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The Ties That Bind

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Prologue: Eight Years ago.

“It is time.” Ubu says, from where he stood at the door of the room. Talia doesn’t spare him a glance, nor does she turn from window where she has been watching the desert in the darkness. It has been raining for the past two days. A storm unlike anything that has passed through the desert in over a decade. It only just let up a few hours ago, and her men had taken advantage of the peace that seem to come over the desert.

Talia thinks it is fitting for the occasion.

From her spot by the window, she nods her head. “Leave us,” she commands just loud enough that the guards outside the door know it applies to them too.

Once she’s sure she is alone, she walks up to the body stretched out on the platform. Her fingers trace his pale face, pushing his hair back before trailing down to the cut on his throat. Fresh tears roll down her face at the sight.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. She wasn’t supposed to lose her son like this. She wasn’t careless as her beloved had been with his safety. How is it that despite all her efforts, she still let him die a second time?

The little voice in the back of her mind reminded her it was because of her weakness. She is an Al Ghul. Emotions are a sign of weakness to be used against her enemies, and her father’s actions had only re-enforced the lessons she was taught as a child.

Talia did not plan to love the boy when her father had placed him in her care when his men first brought him. But when she learned her father wishes to dispose of him after a year, she knew she had to do something. She was already attached to the boy, who despite his limitations had been easy to love. He evoked emotions in her that she only felt for her son, and she would not watch him die any more than she could watch her son die.

Then her father had discovered what she had done. He would punish her for him, but he found that the pit hadn’t restored Jason’s memories, only his body. So he took the boy in his service as payment for pit that has been used to restore his life.

Talia had been agreeable. If only it meant she would have the boy with her. It wasn’t long before she started to think of the boy as hers. He may have no memories of his life before the league, but his instincts and muscle memories were still intact. He quickly became one of the most formidable warriors in the league. Despite his easy acceptance of the league’s practices, he was never a blind follower.

She raised Jason and Damian as brothers. She made Jason an Al Ghul in all but name and the other assassins were quick to treat him as such. He may be one of them, but they knew he is her son and that he should be treated like a prince of the Al Ghul blood, despite not sharing even a drop of it.

Her father never cared about how much she favoured him, until refused to follow Ra’s orders to kidnap a child. Ra’s, who has been obsessed with prolonging life and defying death as long as he has been alive, wanted the child so he could experiment on it. Jason had boldly refused to be a part of child experimentation.

It wasn’t the first time Jason had refused an order he didn’t agree with, after three years with the league, only he can decide on the missions he wishes to be a part of, and he was always careful to investigate his target to avoid hurting innocent people or civilian casualties. Even though he had no memories if her beloved, Talia could see clearly the lessons he had instilled in Jason.

For his disobedience, Ra’s had cut his throat.

He blamed her for spoiling the boy, and making him dare to think he was more than an assassin in Ra's service.

Her men had built a funeral pyre and they were waiting for her to release Jason’s body for his funeral.

She supposes this way, he would get the rest he never had in life. He mind wanders to Damian who hasn’t left his room since the incident, two days ago. This is not the life she wants for her son. She had let herself become a puppet for her father, but she would not let her son fall into the same hole she dug for herself trying to gain her father’s approval. Jason’s fate would be Damian’s too if she lets him continue on the path her father has set for him. After all, what use is an heir to a man who plans to live forever?

She wipes the tears from her eyes and leans in to press a kiss to Jason’s forehead. “Rest well, sweet child.” She rises to call the guards, but a groan stops her in her place.

She watches Jason move his head to the side minutely, letting out another weak groan.

“Jason?” She whispers. What are the chances that this child would defy death a second time?

His eyes flutter open to reveal a pair of dull eyes that were lifeless only a few minutes ago. The cut on his throat starts bleeding again as he tries to follow the sound of her voice.

She rushes back to where she had been only a moment ago, one hand coming to rest on the bleeding wound.

“T?” Jason rasps, but it is almost inaudible. She can feel the air on her hand when it’s resting on his neck.

“I’m here.” She comforts him, taking his other hand, which is slowly rising in temperature, in her free hand. “You must remain quiet now so you don’t hurt yourself further.”

She takes her shawl off and wraps in around his throat before calling for Ubu, her most trusted guard. It will not be wise to alert everyone of what has happened.

Ubu did not look startled nor does he question her when he sees Jason alive. He only provides the supplies she asked him to stitch her son’s neck and discretely choose one of the guards to take Jason’s place on the funeral pyre.

****

“School?” Jason asks, making sure to infuse enough scepticism in the lone word. He’s wrapped in thick blankets to protect him from the cold and he has to resist scratching the itch in his throat, but besides that, he feels better than he did a few hours ago.

“Yes, school.” Talia tells her. She just returned from what is supposed to be his funeral. Jason really doesn’t want to think about what that means. “You love learning, and it is the only place you will be safe from Ra’s.”

“You always said school is for people who can’t afford a proper education.” He challenges.

“Jason, even I went college.” Her eyes soften as she reaches out to touch him. She's been very touchy since he woke up. “Don’t you want to build a life for yourself outside of all this? To be your own man?”

He wants that. He has thought about it a lot, when he gets an order he disagrees with, or doesn’t sit right with him. But the league is all he has ever known, and now he can’t be here anymore. Talia wants to send him away from his family, from Damian, his little brother. He hasn’t even seen the brat since he woke up because she says it’s not safe.

“But why can’t I have that in Gotham? You said I had family there.” He asks. “They have a school I can attend. It practically a win-win.”

