“That’s enough trouble from you, you undead zombie,” The magician that Jason has been fighting for the past hour snarls when a bullet catches her shoulder, preventing her from flickering out of sight. Jason had run into her during his investigation of Artemis and Bizarro’s disappearance. “Perhaps, I should return you to your natural state.”
Jason’s witty remark is cut off by a blast of magic that gets him right in the chest. Pain causes his vision to white out, and it takes him a quite some time to pull himself together.
His limbs are still attached to his being. His chest still hurts but not enough to concern him. The air around him feels a little different, even if Jason can’t quite place his finger on what it is.
When he looks around him, he notes that he's not where he had been a moment ago. Instead, he’s in an alley. A Gotham alley.
That’s trouble, on its own. Jason hasn’t been in Gotham since he took down Penguin’s empire and went on his quest to find Artemis and Bizarro. Red Hood definitely hasn’t been in Gotham since Batman kicked him out.
The last thing he needs right now is trouble with the bats.
Whatever natural zombie state the magician was trying to send him to must have failed and moved him to a different location instead.
Damn! He hates magic.
Now, he just has to get out of this cursed city before the big bad bat and his flock of birds descend on him to root out his motive of being here.
Jason spends the next few minutes making his way through dark alleys. He has no means of transportation but he still has a few safe houses that he can rest for the night.
Something seems to be afoot here, and Jason has no way of knowing what. There’s nothing to give him an idea of what’s going on, so he decides to keep walking until he finds something.
One thing that catches his attention, though, is the snow. As weird as Gotham is, Jason knows it's too early for snow. It doesn't help that when he notes how different the alleys are. It’s subtle, but he has spent enough time patrolling the Narrows to notice it.
He is debating getting something to eat. Restaurants and bars are good places to gather information. He’s heading towards a taco place when he sees the kid. He’s almost impossible to miss, despite the kid doing absolutely nothing to draw attention to himself.
Talia had told him about his time with her before the pit, between the league and his escape from his grave. But Jason never really connected with the tales because he had no memories of it. They could have been stories of a different individual for all Jason cared.
But watching his younger self wander the streets, looking exactly like the zombie he and others, including his latest foe, have called him many times, hurts something inside him.
Whatever she was trying to achieve suddenly becomes clear, but something must have messed up her plans. Instead of swapping places with his undead self, he's stuck with him.
Jason runs up to his younger, braindead counterpart.
“Jason,” He calls when he gets close enough.
The boy stops and turns to stare unseeingly at him. “B’uce” The boy says, and damn if that isn’t enough to break Jason’s heart.
Jason is at a loss on what to do next. How long has it been since he died? Since he returned? He can’t tell the date and he certainly can’t leave the boy for the league to find.
How he arrived here, or plans to return to his time is no longer important. He suddenly knows what he has to do.
“Come.” He holds out his hand and the boy takes it without question, falling into step with Jason.
Being in the past meant all Jason’s hopes of a safe house have been dashed. At this point in time, Jason doesn’t have any resources to fall back on. Going to Bruce for help is out of the question. Thankfully, he has a few hundred dollars in his utility belt that he uses to get some food and a motel room for both of them.
After giving him a bath, he dresses Jay in his t-shirt that comes down to the boy’s thighs and watches as he devours the chili dogs Jason had gotten them for dinner.
Jason can’t stop staring at himself. He never saw the physical evidence of his encounter with Joker and it has been years since he was that hungry or little.
He never saw his shredded fingers or his chest that had been caved in. His head looks wrong with a part of it compressed. His eyes are vacant, even as he feeds himself. With burns and scars all over his body, not to mention the autopsy scar.
Jason is suddenly very grateful Talia didn't make live out the rest of his days like this.
He turns off the TV when a picture of Batman and Robin on the news leads to little Jay calling out for Bruce again. Less than a year since his death and Drake is already trapezing Gotham in his colors.
He has made his peace with being replaced, even come to realize that it was nothing against him, personally, despite how much Bruce sold everyone on the lies that he was a terrible Robin who got himself killed. Being Robin is always going to be a relay race. It’s only yours until the upgrade comes along. At least he didn’t have to live through being forced to give up the cape when the upgrade arrived.
But having evidence in front of him, seeing Jay’s eyes light up and the sight of the Batman on TV, calling out for Bruce, the only sound he has made in Jason’s presence makes it hurt afresh.
He needs to plan and fast. There’s no telling how long until whatever spell that brought him here wears off. And he has to ensure that Jay will be fine by the time Jason is pulled back to his universe. He can’t let himself become a puppet for other people’s agenda or Ra’s lab rat.
He still hasn’t figured if he’s in a different timeline or just sent to the past, but it's no big deal. Whatever it is, Jason isn’t afraid to wipe himself out of existence if it means this version of him gets to have a better life.
That night, while Jay sleeps, Jason goes on a little mission to procure the funds he needs to put his plans in motion.
With his insider knowledge of Penguin’s business, getting the funds from him isn’t hard. First step is finding his safehouses. Every good safehouse has a cash reserve for emergency situations.
The first one turns out to be a bust, but the second more than makes up for it when the safe he finds opens to reveal a few bundles of cash, three gold bars and some ammo. Jason empties out the safe without a second thought.
Before he returns to the motel, he stops by a computer shop to get a tablet. He breaks into a thrift shop and gets them some change of clothes. He leaves the cash on the counters for the shop owners to find when they open in the morning.
