Chapter 1: A World Full of Pain
Alfred Pennyworth walked silently down the corridors that had seen so many little boys run around and grow with a feeling of helplessness taking over his old heart. Because what a joy it had been to raise those kids and feel they were his own but, oh, that dreadful feeling of desperation that had made him want to scream, every time they left that obnoxiously big manor, was unbearable at times.
He paused at the closed door of Bruce’s bedroom. His little boy turned into a middle-aged man who dressed up like a bat to fight crime. Decades ago, before the army and the Waynes, Alfred’s younger self would have been delighted to have the chance to meet such a character. When he had been performing Shakespeare on the stages of his beloved England and the tea and scones were almost everything he got to eat, with the humid air filling his idealistic heart with hope and the search for glory. Now, his stiff, wrinkled hands hesitated before knocking at the door that had not been opened since Master Jason’s departure, four days ago.
In fact, the whole manor had been eerily quiet, everyone walking fast and barely talking. Alfred feared Dick would be overexerting himself, donning the cape until Bruce could react like a functional human being again. The youngest of the family had been away with the Titans for far too long, but again, his father couldn’t bring himself to tell his son how that made him feel. Timothy was keeping Wayne Enterprise from collapsing and Cassandra was doing the excellent job she always did as Batgirl. And poor Duke was just confused because everybody refused to tell him what had happened.
The knocks echoed down the hallway where they faded again into the silence of the house. Alfred took his chances and opened the door; he wasn’t prepared to wait until that grumpy man decided he needed something to fill his stomach. He left the tray on the bedside table and walked around the bed to meet the opened and hollow eyes of a haunted man. The old butler chose not to comment on how red and puffy those eyes looked. He picked up the bourbon bottle from the floor near the bed, dangerously close to the hand that peeked from under the bedding.
“Master Bruce.” He cleared his throat and straightened.
“I should have known.” Bruce croaked. He hadn’t spoken in days, all alone with his thoughts. Sometimes he wondered if the swelling in his heart would ever ease. He rubbed his eyes with his hands, the bruises in his knuckles making Alfred raise his left eyebrow, and looked down at the as if he was searching for something that had once been there between his fingers. “When I saw the video. I should have known what was happening to him. I know how PTSD works, I- I’ve studied it, I’ve seen it.”
“Sometimes we see what we want to see, Sir.” Bruce flinched, watering eyes searching for the old man’s.
“It was so easy to… and now he’s gone.” He looked so lost that Alfred started wondering if he was still under the influence of the bourbon. “He looked so torn.” He drew a wavering breath. “Alfred, what have I done?”
“I believe the question might be what you haven’t done, Master Bruce,” The butler said sharply. That might have been harsh, as Bruce looked like he had been slapped, but what was done couldn’t be changed. Only acknowledged and taken care of. “You have people at your charge, Sir, and I myself am too old to be raising children. Get dressed and meet us for breakfast. Then, you will be able to think of how you should proceed in this… situation.”
Alfred Pennyworth was a lot of things, but impractical was not one of them. And it pained him sometimes, the fact that this grown man, who was his son, would need him to this point. That he would be the one to show him he had other responsibilities, that life became harder as years passed and that, sometimes, he would have to say goodbye because there was no other possibility.
Maybe Alfred was not talking only about Bruce. Maybe he was a bit harsher than necessary. Maybe he was crumbling inside because he had failed not one, but two of his beloved boys.
Maybe he was too practical to take a stand.
Because that would break him in half.
Madrid’s streetlights lit up the ancient alleys and sidewalks where a cold rush of wind touched Jason’s sweaty skin. It was spring and it was hot. Dozens of citizens walked down those streets when the sun had already set and even more stayed in the terraces of the bars drinking and eating without a care in the world. The laughs traveled through the city and the soccer matches, playing in too many TVs, could be heard everywhere.
Jason smiled and enjoyed the contrast. In Gotham you couldn’t walk alone when darkness had fallen, and if you did you were just plain stupid. Or a tourist. Jason’s city had been too hot or too cold, which had been a real problem when he was living on the streets. So Spain had been a nice change.
It was a bridge between Africa and Europe. It was hot and it was fun, it had art and cities built centuries ago with intricate alleys and streets that went on forever, snaking through the whole city, mapping their way. People were bold and straight-forward. Jason liked it.
It had been months since he had gotten out of Gotham with Talia. They spent some time in Metropolis, Talia doing Lex a favor (he really didn’t want to know about it or their relationship, thank you very much). Waller contacted them eventually and after what seemed to be some kind of nasty fight between her and Talia, they concluded that they could do with him freelancing for the government. Which was good, in some twisted way.
Waller would call him to train her men and go on missions, every time giving him more responsibility in their actions. When he was finished he could spend some time in the compound or go with Talia, who would medically test him more often than not, so it was balanced. He had freedom to travel abroad, with his brand new birth certificate and official papers thanks to the two ladies currently in his life. It was really scary, sometimes.
He felt as if he was walking around time bombs, always wary and alert.
Talia lied and refused to give him further explanation. Besides her presenting Jason as her son, to an astonished Lex Luthor when he demanded to know what he was doing there, she hadn’t said much to him. Jason wanted to trust her but, man, it was becoming more and more difficult as days and weeks and months went by.
