Despite the carefully cultivated exterior of a hardened criminal, Jason Todd is remarkably straight edge.
After what happened to his mother, drugs were never going to be a thing; he stopped smoking long before a lunatic clown beat him to death and though his preferred hangouts tend toward bars, that’s more to keep an eye out for trouble than for slinging back shots.
There are exceptions, of course: coping with any kind of murder that involves kids. The days immediately following another one of Joker’s breakouts and inevitable mind games. Some of the worse fights with Bruce.
And certain anniversaries.
Days like today, when all he is boils down to traumatic flashbacks of metal caving in his lungs and high-pitched laughter, and mounting fear turned to begging for the end. Circular thoughts and ‘what-ifs’ that he ignores or pushes to the back of his mind every other day of the year are stronger now, now occupy his mind with the stubbornness of a cancer.
Today’s a day for hard whiskey and keep it coming until he can’t see straight, for everything to melt away behind a fog of false levity until he wakes up again and he can forget for another year.
He’s nearing that point when his phone rings.
It’s not the harsh tune of I Hate Everything About You that he’s programmed for any of the Bats civilian phone lines, but a generic ringtone. So not a call from them to offer sympathy, but not an emergency either.
(If they couldn’t reach the comm in his helmet, they’d just show up.)
He ignores it, goes back to his drink.
There’s a brief silence once it goes to voicemail, and then ten seconds later the ringing starts again. The bartender is giving him a look with raised eyebrows, but Jason just gestures for another finger of whiskey.
Around the fifth time, Jason picks up the phone if only to turn the damn thing off or chuck it at a wall. Then pauses at the Caller ID—Gotham General.
What the hell…?
No one he knows would contact him on a public hospital line.
His thumbs fumble as he accepts the call, but even as he barks out, “What?”, he hears a static click and the electronic monotone of his voicemail bidding the incoming caller leave a message.
There’s a pause, and then a stranger’s tired voice comes on the line.
“This message is for Jason Ardila. I’m Dr. Kerry at Gotham General Hospital. We have you listed as the primary contact for Isabel Ardila.” Jason straightens up as best he can at this. “I have news regarding your wife’s condition. It would be best if you came to the hospital as soon as possible. You can reach me at—”
He rattles off a number but Jason doesn’t catch it, mind whirling.
Isabel? Emergency contact? What the hell? Wife? Even more what the hell. At least she knows not to give his real name, but…again, why call him? They aren’t exactly close, and he hasn’t seen or spoke to Isabel since that thing at Elysium.
That was…what…last July?
He counts back again, needing to check his math against his alcohol muzzled brain. In any case, it’s a few months shy of a year, which makes it more than random she’s calling him now.
“—can’t make it here within the next two hours, please contact a hospital representative to assist you.”
The message ends.
Jason stares blearily at the phone for several minutes, trying to put his thoughts in order.
Something needles at the back of his mind, and his thumb smudges across the screen to open his browser, pulling up Gotham General’s staff directory. It takes longer than he’d like to navigate, squinting at the text that’s far too small before he remembers he can resize that shit, and finally he locates—
Dr. David Kerry, M.D., F.A.C. S., Obstetrician.
Jason’s stomach lurches.
He counts back again.
April back to July.
Almost nine months.
Nine months since the last time he and Isabel—
No. No way, it must be a coincidence. Probably she just got into some trouble. Trouble that needs the Red Hood to solve, and that’s why she named me as contact.
He scrubs a hand down his face, trying for sobriety.
But then why didn’t she call me and tell me? Why wait until she’s at the goddamn hospital?
And under the care of an obstetrician. That’s…the thing he’s most concerned about.
There’s no way. She said she was seeing someone, if there were anything, it would have to do with him. But then…why contact me and not him?
He’s dimly aware of shrugging his jacket back on, of throwing a bunch of bills on the bar-top and wandering out despite the barkeeper saying something to him. Of getting out into the chill and damp spring air, trying to hail a cab, because yeah, the bike he left in the alley has an autopilot feature, but Jason doesn’t feel like risking road rash if he slips off it on a sharp turn. Which he might do, considering he drops his wallet twice trying to put it back in his jacket.
Also, if he and Isabel need to make a quick exit if she’s hurt, it will be easier for him to steal a car later than try to put her on a bike. And if she’s not alone—
Don’t think about it.
As he gets his wallet back in his pocket, he remembers he basically gave the barkeep all his cash, and shit, does he even have anything left? This means he’s going to waste time going back in and taking it back since the guy hasn’t exactly followed him out to return it. Probably thinks it’s a tip or—
Jason stiffens, that sixth sense honed from a childhood on the street and training under the most paranoid man in the world bypassing his otherwise alcohol clouded senses to warn him. Someone’s behind him.
“Whoever you are, you really don’t want to test me right now,” he growls, speech only a little slurred. Shit-faced or not, he’s still a better fighter than any low-tier thug in Gotham.
“I’m not testing anything, except how much your situational awareness sucks when you’re drunk.”
The voice is dry and familiar, and Jason turns around, half-expecting to come face to face with Red Robin crouched in the shadows. Instead, Tim Drake is several feet away, dressed casually and leaning against a sports car that has no business idling on the streets of Burnley.
Jason didn’t hear him pull up, which means he’s been here a while—and he didn’t notice him.
Need to sober up now.
“The hell are you doing here, Drake?” he snarls to cover up his obvious impaired reactions.