Talia scowls at the mention of Gotham University. “Jason, not even my Beloved can keep you safe from my father if he learns you have cheated death a second time. How do you think you came to be with the league in the first place? He is obsessed with extending his life, what do you think will happen to you if he knows you’re alive?” there’s no mistaking the hysteria in her voice. Her finger trails over his face, and the look in her eyes is pleading. “Oxford is far away from home, but it is also far away from Ra’s. You will be safe there, Jason. You are a bright boy with a bright future. I don’t want you to be the subject of Ra’s obsession.”

He takes a deep breath. She’s not wrong. If Ra’s gets word of his survival, well, death has already shown that it’s only temporary where he is concerned, so it won't even save him from what Ra’s will do to him. “What about you and Damian?”

She straightens. “Let me worry about that. You keep yourself out of Ra’s radar.”

“Okay,” He nods. “Looks like I’m going to London.”

Chapter Text

Eight years after prologue: London

 

“Jason!” Jason turns around at the sound of his name to see Amy Ward, one of his closest friends and colleague speeding up to catch up with him. They are both on call this morning at the London Memorial Hospital, so he waits for her to catch up. “I’m so happy to see you."

“Nope,” He shoots her down. Amy has been a very close friends since he was employed as a Trauma Attending. He spent a year after his residency working as a doctor without border before he finally returned to London to settle down. Amy, who he met through a friend from med school helped him with the transition and they’ve been very close since then. Just looking at her, he knows she’s about to ask for something he wouldn’t like.

 

“Oh common!” She whined. “You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

 

Jason laughs, drawing her into a hug. “I know you, Ames. I already know it’s something I won’t like.”

 

“But you love me!” She continues as they step into the elevator together. “I promise, this is the last time I’ll try to set you up.”

 

Jason laughs at that. If he had a dime for every time he heard that. Amy has made it her life’s goal to help him find the love of his life. All his protests have fallen on deaf ears. “If only I can believe you’re capable of keeping that promise. The moment this date doesn’t work out, you’ll be trying to set me up with the next single person you know.” He shakes his head.

 

“If you will only give this one a chance, I promise she’s different.” She pleads, but Jason has stopped listening. The elevator stops at their floor and they head to the locker room to change into their scrubs together. Jason has to do a few rounds and check on a couple of his post op patients. He spends the day going through the motions of life as a medical doctor.

 

Jason never thought his life would here when he woke up in the pit almost ten years ago, with no memory of who or where he was. But Talia had taken him in and given him a place in her family. A life that has been stolen from him too soon. Not that it was a total loss.

 

Life as an assassin is not one Jason is sorry to leave behind, he just wishes leaving it didn’t have to mean leaving his mother and brother too. He misses them every day and some days, he’s so home sick he almost packs up and go back home but that would be worse than being homesick in London.

 

His home isn’t among the league anymore. Talia and Damian left Ra’s and the league shortly after him. After Ra’s killed him for disobeying orders, death had lasted only two days before it rejected him yet again. Talia, who knew what Ra’s would do to him if he discovers Jason has the ability to defy death had had Jason smuggled out of the desert the night after his funeral. She created a new identity for him, giving him her name and a chance at a new life.

 

He’d been sceptical when she suggested he go to school, but he knows now that she had been right. The four walls of school is the one place Ra’s would not think to search for him, or even pay attention to. Ra’s has eyes on every vigilante and superhero operating anywhere in the world, and with the set of skills he got from his time in the league, vigilantism was the only place Jason would fit in.

 

With the chance to build a life that did not include daily violence, Jason chose to study medicine, partly to understand why he couldn’t stay dead and partly to make up for the destruction he let himself be used to cause. It gave him a purpose and left him feeling fulfilled at the end of the day. It’s a life Jason never knew he wanted until he got.

 

“Hi, Dr Jay,” Abigail calls when she sees him. He returns her greeting with a wide smile.

 

“Hello Abigail, Mrs Miller.” He nods to her mother. “I hear someone is getting their cast taken off today.”

 

Abigail, his energetic nine year old patient stretches her arm to show off the cast that will soon be removed. She’s had broken her arm when she fell off a swing she tried to turn into a gymnastic equipment at school.

 

“Yes!” She smiles brightly and then pouts at him. “It’s so itchy.”

 

“Well, love. It's a good thing it's coming off. Just don't go turning swings into gymnastic equipment again.”

 

Sometimes, Jason wonders what Damian is like as a teenager. He hasn’t seen his little brother since his second death, besides the pictures that his mom sends him. The little boy he left without saying goodbye had been too serious with an uptight personality that had no place in a child. His toys included swords and daggers and he knew over fifty ways to kill a man by the time he was eight.

 

During their time together, Jason tried to get the child to loosen up and act his age but Damian always argued it was not a behaviour befitting an Al Ghul heir, no matter how much he enjoyed their activities. Jason may not have any memories of his life before Talia pushed him in the pit and Ra’s made him one of his assassins, but he knew it was no way to raise a child.

 

Talia had tried to change things when Jason began to protest, but even Jason can see the damage had been done. He can only hope that now that Damian has gone to live with his father, his life has improved significantly. Talia said leaving Damian with his father was the best protection she could get for him. It kept him out of Ra’s reach, focusing his attention on Talia. But Talia has cut ties with her father and she was in Metropolis now, although Jason hasn’t been there. Escaping from Ra’s clutches did not save them from his spies.

 

After removing Abigail’s cast, he receives a call about multiple accident victims incoming. The rest of his day is spent in the operating room treating accident patients and by the time he is done with the last one, it’s a new day. It’s not the first time Jason has had to stay longer than his shift. He’s used to it at this point and it beats going back to an empty apartment.

