Jason hadn’t planned to do it.
He and Tim had been working on the their underground transport system (Dick had started a poll on whether to dub it ‘The Red Line’ or ‘The Red Train’ despite his little brothers having no interest in either name for their transport and despite the fact that they’d begun building minibikes to leave at various entrances in the tunnels to travel through them) and decided to take a break. The break somehow led to a sparring match, Jason wasn’t sure how, but he had a feeling it was his fault. Either way, it wasn’t a problem. They were careful enough not to accidentally damage anything important or hurt one another.
They were actually having a really good time.
Until Jason noticed a strange shadow moving just behind Tim’s shadow, as though it were stalking it. The thing was, there was nothing in the tunnel with them to be casting the mystery shadow. It had been a while since Jason faced anything completely mystical, but he recognized it as such right away. Then, several things happened at once.
Tim noticed the odd shadow and immediately took in their surroundings, looking for a source. The shadow creature, obviously recognizing that it had been caught, suddenly moved towards Tim’s shadow at a much faster pace. Tim recognized that this was bad and began moving in a manner that drew his shadow further from the creature. Moving on instinct, Jason summoned the All-Blades and destroyed the strange creature just as it was about to make contact with his little brother’s shadow. It fell into a heap of something like volcanic ash and was still.
Once he was fairly certain that the shadow thing wasn’t getting up again, Jason turned to Tim. He pulled his helmet off as he looked the boy over. They were both wearing lens-less dominoes under their usual headgear that night and they were alone, deep in the tunnel system. He wasn’t worried about being seen. He was just worried about his little brother. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Tim was inspecting the remains without actually approaching them. “What was that? Do you know?”
“I’m not sure. Something evil, though.” Jason wouldn’t have been able to summon the All-Blades if that hadn’t been the case.
Tim frowned at the remains at that comment. “Is it dead?”
“Fuck, I hope so.” Jason knew it was a little hypocritical, but he hated it when things came back from the dead. Or appeared to be dead when they weren’t. He tried summoning the All-Blade again, but it didn’t come. “Yeah. Its dead.”
“Do you think there are more?” Tim gave the section of tunnel they’d been sparring in a sound once over and then glanced at Jason.
“If there were, they probably took off once they realized I was here.” Usually, such creatures either took off once they recognized what Jason was, or they all tried attacking at once. Since that hadn’t happened, he assumed the creature was either on its own or its compatriots had fled when faced with a powerful All-Caste. Also, he probably would have been able to summon the All-Blades if there had been more hiding around them.
Tim pulled down his cowl and arched a quizzical brow. “Think I could take a sample of what’s left to inspect?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.” Jason answered immediately. Considering a mysterious evil creature had been stalking any part of his little brother, he figured he was allowed to get all big brother for the moment. “At least give it a minute to make sure it isn’t going to…I dunno, do something.”
“’Kay, fair enough.” Tim accepted the suggestion easily. A hint of a smile suggested he recognized the fraternal protectiveness for what it was. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to have much of a problem when Jason went big brother on him. He also tended to follow Jason’s lead when it came to the more mystical aspects of their work, since he knew his big brother had more experience in that area.
Jason always appreciated that Tim respected both his specialized training and his (ever growing) big brother streak.
“Did you just summon a pair of lightsabers?” Tim’s eyes suddenly lit up on that last question. He grinned. “Did you accidentally become a Jedi while you were training to kick Batman’s butt?”
Jason rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help but smile at his little brother. It had been a while since Tim had let himself fully geek out over something. He was glad they’d gotten to that point where he could not only do so again, but include his big brother as well.
“Sorry, Timbers, but they aren't lightsabers. They’re called the All-Blades.” His smile morphed into a smirk. “And if I knew how to Force-Push, I’d be knocking Dick and Damian on their asses for shits and giggles pretty much every time we saw them.”
Tim smiled. His tone was both intrigued and teasing at once. “And why is this the first time I’m learning about them?”
Jason shrugged. He hadn’t been actively keeping them from Tim. He just hadn’t had any reason to summon them in his presence before and hadn’t thought to mention them over any of the other crazy things they’d had to catch one another up on after Jason discovered he could summon them. He could see Tim was itching to ask about them, so he grinned. “What do you want to know?”
The resulting barrage of questions wasn’t a surprise.