She had her own lab at LexCorp’s building (which annoyingly reminded Jason of WE). Talia was there whenever she wasn’t training or sleeping, which didn’t help Jason’s feelings of unease. Neither did the fact that everything she learned about him and his DNA was going directly to Lex’s database.
He didn’t want any of that, it reminded him too much of when Bruce fired him and refused to talk. Sure, he would feed him, and keep him around in the manor but he couldn’t even look at Jason. Not when he thought he had killed Felipe Garzonas. Even Alfred had seemed wary around him, which had been the worst. The butler had been the constant, unfazed at his outbursts when he had first arrived and nothing but supportive when he knew Jason wasn’t comfortable doing something or struggled in any way. Bruce had been his Dad, but Alfred had been so much more. Alfred had been his hero.
Jason knew he hadn’t done anything to piss off Talia. She had been the one hiding stuff. But that’s how mental diseases worked, they weren’t rational. That disgusting feeling set in his gut while he followed Talia around with his eyes, trying to figure out what he had done wrong, how he could fix whatever was broken.
Metropolis hadn’t helped, either. It was too bright, people were too nice. The sun seemed to never set. Even at night, it looked like it was daytime. With the sparkling street lights and people laughing and walking. The air had been too clean, the sky too blue. And their resident superhero had done nothing but make it worse. Where Batman’s costume was designed for him to blend in with the shadows Superman’s was designed to stand out, to be seen when he flew past buildings. Giving hope, painting it against the clean walls that were his canvas with the sun in his face as he smiled and to all the mortals.
He was everything Jason had never known. He was everything Jason would die to know.
So, Talia observed him, she knew he’d been wallowing in his misery and she sent him to Europe, bought tickets for him to go to a concert and relax for a few days. He loved it. Europe was everything he dreamed of when he was a kid, reading whatever Alfred recommended for their book club and falling in love with the classics. Of course, he had already been in England, but now he had no bomb to defuse and had actually done some touring. In France, he remembered the scandal in Madame Bovary, in The Phantom of the Opera. In Denmark he read Hamlet for the hundredth time; the angst, retribution tugging at that certain spot in his heart. Here in Spain he bought Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba, hoping for some feministic acclaims.
The reading and the concerts eased his mind, the restlessness gone and replaced by a peaceful feeling that made him think of summer days lying in the grass while Alfred took care of the garden. Here, sitting in the balcony of the apartment he was staying in, he could almost hear the sounds of Alfred’s spade digging in the soil, the swift noise of leaves being cut. Those times, Jason would hum a melody with his eyes closed and Alfred would join in if he knew it. Some days, Bruce would come out, not finding either of them inside. He would come near Jason and block the sun that had been resting on his eyelids, making Jason glare, not really upset. Some days, Bruce’s mouth would tug at the corners, taking in the dirt on his face and the lack of shoes and Jason would pull out some wisps of grass and throw them at him.
Some days, a happy lifetime ago, Bruce would sit beside him and Jason would feel eyes on his face while he would carry on enjoying the sun’s warmth on his body and, with the happiest of smiles, he would start humming the new melody Alfred had chosen.
Jason found out on the street, when he was walking towards the bookstore on the corner.
He was having a good day. Talia called to keep tabs on him, he read all the books he’d bought on his travels and he had eaten pizza for breakfast. Life was just smiling at him. A beautiful girl winked at him when he was walking and he definitely hadn’t blushed. Nope.
He had almost reached the bookstore when he saw a news-stand and decided he could buy some newspaper or something. And then he saw their faces on the front page of, not one, but five different magazines. Their expressions weren’t happy, per say, but they looked… satisfied. They looked wonderful, as always, and their clothes were worth more than Jason was comfortable spending in a year.
Bruce’s hand was around Selina’s waist in the photograph. And he looked… normal. No fake smile, no tension around his eyes, no Brucie Wayne shit going on. Rumors confirmed. The wedding of the year.
Three days later, the city of Helsinki met him with cold, open arms. And just hours after it left him battered and bruised.
Blood was dripping from his head and he was limping. He was sure he had been shot but he couldn’t focus enough to tell where. The arm that had just healed weeks ago was trembling and his hand was shaking as he climbed to the windowsill of his small and messy rented apartment. He clutched at his chest in a desperate attempt to make the tremors fade.
This shouldn’t have happened. Helsinki had a very low crime rate but luck seemed eager to spit in his face. There was a trafficking ring trying to smuggle underage girls into Russia. They had to go.
He kind of remembered finishing the job, the girls running in all directions as he broke kneecaps and shoulders and the sirens approached the warehouse. Jason hadn’t been thinking. He wasn’t Red Hood anymore. He didn’t even have proper gear, just his guns and his yet-to-test regeneration. So when he was shot and falling from a building in the expanse of just a few minutes, he wasn’t really surprised.
He woke up shivering on the floor of the apartment, not knowing how long it had been since he had managed to climb his way through the window. His hand was shaking again and he felt feverish. He had the feeling that his wounds were infected.
