If Jason had to describe what being Robin was like, he'd say "wrong."
He could tell that he wasn't very much welcomed in the hero community- that much was clear. He could feel their judgmental eyes on his back, willing him to go back to whatever hole he crawled out of. Well, that wasn't happening. If they wanted to act like a whining child begging to have their "Golden Boy" back, they could. Jason didn't care. He really didn't.
(He kind of did.)
It hurt, in a way, to have such amazing people shun you because of a costume and fake name. Instead of ever saying that out loud though, he'd just keep telling himself that their parents must have done a really crappy job of teaching their kids basic social skills; i.e., don't judge a book by its cover. Which, is exactly what they are doing.
Besides, there are plenty of other superheroes that have the same name and costume as their predecessor. Say, the Green Lanterns? They have an entire army of Green Lanterns all in the same basic outfit, so why does it matter so much to everyone that he's Robin?
Though, if he'd imagined himself as Dick, yeah, he could understand that he would be pretty pissed if someone replaced him without his consent. But, whatever. He wasn't actively trying to be the "Defective Dick Grayson," he was his own person, and that's something everyone else didn't get--he, Jason Peter Todd, was his own person, with his own feelings, own personality, own mind and own body. Jason Todd was not Richard Grayson. And he never could or would be.
Anyway, basically, everyone thought him being Robin was wrong.
But he didn't give a shit about "everyone."
He'd describe his Robin days as wrong because he had felt wrong.
Early on, being Robin was his magic, but, slowly, he could feel the "magic" fading. Maybe it was because he was getting older, but the name "Robin," and the suit, began to feel more and more uncomfortable.
He wouldn't give up being Robin anytime soon; however...
Jason didn't know how to properly portray his feelings on the matter, but, well he'd put it this way: if Jason were to be Batman's first sidekick--his first Robin, he would not have been "Robin."
Batman and Robin rolls off the tongue; it's catchy. But if Jason had it his way, it would be the Dark Knight and the Dawnslight. It felt better to Jason. It's not a name that doesn't make sense unless it was explained to you (like Robin or Speedy), and it's not riding off the name of another hero's name (like Kid Flash).
Dawnslight is the opposite of the Dark Knight and opposites are equal. He wouldn't be a sidekick, he'd be Batman's actual partner. Batman and Robin are opposites, but everyone always thinks of Robin as a sidekick, and he didn't want that.
Really, Robin felt wrong to him because he felt he could have been a better Dawnslight.
But it's not like he'd ever tell this to Batman.
And now he'd never get to, because he's dead.
As far as Bruce could tell, there's a new meta in Gotham.
This was first brought to his attention while on patrol.
It was months after Jason had died and Bruce still could not conceal his emotions enough to be stable (but that's to be expected, right? since it's been over two decades and he still couldn't completely accept his parent's deaths), and, in his recklessness, some measly thug had managed to stab him in the leg and again in the shoulder. He was limping through an alley while clutching his injury as he made his way to where the Batmobile would arrive.
He had taken refuge there after the GCPD had arrived and called his car. However, the Batmobile could not fit through the alley, so he'd have to walk all the way to the end to reach it.
In the stormy night, one thing was abundantly clear: he was cold, unbearably so--possibly from blood loss? Bruce couldn't exactly put pressure on his leg wound without hobbling around like some idiot, so he was kind of bleeding out. What fun. He stumbled over a random piece of trash and almost fell over. Oh, did he forget to mention? His cowl was damaged during the fight and now he was wandering blind as a bat (pun intended) through one of Gotham's messy, dark alleyways.
Lightning flashed above him while harsh pellets of water bashed against his skull. Could this night get any worse? All he wanted to do was get back to the Manor, have hot shower, eat whatever Alfred had cooked and go to sleep. Was that too hard to ask? Oh, who was he kidding? It's Gotham for crying out loud.
He was barely halfway through the alley when its spray-painted graffiti started glowing. Actually glowing. Bruce stopped right in his tracks.
Turning to the faintly glowing jumble of letters and tags, Bruce squinted. It was dim, at first, but then it began steadily growing brighter and brighter, creating a completely illuminated pathway to the end of the alley.
He looked around, trying to find the cause of this odd phenomenon. He couldn't see anyone nearby him, but he could see that all spray paint (of which he could see) was glowing. He blinked. A new meta, huh? Limping over to the nearest wall, Bruce scraped some paint off as a sample for testing (the results he later got showed nothing out of the ordinary). Then, he continued on.
That's when he noticed another oddity: the luminous spray paint was... warm. Bruce removed a gauntlet and held his hand over the bubble letters that Bruce couldn't understand and found that, yes, it was radiating heat. Interesting.
After that night, the incandescent spray paint did not go away; however, surprisingly, it did not mess with Bruce's work in the shadows, it actually helped people. So, as much as it irked him that there was a meta-human in Gotham, Bruce let the mystery man slide for a while.
(It definitely was not because he had no leads.)