“It’s the 27th,” the younger man says, slow and careful. “I’m keeping an eye on you.”
Of course, he knows what day it is…
Jason bares his teeth. “In case I do something crazy? Decide to go on a rampage?”
“In case you needed a ride home or someone to talk to or just make sure you don’t choke on your own vomit,” Drake retorts.
“Aren’t you the little do-gooder. How’d you even find me?”
“Roy Harper called me out of the blue. He told me someone should check in on you, and he figured for some reason I’m the best candidate to look in on you.” He shrugs and there’s a frown of confusion on his face. “Don’t know why he thinks so, considering our history.”
Jason suspects it has to do with Drake being the one who got him the information needed to find and save Roy’s ass in Qurac, but he’s not about to say so.
“Doesn’t answer how you knew I was here.”
Drake raises an eyebrow at that because, yeah, they both know how he found him.
Jason rolls his eyes. “Whatever. You found me. You saw me. Now step off, I’m trying to get a cab.”
He turns away and starts heading up the street to the busier intersection.
“Headed to another bar?” Drake wants to know, uncertain, like he’s trying not to sound judgemental.
“No, screw you very much, I need to get to Gotham General.”
And it’s further proof of how much his mind and his reflexes are on a roller coaster tonight, because he’s actually started the hand that falls upon his shoulder. As it turns him around, he instinctively lashes out with a right hook, but Drake dodges it with embarrassing ease.
His eyes are raking over Jason, up-and-down, re-assessing. “You hurt?”
He’s fishing, Jason thinks; none of them have gone to the hospital for an injury that wasn’t faked in years, least of all Bruce Wayne’s legally dead ex-son. Perhaps that’s why he’s able to detect the genuine concern in the bland question. It’s not laid on as thickly as Dick might do, or tinged with the hint of judgment and self-recrimination from Bruce.
Maybe that’s why he finds himself admitting, “Someone I know might be.”
The younger man nods, understanding; some of the intentness leaves his face.
“I could give you a ride,” he offers, nodding his head at the car. “Get you there faster than a cab could.”
It’s on the tip of Jason’s tongue to refuse, before he remembers he has no cash.
He glances back at the bar once more, wondering if it’s the better option to “haggle” with the barkeep to get his money back. Suspects that will lead to a fight, which if Drake insists on hanging around (which he suspects he will, even if it’s just watching him from a distance, the creep) he’ll probably intervene in and—
This is getting too complicated.
“Fine,” he sighs at last, earning a blink of surprise from Drake.
No kidding. I’m surprised, too.
Still, if there’s anything going down at the hospital, if this is a trap or something, and Jason needs to ensure Isabel gets out alright, however much he is off his game right now, having Red Robin backing him up wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.
It’s not like they’ve never worked together before, or kicked ass doing it.
Jason course corrects once more, heading for the car. Still, he can’t help making a comment, just to show how much he’d rather not be doing this. “But if we’re doing this chauffeuring thing, you’re gonna keep your mouth shut about it. And fork over whatever coffee I know you have in that shitbox of yours.”
Drake is the one who bares his teeth this time, a sharp, cold smile that Jason suspects is the last thing his enemies ever see before he knocks them out. “Call my car a shitbox again, and you can walk.”
To Be Continued
Chapter 1 was posted to tumblr yesterday (or the day before? Can't remember...) so here's chapter 2!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Somehow, Drake maneuvers through the city without getting a single red light and without going over the speed limit. It wouldn’t surprise Jason if he’s jerry-rigged some sort of portable device to alter traffic routes, but he doesn’t bother to find out.
Instead, he finds himself hoping he’s gotten all this wrong—that it’s another attack, someone using Isabel to get to him, like what the Joker did—
And then he hates himself for thinking that, because the Joker is always the worst-case scenario, and as thrown as Jason is by his growing paranoia, nothing warrants dealing with that lunatic.
So, he stews in silence, choking down two disgusting energy drinks as fast as he can to try to shake free of his alcoholic buzz. To his credit, Drake doesn’t ask him any questions the whole time, though, from the way his eyes keep cutting to him, he wants to. It’s more restraint than Jason would get from the other Bats, he thinks.
They arrive at the hospital, pulling up right in front of the emergency entrance beside the ambulance bay.
“Do you need backup?” Drake asks as Jason he swings himself out of the car, somewhat steadier on his feet.
“No. This ain’t somethin’ I need a partner on,” he replies. “Thanks for the ride and all, but buzz off.”
“Got it,” Drake says, shifting gears. “Circle the block a few times, just in case.”
He pulls away before Jason can argue with him, the sudden movement causing the car door to slam before Jason can close it.
He scowls after him.
Though, now that Jason’s actually at the hospital, the idea of having Red Robin as back-up is a little more palatable.
He shifts, appreciating the comforting weight of his guns in their shoulder holsters—insurance for the possibility that this is all a trap—and then strides through the emergency doors, looking for the reception area or equivalent since he doesn’t have the tolerance to search any directories any time soon. By some miracle, there’s no line of people requiring triage just then, and Jason presents himself to the harried-looking young man at the counter.
“I’m looking for a patient,” he says without preamble. “Isabel Ardila. I got a call from a Dr. Kerry?”
“Kerry…” the man repeats wearily, types something into the computer and says, “That’s Obstetrics. Take the elevator down the hall, maternity ward is on the third floor.”