A bitter laugh escaped his mouth, and then the tears came in between his hysterical laughing. It all came crushing down on him: his illness, his hate, his act. That little part of himself who desperately wanted Bruce to miss him as much as Jason missed them. He wanted to feel how he felt, to hurt, to be completely lost and feeling insignificant.
“I’m a whiny bitch,” he cackled.
Bruce was getting married. He was living the great life, finally accepting his feelings for Selina. And Jason was drowning in sorrow, seeking ways to detach himself from his life. Going against trafficking rings unprepared.
Testing his luck.
He knew he should stand up and patch himself up. He should shower so his wound wouldn’t get more infected. He should eat.
He stayed there, looking at the pattern on the wallpaper, ignoring how his shaking hand stood in the way of his line of vision. If he stared at it long enough he couldn’t even tell if he was dreaming, or if the wallpaper was the one in his apartment or the one at the manor’s kitchen.
The next time he woke up it was light and judging by the position of the sun it was evening. His eyelids felt far too heavy and they felt like they would burn his eyes. His hand wasn’t shaking anymore but rather jerking in spasms every few seconds.
Somehow, this felt right. Jason thought it was a nice representation of how he felt inside. The rational part of his mind was screaming for him to crawl his way to the bathroom and do the smart thing but there was always the other side. The side that told him to give up and let the sadness take over, the self-loathing, the part that assured him that nothing was ever going to be alright because it was all his fault.
He’d gotten himself into this. He’d gotten himself killed. It was his fault that his mom stuck a needle in her arm. Of course Sheila sold him to the Joker. Of course Bruce would never love him like he loved Dick. Jason was sure that he had been a burden. He was sure even Talia would be relieved that he wasn’t around anymore. And just when he left Gotham, Bruce started to be happy. It was logic.
So Jason circled his arms around himself and just let the pain wash over him. Exhaustion made it difficult to think straight so he closed his eyes again and let the city noises lull him to sleep.
Screams woke him and when he gazed around the room he discovered that the screams were his own. He was curled into himself, surely reopening wounds that had already closed. He felt his hand clutched around something. He eventually discovered it was his phone.
Jason brought it to his face. The shaking of his hand was now faint. He unlocked it and stared blindly at the screen, as if he had suddenly forgotten how to make use of it. He opened his contacts and scrolled to the bottom and back to the top a couple of times.
He felt tired. He didn’t know if he could call someone. That task alone felt like the most difficult thing he would ever do. He went through his contacts again, from Alfred to Zatanna Zatara. He didn’t even know who to call.
He couldn’t bother Alfred with his shitty estate; he was surely planning a wedding and running a house filled with jerks. It seemed unfair. He could call Talia.
She would chew him out and maybe continue to ignore him afterwards. He didn’t feel up to it. He stared down at Dick’s name for an awfully long time. He knew he would come, even if just driven by guilt. But Dick would also ask things he wasn’t prepared to answer right now.
So he dialed the name just below Dick’s and waited.
“Jay?” He sounded confused.
“Hey, Duke.” Jason’s voice was frail. His breathing was short and shaky.
“Are you okay, man? Where are you?” Duke sounded worried. Jason was starting to regret calling the teen. He was only sixteen, he didn’t need this bullshit on his shoulders.
“I just…” Hanging up felt like something very difficult right now, even more because Jason had to focus on easing the lump in his throat. He felt like an unstable bomb, waiting for the right time to explode and fuck up everyone around him. “I’m on the floor.”
“Yeah.” There was silence for a minute and Jason felt like breaking down sobbing. “I should be dead, you know?”
“Jay, man, what are you talking about?” Duke sighed. “Listen. Do you want me to call Bruce? Does this have to do with you somehow vanishing?”
“He didn’t tell you.” Jason guessed. But why would he? It’s not even relevant to him. “Look, Duke, I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“No. No.” He groaned. “I’m sick of everyone acting like someone died. What happened, Jason?”
“Don’t worry, kid.” Jason realized how detached he sounded. He was silently crying. “I just needed to make sure this was real. I needed to feel real.”
“What the hell does that even me-“ Jason hung up before Duke could finish.
I’m just an attention-seeking little shit.
He let the phone fall from his hand and looked over to the wallpaper again, the pattern already blurring. I’ll sleep a little more and then I’ll go to patch myself.
Even in his head, that promise sounded fake.
He was being dragged. That was the first thing he noticed when he regained consciousness. Someone had him grabbed by his armpits and was dragging him through the apartment. And if the groans meant anything, the person doing it was having some trouble moving Jason’s thick ass. He tried to laughed but just groans came out.
“Stop complaining,” a voice said through gritted teeth.
After what felt like an eternity he was hauled inside the shower and cold water was freezing him to death. Maybe the person was trying to end him, not help him. Jason wouldn’t be surprised. A sob escaped his mouth. He sounded pathetic.
“Pathetic.” The voice agreed with him. “You have a fever and an infection. You should have died days ago.”
Jason hummed. He tried to remember something about his body. About healing fast. Talia’s face in his mind telling him something. Ugh.
“-stupid and reckless. You should know better.” It seemed the voice was keen on talking. Did the person sound nervous? Jason couldn’t tell.