The next time "Meta" (that's what Bruce has decided to call him) makes a move Bruce sees it first on the news.
"This mysterious meta-human had first made themselves known a week ago when all of the city's spray paint started glowing during the night," the anchor began, "And though not every spray-painted graffiti glows now like on that night, many still do. However, just last night, citizens of Gotham everywhere reported vines and small bushes growing out of nowhere sprouting luminescent fruit. Could this be the work of Gotham's very own Poison Ivy? We can't be sure, but Bob Bobby here disagrees, stating that this was, in fact, the work of the metahuman responsible for the spray paint; here he is now."
The screen cut to a tan man with sunglasses--Bob Bobby.
"So," the reporter holding the microphone began, "You believe the person responsible for these odd plants is the same person as the one who made the graffiti glow?"
"Oh yes, definitely," Bob began, swinging his arms beside his torso.
"Why is that?"
"Because he's benevolent, man. If it was that Poison Ivy chick then the plants would, I don't know, be trying to eat us, right? 'Sides, I tried one of the fruits, and, man, it was good--Poison Ivy wouldn't do that."
"Why eat the fruit if you hadn't known if it was poisonous or not?"
"Well, I know a guy who works with medicines, herbs--all that jazz, he didn't find anything dangerous, I trust him. He said it's basically regular fruit on steroids."
Bruce turned off the T.V. after that, letting out a breathless laugh. Funny, isn't it? The one time he sits down and decides to watch T.V. to get away from the stress of his nighttime job, the first thing on is a case he has in said nighttime job. Just his luck.
But, at least he had somewhat of a lead: Poison Ivy. No matter what that Bob Bobby said, she was the one person he knew who could grow plants. Yes, he knew she doesn't explain the spray paint. Yes, he knew that she was still in Arkham and it would be nearly impossible to pull something like this off. And, yes, he knew this did not follow her modus operandi, but what else did he have?
Jason looked brain dead, but he wasn't. He could see everything, feel everything and hear everything, except he couldn't do anything. It all felt too far away. He was trapped inside his own body, seeing it move around, act on instinct and wander Gotham as if he was a spectator watching a movie from a mile away.
Most days he couldn't tell if he was awake or in a dream. Did it matter? Dream and reality looked the same. Everyday it got harder and harder to differentiate the two. At least he knew he was alive.
Still though, he just wanted to wake up. To have his body back. To be free. To be with...
What was their name again?
When the guards dragged out Poison Ivy she was still yawning, "Well lookie here, the Batman, to what do I owe the honor of this impromptu visit?"
Batman placed a photo down on the table between the two, "Yesterday, these plants started popping up all around the city, any idea what could have caused this?"
"Straight to the point I see..." The plant mistress blinked at the photo, then laughed, "You think I did this? Please, don't insult me. I would never confine my plants to such small proportions. Besides, I'm stuck here."
“Then, do you have any idea who could be behind it…”
And so the interrogation went without any useful information gained other than: Meta isn't Poison Ivy.
Walking out the ominous gates of Arkham Asylum, Batman muttered to himself: "Who the hell is this guy?" He didn't have much of a need to find him, but this was his city--no metas allowed, thank you very much--and not knowing was bothering him too much for his liking.
Just then, a vine weaved its way right in front of him. What the--
And started growing fortune cookies. Yes, he was seeing that right, fortune cookies were growing off of vines. What has the world come to?
Interested, Batman plucked one off and cracked it open. He then looked around, confused, but instead of seeing anyone, he saw thousands of fortune cookies on vines just like his.
And each and every one of them clearly stated: "Call me Dawnslight."
Well, that's sure going to be on the news tomorrow.
A man. Jason’s looking for a man. But, no matter how hard he tries to remember, he just can't recall what he looks like or his name. Damn it!
But, he thinks he knows someone who knows where to find him. It's a hunch, but he can feel it in his bones, that if anyone were to find the man, it is him.
He first finds him in a dream. He’s sure it's a dream because he cannot see his body, but he felt himself moving around, almost as if he were a ghost.
Realistically, trying to find a man in a dream is stupid, but to Jason it felt right. He didn't know how, but he didn't know how else to do anything. And, it wasn't like Jason’s thoughts were anywhere near lucid enough to understand that logic.
Jason felt like he was floating, hovering right over the man’s shoulder when he asked about who he was. Jason just laughed and said: “Call me Dawnslight.”
He didn't know if he actually spoke. The words that came out were so different than normal. It was like a hand reached out of his mouth (in a non-painful way) and presented the words to the man.
The next time Jason is sure that he's awake, he keeps hearing about this “Dawnslight.” He doesn't quite understand what that could mean, because he thought that everything that he had done as "Dawnslight" were in his dreams.
That meant that somehow he's affecting the real world with his dreams.
He decided not to think about that.
Instead, he thought about how useful it would be with finding the person he's looking for.
The next time Bruce "interacts" with Dawnslight, it's a little less widespread.
