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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.

Chapter Text

Time had been generous on Dick Grayson. Jason still remembered the first time he´d seen him. It had been at Wayne Manor, and it had happened a few weeks after Bruce had taken him in. He´d been roused down to Bruce´s office an hour after Alfred had put him to bed due to the really loud and angry screams.

He´d poked his head into the office, half asleep and half worried. “Bruce? Is everything okay?” he asked while rubbing his eyes.

The screams had stopped right away, and a thunderous silence settled in the office. Jason blinked, found Bruce standing up behind his desk, his hands on the wood surface. There was someone else inside the office, a young man who still fit into the teenager category more than on the young adult one. That man had been the one screaming, but now he was staring at Jason with big and bright blue eyes, his pretty face –and Jason hadn’t event really known what pretty meant until then– twisted in slight horror.

“Jason,” Bruce had finally said into the silence.

He had yawned, stretched. “I was sleeping, I promise. But I heard screams, and I got worried…”

“Everything is fine, Jason, you can go back to bed.”

Jason had stared at the young man, noticed the longish black hair, the tall and lean body. At the time, Jason had seen him and thought that´s what he wanted to look like when he was older. “Who is he?”

The teenager had gone still, whirled to stare at Bruce. “You didn’t even tell him!”

Bruce had looked pained. “Dick…”

“I can´t believe it. I can´t believe you. Coming back here was a mistake. Goodbye, Bruce.” And the young man had moved towards the door, thrown Jason an unreadable glance and then he´d left. Jason had followed his figure down the hallway with his eyes, had seen the front door open and close with a loud sound. Then he´d turned to Bruce, who had made his way from behind the desk and now stood next to him.

“Bruce?” Jason asked softly.

A heavy hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed. “It´s okay, Jason. Let´s ask Alfred for some warm milk and the we can head off to bed.”

Jason could feel the warmth of Bruce´s hand all the way to his heart. “Who was he?”

Bruce sighed. Jason thought he wasn’t going to get an answer, but he did. “That was Dick. Dick Grayson.”

“Oh. I´ve heard Alfred talk about him. Is he okay?”

“Yes, not now, but he will be fine.”

Jason stared at him. “He is the owner of the suit you´re letting me wear now, isn’t he?”

This time, Jason didn’t get an answer. All he got was the tense ghost of a smile and Alfred coming in several minutes later with two glasses of comforting warm milk.

Dick Grayson´s image had been engraved in his mind ever since. Despite his fights with Bruce and the fact that Jason rarely got to see him, he´d never been far from Jason´s thoughts. At first he´d been a role model. Jason had wanted to be just like him, hoping that one day Alfred and even Bruce would talk about him like they both did about Dick. After a while Jason realized maybe it was more than just admiration, if staring at Dick´s face and thinking pretty was any indication at all.

It had been over ten years since Jason had last seen him up close. He had seen Nightwing fly across the sky several times since first staying with the League, sure, he had looked at the sleek and powerful body contort and bend like only Nightwing could, but looking at him from such a close distance? A decade had gone by, and even with the mask on Jason could appreciate how well Dick Grayson had aged.

He would have looked more into that little and pretty issue had it not been for the dead body at his feet, the tears making their way down his cheeks, Damian´s defensive stance and Dick´s shocked expression.

“So you do know the one who soars, better than what you ever cared to tell me,” Damian said, his eyes still on Dick. “He is Nightwing, that I know, but who is he behind the mask?”

Jason gritted his teeth. He couldn’t even bring his hand up to wipe at the scalding tears making their way down his face. “Dick Grayson,” he replied.

“Friend or foe?” And of course Damian would ask that, because despite Nightwing´s obvious connections to Batman, the fact that said man was lying dead close by, and with the Joker dead right at their feet, who knew how Dick would act.

“I´d say friend, but just in case don’t put your weapon down,” Jason mumbled only for Damian´s ears. The youngster nodded. When Jason took a step forward he stayed where he was.

“You really ought to close your mouth, Dick. Smoke might get into it, you might start choking and not stop, and that would be a bad thing, given we already have two bodies on the ground.”

That seemed to snap Dick out of the shock of seeing Jason alive and talking. He blanched, sucked in a sharp breath and stepped in closer. He froze as soon as he got close enough to see the holes in the Joker and the blood staining his white face. Dick stayed there without moving for what felt like an eternity, and then he was dashing forward, running like the liquid grace he was. Jason closed his eyes, reached out. He needed to hold onto something, the world was spinning around him. Damian´s arm was there, and the two of them walked forward, Jason´s grip tight around Damian´s thin forearm.

Dick´s desperate mumbling reached them first. Then they got close enough to see Dick, and they found him holding Bruce´s body against his, hands moving over the closed eyes, the slack face… his gloves being smeared by the blood and… and whatever was left at the back of Bruce´s head.

“No,” Dick kept whispering, his voice was acquiring a hysterical edge. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Bruce, no, come on, open your eyes. Bruce? Bruce, please open your eyes. Bruce? No, no, no, no. Bruce, this isn’t funny, come on. Tim is on his way here, you don’t want to scare him by being all still and pretending to be dead. Come on, Bruce! Bruce! Please! Bruce, you can´t… you´re not supposed to… Bruce!” The last bit was such a loud and raw scream Dick had surely damaged his throat. There were no words after that, just a body shaking with silent crying, crying that soon became loud, painful to hear sobs, sobs that shook Dick´s body, made his hands grab onto as much of Bruce as he could.

Jason dropped to his knees next to him. Damian knelt. For the first time in years, he looked pale, scared. Jason couldn’t take it, he couldn’t take a crying Dick and a scared Damian at the same time.

“Come here,” he said, slung one arm over Damian´s shoulder, the other over Dick´s, and he pulled them close. Their heads hit his shoulders at the same time, and after a few seconds, Damian´s body began to shake as well. Jason closed his eyes, swallowed hard. He tried to keep his breathing even, to ignore the sting of his closed eyes, but it didn’t last long. The tears flowed, the sobs spilled from his lips, and at one point it was him and not Dick holding Bruce´s body against his chest.

 


 

 

Damian insisted on going to the funeral. Dick insisted on them coming. Jason didn’t have much of a choice. However, left to his own devices he wouldn’t have gone. He would have mourned differently, in silence, in private, but it wasn’t like any of that mattered because there he was, back at Wayne Manor after more than a decade, surrounded by strangers clad in black and trying not to make eye contact with anyone. He felt naked with only his suit on. His sais were on his thigh holster, his gun under his jacket, but without the traditional clothing of Nanda Parbat he´d been taught to wear since his teenage years and his cloak gone, he couldn’t help but feel naked, vulnerable even.

Damian was probably feeling the same, going by his continuous twitches, how often he scanned the room with his eyes and the very ugly scowl he was giving a vase full of flowers.

Jason would have smiled if he´d had the strength to do so.

He dug a hand out of his jacket pocket and placed it on Damian´s shoulders, bent down to make sure Damian heard him. “You want to take a look around the manor?”

Damian´s head turned sharply. “I thought you would want to head home by now.”

“It wouldn’t be polite, you know. The two men we saw with the shovels during the funeral are probably still dumping dirt into his grave. It´d be rude leaving before his burial was even over,” Jason said, the words hurting his throat on a physical level, leaving it dry, raw and scratchy. They were words a part of his mind still refused to process and accept.

Damian´s scowl deepened, but after a few seconds he gave a curt nod. One of his hands rose and balled into the sleeve of Jason´s jacket. “It would be nice to tour the estate,” he said.

This time Jason did smile. For Damian to grab onto him like when he´d first started speaking, he really had to be both nervous and out of his game.

“Come on then, let´s walk around the first floor. This place is big enough to keep us busy for hours,” Jason informed him, and ignoring the tightening inside his chest as they wove their way around the enormous crowd in the living room and hallway. The tightness only got worse as the sounds died down, and Jason began having trouble breathing. The memories were too much, even if he wasn’t actively trying to think or remember anything, the memories came, and they hurt. They made the situation even more painful, more real.

“The first time I came here, I got lost on my way to the bathroom,” Jason said, hoping that would help him relax, but all it did was make his eyes sting.

Damian gave him a worried glance, and he stepped closer to Jason, gave the slightest of smiles much like Bruce used to. Jason swore the older Damian got, the more like his father he looked. “I am not surprised. As I recall, even at fourteen you were not a very intelligent person.”

Jason choked out a laugh that sounded more like a sob. “Look who´s talking, kid. For a moment back then I´d thought you were actually dyslexic or something.”

One of Damian´s eyebrows went up, but he made no comment, deciding instead to examine the exquisite décor and paintings adorning the walls, the chandeliers above their heads. “You were saying?”

