The signal was on, and it was just a matter of seconds before… ah, there he was. There they were.

“Watch,” he breathed, and handed Damian the binoculars. Damian moved forward, kept his little head low and stared out at the sky. Jason moved to the side and leaned his back against the wall. Even without the binoculars he could see them. He saw the ears of the cowl, the sweep of the cape. He also saw a smaller figure, another cape.

The replacement, the new Robin.

The thought still tasted sour in his mind, it still made his stomach turn. It still hurt as much as the crowbar had. There was another kid out there who was wearing his costume, another kid with which Bruce had replaced him. The first time he´d come to Gotham from Nanda Parbat the kid had already been with Batman, and that had been almost two years ago. It was about the same amount of time he´d been “dead”.

Wondering how long it took him to replace you? the nasty inner voice in his head asked. It was a voice he knew all too well. We´ve been over this, Jason. Based on the newspapers and everything else you´ve found, it took about an hour or two for him to forget you.

Jason closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. He reached for the control Talia had been trying so hard to instill in him. Not yet, another voice said. You´re not ready. You´re going to drive the knife into both to Bruce and the replacement as deep as you can. But not yet. Not yet.

“Mother talks about him. Batman. He is all black,” Damian whispered.

“He is the night itself,” Jason muttered, his tone mocking.

“He is,” Damian agreed. “He moves like a shadow. Who is the one that… that soars?”

Jason snorted. The kid was really picking up nice words at such an early age.  “The other one who flies? That´s the kid. It´s Robin,” he said, and he managed not to choke on the last word.

Damian frowned, shook his head. “This… this Robin flies. But I read the word soar in books. There is a difference. Robin flies. Batman disappears. This other man… he soars.”

Jason´s eyes snapped open. He moved without thinking, stuck his head out the window and pulled back in just as soon. His heart was suddenly hammering the back of his throat, his palms sweaty. His eyes searched the sky frantically, and soon enough he found him: electric blue slashing across the darkness of the city, electric blue shining under the dim moonlight, under the soft rain moving through the air with a liquid grace neither Batman nor he had ever had. Just like when he walked, Jason realized, Dick still moved in the sky like air itself, like gracefulness made flesh, like it was possible to dance and fall at the same time.

“You know him.”

Jason jumped at the accusation, tore his eyes away from the sky and stared at Damian´s somber expression. “What? No, I don´t…”

Damian frowned, his gaze burning an intense blue.

“I don´t know him.”

“Your face looks like Mother´s when she speaks of the Batman, but yours is worse. You know him. Is he someone you knew before you became my brother?”

Jason dug his fingers into the debris they were sitting on. He stared at Damian, hoping the kid would give it up, but of course it didn’t happen. Damian´s eyes held too much intensity, promised a future depth Jason knew he didn’t have and had only seen once. Damian´s eyes reminded Jason of…

Oh.

“What do you know about your father?” he heard his own voice ask.

Damian´s eyes widened, and then he pouted, he crossed his arms over his chest. “Me first,” he protested.

“No, you answer me first.”

“No!”

“You.”

“You!”

“No, I get to say who goes first because I´m older.”

“No!” and that was certainly a whine.

Jason let out a soft laugh. It was always nice to remember Damian was still a child after all. “The one who soars was the first Robin,” he said with a sigh. “Batman´s first partner, his first son, his Golden Boy. He´s all grown up as you can see.”

“And you know this Boy of Gold.”

“Golden Boy, and not really. I never really had the chance to know him very well.” Didn’t stop me from almost worshipping what little I knew about him though.

Damian pouted again, obvious unsatisfied with Jason´s answers. However, before he could ask anything else, the elder spoke. “Now you answer my question. What do you know about your father?”

“Nothing. Mother won´t tell me anything until I win against her in a fight.”

“Is that what she said?”

“Yes. I will beat her soon. I am training, and I will be good, I will win, and she will tell me.”

Jason let out another laugh. “I´m sure you will,” he mumbled.

Damian glanced out the window again. “These Robins. Boy of Gold was the first. The one there is the second?”

“Third, actually.”

“Where is the second?”

Jason sighed, risked another glance outside. The signal had been turned off, and they were all gone. There was nothing but rain and darkness out there. It was also time for them to head back.

“He´s dead,” he said, and wrapped Damian in his scarf again before taking his hand and heading for the door.