Now he was being stripped. And he tried to help, he really did, but the cold water touched his bullet wound, that was in his left side and he couldn’t help but howl at the searing pain. That helped wake him a bit more and he finally opened his eyes, trying to stare at the person that was torturing him.
It turned out that he couldn’t see well through the water running into his eyes. He isn’t proud to say he hissed and recoiled as if it burned him. The other person made a t.t noise. He froze and turned his head slowly at the person’s direction.
“Damian?” He whispered just above the sound of the water.
“What?” the teen bit out.
Jason scoffed in disbelief. His little brother got closer, rubbing Jason’s body with a sponge and soap. He ignored the yells and the sobs and just kept rubbing until the older one was completely clean.
Jason felt drained and honestly, he had felt that way for far too long. He was lost and vulnerable and his little brother was taking care of him like he was a baby. He felt insignificant. And worthless. His shoulders sagged in defeat.
“Hey!” Damian smacked him in the head.
“What the fuck?”
“You’re torturing yourself.” The kid pointed to his head. “You’re relapsing.”
“What do you care?” Something hateful took over Jason. “Go back to daddy and leave me alone.” That was the best he could do for the kid. He was just a burden. A liability. He needed to make the kid go.
“I’ve been studying your illness.” Damian nodded to Jason like he had just given what he wanted. “Some people react passively when suffering depression, but aggressiveness and irritability are also a possibility.”
“Damian, please. Just go.”
“It’s very normal to suffer a depression relapse into the months after the first episode. People experience an average of five episodes through their lives,” the kid recited, drying Jason with a towel.
“How did you find me?” Jason looked up as Damian focused on drying his hair, rather roughly, if you asked him.
The kid froze for a second, obviously debating whether he should lie or not.
“Mother called,” he said softly and resumed drying Jason’s body.
“How?” How did she know.
“Duke informed Father of your call. She found out.” Damian shrugged, indicating it was just a matter of time. The silence stretched between them as he helped Jason get out of the bathtub. They walked to the bedroom after patching Jason up. He should’ve died days ago. But he didn’t. That didn’t mean he wasn’t feeling like shit physically.
Jason slid under the sheets and bit back a yell of agony. He thought for a moment about what he had to do. Obviously he needed to rest but then he’d have to get back to Talia so she could chew him out. He had to call Waller. And convince Damian not to tell anyone in the family about this.
He stopped that train of thought when he felt Damian get in the bed beside him, getting his shoes off with a thud sound when they fell on the ground. The kid laid face up on the bed, hands resting on his belly. He looked like the male version of Wednesday Addams.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Jason asked, his eyes wide in disbelief.
“Preparing for bed,” he deadpanned.
“I can see that.” Jason pinched the bridge of his nose. “But why are you staying here? I thought you hated me.”
“You are ill.” The kid looked right into his eyes.
“No shit,” he spat.
“I’m staying with you until you get well again,” Damian said, like he was a especially dull-witted child.
Jason made a horrified face.
“That could take months.” Surely Damian didn’t know what he was doing. He wouldn’t get himself into something like this.
The kid only hummed.
“Well,” Damian gave him a sadistic little smirk. “You’ve proven to be incapable of taking care of yourself. You can’t imagine I would let you to your own devices, can you?”
In that moment Jason saw Talia in his eyes, the glint of the devil coming to the surface. And he started to ask himself if this wasn’t Talia’s punishment for being a self-destructive ass.
Chapter 2: The Family You Chose
“I swear it, Todd. I’ll tell Alfred that I saw you microwave your tea!”
“You wouldn’t,” Jason said petulantly.
So this is a little experimental for me because I relied more on the dialogue, I guess?
Anyways, I hope it doesn't disappoint. Have in mind that this is a transition, not everything get solved overnight. I just wanted to show some aspects of living with a sibling and, idk, just read it. Lol.
Beta read by discowlng on Tumblr, Mayarene Rose here on AO3 :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jason had been sneaking into the kitchen before anyone was up for days now. He had decided, some weeks ago, that if Bruce and Alfred wouldn’t let him drink coffee he needed to do it when they wouldn’t see.
It was thrilling, Jason discovered, going against the rules and feeling the adrenaline whenever the old wooden floor creaked or when he thought he had heard someone just outside the kitchen door. It reminded him of the sensation of always being on edge, much kinder kind than the uncertainty on the streets.
It only benefitted him, really. Coffee sometimes took away the need to have a smoke, that nervous tick he had. Bruce could always tell, and he wasn’t really subtle whenever he started rapidly moving his pointer and middle finger, as if by rubbing them against each other a cigarette would magically appear between them.
Those times, Bruce would eye him with a knowing look and would try to take his mind away from it, to smooth that edge in Jason’s chest. Those were good times, when they talked about everything that went through Jason’s mind, from Shakespeare to his outrage at Pluto no longer being considered a planet. He had been very vocal about the latter upon learning that insulting fact. Bruce tried to contain his laughter every time, only fueling Jason’s determination to make his case in the most convincing way.
Even Alfred sided with him.