“Yeah, as I was saying. I got lost on my way to the bathroom, had no idea where I was and it actually took Bruce a bit over an hour to find me. He only found me because I somehow ended up into the kitchen and Bruce pretty much ran in some good twenty minutes later, grumbling something about calling the police commissioner and how Gordon was going to laugh if he told him he´d lost his not yet adopted son in his own house.”

Damian´s body moved with slight laughter. “It must have been pleasant to share such… normal moments with him.”

“It was, even though they were hard to come by. He was this wall most of the time, you know? All big and strong, unmoving, untouchable, but he tried really hard to find some time for me between him being Batman and his public persona. He wouldn’t let me use the Robin suit until I´d had at least half a year of training, and even then he would worry a lot about me being hurt.”

“He does sound like an exemplary man.”

Jason nodded, swallowed the lump in his throat. “Don’t you hate me?” he asked after a moment, deciding to pause right in front of a Wayne family portrait. His eyes fell on the young Bruce, younger than Damian was now, but the faces… they were almost completely the same. “Don´t you hate me for taking away your big chance to meet him? It wasn’t like I had to take you into hiding. Talia had a good plan, and it would have worked. He might have been a baffled at first and the two of you would have fought like cats and dogs, but it was a good plan. It would have given you the chance to get to know him, to be his son.”

Damian was quiet for a little while, then he sighed, stepped forward and placed his palm on Bruce´s painted chest. “Did you do it on purpose?”

“Do what on purpose?”

“Did you deliberately tell Mother that you would take care of me in Tibet so she wouldn’t send me to him? Did you plan on sabotaging that opportunity to handicap my relationship with him? Were your intentions to keep me away from him?”

Jason opened his mouth, closed it, frowned. “Of course not.”

“Then why did you work so hard to convince Mother to let me go with you instead of having her bring me to my father?”

Jason bit the inside of his cheek. “You know why.”

“Do I?”

“Yeah, you do. I did it because I didn’t want you to be alone. Ra´s had died in front of you hours earlier, and now Talia wanted to turn your life upside down and drop you on who was pretty much a stranger´s lap. If there was someone who could keep you safe it was him, but for some reason I didn’t trust him.”

“You trusted him with my safety, but you did not trust him to take care of me, not like you would,” Damian corrected.

 “You are my brother,” Jason said so soft it was but a mere whisper. “I wasn’t going to… leave you alone, I wasn’t going to let Deathstroke… or anyone else… hurt you. Your mom and the League could deal with that rebellion, but…”

“You have been alive over two decades and you are still a failure at linking words to express your feelings,” Damian interrupted, and he sounded amused.

Jason´s mouth dropped, and he shoved at Damian´s shoulder, found himself smiling for a moment. “You little shit.”

“Am I finally old enough for you to start cussing in front of me?” Damian turned, and the smile on his face slowly reversed back to his usual somber expression. “I do not hate you, Jason. No matter what you say, or do not say, I know you have wanted the best for me since the beginning, I know you have put me before yourself on many occasions. Do I regret not knowing Bruce Wayne when he was alive? I do. Do I wish I could have had more than one chance to spend time with him? Yes. However, I do not regret going with you, and you should not regret it either. You couldn’t have known what was going to happen, no one could possibly foresee it. You did the best for me, like the good brother you have always been. Never feel like I could do anything but thank you for everything you have done.”

And the knot was back in Jason´s throat, heavier than ever, heartrate speeding up like crazy.

“Moreover,” Damian went on. “Bruce Wayne did not know of my existence. I first came to know of him because of Mother´s talks, but I first saw him when I came with you to Gotham. You showed him to me, because of our nightly visits I did my own research. I mourn the possible future I won´t be able to have with him, but I know your grief is deeper because you have a past with him, you had an actual relationship. Now stop trying to stab your own heart and allow yourself to grieve, Jason. Our brotherhood works both ways, and I am here for you.” As you´ve always been there for me.

“If only your mother knew what a sap you really are,” Jason croaked, and couldn’t say anything else. His throat was too tight.

“I did learn a lot of bad things from you, didn’t I?”

Jason gave him another shove, a soft one this time, and Damian smiled, rubbed his hand up and down his arm in a slow and comforting manner.

“This old heart finds solace in the knowledge that two of Master Bruce´s sons have already created a bond strong enough to assure me they will be all right with time,” a deep voice called out, and Jason turned around right away, caught a glimpse of the experienced and old eyes, and then he was moving, crossing the room to pull Alfred into his arms.

Alfred tensed for a whole second before he let out all the air in his lungs. “Careful, Master Jason, your hugs are not the ones of a young lad anymore,” he said, but his tone was soft, light, and a hand rose to pat Jason´s hair.

“And you´re still as sturdy as ever. Alfred…”

“It is nice to see you too, Master Jason, and to know you are alive,” the old butler finished.

“Yeah, about that, I guess I owe you an explanation.”

“I suppose you do, as you owe one to Master Dick. And while I revel in the fact you are alive and healthy, I must admit it saddens me that it took this much to bring you back home.”

Jason pulled back, kept his hands on Alfred´s shoulders and searched his face. “How are you holding up?” he asked quietly. He and Dick were devastated because they had lost a father, but Alfred had lost much more than an employer and a boss. He had lost his family, his son.

Alfred´s eyes slanted downwards, so did his lips. He threw a glance over Jason´s shoulder and stared at the painting. “It is hard,” he admitted. “More than hard. While I had been preparing for this from the moment he decided to don the cape and the cowl, it does not make it any easier. The numbness has worn away, but the tears just won´t come. All I feel now is emptiness, and that I wish to see him again.” Alfred´s lips twitched. “Although looking at young Damian, it is like I am doing just that. The resemblance is quite amazing, don´t you agree?”

Damian tensed behind him, and Jason did too. How did Alfred know…? Had Dick told him…? But it wasn’t like Dick had done a lot of asking or talking the night Bruce died.

“You seem to know me, but I don´t know you,” Damian stated. The suspicion in his eyes said it all.

“Ah, of course. How rude of me not to introduce myself before. Greetings and welcome to Wayne Manor, young Damian Al Ghul, although I do prefer the sound of Damian Wayne. My name is Alfred Pennyworth, I have worked as the family butler for the Waynes since before Master Bruce was born.”

Damian raised an eyebrow, gave Jason a confused glance. “You never mentioned anything about the servitude.”

Jason frowned at him. “Because he isn’t servitude.”

“He just said…”

“Remember I told you that someone I greatly admired taught me to make the pancakes of our first breakfast together? And most of the foods I´ve cooked over the years?”

Damian frowned right back at him. “The butler taught you all that?”

“Not the butler. That´s what Alfred insists on calling himself, but he´s been much more than that to every one of us. He raised Bruce, helped raise Dick, certainly the other guy, and even me.”

The frown deepened, and he looked right at Alfred. “So you are a butler who in fact acts like a grandfather,” he concluded.

Alfred´s face betrayed nothing. “If that is what you wish to believe.”

Damian looked confused, then angry about being confused, but after taking several deep breaths he nodded and held out his hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Pennyworth.”

One of Alfred´s eyebrows went up. Instead of shaking the offered hand he dipped at the waist in a light bow. “It is a pleasure indeed, young Damian. May I assume that Master Jason has shared his books and knowledge with you during all these years?”

“He has. He has been a good teacher, an even better brother.”

“That makes me happier than you can possibly imagine. I extend and hope you accept my invitation of visiting Master Bruce´s personal library one day, if not later today. Master Bruce would have loved to see you there.”

Damian´s frown came back. “How did you know?” he asked.

Alfred motioned to the painting. “Apart from the striking and obvious resemblance between the two of you, I have the pleasure of informing you that Master Bruce did know he had a biological child. Miss Talia may have dropped a hint or two, and he did his research. We had no pictures, nor we knew where you were or would be, but Master Bruce had looked forward to meeting you one day.”

Damian looked shocked, glanced at Jason, who looked as surprised, maybe even more. The silence hung in the air for a couple of minutes, broken only when Alfred spoke again.

“Yes, it was quite a shock for the two of us to discover it as well. Miss Talia hid you in plain sight, because no matter how hard Master Bruce tried, he couldn’t find you. If he had, we would have found you sooner as well,” he said, aiming the last part at Jason.

Jason gave a lopsided smile. “Damian and I did live in Talia´s little secluded world a long time,” he acknowledged.

“My respect for her has increased, that I will tell you.”

Damian clicked his tongue, crossed his arms. It looked like he was fighting an inner battle. Then he clicked his tongue again. “Pennyworth, if I may ask a question?”

“Certainly.”

“Did he… ever tell you about… how he felt with having a biological son?”

Jason threw his hands into the air. “All right, okay, that´s my cue to leave.”

“Jason!”