The words echo over and over in his head, each repetition making the pit in his stomach grow.
Don’t know for sure. Could just be a coincidence.
He knows as well as anyone trained Batman that there is no such thing as coincidence.
Numbness and queasiness that has nothing to do with alcohol bleed into him.
The journey to the elevator and upstairs pass in a blur of half-formed thoughts and impressions. His heart seems to be beating a lot louder than it usually does. No sign of trouble that he can see, none of the warning signals that there’s something untoward afoot here.
Nothing warning him of imminent danger.
Perhaps that’s what makes him the most uneasy.
Before he knows it, he’s standing in front of another reception area, asking another nurse, or receptionist or whatever she is, for Dr. Kerry.
“I’m looking for Isabel Ardila,” he repeats, barely hearing himself above the rushing in his ears. “Where’s her room? I’m her…uh…husband.”
Another flick of a hand across a tablet and the woman’s face goes carefully and deliberately blank.
Shit. Even someone without training can tell that means bad news.
“Someone will be with you in a moment, sir,” she says, going for sympathetic.
He barely has time to go through the half-dozen possible scenarios in his head before a lanky man with thick-rim glasses in a white coat over scrubs approaches.
“I’m Dr. Kerry,” the man says when he arrives, as if Jason couldn’t guess. “I was told you are Ms. Ardila’s husband?”
“Ex,” Jason lies automatically, and it comes out as a croak. “It’s…been almost a year.”
“Ah.” His expression flickers with understanding but remains grim. “I wasn’t sure. Considering you weren’t present when she was admitted, and she didn’t mention you beyond putting your name down as her emergency contact.”
“I’m…just as confused as you are.”
Kerry’s expression is sympathetic but guarded. “I’m sorry. I take it your situation was…not traditional.”
“No. She was…we were…,” Jason says, and then shakes his head in frustration. “Listen, do we need to rehash my personal life, or are you gonna take me to see her?”
Kerry stiffens, and then sighs.
“I’m afraid that will have to wait a moment, Mr. Ardila. In fact, I think you may wish to sit down.”
He gestures to the wall of uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs.
“No,” Jason replies. “I’ve gotten enough bad news in my life to know what that means, so just spit it out.”
“Very well. Then I’m sorry to have to tell you, but she died about an hour ago.”
Jason hears the words, reads the shape of the other man’s mouth as he says them, and yet they don’t penetrate.
He’s no stranger to death or loss, but this somehow…
She got out. We went separate ways, she found someone else, she had a life. She can’t be…goddamn it, she was normal!
“…placental abruption…started hemorrhaging…no way to get the bleeding under control…one in a hundred cases…”
He barely hears any of it.
Jason could understand if it was one of the many associates he’s had over the years—his line of work, death is always a risk. People who work with him know that—Kori and Roy and any or every Bat and…and everyone he has ever worked with. Death is just part of the gig. Going out in a blaze of glory is expected.
Sometimes literal even.
Which is perhaps why it’s such a shock to hear it’s happened to someone like Isabel. Someone normal, someone not in the life, except for when he selfishly pulled her into it.
“…can understand the shock this must be. I’m so very sorry.”
“That’s…it wasn’t your fault,” Jason says, only vaguely aware that he’s doing it.
“The baby, on the other hand, is perfectly healthy.”
His gut clenches like he’s been punched.
Before, it was just a suspicion. A worry. But that word—baby—it’s solid, it’s real.
“Yes. She’s doing well, despite the circumstances.”
She. There’s a baby. It’s a ‘she’.
Jason’s thoughts are refusing to connect properly for some reason, and it bothers him. He’s taken on entire squadrons of men when he was concussed and barely able to see straight. Fought back the side-effects of the Lazarus Pit, held his own against various members of the All-Caste when under the influence of their psychotropic, hallucination inducing herbal concoctions.
In all those cases he could think through his situation.
But he can’t now.
“I’m…not sure I should be offering congratulations, though,” the doctor admits. “From the expression on your face, you weren’t aware she was pregnant.”
“The contact information we had for you…it was in the forms she signed upon admittance. She named you as the father.”
Jason stares blankly again.
He’s been expecting those words since listening to the message, and yet they still don’t seem entirely real to him.
“I…” Jason swallows, forces his brain to get back in gear. “Look. Isabel and me, we haven’t been together for a while.” Nine months, a while, and for a reason at that. “So…it could be mine…but it probably isn’t. She was with another guy. I don’t even know his name.”
“I see.” Kerry’s brow wrinkles. “That complicates matters. Ms. Ardila didn’t provide any other contact information for anyone else.”
Jason thinks back to every conversation he and Isabel had, trying to think if there was anything that can help here. He knows her parents are dead, that she never had any siblings; she has family in Columbia, but they’re cousins she said she never even met.
“…Other than you, at the moment, this child has no family. And if you don’t intend to take guardianship of her, a social worker will need to be contacted to handle the case.”
“Social worker,” he repeats. “You mean foster care.”
He has sudden flashbacks to angry yelling and a belt across his back, always being hungry and cold and unable to sleep for wondering if tonight would be the night the latest piece of trash foster father decided to slip into his room and pay him a visit.
Kerry must detect the distaste in his words, though not the exact reason behind it, because he says cautiously, “I assure you, it’s a valid option, and in her best interest. Babies—infants especially—have a high probability of being placed. If that’s the option you think best, she likely wouldn’t spend much time there.”