So now, on the kitchen, Jason smiled a bit sadly, switching on the instant coffee machine. Bruce always drank Alfred’s coffee, but after the liquid on the pot cooled, he turned to the expensive machine. Jason had studied which buttons Bruce pressed, which capsules he took. No one would notice. Unlike him, Bruce did have a coffee problem. A capsule a day wouldn’t be noticed, with his Dad’s tendency to drink it all in less than a week.
Alfred should worry about Bruce, not Jason.
For a moment, Jason thought maybe that was the reason they wouldn’t let him drink it, so he wouldn’t turn out with Bruce’s addiction to it. He supposed it was fair, worrying about that. But it wouldn’t take him from drinking coffee.
He decided he would only wake up early in the weekends, and it would even give him extra time in the mornings to read his books. He had gotten enough raised eyebrows from Alfred in the school days to know his behavior wouldn’t go unnoticed any longer. Besides, there was a Starbucks on every corner and Jason happened to love frapuccinos. Far too expensive for him, but Bruce gave him an obscene amount of money as an allowance.
It was when Jason was sipping coffee with his eyes closed when a figure stood by the kitchen door. Bruce Wayne looked at his second son, shaking his head with a tender smile. He left before the young boy could notice him.
Since that day, Bruce started bringing coffee capsules with different flavors and, unbeknownst to Jason, all of them were decaf.
Jason stared at the Jasmine tea in his hands, one of Talia’s gifts for his birthday, along with a centuries old tea pot that was worth more than a house. He sniffed the hot liquid and tried to will the memories away. Jason put a cigarette between his lips and started looking around for the lighter. Before he could even lay eyes on it, there was a spray of water wetting his face.
Jason turned around very slowly to the seat Damian occupied every morning. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, reminding himself to stay in control. Talia would chase him around the earth if he killed the demon he had for a brother.
Damian sat calmly, water spray still in his hand.
“There’s nothing bad about nostalgia or melancholy,” Damian didn’t seem to buy his own statement, “unless you let them stop you from living in the present. From living your life.”
“You only say that because you want to spar.” Jason groaned, wiping away the water. He should start reconsidering who he let in his house. He was so done with Damian’s sensei shit.
Damian smiled behind his own teacup. Jason didn’t want to admit it to himself, but a warm feeling spread inside him upon seeing it.
“Well, both things are true,” Damian tilted his head, giving the impression that he was looking down at Jason. It was adorable, “but not mutually exclusive.”
“Dipshit,” Jason whispered, the heat all gone when he saw a very familiar smirk on his little brother’s face. That kid, Jason knew, would be the death of him.
Jon Kent hardly managed to run through the school hallway at human speed. He needed to get out soon. Damian’s message only said it was an emergency and that alone made Jon shiver. Damian, much like his Dad, wasn’t a fan of asking for help unless it he was in a mortal situation. And he really, really hoped his best friend was still alive.
He looked in every direction to check if someone was coming before jumping off the windowsill, landing soundlessly behind some bushes. He tapped his comm, always hidden in his school bag, and waited for Damian to answer.
“Superboy,” Damian’s stern voice, an attempt to mimic his Batman’s, reached Jon. He sighed in relief.
“Are you okay? Should I call your Dad? Or my Dad?” Jon talked fast, trying not to waste time, in case Damian was in the middle of a sticky situation, “Where are you? Do you need me to fly you out of somewhere?”
“Superboy!” Damian interrupted him. “I’m out of the country, I need you to bring me some supplies from our base.”
“Your Dad’s looking for you, Damian.” Jon winced, waiting for Damian to yell at him about names in the field. But his friend only swore.
“Listen, you need to be careful. My Father can’t know about this.” Damian said slowly. Jon rolled his eyes. He wasn’t a three-year-old.
“What do you need?”
“I need blankets, my laptop, the wrist computer, a suitcase you’ll find hidden on the ceiling of the infirmary.” Damian seemed to be reading from a list. “My katanas, and food. All the food, don’t forget the meat. You can take the T-Jet, it’s on autopilot. I’ll send the coordinates to the system.”
“Wait, meat? I thought you were…” Damian disconnected from the line before Jon could end the sentence.
The young boy furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.
“… a vegetarian?”
Jason stared right into Wonder Woman’s soulless eyes, a shiver going down his spine.
The whole situation was unnerving. Her mouth opened and closed as the words travelled to Jason’s ears. He needed a couple of seconds to catch up.
“Are you really angry at Bruce or are you angry at yourself?” The voice was surprisingly convincing and that just contributed to make longer the list of things about Damian that freaked him out. The first one being that somewhere during his years with the league he had studied psychology.
“What are you doing?” He sounded outright horrified, still not looking up at Damian’s eyes, focused on the Wonder Woman puppet in his hand.
“Therapy,” his younger brother explained, still talking through the puppet. The hair on Jason’s arms rose at the sight.
“I think torture would be a better word to describe it.” Jason made a face.
“Talk through your puppet, Jason,” The fabric Wonder Woman said.
He groaned and closed his eyes. He definitely preferred the sparring, or the bickering.
Or, for fuck’s sake, the spraying.