“Master Jason…”

“Hey, I´m not running away. I just think that´s something you guys need to talk in private, grandfather to biological son, and it´d be good for the two of you to get along and talk it out. Damian, beg if you will but get Alfred to make you some Earl Gray. This man is not mortal, I tell you.” Jason raised his hands again, nodded at them. “I´ll just go talk to Dick while you two sort it out. Alfred, is he…?”

“He locked himself in the Cave after the service was over.”

“Great, already following in on the Bat´s footsteps. Damian, I´ll be down in the Cave if you need anything. See you guys later.” He walked down the hallway before either of them could protest, took a left turn and kept going.

Dick was sitting on the stairs of the Cave, as it turned out, and didn’t even jump when Jason stepped in through the doors. Jason walked down a couple of steps, dropped to sit next to Dick, frowned when he saw the huge cup of coffee held between both hands.

“Does that have brandy in it?” he asked.

Dick´s head moved the fraction of an inch towards him. “No. I don’t like to mix alcohol with coffee.”

“Oh. Okay, it´s just that I was worried you were drinking yourself into oblivion, then thought you might be doing the same but masking it with coffee. I´m glad to know you´re not doing either of those.”

This time Dick´s head did turn, and he offered Jason a dim version of his patented Grayson smile. It made Jason´s heart ache, but not from grief. “Nah, I´m not the type to drown out his sorrows in alcohol.”

“But you´ll drown them in coffee?”

“I haven’t slept since that night, I´m just trying to stay awake.”

Jason´s mood sobered, and he let his eyes drop to the floor. “Not even a few hours of sleep?”

“Exhaustions take the better of me at some point and I sleep, but the most I´ve managed to go without a nightmare or sheer nerves waking me up has been two hours. Plus, while I´ve gotten a few days off from the Bludhaven PD for the funeral, I´ve still gone on patrol at night.”

Jason tensed up, and his attention went to the suit in its glass case. Not the suit Bruce had been wearing the night he died because that had been unsalvageable, but Bruce´s suit nonetheless. Bruce´s suit that was now Dick´s. Jason hadn’t really thought about that until now. He could recall that during some fights Dick would scream at Bruce that he wasn’t going to be like him, he never wanted to end up as alone and sad as Batman, that he never wanted to be Batman. And now…

“It´s heavy, physically and metaphorically,” Dick added as he took a sip of his cup. “The cowl, the cape, everything. It´s too much. It´s too soon, Jason, and it feels like I´m choking. His body wasn’t even cold and Batman already had to be on the streets again, had to be in the shadows and running around because he couldn’t die. He can´t die. Batman is this… this being that can´t be touched, the hero of Gotham. Batman couldn´t disappear. I had to put the cowl on that very same night so the rumors wouldn’t spread, and it hurt. Jason… it had to hurt him too because he doesn’t deserve that, and I didn’t want to… couldn´t…”

Jason swallowed hard, stared at Dick´s shaking hands, the coffee sloshing the sides of the cup. He reached out and placed his own hands over Dick´s, steadying the cup. Dick´s breath hitched, he shut his eyes tight. That´s when Jason noticed the bags under his eyes, deep and big enough to look like bruises. And then he saw the actual bruises decorating his chin, what was visible of his arms, his neck, and if he had to guess, there were a lot more on his torso and legs.

“I haven’t been picking fights,” Dick said when he caught Jason staring. “But crime´s been low these days, possibly out of sick fear or grief for the Joker, I don’t know. I look like this because not getting sleep is making me sloppy. Three nights of not sleeping and I´m getting my ass kicked while crime is down. Can you imagine what would have happened if the criminals of Gotham had gotten even a whiff of the possible death of Batman?”

“Hell would have been unleashed,” Jason mumbled. “It would be almost incontrollable by this point.”

“Exactly. But I can´t do what he did, Jason. I never wanted to, and now I can´t, because I´m getting sloppy, slow. I keep hoping this is all a nightmare. I keep hoping that I´ll wake up in my apartment, sweating cold, and that when I drive up here and burst into his studio looking terrified, he´ll be there and just tell me I´m being silly and have Alfred bring tea for us.” Dick´s breathing had quickened, his words flowed faster, and now it was his whole body that shook, not just his hands.

Jason didn’t know what to do. He knew Dick was someone who liked touching and being touched, someone who found comfort in physical contact. He didn’t have a lot of experience doing anything of the sort, and even his rare touchy-feely moments with Damian were more of a light, rough nature. Jason wanted to help, to comfort, but all he had were words. He wasn’t sure how those worked on Dick.

“Time heals everything,” he began, tightening his hold over Dick´s hand. “It takes a hell of a lot of time, and it will hurt like a bitch until it happens, but it will eventually go away. We are all going to miss him. I´m sure you, Alfred and even the new guy will miss him the most, but we´ll get through this.”

Dick let out a unintelligible sound. He kept his eyes closed, and before Jason knew it, there was a head on his shoulder, a nose buried in his jacket, and Dick´s hands now gripping his.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Dick whispered. “But it is, and the worst part is the damn cowl. I know I´m the one who´s supposed to do this now that he´s gone, not that Tim wanted to either way, but also because he counted on me to keep this going. I always told him there was a sword hanging above his head, and now it´s over mine. I have his shoes to fill, and I´m not sure I´ll ever be able to do that.”

Jason gave him a shake, freed one of his hands and laid it against Dick´s hair. “Are you kidding me?” he said, managing to make his tone light. “You´re Richard Grayson, the original Boy Wonder, Batman´s first sidekick, Bruce´s first son. You´re also Nightwing, vigilante and protector of Bludhaven at night, enforcer of the law by day. You´re going to do fine, Dick. You aren´t Bruce, and you don´t have to be. You´re going to do things your way. Batman is not gone, but some adjustments must be made in order for the cowl to fit you, not for you to fit the cowl.” Jason´s eyes roamed over the cavernous space, the dinosaur, the giant Joker card. “His legacy will live on, but not at the cost of your life.”

Dick didn’t answer. All he did was sigh and lean more of his weight against Jason. They stayed quiet for a long time, Dick trying to gather himself, Jason listening to his breathing until it turned back to normal.

“I´m so glad to know you´re alive, Jason, to have you here,” Dick finally said. His voice was so soft Jason had to lean in closer to listen. “Bruce missed you so much, and I have never felt sorrier in my life. You´d been taken away from us form one moment to another. He was devastated, he would have done anything to bring you back. And I would have helped him. I´m so sorry, Jason. You´ll never know how sorry I am for not being there for you when you needed me.”

“Water under the bridge, Dick, and I think that´s your exhaustion talking. You don’t have to worry about it. When I first came back I wanted everyone dead, I wanted to slice everyone´s throat open and see the life drain from their eyes. I wanted revenge on Bruce, you know? But not anymore. I am not a temperamental teen anymore. We´re good,” Jason assured him, and as he spoke he realized his words were true. He´d killed the Joker, despite how many time had gone by he´d finally ended that life. In a way, his plan had been successful. However, he´d closed that cycle and moved on with his life before he put a bullet through the horrid white grin.

“The only thing I regret is that it took Bruce´s life for me to end that piece of garbage´s life. I took too long Dick, and it´s almost funny. I was too late to save him. I failed him,” he said.

“You didn’t.”

Jason looked over his shoulder to who had spoken. He saw the replacement –Tim, Dick called him Tim– coming down the stairs with Damian behind him. Tim reminded Jason of Dick, longish black hair, pretty face, a lean body bordering on thin. If he hadn’t had Dick right there, the word pretty would have fitted him well.

“Didn´t I?” Jason wondered with a raised eyebrow, watching as Damian went down the stairs and started walking around the Batcave, looking as curious as Jason had ever seen him.

Tim shook his head, sat down a couple of stairs down from where he and Dick were. “You didn´t. I don’t know your story apart from what Bruce and Dick told me, but I heard a bit of what you were saying just now. You made a life for yourself away from this place. You started over, and you came back when Bruce needed you.”

“If that were true he would still be alive,” Jason pointed out.

“I´m pretty sure Dick and I feel the same way. You seem to be forgetting that Dick and I were working with him that night. We were his partners, Nightwing and Red Robin had gone along with Batman that night, but we let him get his way and we let him follow up on a lead alone. He didn’t ever call us to know what had happened, and we should have known earlier that something was wrong. But we didn´t, and by the time we noticed something was up it was too late. Does it feel like we failed him?” Tim sighed, hung his head. “Yeah, it does, but we didn’t. You know he wouldn’t want us to think that, so we mustn´t. No one knew about the petroleum, no one knew about the flamethrower. Some things are out of our control, that will always happen. It won´t do any of us any good to wallow in self-pity. We aren´t him, you´re right about that. And as we all know, he was the only one capable of rising from the ashes of self-pity much like a phoenix clad in black.”

Dick´s lifted and shook his head. Jason raised his other eyebrow. “You always this blunt, kid?” he asked.