Jason doesn’t know what to say to that, thoughts still whirling. He remembers being taken away from Wayne manor, spending weeks in a spartan bedroom in Gotham’s Child Welfare Bureau—
It’s not the same. This isn’t the same situation; this is totally different.
So why is he freezing up and unable to make a decision right now?
The doctor is watching him, expectant, and yet Jason’s tongue feels rooted to the roof of his mouth.
“Surely before that becomes an issue, a paternity test might be an idea.”
Jason closes his eyes at the speaker’s words.
He doesn’t even need to turn around. Of course Drake didn’t listen to him; of course, he’s standing right behind Jason.
Probably has been for a while.
Dr. Kerry appears startled.
“Drake-Wayne,” the younger man corrects, striding forward until he is standing beside Jason. He doesn’t look at him, attention fully on the doctor. His expression is mild, but jaw set and eyes calculating. “I’ve been emancipated for a while.”
The doctor visibly recovers himself. “I...yes. However, this isn’t exactly your—”
“Business?” Drake interjects smoothly. “I’m afraid it is since I’m his partner.”
The slight bulging of the man’s eyes might make Jason laugh if Drake’s words didn’t penetrate his mental fog. He knows the other man means 'partner' in a totally different sense from what the doctor obviously infers from it. Any other day it would be a joke—hell, he might even play along with it, depending on his mood, drag out the joke to see how annoyed the kid could get—
“Great pains have been taken to keep that quiet,” Drake goes on, warning in his voice.
As in, ‘don’t go outing Tim Drake-Wayne to the press if you ever want to see funding to this place ever again’.
There’d that absurd temptation to laugh, again.
“Of c-course. Naturally, patient privacy is paramount. But you understand that legally, right now the only one with a say in the matter is Mr. Ardila, and—"
“And whatever his decision, we need all the facts,” Drake continues in a bizarrely reasonable voice. “He’ll submit to a paternity test, and I’ll expect it to be done as soon as possible.”
“Yes, of course, it can be rushed if that’s what you—”
The doctor and Drake glance at him.
“No,” Jason repeats dimly. “No rushing it. I can wait like a normal person.”
“A standard paternity test takes two to three days,” Kerry says, nervous. “If you want to know as soon as possible—”
“Other people need their tests done more than I do—things that can save people’s lives,” Jason replies. With effort, he turns to face Drake. “And besides, I don’t need any of this on the record so your nosy-ass family finds out about before…before I process this.”
He doesn’t really need to raise an eyebrow to communicate what he really means; Drake knows better than any of the others.
The younger man turns thoughtful for a beat, and after several seconds, nods.
“You’re right,” he allows. Then he turns to Dr. Kerry, who has been watching the interchange with the discomfort of someone watching a marital squabble. “We’ll wait for the results then. In the meantime, we should see the baby.”
Kerry blinks. “What?”
“What?” Jason echoes.
And Drake, polished as ever, offers the doctor a weary yet charming smile that has to have been perfected over years of training. “She just lost her mother, and as uncertain as the situation is until we know different, Jason is her father.” Jason almost swallows his tongue at those words. “I read somewhere that it’s important for babies to be held, especially so soon after birth.”
Kerry appears a little shell-shocked. “I’ll…I’ll have one of the nurses escort you, then.”
“Thank you. We’ll wait here. I think we’re going to need a moment if you don’t mind.”
“No, of course. I understand. It won’t take long.”
They watch him hurry away.
Jason immediately rounds on Drake.
“What are you doing?” he hisses, panicked. “Why the hell did you even come in here, I told you to go!”
“Since when do I listen to you?” Drake counters, fiddling with something beneath the sleeve of his expensive-looking jacket. “You spent the whole drive looking like you were headed to your own execution. You forget I’ve been around after you’ve died, and it’s not pretty.”
“Something else is about to not be pretty, and it’s your face,” Jason grouses.
“Threaten me or not, I’m trying to help you figure this out without having to wait two days.”
“I know what you said. And I have DNA sequencing tech built into my wrist computer,” Drake tells him, tapping the spot beneath his jacket. “Totally secure system, direct feed to my computer at the Nest, so no other Bats involved, and we can know in an hour. I just need to get close enough to the baby for a cheek swab or hair sample.” He cocks his head to one side, challenging. “So are you coming?”
Follow me on tumblr (violetsmoak) for news regarding updates--or just to drop me a line :)
Wherein someone is panicking and someone else is keeping their shit together.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A nurse leads them to an empty waiting room with chairs and a table, seemingly unfazed by the situation that has reduced Jason to almost the same mindless shell as he was before taking a dip in the Lazarus Pit.
“Normally we do visits with the mother and family in the hospital room, but in this case…” she trails off, sympathetic. “I’m very sorry.”
“Yeah,” Jason thinks he says, looking around the spartan décor.
“I’ll be back with your daughter,” she tells him and leaves.
Jason opens his mouth to protest that word, but it dies on his lips. Somehow it seems dickish to proclaim it’s not his daughter. He’s not sure he could form the sentence right now, anyway. It means acknowledging the existence of a tiny human who may or may not be his—
Jason blinks, looking over at Drake.
“The nurse,” the younger man says. “Calling the baby your daughter. She’s worried and hoping you’ll form an emotional attachment whether the child’s yours or not. You have no obligation to do that just now.”
Jason grits his teeth. “And you’re telling me this why?”