The funny thing was, Jason spent so much time –so many months, years, sleepless nights, nights where he would cry himself to sleep, mornings where he would rise before the sun and he would hit a wall until his hands bled, run without any specific direction until his legs gave out and he passed out in the middle of nowhere– perfecting his plan that at some point he lost sight of what he´d been trying to do in the first place.

He´d stayed with Talia because she had promised him a chance to unleash his version of hell over the thing who´d killed him, and Jason had a hidden agenda. He would end the Joker, but against Talia´s wishes, he hadn’t planned on leaving Batman alone. The plan had been to make them both pay, to make them both bleed. That had been the whole point of him staying with the League of Assassins.

Time and his “brother” had changed that. In a way, the spoiled toddler with speech difficulties had saved Jason from falling to the very bottom of the abyss, just as Jason had saved Damian from losing his childhood and most of his humanity before he could even read.

Ra´s never understood what Talia saw in Jason, and he was sure Talia sometimes regretted bringing him back, especially those times when Jason would protest her being too rough on her son, but the Al Ghuls never turned their back on him, never took his resources away. Talia kept her end of the deal. Jason trained, Jason learned, Jason planned, and during all that time he also taught. Damian had been training to kill since Jason came out of the Lazarus Pit because that was what he´d been born to do, because that was all Ra´s and Talia knew. They had wanted Damian to be a killing machine and nothing more. They had wanted to train him as they would a guard dog, and then Jason had come screaming out of the Pit and taught him there was more to life than violence and killing.

Which looking back was so darn ironic it was hilarious, given his well-thought plan was all about blood and pain.

Jason´s teachings were as slow and unconscious as the changes in his plans. He wasn’t thinking about making Damian follow his own flawed moral code, much less had he been thinking of pushing Damian to create his own. He´d been trying to give Damian something Bruce had given him. He´d wanted to give Damian a childhood, as much as he could given the world they lived in. At some point or another Jason had thought about leaving, but he´d tell himself he wasn’t ready, his plan wasn’t flawless, it was not the right moment to act.

Looking back again, that had just been him putting everything off to help an angry child in which he saw himself reflected. Jason became a pillar in Damian´s life, and Damian did the same for him.

He didn’t realize just how much everything in him, and specially his stupid plan, had changed until Bruce and the Joker died on the very same night.

Damian had just turned thirteen and Jason´s twenty-fourth birthday was just around the corner when it happened.

Deathstroke´s rebellion had happened three years ago, Ra´s had been dead that long and ever since Talia had stepped up to lead the League. Back when Deathstroke had first struck Nanda Parbat Talia´s main plan to keep Damian safe was to send him to his father. He would be all right with him, Bruce would make sure nothing happened to him until Talia, and hence Jason, dealt with and ended Deathstroke. That had been the plan, but that one had also changed.

In the end, it was Jason who took Damian away. It was Jason who went into hiding with him and who kept him safe until Talia and the League managed to get the situation under control. They had returned home after that, Damian had lost the biggest chance to meet his father.

And now, three weeks later, there was a chance Damian would never meet him.

Smoke rose and curled into the air in thick swirls, painting the skies even a deeper gray. The air reeked of burning wood, hot metal and deep down Jason recognized the smell of burning flesh. It had been a bloodbath, the stupidest and most coincidental bloodbath of all times, and it had been an accident. An accident that had cost literally dozens of life, counting only the bodies he could see from where he was. Peeled skin, blackened clothes, mouths open in screams that were never heard. The warehouse had turned into a mass grave in a matter of seconds, and it was the most horrible thing he´d ever seen. Not even after being with the League a decade he´d seen so much carnage, so many violent deaths in one place. So many innocent lives lost because of an accident, or a lucky strike, depending on from what side one was looking at it.

Had he made it out in time? Jason didn’t know. He hoped so, but there was no way of knowing for sure. He had to have made it out in time. He had to. Otherwise…

Jason dropped to the ground from his vantage point with a soft thud, his black cloak falling into place without him needing to pull it close around his body. His hands rose to pull the hood lower over his face, making sure his eyes were covered, and he slowly began making his way between the many burnt bodies and debris littering the ground. His steps were slow and calm, but under the hood his eyes roamed every single face, trying to find a familiar one, hoping he wouldn’t, and he hadn’t hoped for anything in a very long time.