“You haven’t seen anything yet, and I am nineteen years old. I am not a kid.”

“I bet you drove Bruce mad while being Robin.”

Tim smiled. “It was actually the other way around, which is why I had to move on a little while ago, just like Dick did.”

“Red Robin, I heard? Original, wonder where you got the idea from.”

Tim rolled his eyes, stuck out a hand. “It isn’t nice at all to meet you. I´m Tim Drake. Sorry we had to meet under these circumstances, but thanks for putting a stop to the Joker once and for all.”

Jason shook his hand. “It sucks to meet you too, Tim, I´m Jason Todd, the boy you replaced. And it was my pleasure, believe me.”

Tim´s eyes widened, and Jason couldn’t hold in a laugh. “Water under the bridge, calm down.”

Tim wrinkled his nose, laid a hand on Dick´s shoulder. “What Jason just said. Calm down. There´s a new Batman in town, but only we know it. We´ll keep Gotham safe like he did.”

Dick opened his mouth. Damian spoke before he did. “Which one is Jason´s suit?”

The three men on the stairs glanced down, found Damian standing in front of the glass cases containing the suits. He was staring at the suit Tim had used.

“That one´s mine,” Tim called. “Dick and Jason´s suit didn’t have pants.”

Damian moved to the case at the left, stared in aghast horror at the bright green shorts. “That looks like underwear. Grayson and Jason shared a suit, then? Jason, why didn’t you add pants? How could you run around fighting crime with… this?”

Tim snorted. Dick laughed softly. Jason ignored them both. “Life was rough for the first of us,” he muttered.

Damian gave a small smile, then glanced back at them. “May I?” he asked to no one in particular. The three of them nodded, and they watched in silence as Damian opened the case and ran his fingers over the suit. The minutes ticked by, then Dick stared at Jason, his eyes doing the talking for him, and Jason held his gaze. Their silent conversation ended with Jason sighing, nodding.

Dick nodded as well, then raised his voice. “You know, Damian, with Tim now being Red Robin, that suit is more than free, if you´d be interested in the job. You are Bruce´s son, his only biological child, and… I am positive he would have wanted you to fight by his side as Robin one day.”

Tim´s eyebrows went up, he gave Jason a look, but he stayed quiet. Jason kept his eyes on Damian, watched as the slim fingers toyed with the red shirt, the yellow cape. He agreed with what Dick had said, and if Damian had any interest on taking up the Robin mantle he wouldn´t stop him. Vigilante was better than assassin, at least in his opinion.

“Jason.”

He blinked at Damian. “Yeah?”

“What are you doing when we leave the Manor?”

He blinked again. “We did what we came to do. Our business in Gotham is done. I´m going back to Nanda Parbat.”

“You´re going home.”

“Yes. There´s always business to do with the League.”

Damian nodded. He hung back the suit. “Your offer is gracious, Grayson, I do appreciate it. From what I´ve learned of you through Jason it would be an honor to fight at your side and protect my father´s legacy. I thank you for giving me the chance, but I will go back with Jason.”

Jason and Dick exchanged glances. Tim hummed. “So you´re refusing not because you´d be fighting for the good guys instead of being a bad guy, but because if Jason doesn´t stay you don´t either?”

“Be still my heart. Drake is as smart as everyone makes him out to be.”

“Smarter than you, that´s for sure, kid.”

Damian´s teeth ground together. He looked at Dick. “I realize not all of my future with Bruce Wayne is gone, I realize I can still be a part of this, but Jason and I are family. Our bond is stronger that any I can build here with you, and I will not betray the trust he has placed in me. I will go where he goes, stay where he stays. I hope you understand.”

Dick stared at him in faint amazement, then glanced at Jason. He smiled.

“He´s quite the piece of work, isn’t he?” he asked, amused.

“Just like his father and brother,” Jason replied with a shrug, and the proudest smile of his life.

 


 

 

It did get easier. With time.

Damian turned fourteen, fifteen, then sixteen. His fourteenth birthday was spent like any other: just him and Jason sneaking out of Nanda Parbat and visiting as many zoos, farms and aquariums as Damian wanted to in different cities. Jason would find the best veggie restaurant in the designated birthday city and he´d take Damian there, usually informing the staff about his younger brother´s birthday so they would sing happy birthday to him and give them a free cake.

Damian´s fifteenth birthday was different. Jason wasn’t even aware anyone at the Manor knew Damian´s birthdate, and he´d already planned what to do on the appointed day. However, it all changed when Alfred of all people summoned them while finishing a job in Russia, something about a security breach in the Cave. Jason and Damian had found a practitioner and they hadn’t pointed their blade and gun at him fast enough for him to send them back to Gotham.

Confetti had greeted them the moment they crossed the door, along with a huge cake and Alfred´s exquisite cooking. Damian had almost cut Tim in half when he´d popped from behind a chair to moan about their unnecessary dramatic entrance and their unsheathed weapons. Dick had hugged Jason and Damian until the two of them couldn’t stand it anymore.

Something very similar happened for Jason´s birthday, and they were asked to come back to the manor for Tim´s, Dick´s and even Alfred´s.

Tim and Dick got Damian a dog for his sixteenth birthday. Alfred got Damian a cat. Jason and Damian went back to Nanda Parbat that night with two new members in tow, much to Talia´s disapproval and dismay.

Jason got a gift basket full of Bruce´s best wines and other liquors, straight from the cellar in Wayne Manor, the day he turned twenty-seven.

Death, as Jason had learned from his very own demise, didn’t stop the world from turning, the days from passing by. They all began moving on. They all adapted. Bruce´s absence was huge, heart-wrenching, it was never far from anyone´s thoughts. Jason had nightmares about it every other night, and some days the grief would get the better of him. Damian would sit beside him on those days and offer silent comfort, waited until Jason spoke to say anything himself. But Jason, as Dick did, as Alfred, Tim and Damian did, they tried their best to move forward. Tim was fond of saying Bruce would have had their heads if they drowned in grief, and Jason knew he was right. So he tried, actually succeeded, and everyone else did too.

Sometime between Dick´s second and third year of wearing the cowl Jason limited his jobs with the League to Gotham and the surrounding areas. Damian followed suit.

The League did not save people, Jason reminded himself, but he and Damian found themselves doing pretty much just that. The line of where it began was blurry, but Jason didn’t mind. One week he was coming home from Japan and cleaning his guns in his private rooms in Nanda Parbat. The following week he was running alongside Batman over buildings, jumping from rooftop to rooftop and blending into the shadows like he did when he was a child. Red Robin and Damian followed on the ground, thinking the comms the four of them wore were only for silly banter and veiled insults.

“Not bad for a night´s work, huh?” Jason asked as he jumped off the edge of a building. His cloak flared as much as Batman´s cape did, settled around his body when he landed on a crouch on the next rooftop.

Batman flew past him with the lgrace that was all Grayson. He landed, rolled and then rose, a smile visible under the cowl. “Not bad at all. Red Robin and I had been delving into that case for months. We´d gathered as much information on the group as we could.”

“You sure turning them in with Gordon was a good idea? The tech they were using isn’t something you can just find here on Earth.”

“True, which is why we´re not closing this case just yet. Red´s got samples of everything we needed and we´ll continue our investigation with that.” Batman gave him a thumbs up, and it made Jason laugh. It was still a bit odd to see Nightwing´s –Dick´s– gestures or movements on the black suit and pointy ears, but it made Jason glad because it showed Dick wasn’t trying to be Bruce´s Batman anymore. It showed he was being his own.

And, Jason had to add, it was working pretty damn fine, given he hadn’t heard any rumors over the past few years about impostors and/or Batman dying. If anything, and that too made him laugh, he´d heard some people in the undergrounds ask whether Batman had finally become a vampire given how he now moved even more like all the vampires in the books: all elegant and flowing movements.

“Thanks for helping, Hood. You too, Red, Green.”

Jason came back to it upon hearing those words, and he frowned at Batman from under his hood. What had he…?

“That is not my name,” Damian´s voice came through the comm, making Jason realize Batman had been speaking into it.

“You know I can´t use your name while out here, Green.”

“But ‘Green’? I do not approve. If Hood and I now fight along with you and Red Robin we need code names. Decent ones. You are with me, correct, Hood?”

Jason rolled his eyes. “Where did Hood even come from?” he asked into the comm, but looked at Batman as he spoke.

Batman gave another smile, one only he could see. “The hood of your cloak is red, so you are Red Hood, but Red´s already taken, so you´re Hood. Green´s hood is green so he´s…”

There was a snort in their ears, Damian probably had his arms crossed. Jason made a face. “Really smart, Bats,” he said.

“Got any better suggestions? I´m open to new ideas.”