But it was surprisingly adorable.
“Where do the All-Blades come from? How do you summon them? Does it hurt? How did you learn about them? Where do they go when you aren’t using them? Can you feel them all the time?”
As he prattled on, Tim approached his big brother and gave him a quick check up. Then he began actively inspecting Jason’s arms, where he seemed to assume the All-Blades came from. Or perhaps he was ensuring that he hadn’t been burned by the mystical weapons. Eventually assured that his big brother was intact and not showing any sign of damage or strain, Tim glanced at the shadow creature's remains again. Then he turned back to Jason, took a breath, and resumed geeking out.
“They’re what let you know that shadow thing was evil, right? How does that work? Are they like Azrael’s swords? Is it all intuitive or do they actually communicate with you? Are they sentient? Are they alien?”
The myriad of emotions that fluttered through Tim’s expression as he considered every query he was voicing was pretty impressive to watch. Jason saw a couple that even he had trouble identifying despite the amount of time he spent in his little brother’s presence as of late. Still, he didn’t interrupt yet. He simply enjoyed Tim’s enthusiasm for his big brother’s newly discovered ability.
“How do they work? Can they hurt non-evil entities as well? What definition of evil do they go by? How did you become their wielder? Is there only one? Is the wielder chosen somehow or can anyone learn to summon them?”
“Whoa, slow down there, Timbers.” Jason was still grinning. It was just like Tim to want to learn everything about something as soon as he knew it existed. “No, they aren’t alien or sentient. They don’t talk to me. I can only summon them in the presence of true evil, so its safe to assume that thing was evil.”
Jason looked at his hands and arms, similar to how his little brother had. “Uh, I actually don’t know where they go when I’m not using them. I don’t feel anything.” He’d never wondered about that and now he had to say, it was a good question. “I think they kind of come from me?”
Tim immediately looked worried and repeated one of his earlier questions. “Does it hurt?”
“No. Nothing like that.” Jason thought of how to best phrase what he meant by the statement that had distressed his little brother. “I don’t mean they come from me as in they literally grow out of me or something. I will them to me from...elsewhere. Once I summon them, they’re powered by my spirit.”
Tim instantly frowned in concerned upon hearing that last piece of information. “Wait. What does that mean? Like you will them into existence from another dimension or they’re some kind of parasite feeding off your soul?”
“Uh, kind of both and neither?” Jason considered how to explain that while his little brother arched a disapproving brow at him in response to that. “I will them into existence from some kind of...spiritual plane? Then I use my soul to fuel them.” He held up a hand when his little brother was clearly unsettled by the notion that he’d used such weapons. “They aren’t feeding off me per se, its more like I power them while I’m using them.
“I can stop at any time.” Jason frowned. A couple of his closest friends were addicts and that sounded like something they’d say when they’d fallen off the wagon and didn’t want to admit it. “And I realize that kind of sounded like a junkie denial comment, but I actually mean it. To use your lightsaber comparison; I have to hit the on and off switch. I decide whether to power them or not.”
Tim’s concern appeared to grow as he listened to his big brother speak. “And what does powering them do to you? What kind of side affects might there be?”
Jason shrugged lightly, trying to play it off as reassuring as he could. His little brother tended to worry about him and, for the most part, there was nothing to worry about. “For most uses, nothing.”
Tim’s eyes narrowed at the careful phrasing. “And the few other uses?”
Jason rubbed the back of his neck. Tim wasn’t going to like the next bit. “If I were to feed too much into them -like if I were fighting something really powerful and needed to use them at their full strength for too long- then I would…well, die.”
“You could die?!” Tim looked both fearful and incredulous. He indicated the remains on the floor. “What the hell, Jay?! Why would you summon them for something you couldn’t even identify, then? We might have been able to take that shadow thing without them!”
While he’d known his little brother wasn’t going to like that part, Jason honestly hadn’t expected such a vehement response. He wasn’t sure whether he was more touched or amused. He didn’t want Tim to worry so much though. He smiled and dropped a hand on his little brother’s shoulder, giving him a small shake to try to loosen him up. “Calm down, Timbers. I’m fine.”