 

When he’s done with his last patient, he goes to the doctor’s longue where most of his colleagues go to relax when they have a break. Amy is there when he enters and he drops next to her on the couch. She welcomes him with a tired smile which he returns before nodding to another colleague, Dr Elliot Grant, who’s staring at the computer screen.

 

“What’s with him?” He asks Amy. He gets a non-committal shrug as answer before she’s dozing off. He rises from his spot, walking around the computer to stand beside Grant. “You okay?” He asks with a nudge on Grant’s shoulder.

 

Grant startles before collecting himself. “Yeah, I’m fine.” He tells Jason absently.
Jason debates with himself for a moment if he should leave the issue alone, before dismissing the thought. He looks closely at the chest x-ray Grant has been staring at. “What are you looking for?”

 

“I’m trying to figure out where I went wrong.” Grant tells him with a sigh. “Guy showed up this morning, I ran these and discharged him. Two hours later he’s wheeled in with a massive MI.” He says, gesturing at the pictures on the screen. “How did I miss it?”

 

“What was the lesion?”

 

“Right coronary.”

 

Jason checks the x-ray for all the details he could have missed the first time, but there was nothing new there. “I know what I’m looking for and I can’t see any abnormalities.”

 

Grant sighs again. “I got the guy back, but it’s not good.”

 

When he decided to be a doctor, it was because he wanted to save lives. Make up for the ones he took during his service to Ra’s. He knows some of his marks deserved to die for their crimes, but not all of them did. It wasn’t until he started practicing he realized death was part of the job. No matter what you did, there are some people who have already given up and can’t be saved. No matter how many patients you lose, it doesn’t get easier.

 

A few hours later, Jason is ready to call it a day. This has been one of his busiest shifts and it’s finally over. He has the day off tomorrow, so he checks up on his current patients one last time before heading for the elevator. He pulls his phone out of his pocket, turning off the do-not-disturb option before calling he calls his mom. Just as he is about to hit send, one of the nurses rushes up to him.

 

“Dr Head!” The nurse calls, He looks relieved to see Jason. “We have an ambulance coming in and most of the doctors on call are busy with other patients.”

 

Jason sighs, he wants to tell the nurse to get someone else but he remembers the oat he took during his graduation. In for a penny. This is why he went to medical school after all. He quickly puts his lab coat on his dress shirt and slacks before heading outside to wait for the ambulance to arrive.

 

“What do we have?” He asks the paramedic as she carefully pulls the trolley out of the car.

 

“Alfred Pennyworth, Male, 73. Hip fracture from a fall and possible concussion.”

 

Jason listens as the parmedic continues to recite all the steps they took to bring the patient in, but he focuses on the patient himself. The elderly man is awake and conscious, no sign of bleeding but his face is very pale and eyes wide as he stares at Jason while he is escorted into the hospital.

 

“Hi, Mr Pennyworth, I’m Dr Jason Head and I’ll be your doctor today.” Jason introduces himself with what he hopes is a reassuring smile, because the man’s eyes hasn’t left him and he’s still very pale. It’s a little unnerving. Jason is used to people staring at the scar on his throat but this is different. It’s almost like this man has seen a ghost.

 

Thankfully, his niece came with him. She’s the one who called the ambulance after Mr Pennyworth’s accident, so she answers his questions while he continues to stare at him.

 

“You have a mild concussion and you’ll need an MRI scan for us to determine the severity of your hip fracture. Have you been experiencing any pains prior to your fall, Mr Pennyworth?”

 

“If you’ll be treating me today, you may as well call me Alfred.” MR Pennyworth—Alfred tells him dazedly. “Can I call you Jason, Dr Head?”

 

Jason shrugs. “Sure, you can.” It’s not the first time a patient has requested to address him by his first name.

 

After that, it’s as though Alfred has found his wits and he answers all of Jason’s questions.

 

While preparing Alfred for his scan, his phone begins to ring and Jason wants to groan. He forgot to put it back in silent mode. “Excuse me,” He says, taking out the phone to silence it. “I forgot I removed it from silence earlier.”

 

Alfred is still watching Jason with a keen eye.
“You can accept the call. I presume it must be important.”

 

“It’s my mom, checking up on me.” Jason dismisses. “I’ll call her when I’m less busy.”

 

Alfred’s stare intensifies at his words, and Jason fights the urge to shift from foot to foot like a naughty child. “You are a long way from home.” He observes to Jason as he is being wheeled to the MRI machine.

 

The observation jolts something in Jason. It is only years of training in the league that stops him from panicking. “How can you tell?”

 

“Your accent. It’s a mix of American and Middle Eastern, depending on your words.”

 

This man is very observant and normally, Jason would panic but there’s something calming about him. His accent was different from everyone around him when he woke up in the pit. It wasn’t until Talia told him where he was from he realised he spoke like Americans.

Time with the league also shaped it, but he’s been working hard to lose the Middle Eastern accent since he left the league. He must have let his guard down for this man if it’s showing again after so long.

 

“I guess you can say that. My family moved around a lot but we mostly lived in those two places.” Jason lies. He hopes it comes out believably. Lying is one art he never learned. He doesn’t even know why he’s trying to justify his accents to this man, or why he cares.

 

But Alfred is not done prodding. “Why did you choose to settle down in England?”