It’s morning by the time he's done setting up his new tablet. He selects their breakfast spot based on its wifi connection. As Jay quietly munches on his breakfast muffin, Jason puts his plans into gear.
Jason may not be a computer genius, but he has been around a lot of them long enough that some skills have rubbed off.
After that, Jason has some serious things to consider. If he is pulled back to his timeline in the next minute, little Jay will return to the streets where Jason just found him. Without his wits and senses, he’s a helpless little child. Slave to the whims of others.
Jason cannot return little Jay back to Bruce, not with the knowledge of the future that he possesses. He’d rather not let himself get caught up in the clusterfuck that is that family only to end up heartbroken when they eventually show their true selves.
Even if he has the luck of being placed in Talia’s care again, she wasn’t enough to talk him down from his homicidal tendencies. In fact, he’d say she enabled them. Jason still isn’t sure what her goal had been during that whole period of his life.
It doesn’t help now that her father has too much of his claws in her for Jason to even try to convince her to help him. That’s if she doesn’t hand him over to Bruce the first chance she gets.
Not to mention, Damian, Bruce’s son that she’s hiding from him.
If there’s a chance of a life where he doesn’t spend every second of his existence courting Bruce’s approval, despite knowing he would never have it, then he wants his younger self to have it. To live a life not fueled by revenge and betrayal.
Little Jay shouldn’t have to live through the things he has before he realizes that he has no place in among the bats. No need for him to endure the bats looking down their noses at him like they’re somehow better than him.
He takes responsibility for the mistakes he made with his revenge spree when he first returned to Gotham, after touring the world, learning different ways to kill a man. But Bruce gave up on him long before that.
If Joker hadn’t killed him off in that warehouse, Bruce would have found a reason to toss him out of the family eventually. It’s a truth he has had to face and he will not subject little Jay to it.
It’s why he picks the option of putting himself in the pit, despite how much he hates it.
Because as much as he resents Talia for putting him in the pit in the first place, he knows there is no other option for little Jason. He doesn’t have the luxury of caring for the boy indefinitely, and there is no person or facility in this world that he can entrust with that responsibility.
He is his only ally right now. No Biz and Artemis, or Kori and Roy. He has to give himself all the tools he needs to survive.
Hopefully, his experience of dealing with the effects of the pit will be enough to make sure his younger self does not fall into the same vices as him.
With his knowledge of the future and the many adventures that has required a search for Lazarus pits, getting the locations of the closest pits is easy. He is mostly interested in the location of Nyssa’s pit. It's nuanced side effects means Jay has better chances of a healthier life.
The only one of hers, which he knows the location for is all the way in Japan, but that’s okay. Jason knows just who to call to get them there.
All of Ra’s magic pits are guarded, but some have more security than others. He just has to find the most suitable one, but he figures it should be about the same security Nyssa would have at hers.
Getting to Japan on such short notice is expensive, but nothing Penguin’s generous donations can’t cover. They’re smuggled out of America in a cargo plane the next day. The flight lasts almost the whole day, and getting from the drop site to the location of the pit takes another.
Thankfully, little Jay is calm through it all. He spends his time either leafing through the books that Jason had brought with them, or making unintelligible sounds in response to Jason’s monologues. Sometimes, Jason reads to him.
Jason is nervous, to say the least. This has to work, or he doesn’t know what he’ll do. Nyssa’s pit is his only option of helping his young self without a good helping of homicidal rage. He has to derail himself from getting on the revenge trail, or trying to force Bruce to do what he should have done.
For once, luck is on Jason’s side. The pit is not as guarded as Jason thought it would be. Maybe Nyssa is still feeling cocky, thinking its location is still a secret or that no one would dare to cross her by violating its sanctity. Either way, it works well for his purpose.
The upside to being in both his positions, when Nyssa Raatko finally discovers that someone has used her pit, no one will suspect Jason.
The dip in the pit lasts a couple of minutes before he hears Jay’s screams. It’s longer than he was expecting, if he's being honest.
Sweet, docile little Jay disappears the moment Jason hauls him out of the pit. Jay’s first act as a self-aware child, after Jason had to muffle his screams with his palm, is to introduce Jason’s face to his fist.
“Fuck!” He jerks back as another punch hits him in the sternum. He catches himself just in time to stop a round ass kick and tackles Jay to the ground. Fresh from the pit, Jay is freakishly strong and not entirely unskilled. Pinning him down takes an effort but Jason has more training. “Calm down! You’re going to get us killed.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Jay asks, after a few moments of futile struggling. If Jason didn’t know himself better, he’d believe that Jay has given up the struggle.
“Take a guess, genius!” Jason growls. “Now, I’m going to let you up and you’re going to behave yourself if you know what’s good for you.”
“Why should I do what you say?” He growls, looking around them, taking in the cave housing the green glowing water. Jason sees his eyes linger on it before it dawns on him that Jason has just hauled him out of that water. Then he turns to stare at Jason, eyes wide in horror.
“Because I’m your only chance if you want to keep living and we have to get the hell out of here before we have to fight for both our lives.”
“You put me in the Lazarus Pit?” Jay asks, his couldn’t have hidden the fear in his voice if he tried harder.
“Believe me, it wasn’t my first choice of solution, and I hate myself for doing this to you,” Jason says, in the softest voice he can. “But it was the only option I had.”
Jason sees it before he reacts, he sees the way Jay’s eyes glow with the green of the pit but it the attack still takes him by surprise. Little Jay is like a small missile in his attack.