“If I am to become a part-time vigilante I do have a suggestion, Batman. From now on you may address me as Heretic.”

“Here-what?” That was Tim.

“Heretic. I believe you had told me your hearing was perfect, Red Robin.”

“Do you even know what that word means?”

“Much better than you, yes.”

“Why would you choose that word specifically?”

There was a long suffering sigh, and it wasn’t Batman´s.

Batman spoke a second later. “Great. Red, Heretic, head back to the Cave and get started on the analysis of the samples we recovered. Hood and I will go back later tonight.”

“You got it,” Tim said. Damian´s hum followed, and the two of them disconnected. Batman beckoned Jason closer, but before he could even take a step Batman had taken off again, cape flying behind him as he jumped into the air. Jason raised an eyebrow, but it wasn’t like he had any choice but to follow.

Dawn found them sitting side by side on the rooftop of Wayne Tower, cowl and hood down, the box of donuts between them almost empty, Dick´s laugh at whatever Jason had just said getting lost in the fresh morning air. They had begun doing stuff like that when Damian and Jason first helped watch over Gotham. It was Dick who first decided to have some cool-down time after they´d had a heavy night, and there would always be food or a snack of sorts waiting at the spot he chose on the appointed evenings. Sometimes Tim and Damian came along, but more often than not it was just him and Jason making small talk and eating junk food until the sun rose. This time, however, was the first night Dick had taken the cowl off.

Jason wondered what that meant exactly. Had it taken him this long to feel comfortable in the suit? Had he finally overcome his fear of someone finding out he was now Batman instead of Bruce, not that anyone had known it had been Bruce in the first place? He didn’t know, but he wasn’t going to complain. It was nice seeing the wind play with Dick´s hair –he would tell Alfred to remind Dick to get a haircut– and see the sun illuminate his pretty face with shades of pink and soft yellow.

“You were right,” Dick said when the laughter had finally left him.

Jason grabbed another donut, bit into it and raised both eyebrows at him.

Dick smiled. “About time. About feeling better as the days went on. About adapting, changing, moving on.”

Jason shrugged. “I´ve picked up a few things along the way. Ten plus years with the League were bound to teach me something about dealing with death and making peace with yourself and those who are gone, no matter how ironic it sounds.”

“I keep forgetting you´re an agent of the League, maybe because you now spend a lot of time here in Gotham with us.”

 “Or maybe you keep forgetting because you want to forget I´m not one of the good guys. Maybe you keep forgetting because you want to ignore the fact that I´ve never hidden who or what I am from you, still don’t.”

This time, it was Dick´s eyebrows that went up. “And that would be?”

Jason stared hard at his half-eaten donut. “A killer, an assassin for hire,” he muttered.

Dick laughed, a short and loud burst of sound that made Jason raise his head and glare at him. Which turned out to be a mistake because Dick´s eyes were there, sparkling and waiting, and he couldn’t look away afterwards.

“You don’t believe that any more than I do, and you know it,” Dick told him gently, then laughed and caught the donut thrown at his head. He took a bite, swallowed, then leaned in close and placed his hand on top of Jason´s.

“But all right, I´ll humor you. I just wanted to say I´m tired of settling for late night food while wearing our suits…”

“I wear a cloak, not a suit.”

“… And pretty much spending what little time we get together in hiding. So, Mr. Assassin for Hire, I want to ask you. You got any plans for Friday?”

Jason´s mouth dropped to the floor. It was a good thing he didn’t have the donut in his hand because he would have dropped that too.

Dick tilted his head to the side. “Jason? Any place you need to be? Anyone you need to kill?”

“You… what? … What? No. I don´t… No.”

Dick smiled. Jason didn’t know if he wanted to smack him for smiling or smack himself for stuttering.

“I guess now you do have plans,” Dick went on, then pulled the cowl over his head and got to his feet. “I´ll meet you at eight on Friday, at the manor. Then we´ll go into town and get some nice food, okay? Don´t stand me up.” He didn’t wait for an answer, just threw himself into the air, cape flowing behind him, disappearing downward and scaring Jason for a second before the grapple gun fired and he was swinging away.

Jason stayed there and stared at the box of donuts. What had just happened? Did having dinner with Dick count as a date? Had Dick been going for that in the first place? Why was his inner thirteen-year-old-self smiling?

Either way, he and Dick had made plans. He had plans. He hadn’t made one of those in a while.

 


 

When Tim contacted him the next Thursday, sounding downright hysterical and scared and told him Dick was unconscious and on his way to Dr. Thompkins clinic, he remembered that plans and him didn’t really get along.

Chapter Text

“What do you know?”

“That he´s hurt.”

“What happened?”

“Don´t know”

“How did it happen?”

“Don’t know.”

“Who did it?”

Silence.

“Jason? Who did it?”

Silence again.

“Jason!”

“I don´t know, Damian! I don´t know what or who or when or why it happened! I told you, Tim just told me he got hurt and was on his way to the clinic,” Jason snapped. His voice sounded hoarse, he could barely gather enough air to speak, given he was running as fast as his feet could  take him. He leapt into the air, landed hard on his knees on a rooftop and was up and running before he felt the first spike of pain travel up his legs.

Damian muttered in his ear. “How far away are you?”

“Two minutes. I can see Dr. Thompkins building from where I am.”

“I´m at the south end, but I´ll make it there in fifteen minutes. You better keep him alive, Jason. This family has lost too much already.”

“No need to tell me. See you there,” Jason grumbled, tore the comm out of his ear and kept running. He took another fall two buildings away from the clinic, but he kept moving. Once he got there he didn’t even bother knocking on the door or finding an open window. His foot connected with the nearest glass, shattered it, and he slid inside the clinic, eyes wild.

He´d entered the waiting room and found the place empty. He gritted his teeth and went for the hall, heard the soft voices before he stepped inside.

Alfred and Tim turned to look at him right away. Tim´s domino was on the ground, and he looked pale, shaken. Alfred´s face was unreadable, but he had a strong grip on Tim´s shoulder.

Jason swallowed hard. He tried to keep his breathing steady, his voice calm. “What happened? How is he? How bad was it? Is he alive?”

Tim gave him wide eyes. Alfred gave him silence.

Jason could taste bile at the back of his throat.

Is he alive?!” he screamed. If Tim had sounded hysterical before, Jason sounded frenzied.

Tim flinched, took a step back. Alfred took a step forward, held up a hand. “Master Jason, please keep your voice down.”

Alfred…!”

“Master Dick is alive, I assure you. Master Tim got here with more than enough time for Dr. Thompkins to look at his wounds.”

Jason almost relaxed. Almost. “How bad was it?”

“Very bad, he´s not in mortal danger, but it´s very bad,” Tim said in a whisper. He closed his eyes, took several deep breaths. When he spoke again his voice was louder steadier. “Three broken ribs, a broken leg and… and his eye. The doc said she´d try to salvage it, but… I don’t think it´ll do any good. Before he fainted he said he couldn’t see anything with his left eye.”

Jason felt chills all the way down his back. “What happened?”

“We already had him cornered, there was no way for him to get out except through the window of a room in the twentieth floor. We thought we´d gotten all the people out, but then this woman crawled from behind a desk. She was crying, she had a baby… and then the baby was torn from her arms, the window shattered, the baby was gone and Dick…”

Jason blanched. “He threw himself out the window to catch the baby,” he finished.

Tim nodded too fast. He pressed his shaking palms against his eyes, let out a sound of frustration. “It felt like Bruce all over again. I panicked, I freaked out, I thought he would die from that fall, that he wouldn’t be able to grapple in time, that he´d hit a building on his way down. I thought… Jason, I thought that he would… I thought of Bruce and…”

Alfred squeezed his shoulder. Jason clapped his hand over the younger man´s mouth. “Breathe, Tim. I thought the same, when you told me I was just afraid as you. But he´s alive… he´s alive. The doc will do everything to make sure he stays that way. He´s alive, Tim. He´s not Bruce.”

Tim lowered his hands, looked down at the hand over his mouth and shoved it to one side without his usual sharpness. “He almost died, Jason. If I hadn’t jumped right out I´m sure he would have fallen to the ground, used his own body as a cushion for the baby. He wouldn’t have had time to…”

“But he did not. He is very much still alive,” Alfred put in. “Please listen to Master Jason. Master Dick will be all right. You called us all like you should have, you brought him here. It is fine, Master Timothy.”

 “Who did it?” That was Damian´s voice coming from behind. He was leaning against the wall, but his knuckles were white as he gripped his own elbows. Judging from his heavy breathing, he couldn’t have been there very long.

Tim shook his head, didn’t say anything.

“Drake!”

“Master Damian, keep your voice down.”