“Because I know what self-flagellation looks like. You can freak out, you know. I won’t tell anyone.”
“And you can be less of a weirdo! How the hell are you so…” Jason fumbles the word, and then furiously gestures up and down. “This.”
“It’s a tense situation and you’re panicked enough for the two of us.”
“I’m not panicked.”
“Jason, you’re completely tense right now, I can almost see how fast your pulse is going and you can barely think straight enough to give answers to simple questions,” Drake tells him. “Obviously you’re suffering from some sort of emotional shock.”
“Shock my ass,” Jason replies automatically. “I’ve been in literal warzones. I don’t do shock.”
“Have you ever learned you might possibly be a father in those warzones?” Jason’s stomach lurches at the word, blood draining from his face; Drake obviously sees it, because he nods as if satisfied. “There you go. Completely different situation. Look, just take a deep breath and—”
“I know how to calm down!” Jason growls. “Now stop managing me and—”
“Here we are!”
They both whirl around as the nurse from earlier reappears, this time wheeling a see-through plastic crib into the room. Inside is a vaguely wriggling lump in pink blankets and cap. There’s a label at the edge of the crib, with the words Baby Ardila neatly printed.
A rushing noise, starting like the hiss of static and turning into the dull road of a waterfall fills Jason’s head.
That’s a baby, right there. Possibly his baby.
Isabel’s gone. Dead. Dead in childbirth.
Which means if this is his kid, he’s responsible for Isabel’s death. And if that’s the case…what the hell is he supposed to do? He’s not supposed to have this—was never supposed to have anything like this—he’s going to ruin all of this, every second and minute he’s in this room around this kid, it’s like radiation, growing worse the longer exposed—
Jason blinks, looks up, notices the nurse is addressing him—has probably been doing so for a while, judging by the uncertainty in her eyes. She’s holding the baby, and he didn’t even notice her reach into the crib.
“It's still sinking in,” Drake says, explaining and covering for him at the same time. Jason swallows, shaking off the lingering invasive thoughts. “She asked if you want to hold her.”
He wonders if his thoughts show on his face, because the nurse hesitates, looking a bit uneasy about handing over the swaddled infant. Compared to the tiny bundle, Jason is a giant—over six feet, nothing but muscle and scars, clad in faded leather that may or may not have dried blood on it somewhere and no doubt smelling like a bar’s back alley.
His eyes shoot to Drake who, for the first time tonight—looks just as much at a loss as him. All confidence and strategizing are gone, and he’s looking at the pink-wrapped bundle with the same apprehension as a bomb.
Must be just as out of his element holding a baby as I am.
Maybe more so.
Jason at least has distant memories of doing so. As a kid in Crime Alley, neighbors were forced to rely on each other. If one of the women doing laundry or selling themselves on the corner told you to mind a baby, you minded the baby or you got a slap upside the head.
But that was a long, long time ago. Not as long as for Drake, who likely never had to do that, but long enough that Jason
“Maybe I shouldn’t...” he trails off. “Since she might not be…you know…”
“Yours?” the nurse says, and then turns red, as if she didn’t mean to say that. “It, uh…it wouldn’t hurt, you know. She…her mother didn’t get to hold her at all. So even if she’s not yours, you knew her mother. That’s still more of a connection than anyone else has to her.”
It sounds like spurious logic. Still—
“Okay,” he hears himself say, possibly damning himself with just the one word.
The nurse motions for him to take the chair beside the crib—it’s comically small beneath his frame and he expects the cheap plastic to give, but it never does. Instantly he wants to get back up—eyes flit to the door, the windows, ceiling panels, cataloging possible exits.
Then, the nurse settles the baby into his arms, gently coaching him how to hold her head properly and support the rest of her on his arms.
Jason swallows thickly, trying to become accustomed to the sensation of the slight weight—hell, he’s held heavier guns—and immediately has the irrational fear that he’s going to drop or break the infant.
She is red and wrinkled, and hardly even looks like a baby. He’s seen them that small before, sure—as Robin and as Red Hood, he’s been thrown into situations where he had to get pregnant civilians or young mothers to safety. Hell, he’s had to help pregnant women with an emergency delivery.
(Not sure which was more nerve-wracking, when he was a gawky teenaged boy that still fumbled shaving, or the heavy-handed vigilante more suited to holding an AK-47 in his hands than an infant body.)
She’s also very, very small.
“Are they supposed to be that tiny?” Drake asks, voicing Jason’s question as he peeks over his shoulder. His eyes are wide and a little awed, and Jason can’t recall ever seeing that particular expression on the kid’s face.
“Five pounds, fourteen ounces—she’s just within the right weight percentile for her gestational age,” the nurse replies.
She says something else after that, but Jason mostly tunes her out. He probably couldn’t even process it even if he was firing on all cylinders.
He finds his eyes roving over the tiny face, trying to figure out if she looks like him or not. He wants to cite the fact he can’t recognize any of himself in her features as proof she can’t be his, but the fact is…she barely has any identifying features. Nudging the tiny pink cap she’s wearing upward, he finds feathery strands of indistinct color—could be strawberry blond, like Isabel; could be red, like his natural color when he isn’t dying it.
Fifty-fifty chance, really.
Her eyes are scrunched shut in sleep, tiny eyebrows—does she even have eyebrows? —drawn together and pink mouth puckered in a frown. Overall, she looks completely uncomfortable.