Jason took a deep breath, knowing that Damian wouldn’t let him leave the room unless he tried. He looked down, at the black haired puppet. It looked generic, but Damian had taken the time to dye a strand of the hair white, mimicking Jason’s own hair now that he stopped dying it black.
He had to stop himself from smiling, picturing little Damian wanting everything to be perfect for their session.
“Why do you get to be Wonder Woman?” Jason wined.
It just wasn’t fair.
“Because everyone knows you look up to me,” puppet Diana answered a little annoyed at being questioned.
Jason looked up and stared. Not at the puppet, but at the little human being behind, who had left everything to come and drag his ass around till he could stand for himself.
Damian, who slept like he was a tiny vampire and talked like an 1880’s aristocrat, who chuckled like a kid his age when Jason hit his little toe on one of the chairs and stayed silent every time Jason broke down crying.
Damian had succeeded in all the ways their Mother had failed. He didn’t let Jason feel alone or questioned. He was always there, trying to remain patient while Jason broke down and rebuilt almost every day.
He made sure to place a hot cup of tea between Jason’s hands when he dissociated and they sparred when Jason felt anxious or trapped. Damian was always careful to not hit any injuries. It was nice.
Damian had also decided he would be Jason’s therapist. And although Jason couldn’t begin to list all the reasons why that couldn’t possibly end well, he appreciated the effort. Because Damian was taking it seriously, he was trying not to be harsh, or unfair.
Jason looked at him and felt all of these emotions getting stuck on his throat. He looked at Damian and wanted to write down thousands of words explaining how and why and when he started loving that kid. He wanted to hug him until he understood how grateful and full of love he made Jason feel.
Jason felt like crying around Damian. Happy tears, to his surprise. He felt like getting up and start singing a cheesy musical song, like he would have done when he was a kid and didn’t know how else to put his thoughts into words.
Damian meant family, but he came without the pain or past. They had the same Father, but also the same Mother. Not that Jason gave more importance to this relationship because of that, but it gave them something else in common. Something the others couldn’t begin to comprehend.
And with all those feelings, Jason gulped and put his hand inside Puppet Jason, taking a long breath before starting to talk.
Hours later, voices woke Jason up from his nap. He looked up and groaned at the clock. He had only gotten twenty minutes of sleep.
Putting on his slippers, he got out of the room. He froze upon hearing a female voice. He wondered if Talia had found the time to come visit, finally.
“… out of here, you evil harlot,” he heard Damian say.
Okay, not Talia, then.
He got to the door fast and just prayed his brother wasn’t insulting some poor neighbor. Jason arched his eyebrows at the female assassin on the entrance. She looked at him with interest.
“Come on, Dami, no need to call anyone a harlot,” Jason placed his hands on Damian’s shoulders. His stance a clear warning to the assassin.
Damian only huffed. They had several conversations about how to treat women respectfully. Jason wasn’t losing hope on him learning the lesson.
“Mr. Head,” the assassin smiled at him. She wasn’t wearing the usual cloth to cover her face, which got Jason’s attention.
“Your Mother sent me.” She looked now at both of them.
Damian looked like he might jump to her throat. Jason tightened the grip on his right shoulder as to remind him to be civil.
“She told me you were injured and might need my attentions,” she continued when neither of them talked.
Jason looked at her in confusion. Talia had never sent any of her people to aid Jason. It had always been her or no one.
“You can tell Mother that Jason has no need for your attentions,” the kid all but spat.
The woman sighed and brushed her hair back, revealing a deep cleavage. Jason looked away discreetly, it wasn’t as if Talia or Selina hadn’t been fond of showing off, but Jason felt a little bit uncomfortable at the moment. He couldn’t explain why.
Damian rolled his eyes and showed his teeth. Jason hid a smile at the sight. He looked like a furious pug.
“I’ll come back tomorrow,” she conceded and inclined her head. Jason answered in kind.
“Do not bother,” Damian spoke through his teeth.
He didn’t shut the door until they saw her disappear on the elevator at the end of the hall. Damian turned back and sent him a stare. Jason raised his hands in defeat.
“Do not trust Mother,” he jabbed Jason with his finger, looking frustrated.
“I know she’s planning something.” The kid pouted in concentration. “And we don’t need anyone’s assistance.”
“Ohh, Dami, are you jealous?” Jason ruffled his hair with a chuckle.
The kid looked affronted.
“How could you suggest such…?” Damian gasped, but before he could end the flustered sentence, someone knocked on the window.
“Hey, Damian! Open up, will you?” The voice sounded young. And with and accent.
Jason turned to Damian, arching a brow.
“Go hide in your room, idiot!” Damian whispered to Jason. When the older just crossed his arm in defiance he tried to drag him himself, but Jason was far heavier and this time he wasn’t dying on the floor.
“I can heaaaar youuu,” the voice sing-sung. Jason couldn’t help but notice it sounded familiar. He was definitely staying around to discover who had come to visit Damian.
His brother grunted in annoyance and looked at him coldly while he walked to the window in the living room. Jason froze at the sight.
Damian couldn’t have possibly gotten…
“Superboy,” Damian greeted sullenly.