To avoid hurting the boy, he quickly knocks him out and wraps his unconscious body up in the blanket he brought with them before carrying him out to the car.
“You’re going to be fine,” He swears. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Jason drives for hours before he can even entertain the thought of stopping or finding a motel, which ends up taking the entire night and some of the early hours of the morning.
Jay, whose mind and body have just been jump started from zero to hundred in a few seconds, wakes up a few minutes into the ride but promptly falls back asleep.
He stops to get breakfast at an English restaurant, ordering a bit of everything on the menu. He knows how much of an appetite he had after the pit, and Jay has some growth spurts to catch up on.
Jay wakes up a couple of hours after Jason books them into a motel. Jason lets him pretend to be asleep for a short while longer.
“When you’re hungry enough to stop pretending, you can help yourself to some breakfast,” Jason tells him, his focus still on the tiny boxed television in the motel room.
“So,” Jay starts slowly, after the first bagel. Jason can just hear the gears turning in his head as he tries to make sense of his current situation. “You’re me?”
“I’m you,” Jason shrugs, tearing his attention away from the television to face the kid. “Except older, taller and better looking.” He shoots little Jay a smirk.
The humor is lost on the kid. “And you put me in the Lazarus pit.”
“I’m really sorry about that,” Jason tells him. he doesn’t have the time to beat around the bush. “But I didn’t have the time to search for a better option.”
The kid watches him like a hawk, keeping track of every twitch he makes. His shoulders are tense, like he’s bracing himself for a fight. “Does Bruce know where I am?”
It takes a little while for the kid to gather his thoughts. He takes another glance at the room, the detective in him taking in every detail of it. “So, you kidnapped me.”
“Is it kidnapping if it’s myself?” Jason asks. “If this was a kidnapping attempt, it would include a little more bondage, don’t you think?”
“What are you, exactly? How are you here?” Jay growls, clearly annoyed at Jason’s none answer. “Am I dreaming? You’re an older version of me and what? Are you from an alternate universe?”
“I don’t know if this is the past or an alternate timeline,” Jason tells him honestly. “I ran into a vengeful magician while searching for my friends and she did something to me that brought me to you.” Because whatever she was trying to do certainly included him. “I don’t know how long the magic will keep me here, but I couldn’t just leave you in the state I found you.”
“So, you put me in the pit.” Jay concludes. Jason nods. “Where is Bruce?”
“Jason…” The tension is Jay’s shoulder increases as he watches Jason approach him on the bed. Jason’s steps are careful and when he sits next to the kid, he doesn’t try to initiate contact.
“Is he okay?” The pit is already rising within the kid again as he gets agitated. “Did something happen to him? Is that why he doesn’t know where I am?”
Every inquisition breaks something within Jason. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
That throws him off. “Uh,” His brows wrinkles as he tries to remember. “We were on a mission… Ethiopia. I found mom… the joker was—” His eyes snap up to meet Jason’s. He launches himself at Jason, but this time, he was prepared for the attack, knocking the kid out as quickly as he could.
“What was that?” Jay asks, almost startling Jason when he wakes up.
“Side effect of the pit,” Jason tells him. “The rage wears off in time if you don’t continue to feed it. So, happy thoughts should be your motto.”
“I’m sorry for attacking you.”
“No need to apologize. I did this to you, so I deserve whatever shit you throw at me,” Jason tells him. “I have some meditation techniques that will help you manage it.”
“You know Ra’s is going to hunt us for using his pit, right?” Jay tells him. His voice is subdued.
“How will he know who used it?” Jason grins. “Besides, it wasn’t his pit. It was Nyssa’s. Less chances of you actually ending up as a psycho.”
“Did you—Did you bring me back to life?” Jay asks in a cracked voice, after a few seconds of silence. “Is that why Bruce doesn’t know where I am? I know there’s no way I could have survived. Everything hurt so much and mom couldn’t get the door open,” He’s sobbing now. “It was locked from the outside. I tried to save her, I really did—”
This time, Jason gathers the kid in his arms. He clings to Jason’s shirt as he cries harder. Jason gives him the same comfort he wished he’d gotten but knew better than to reach out for. He can already see the difference in both their reactions to finding out they died. Jason’s response had been to destroy everything within reach, not breakdown and cry.
But this kid isn’t angry. No. He’s just very sad and overwhelmed.
Jason wonders for a moment, if it’s because he found out about the new Robin and Joker almost immediately, or if it really is the type of pit they were submerged in that made the difference. Either way, he’s not tempting fate.
He rubs his back, making the soft comforting sounds he remembers his mom- Catherine- making whenever she comforted him.
“Whatever happened in that warehouse wasn’t your fault,” Jason tells him when the crying subsides. “Sheila’s choices are her own. She made them knowing fully well what she was going to happen. Don’t ever blame yourself for it, okay?”
He feels the child nod against his chest but it isn’t enough. He needs to make sure the message sinks through his skull. He shifts the kid back so he can look in his glowing eyes when he speaks again.
“You are a child and you did your best to help someone who was in trouble. It’s not your fault that she didn’t want your help. You did not do anything wrong to justify her betrayal. Sheila did what she did because she was a terrible person, who would rather hurt a child than go to jail for her crimes. The only people to blame for what happened to you are Sheila and joker. Get that through your head. Remind yourself every morning if you have to, but don’t ever blame yourself for it, okay?”
