Father’s Day was always an awkward occasion around Titans’ Tower. Most of the time, the superpowered teenagers ignored the holiday altogether. This worked out just fine for them.
Most of the time.
Tamaraneans did not necessarily have an equivalent to the holiday, so Starfire was confused after witnessing it advertised in commercials but later found it had been carefully scratched out of the calendar in the main room. When Robin tried to explain it to her as best as he could, she said it reminded her of the festival of ^#&$%*%#** on Tamaran. Robin decided he didn’t want to know. Starfire decided she wouldn’t have celebrated it, anyway, since she still had not completely forgiven her father for allowing her to be enslaved to the Citadel.
Robin had issues with Father’s Day as well, since it brought up the painful memories of how he had lost his own father and mixed with the bittersweet memories of how the Graysons had celebrated it before they were murdered. Then, of course, there was the inevitable awkward call to Batman, as the Boy Wonder still maintained unresolved conflicts with his surrogate father.
Beast Boy faced a dilemma similar to Robin’s. Not only had the shapeshifter also witnessed the deaths of his parents at a young age; the tribal chief who had taken him in was also murdered. To top it off, the changeling was pretty much estranged from his adoptive stepfather, Mento (or Steve, as Rita wanted her little Garfield to refer to him). Thus, the green Titan usually spent the day pretending it was any other day and joked to cover the pain.
Cyborg was likely the one who erased the holiday from the calendar. In a break from his usual gregarious nature, Cyborg spent the day shut away in his room, unless Beast Boy could coax him out for a round or two of their favorite video games. After all, Silas Stone hadn’t even told his son that he was dying, and all they ever did in the end was argue. The Tower was all Cyborg had left of the man who designed it- that, and Cyborg himself, but who’s counting?
Raven could never in a million millenia entertain the thought of spending a pleasant day with her father. The idea of bringing breakfast in bed to the incarnation of all evil was laughable, to say the least. And she most certainly was NOT splurging on a giant necktie for someone who only wanted to use and destroy her along with the rest of the universe.
When Jericho came to stay with the main team, they assumed he would not give the holiday a second thought, either. Not only was his father the Titans’ greatest enemy, he was also a professional killer whose hubris resulted in young Joey’s throat being slit. They figured there was no way he would want to spend time with such a man, if he was even still alive. Jericho simply avoided the subject, which was an easy enough task for a mute. Sometimes, he thought Raven understood his mixed emotions, but not completely. Unlike himself, Raven had no happy memories of her father. She wasn’t the one tormented by the games they used to play, how they would make breakfast in bed for Adeline, the way Slade would listen to Joey play or sing when the mercenary wasn’t off shooting with his other son, Grant. How he would disappear for months at a time on his adventures and then suddenly return to sweep his tiny son up into a rare, bone-crunching hug. How Jackal made Joey cry into the phone for his father to come rescue him, only to be met with an utter lack of emotion and comfort from his father when he needed it most. How much it hurt when Slade chose his pride over his son’s safety in that dark alley in Tangiers. How he hadn’t seen the man for years after that, never had the chance to ask him why .
The warm June night before that dreaded date, Jericho shut himself in his room. He was sick of the tension. Beast Boy and Cyborg had wrestled for the remote to change the channel whenever one of those terrible commercials aired on the television, Starfire tried most unsuccessfully to tempt Robin with some inedible Tamaranean recipe, and Raven kept glancing at Jericho with a look in her eyes that the mute couldn’t identify. Desperate to get away from everyone, the boy had sighed, slung his guitar over his shoulder, and left for his own room.
He was tired of this, of everyone moping when he knew moping had never solved anything. As he stared at his ceiling, sighing silently, Jericho decided that tomorrow would not be another day of sitting around pretending his troubles did not exist. Tomorrow, he would just be Joseph Wilson, because he had to do something and he needed to be Joey to do it. Maybe he’d even feel better afterwards.
The next morning, Joey dressed quickly and quietly-dark pants, sneakers, and a bright green turtleneck replacing his usual uniform- and carefully placed a note on his bed:
Had to go do something. Sorry if you needed me. I’ll be back tonight. -Jericho
He wrote it to be as simple and unalarming as possible, but he still worried that the Titans might take it the wrong way. Mostly, Joey hoped that they wouldn’t think he’d been kidnapped. Or hated them. Or had gone insane and planned to murder them all. As if that would ever happen…
Setting his fears aside, Joey picked up a black messenger bag and went outside. He then pulled out his communicator and paged the Herald. A portal appeared a few moments later, and the Herald emerged with a sounding of a trumpet, worried and annoyed at being called so early in the morning.
“What is it, Jer?"
Joey glared at him. You don’t have to wake up the entire city, you know. Can’t you play that horn of yours at mezzo piano or something? he signed, glancing back at the tower, certain that the Titans couldn’t possibly have slept through that.