There were soft footsteps behind him, the swish of fabric against the dirt. Damian came to stand next to him, face almost lost in his own hood. He wore a cloak identical to Jason´s except for the green inside the hood in contrast to Jason´s red.

“He was here,” Damian said.

Jason kept walking, kept searching. His hands balled into fists under the cloak. “From where you were, did you see him get out?”

“I did not, but I am sure if he did not wish to be seen, then he would have made it past me with ease. However,” and here Damian hesitated. “He does not seem the type of person who would let civilians die while he found an escape. Am I mistaken?”

“No.” And that was what worried Jason the most. He and Damian had made it to the warehouse only about two minutes before the place had blown up. They´d been following a mob boss, part of the League business he and Damian did nowadays, and it hadn’t taken them long to find out the man had in truth been only working for the Black Mask. The Gotham underworld was raging war against all groups inside the city, against itself, and Black Mask had decided to make a statement using innocent people and an enemy´s property. Apparently, Black Mask had been desperate and crazy enough to bail the Joker out of Arkham and ask for his help.

The League did not save people, Jason knew that better than what people gave him credit for, but it had just been Damian and him who´d gotten the information out of their original target, and it had actually been Damian who said, “Batman deserves a warning at the very least, if by some unknown reason he does not know about their alliance yet.”

They had rushed to the chosen warehouse. Jason had run across rooftops and thrown himself into the air like he hadn’t done since he´d worn those embarrassing green shorts, but he felt like he hadn’t moved fast enough. His feet hadn’t moved fast enough, his lungs could not take in more air, his head was pounding due to the effort and he felt like it wasn’t fast enough.

And it hadn’t, because by the time they got there, and Damian held his blade at a thug´s throat only for him to scream they had to stop the Joker, it was too late. There were explosives at the back of the warehouse: row after row of barrels full of petroleum Black Mask hadn’t bothered to take away. The Joker had decided to help out his temporary alley and had gotten a flamethrower of all things before marching into the building to, oh, just scare people, play a small joke on them. If the Joker played with that thing long enough the place would go up in flames.

Which was exactly what had happened, and while Jason didn’t doubt the Joker would blow up the place on purpose, he wouldn’t do it without an escape plan already in mind, he wouldn’t light everything on fire unless he already had a foot outside.

Then again, maybe Jason was hoping too much.

“Jason.”

Damian´s voice was soft, but it made Jason turn whirl in a swish of cloak anyway. Do you see him, he wanted to ask, did you see his shadow over there? Did you see him running away… alive?

Damian had frozen a few steps behind Jason, his body still, his gaze fixed on something on the floor. Jason stalked back to his side, looked at where he was looking, and as soon as he did he felt all the air being knocked out of his body.

He was on his knees and pushing aside heavy pieces of concrete and wood before he was aware of what he was doing. Damian followed right after, and after meeting Jason´s gaze under the hood the youngest moved faster, their goal to find whatever the black piece of fabric sticking out from under the debris was linked to.

It could be a dress, Jason told himself as his hands clawed at the debris and flung whatever was in his way aside. It could be a dress, or a shawl, maybe even a ripped shirt. A lot of people must have worn black that night. A lot of people wore it on a regular basis. It didn’t have to mean… it didn’t have to be… it didn’t…

Damian´s hands dropped to his lap, a small strangled sound coming out of his throat, and he twitched. It was his telltale twitch, one that indicated the desire to turn around but the habit not to.

“Jason,” Damian said again. His eyes went to the elder´s face, to how he froze for all of two seconds before his hands kept digging into the ground. “Jason, slow down. Jason. Jason!”

“We have to get him out of there!”

“It doesn’t matter if we do!”

“Yes it does. Maybe there´s still a chance, maybe… and even if it isn’t, we have the Pit, the Pit should be able to…”

“His brains are blown all over the floor, Jason! The Pit can´t fix that!”

Jason´s fingers curled on the ground. He turned his head, glared at Damian. He looked crazed, dazed, his arms were shaking. “We have to get him out,” he ground out.

“Yes, but you must slow down. It will not make a difference either way.”

“How can you say that!” And now Jason was screaming. Damian had never heard him scream. As he kept on talking, his voice only got louder. “How can you. Newsflash, kid, this man lying here with the back of his head missing is your dad! This man is your father, Damian. Batman is your dad, and now your father is lying here dead, and you, shitty little kid you are can´t care… you won´t…”

Damian´s slap cut across his face with enough strength that the hood fell down to his shoulders. Jason´s head lolled to the side, and before he could even blink he felt Damian´s slap against his other cheek. It hurt, it made his vision swim, and it made him remember that Damian was not a weak child anymore.