“What do I even call you?” Jay asks much later when he is calm.
“Seeing as I’ve been calling you Jay in my head,” Jason says smugly. “You can call me Jason.”
“Why do you get to be Jason?” He asks annoyed. “I want to be Jason, you can be Jay.”
“Tough shit, little guy, but I’m bigger and fully grown, so I get the big boy name.” Jason says with relish, not even bothered by the stink eye Jay’s throwing his way. “You’re a half pint, and you get the half pint name.”
Jay’s about to say something, but stops himself short. He gives Jason’s large frame a once over with barely concealed jealousy. “You’re almost as big as Bruce. Will I also grow to be your size?”
“Sure thing.” Jason ruffles his hair. Jay slaps his hand away. “Just make sure to eat your vegetables.”
Jason makes little Jay get a shower and a change of clothes while he orders them pizza. After an early dinner, the kid doses off again and Jason works out the next step in their plans.
He has brought back the kid’s mind, but he needs to make sure the kid will have a life when he’s gone. It’s too late in the school year for him to enroll in a school, but he can enroll for online classes and study for his GED, while he works part time or something. Anything to keep him from being idle.
He needs a home and an identity for all that, but it shouldn’t pose a challenge. Jason has a contact and he can afford it.
Jason freezes when little Jay starts screaming, calling out for Bruce and Batman as he claws at the bed. It’s like having an out of body experience. Watching his younger self go through a nightmare that he himself has suffered through a million times.
He jumps into action when the kid starts begging to be let out, gathering the little child in his arms.
“It’s okay,” Jason tells him, not missing a beat when a fist catches him in the mouth. “You’re okay, Jay. You’re not there anymore. I’ve got you and everything will be okay.”
Jason doesn’t know where the words come from, but he keeps repeating them as he coaxes the kid to consciousness. He doesn’t stop himself from pressing a kiss to the sweat drenched forehead when those pit-tinged blue eyes open to look up at him.
“Want me to tell you a story?” Jason asks, when it becomes clear that the kid won’t be saying anything. "Sometimes, it helps to take my mind off things."
Jay lets the silence stretch on before he speaks. “How old are you?” He asks, his voice hoarse from screaming.
“Oh.” Jay gives him another once over. “You’re not that much older than me.”
“The fuck are you talking about?” Jason growls in mock outrage. “Five years is a long time.”
Jay makes a show of rolling his eyes theatrically as he lifts his hands in surrender. “Okay, gramps. Careful there, wouldn’t want you to break a hip.”
“You little shit!” Jay slaps his hand away when he ruffles his hair. “So, story or not?”
“I’m not a baby, I don’t need bedtime stories.”
“You don’t,” Jason agrees easily. “But I have a lot of stories I know you’ll enjoy.”
That gets Jay’s attention, even if he doesn’t want to seem eager. “What kind of story?”
“Hmm,” Jason picks up his phone, which has been silent and mostly useless since he arrived. He thumbs through his gallery until he stops at a picture of Artemis glaring daggers at him. “How about I tell you about her?”
Jay takes the phone to stare at the picture. “She’s dressed like an amazon,” he observes. “Is she your girlfriend?”
“She’s an amazon. Her name is Artemis," He says with a laugh. “Don’t ever let her hear you call her my girlfriend. She packs a mean punch and I like all my teeth safely in my mouth.”
Little Jay grins at the picture before settling down against Jason’s body. “So, how did you become friends with an Amazon?”
Jay wakes up again from nightmares before morning but he accepts Jason’s comfort.
The next morning, Jason makes little Jay join him for some meditation. He introduces the kid to the meditation techniques he learned from his time with the All Caste. He doesn’t care that Nyssa’s pit comes with little to no side effects of rage. The kid still has a long way to go in life. He’s going to need all the control exercises when the truth about his situation hits him.
Little Jay is surprised to find out they’re in Japan when they leave the motel to get breakfast. Jason is familiar with Japan. He spent quite some time in the country, but all of Jay’s trips to Japan has been on a mission with Batman.
“How did you even know where to find a Lazarus pit?” Jay asks when they return to the motel room after breakfast.
“Future knowledge,” Jason shrugs.
He hmms. “So, when are we going back to Gotham?” Jason has been expecting the question, but he still winces. Jay sees the reaction. “We’re going back, right? You said you didn’t kidnap me. We have to make sure Bruce knows I’m okay now.”
“No!” Jay yells. “What aren’t you telling me? I know you’re hiding something, so you better tell me before I drag it out of you,” He threatens, chest puffing up in an unmistakable Robin pose.
Jason debates what to tell him, but in the end, he has to tell him the truth. He’s working against time right now and he has absolutely no idea how much of it he has. “I don’t think returning to Bruce is the best option for you.”
“Who the fuck are you to decide what’s good for me?” Jay snarls. He's very agitated and a hairbreath away from attacking Jason. “I don’t care whatever fucked up world you’re from, but just because you look like me doesn’t mean you know anything about my life!”
He has to grit his teeth and control his breathing to keep from lashing out. God, he always knew he was a little shit, but he had no idea he had it this bad. “That’s where you’re wrong.” Jason says evenly. “The only difference between us is that I got to you first. Everything about your life up until this point is exactly the same as mine.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jay tells him. “Whoever your Bruce is, he’s nothing like mine.”
“If you were so sure he’s all that, then why did you feel the need to seek out a mother?” Jason throws back at him.