He had tried for many days to talk to the mysterious meta like how they had before, but he never answered. Whether this was because Dawnslight actually couldn't hear him, or he didn't want to answer, he wasn't sure; however, he severely wished the former, as he was none to comfortable with the fact that a single man was able to hear everything in Gotham, like some Superman wannabe.
It was a calm night, both in the weather and criminal activity levels sense, and Batman was crouching next to the gargoyle--Jason's gargoyle--when a vine grew out beside him with another fortune cookie to which he opened.
It read: “I think I know you.”
“Dawnslight?” Batman asked.
He continued to crack open more and more fortune cookies as they appeared, “Well, I'm not sure, I can't really remember much.” Dawnslight continued ignoring Batman’s question, “Actually, is this a dream? It's hard to tell most of the time.”
“No, this is real.”
“Really? Wow. How am I doing this?”
“Why are you here, Dawnslight?” Batman asked, sternly.
“Oh, yeah, I'm looking for someone. I don't know their name, but I know you can find them.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble, but there are seven billion 'someones' in the world.”
“Um, well. I think he has black hair? I can't remember… maybe he's looking for me…? I think… I think this person is my dad.”
Batman stilled at that. He imagined if he was that father. If he didn't know where Jason was. Searching relentlessly for a child only to not make it there in time...he knew that feeling. Is all too familiar with it, actually. You know what? What's another case to add to his to-do list? Batman may not necessarily like Dawnslight or, at least the idea of him, but he has yet to do anything wrong.
“I could try, but no guarantees; I already have plenty of missing persons cases.”
“Okay, that's fine.”
“Do you mind if I ask you about it?”
“Sure, fire away.”
“Are you a captive? Any reason why you haven't returned to your father other than not being able to find him?”
“No, but I think I'm in a coma, kind of? I think there was a car, and a… graveyard? I can't really remember, but it hurt a lot back then.”
“Give me a description of yourself.”
“Why do you need to know that?”
“If I find out what you look like, I can narrow down the missing person files, and find your father from you.”
“That's not what I meant, I thought you already knew who I am.”
“Oh, well, um I haven't really looked at myself for a while, but I think I have black hair, blue eyes, and am kinda pale? I remember being at a hospital and people talking.”
“What did they say?”
“I was a Don Joe? No, John Doe. My fingers were messed up, lots of burns and broken bones. They said it was like… like was like someone blew me up then put me in a suit and… buried me alive. Oh, yeah, I remember now, I crawled out of a coffin.”
“Woah, that's the most I've ever remembered of then.”
“Do you know of anyone who would have the motivation to harm you or your family?”
“Um, yeah, he laughed a lot and was green? I think his name is--oh no. I think I'm waking up, sorry, got to go now.”
“Okay, Dawnslight, I'll see what I can do, but you owe me one.”
The vine stayed there, but no more fortune cookies popped up, leaving Batman alone with so many goddamned fortune cookies.
It takes Jason a while to find the man again. But he does, and the way he was acting--his posture, his build, the way he held himself- was so strikingly familiar that Jason couldn't believe he didn't see it before.
This man, his name is Batman. He finally figured it out after so many tedious hours of just listening and looking through the heavy fog clouding his mind.
Jason found he liked Batman. Whenever he's been around the man, his mind cleared. Not completely, of course, but around Batman, Jason felt he could have an actual conversation.
“I think I know you,” slipped out of Jason's weird hand-reaching-out mouth. He felt the slightest bit embarrassed, because of course he didn't say “Do I know you?” or nothing at all, no, he had to start out this plead for help with the most confusing and creepy words ever. Off to a great start, Jason!
Batman didn't show any sign that he thought it was confusing, (but Jason could tell he was) as he asked: “Dawnslight?”
Then Batman and Jason talked, and he was constantly surprised by how lucid this man made him (and terrified of the things he remembered), until, of course, he felt himself be sucked back into his body. It didn't hurt, per se, but it was very uncomfortable.
Jason wasn't sure when he would be able to see Batman again, but hopefully by the time they met again, he would have found the man--no, his father.
“Oracle, I need you to look into any hospital files from around three months ago about a John Doe who was put him into a coma after apparently being 'blown up, buried alive, and hit by a car.'”
“Wow, the whole shabang, huh? Yeah, I'm on it.” Oracle, or Barbara Gordon, said over the comms. “By the way, this wouldn't happen to be that Dawnslight fellow that's managed to evade the all-knowing Dark Night? You know, now that I think about it, Dawnslight, Dark Night, it's almost like they’re trying to copy you. Or, would that be the opposite of copying? No, that's originality. Is there a word for that?”
Batman didn't answer, just continued stalking the streets of Gotham, waiting for Oracle to finish her scan. He didn't know how to say it, but he was proud of her for doing what she's doing despite what's happened to her. She's such an inspiration.
“I can't find anything.” Oracle said, after a minute or two.
“I know you heard me, I said I can't find anything.”