“Do not say that to me ever again,” Damian growled, shoulders humming as he tried to keep himself from hitting Jason with a closed fist. “I know, Jason, I have known for several years now. Don’t you think I did my research on him after Mother´s long talks about him? Don’t you think I ever saw a picture of him, that I ever looked at my own face in the mirror and made the connection? Don’t you think Mother told me before you took me into hiding three years ago? I know, I have known for a long time who and what he was to me. I am not a monster, and in a large part I owe that to you, so do not, do not accuse me of not caring. Even from a distance I admired him, I had looked forward to meeting him for years, but do not say I don’t care just because your stupid brain isn’t able process what it is seeing!” And by that point Damian was screaming as well.

Jason merely glared at him, wanting to hit him harder than Damian had hit him, wanting to pull Bruce´s body –because it was nothing but a body now– out and… he couldn’t even think past that point.

Damian held his gaze for a few seconds before he went back to work. Jason didn’t look down, didn’t think he could. However, after a couple of minutes he did look down, ended up staring at Bruce´s body mostly buried under the debris, slashes cutting across the black suit, blood stuck to the cloth, some places pink where the skin had burned. And then there was his face: his slack, blank face with the wide and empty eyes staring into nothingness.

Jason wanted nothing more to close his eyes and turn around. He didn’t want to see, didn’t want to think about it, he didn’t want to admit it. Because he couldn’t be gone. Because Batman couldn’t die. He… he…

Damian grunted, pulling Jason out of his chaotic thoughts. “Move it, Jason, we almost have him out.” Damian´s voice was clipped, extremely tense and didn’t allow room to complain. So Jason moved more on automatic than anything else. He got the heaviest pieces of wood off Bruce´s legs, and when Damian took one of the limp arms and pulled, Jason grabbed the legs and did the same. The body moved easier than they had expected, and it rolled down the small pile of debris it had been lying on like a rag doll.

It. A body. It was a thing, it was not a real person. It wasn’t Bruce. It couldn’t be, Jason kept screaming inside. Bruce´s head wasn’t missing in the back. Bruce´s brains weren’t missing. It was strangely surreal. Despite Jason´s pounding heart and shaking hands, he was now feeling numb.

The numbness turned to scalding hot rage the moment he heard that distinctive laugh flow through the air.

Damian rose from where he´d been closing Bruce´s eyes, drawing his katana as he did so. The hood hid his eyes, but Jason knew he his eyes were scanning their surroundings as fast as he could. “The laugh,” he said.

Jason´s teeth ground together. He heard it, he knew that laugh. Under any other circumstances it would have sent chills down his spine. As it was, it sent a wave of pure anger through his body, and he pulled one of his sais out of his belt, weighed it with one hand.

“He´s alive,” Jason said.

“Not for long.”

His grip on his sai tightened. “No, not for long,” he agreed.

The laugh filled the air again. Damian and Jason moved in sync, cloaks sighing as softly as their feet moved. The laugh didn’t stop, and it didn’t take long for them to find the Joker. He appeared to be unharmed, only one leg trapped underneath a burnt wooden beam. The classic horrible smile appeared on his white face as the two of them approached.

“Oh, look at we have here! Although, I was expecting to see Batsy´s kids or Batsy himself coming to find me. He´s probably somewhere around here doing just that. Or maybe he went back into hiding already. Oh, this is going to be fun! The next time we meet we are going to have a blast! A blast, get it? Since this place luckily blew up. You should have seen it! It was like fireworks. It was so much fun, although Bats would probably disagree with me on that.” And he laughed once more.

Jason´s knuckles were white around the sai. His body trembled, and with a slice of Damian´s katana the beam split in half.

“He thinks Batman is still alive,” Damian said softly.

“So it really was an accident,” Jason said. The words barely made it out of his mouth.”

The Joker´s smile didn’t waver. “This little fire? Oh now, I wouldn’t call it an accident. I believe it was more of a lucky strike, don´t you?”

Damian´s hand twitched. Jason weighed the sai once more. He considered the Joker´s reaction if he told him what had happened, what he´d done. He went over the several possibilities in his mind, then his lips curved in a slow smile.