“Are you?” Tim gestured over him. “Does your soul…I dunno, replenish itself after every use?” He frowned, both concerned and agitated as he continued. “Or are you basically burning it away slowly every time you use them? Are you gonna summon them to kill a random monster -that we could have probably taken without them- and just drop dead one day ‘cause you used up your soul?
“Or are you gonna become a soulless shell like some sort of zombie?” Tim looked truly concerned about that possibility.
Jason smirked, hoping to lighten the discussion a little. “Well, technically-”
“Not the time, Jay.” Tim was frowning more sternly. Clearly, he was not in the mood for any undead jokes.
Jason rolled his eyes but he gave Tim’s shoulder another gentle squeeze in an attempt to comfort him. “No, I’m not gonna become a zombie and I can’t slowly drain my soul. I… I dunno, heal up afterwards.” He shrugged. “Its either one and done or I’m okay.”
“So, again, why would you summon them for something you might not have needed them for?” Tim did not sound appeased. His expression was an unfair blend of angry kitten and kicked puppy. Clearly, this issue wasn’t something he was going to let be swept aside. “And how long does this healing take?”
Jason sighed. He wasn’t agitated. Well, not much. He honestly hadn’t considered how his little brother might respond to him using a weapon as dangerous as the All-Blades. He supposed he should have expected it though. Had their positions been reversed, he would’ve been concerned about Tim using something that fed off his soul.
In fact, the thought of anything feeding off his little brother’s soul made him irrationally angry. He felt a little bad about springing them on the boy at that point. He probably should have given him some sort of heads up on the whole summoning mystical weapons thing.
“Okay. You’re right. I should use them as a last resort.” Jason frowned at the odd creature’s remains. “I usually do. That’s why you haven’t seen them before. I just…”
He looked Tim over. “I saw that thing coming for your shadow and I reacted. I guess I panicked. I didn’t think it through.” He shrugged again. “To be fair, its not like its a shock that I act without thinking sometimes.”
Tim looked slightly less distressed. He looked like he understood the reasoning and wasn't going to speak against it, in any case. It was an improvement.
After a brief moment, he nodded. “Okay. I get it.” He looked at Jason with that unfair expression once more. “But in the future, can you please try to kill any monsters that come up the usual way before summoning the soul-sucking swords?”
Jason had a feeling that title was going to stick, mainly so Tim could not-so-subtly remind him why he shouldn’t use the All-Blades unless absolutely necessary. He also knew he was going to agree to the heartfelt plea. It was smart to wait to use the All-Blades until he was sure he needed them. However that wasn’t why he was agreeing without any protest or serious teasing. He simply couldn’t pretend he wasn’t going to use them responsibly when he knew it was going to stress his little brother out so much.
Dick would have given a heartfelt speech or made a dramatic declaration of devotion or some such. Jason wasn’t Dick. He rolled his eyes and pitched his tone as though agreeing to an overprotective rule. “Alright. If it means that much to you, I’ll do things the hard way until I’m sure I need the All-Blades from now on.”
He gave Tim’s shoulder a light shove. “Now can the sad eyes, I feel like I kicked a puppy.”
Tim’s expression didn’t change in the least. He spoke in a firm tone. “You risked your soul.”
Jason nodded, realizing he really shouldn't have expected any other response. “Okay, yeah. That’d probably take me a minute to get over, too, if our positions were reversed.”
Tim sighed quietly and was silent for a moment. Then he looked at Jason again. “So what else do you know about them?” He was clearly thinking over the questions that he hadn’t received a satisfactory answer to now that he was fairly certain he’d driven home the point about not using the All-Blades unless necessary. “You didn’t say how long it takes you to recover from using them.”
“It depends on how much I put into them.” Jason shrugged and then gestured toward the shadow monster’s remains. “I barely used any energy for that thing. I’m pretty much recovered already. For the stuff I’ve summoned them for in the past, its taken anywhere from just an hour to a few days.”
“How do you know you’ve recovered? Can you feel your soul being drained?” Tim looked horrified at that last thought.
“Uh, I don’t really feel it while its happening.” It would probably have been more accurate to say that he didn’t notice while fighting hordes of evil or one impressively evil being, but Jason figured he’d already scared his little brother enough for one day. “Afterwords, I feel kind of drained? Its doesn’t hurt or anything. Its sort of like when you’re recovering from being sick or had a really long week.”