“Then, broaden the search--”
“I already did that, and there's no trace of any persons who has the description you gave me for the past year. I then looked at people with the same injuries over the past ten years, and didn't find any. There are simply no John Does in any hospital records who match the guy you're looking for. Actually, there are oddly only a few John Does in all of Gotham's hospital files.
“Obviously, this was suspicious--there is no way that this little of John Does are in file--so I dug deeper, turns out all of Gotham’s hospitals had finally been able to upgrade all their ancient tech to a new system, and any person who did not have any paperwork that the computer recognizes was deleted. I haven't been able to find the deleted files… so, we’re kinda stuck.
“I think it'd be best to ask someone who used to or works at any of Gotham’s hospital and hope you find something. I'll keep you updated if I find anything useful.”
“You… did that all in less than three minutes?”
“Yeah, I know, I think I'm getting rusty.”
Batman chuckled as he hopped from building to building and cut off his comm.
Dawnslight had told Batman about a graveyard, he figures that means he had woken up in a coffin there. There was only one graveyard within relative walking distance to a hospital--despite them being many miles apart--and Batman was crouching on a rooftop directly across from it.
Soon, a man wearing the tell-tale light blue and plain outfit of nursing scrubs walked out, waving goodbye to someone inside the building while grasping a brown briefcase.
After a few minutes of silent trailing, Batman landed in front of the nurse, therefore trapping him. The man yelped, and recoiled back, before realizing who it was, and that he wasn't in danger, and calmed.
Batman grunted in response.
“I'm looking for a John Doe.”
Reluctantly, the nurse told Batman what he knew; he was bond by doctor-patient confidentiality, after all, but Batman said that he wouldn't allow him to get in trouble because of it and that he didn't need to know any specific medical information, only how to find him.
“Well, when he was brought in, he was in really bad shape,” the nurse began, “I really don't know how he was still alive, but soon, he fell into a coma.”
“When was this?” asked Batman.
“Four, five months ago, I believe.”
“Anyway, about a month later, he was gone. It looked like he just got up and left. We don't know how we didn't get any notice when he removed the tabs monitoring his vitals. But I don't think he was kidnapped.”
“Because I saw him. To be honest, I thought he would never wake up, or was brain dead, but he's walking around. Albeit, still in a comatose state.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“No. I tried to follow him, but he got away. Though, I have seen him occasionally with a group of kids that follow him like remora to a shark. From what I can gather, he wanders around Gotham as if searching for something.” Or someone.
Batman ignores the silence that follows, preferring instead to think. He knows this man is talking about Dawnslight, now all he has to do is find him.
“What does he look like?”
“I said, what does he look like?” Batman reiterated.
“Oh, well, he has black hair, Caucasian, around 5’9, maybe 5’10? I'm sure he’ll get taller though, and, yeah, he had blue eyes. He was muscular and looked to be around fifteen or sixteen… and, oh! He has a white strip of hair that hangs over the front of his face.”
“Okay, then,” the man said, turning to pick up his briefcase, “I’ll be on--”
Batman was gone before he had turned around.
As much as Batman liked to say he had all the time in the world to look for Dawnslight and his father, he didn't. Gotham’s crime never rested, so he couldn't afford to waste the time it took to save someone’s life by meandering through this city’s streets, hoping to find a person.
Oracle had not found him on any CCTVs, and it was getting increasingly infuriating how he's managed to elude Batman for so long.
He had also tried talking to Dawnslight again many times--every night when he passes by Jason’s gargoyle, to be exact--but he's never answered. Batman--and Bruce--did not like being out of the loop.
This night had been particularly bad after he couldn't stop thinking of Jason, it wasn't like most days (everyday) when overwhelming sadness would flood him when he realized with shocking clarity that Jason was not here--would never be here anymore, and he couldn't do anything. Those nights felt more empty, despairing.
But this night was just horrible. His brain felt like it had been hit by a truck, his head not even giving him the ability to reminisce on when Jason was here, only letting him see his lifeless body and dead eyes everywhere he turned.
It was days like this when he would act most reckless, when all self-preservation and planning was thrown out the window, because why should Bruce deserve to be alive if Jason wasn't? If his parents weren't?
And thinking about his parents just made everything so much worse.
On nights like these, not even Alfred could help him.
Batman didn't even know how he got back to Jason’s gargoyle. Patrol had passed in a haze of overwhelming pain that he didn't know how to deal with without fists.
He really wasn't expecting company, as he's used to brooding by himself. But, hey, at least he's doing it outside now.
Staring at his gloved hands, Bruce found himself completely trapped inside his memories and traumas. The constant hopelessness that had cascaded his conscience as he watched three of some of the most important people in his life die in front of him was back at full force, drowning him.
It was at this moment when a vine wrapped around his glove. Batman snapped around, ready for a fight, but none came. The vine released his hand and made a small wave, as if saying: follow me.
It--Dawnslight--led him inside of an abandoned building nearby; it was small, warm and cozy. Comfortable.