 

“I attended med school in Oxford University. I guess it became my home after that.” Another lie. After medical school, he tried to leave England and build a life elsewhere but during his time as a doctor without border, he had a few close calls with Ra’s assassins and had to return to London. England is the one country Ra’s doesn’t have a strong hold. It’s why Talia sent him here in the first place, and as long as he stayed out of the public eye, he is safe.

 

“I know what you mean.” Alfred nods, still watching him eerily. “This used to be home, but it has not been that for over forty years. I still have family here but I’ve built another one across the pond.” He gives Jason a little smile that looks a little sad. “What about you? Do you have family here?”

 

He shakes his head, thinking about his mom and brother that he hasn’t seen in years. “Mine is across the pond too.”

 

Jason thinks there’s a sheen of tears in Alfred’s eyes as he helps him into the machine to scan him but it could be the reflection of the light.

 

There’s just something about this old man that seems very familiar. He’s been getting flashes of memories since his second death, nothing he can make sense of and it never bothered him but as he watches Alfred in the MRI machine, he can’t help but wish he could remember his life before his first death.

Chapter Text

It is almost midday by the time Jason is done with Alfred. Turns out, the elderly man has suffered a fracture in his femoral neck and needed surgery. Of course, Jason was ready to have the surgery almost immediately, but his patient insisted on waiting till later in the evening. He had left the man and his niece alone to debate the issue, while he got some food and rest himself. He hadn’t slept in almost forty eight hours, and while it wasn’t the longest he’d gone without sleep, he didn’t want to take chances with the health of his patients.

The cafeteria is filled with both hospital staff and patients’ families when he enters. After getting his food he joins his friends, Amy, Grant and Stevens at their usual table. “Hey, guys.” He greets the three of them at the table, as he pulls out the fourth seat for himself.

“Hey!” They all return his greeting.

“I thought you were gone?” Stephen asks.

Jason shrugs. “Had a new patient come in just as I was about to leave. He’s scheduled for surgery later this evening, so I’m staying till then.” He looks at Amy. “Isn’t your shift over?”

She shrugs a dainty shoulder. “I’m filling in for Edward. He has a family thing.”

They continue their conversation as they have their meal, Stephen is telling them about a patient he had this morning when he feels a nudge from Amy’s elbow. “Your phone’s ringing.

She says, staring at the phone he placed on the table when he sat down. True to her words, it is ringing silently. Dread creeps up his spine when he sees the caller id.

“Let me guess,” Grant says in an amused tone. “Your mum?”

He’s not wrong, but Jason’s response is a glare. Instead of replying Grant, he swipes the receive call option with an attitude of a man about to face a firing squad.

“Hey, mom.” He starts in Arabic, ready to apologize before she can get any word in but she doesn’t give him a chance.

“Jason.” Her tone alone, is enough to shut him up.

“I was attending to a patient when you called earlier. That’s why I couldn’t take your call.”

“And how do you explain the three days before that? If you think you are too busy to answer your calls, then you leave me no choice but to assign guards to you.”

Jason almost snorts at that, like she doesn’t already have her people keeping an eye on him. He has reason to believe that one of the nurses that works at the hospital is her spy, but he’s not supposed to know that so he doesn’t call her on it. Besides, distance is not a hindrance when Talia Al Ghul decides he needs his ass handed to him.

He pushes his seat back, standing up from the lunch table to get some privacy for the rest of the call. “Mom, I’m fine, I promise. I’ve just been busy lately.”

“How do I know that when you don’t call or answer your calls?” Talia asks. It makes Jason pause because, not because Talia doesn’t show emotions to him—she’s been letting her emotions show where he’s concerned since he died. She has been different since he woke up to her red rimmed eyes and tear stained face eight years ago, but this is a different. It makes him wonder what is going on at home.

“Don’t you trust the training you’ve invested in me?” He asks, trying to lighten the mood.

“Habibi, it is not you I don’t trust.”

“I’m sorry, mom.” He apologises again. “I’ll try to always keep in touch.”

“How have you been since we last spoke?” She asks, changing the subject.

Since he left the league, he spoke with Talia almost every day. At first it was to make sure he was settling in well, but later it became to ensure Ra’s hasn’t found him and strapped him to a laboratory bed somewhere. Because of that, they’ve gotten even very close over the years. She’s his best friend and there is almost nothing he cannot talk to her about.

He tells her about his patients, his friends, the places he’s visited and Amy’s attempts to set him up on a date. Talia is thrilled that he has people in his life, and she hasn’t said anything, but he knows she wants him to give one of the people Amy sets him up with a chance.

He doesn’t tell her about his peculiar patient. He tells himself he doesn’t want to worry her, but he’s not sure why, which is strange because he never keeps secrets from his mom.

“Damian has received the painting you sent him,” She tells him when he’s done. “It’s one of his favorite artists.”

“I know. He’s been following his work for years.” Jason tells her.

“An art auction is not where I thought I would ever find you, is all.”

“Hey, I’ll let you know I am cultured.” Jason says in a snooty tone. “A friend of mine has just opened an art gallery. I got it at the opening.”

“Good to know you cultured friends.” She teases.

“You haven’t sent me a picture this month.” He informs her.

“That will change tomorrow.” Talia says softly. “Perhaps, soon you would not have to rely on a photograph to see your brother.”

He’s taken aback by her words. He has to look around him to make sure no one is eavesdropping. “Something I should know, mom?” He asks through the emotions clogging his throat.

“We will talk some more soon, Habibi.” Talia tells him and promptly hangs up.

Is Damian coming to visit him or stay with him permanently? Or maybe Jason is finally going home, though that seems less likely. Mom always complains about Damian’s lifestyle and how he lacks proper adult supervision in his life.
She told him once that his little brother is one of those costumed superheroes running around and she has her hands full, fending off assassins, but from the league and the league’s enemies, because Damian’s father couldn’t be bothered to take the necessary steps to keep him safe.