The child smiled radiantly at the grumpy teen and flied through the window, carrying lots of bags. And what looked like a suitcase.
He put them on the ground carefully and straightened. He stopped in the middle of the motion when he saw Jason, who was looking at the kid wide-eyed.
“Oh, hi!” the child (and, wow, was that a really tall child or had he just gotten used to Damian being short?) walked up to him, offering his hand.
Jason took it on reflex, still processing the situation. He looked at Damian slowly, and to his credit, his brother looked sheepish.
Oh, but Damian had very much done it.
“I’m Superboy,” the kid continued, ignoring Jason’s mental breakdown. When he didn’t answer, the boy turned to his friend, unsure.
“Um, well.” Damian cleared his throat, looking between the two of them. And then sighed, defeated. “Jon, this is my brother.” He gestured in Jason’s general direction.
Jason groaned. This wasn’t happening. Damian hadn’t just dragged a Super into this. Nope.
“But I know all your…” Jon stopped mid-sentence and took another look at Jason. “Is this the brother everyone’s looking for? The Red Hood?”
And to that, Jason reacted.
“Jason,” he corrected.
The kid just looked at him for a couple of minutes and whispered so cool under his breath. Jason smirked at him. He wondered what he had heard about him, to say that. His death? His resurrection? His rebellion?
At least he looked at Jason with respect. Almost solemnly.
Damian cleared his throat.
“I asked Jon to bring us supplies and clothes,” Damian explained. “I couldn’t trust anyone in the family without blowing our cover.”
“Damian, he’s Superman’s son,” Jason deadpanned. “How long do you think it will take for our cover to get blown?”
“Hey, I can keep a secret,” Jon retorted. At least the kid had some fight in him.
Jason sighed in defeat.
“Whatever.” He tried to shake off the feeling that something was going to go wrong and looked again at the kid. “Do you want to have a snack?”
Jon smiled at him and for a moment he understood why Damian liked him so much.
“Yes, please,” the kid beamed.
“I like him, he’s a good kid,” he told Damian after Jon flew off the apartment. He pretended not to notice Damian’s sigh of relief. “I’m glad you’re making friends.”
Damian shrugged one shoulder and started washing the dishes on the sink. Jason watched him with fondness.
“Did you see her?” he asked after a few minutes.
Damian’s back tensed.
“Who?” he knew who Jason was talking about.
“Talia. When she told you about me.”
“No,” he replied, voice monotone. “She called.”
Jason hummed, thinking about how to approach the subject.
“You know this works both ways, right?” Jason gestured between them, even if Damian wasn’t looking at him. “The talking.”
They both listened to the water running until Damian finished the dishes and, finally, turned to Jason.
Red-rimmed eyes met his and Damian opened his mouth, bottom lip trembling. Jason didn’t need anything else to cross the space between them and engulf Damian in a tight embrace. The teen’s shoulders shaking, the sobs filling the silence while Jason stroke his hair.
The crying only got uglier when Jason hummed a lullaby Talia used to sing to him, back when they slept on adjacent rooms on the league and she heard him cry and scream in his sleep. Jason even remembered some of the lyrics in Arabic. He rocked his brother, safe in his arms, and let him cry.
They just hugged each other for the longest time and when Jason spoke, it surprised both.
“I’m here.” He whispered on Damian’s hair. He felt small hands fisting on his shirt. “I’m here, Damian.”
Three days after, Jason woke up with Damian curled between his arms, breathing softly on Jason’s neck.
He laid Damian’s head gently on the pillow and got up to answer the door. He really hoped that the person knocking wasn’t the persistent assassin. She had been around those past days, always trying to get into the house and talk to Jason. Damian wouldn’t let her past the entrance and, to be honest, Jason wasn’t really looking forward to whatever she may have to talk to him about.
Jason sighed and walked through the living room silently, not wanting to wake the kid up. He deserved a good night’s sleep. He grabbed one of his guns just in case.
Silence. Jason counted it as a win, if just because it wasn’t anyone shooting at him through the door. He looked through the peephole, but there was no one in the hall. He furrowed his brow and opened slowly, waiting for any kind of attack.
There was a big half-open box on the floor with a folder attached to the side. Jason recognized Talia’s writing on the front. He arched a brow, crouching to reach for the folder. And then it moved.
The box moved and Jason almost fell on his ass in surprise. A furry head peeped out of the box and the he heard some mewling.
The cat finally managed to get out of the box and elegantly walked towards him. It was grey, with thick fur and golden eyes that stared at him right in the eyes. The cat meowed loudly and with a regal demeanor, as if Jason should know whatever he was demanding. When Jason didn’t move, the animal approached him with its short legs (were cats supposed to have such short legs?) and nudge his hand with its cold little nose. Its fur made it look chubby and adorable, so Jason took his chances and petted it head. The animal started purring, sending vibrations through his hand.
Jason took the folder with his free hand and opened it.
“I hope you enjoy her company. – T”
So Talia had given him a cat. He went through the rest of the papers: some vet stuff and the cat’s passport.
“Who names a poor cat Boudicca?” Jason whispered, not entirely believing the situation. The cat chirped, as if agreeing with him. Boudicca (God, wasn’t that a pretentious name) was enjoying herself while clawing at his feet playfully.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” The cat perked up at that. “But those are my slippers.”