The room was filled with vines, fruit and little trinkets that made it feel welcoming and homey. Safe. In the corner was two plush chairs in surprisingly good condition despite the circumstances. Dawnslight beckoned Bruce towards the chair where many books and fruits lay in an oddly pleasant arrangement.
He sat down, and Dawnslight vine produced his signature glowing blue fruit to which he ate, albeit reluctantly.
Bruce was disappointed with himself. Usually, he's able to differentiate Bruce from Batman and not get some mixture of the two, but he had been unable to do that, and if he were to continue patrolling, then he'd most likely die.
In his grief-stricken mind, he found it would be better to spend his period of weakness with Dawnslight, a boy who has done nothing but good so far, than have a chance run in with one of Gotham’s deadly rouges that he wouldn't be prepared for and likely meet his demise. Of course, he had plenty of other safer places to go to, but it was warm here.
If he stayed here, he could deal with his shuddering thoughts in warmth and comfort, not the empty halls of the Manor or the dark and lonely safe houses he had across the city.
A small vine, growing from around the chair beside Bruce, guided him out of his reverie. He turned and plucked the sprouted fortune cookie.
It read: “Tough night?”
“Yeah.” Bruce breathed in a whisper.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“It's not really something I can talk about.”
“I don't know you.”
“Oh. Are you sure?”
“Hey, so like, this isn't real, but like hypothetically, I'm talking to a super strong, cool and relaxed guy who’s having a rough night, what would they feel they can't talk to anyone about?”
Bruce smiled slightly at the compliment, “Sometimes it's better if you don't say anything, forcing them to talk could break their trust.”
“But what if you know for, like, one hundred percent certainty, that things will be better if they talk about it.”
“Oh, really? And how would you be able to tell?”
“Nah. I don't like real magic. I just kinda know… Hypothetically.”
“All of this is...hypothetical?”
“I mean, yeah, of course. Who else could I possibly be talking about?”
“Right,” Bruce responded, prolonging the syllables to make his sarcasm evident. He could feel mild amusement ease his inner turmoil, but he refused to acknowledge it, in fear that it would cause him to lose the small reprieve. “Well, hypothetically, this ‘guy’ might be struggling with some… stuff.”
“Like when you see a dead puppy on the side of the road?”
Bruce sighed, “Yeah, just like when you see a dead puppy on the side of the road.” Only worse.
“I think I understand. I feel you hurting a lot, and I feel you want to talk, but can't find the right way to say it, so you’re stuck and your pain gets worse in result.”
Bruce didn't say anything to that. Dawnslight hit the proverbial nail on the head. Despite what everyone around him thought, he felt. He did. But, he didn't know how to turn feelings into words and expressions after all the years he's practiced forcing them down and acting the opposite of how he felt.
“When I was sad, I used to read. I can't very well do it now, but, if you want to, I have plenty books to spare.”
Bruce glanced around at the scattered books across the room, “Would you like me to read to you?”
Bruce knows that there's likely no way to physically infuse words with hope, but he was sure that was what was coming off the paper in waves when he read, “Really?”
“Sure. Like you said, you can't really read in your current condition, now can you?”
“I've tried before--that's where all the books came from--but, to no avail.”
“I see,” Bruce said as he reached out to pull a book out of the makeshift bookshelf of vines, “Do you have a favorite author?”
“Definitely Jane Austen.”
“That was my son’s favorite, too.”
Bruce froze when he realized what he had said. Internally, he was panicking, despite not completely taking up the Batman persona, he was never ever allowed to give even the slightest hint of his identity--even if the person was a minor and in a coma--
“That's awesome! There's just something about reading the classics--besides that they’re amazing--it really makes you feel like you’re in the past, I don't know how to explain it, but it's one thing I'm sure about myself. It's ironic, in a sense, it's the one thing I remember loving, but it's impossible for me to do. Anyway, can we start?”
Bruce gave a curt nod, and began reading Pride and Prejudice by, of course, Jane Austen. He could practically feel the joy from Dawnslight’s… essence? (Or whatever it was that he did.) And Bruce couldn't lie it was hard to stay tense for long.
But, he still slipped up. He doesn't slip up. It just doesn't happen. And the more he thinks about it, the more suspicious he gets of Dawnslight. Maybe all of this was a trap. Maybe the doctor was lying, trying to bring his guard down by saying Dawnslight was a child. Maybe...
And then it hit him. All of this. The books, the warmth. Dawnslight. It was all Jason. It was so utterly Jason that Bruce was angry that he didn't notice it before. Dammit. Now, he was sure, there was no way this was genuine. Though, how did Dawnslight find out about Jason?
But, when he thought about it, of course it was a trap built around Jason. The nurse’s description of Dawnslight (sans a few small differences, probably to keep him from seeing the truth), meeting him at Jason’s gargoyle, acting like Jason. It was all a goddamned lie.
And Bruce had fallen for it.
Bruce was emotionally compromised and at the hint of comradery, of a hint of happiness, Bruce had fallen into a web of false truths and pretty machinations.