Jay falters, he opens his mouth to answer, but snaps it shut with a hard glare.
“If you felt so safe and secure with him, why did you need to go look for another parent? For someone to put you first, before his mission. You think I don't know what it's like to want someone who would care more about you more than the criminals he goes out to punch at night. A parent who would see all the things you’re doing right, instead of cataloguing all the ways you’re not like his golden boy,” Jason takes a deep breath and lowers his voice. Jay is frozen in place. “It’s okay that you care about him. He gave you a home and an education and you had the chance to do all the things you love. You were Robin, for goodness sake. But I’m telling you that going back to Bruce would be a terrible mistake.”
He watches the kid breakdown into tears again as Jason’s words hit him. Jason pulls him into his arms and holds him as he cries.
“I will take you back to him if you insist,” He promises the kid. “But I’m telling you what I wish someone else had told me. You’re better off building your own life, away from Bruce’s influence.”
They order takeout throughout the day. Jay is lethargic and spends most of the day reading.”
“Do you have nightmares?” Jay asks him that night when he wakes them up again with his screaming.
“Sure. I doubt there’s anybody that doesn’t have nightmares.”
“What’s your nightmares about?”
“Different things. At first, it was being buried alive and having to dig my way out of the grave. Then it was bleeding out while being crushed in a collapsed building.” Jason has to shake the memories off. “These days, it’s mostly that my friends will be dead, and I’ll be too late in finding them.”
“Artemis and Bizarro? The ones you were looking for when you got sent here?” Jason nods. “What happened to them?”
“Got sucked into a wormhole.” Jason doesn’t want to talk about it, and little Jay may have read it from his tone.
“My nightmares are about being buried alive,” Jay whispers.
“It’s a memory. Your memories are coming back, though there’s no guarantee you’ll get it all back. I’m still missing some things, myself.” Jason informs him. “But you were buried after you died. You woke up underground, dug your way out and wandered Gotham. It’s how I found you.”
Jay watches Jason’s face intently as he speaks, searching for a lie. “Did it happen to you too?”
“I told you kid, our lives up till this point has been exactly the same. Except I didn’t have a future version of myself to help me.”
Jay shudders. “I want to see it.” He says firmly, his voice brooking no rooms for arguments.
“My grave. The one I dug my way out of. I want to see where Bruce buried me.”
Jason wants to argue. He doesn’t know what the kid’s goal is, and he suspects he’s trying to manipulate Jason into taking him back to Gotham and so he can ditch Jason and go back to Bruce. But it isn’t his decision to make. Sooner or later, he’ll be back to his own time and little Jay will be alone. If he wants to go back to Bruce and learn his lessons the same hard way Jason did, then it’s his choice to make.
“Okay,” Jason agrees. “I’ll call my contact and let him know we’re ready to go back.”
It turns out the cargo plane that had brought them to Japan was scheduled to leave the next day, so they join it.
Returning to America has its up sides. Jason’s contact for creating new ID is there, and little Jay is familiar with the place. If Jason is suddenly ripped away, he wouldn’t have to worry too much about the kid.
They settle into a motel, where Jay falls face first onto the bed. Jason can't remember if he slept so much after his resurrection, or if it’s just jetlag. But it’s only been two days since his exposure, so he tries not to think too hard about it.
The next evening, they stop by at a flower shop first, both of them getting a bouquet of pink carnations before heading out to the graveyard. They didn’t even discuss it, both of them just knowing. It had been a ritual of Jason’s to bring his mother carnations when he visited, since Bruce got her a headstone.
Little Jay seems taken aback by it, but he takes it in stride.
They stop by at Jay’s grave first. They don’t say anything, just stand there in silence. Staring at both his and Sheila’s grave. In his future, he destroyed Sheila’s headstone but he doesn’t tell Jay that.
"Doesn't look like someone crawled out of it," Jay observes.
"Yeah," Jason shrugs. "I suspect that the workers here had something to do with that."
“Must be the close proximity to her that made it difficult for me to rest in peace,” Jay mutters, and Jason feels bile rise in his throat that he forces down. He’s always joking about his death, but hearing little Jay do the same makes his mouth taste like ash.
“How do you feel?” Jason chances, watching the kid from the corner of his eyes. “About being alive again?”
Jay turns to look at him before turning back to his headstone. He’s quiet for so long, Jason thought he wouldn’t answer. “I didn’t want to die. Watching the timer go off, knowing there was no way out,” he drags in a shaky breath. He sniffles, and a tear rolled down his cheek. “It hurt. There were so many things I wanted to do, but I knew I would never get the chance. So, I thought, if I could just save her. It’s what Bruce would have done, and it’s what he would have wanted me to do.
“And now, I’m here and I’m supposed to be happy, but I don’t know how to feel.”
Jason pulls him into a hug. He’s been doing a lot of that since his arrival, but he doesn’t mind. He forgot how young he used to be.
He’s just really glad that the kid doesn’t hate being brought back, or resent Jason for doing it to him in the first place. “It’s okay that you don’t know how to feel. You’ve been through some really tough shit, give yourself some time.”
“I never even replied to Eddie's last letter. I thought I’d tell him all about it after I found mom.”
Jason never got to reconnect with Eddie. By the time he came out of his pit and revenge haze long enough to notice anyone that isn’t Bruce or Batman, Eddie was dead. There’s not a lot of things he regrets more than that. “You’re back now, you can write him when we get to the room. Tell him all about your adventures. I’m sure he'll be happy to hear from you.”