“Yeah, you´re right. It was a lucky strike. Another explosion, another member of Batman´s clan dead. You do get lucky, don’t you? Especially since this time it was the big bad Bat himself instead of a boy in green tights.

That caught the Joker´s attention. He squinted his eyes up at Jason, smile still in place. “A bit sour, are we. Have we met before?”

Jason didn’t answer. He stared into those crazy eyes until they dawned with realization. The Joker´s laugh filled the air, the disgusting smile got wider than ever. “Ah. And here I thought death stopped you from aging. Or you know, living overall.”

Jason´s own smile widened. “It does. It will stop Batman, at least. Good job on that one, by the way. This lucky strike of yours really did a number on him, blew the back of his head off and everything. Don’t think they´ll be able to pick up all of his brains from here, not even using a spoon.”

The silent laugh making its way through the Joker´s body stopped like a switch had been turned off. The smile dimmed. “Oh child, look at you putting up a façade all over again, trying to look tough, thinking I´d fall for that. Like Batsy wouldn’t be able to get out in time. That you were such a terrible little Robin doesn’t mean the big guy is as much of a failure escaping explosions as you were.”

Damian twitched again. He even took a step forward, but Jason held out his arm. Damian let out a sound, but Jason shook his head. “Don´t believe me? Go check him out yourself. His body is right over there, see the black cape?”

The Joker laughed, but this was weak in comparison to his previous ones. He seemed to be waiting for Jason to laugh, but after a several minutes had gone by and Jason didn’t even crack a smile, he was on his feet and actually began running towards… towards Bruce´s… body.

“Jason,” Damian warned.

“I got this,” Jason replied. He gave Damian a nod, waited until he had put his katana away, then he turned, the hand with the sai finally moved.

There was a flash of silver. The first sai caught the Joker´s leg and he went down with a heavy sound. There was a grunt, a curse, and the Joker whirled, teeth bared.

“You think I would let you see him like this? After what you did to him?” Jason asked, and made his way to the fallen figure. He pulled his other sai from his belt, balanced it someplace visible. The Joker glared, threw a glance over his shoulder, one arm reaching out. The other sai caught the sleeve of his tuxedo jacket, kept him from moving.

“I never paid you back for what you did to me, did I?” Jason went on. “And neither did he because he was a good man, I see that now. He was the best man I´ve ever known, always doing the right thing. He was Batman, you know?” He reached under his cloak again, and this time he pulled his gun. There was no dramatic click of the hammer, no dramatic posing, just him pulling the gun out and levelling at the Joker´s head.

Bruce hadn’t ended that miserable life because that was not Bruce´s version of justice. Bruce hadn’t killed him because it hadn’t been right, it meant the Joker would have won, it would have sent Bruce down a spiral he had never wanted to go into in the first place. Bruce hadn’t killed the Joker after he´d taken Jason away from him because he´d been a good man.

Jason was not.

“The only reason I won´t tear every single limb from your body and give you a slow death is because he wouldn’t want that. I´ll be going against everything he believed in, in a few seconds, but I won´t push it too far. This will end now. I´ll do the right thing. I´ll do what I was supposed to do ages ago,” Jason said, tone turning lower as he spoke, his head going into that empty space he went into when he killed.

“He didn’t kill you for taking me away from him, but I will kill you for taking him away from me.” From me, from Damian, from Dick, the replacement, from Alfred… from the world.

The Joker snorted, tilted his head back and cackled. It didn’t bother Jason, nothing could while in that headspace.

“Look at the boy acting all big, pretending he´s not like daddy, pretending he´s hurt, that he can actually pull that trigger,” the Joker snarled, eyes daring, horrid smile widening. “Acting like he…”

The first bullet took him right in the mouth.

The second bullet hit the middle of his forehead.

The Joker´s head fell like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

There was shuffling behind him, the sound of metal being unsheathed. Jason blinked, began pulling himself out of his numb empty killing space.

A pair of feet landed behind him. He heard Damian move, felt his hand rest against Jason´s back. Without even turning around, Jason knew Damian had his back and was ready to fight whoever had just appeared.

“The one who soars,” Damian said.

Jason froze. Then he turned, felt his heart skip a beat when he saw the blue over black insignia.

“Long time no see, Dick. Looks like there´s a lot to tell you,” he said, and felt the first tear slide down his cheek.