He waits to feel any kind of affection or connection to the infant, some sort of primal magnetism that he should feel if this is his kid, but there’s nothing.
Only the persistent instinct to make a run for it.
“I’ll give you some time,” she says with a small smile. “There may be a social worker by in the next hour or so. Since we won’t know anything until the tests come back, nothing will be decided tonight, but it wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with whoever is handling the case, even if it is just for the short-term.”
“Thank you,” Drake says politely.
“And if you need anything, the call button to the nurse’s station is right there.”
And she departs.
Jason and Drake stare at each other without speaking for a while. The noise is broken only when the pink bundle in Jason’s arms begins to wriggle and his back goes rigid.
He looks back down at the tiny human in his hands and abruptly realizes he has never been more terrified in his life.
Even in that warehouse, being savagely beaten—he knew what was going to happen. Either he was going to be saved by Batman at the last minute, or he would die. Either way, the pain would end.
It occurs to him that the infant he’s holding has the potential to cause a whole other kind of pain.
“How do I put her down?” he asks through a dry mouth. “She didn’t…she didn’t show how to put her down—”
His hands feel too clumsy, his arms too big and—god, he could crush her.
“Why are you asking me?” Drake asks, an octave higher than normal.
He cuts off since he has no idea how he was going to answer that.
“Okay,” Drake says after a deep breath. “Okay, let’s try…” And he approaches slowly, eyeing Jason like he’s approaching a wild dog. Jason normally wouldn’t blame him, considering their not-so-great past together, but at the moment, his replacement’s the only one in his corner.
Somehow, thin but strong fingers slide between the space of leather jacket and blanket, maneuvering so that the baby’s head is supported, and between the two of them they get the infant back in the crib. Jason doesn't miss Drake slipping a sample kit out of his pocket and gently taking a cheek swab.
The baby only scrunches up her face and mewls in distaste.
Which is good.
Not crying is good.
Unless it’s a sign that something’s wrong.
Aren’t healthy babies supposed to cry? She doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with her, but how would he know the difference?
I'm not qualified for this.
Drake continues doing whatever it is he needs to do for his test. He doesn't ask Jason for a blood sample, probably has a file on in somewhere in that crafty bit of tech on his arm. Normally Jason would make a snide comment about that, but can't summon the energy for it.
For a long time, he and Drake stand on either side of the crib, tense and neither really knowing how to break the oppressive silence. Staring down at the little pink creature like she might suddenly rear up and attack.
It would be funny if it all weren’t so terrifying.
Jason hasn’t smoked in almost five years, but just then all he wants it a cigarette. Or a pack.
More time must pass than he expected, because eventually there’s a staccato beeping from Drake’s wrist, and they both startle. Jason watches the other man covertly pull up a holographic screen above his wrist, frowning at the numbers and data blinking at him.
His eyes widen. They’re very blue, Jason notices dimly, in the abstract and tired way you notice strange details in the moments before your life irrevocably changes.
When their gazes connect, his face says it all.
Jason’s lungs constrict.
“Holy shit,” he croaks, because what the hell else is he going to say?
“Holy shit,” Drake echoes. “This is…not the result I was expecting.”
Jason barks out a bitter laugh, and begins to pace, running his fingers through his hair. His throat feels like it’s closing over because up until that moment, he really didn’t think it was real.
Isabel dead, he could believe. Her leaving behind a baby, also believable.
But that the baby is his?
That Jason Todd—the clan fuck-up who never entertained the idea of ever being a father except for maybe a lifetime ago when he also dreamed impossible things like growing up to become Batman—has a kid?
“No!” he rasps, whirling around to face Drake. “No, this is not fair! I’m careful—I’ve always been careful! This is the sort of thing that happens to Bruce. Or maybe Dick, because who knows where he’s been—hell, even Alfred had a kid he didn’t know about.”
“This sort of thing happens more than you think. Statistically speaking—”
"It doesn’t happen to me!” Jason hisses back.
Especially since he’s always made it a point to only sleep with people he knew were species incompatible, didn’t have the body parts necessary to get pregnant or on birth control. The few times he’d been with Isabel, she’s even laughed at him because of how intent he was to stop and put on a condom.
“This is…” Jason begins, fighting down the mounting urge to throw up. “It’s too much, I need to—”
“Take a walk,” Drake tells him, a commanding note in his voice that is eerily reminiscent of Bruce. “An hour or two somewhere else to clear your head. Or longer, if you need to. I can keep an eye on things here—especially since she’s here for a few days anyway while we wait for the blood tests.”
The unnecessary blood tests, the ones that will tell them the same thing the Bat tech has already figured out.
“And arrangements will need to be made for Isabel,” he continues, then pauses. “If you want me to.”
Jason should say no.
He should tell Drake to back off, to let Jason figure this out the way he always figures things out—on his own. That he doesn’t trust him or anyone enough to deal with this situation properly.
But the lure of escape is too strong just then, and the hospital room feels like it’s closing in on him like a coffin.
He throws one last panicked look at the baby in the crib and then flees the maternity ward.
Jason is not entirely sure he’s going to come back.
But we all know he's going to come back...
So, I'm really hoping I've portrayed Jason's reactions in a believable way. I just figure finding out he's had a kid would hit him a lot harder and he'd be way more surprised about it than Bruce was when he found out about Damian. I figure he would need time to process. And as for Tim, I always see him as the one who steps in and tries to fix everything even when it's beyond his wheelhouse. He's probably panicking as much as Jason right now...