Tim nodded, looking thoughtful but also accepting his brother’s words. “We should call it a day on the tunnel anyway. Just in case.” He retrieved a reusable water bottle from the cooler they’d brought and gave it to Jason, as if fueling mystical weapons with one’s soul could lead to dehydration.
Jason simply smiled and drank the water. He blamed Alfred for his little brother’s response there. If they’d been home or at the Bunker, he had no doubt his little brother would be making him a cup of tea. Their surrogate grandfather was a brilliant emergency physician and could treat just about any injury or illness, but he also delivered a hot cup of tea as a remedial aid without fail during any crisis. Of all the children he’d helped raise (and even counting the man he had raised), somehow Tim ended up picking up all of his British traits. He always bore a stiff upper lip, had a rapier wit, could make a perfect cup of tea with his eyes closed, and actually enjoyed things like beans on toast and cucumber sandwiches.
Rather than share in his big brother’s amusement, Tim appeared to still be thinking on the All-Blades. “What did you mean by ‘true evil’? Who decides what’s evil enough to summon them; them or you?”
Jason was glad they were moving away from the whole ‘soul powered’ aspect of the All-Blades. He capped his water bottle and answered right away. “Like I said, they aren’t sentient. They don’t get to decide shit. But, uh, its not really my call either. I guess its just…true universal evil?”
He frowned at the unimpressed look on his little brother’s face. “Okay, like if something’s too crazy or high or whatever that makes them unable to control themselves or understand what they’re doing is evil, then the blades don’t come even if I try to summon them. If someone is being forced to do something evil, then the blades don’t come unless the person is literally possessed by something evil. If the theoretically evil villain truly believes they’re doing good and doesn’t have any ulterior motives, then the blades don’t come. Although I guess that last point kinda falls into the ‘crazy’ category, too.” Considering some of the villains they’d fought, Jason thought that was a fair assumption.
Tim appeared to be contemplating that. “So…they wouldn't work against someone like Dr Isley, because she truly thinks she’s saving the world? Or someone like Tetch, because he’s insane?” He looked mildly disturbed at the thought of the Hatter, but pressed on. “What about someone like Dent? Half of the time, he’s rational and understands the difference between right and wrong, the other half of the time, he’s completely nuts.
“Would his sane side be protected because its not evil and his evil side be protected because it’s insane?” He looked at his big brother curiously, as though that were a perfectly standard question and he was awaiting a clear answer.
The thing was, the whole quandary was hypothetical because Jason had never tried using the All-Blades against an ‘ordinary’ human. His fists and guns worked perfectly fine against them, so there’d never been any point. He supposed Tim’s proposed theory would apply to more mystical or diabolical beings that shared similar traits with the Rogues in question. That was what he’d been thinking with his examples anyway, so he decided using Rogues as templates would work well enough to explain.
Considering his little brother’s points, Jason certainly agreed with Tim’s assessment of Ivy. He didn’t want to agree with his assertion that the Hatter was somehow not evil because of his insanity, but he knew his little brother was likely right. With the Hatter in the medical wing at Arkham, requiring machines to survive, he wasn’t likely to get the opportunity to test it out. As for Two-Face, Jason hadn’t considered it before, but he supposed the fact that the man had two distinct personalities would make him count as too crazy to be truly evil.
“I haven’t tested them with any of the usual Rogues, or any humans at all, really. I normally don’t even think of using them unless I’m dealing with something magical, to be honest. That’s another reason why you haven’t seen them before now. I think you’re right about Ivy and the Hatter. I guess they might work against Rogues like Hush, Deadshot, Catwoman, or Penguin. People who know what they’re doing is hurting others but do it because they benefit from it or because they like it.
“I think Two-Face is too crazy to be considered true evil.” He grinned at his little brother. “Tell you what, the next time one of them escapes from Arkham again, I’ll give it try and let you-” The frown on Tim’s face told him it was too early to suggest using the All-Blades for experimental purposes, even in jest. “Okay, okay…too soon. Sorry.”
He really hadn’t expected Tim to get quite that hung up on the whole ‘potentially deadly’ part. Their whole family put their lives in danger fairly regularly. To Jason, it didn’t seem like the All-Blades were any different. However, he had to admit that unlike Tim, he hadn’t been around for the death of a family member. Well, he’d been more or less around when they thought their father died. But he’d promptly fallen back into to the insanity he’d only pulled himself out of shortly before.