But why? Was this his punishment after failing Jason? A new player? An old one? There were so many questions clouding his mind that Bruce didn't even realized he'd stop reading.
It was then that he heard music playing on the radio, that he had definitely not turned on; Dawnslight had somehow done it, probably to ease Bruce.
But he was not having that.
He jumped up from his plush chair, dropping the book and spoke, “I need to leave.” And Bruce- no, Batman- ran as far as he could away from the building. The warmth. The memories of Jason.
However, as he fled, he found himself sadden (was that Dawnslight emotions again?) and found no interference as he made his way back to the Manor.
Batman didn't know how he ended back up here, but he was. The night directly after his encounter with Dawnslight, Batman found himself once again perched directly adjacent to Jason’s gargoyle. On the ledge was a fortune cookie that read:
“I understand if you don't want me around, don't worry, I get it. I'll leave you and your city alone, I guess. I think I know how to now. ”
And, sure enough, the next morning, any sign of Dawnslight was gone.
Jason had been actively trying to seek out the Dark Knight. He thinks it takes a while, but he has no way of assessing something as relative as time. He finds him though, in the same spot that he had found him for the second? Yeah, second time.
But this night was different. He was most likely not lucid enough to notice it the other times he’s met the Batman, but he could feel the man’s inner turmoil like a wave of bricks crashing into him.
So he did something.
He tried soothing the other’s mind. It was not unlike standing over water and grazing a hand over the ripples to calm it. Jason couldn't press too hard, or he'd cause more harm, but he couldn't not press at all, or Batman would still be in the terrible place he was in.
He wasn't expecting Batman to offer anything in return. He was simply helping him because it felt like the right thing to do, but he offered to read to Jason.
That was probably the single greatest thing he could have offered.
Then, as Batman started reading, the ripples in Batman’s mind became waves. And no matter how hard he tried to help and calm him, the waves turned into a vicious storm, slamming him out.
He felt heartbroken.
All he wanted to do was help.
Jason pondered Batman’s reaction for a while. He tried to imagine why he would do such a thing. Maybe he didn't mean to? Was it something Jason did? Actually, now that he thought about it, has Batman ever shown relief of him being there? No, that's not something Batman would express. Acceptance. Batman has not ever shown he's accepted Dawnslight. Quite the opposite, to be honest. Jason remembers now, Batman was… irritated at him existing.
It hurt, but Jason knew Batman did not want Dawnslight, and that it would be best if he left Gotham in his capable hands, after all, he was fine without him before.
Sighing, Jason left one last note as he began drifting back into his subconscious.
And, without an active goal, he couldn't keep up with the exhaustion of being Dawnslight, and thus, he faded into the deep, recesses of his mind.
Jason Peter Todd was Bruce Wayne's son. Dick Grayson was not Bruce Wayne's son. He was his ward. Or, at least that's what he thought.
Legally, Bruce Wayne’s first adopted child was Jason Todd, Jason needed a father and Dick did not want Bruce to replace his.
But it's hard to not see Bruce as a second father now. Even when he's being a jerk.
When Jason died, Dick felt empty, so empty he wanted to vomit. It didn't really register with him until much later. He saw everyone around him grieving, openly showing their sorrow and regret.
Regret that they had treated Jason the way they did.
And it was when he realized that, that Dick knew next to nothing about Jason. He was just taking him at face value, no, less than face value. Dick was a dick to Jason.
So, Dick embarked on a mission. He was going to learn everything there was about Jason Todd. He knew it wouldn't make up for all the years he's missed, but it's something.
Dick wanted to feel as if he deserved to mourn Jason.
It was for that reason that Dick was the first person to reenter Jason’s room after his passing.
To anyone not affiliated with Jason, the room would look exactly as he left. No one had been inside it, after all. But it was most definitely not.
Jason Todd’s room was so unbelievably empty. It didn't lack material items; it lacked life.
And it was terrifying.
After about an hour of rifling through Jason’s stuff (it was so easy to lose oneself there) and carefully placing everything precisely were it was originally (not doing so felt like disrupting the Pharaoh's tomb), Dick found something interesting.
Of course, everything he found was interesting and new, as he had never thought Jason to be anything similar to what he had found in his room, but he's accepted that he misjudged the kid. The dead kid.
(He shivered at the thought.)
However, the single, crinkled, folded paper tucked away in the furthest corner of Jason’s closet, under a shoe box, caught Dick’s attention.
Jason could have misplaced it. Or, maybe, he was trying to hide it. But from who? And why?
Tentatively, Dick opened the paper.
He figured it would be best to ask Alfred about it later, as he folded and slipped the paper into his pocket. Exactly like robbing the Pharaoh's tomb.
“Hey, Al?” Dick said, as they walked through Gotham’s mall. Alfred said he was going shopping and Dick jumped at the opportunity to both get out of the house and to talk to the other without Bruce around.
“Yes, Master Dick?”