Jason hates the idea of child superheroes, it’s not different from child soldiers and there is a reason laws exist against them. Children should be protected and kept safe, not burdened with the safety of the world. They shouldn’t be asked to risk their lives for the safety of others. He couldn’t understand why a father would allow his prepubescent son wear tights and fight crime.

Jason remembers when Talia had first introduced them as brothers. Tiny Damian had looked down his nose at Jason, despite the height difference, given him and once over and promptly dismissed him. He’d told his mother that Jason was not an Al Ghul and an incompetent warrior at best, so he was not worthy to be Damian’s brother. Besides, his grandfather had already told him Jason is a league assassin, not his equal.

Jason, for all his lack of memories, could not let the insult stand, and took every chance he had to antagonize the entitled little prick after that. It had taken a while, but somehow, Damian had come around and finally accepted Jason as his brother.

He’s more than a little shaken after the call, and can’t stop thinking about what his mom might have meant, but tries to shake off the feeling before returning to his friends.

“You know,” Grant says when he sits down. “You could tell her you can take care of yourself. You’re practically a man. No need to call the police any day she doesn’t hear from you.”

Jason looks him straight in the eye with a blank stare. “You want me to give you the phone the next time she calls?” He asks. “You can tell her that yourself.” He takes satisfaction in the way the blood drains from his face while Stephen and Amy snigger.

“Oh god,” Amy laughs. “He may just pee his pants.”

“I don’t even understand arabic, but the tone of her voice alone is fucking scary.” Stephen shudders.

He has had to suffer teasing from his friends since they knew he calls his mom every day. They’ve never met her, but they have been present on several different occasions when she was angry with him and scolded him over the phone. Stephen is right, Talia is scary. He doesn’t mind though, he knows they don’t do it to be mean. Besides, it’s better to have a parent who loves you too much, than not enough. He knows that first hand.

A few minutes later, he ready to return to the doctor’s lounge to get some shut eye but Amy requests for a consult.

“What do you need a consult from me for? You’re in the clinic today.” He asks her. The clinic is mostly to handle simple and uncomplicated patients. Most of them don’t need surgery.

“Oh, it’s not for my patient.” She tells him. “The consult is for her son. She’s schizophrenic and a single mother. Her son is fifteen at best, even though he’s claiming to be eighteen. I just want you to talk to him.”

“Why don’t you do it? I have to rest before my surgery.” He grumbles.

“You know I’m useless when it comes to dealing with kids, but they have no problems opening up to you and I really need someone that can get through to this kid.”

“That’s because I care,” He tells her with an eye roll but he still follows her out of the cafeteria.

 

*****

 

Nightwing grins at Batgirl as they finish rounding up the last of the goons. There had been a mass Arkham breakout earlier in the week and the Bats have been busy working to find all prisoners that broke out before they did too much damage to Gotham. It had been a busy few days, but it looks like they had finally gotten the last of them.

“Think you can wait for the GPD?” Batgirls asks, from where she’s leaning beside a wall. “If I leave now, I can still get some shut eye before my shift at the clinic. Leslie will have my hide if I’m late again this week.”

Dick grins. “She riding you hard, huh?”

“Like a drill sergeant.” She says, grinning at him. “Apparently, ‘I was busy saving Gotham last night’ is not a valid reason for a nurse to be late to work. I made a commitment to my patients and colleagues, and I have to honor it.”

Stephanie has just started work at Gotham Central as a nurse. She’s following in her mom’s footsteps and Dick couldn’t be more proud of her.

“I’ve got this.” He gestures for her to go. No need to keep her waiting with him when the hard work is practically done.

He remains until the police arrive to collect the guys they’ve captured, and heads to the cave. With Alfred taking a vacation to England and the Arkham breakout, it has been quite the few days. Thankfully, Alfred should be on the next flight out and Gotham will have a few slow nights with all the rogues back in Arkham.

He checks on the rest of his siblings on his comm, but only Cass and Bruce are still out. Tim broke his leg when he didn’t stick the landing while falling off a story building during a fight earlier in the week and Damian has returned early.
The cave is empty, except for Tim, who is busy working on old cases.

“Shouldn’t you be staying off that leg?” He asks Tim, who only nods to acknowledge his presence.

“I’m off it,” Tim gestures to the chair he’s sitting on, not bothering to look at him. “How was patrol?”

“Okay, we caught the last of Two Face’s goons.”

Dick quickly strips out of his Nightwing uniform and takes a shower before checking his phone for messages while he was out. He frowns when he sees a message from Alfred. It’s a short message. A name.

“Dr Jason Head.”

The first name gives Dick a pause, his eyes flicking to the display case at the side of the cave, momentarily. He has never been able to look at someone with the first name Jason the same way since he lost his brother.

Well, he thinks, if Alfred is sending him the name of a doctor, it must be for a reason. He calls Alfred back to find out his reason, but there’s no answer. His flight must have taken off.

Dick settles himself in front of one of the computers in the cave and decides to do a little research on Dr Head.

After about an hour of research, he has only the barest knowledge of Dr Head. Graduated from Oxford University, top five in his class, worked as a doctor without border for a year and published a paper that was featured in the Journal of Trauma, Critical Care and Acute Care Surgery. He couldn’t even get a photograph of Dr Head anywhere.

“This is serious.” Dick exclaims. How hard could it be to get information on a medical doctor?