In which panicking Jason needs someone to help ground him.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jason only just makes it to the nearest bathroom and upchucks everything he’s consumed in the past five and a half hours.
He is left with only the same sweaty, stomach-warbling panic he remembers from the most frightening moments in his life.
Finding his mother’s limp body in a piss-stained back alley. Making a run from Batman and being unable to escape that heavy, gauntleted hand clamping down on his shoulder. The first time he jumped off Wayne Tower with only a reinforced grapple line to hold him up. The first time he got shot. The first time he watched Bruce break down in front of him.
His first and last moments looking at a too-wide smile and the gleam of a bloodied crowbar. A timer ticking down to zero.
It doesn’t make sense.
In the vast procession of frightening and dangerous screw-ups that litter his life, the news that he has a kid shouldn’t fill him with so much dread. But right now, he feels paralyzed and can’t even sort through his spinning thoughts long enough to figure out why.
Jason wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and stumbles out of the bathroom, ignoring wary looks sent his way by several hospital staff. His stomach is still flip-flopping, but he doesn’t think he’s doing to puke again, so now…he just needs to move.
Once he escapes the maternity ward, he has no idea where he’s supposed to do next. The largest part of himself wants to leave the hospital—and the situation—as fast as possible and not look back.
It’s what he does, isn’t it? Get into a jam, leave a trail of fire and debris, and then move on to the next job so as the avoid the consequences as long as possible.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? Can’t avoid consequences forever.
He planned an entire vengeful crusade around that premise and as for himself, he’s never been one to try to avoid what’s coming to him. It’s just usually when he throws himself headlong into complicated situations, he has a pretty accurate idea of what the outcome will look like.
Not this time, though.
This time, his wandering is as aimless as he thoughts, having no direction and no destination in mind. Doors and stairwells and different hospital wards pass him but he barely registers.
“I’ll be back with your daughter.”
This—now—a daughter—a baby: it’s too much. Too much information or implication or whatever it is blocking the part of his brain that thinks ahead. There’s just too much.
Sometimes when things get to be too much, you need to take a step back, chum.
Bruce’s voice echoes in his head somewhere, rising above the gibbering panic.
Most of the time you’ll have too little information to go on—but very occasionally, you’ll have too much. In either case, there are drawbacks, but you still take the same approach. Focus on one aspect at a time. Move through your process as slowly, methodically as possible. You must have all the facts before you can formulate a cohesive plan of attack.
Jason snorts, shaking his head and the thought away with it.
Because Bruce was clearly slow and methodical when the demon brat appeared on the scene. The way Jason’s heard, the kid shows up and the same night he’s living at the manor.
B’s biggest problem has always been how quick he is to go down the accidental-kid-acquisition route.
Which makes him about the last person Jason wants to be thinking about right now. Even just thinking about what his reaction would be if he found out about Jason’s situation makes his skin crawl. All he needs on top of things is judgement and disappointment the way only Batman can get just right, especially when it comes to Jason.
(Not least of all because Bruce was the one to make him sit through a painful and—what Jason believed, up until now, to be—completely unnecessary talk about safe sex back when Jason met his first girlfriend.)
As messed up as Bruce and his methods sometimes were, more often than not it’s those early lessons that kept Jason alive. Especially after he died.
Isabel is dead.
That’s a fact.
Something solid, something he can deal with, as shitty as it feels to do so.
Jason knows how to deal with the dead—hell, he was the dead. It doesn’t get any closer than that. There’s a routine to it, expectations and procedure—
He can start with that.
Destination finally in mind, he sets off.
Hospitals are the same everywhere, really. If you look like you know where you’re going and walk with enough confidence in your stride, people don’t question you or your presence.
Jason finds the hospital mortuary with relative ease, orchestrates a distraction for the morgue attendant with the same, and heads inside. A cold chill creeps up his spine at the familiar, ever-present lingering stench of formaldehyde. He’s had nightmares of that smell ever since he woke up from his coma, and he doesn’t know why since he was stone-dead before he went anywhere near a morgue.
He snags the attendant’s discarded tablet on his way past the empty desk and scans down the list of names, teeth clenching when he recognizes what he’s looking for.
Maria Isabela Ardila, 25. Preliminary cause of death, contingent on full postmortem: pulmonary abruption.
So she hasn’t been autopsied yet, which means she’s not in a drawer. It’s only been about two hours…
Jason ducks into the adjacent lab, glancing at several gurneys with body bags on them. He doesn’t even need to check the identifying tags; only one of them contains a body of Isabel’s height and build.
He approaches the body bag slowly, is barely aware of his arm reaching out, of carefully unzipping it over her face.
And there she is.
Pale now, no more color in her cheeks, hair limp with dried sweat. Her jaw is slack, expression devoid of the light and spark that drew her to him in the first place.
He’ll never see it again.
It’s not like he was in love with her or anything, but it was a close thing—if given the chance, he might have one day felt for her the way he felt for Essence. The knowledge that he’s lost yet another potential human connection is another blow he wasn’t expecting today.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he murmurs, fists balling.
He’s angry, but not at her for being dead. Well, okay, he is a little. Not completely because from what he understands, what killed her is something that could happen to anyone.
No, what he’s angry about is the fact she was pregnant and didn’t tell him. That she both kept and kept secret the fact she was having his kid, never gave him a chance to know about it or to try to convince her why it would be a bad idea.