“’S weird though,” Jay tells him. “I don’t have any scars. Not even the ones from before I met Batman.”
“Courtesy of the pit,” Jason ruffles his hair, narrowly dodging the hand that rises to smack his arm away.
They move on to Catherine’s grave after that, but not before Jason drops a single stem of flower on Jay’s grave.
“I miss her,” Jay says softly, after they drop their flowers.
“When I found Sheila, I thought she would be like Catherine. She seemed really glad to see me.” Jay laughs self depreciatingly. “Kinda stupid, now that I think about it.”
Jason knows the feeling. “It’s not stupid. You trusted the wrong person, it’s not your fault. She had everyone fooled.”
“Who found you after you left your grave?” Jay asks after a beat.
“Talia al Ghul.” Jay's head snaps up so fast Jason is worried he may have broken something. “Well, it’s really Ra’s. I don’t know how he found out about me, but he sent people to kidnap me. He wanted to know how I was resurrected, but I was too brain damaged to be of good use, so he handed me off to Talia.”
“She’s the one who put you in the pit?”
“Yeah. She put me in Ra’s pit. Let me tell you, what they say about the pit causing madness is not a joke.” Jason laughs deprecatingly. “For years, I had no idea if my emotions were all mine or just exacerbated by the pit. At the very least, you’re lucky.”
“What about Bruce?” He asks with a confused frown. “He was always fighting Ra’s and I know he had the hots for Talia. So where was he in all this?”
“He had no idea. No one told him. She put me in the pit and she got me teachers to train me when I asked.”
Jason tells him about coming back to Gotham years later and attacking the Drake, challenging Bruce and generally being a nuisance to the entire family because he was very angry at Bruce for replacing him.
Once he starts, he finds that he can’t stop. He tells Jay about the people he killed, about reconciling and the promise he made to Batman that he’ll stop killing, to be accepted as one of the bats, not that it helps. What a waste it had been because Bruce never believed in Jason or accepted him, despite what he preached.
Jason doesn’t go deep into details. He doesn’t want to give the kid ideas or traumatize him even more.
“Did it occur to you that Bruce didn’t trust you because of the things you did,” Jay spits at him, his face red with anger. “Now you’re projecting your issues onto me, acting like you’re doing me a favor by keeping me from returning home. Just because we look alike doesn’t mean I’m like you. I’m not going to go crazy and kill a bunch of people.”
“You’re right, I don’t deserve Bruce’s trust, not after trying to get revenge on him. It hasn’t been a year since you died, and you haven’t hurt anyone. Batman has a new Robin flying through rooftops with him already. Want to know what he’s telling the new guy about you? What he’s been telling everybody since you died? He’s been telling them you got yourself and Sheila killed. He’s telling them you were reckless and a bad Robin who never did what he was told.”
The kid is pale. All the color that made his face red with anger only a moment ago has disappeared, leaving him almost lifeless. The only sign of life on his face is the wild eyes locked on to his.
Jason knows he’s being mean and he’s hurting the kid with his words, but he can’t keep coddling him. He needs to know what he’s getting himself into, if he still wants to return to Bruce.
“You tried to help Sheila. Even after she sold you out to be killed,”—Jason avoids mentioning the joker— “you did what you know Bruce would have done in your place. Yet when anyone steps out of line, he reminds them of you as a cautionary tale for what happens to Robins who don’t listen.” Jason is breathing heavily by now. These are memories he’s worked hard to forget. “Tell me Jay, what have you done to deserve such defamation?”
“You’re lying.” Jay launches himself at him, landing a solid hit in his solar plexus. They scramble with each other for a while. “Bruce wouldn’t say such things about me and he wouldn’t replace me so easily. He wouldn’t. You’re lying!"
Must be quite the picture, Jason thinks. Both of them fighting in front of their mother’s grave like this. What would mom think? Can she see them right now? At least none of the cemetery workers come up to them.
“We’re in Gotham, kid. You can go to the manor and see for yourself.” Jason lets the fight go on a little longer so Jay can get the anger out of his system before pinning the kid down. “You think Bruce cares about you?” He asks the kid meanly, “You think Bruce would have taken you in if he didn’t need a Robin after Dick quit? Do you think he would have thought twice about the street rat that boosted his tires if he hadn’t needed a replacement for the one that left him?”
“Shut up!” Jay growls, struggling to get free Jason’s hold, but Jason is stronger. “I said shut up!”
Jason doesn’t. instead, he tells him about the time Bruce tricked him into going to Ethiopia and tried to force him to remember how the joker killed him because he wanted to resurrect his real son. He told him about when Bruce beat him up after he suspected he shot Penguin and how that left him bedridden for weeks.
“You want to know what he told me when we saw each other after that?” Jason asks rhetorically. “He told me it was what I needed. You know, when Willis hit us, at least he had the grace not to pretend he did it because he loved us!”
At his last statement, the fight goes out of little Jay. What follows is the most intense sobbing that has the kid’s entire body trembling. He clings to Jason when he picks him off the ground and leaves the cemetery, crying all the way to their motel.
Jay cries himself to sleep that night. Jason hates himself for hurting the kid, but it’s better than letting him run off to Bruce, only to be disappointed and heartbroken.
The next day, he makes Jay write Eddie. Having a friend is very important. Jason knows he would be dead many times over without his friends.