“But we need to find whoever did this and…”

“Kill them?” Tim interrupted, and shook his head again. “No. If I tell you and Jason who did it you´ll both go and kill him. It was necessary to kill the Joker, I haven’t changed my mind about that, and you two do your shady business and what now with the League, I don’t care, but I won´t let you kill anyone else here in Gotham. Bruce wouldn’t approve, he wouldn’t want that.”

Damian uncrossed his arms and stomped forward, heading straight for Tim, but Jason managed to grab his arm. Damian turned to glare at him, blue eyes burning. Jason shook his head. Several minutes went by until Damian relaxed. “We won´t kill anybody,” he said, speaking to Tim while holding his brother´s stare. “You have my word, Drake. I swear we will not kill whoever did this to Grayson.”

Tim eyed him, then Jason. “Promise?” he asked.

“You have our word,” Jason told him with a nod.

Tim sighed, hung his head. “It was Two-Face. Two-Face was the one who threw the baby out the window.”

Damian tensed. Jason´s grip on his arm tightened. He leaned down –though at sixteen Damian´s head reached past his shoulder– and spoke softly. “We said no killing, but we didn’t say hurting. Calm down. We´ll deal with it.”

Damian huffed, but he eventually relaxed. Tim was now eyeing them both. “You promised,” he reminded them. Damian made a face. Jason rolled his eyes.

“Excuse me, boys?”

Dr. Thompkins voice made them all turn. The elegant willowy woman finished wiping her glasses on her white coat, then put them back on. “Surgery is over. Dick is alive and stable. His ribs and leg are set, but I´m afraid we couldn’t save his eye completely. His retina got detached, he´d lost all his vision. With surgery we managed to somewhat save it, but he´ll be lucky if he gets a clear look at what´s in front of him.

Alfred let out a heavy sigh. The rest of them looked at each other. “And that means what exactly?” Jason asked.

Thompkins took a pen out of her front pocket. She held it up right in front her face. “It means, Robin who I thought was dead but somehow is still alive, that with his left eye he´ll be able to look at the pen only if it is front of him.” She raised a hand, moved it first on the left side of the pen, then the right. “But the slightest shift to either side and he won´t see anything, no matter how close or far away it is.”

“Blind spots,” Alfred´s soft tone said.

“I am afraid so. As I said, he´ll be lucky if he regains his front vision at all.”

A sad and mournful silence settled over the room. Alfred wouldn’t look at anyone, Tim and Damian watched Thompkins as if they still didn’t quite get it. Jason rubbed his palm against his face. “Can I see him?” he asked.

Thompkins gave him an up and down, then nodded. “He´ll stay under for the next couple hours, but you can come in now. I strongly advise you keep him here and not back to the manor. I know that you´ve got Alfred and he´d be in the best hands but…”

“Master Dick will stay at the clinic.”

She stopped talking, stared at Alfred with wide eyes. “He will?”

“Yes. I will take Master Tim back to the manor to have some tea. We will get some sleep and be back in the morning, if Master Jason and Master Damian would keep watch and stay by Master Dick´s side for now?”

“I don’t want to go back to the manor,” Tim protested.

“You are not in the appropriate headspace to make that choice, sir. Your hands have not stopped shaking. We will have tea, we will sleep and then we will come relieve them from Master Dick´s bedside.”

Tim adopted a surly expression, which made him look at least five years younger than he was. He glared at Damian and Jason, but in the end he nodded. “Fine. I´ll take the day shift.”

Alfred glanced at the doctor. “We will take our leave then. Thank you for looking after him, I hope you call us should any problem arise, in case these two young men do not place a call before?”

Thompkins still looked shocked. She shook her head. “I´m sorry, I´m sorry. Sure, Alfred, I´ll make sure to keep you updated and watch over these two. Your boys will be fine. The three of them.”

“Any particular reason as to why you sound so amazed?”

“Nothing, really. Just. Bruce wouldn’t even take the painkillers I gave him here in the clinic, he would be out the window before I could even get him a glass of water.”

Alfred´s smile was gentle and nostalgic. “Sometimes he would not even accept the pills I offered him.”

“I gather things have changed since then, what with you leaving Dick here and all.”

“They have, and I hope, for the better. You have my gratitude, Leslie. Master Tim and I will be back in a few hours.” Alfred ducked his head in a slight bow and went for the door. Tim didn’t want to, but he followed. As soon as they were gone Jason turned to look at Damian. “Mind staying out here and keeping watch?”

The teenager shook his head. “It is what I was about to suggest. You watch over Grayson. Call me in when he awakens, I´ll gladly stay out here until then.”

“Have I ever told you you´re the best?”

“I have known it since childhood, but I appreciate your words nonetheless.”

Jason went into Dick´s room laughing. The sound died as he approached the bed, as he took in Dick´s limp form against the pillows. There were bandages wrapped around the top part of his head, over one eye, and his leg was suspended in a cast. The doc had mentioned something about broken ribs, so surely there were bandages all over his torso as well. Jason´s focus lingered on the bandages over his eye. He sighed, pulled a chair against the bed and sat down.

“Did we really lose one of those pretty blue eyes?” he wondered out loud, tilted his head back and closed his eyes. Tim and Alfred weren’t the only ones who needed sleep. If he could get comfortable in the chair, he could rest his eyes for just a second…

“I´m very sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for, doc. I know you did everything you could. I feel lucky it´s still functional.”

“You are in fact very lucky. I was afraid you wouldn’t even be able to look at what you had in front.”

Huh, that sounded like what Dr. Thompkins had said out in the hall.

“Yeah, it will suck to have blind spots, but I can still read and use my eye normally for a lot of things. Really, doc, don´t look so sad.”

Oh, and that sounded like Dick´s…

He jerked awake with a gasp, limbs flailing, the chair almost toppling over. He blinked, saw nothing but blurry figures, then rubbed his eyes with his fists. When he lowered his hands, he found Thompkins checking out the needles in Dick´s forearm while Dick smiled at him. The bandages over his eye had come off, and Dick´s blue eye was still there, red on one side, the pupil bigger, but there.

“You okay?” Jason said when he got his breath back

“As okay as I can be. Everything hurts, and I can´t see the doc now that I´m looking at you, but hey, I could be…”

“Don´t you dare make a death joke, Dick. I´ll hit you, injuries be damned.”

Dick let out a chuckle, settled back against the pillows. Thompkins finished checking Dick´s IVs, got a fresh cotton pad and covered his eyes before heading to the door without saying anything. However, Jason heard her voice once she was out in the hall, and Damian rushed in a minute later. He too looked like he had just woken up.

“Grayson,” he said, walked straight to the bed. “Grayson, how do you feel? Are you on enough painkillers? Thompkins informed us of the possible outcome regarding your eye. Can you see me?”

Dick let out another chuckle. “Does he always worry this much, Jason?”

Jason smirked. “One time Talia sent me to train with Bronze Tiger all the way in China. I came home with a broken arm. He acted fussy for a whole week.”

“I was nine when that happened!”

“You´re still a softie, kid, we both know it.”

Damian tried to hold in a huff. He ended up huffing anyway and focused his attention back on Dick. “Are you all right?” he asked again.

Dick nodded. “I am, Damian. I will be. My bones will heal, and I´ve still got my eye for something. I´ll be fine.”

Damian frowned. After frowning at the wall during several minutes he went and sat on the arm of Jason´s chair. “Would it be insensible if I ask him if he plans on continuing as Batman after this?” he whispered.

Jason´s eyebrows rose. “You´re thinking that far ahead?”

“It is not wise for us agents of the League to continue working if acquiring an injury like this one. We do not yet know how much of his vision has been compromised, but if it is dangerous for an agent of the League, it is even worse for the protector of Gotham.”

Damian had a point.

“On second thought, maybe I should wait until Thompkins carries out a throughout examination of his injury to bring up the subject,” Damian added, lost in thought.

Jason patted his thigh. “Yeah, that might be better.”

They got their chance three days later, when Dick was discharged from the clinic. It turned out to be Dick who brought up the subject. Jason and Damian offered to pick him up, and Alfred gave them a family car to go to and back from the clinic.

“So,” Dick was saying as they made their way out of old building. He had an arm slung over Jason´s shoulder, a crutch in the other. Damian walked beside them with the other crutch and Dick´s overnight bag. “That was the specialist´s final verdict when it came to my eye. They took me yesterday down to the ophthalmological center and did the tests that were left. I got checked out by two other doctors and they said the same. In a nutshell, no surgery will fix my eye, I´ve got peripheral blindness for the rest of my life. The doc´s specialist did their best, and I currently have about thirty percent of visibility in my left eye because it looks like we depend on our peripheral vision more than I ever thought.”

Jason sighed. He opened the door of the car and helped Dick inside. Damian went to sit on the driver´s seat, and Jason slid in next to Dick, helping him sit sideways so his broken leg could stretch out over the leather.

“You have your driver´s license already, Damian?” Dick asked, sounding surprised.