And now she’s dead and if it hadn’t been for him—if he hadn’t met her—she’d still be alive right now.
The skin over his knuckles is pulled painfully tight now, and he forces himself to loosen his fist and shake it off. Slowly, he reaches out and lays his palm across Isabel’s forehead.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “This is all my fault.”
He backs away, threading his fingers through his hair in an effort to keep himself from lashing out with fists.
This is so messed up. This is so…too much.
And sitting in the morgue is probably not helping.
He paces back and forth a minute longer, before digging into his pocket for his phone. It’s time to contact the one person who can usually knock him out of his own head.
Roy has gone through this. Hell, Jason watched him go through it, he was there when Jade told him that he was a father. Roy knows what it’s like to have something like this dropped on you out of the blue.
It takes longer than normal to get through, but Roy answers all the same.
He sounds rough, but not strained in the way Jason would associate with imminent explosions. He can only hope his own voice is a little stronger. It takes a bit, mouth opening and closing soundlessly as he tries to figure out what to say.
“I’m in a mess,” he manages. “And I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do.”
“Gotham style mess, or alien mess?” Roy asks warily.
“I…have a kid.”
There’s nothing but the sound of static for several breaths, and then, “…Say again?”
“A kid. A…baby, technically. She’s…I just…found out. An hour ago? Seems like longer—”
He’s pacing again.
“Whoa, hold on, slow the hell down, what do you mean you have a kid? How—?”
“Do I really need to paint a picture?” Jason hisses.
“Nah, I’m good—but shit, Jay, this is—whoa.” Pause. “Are you okay?”
It’s the first time anyone’s out and out asked him. Drake sort of did, but that was buried under the guise of assessing if he was injured.
“Not really,” he admits. Then, “Isabel’s dead.”
“What? No—how is that related to—?”
“She’s the mother. Was the mother. She bled out delivering the…”
“Shit.” Roy groans, exhaling harshly. And again, “Shit. Jay. I’m sorry, man. I know things didn’t work out, but…she was cool.”
“Yeah…” Jason swallows. “Roy, I have no fucking clue what I’m supposed to do.”
“No kidding. Okay. I hear ya buddy. First of all, take a breath. Or five hundred.” Somehow it’s less irksome being told to breathe by Roy than his replacement. “This is big. You’re allowed to freak out, but not so much where you lose your head, okay? And look at it this way, at least Isabel wasn’t an internationally renowned assassin that more often than not wanted to kill you.”
Jason coughs out an unexpected, manic chuckle at that.
“Where are you right now?”
“Hospital. Technically, the morgue.”
A pained exhale at that. “Isabel, right?”
“And the kid?”
“Up in the maternity ward still.” Jason pauses. “Drake’s keeping an eye on her.”
“Drake? As in Tim Drake?”
“Don’t sound so surprised, you’re the one who picked up the damn phone and sent him to babysit me.”
“Yeah, but that was before...”
“Before it turned out there was actual babysitting involved?”
Jason swallows back another wave of mounting hysteria.
“He’s as weirded out by this as I am, and I don’t know how long it’s going to be before he tattles to the Bat cavalry. Could really use someone in my corner on this one.”
“It sounds to me like you already do,” Roy points out, “at least in the short term.”
“Yeah, well, he’s never been in this situation, unless Wayne’s PR-team is a lot better at their jobs than I thought.”
Roy sighs heavily, in a way that immediately has Jason’s shoulders tense.
“You know I’d be there in a second if I could. But right now, I’m kinda…tied up.”
Jason frowns. “Literally or metaphorically?”
“Little bit of both?”
“Do you need me to—?”
“No! No, you have your own issues to deal with right now. The kind that trump mine, and your first instinct can’t be to leave Gotham in your rear-view instead of dealing with this.”
Why not? Jason wants to ask but doesn’t.
“Look, Jay…” Roy sighs, weary. “This sort of thing…there’s nothing I can tell you that to give you an easy answer here. Kids…every kid is different. It’s always different, so…you gotta go with your gut. Ain’t nothing anyone else can tell you to do. And as messed up as you are right now, it’s not about you. It’s about what’s best for her.”
Jason nods at this even though Roy can’t see him. Maybe if he focusses on that—distances himself from the situation, thinks about the baby like it belongs to someone else. Needs to think about it like some Crime Alley orphan he’s rescued and needs to take care of.
Until he figures it all out.
“Listen, whatever you decide, I’m with you man. Ride or die, even if I’m not there right this second. Soon as I can, I’m there,” Roy goes on. “Until then, whatever you do, don’t try to go it alone. I know from experience trying to deal with a tiny human on your own is asking for trouble.”
Jason inhales slowly, scowling at the sharp smell in the air and forces an exhale. “So don’t run Drake off.”
“Or try to kill him.”
Jason glances back to Isabel’s body on the gurney, stares at the lifeless face that will never smile again. Thinks of the infant upstairs who may or may not look like her, but who is definitely his.
“I have to get back upstairs,” he says. “Got some decisions to make.”
And that’s putting it lightly…
He starts to hang up, but then Roy speaks again. “Hey, Jaybird?”
“Bouncing baby girl, that’s…” his best friend swallows so heavily it’s audible across the line. “That’s something.”
Jason knows he’s thinking about Lian.
“Yeah, man, it’s…it’s definitely something.”
Hm, I think next chapter we'll check in with Tim's POV, just to switch things up...