He reaches out to his contact to create Jay’s new identity. Jay insists on using his own name, and Jason agrees. Jason and Todd are all very common names. No one will think twice about someone called Jason Todd. Even in Gotham. By now everyone has forgotten about the street rat that was Bruce Wayne’s charity case.
When night falls, Jay decides he wants to see the new robin. Jason has never heard of a worse idea. He wants the kid to leave Gotham and start a life somewhere else. He should join Eddie in California, that would be better for his mental health, but Jay has decided to take his life into his own hands.
Sometimes, you just have to let people make their own bad decisions.
Jason dresses Jay in his armor, the shirt and jacket are way too big for him but if they’re going out in Gotham at night looking for Batman and Robin, then he’ll have to deal. It leaves Jason wearing the pants.
It’s a few hours into their search before they come across the new dynamic duo, handling a few thugs by the docks. Jay and Jason watch them work from a couple of rooftops away.
“How could he?” Jay whispers. Face the picture of heartbreak. “I wasn’t even gone that long! How could he just replace me?”
“If it helps, it’s nothing personal. He was always going to replace you when a new candidate came along.”
“No, he wasn’t!” Jay turns his anger on Jason. “Robin is mine! Bruce made me Robin.”
“Yes, he did. After he made Dick Robin and then fired him.” Jason points out. “You replaced Dick and now Tim has replaced you. When Bruce’s real son comes, he’s going to replace Tim. It’s a cycle. Just be glad you weren’t alive when it happened.”
That earns Jason a punch. Damn! Little Jay has a mean right hook.
“I’m going to show them!” Jay growls, but Jason cuts him off. He can see the wheels turning and this is what he’s been trying to avoid.
“Absolutely not.” He says in a clipped tone. “Remember when you said you weren’t me? You won’t go crazy and hurt a bunch of people? You need to remember that and keep reminding yourself that every day. We don't hurt good people. You even tried to help Sheila even after what she did. Bruce didn’t teach you to be a good person, Jay. Don’t let his actions turn you into the kind of person that will hurt others because you want revenge.”
Jason pulls the boy in his arms, blocking his view of Batman and Robin. He wipes the tears streaming down his face.
“I have lived for revenge, and I have lived to please Bruce. I ignored the sign at the gate that said 'abandon all hope, all who enter here’. Whatever plans are rolling through your head, I’ve been there and done it. I’m telling you now, that nothing good can come out of it. It won’t help you in the long run and in the end, you will only make yourself even more miserable.
“I learned the hard way that the best thing you can do for yourself is to live your own life. For yourself and nobody else. The biggest ‘fuck you’ you can give to Bruce is to succeed without him. And you’re going to do just that.”
After that, there's no point lingering. Her ushers the kid off the roof and into the streets.
On the way back to their motel, they take a detour deep inside Crime Alley, past their old neighborhood where they grew up. It gives Jason a nostalgic twinge within him, seeing the old dilapidated building where he used to live with his mom.
A loud cheer from a group of guys, coming from an abandoned building nearby stops them in their tracks. He exchanges a look with Jay, before they head towards the sound. A group of men in an abandoned building in Crime Alley is never a good sign. That much hasn’t changed with time.
Jason lets little Jay go first. He scales the side of the building, up to the window to get a good view of the men’s activities. The look of absolute horror on his face at what he sees, has Jason following immediately.
It’s not the first time he’s been greeted with such a sight, but Jason doubts he’ll ever get used to it.
The men must be part of a local gang. They are armed with guns and knives, but it’s nothing they can’t deal with.
Jason lets the fight drag on, mostly because Jay seems like he could use an outlet. The kid is brutal with his kicks and punches, and he even hears a few bones snap. Jason is distracted, he has to keep an eye on the kid to make sure he doesn't accidentally kill anyone.
A short while later, almost twenty men are unconscious on the ground. Their victim, a young woman, is mostly unconscious. She’s covered in a mix of cum and blood.
Jason has a more creative way to punish a crime like this, to make sure they don’t ever rape another person again, but he has to hold back for his young self. No need to give him ideas by maiming people in front of the kid.
Jay delivers another brutal kick to the last one caught in the act when he sees the state of the woman. At least the fight has given him an avenue to channel the anger at Bruce.
Jason picks the lady up as carefully as he can, heading towards Leslie’s clinic. Once the clinic is in sight, Jay runs ahead of him to alert the good doctor of her new patient.
When he arrives at the entrance of the clinic, he finds Dr Thompkins staring at Jay, almost as though she’s hallucinating. Jay doesn’t seem to notice. He’s talking a minute, trying to give as much information about the patient as he can.
“Jason?!” The doctor yells, almost in surprise when she spots him. “What is going on? How is there two of you?”
“Hiya, Doc.” Jason grins, leaving Jay to answer the question while he settles their patient on the stretcher Jay had guided to the entrance. Now that he’s no longer anxious about getting her to the clinic in time, Jason feels lightheaded.
“Oh,” Jay says in embarrassment. “Right. I forgot you’d know I was dead.”
“Yes, that. Last I heard, you were dead and now there’s two of you?” She asks.
“Long story, doc.” Jason says. “But you should call someone to take care of the scumbags responsible for this.” He rattles off the address of the building they left the men.
“Both of you, stay here.” She orders. “I’ll be back to deal with you later.” She’s about to turn around and take the patient in, when she pauses. “Are you bleeding?” She asks, staring at his abdomen.
Jason looks down, to find that he is, indeed, bleeding. “I thought I felt a little woozy,” He says, going for humor.