She just licked her paw and started cleaning her face. Jason shrugged and prompted her to get in the apartment while he dragged the box inside. Inside, there was cat food and a cat carrier, as well as a bowl.
“What’s happening?” Damian’s sleepy voice travelled from the bedroom, moments before entering the living room.
Damian stopped at the sight of the cat, eyes widening. Jason thought he saw a spark of joy in his eyes. The cat walked towards Damian, who offered his hand for the cat to sniff, Jason supposed.
“A British Shorthair,” Damian hummed, admiring the cat.
“Talia sent her,” Jason explained, holding up the cat’s passport. Damian didn’t even react to that, too preoccupied with petting the cat, who was now laying on the floor showing her tummy for him to reach.
“What’s her name?” Damian asked, smiling a little at the cat.
“I’m not sure I like her name, so I’ll just call her Ma’am.” Jason decided.
Damian raised his left eyebrow at that but otherwise kept silent.
“So is that her breed? British Shorthair?” it would explain the name Talia gave her, Jason thought.
“Yes.” Damian sat on the floor beside the cat, still not taking his eyes off her. “It’s a very calm breed and they don’t required lots of grooming. They also like being around their owners.”
“Sounds nice,” Jason said with a smile.
He walked up to them and sat in front of Damian, the cat between them. Damian hummed, agreeing with him.
Jason started petting the cats head, affectionately. It was nice, seeing Damian so relaxed.
“Tell me more about them.”
“That’s so cool,” Jon smiled, eyes fixated on the TV screen, “I still miss Goldie.”
“Yes, I think Ma’am will be good for Jason,” offered Damian.
Both of them were too focused on the game they were playing on the PS4, now that Jason had finally let them play. Ma’am had been meowing loudly because she wanted food. They had only had her for a couple of days, but Jason seemed unwilling to part ways with the animal.
“So…” Jon extended the word, like he always did when he wanted to talk about something he knew Damian wasn’t comfortable with. “What’s up with him?”
“Whatever do you mean?” Damian said, monotone.
In the screen, Damian’s character killed Jon’s. Only then, did he turn to look at his friend. Jon scratched the back of his neck nervously.
“I mean,” Jon was fast to elaborate, “you’re always talking about how you came here to help him and how this and that will be good for him. I just… thought there must be something happening?”
Damian was silent for a bit and Jon started fidgeting, thinking maybe it was one of those times when he wasn’t supposed to ask. Ma’am walked up to them and clawed her way to the sofa, laying lazily between them.
“It’s mainly depression,” Damian said.
Jon furrowed his brow. He hadn’t… noticed. His Dad was always talking about mental health and how Jon could always go to therapy if he felt like the changes were becoming overwhelming. But, Jon couldn’t help but think about all those movies with depressed people. And he couldn’t even compare Jason to them. Damian’s brother had seemed normal and playful, nothing like what Jon would have pictured an ill person to look like.
But it was true that Mom always told him not to believe what he saw on the TV. He looked up at Damian, who was chewing his lip.
“I think he’s better,” his friend explain, but Jon heard his heart skip a beat with worry.
“I heard our Dads talking…” Damian locked eyes with him, not sure were Jon was getting.
“Well, you Dad has a new project…” Jon gestures with his hands, leaning the left side of his body on the back of the couch. “I heard him talking to my Dad about it. He called it the Sanctuary. It’s supposed to be some kind of refuge for heroes with mental illnesses and that kind of thing.”
Damian scrunched up his face in concentration. Jon couldn’t help but think he looked cute. And it was kind of funny.
Jon let him think and started looking around the room, trying to hear Jason around the apartment, but he wasn’t as good at it as he would have wanted.
“Where’s Jason?” Jon asked aloud, as if the older boy would make an appearance. Damian hummed, not paying attention.
And then it seemed the words caught up to him and he swore under his breath. Jon saw him standing up suddenly, almost scaring Ma’am off the couch. Damian picked up something from the table (a water spray?) and ran to their bedroom.
He heard a shriek and lots of curses. So many curses.
“… that horrendous habit!” Damian yelled.
“Sto-” Jason didn’t finish the word. Jon heard something like a guttural growl coming out of the older boy. “Stop! Spraying! My face!”
“I’ll stop when you stop trying to smoke behind my back!” Damian sounded frustrated. “I swear it, Todd. I’ll tell Alfred that I saw you microwave your tea!”
“You wouldn’t,” Jason said petulantly.
Jon couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the other’s scream of frustration.
“Jonathan Samuel Kent,” Lois Lane looked at her son climbing through his bedroom window. Jon flinched at her tone and froze midway through.
“Where have you been, young man? And why did you take half our food?” Lois was trying not to raise her voice.
“I… ate it?” Jon tried, hunched and not meeting her eyes.
“You ate a whole chicken and all the eggs?” Not to mention the flour, the pasta and the fruit that was missing.
“You better tell me what’s going on, Jonathan.” Lois tapped her foot against the floor. She could hear Clark walking through the door of their apartment. “And you better tell me now.”