Jason didn’t want to think about that. He also didn’t want to think about what Tim truly meant, but he understood anyway. Death was a different beast to Tim than it was to Jason. One that had hurt him too many times already. One that he hadn’t conquered. Jason supposed that if he’d had to attend the funeral of one of his siblings or hear that another had been killed on the job somewhere, he would react similarly to hearing that they were using a weapon that might kill them by the very nature of using them.
Tim nodded to show he accepted the apology. However, he’d also crossed one of his arms over his chest to hold onto the other arm, something he only ever did when he felt really vulnerable or uncomfortable. Something he’d never done while wearing the suit before.
Jason felt pretty bad at that point. He reached over and rubbed Tim’s arm. “Hey. I’m not gonna do anything stupid, okay?”
Tim nodded and looked away. He took a breath. He sounded upset but more or less calm when he spoke. “I know. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be a total killjoy here, its just… I know its stupid…”
He shook his head, clearly agitated with himself, and looked downward. “We do things that can hurt us or kill us all the time. I know. Its just… This is different. This can directly kill you. Its not a lucky shot or a missed landing.
“And you’re using it anyway. If you-” Tim’s voice caught. “I know its really unfair to say this, but I don’t think I could take losing you again. I don’t even take thinking about it well. I can make you better armor or better tools or help you come up with better plans, but there’s nothing to do to make this any safer. Its scary.”
“Fuck.” Jason felt felt even worse. He rubbed his little brother’s arm again. He didn’t know what to say but he wanted to help reassure him that he wasn’t going to do anything that would mean leaving his family again. “Tim…”
“I’m sorry.” His little brother interrupted and looked aside again. “You should be able to fight however you think is best. You know what you’re doing.” He smiled softly. “You’re awesome at it.”
The smile quickly faded. Tim shook his head and looked downward once more. “Its really crappy of me to put that kind of pressure on you on top of-”
Jason decided to interrupt there. He gave his little brother a light shake. “Hey.” He waited until Tim was looking at him again to continue. “Reminding me that people care that I live isn’t a crappy thing to do. The very real fact that my death hurt people besides me is probably something I need reminding of every once in a while.
“You don’t need to be sorry.” Jason meant that. He knew his little brother wasn’t being manipulative. He didn’t mean his words to be hurtful or to put pressure on his brother. He was trying to help, the same as he always was. “You were just trying to tell me why the All-Blades scared you.
“To be honest, I never thought of them the way you just explained them. But I should. I have people depending on me these days…I need to fight smarter for them.” Jason smiled. Both for what he’d just considered and for what he knew he was going to explain next. Both were concepts that made him happy.
“I like being able to count on you to give me a kick in the ass whenever I need one. I like that you make me think things through. I like that you make me stop to ask questions. I like that you make me worry about me.” He gave his little brother’s arm a firm squeeze and hoped his point was driven in. “So thanks for looking out for me.”
Tim waited silently for a brief moment after his big brother spoke. Then, Jason felt the muscles under his hand relax considerably. His little brother’ body language shifted as well, looking less nervous and vulnerable.
“You don’t have to thank me. I want to look out for you. I like having you there to look out for me, too.” Tim smiled lightly. “Its nice. …I guess I’m afraid to lose all that.”
He sighed and with it, released a short, quiet laugh. “I know I worry more than I need to sometimes.” He spoke earnestly to his big brother. “I know you aren’t irresponsible with this sort of thing…and I do trust you. I apologized ‘cause I don’t want you to think that you aren’t or that I don’t. I don’t want you to feel like you have to limit yourself to make me feel better.”
Tim thought for a second before finishing simply, with a slightly self-conscious grin. “I’d still appreciate it if you could not take any huge risks with your life, though, like using the soul-sucking swords without thinking.”
Jason huffed out a laugh. “Okay, Timbers. I get it. I’m not gonna use the All-Blades without thinking it through. I’m still gonna do things my way, but my endgame is always gonna be to come home afterwards. Don’t worry, you aren’t holding me back, you’re just making me look before I leap.”