Herald rolled his eyes. “You’re one to talk, waking me up at the crack of dawn-” He then noticed Jericho’s deviation from his usual attire. “And where are you planning on going dressed like that?”
Joey’s agitation faded and he shifted nervously. I need to go home. Not the mountain, my home when I was seven. Before, you know… He gestured to his throat.
Herald frowned. “I don’t know, Jer. Are you sure that’s such a good idea? I thought you turned your back on all of that.”
I did. But I want to see it again. Just for a day, just a few hours, Herald, please . Joey gave Herald his best attempt at puppy dog eyes. Herald sighed. He knew this was just Jericho being polite, anyway. It wasn’t as though the kid couldn’t just take over Herald and open a portal if he refused.
“Okay, but only for a couple of hours and then we’re coming right back here. Or, y’know, where ever you wanna go that isn’t your old house.”
Joey beamed and hugged the taller musician. Herald couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at his friend’s enthusiasm. He ruffled Joey’s blond curls, earning a bit of a glare that honestly only made Herald want to laugh more.
“All right, step back a bit.” Herald closed his eyes and played a few notes on his horn, then led Jericho through the portal and onto a quiet driveway hundreds of miles away.
Joey looked up at his childhood home, unnerved that it looked exactly the same as it had when he ran from it a few years ago. Even the flowers under the windows were the same. He took a hesitant step towards the door and felt Herald’s hand on his shoulder.
“You don’t have to do this, you know. We can leave.”
Jericho shook his head. I’ll be okay. Nobody lives here anymore. It’s just memories and dust. And suspiciously well-kept landscaping. He gave Herald what he hoped was a reassuring smile. Go on and find something else to do. Meet back here in three hours?
“Two and half,” Herald insisted and reluctantly left his friend to his own devices.
Joey pulled a loose brick from the side of the house, picked up his spare key, unlocked the large front door, and went inside.
The house was dusty and empty, as he’d expected. There were a few boxes on the floor and the remaining furniture was covered in white sheets. Joey supposed that after Grant died and he ran away, his mother didn’t feel like staying at the family estate all by herself. All the better to be closer to her precious work, Joey thought with more sadness than bitterness. Wondering if his room had been given a similar treatment, he slowly climbed the grand staircase. He closed his eyes and remembered the hallway as it used to be: fresh flowers in the vases and family photos on the walls. Grant chasing him. His parents’ laughter. He stopped when his hand was on the doorknob of the door at the end of the hallway, took a deep breath, and opened it.
He cautiously let one eye open as the door creaked open. His breath caught in his throat as he stepped into the room with both bright green eyes widening.
Other than the layer of dust on the floor, his room looked the same. It was just as he’d left it. Joey wasn’t sure how to feel about it. He ran his fingers cautiously over the bookshelves, hearing his mother’s voice echo in his head, the way she used to read to him. His easel was smooth to the touch, his half-finished portrait of Grant leaning against it, drawings strewn across the desk, some blurred in places by long-dried tear stains. His mother hadn’t touched anything, probably hadn’t even entered his room since that night. Joey wasn’t sure how to feel.
Shaking off the memories threatening to overwhelm him, Joseph turned to the closet. Tucked into the shelf in the back of his closet, surrounded by other boxes and junk, was a plain shoebox. Joey pulled it out carefully and opened the lid. Inside were drawings, handmade cards, miniature carvings and collectable coins that Joey had made and gathered for his father since the incident in which Joey lost his voice, and that he knew his mother would never let him send. He reached into the messenger bag and pulled out a small card and a painting of Adeline, Slade, and much younger versions of Grant and Joey. He placed them in the box with the rest and carried it downstairs.
In the music room, Joey pulled the covering from the piano and set the box on top of it. He then sat down and ran his fingers over the keys. What began as a pointless blend of scales and chords became a haunting melody, a melancholy blend of emotion and sound. He closed his eyes as the piece became more complex and kept them closed as the song ended. Gradually, Joey relaxed. It had been too long since he’d even seen a piano, and the way his fingers danced around the keys put him at ease, peaceful in a way he hadn’t felt since before his mountain was invaded.
With nothing to do but wait, Joey lost himself in the music. Halfway through the third piece, he sensed more than heard that someone had entered the house, but he didn’t respond to it. He continued to play as whoever it was entered the music room, as they settled into a chair on the other side of the room. Joey knew who it was, could feel him staring, but he refused to acknowledge him. The mute would be just fine like this, playing piece after piece until Herald came to drag him away.
For his next piece, Joey challenged himself, choosing something more complex and pouring into it as much of his energy and emotions as he could. Temporarily satisfied when the last notes echoed through the abandoned house, Joey sighed and finally turned to the man sitting across from him, two green eyes meeting a single blue.