“What’s serious?” Tim asks, stretching over to see his screen.

“This doctor I’m researching.” He explains to Tim why he’s investigating the guy. “Maybe he didn’t really attend Oxford?” He suggests when he’s done.

“I think I’ve come across that name before," Tim tells him. “Remember when Bruce needed surgery two years ago after he broke his spine, and Alfred had to call in a friend from Oxford?” He asks Dick, at his nod, Tim continues. “Well, the guy kept talking about one of his students, Jason Head, that was supposed to make the trip with him but he had to cancel last minute. Sounded very proud of the guy.”

Dick pauses. “So, he went to Oxford, but he’s practically a ghost.” He complains but before Tim can respond, a Bruce interrupts.

“Who went to Oxford?” Bruce asks, standing behind them and staring at the computer, still dressed in his suit. Dick doesn’t even know when he returned from patrol.

They caught Bruce up on the work, and Bruce is unnaturally still as he listens. When they’re done, he speaks up.

“Alfred is in the hospital.” Bruce says. “His neice called to inform me. He broke his hips and needs surgery. This Dr Head must be his doctor.”

“Did she tell you the hospital he was taken to?” Tim asks.

“London Memorial Hospital.”

Tim immediately gets on it, while Bruce takes a seat, not even bothering to change out of his uniform. Now that they have a starting point, it’s easier to get information. From his employee files at the hospital, they got his address and other personal details about Dr Head.

From his finances, he looks like someone that would run in the same circles with Bruce and Tim. He comes from old money but he’s also a hard worker, which showed from his grades and reports from his professors. He was orphaned at nine when his mother died of cancer, and his father was killed in a robbery incident two years before that. He moved for a few years after that, before returning to London for college.

Despite all of this, they couldn’t get a clear picture of Dr Head. His graduation picture from college and a passport photograph from his employee file were all they could find. It’s almost like he went out of his way to avoid having his photograph taken.

There is just something off about Dr Head that made it hard to drop the case. Everything they found about him, just made Dick want to dig in some more. It didn’t help that most of the information they found on him were buried under encrypted files. Despite how picture perfect the guy seemed from a glance, Dick knew there was more to him.

If he is Alfred’s doctor, they couldn’t take any chances with him. Alfred must have agreed with them if he wanted the doctor looked into. They lost track of time during their investigations. A couple of hours after dawn, they were still debating and investigating Dr Head when Damian walked into the cave.

“Father, I know you said—” Damian started only to cut himself off. When Dick looked back at him questioningly, wondering what stopped Damian, he finds his little brother staring wide eyed and pale at the enlarged picture of Dr Head on the computer screen.

Chapter Text

Digging into Dr Head’s life unearths memories for Bruce that he has worked very hard to bury when he buried his son. Jason as a first name is common enough that he almost doesn’t notice it until they discover even more details about Dr Head’s early life. The parallels between his early life and Bruce’s son’s is hard to miss and Bruce can’t help but wonder what his Jason would have been up to now if he had been allowed to grow into the adult that Bruce hoped he would be when he adopted the orphan from Crime Alley.

He can easily imagine his Jason as a doctor. Jason would have been a great doctor. Or even a lawyer, or an engineer, or even CEO of Wayne Enterprises. Jason would have excelled at any path he chose academically, because he was always very happy to learn. If only he’d had the chance to achieve his dreams.

The picture only served to reinforce the memories. As blurry as they are, it’s easy to look at the blurry features and imagine Jason’s face.

Bruce has to consciously push the thoughts away, and look at the situation as a detective and not a grieving father. It has been twelve years, and he is better at compartmentalization. No need to let himself be distracted by memories.

Bruce’s head whips up to see what had cut the rest of Damian’s speech. It is rare that Damian lets it show that he’s been ruffled by something that isn’t an animal in distress, and he has told his youngest many times that his pets are not welcome in the cave but without Alfred to reinforce the rules, finding one of Damian’s many pets in the cave wouldn’t be the first rule he has broken this week.

Bruce is already half preparing himself for the fallout that will undoubtedly follow if one of the pets have been harmed, but when he turns to look at Damian, he finds the teenagers staring wide eyed at the picture of the current person of interest to the family of vigilantes.

“Damian?” He calls worriedly, mind already going through the different reasons why his son has a reaction to Dr Head.

Damian tears his eyes away from the photograph to look at his father but he doesn’t move any closer. “What are you doing?” He asks.

Before Bruce can answer, Dick speaks up. “Do you know who he is?”

At that, Damian walks further into the cave, closer to where they are huddled together, investigating the life of Jason Head. “Who is he?” Damian asks, instead of answering the question.

As Dick explains Alfred’s accident and the message that has prompted them into looking into the doctor’s life (and he doesn’t want to question Alfred’s choice to give Dick this case when he could have easily given it to Bruce in the first place), Bruce watches Damian. The distress that was there when he first came in has eased, he looks calm and collected now.

“You looked like you’ve seen a ghost,” Tim comments after Dick is done catching Damian up with how far they’ve come. “Have you come across him before?”

Damian’s gaze flickers from Tim to the screen with the blurry, enlarged class photo on the screen. “He looks like one of Ra’s assassins.” Damian says. “The features are not clear but from a glance, they look alike.”

Bruce sees Dick shift in his seat and he knows he’s not the only one who notes just how reluctant Damian is to talk about his life in the league. When Damian had first come to live with Bruce eight years ago, mentioning anything about Ra’s or the league in his presence was the quickest way to get stabbed.