“I went into Jason’s room--” Alfred’s lips twitched downward at the mention of the name, but otherwise his face didn't change “--and I found this.”
He paused at a bench where he could set the bags down and grab the note from his pocket, “Here. What he wrote sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. Do you know what it means?”
The paper was worn, showing obvious wear after being used for many years. The many words that were written all around the paper ranged from messy (from when Jason had first moved in), to clear and precise (from much later).
Then, in the center-top, laid the bolded word: “DAWNSLIGHT.”
Throughout the page there was a surplus of question marks, but the biggest one, the one that caught your eye right off the bat, was the one inside a shoddy outline of a human.
It was confusing. Was this what Jason had wanted to become? Dick thought he had always wanted to be Robin, then again, he's never really been right about Jason. And, with the years of wear on the paper, yet still showing to be used recently, why is everything about “Dawnslight” speculation?
“This… concerns me, Master Dick.”
“‘Dawnslight’ is the moniker of the man who claimed the odd phenomenon in which the city’s spray paint glowed and grew fruit. Although, in the past weeks, he’s disappeared, and whenever I try to bring it up with Master Bruce he becomes distant and bitter.”
“Oh, so that's where I've heard the name… what do you think happened?”
Alfred sighed, “I wish I could tell you I knew.”
The two fell silent, Dick noticed they had eventually sat down on the bench where they had been setting their bags, watching people pass. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him.
“Wait a second, Dawnslight hasn't done anything actually illegal, right?” Dick asked
“No, I suppose not.”
“Then it would be totally plausible that Dawnslight chose the name ‘Dawnslight’ because he thought we would know it was based off of Jason’s designs, and think of him as an ally.”
“Well, that would mean that this Dawnslight knows Master Bruce’s secret identity.”
“Yes, and that begs the question: Are they friend or foe? Should the latter be correct, it would be more logical to find them before they can do anything.”
“Yes, I believe it would be most beneficial to tell this to Master Bruce as soon as possible.”
“Then let’s get going.”
Then they grabbed their shopping bags, and marched determinately to their car.
Or, they would have, would it not have been for the giant explosion that boomed throughout the outdoor mall plaza.
With Dick’s ears still ringing deafeningly, his first instinct was to fight… but he was completely outnumbered, had no weapons and was so disoriented that he couldn't see straight.
So, he went with his next option, albeit hesitantly, and called Batman.
He had just righted himself enough to press the call button, but before he could say anything but a pathetic, “...I...think I need...a little… help,” a man stomped his phone in two and used the butt of a gun to slam into his head, effectively knocking him out.
Yeah, not one of his best days.
Bruce had been at work when he got the call. And, for a small moment, Bruce sat still. Then, he was booking it out of his office, ignoring any suspicious stares he received while passing. He didn't have time to deal with that.
After leaving Wayne Enterprises, it was not long until he had locked on Dick’s and Alfred’s location.
But then he ran into the problem of making it there.
The Manor, and thus, the Batcave was in the opposite direction of the mall, and he still had to get suited up. And then there were traffic laws, since he wasn't in the Batmobile he couldn't very well bypass them.
Simply, Bruce was kind of freaking out.
He tried taking deep breaths, but as he listened to the events unfolding via the radio, he felt his stomach sink with dread.
It was a hostage situation. Of course. And, lo and behold, Dick and Alfred were one of them. With explosives attached to their chests.
So everything was going great.
The group of thugs were making demands that the G.C.P.D. couldn't provide in the allotted time they were given before hostages were killed. Starting with Alfred, just because. Most likely because the universe loved screwing him over.
And, Bruce wouldn't make it there in time. The depressing, morbid truth. He has run every calculation he could think of, every single one leading him being too late.
And it was so similar to when Jason...
No, he couldn't let emotions sneak up on him and ruin his focus. He'd make it. He had to.
Batman had to exit the batmobile a ways away from the hostage situation because, one, the police barricades, and, b, the civilians that he would be putting in danger by driving through a mob of them; after all, this particular, somewhat sophisticated mall, was perpetually crowded.
(It was where the rich and comfortable interacted with the less fortunate as both groups frequented the place.)
And then there was the lighting issue. It was most certainly not his style to move during the day, especially when he could easily be spotted…
Stop, he thought, you’re the Batman, you'll think of something--
“Dawnslight?” he muttered. Um, Bruce? Hello, there are plenty of other options, you know not to put your trust in a man--or whatever it is--so easily.
“Dawnslight!” he snapped. And, no, this was not a good idea, and yes, he most certainly could have done better, but...
He probably won't show, especially after that last stunt you pulled.
Well, to be fair, it was Dawnslight's fault, of sorts, that Batman ran away; however, the fact that no attack came and the message he received the next day had been bugging him. ‘What if…’ one of Batman’s, and Bruce’s most popular questions nowadays. What if it hadn't been a trick?
Though, he tried to disperse those thoughts as soon as they came--he didn't want to deal with the guilt that lingered. He had other things to worry about.
Like Dick and Alfred.