“Not an American license, but I am old enough to drive in this country and have my other licenses to prove I am legally authorized to take the wheel in many other parts of the world.”

Dick glanced at Jason. “Can he drive?”

“He´s pulled us out of some dark places while I covered our backs. Let´s just say I trust him to get us to the manor safely.”

“You´ve been partners in crime since he was a child?”

Jason rolled his eyes. “Of course not. I worked on my own until he was twelve, and that only because he wouldn’t stay home anymore and I couldn’t keep distracting him with cookies and books. We started off easy too. We were hiding at the time.”

Dick looked curious.

Jason waved a hand in the air. “Long story.”

Dick tilted his head to one side, waited a moment before saying, “I was nine when I first went out with Bruce on patrol.”

“Only because you were too stubborn and too annoying, I bet. If it had been up to him he wouldn’t have wanted you to ever be Robin.”

Dick gave a nod. “Point taken. Even so, it was very considerate of you to keep Damian out of League business for so long.”

“I can hear you,” Damian informed them as the car slid onto the highway. “It was not considerate, Grayson. It was somewhat frustrating, what with Mother and Grandfather doing the exact opposite. It always comes to mind the time she brought a soldier who failed at retrieving the bounty for a kidnapping to the garden in my quarters. She brought my sword out and handed it to me. Kill him, she said, you are past the appropriate age to carry out your first kill.”

Jason let out a groan, rubbed his fingertips against his forehead. “Yeah, I remember that too. She did it while I was away on some special training with… certain magical people.”

Dick let out a whistle. “Well, Bruce always did say Talia was quite a particular woman. What did you do, Damian?”

“I buried the sword in the ground, screamed at Mother something I would rather not repeat and took a portal to where Jason was training that very same afternoon.”

Dick´s eyes widened. He gasped, glanced at Damian´s face in the rearview mirror. The latter gave him a raised eyebrow before turning back to the road.

Dick laughed as hard as the bandages around his middle allowed. He laughed until tears fell from his eyes, a grunt of pain making him stop. “Well, that just clinches it,” he said, voice low. “Not that I had any doubts in the first place.”

“Clinch what?” Jason asked, narrowing his eyes.

Dick gave him his trademark charming smile, a smile that made Jason´s heart leap when he was a kid, a smile that had fascinated him for the last three years and still did. “You becoming the new Batman, of course.”

The car jerked forward. Jason and Dick crashed into the front seats hard enough for Dick to moan in pain.

“My apologies,” Damian called out rather briskly. “I did not expect to hear that out of nowhere. I may have slammed my foot on the brake harder necessary. I apologize”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Jason replied, reaching over to help Dick settle back. Once Dick was comfortable, he said, “Say what now? I think we misheard.”

“You didn’t. I said that that clinches you becoming the new Batman.”

Jason stared. “Have you lost your mind?”

“No, I´ve lost my eye.”

Jason wanted to strangle him.

Dick rolled the eye not covered with a cotton pad. “You know as well as I do that I can´t be Batman anymore. It takes all of your five senses plus a sixth and even a seventh one to be up there. To protect this city, you need to be in top-notch condition. I no longer qualify. Thirty percent visibility in one eye equals being blind out there. Even with all the technical gadgets Tim can install in the cowl or design for me, I´ll still be blind, and if I didn’t die this time I would die one of the first nights I went back out into the streets.”

Jason had frozen in place, couldn’t move nor talk even when Dick went quiet. His pulse had sped up, his mind was whirling, but he couldn’t speak.

Dick studied him for a few seconds, then turned to Damian. “Do you think I´m wrong, Damian? Do you think I can still be Batman with one eye pretty much gone? From an objective point of view, would that be the wise thing to do?”

Damian didn´t answer at first. Several cars sped past theirs. Their own car slowed a bit more. “You are awfully calm,” Damian said finally, “for someone who faces imminent retirement.”

“It sucks, you should have seen me the first day, when Alfred and Tim came by and you two went to get some sleep. The weight of it all sunk in, and if I´d been able to trash the room I would have done it. While I´d accepted and had become comfortable in the cowl, a small part of me hoped I could go back to Bludhaven and become Nightwing once more at some point. That day it struck me that I wouldn’t be able to do be either anymore. This is something that will hamper my daily life to some extent, and it puts a complete stop to my life in spandex if I don’t want to die out there.” Dick sighed. “But you know, I´ve been through worse. My parents died, Bruce and I almost killed each other at some point, Jason died, then Bruce died. It all sucked, it still sucks, but losing an eye is not the worst that´s happened to me.”

“I thought you wanted to grow old in a suit,” Jason said.

“I did, but Bruce´s death and now this put everything in a different perspective. I´m in my early thirties, Jason, I don’t want to die yet. And as I´ve said before, if I go out at night like this that is exactly what will happen. Gotham still needs Batman, always will, and you´re the perfect person to take over for me. You´re Bruce´s second son, the man who avenged his death. You´re in your best moment, you´re good to go and kick butt for at least another two decades, more than that.” Dick offered him a smile. “Plus that would mean you´d stay in Gotham for good, and we could go on that date I owe you and many more after we settle this.”

The car jerked forward again. This time, however, neither of them said anything, Jason because he was speechless, Dick because he was staring at Jason.

“Please,” Dick added softly. “Do it for him. Do it for Gotham. Do it for me. We need you, Jason.”

Jason found his voice after what felt like hours. “You do realize you are asking an enemy to don the cowl, right? A murderer? A gun for hire? A bad guy?”

Dick groaned, rolled his eyes, then he shifted in his seat. “Damian, is Jason a murderous psycho who kills people for money or out of spite? Is he a bad, immoral and cruel man?”

Damian´s snort was immediate. “Jason says Father was the best man he ever knew. Jason is the best man I have ever known,” he replied. Proudly.

Dick´s lips curved.

Jason´s lips thinned.

They rode in silence the rest of the way. When they got to the manor, Damian reached for the door handle. One of Jason´s hands landed on his shoulder.

“One thing, though,” he told Dick through gritted teeth.

The jerk smiled. “Anything.”

Jason met Damian´s gaze in the mirror. “You are reconsidering the offer Dick made you, right? Do you want to take on the green scaly shorts?”

Until then, Jason had never seen Damian grin.

 


 

 

Needless to say, Talia was not pleased. Her shocked expression hadn’t worn off, and now, as she and Jason stood outside of Damian´s room while he packed and talked to Titus and Alfred the cat about moving permanently to Gotham, she even looked upset.

“I can´t believe what you are doing,” she said.

Jason watched a couple of birds jump around in the nearby tree. “Take Damian to Gotham for good, you mean?”

“Making Damian wear the suit you wore.”

“Why? Is it humiliating?”

“Don´t get smart with me, Jason. Damian is my son, the grandson of Ra´s Al Ghul. He was born to lead the League after Father and I passed away. He was conceived with that concept in mind. I didn’t give birth to him so he could run around playing dress-up and saving people.”

“You brought him to this world so he could be a killing machine, I know. Sorry to tell you he hasn’t been that in a long time, Talia. He never was one, actually.”

“He would have been one, had it not been for your interference.”

“You were the one who brought me back, and you´ve had almost fifteen years to deal me so I would stop contaminating your son with my horrible, terrible presence and influence. You haven’t.”

“Because killing you and coming up with a believable excuse to feed Damian would have been such an unnecessary hassle.”

“Bullshit. I bet you kept me around because you thought you could use me. You thought that I could eventually become a tool for you. If Damian got close to me, you could use me to get to him, to make him do what you wanted. By the time you realized it was too late for that to happen, killing me would have made Damian ask questions, questions that would never go away, because we both know how stubborn he is, and if he figured out you´d killed me, all your plans for him and the League would be useless.”

Talia scoffed. She stared at the same birds Jason did. “You think too much of yourself and what you mean to Damian.”

Jason turned and looked at her profile. “Do I? Didn’t you count on me meaning a lot to him for your plan to work, though?”

She was silent a few minutes, then she frowned. “You ruined him. You ruined his purpose in the League. You both went against everything I wanted you to be, everything I wanted both of you to do. I´ve known it since he was around six.”

“Known what exactly?”

“That Damian has never killed.”

At that Jason did tense. He moved, leaning his shoulder against the wall and crossing his arms over his chest. “You don´t know that,” he said.

“Yes, I do. I am not an idiot, Jason. I admit one of the main reason as to why I kept you around was to use you to get to Damian. That doesn’t mean I´ve been blind to what´s been happening all these years. You think I don’t know that on every job you went on together you tried your best not to kill? That it was you who, only when every other approach to solve a problem had been taken, took charge and gave the people a quick and clean death? Do you think I don’t know that you talked to Shiva and worked out a training regime for him that was more for neutralizing than for killing? That you´ve covered up for him so neither I nor the rest of the League pestered him for answers or actions? Damian may talk about killing with ease and if push came to shove, like in your case, I believe he would do it, but it´s not in his nature anymore.”