The little eight year old child had been a little ball of anger and grief. At first, Bruce honestly thought it was because he preferred life with in the league where he didn’t his position as Ra’s heir was threatened but Damian had shut that down fast, even though he never spoke about what was bothering him. He’d just assumed something had happened to traumatize the child and left it at that.

“Why would Ra’s assassin be working in a hospital?” Tim asks. “I didn’t know he has a base in London. Do you think planning something?” The last question is directed at Bruce but Damian answers anyway.

“He does not have a stronghold in London, and it is impossible that this doctor works for grandfather.” Damian tells him confidently.

“Why do you say that?” Bruce asks.

He looks at Bruce before taking another glance at the picture. “Because he is dead. Ra’s had him executed for insubordination.”

“Maybe he brought him back,” Tim offers, unwilling to let it drop. “If everyone thinks he’s dead, he’ll be the person guy to send for an undercover mission. No one will see him coming.”

The glare Damian sends Tim could have melted the skin off his bones. “Like grandfather would ever allow anyone who is not him access to the pits, let alone an assassin. Unless he has discovered a way to revive a person from their ashes using the Lazarus pit, then that too is impossible, seeing as how he was cremated.”

“At least we can rule out the league.” Dick says, sounding relieved.

“We’ll have to have Alfred transferred home as soon as he’s safe to travel.” Bruce tells his children. He doesn’t want to have Alfred at the mercy of this unknown doctor. “You wanted something?” He asks Damian.

“Yes. I am heading out to join the titans for a few days.” Damian informs him.

He thinks about refusing him permission, the boy has hardly spent any time at him in the last month, but Damian hardly has any friends his age outside of other superhero sidekicks. He would let him go, and calls him back if he doesn’t return before Alfred does so they can all get some time together as a family. With Dick, Cassandra and Tim off living in their own apartments, they hardly spend time together as a family outside their costumes.

He hears his bones pop when he rises from his seat to change out of his costume. It has been a long week and his body is protesting the lack of rest. After changing, he herds Dick and Tim upstairs to get some sleep. They can continue looking into Dr Head’s life when they are sufficiently rested.

 

*****

 

The decision to go to San Francisco was made on the spur of the moment. He had gone to father with the intention to revisit their discussions about his studies, but he had not expected to find his father and brother digging through what looks to be the life of his dead brother. Not acknowledging the real relationship between him and who he believes to be the man in the picture before him on the other hand, was deliberate.

The topic of Jason had always been a sore one since his death, and not just because Damian regrets not stopping his grandfather when the mad decided Jason was no longer useful to his cause. Damian regrets not paying his last respects to his brother by being present for his funeral. He regrets letting mother talk him out of it; one of the many crimes he would never forgive her.

Damian knew something had happened to Jason during his last mission with the league. Despite his brother’s attempts to shield Damian from the horrors of the real world they lived in, Jason could not hide it. Damian had seen the signs, and he had feared for his brother’s safety. It was only a matter of time before something truly damning happened, and if it hadn’t been Ra’s who struck the final blow, it would have been someone else.

Something had happened in the weeks before his death that made Jason believe he deserved to die, and if Damian could see it, then their mother should have seen it too. Damian would never forgive her for waiting until Jason died to leave the league.

Damian is not stupid. Despite his attempts at wilful ignorance, there has always been a part of him that suspected his father’s dead Robin and his dead brother may be one and the same person. Even though he never spoke to them about his late brother, he had listened with feigned disinterest on the rare occasions they talked about the dead Robin. He has seen a picture of him in Richard’s bedroom and he would recognise his brother anywhere, at any age.

But father’s Robin is dead, and Damian had met Jason before the pit and before Ra’s banned anyone from ever mentioning anything about Jason’s past. Jason hadn’t been dead when he was brought to the league. Bruce had recovered his son’s remains from the rumble of the warehouse Robin had gone to confront the joker and they’d buried him in Gotham. If his grandfather had robbed his Robin’s grave, his father would have known.

Or that’s how Damian convinced himself Jason could not be the dead Robin.

He has heard the words they said about the dead Robin and he refuses to have his memories of Jason tainted with their memories of Robin. There could be other explanations for why they both look identical, but even if they were one and the same people, Jason and Robin lived in two different lifetimes and now they are both dead, so it doesn’t matter one way or another.

Except there is a man, the same age Jason would be if Ra’s hadn’t run his blade through Jason’s throat, who bears the same first name as his brother and the last name as his mother. A man who has built a life for himself in London, coincidentally, the same location where Damian has traced the last present mother sent him.

What were the chances that Dr Jason Cater Head is Damian’s elder brother, who he was forced to watch die eight years ago and the same Robin his father buried twelve years ago?

That is the question running through Damian’s mind as quickly writes down the information he read off the cave computer about Dr Head on a sheet of paper, so he doesn’t forget it. He pack a few clothes and his costume in a bag, checks to make sure he has enough cash and and calls a cab to take him to the airport, just in case father is monitoring the calls.

He thinks about calling mother, but promptly dismisses the thought.

Once he arrives at the airport, he finds a secluded area and calls for Superboy. Jon arrives almost instantly.

“What’s up?” Jon asks, grinning. He takes a look around where they are. “What are you doing here? Are you going somewhere? I thought your dad wanted you to spend more time at home?”

Damian sighs. Jon is a dear friend but he could do without all the chattering. “I need you to take me to London.” He says, and he can see the boy is about to go off on a tangent again, so he raises a hand to stop the words before they escape. “Alfred has been in an accident. I wish to pay him a visit. You are familiar with Alfred’s heartbeat, yes?”