The last thing he sees before he passes out is Jay’s scared face.
“You’re a shithead, you know that, Jason?” Is the first thing Jason hears when he wakes up. He’s still at the clinic. He turns to see Jay watching him worriedly. “You’re supposed to say something to your partner when you’re hurt. Not keep it to yourself until you almost die.” Jay scolds.
“If it helps,” Jason says, knowing it won’t help. “I didn’t even realize until she pointed it out. One of those guys must have landed a hit.”
“It doesn’t,” Jay scowls at him. Then he helps Jason sit upright before shoving food at him. “Eat. Doc will be here soon.”
“How are you doing?” He doesn’t look like he got any sleep but Jason doesn’t point it out.
“I didn’t almost die.”
Jay glares at him.
Doc comes in later to check his stitches, cautioning him not to push it for the next few days before discharging him.
Jason knows Jay has something on his mind, but he doesn't push. They go out for lunch, and then pick up Jay's new identity.
"Does Bruce really have a biological child?" Jay asks that evening.
Jason has been trying to get him to decide on a city he wants to settle in. "Yeah, with Talia." When Jay chokes, he continues, amused. "A snooty little assassin that thinks he's better than everyone else because he's the heir to both Batman and the Demon Head."
He tells Jay all about the future members of the Bat family and even shows him the few photos on his phone.
"Doc says I can stay with her," Jay tells him. Completely changing the subject.
"How did that happen?" Jason asks, not willing to show just how thrown off he is.
“I told her,” Jay says. “About how I’m here and who you are.”
Jason would have been surprised if Jay hadn’t. “How did she take it?”
Jay shrugs. “Surprisingly well. She even offered me a job when I told her I wasn’t going back to Bruce.”
That was better than Jason was expecting. “Yeah? And how do you feel about that?”
“I don’t know?” He shrugs again, probably an attempt at nonchalance, but the brightness in his eyes betrays him. “If I stay here with her and work here, I’ll still be able to help people. It may not be like Robin, but Doc saves a lot of people too. I can still go to school and college.”
“True. The life expectancy and job security are much higher, too.” Jason adds. "If you still want to be a superhero, you can do all that when you're done with college and can afford it."
Staying with doc means Jason isn’t condemning the boy to a loner life when he leaves. Having an actual adult supervision would definitely ease Jason’s mind. Doc is a no-nonsense woman. She won’t take Jay’s shit.
Once Jay officially agrees to accept Leslie as his new guardian, Jason has no reason to stall. Artemis and Bizarro are still missing and he needs to find them. He has done all he can for little Jay, and the shrimp is safe for now.
It takes him a week to track down John Constantine. During the week, he sells the gold bars he lifted from Penguin’s safe and deposits the proceeds, as well as what is left of the cash he stole in an account he opened for Jay.
Eddie replies to Jay's letter. The guy is both baffled and glad to hear that Jason is no longer dead and promises to visit. The letter does a great job of lifting Jay's spirits and he couldn't reply fast enough.
He spars with the kid, teaches him meditation and all the ways he can avoid hurting others when he's overwhelmed by the pit.
Jason creates a file in the tablet about all the future heroes, vigilantes and villains he is likely to come across.
“You’re not going to hand him off to Bruce the moment I’m gone, are you?” Jason asks Doc on the day before John Constantine promised to send him back. He's just finished helping Jay set up at her place.
Doc has been very understanding and great with Jay so far. Jason doesn’t think she’ll alert Bruce but he still has to make sure.
“I never agreed with Bruce’s decision to involve kids in his fight against crime,” She tells Jason. “Both of you may have your own reasons for keeping your distance, but the last thing I’ll do will be to send him back to that life.”
“You’re the only one I know who can stand your ground against him,” Jason grins. “I’m relieved that he’ll have you. He can be in over his head sometimes.”
“Speaking from experience?” Doc asks and Jason laughs.
He teaches her all the signs of pit madness to look for. How to keep Jay from tipping over the edge, and also the easiest way to knock him out without hurting herself, if all else fails.
Jason leaves Gotham that night. It’s a long drive to John and he has plans for a detour that he’s been preparing for, for days since he found his younger self.
“I’m almost sad to see you go,” Jay informs him.
“Really?” Jason raises a skeptical brow. “I thought you’d be glad to see the back of me.”
“Oh, I am. Make no mistakes. You’re an asshole and I certainly dodged a bullet.” He grins impishly at Jason. “But of all the madmen that could have found me, I’m glad it’s you.”
“Well, don’t blow it.” Jason tells him.
He heads towards Arkharm, where he knows the joker has been cooling off since his last playdate with Batman. Little Jay hasn’t asked about him since regaining consciousness. Jason can’t tell if it’s because he’s too scared to ask what became of him or if he really hasn’t thought about him since, but it’s better to take care of it before it becomes an issue.
When he breaks into the Joker’s cell that night, he doesn’t look at the monster or let it get a word in edgewise. Jason remembers the state he had found little Jay and it makes him angry all over again.
He summons the All blades and with a quick swipe, he severs his head from his shoulder. Jason is in an out of there in almost no time.
The next day, he returns to his own timeline. Nothing is resolved. He still has to find Artemis and Bizzaro. He’s still an outcast among the bats, still banned from operating in Gotham.
But he got to have his one wish, and in another life, there's a Jason who will be better for it.
Whatever else the future holds, Jason feels ready to face it.