She shook her head, the disapproval and disappointment plain on her face. “I have known about you doing everything in your power to keep Damian away from death since the time I took the soldier for him to kill and he refused.” She turned around as she said the last, mirrored Jason´s position.

“He never told me what he screamed at you, refuses to talk about it even today. What was it? Profanities?”

“As I recall, and summarized, his words were: ‘You are a monster, Mother, worse than the ones in my books. You cannot end people´s lives like this. Jason would not approve. Jason would not do this. Jason says I should not kill, because if I do a part of me will die with them, and he doesn’t want me to die. I don’t want to die, and I don´t want this man to die. You really are a monster, Mother. I hate you. I want Jason. Where is he?’ And the next second he was gone and searching for you. It´s so ironic, hypocritical even, given than at the time you were still seething and planning how to choke the Joker in his sleep.”

Jason shrugged. “I was a screw up since before Bruce found me. I never stood any real chance. Damian had more than one.”

“You took his mind away from me and the League at an early age. Now you won´t even allow him to stay here physically.”

“If we became useless to you at one point in the past, why didn’t you kill us or kick us out before? Deal with us? Or why not get rid of us now?” Jason asked with genuine curiosity. Talia was a woman of firm beliefs and harsh decisions. It did baffle him to find out she knew everything yet had done nothing to prevent any of it from happening.

She made a face. She stayed quiet. There was the smallest of change in her posture.

Jason´s eyes widened. He let out an incredulous laugh. “Call the Gotham Gazette and put this on the front page: Talia Al Ghul does appreciate her son and the boy she pulled from the Pit,” he said.

If looks could kill, Jason would have dropped dead on the spot.

“We are ready,” Damian announced, voice carrying from inside his room. There were footsteps, and Titus came through the door first with a bag strapped to his back. Damian walked out right behind with a backpack and two big cardboard boxes in his arms, Alfred the cat lying on top of them.

Jason took the box at the top, cat included, weighed it with his arms. “Books?” he asked.

“And my art supplies. Pennyworth said not to worry much about clothing, but to bring what I found important and essential.”

“That´s Alfred for you.” Jason looked between mother and son a couple of times, sighed.

“Right. Talia, I guess this is our cue to leave. Thank you for everything these past few years. I literally owe my life to you, so… well, thanks. It was… nice, to work with the League.”

Talia rolled her eyes, shook her head. “It all backfired on me, but you were a better soldier than I ever expected. It was also nice having you here, Jason.”

Jason took a step back and gave Damian a look. Damian wrinkled his nose. However, he put the box down and faced his mother with a serious face.

“Goodbye, Mother. My best wishes for you, and the best of luck leading the League. You are a woman more than capable of following in on Grandfather´s footsteps. He would be proud.”

 “Thank you, Damian. He would also be proud to see the honorable young man you have become. Not what either of us wanted, but he always respected Bruce´s morals, and it his and by extension Jason´s the ones you will be following from now on.”

Damian nodded.

She tilted her head to one side. “You do realize if and when we meet again we will be on opposite ends, right? You do realize I will have to fight you the next time we see each other?”

Damian nodded again. He glanced at Jason. turned back to her with a smile. “Don’t go easy on us, Mother. I have yet to beat you in a fight, remember?” he said. He saluted her, then picked up his box. “We are ready to go to our new home,” he informed Jason, and began walking towards the Batwing. Alfred had allowed them to take it to Nanda Parbat to pick up their stuff, given it was now pretty much at Jason´s full disposition, as the butler himself had said.

Talia watched him go, watched Titus trot behind him. Jason watched her.

“Goodbye, Talia,” he said.

She didn’t answer. He headed towards the plane as well.

“Jason.”

He didn’t turn. “Yes?”

“Wear the suit with pride.”

He kept walking, but he threw her a nod over his shoulder.

She smiled. “Goodbye, children.”

 


 

 

Dick had been right, that night at the cave. The cowl was heavy, the cape even more so. The suit seemed to have a life of its own, and seemed to think its job was to swallow whoever wore it and suck the wearer into eternal darkness. Jason had been in dark places, had made it out alive and even sane. He could do this. He could overcome this.

“How is it?”

He smiled at the voice in his ear. He looked down at his own body, flexed his hands, watched the dull gleam of the gauntlets under the moonlight. “Overwhelming,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t feel wrong either. The suit fits, at least.”

“You have always been more similar to Bruce physically than I could ever be, no wonder you fill the suit out better than me. You´re the big guy of the family,” Dick told him with amusement.

“Until Damian gets his miraculous growth-spurt and ends up towering over me?”

“You´ll always be the older brother, no matter how tall the younger ones get. That´s what I tell myself, at least.”

Jason snorted. He let his gaze sweep out over Gotham at night. Despite what most people would think, the cowl didn’t impede his vision. In fact, he could say his night vision was enhanced while wearing the cowl, and he could appreciate how lovely the city looked: bright spots of neon-colored lights creating patterns among the darkness that were the buildings, the comforting sounds of the city traveling up even to where he was.

“I never knew how much I missed this,” he said into his comm.

“The city?”

“Yeah. Now I know why he would stare out into the city for hours. I thought he did it because he had super zooming powers and could see fights inside bars from above.”

“Given time he would have probably developed some gadget to do just that, but nah, he was simply a sucker for the scenery.”

Jason gave another snort. “What are you even doing on the line? You´re supposed to be on bedrest for at least another couple weeks, Dick.”

“Names, what did I say about names?”

“What, you want me to call you Nightwing?”

Dick hummed in his ear. “No, that name won´t do anymore. Nightwing could run across rooftops and fight crime. I can´t do that now, unless for fun I guess.”

“You´re not going to fight bad guys with…”

“I was talking about running on rooftops. I´m not going to give that up so easily. Come and do parkour with me one night, that way you can make sure I don´t lose my footing and end up dead in a dumpster. And when we´re done we can go get dinner. I have to make it up to you for our cancelled date.”

Jason rubbed his forehead over the cowl. “Your new name?”

Dick hummed again. “What do you think of Oracle?”

“As in a know-it-all, see-it-all, past, present and future realities and possibilities type of oracle?”

“That is what I want to be to your Batman, yes.”

Jason tried his best not to smile. “Oracle it is then,” he said. “Now that we got that out of the way, where the hell is my backup? I´ve been waiting for ages.”

There was some faint typing, then silence. “On his way, two minutes from your location, actually.”

“Great. We got something for tonight?”

More typing. “Do you believe in coincidences?”

“Not particularly. What´s up?”

“Commissioner Jim Gordon retired last week. I´d heard rumors about it, but thought he wouldn’t do it until next year. The new commissioner took over the Gotham PD yesterday.”

“And coincidently this is my first night with the cowl, which makes it quite a convenient time to go say hi to the new commissioner.”

“You know it.”

Jason sighed. He tilted his head back and stared at the sky. “Looks like even Batman needs to go and play nice with others. Who´s the new commissioner?”

“Jim Gordon´s daughter: Barbara”

“I guess we are not the only ones that like to keep things between family, huh?”

Dick laughed. Before he could say anything, Jason heard the soft landing of feet behind him, the firm footsteps.

“We´ll drop by and say hi to the commissioner. Catch you later, O,” Jason said, disconnected, then turned around.

Damian had made a few changes to the Robin suit, that was what he noticed right away. He eyed the pants, the high boots, couldn’t help but smile when he saw the cape and added hood. A warm feeling settled inside his chest, one that could only be called pride, and it spilled out of his lips in a deep and heartfelt laugh.

Bruce had also laughed like that the first time he saw Jason with the Robin suit.

“Some habits die hard, don’t they?” he asked.

Damian tilted his chin forward, shot him a cocky look as one of his hands rose to touch his hood. “Less talking, more moving,” he said. He walked past Jason to the edge of the rooftop. He propped one of his legs on top of the very edge. “What is the plan for tonight, Batman?”

Jason remembered his first night out as Robin. He remembered propping up his foot on what had been his favorite gargoyle and asking Bruce something very similar.

“Plan?” he echoed, glided over to where Damian was and ruffled his brother´s hair. He climbed onto the very edge of the building, closed his eyes and soaked in the cool night air for a couple of seconds When he opened them again, Damian was standing beside him. The two of them exchanged glances. White teeth gleamed in the dark.

 “I don’t do plans,” Jason said, and they both jumped off the edge, plunged into the darkness below.

 


 

 

Dick would later ask who had screamed with utter and complete joy while falling. Jason would blame it all on Damian. Damian would insist it was Jason.

In truth, they had both screamed, and it had been the most freeing scream of their lives.