He’d half expected Slade to be dressed in his mercenary uniform, face hidden behind the cold, metal mask, but his father looked just as Joey remembered him. His white hair was short and untidy, and he still had that little goatee. He wore a plaid button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, showing off his muscular forearms, along with faded jeans and the usual combat boots. The only difference was the eye patch where his right eye was supposed to be. Without so much as a wave in greeting, Joey rose from the bench and carried the old box to his father. Slade took it without blinking, seemingly unable to shift his gaze away from his son’s face.
The mercenary had monitored the old house closely as always, waiting for one of his estranged family members to show up. He was pleasantly surprised when he caught Joey’s slight frame on the security camera he had hidden. At first, he was worried the teenager accompanying him would get in the way of their reunion, but Joey had sent the taller boy away. Slade set a silent alarm on his watch. Two and a half hours.
Slade had expected Joseph to be startled, to try to run or perhaps even fight him. What he hadn’t expected was his son calmly turning to stare at him but not to try to possess him, then handing him a slightly battered shoebox with such a carefully guarded expression on his face.
In Slade’s opinion, the boy was far too pale for someone who had spent the past four years on a sunny mountain, and his son’s choice in clothing made it difficult for him to tell exactly how thin he was and how much muscle he had built up. In other words, Slade had no idea how his younger son was doing even when he was right in front of him, and Joey wanted to make sure that Slade knew it.
“How are you, Joseph?” Slade asked, handling the box as though it were a bomb and setting it down on a small side table.
Joey shrugged. Neither of them knew what to say. They had never really talked much. Even before he had lost his voice, Joey was quiet, and Slade didn’t quite know where to start with him.
How have you been, besides pretending to be dead? Joseph countered.
Slade sighed. “Joseph…”
Don’t you “Joseph” me, father. It’s not like we’ve ever really known each other. Mom made sure of that. But it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. I do. I shouldn’t, though, after everything you’ve done.
“I never meant for you to get hurt, Joey. I thought I could keep you out of it.”
Yeah, you did a great job there. First me, then Grant, then you found a whole group of kids to hurt-
Slade was suddenly an inch from Joseph’s face, gripping his wrists and cutting off his signs.
“I’m under no obligation to explain myself to you. Leave your brother out of this, and those damned Titans.”
Joey wrenched his hands away with a force that surprised his father. Of course, it’s always about Grant! Grant and the children you tried to replace him with! You always had to spend time with Grant, corrupt him with your glorification of violence, lead him right to his death and then blame everyone but yourself! Attack a group of teenage superheroes because you’re too proud to accept that it’s all your fault!
Slade backhanded Joey hard enough to send him sprawling onto the floor. He hadn’t planned it, and it was definitely a step in the wrong direction. This wasn’t how he had foreseen the conversation going at all. Joey huffed out what was likely a silent, bitter laugh and wiped some blood from the corner of his mouth.
See? You’re fucked up, Dad. You don’t really care about me at all, do you? I was a fool to let myself think I could come here and see you, that we could put it all aside and pretend to just be a family for a minute or two. It will never be okay between us. It probably never was.
“You’re wrong, Joseph,” Slade said, crouching down next to where his son sat. “I do care about you. You’re my son, whether you like it or not, and I think we could’ve been okay if I hadn’t screwed it up. You’re not much like the Wilson family, and it’s way past time for your mother and I to accept that. Maybe it’s better this way, for you to be angry at me, hate me, even.”
But I don’t hate you! I try but I just can’t! I… I… Joey gave up trying to explain feelings to Deathstroke the Terminator and punched and pushed at him furiously, and then he just buried his face in his father’s chest, letting out the strangled, muted sobs he had been fighting against since he let himself back into this wretched house.
Slade wasn’t sure how he should feel about the whole situation, so he just held the boy as gently as he could and let him cry. He knew they would probably never have a moment like this again, anyway. It made a nice change to the last time he had held his son, at any rate. Slade holding the limp, bleeding body of his dying seven-year-old wasn’t the last memory the two wanted to have of each other, so this was better.
Both Joey and Slade knew that Herald would return soon, and neither of them wanted to try to explain whatever they were doing. So they pulled apart and Joey wiped the remaining tears from his eyes. The two stood and just looked at each other.
This isn’t over, you know. Joseph signed.
Slade sighed. “Yeah, Joe, I know it’s not. You don’t like what I do, I don’t like you hanging out with those good for nothing Titans. We’ll just have to figure it out some other time.”
They heard the sounding of a trumpet outside, followed by Herald’s voice calling Jericho’s name. Joey sighed and scooped up the forgotten box from the table, forcing it into Slade’s arms.
I made these for you, before I ran away. Mom wouldn’t let me give them to you.
“Thank you, Joseph.” He would examine the contents of the box later, in one of his lairs, guilt plaguing him over all the time they had lost. Joey slid the cover back over the piano and walked towards the exit.
Joey paused at the threshold and turned around. Dad? One more thing.
Happy Father’s Day.
And then he was gone.