In truth, the reminder that he would be missed if anything happened to him meant a lot to Jason. It was something he was acutely aware of these days. It definitely affected his actions as a vigilante, but he thought the changes were for the better. As he’d told Tim, it made him fight smarter. It made him remember that he was serving justice rather than vengeance. It made him remember that he was just as important as the people he was defending.
“I’m glad.” Tim shared a smile with his big brother. He truly looked relived.
Jason was glad, too. “Then we’re good.”
He couldn't help but smirk when he saw that curious glean in his little brother’s eyes again.
“So…you never answered me on how you became a wielder of the All-Blades. Or if there’s more out there. Or if anyone can learn to wield them.”
Jason laughed again. “How about we head back to the Bunker and I’ll fill you in on all that?”
“Sounds good.” Tim pulled his cowl back on and moved to grab his things. He glanced at the remains of the shadow creature. “What do we do with that?” He looked at his big brother again. “Think I can take that sample now?”
Jason shook his head as he grabbed his helmet. “Fine. But don’t get any of it on you.” He got his helmet on and considered the remains as Tim carefully scooped some into a small vial that he then sealed and stashed in one of the cylindrical pouches in his body-belt. He didn’t like the idea of just leaving them there. He also didn’t think it was wise to dump the remains of an unknown mystical creature in the sewers or harbor.
That left burial, cremation, or long-term containment.
“I think we should stash the rest of it somewhere for now. We’ll see what your tests say about it. If they don’t point me toward a disposal method, then we’ll try burning the rest.”
“Sounds reasonable.” Tim agreed and took out a slightly larger container that would certainly hold the rest of the creatures remains. Why he’d brought such a container, Jason didn’t know and he didn’t bother asking. Tim was always prepared for all kinds of crazy shit to go down.
Jason supposed that was part of why his little brother always wanted to learn everything he could about pretty much everything he encountered. That preparedness had served him and the rest of the family plenty of times already. And Tim seemed to genuinely enjoy learning most of the information he’d accumulated since he and Jason started working together and hanging out together.
He definitely seemed enthusiastic to learn about the All-Blades.
As they rode their minibikes toward the tunnel’s start, Jason thought about that. About what all his little brother might be able to learn from him. He didn’t think he’d be able to train Tim to the point where he could wield the All-Blades, and he didn’t want to, but there were other moves and skills he’d picked up in his training that he thought he might be able to pass on. If anyone could learn them from someone like Jason, he would bet on Tim. And his little brother generally seemed open to learning any potentially useful skills.
Having another member of the family that could hold their own against mystical beings or magic would probably come in handy down the line. They’d each faced that sort of thing often enough in the past.
Jason smirked to himself. He’d start by telling Tim everything he wanted to know about the All-Blades and the All-Caste. He’d see how interested Tim seemed in learning for himself, how open he was to the world that Jason was going to reveal to him. He’d play it by ear from there.
He’d never been an ideal student himself and he had no idea how he’d fare as a teacher. He didn’t even know how much of his minor skill with magic was an inborn trait or if it was brought about through determination, or either his dip in the Lazarus Pit or the cleansing pool at the Chamber of All. He didn’t know how much of it could be taught.
Somehow, despite all of this, the idea just felt right.
After all, he’d been suspicious ever since Tim told him about waking up in the cavern beside a Lazarus Pit after his underground splenectomy. Ra’s didn’t use the Pit for his assassins or allies. He had more sterile environments set up for when they needed medical treatment. The idea that he’d had the surgery performed in an underground cave ‘just in case’ he needed to use the nearby Pit didn’t ring true to Jason. Tim assumed it was due to his training that he’d been able to fight so well after the surgery, only tearing some stitches when he should have been inert. He’d been too busy afterwards to question why he’d healed quicker than expected.
Jason questioned it though.
It could have been from the boy’s recovery after the Apocalypse Virus. It was proposed that it might make a survivor’s immune system stronger. Tim’s missing spleen could have simply negated that boost later, but his immune response to certain circumstances since suggested it was weakened as any normal person his age in otherwise good health would.
Which meant it could have been something else.
Tim had never tested that sample he’d intended to check out after the first time Ra’s kidnapped him. He’d dropped it when Dick convinced him the temptation to use it would be too great. That meant they didn’t know if the waters had any healing potential outside of a full dip.
There might just be a drop of magic in his little brother as well.
If there was, Jason had more than a few things to teach him.
He was looking forward to it either way.