Jon pauses to consider Damian’s words. “Yeah, I am. Are we coming back today? I don’t think Dad would let me spend the night in London.”

“You only have to drop me off, I will take a commercial flight back, or call you when I am ready to leave.” Damian offers.

“But what if something comes up and you get into trouble?” Jon asks. Damian is torn between being touch and annoyed that Jon thinks he needs him to help him if he does get into trouble.

“Then I’ll call for you.”

Jon takes a few minutes to find Alfred’s heartbeat before they take off in its direction. It wouldn’t be difficult to find Jason when he gets there. If there is a chance his brother is still alive, Damian will do whatever it takes to find him.

 

*****

 

“It is only a sprain, Master Jason.” Jason feels the phantom touch on his ankle. “As long as you keep your weight off the foot, it should heal nicely.”

“Okay,” Jason can hear the relief in his voice. He moves to rise from the hospital bed. “Thanks, Alfie.”

“By that, I meant stay off it, Master Jason.” Comes the scolding, but Jason has already gone off.

Jason gets a kick to the gut that sends him flying towards the other end of the mat. It serves to break his line of thought and bring him back to the present.

His sparring partner (more like teacher) of the day stands straight as Jason picks himself off the ground. “We are done for the today.” He tells Jason. “You are obviously distracted. Deal with it before our session tomorrow or I will inform your mother of your decline.” His teacher warns.

Despite practically shoving him into civilian life, his mom had not relented in his training. Every other day, he trains with a teacher of her choosing who comes to train him at home and when he can get away for a few days, she sends him to a new teacher.

Jason wants to protest but his phone lets out a beep to indicate he has a message from the hospital. Upon checking the time, he finds he has a couple of hours left before his shift starts. He nods absently to his teacher and goes to the elevator that will take him directly to his penthouse suit.

He has mixed feelings about showing up at the hospital today, chief of which is because he’s not sure he’s ready to face Alfred. Since he woke up from the dream that is so obviously a memory of his past life, Jason has been reviewing his meeting with his latest patient. He should have realized that the man’s reaction was not the usual one he’s used to getting from patients.

It’s a lapse in judgement that could have cost Jason his life, and he’s been trained better. His observational skills have been honed through years of looking over his shoulder. Sure, the memory indicate that they got on very well in his past life if Jason had a nickname for Alfred while he was obviously in a position of author over the elderly man but that doesn’t explain how Jason came to be with the league. Things may have changed, the man could be a hostile force. He never should have let his guard down like that.

Jason still doesn’t know the circumstances surrounding his death before the league and Ra’s had made talking about Jason’s past a taboo, but that does not explain where his family was when the league took him. It is only one of the reasons he didn’t bother looking them up after he left the league.

The elevator doors open and he steps into his apartment. He spares a moment to admire the enlarged portrait of his mom— Catherine, not Talia. His memory of Catherine had been the first of many he ever recovered after Ra’s had killed him.

He’d dreamed that night of a woman running her hands through his hair as he laid in her lap, tears running down her face as she alternates between apologizing to him and begging him not to die. At first he’d thought it was Talia. It painted a similar picture of the one he woke up to after his execution but Talia had never used the word Baby in all the time he’d known her. That had been his first clue.

A few days after the recurring dream, he’d confided in Talia. After some investigations, Talia had brought the information he could find about the woman in Jason’s dreams and Jason’s new identity.

A few years later, while in college, Jason had visited an amusement park with some friends from college. The sight of a clown there had left Jason in a shock that had his friends freaking out so badly, his friends had to call Talia.

She’d made one of her rare trips to visit Jason and that was the day Jason found out how he died and the fact that he may have been sold out to a mad man dressed as a clown by his biological mother, who was also in the warehouse and was killed by the explosion. It turns out, Talia had found out Sheila was working with the clown who had killed her and Jason when she was searching for information on Jason’s mother.

That was the day Jason accepted Talia as his mother, and for weeks after that, Jason suffered terrible nightmares about the demented laughter of a madman and being hit by a crowbar.

The beeping of his phone distracts Jason from his trip down memory lane. Another glance shows it’s a message from Amy, telling him his presence was needed. He sighs. If Amy’s trying to unload her responsibilities on him, he’ll have to turn her down. He has enough to deal with as it is, without adding hers. Besides, if Alfred turns out to be somebody dangerous, Jason may have to move. It won’t be wise to take in more patients only to leave them hanging.

He calls her, planning to let her know he can’t help her but before he can get a word in, she talks over him. “Your little brother is here.” She says, urgently.

Jason’s mind screeches to a halt. Jason only has one little brother and as far as he knows, Damian believes he’s dead. He thinks back to his call yesterday with Talia, but promptly dismisses it. If his mom was sending Damian to him, she’d inform Jason first. “What are you talking about?” He asks.

“I’m staring at a guy that matches the description of your little brother,” Amy says. “I don’t know what he’s doing or why he’s here but he’s trying to blend in with the patients’ families.”

The wording makes Jason wonder if he’s missed something about Amy. If that person in the hospital is really Damian, his training would have made blending in easier. Amy shouldn’t be able to pick him apart from a crowd. She has seen pictures of Damian before that that's not enough to recognize him when he's obviously trying to keep a low profile. He doesn’t say what he’s thinking though. “Take me a picture of him if you can and send it to me. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

If that person in the hospital is really Jason’s little brother, then something else must be going on. He wonders for a moment if Alfred has anything to do it. Jason wouldn’t be surprised. It’s too much of a coincidence to dismiss.

He only hopes there’s no storm coming, but when has Jason ever been that lucky?