And, as if waking up after someone blew an airhorn next to one’s ear, a vine burst through the ground producing a fortune cookie that which sealed the deal: “Huh? What? Batman? Did I miss something?”
Over the next thirty to forty-five seconds, Batman gave the vine, better known as Dawnslight, very specific instructions on how to defuse the bombs, thus orchestrating everything that would happen next in his favor.
Dawnslight did not disappoint.
(Bruce couldn't tell if he was surprised or not.)
Soon enough, Batman was swooping in, subduing the criminals, watching fear cross said criminal’s eyes when they realized that their “contingency” (a.k.a., threatening civilians with explosives) would, indeed, not work, and relishing in the stress relief from both the fight and knowing Dick and Alfred would be fine; the latter feeling much better than the former. Because, despite having the emotional range of a pineapple, Bruce cared for his family, but he couldn't actually say that out loud, because, pineapple.
As Batman began the same, mechanical, process of preparing the thugs for the police, and untying the scared civilians, Dick slipped a small, folded piece of paper into his hand, saying, “I found it in Jason’s room. Be careful.”
Bruce did tense, but didn't show it. At all. Nope.
Sadly, being Batman, and having a subsequent secret identity, does not allow one to swoop up those he wishes and drive them home in the Batmobile, so he couldn't escort Dick and Alfred back to Wayne Manor.
Bruce sighed as he shot his grappling hook to the top of a nearby building, away from the sea of murmuring and shaken people below.
He had only run a cursory glance over the paper, but it confused him more than anything else. Why was it in Jason’s room? What connection does Dawnslight and Jason have? The answer felt like it was on the top of his tongue, but he couldn't place it. Annoying.
It was by happenstance that he looked down. When grappling, it's always smart to, well, actually look where one’s soaring toward at fifty to eighty miles per hour, but, of course, it’s hard not to be curious.
In an alleyway, as a matter of fact, the same long, cramped alleyway in which Bruce had encountered Dawnslight such a long time ago it seems, was a very large group of men…attacking someone.
Not willing to let the crime continue any further, Batman released his current grapple hook and shot a new one near the top of a wall surrounding the alley. His cowl’s lenses acting as binoculars, he scanned, and more accurately assessed the situation. From his angle, he couldn't see who exactly was being attacked, but he could see the attackers clearly; they were dressed in black from head to toe, holding either tranquilizer guns or swords and of the like, and were kind of getting their asses handed to them.
But, the person couldn't hold that many people forever.
In the next moments, Batman dropped from the sky and started joining in the “kicking of the ass.”
Kick. Punch. Punch. Kick. Surprisingly, it was very much like beating on a training dummy, or Batman may just be so used to fighting that it feels almost mechanical. And that led him to a conclusion he very much wasn't expecting: He wasn't acting reckless anymore.
It was a slow, gradual change, but, after the past months, he’s cycled through the stages of grief, and here, in the middle of a blood-pumping, mind-numbing fistfight, Bruce had accepted something.
Jason wasn't coming back. Jason was dead, and it was his fault. So, every action he made from now on would be in hopes of making up his failure to him. Bruce had thought that Jason was his failure, but no, Jason was not a failure. And he would not tarnish his name by feeling sad and mopey, from now on, Jason is a name he will say with pride.
"The World’s Greatest Son."
Jason was with his parents now, watching over him, and when Bruce finally meets him there, he hopes he’ll be proud of his old man.
He knows he's proud of him.
As the assailants lay unconscious on the dirty Gotham floor, Bruce found himself smiling; Jason Todd. A Wayne. My son. He turned to the person who he had been fighting alongside without ever seeing besides some quick side glances...
Because that was Jason.
Of course, he was skinnier, dirtier and had longer hair, but that was Jason.
There is one phrase that Bruce never says, he’s too meticulous, too organized, too planned to ever even think it. But, recently a lot had changed, so why couldn't this too?
“Screw it,” Bruce said, tearing his cowl off and throwing it God knows where, strutting across the walkway of limp bodies to Jason.
The boy, apparently seeing Bruce’s face twitched, and Bruce could swear there was a glint of recognition across his features.
He grabbed the frail yet strong boy in the most powerful and bone-crushing hug in existence, not even rivaled by Zeus himself.
And then something clicked. Jason was Dawnslight. It explained everything. The note, the injuries, everything. He laughed, honestly laughed, about how absurd the situation was. And to think, he was worried that Dawnslight was trying to trick him by acting like Jason!
This could all be fake, a ruse--
And, for the first time, he silently said, “Will you kindly, shut the hell up?” to his inner, more paranoid self.
Forget everything about accepting Jason’s death. It's so much easier to accept him being alive.
Just let Bruce have this.
The boy in his arms didn't seem to respond, but slowly, his squished face looked upwards and met Bruce's eyes as two vines wrapped around Jason’s arms.
Jason was hugging him back.
And, behind Jason, on a fortune cookie, was:
“I'm so glad you found me.”